Friday, January 21, 2011

10 Scary Things: #8

8. Paid for help. 

The scary thing here is pushing past the specter of scarcity (what if I don’t have enough?) natural for a widow or for a man who grew up poor. Dan would never have paid to get the gutters cleaned or the weather stripping replaced in the garage. That’s why it still needed to be done. Dan was perfectly capable of doing it, but other, more interesting facets of life continually intervened: reading (two newspapers a day, two magazines a week, and at least two books on his bedside table); running (four miles a day); movies, music, walking the dogs in the woods.

I am incapable of almost any home repair, and reluctant to commit the hours, outside my full-time job, to learn any. Community activism, local and global, is more important to me. Evenings, Dan might be reading; I might be out at a meeting.

As a result, when he died, the only way to lock the two sliding glass doors was with sawed-off broom handles. Every pane of glass in or near the house needed washing. We’d been unable to come to terms about the kitchen renovation. Outdoors the dog was rusty and the second compost pile was locked behind snow fence and contained our only pitchfork, beyond my reach. My chore list grew daily while I worked, cared for the dogs, and strapped on snowshoes in order to feed the birds that freezing, snowy winter.

As spring approached, I knew I had to Do Something. In desperation I consulted the classified ads in the local newspaper and there I found: “Got a list of chores you never get to? Give it to me!”

I took a breath and picked up the phone.

I have no advice on how not to be murdered or bilked by your handyman. Someone was watching out for me: in return for taking a chance on a total stranger, I found a handyman who showed up on time. He worked quickly and quietly; he knew everything and could do anything. A retired NYC cop, he loved dogs and could have been a voice coach for NYPD Blue. In short, he was a miracle—one that expected to be paid that day, and not with a credit card.

As time went on, our projects grew more complicated, more disruptive, but worth the pain. 

I urged J. on friends. Sometimes I could see it in their eyes: the resistance to spending the money. Others took the chance and were rewarded with this sort of Johnny Appleseed of handymen, who worked alone, sowing improvement and repair in his path.

In my home, a new budget line led to visible progress. The house became safe and comfortable. It began to look cared for, even happy. Indoors, all the art that we had meant for years to get onto the walls was hung, straight. The remaining pack had started to pull itself together.


  1. I was that way about getting housecleaning help--and what a difference it has made. Plus I met Amparo, who is a great blessing in my life.

  2. Cleaning help! Here's my attitude on cleaning help: if I have to drink chicken broth for a week or fire the cleaning lady, then I'll drink chicken broth for a week.