With the advent of spring, already, the ‘do-it-yourself’ renovation ads for Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big box stores are on TV, emphasizing, of course, how cheap and cheery it is to be working on bettering your surroundings.
It takes a certain kind of person to handle the ‘do it yourself’ approach to renovation work, and so if you’re anything like me, contractors are still a good bet, especially now that they’re hurting for jobs, and might actually show up on time.
I’m totally addicted to all the Home and Garden TV shows (you can send over the unsmiling but all-powerful Igor from Restaurant Makeover anytime) but I’ve only ever attempted a do-it-yourself renovation project once in my life.
It was a near disaster.
My parents were away and I thought I would surprise them with an updated paint job in their downstairs bathroom.
For some reason still unknown to me, I wanted to stencil a border around the top edge of the wall, and I chose what was supposed to be a palm-tree like stencil, but which really looked like a pineapple.
By the time I was done with it, however, having added three layers of viscous black paint, and a layer of spackle, to make it stand out, it looked like exploding hand grenades.
It was Che Guevara’s outhouse on meth.
My then-boyfriend, now-husband, took one look, left the house, came back with fresh supplies and starting furiously painting over it.
However, since we moved into our current house, ‘the Crumbalow’, a broad, squat, example of late 1950’s North York, Ontario bungalow architecture, (and requiring at least 20 years’ worth of upgrades), my husband has curiously shied away from any do-it-yourself projects.
I think his approach is all-or-nothing. No sense doing the stopgap or the band-aid, just rip it all up at once, when you can.
What this means is that unless something is dangling dangerously and threatening to fall on the kids’ heads, it stays as is, until even my 78-year old father has had enough, and comes over to fix it with a couple of parts from Dollarama.
But when the job can no longer be put off, my husband calls his friend Dom.
Last summer, we decided to put in a fence around the backyard perimeter. There’d been a break-in that spring, which was a good enough reason to set up more deterrents.
There were also raccoons coming in from the nearby ravine, and a neighbour’s unleashed dog taking poop and scoop liberties.
So the fence was going in.
Every weekend, trusty Dom and his team hauled over in his white Ford F150 pickup. There was Dom, his brother Joe, a finished carpenter who was born deaf, and Dom’s father, an elderly but sturdy Italian man wearing patched work pants and steel-toed boots. He was there, apparently, to haul bags of concrete and balance fence posts on his shoulders, two at a time.
We wondered how the men would manage to communicate their tasks, but there was no need for Dom’s brother or the rest of the family to learn sign language, because they already did much of their talking with their hands, generalizations aside.
Dom would pause, stick his pencil behind his ear, and shake his fist and fingers in various manifestations at his brother, who would then roll his eyes, wipe his forehead, and shake out his entire arm. But somehow, the job was getting done, and then some.
According to Dom, there’s lumber and then there’s lumber. Needless to say, the lumber he dealt with didn’t come cheap. But it would last through Canadian winters, more than he could say for some of the bug-laden, cracked imports, he added, twisting his fingers in an upward knot and rotating his elbow a few degrees.
At first, the men arrived with huge coolers full of fat veal sandwiches, water bottles and pop, but then my husband volunteered to provide a lunch.
Correction. He volunteered me to provide the lunch, which gradually stretched to become two coffee breaks and lunch in between.
Even I could figure out it was now payback time for the bathroom hand grenades.
So, when 10 a.m. rolled around, the men stopped all work, and depending on the weather conditions, they would proceed to the verandah and settle in for either hot or cold espresso coffee, and one of those stale Italian biscuits that would choke you silly if you didn’t dip it in the coffee or in a hot cup of milk.
Around one, thanks to my husband, out I would go to the barbecue with every piece of frozen poultry I had in the house, a stack of crusty buns and the twenty different jars of pickled condiments the men liked on their sandwiches.
Other sweltering days would find me rolling out fresh pizza dough, scooping out homemade tomato sauce and grating giant balls of mozzarella.
Four o’clock, out came the coffees again, and something sweet.
Mind you, this wasn’t the men themselves asking, and it wasn’t every single day.
They would have gladly ventured out somewhere, or relied on Dom’s mother’s 50-odd years of experience cooking for a family of five men.
But my husband somehow reasoned that they’d work harder, and finish faster, better fed, and in a climate of friendship.
“You do realize I am running a hot table restaurant in this kitchen!” I protested, hands on my hips.
“Yeah, but look at the work they did!” Mr. Outsource chuckled. “Those fence posts aren’t going anywhere.”
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