Anya and I, with our two children, live outside a large city in the Southeastern U.S. Like many, we moved from the midtown area when crime was rising and moved to a small town outside the city, about 30 minutes away. This small town is at the crossroads between a large city and a rural countryside that extends for hundreds of miles. Unfortunately we have to move again for occupational reasons (getting transferred); our eventual resting place will be 1500 miles away. Therefore we had to necessitate getting the house ready for sale. Anya, who loves interior work to begin with, took over the task of hiring the appropriate personnel to renovate those areas that the home inspector deemed necessary to work on, the reason being is that her company is taking over the house and wants to make sure it is in the best shape possible. Now my wife has a knack of hiring those that are good at their profession but also those that are simply the most bizarre in their profession, a strange dichotomy that to this day defies any attempt on my part to understand this bizarre duality. The fact that we are just far enough to justify hiring the local help probably does not help the situation. The below occurred over a 48 hour period in the hottest week of August.
The first was a painter who came over and gave us an estimate for the house (it was, like the others who followed, someone that Anya had called thereby insuring that it would be an individual unerringly from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft). I was by myself and upon greeting me he asked me what he was there for, an odd remark considering that he was coming over in response to our request for an appraisal. “We want to get the house painted” I replied. Ah yes. He walked slowly from room to room, seemingly making mental notes about square footage, paint integrity, price, flat vs gloss…or so I surmised. Instead I got this: “You ever had a vasectomy?” Baffled I replied that I had not. “Well you don’t know what you are missing.” He then began to explain about the freedom he enjoyed from ridding himself of the wanton risk of impregnating his wife. He misconstrued my perplexed countenance completely by trying to alleviate me that “it didn’t hurt as much as you might think.” I stared at him as if he were behind glass, a representative of some species with a Latin designation that signified an irrational instability usually associated within the confines of a meth lab. As we went from room to room his entire conversation was an amalgamation of medical terms, the application of a matte finish, and what constitutes a feasible vasectomy and the price required to achieve either. To this day I don’t know if he was an urologist who painted or a painter who had a morbid fascination with my testicles.
In addition to the cosmetic corrections that must be made there is the insistence by the realtor that it would help by getting a new stove to compliment a soon to be renovated kitchen. Finally we get a crew in and the house is full of painters and two Sears delivery men arrive bringing in the new stove. First though they must eradicate the old stove from its moorings and this ends up being a difficult task so I give them a hand. The two of them have trouble negotiating the turn out of the house with the old stove in tow so once again I come over to help them, at the same time two painters are coming up with a bucket of paint thinner. It is raining pretty hard and as the three of us are going down the steep driveway dumbass #1 loses control of the trolley causing the stove to speed up its descent to the street. Dumbass #2 tries to grab the stove but ends up colliding with me and the two approaching painters (inexplicably grabbing my hat in the process for some reason, as if to say "This stove is out of control; I'm grabbing that guy's hat."). I hit the ground hard but not before I bring down two Mexicans and a Jamaican named "Demonde." I am bleeding from the knee down and now have paint thinner sipping into it. Dumbass #3 (me) grabs a tube of petroleum jelly out of the medicine cabinet thinking it is the Neosporin (they look just alike). So now I have ground in the thinner residue with a prodigious helping of petroleum jelly. I am now on fire.
While nursing my wound the winpor guy arrives to replace a large window in the living room that had a hairline crack. He proceeds to give me a history of how glass is made. In Louisiana. Shreveport to be exact. He expounds on transition temperatures, structural integrity, and other such technical details that end up begetting conversational material that is only slightly less exciting than a quilt festival. It was a fascinatingly dull conversation in which I lapsed into a fixed stare at the center of his forehead, an unrepentant gaze that would have impressed even the most hardened of epileptics. It was at this point that I left my body. His voice slowly faded away, only his lips moving as I entered the ethereal plane and enjoyed a chess game with a scantily clad Croatian woman of a sordid reputation. Unfortunately I had to leave the game early and arrive back into our living room in time to answer his repeated query, "Well do you want me to order it or not?"
Now the roofing guy insists I go up the ladder to see the shingles he is replacing. Both of them. Two 4x6 shingles. As if I was in danger of not taking his word for it (could he possibly only be replacing one shingle and charging me an extra seven dollars?) So I went up there. And stared; me and one heavily set repairman standing on my roof staring at a shingle for ten minutes. Why ten minutes? Because this individual, knowing the magnetic pull of my reputed curiosity for all things mundane decided to tell me about the worst roofing repair job he had ever done, a topic only slightly less interesting than a recital of the periodic table (which I enumerated privately to keep my dwindling sanity). That's when she beckoned me, the Croatian woman, somewhere between sulfur and phosphorus. I left my body once again and we frolicked through fields of green but alas I had to come back as my astute rhetorician was descending the ladder. Unfortunately he stopped halfway down to talk to me some more, so now for the next five minutes there were the two of us, sturdy men bonding together while one of them suffers the temporal burns that a aluminum ladder sitting in the hot sun can produce.
I can't wait for the plumber.
The plumber (and his apprentice who was barely coherent) arrived promptly at eight am. While entering the house he assured me that he was “the best plumber in Fayette county” and proceeded to tighten his tool belt six inches below his waistline as if he was ready to protect his reputation by whipping out a battery powered drill and applying it prodigiously to anything (or anyone) who dared question his claim. While looking over the litany of complaints that our obsessively attentive assessor had compiled, he dropped on to the kitchen counter his hat, cell phone and curiously enough a copy of the latest Farmer’s Almanac, as if he was prepared for any eventuality. It was comforting to know that in addition to satisfying our plumbing needs he could also answer any questions as to how long one could get an ear of corn through the innovative use of fertilizer or how to alleviate the lingering effects of a bee sting by applying some long forgotten Appalachian wisdom.
With his mute assistant at his side he explained what he was going to do and several minutes into this one-sided “conversation” he began to pepper his speech with colloquial witticisms. I use that term loosely as I had not the foggiest notion what he was attempting to imply. In explaining the usage of the drip valve he exclaimed that “two frogs don’t swim in a leaky barrel.” What? Two frogs won’t swim in a leaky barrel? Why? Do they have the capacity to differentiate between a leaky barrel and one that is not leaking? How do they accomplish this? How do they get into a standing barrel in the first place? And why two frogs? Would one swim in a leaky barrel but not if accompanied by another of its own kind? While trying to understand the ramifications of amphibian intelligence his mute assistant suddenly discovered his voice and began laughing as if to imply that the joke is on me…two frogs will indeed swim in a leaky barrel. What this had to do with the acquisition and installation of a pvc valve was beyond me. At this point I was beginning to form my own colloquial witticism such as “two plumbers can’t breathe in a sealed container.”
They then moved onto the bathrooms and began working. Half an hour later I saw them walking up and down the hall when they walked into the living room and asked me “where is the upstairs?” Apparently after a fruitless search they could not find the stairs. I had never been asked this before and was afraid of pointing upward for fear their gaze would be transfixed at that particular point in the ceiling right above me. I told them to open the door right before our bedroom; he immediately responded with some droning anecdote about a set of stairs that had previously confused them on an earlier job. He continued his invocation to the gods of topographical confusion when I suddenly noticed a strong wind and a blinding light emanate from the dining room. It was her, my scantily clad Croatian woman. With an enticing gaze she beckoned me from the netherworld to leave this place and join her on the other side. I floated toward her when she suddenly disappeared; the electrician had knocked on the door.
The plumbers departed to find their elusive quarry while I answered the door, greeting a large man who looked as though he had just finished river bathing. If there is ever a scientific qualification of what it means to be a “good ole boy” then surely this is their template. He came equipped with a screwdriver, a LED reader and a t-shirt that listed ten reasons why drinking beer is preferable to that of having a wife. He introduced himself as “Stan, I’m your man” and told me he lived behind Gus’s fried chicken shack on I-64. This comment was momentarily disturbing to me as the only thing I had observed behind Gus’s fried chicken shack was a dilapidated picnic table and two rusting 55 gallon drums. Nevertheless my fears were allayed by his experience in correcting our electrical problems as listed by the assessor. While he worked in the kitchen I sat down at the table and began reading my book. Trying to initiate small talk he asked what I was reading, I replied “The Age of Napoleon.” He commented that while he liked the movie and it made him laugh he could not see himself reading it. Seeing my confused look he commented that “the chickens have sharp talons.” It was obvious that the Napoleon of antiquity was not the one he had in mind. I replied that this was Napoleon of France in which he retorted that he usually doesn’t like foreign movies but if it was as funny as the American version he would give it a chance. I thanked him.
Half an hour passed before he attempted to engage me in conversation again while working on an outlet under the microwave. He surmised that we were moving (his perceptive ability was stunning) and asked me where. I replied Portland, Oregon. “Better take your gun then.” I asked why, he replied “because there are a lot of bunny lovers out there.” Bunny lovers? In Portland? Was this some sort of sordid sect? Seeing my confusion he clarified. He explained that there were radical groups of people who would interfere with your hunting, not wanting any animals to be harmed. Apparently he had seen my itinerary for this year:
a) Move to Portland.
b) Hunt rabbits.
He told me that when hunting, hunters needed to arm themselves against these nomadic tribes of ethical warriors that roamed the countryside. This was confusing to me as I thought hunters were already armed to begin with.
Again she beckoned me, to travel with her to the Emerald city.
“Well we are done.” The plumbers had finished. His assistant revealed his incredible grasp of intuition by noting that as I had “a lot of books up there” that I “must like to read a lot.” Especially biographies on Napoleon Dynamite I privately surmised. As I wrote him a check for the amount billed I asked him if everything was all right as I had smelled some gas when they were working on the furnace heater. He stated that they had briefly disconnected the gas line to check it and that the gas was residue that should dissipate. He assured me there would be no problems with their repairs but added “then again you can’t teach a barn owl to whistle.” What? Who would do such a thing? And why? In the kitchen the electrician, overhearing the conversation laughed.
In the distance someone strummed a banjo.
Afterward the electrician spent 20 minutes (in which he eradicated the notion of time being linear) telling me how to successfully hunt coyote. What about me screams Allan "the coyote hunter?" What could have possibly alerted him that I was interested in this subject? As I was trapped at the moment (feeding my son Jack) he told me of the bait used, the traps employed, and the ways to mask your scent and how to skin them. I was horrified. This sudden knowledge could only be useful within an apocalyptic scenario in which a mysterious plague wipes out most of mankind and leaves only me and millions of ravenous coyotes. I am now in the possession of the suddenly profound knowledge of how to eradicate certain scavengers within Fayette County. Sadly I found myself regretting not being able to use these suddenly acquired skills to rid myself of local electricians.
He then told me that he also had a daughter Maya's age and was raising her to be a "hunter/gatherer;" which is useful if Western civilization collapses and our economy is reduced to bartering beaver pelts and exchanging fire.
Who are these individuals? Does my wife purposefully combine the words "handyman" and "mentally unstable" in Google? She never gives me a concrete answer. Just a lot of giggling; it is because she knows all too well my self-proclaimed axiom, that if there is an oddball about I will be pestered by him.