Archives for the month of: February, 2013

Mona and Shelly were a lovely couple with equal parts affability and British stiff-upper-lip-ness.  They also seemed to be perfect for each other.  At least from the outside.  Then one day Mona called me to do some work at a different address.  Shortly after that, I was back at their old house helping Shelly prepare to sell it.

Another happy couple bites the dust, I thought.

A year and a half later Shelly asked me to come do some work at her new place.   I recognised some of the furnishings:  the curtains, the kitchen table and chairs … and the photos of her and Mona on her bookcase.  So perhaps they hadn’t gone to Splitsville.  Maybe they’d found a preferred way of living apart that would help keep them together.  The New, New Normal.

‘And how is Mona?’ I asked.

‘What?’  Her eyes bugged out like I’d just summoned the devil.  She spat out her words.  ‘I don’t know.  Why do you ask?’

‘I noticed you have a couple pictures of her here.’

‘I do?’

How could she not know?  How could she forget that there are not-one-but-two photographs of her and her ex-partner gracing her home?  It’s not like she had so many photos hung on the walls, standing on side-tables and magnetically fastened onto her fridge that she lost track of who was in them.  There were exactly two photos in her home and they both featured the same two women.

‘We haven’t spoken in two years,’ she said.

‘Oh.  I’m sorry.’

Awkward pause.

‘I’d still like her to be a part of my life but she doesn’t want anything to do with me.’

‘Oh dear,’ I said.

‘Don’t get me started,’ she said.

But clearly it was too late.  She’d started.   And before I knew it, she was already half-way through getting started and well on her way to nearly finishing.  I knew I should have kept my mouth shut.

‘We were together for twenty years and now I can’t even contact her.  She found another place to live but has moved on since then and I don’t know where.  My letters get returned to me.  It’s like a divorce.  Don’t ever get divorced.  I don’t recommend it to anyone.’

‘No … I … yeah, good advice.’

‘Have you heard from her?’ she asked me.

‘I was at one place she lived near her work,’ I said.  I think she was looking for better information.

‘She doesn’t live there anymore,’ she said.

I imagined Shelly going around to Mona’s place, knocking on the door, peering through the windows, climbing up the drainpipe and shimmying down the chimney to find an abandoned flat.  In a dusty spotlight in the middle of the hardwood floor, a torn photo of the two of them the only clue to Mona ever having been there.

But what I’d imagined was no worse than what Shelly had actually gone through.  It was bad enough that she was sad.  So sad in fact that she desperately asked her handyman, reliable though he is, for any help finding her old love.  This was one job for which I had no tools.


We handymen, for all we’re worth, are not exempt from the occasional moment of staring up at the stars glistening in the infinite sky and pondering life’s worth.   Whilst planing down a door, slivers of Victorian pine piling up like snowflakes around my feet, I too have contemplated my existence with thoughts of ‘There must be more than this.’

Because there is, isn’t there?  Despite my reliance on my fellow human’s instinctive desire to feather their nests, I can’t help but recognise that perhaps some of these nests are already feathered enough.

That medicine cabinet with the built in lighting, double sided mirrors and integrated toothbrush holder is indeed lovely, but are you telling me you couldn’t get by with the one you already had?  Perhaps that beloved IKEA shelf does look better six inches higher, but has your quality of life improved significantly?  I like dogs too, I’m just not convinced that yours needs its own room.

Sometimes, for those of us fortunate enough to live in this middle-class, western society, it seems like a clear case of The-more-you-have-the-more-you-want.

One client of mine, for whom I’ve worked several times over the past three or four years, sold their lovely four-bedroom house – sparse, not overly decorated or cluttered – for a much larger four-bedroom house because they were expecting a second child.  The houses were practically identical, but the new one has three bathrooms, larger bedrooms, a study, a dressing room, an enormous utility room and an out-building known as the ‘Man Cave’.

In a brief conversation with the husband, I learned that they had tripled their mortgage to live there.  Tripled!  He works for one of the big banks in the City so I had to assume that the new mortgage still fell within his budget.  But even the way he said the word ‘tripled’ simmered with pangs of regret.  Not so much about the money, more about the necessity.  Did they really need the larger house?

I’m not being critical of people’s lifestyle choices.  I, too, live in a house that is certainly larger than my family of three needs.  And, yes, I often take for granted what I have.

But could I have chosen alternative ways to spend my days besides making people’s homes look better when my own is in various stages of decay?  Of course.  And I often do.  That’s why I write.  That’s why other people play the piano, or knit, or breed Schnauzers, or make up recipes, or dance, or coach football, or sit on the PTA, or daydream.  We are not what we do and what we do is not who we are.  But we choose how we live.

I don’t regret my decision to do this job.  I’m in a different office every day with a different employer requesting different tasks.  I’ve never fallen into a handyman rut because there isn’t one.  Ultimately I’ve simply sought out the same thing everyone else seeks: happiness.

I’m not really looking for answers, just putting it out there.  And I don’t have time to sit and wonder too long.  I have to go replace someone’s doorknobs.


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