Steve Braunias on the perils of getting in a home handyman
Things fall apart, the clothesline cannot hold. To own a home is to stand helplessly by and watch bits and pieces of it wear and tear, year after year; the only thing you can do about it is the worst thing you can do about it. You get a man to fix it. You call The Handyman.
I hate handymen. I have no idea how to fix things around the house and put myself at their mercy. Well, that shouldn't be a problem; I have no idea about medicine or finance, either, so I go to see my doctor and my accountant, and they take care of the situation. One cures death, the other cures taxes.
Handymen ought to cure incompetence. They used to, all the time; the New Zealand handyman was one of the most well-loved figures in the community, an icon of trust and the Kiwi Way of Life, someone practical and capable, who heeded the call of the weak and the hopeless, arrived with a smile, was usually called Frank or Jimbo, and was in and out like a flash, having fixed the job with good cheer and a merry whistle, and was almost apologetic as they took your money, which wasn't much – the code of the handyman was based on service. They were your mate. They insisted on mate's rates. "Happy," Frank or Jimbo would say, pocketing $20-$30, "to help."
No longer. I was recently at the mercy of the handyman who I contacted at an online service because there wasn't anyone listed in the classified section of my suburban newspaper. He had tattoos on his knuckles and I guess he'd been inside, but that shouldn't matter a damn. Could he do the work? I had several minor jobs. I estimated that, all up, it might take him an hour, maybe a bit more. He stayed for weeks.
The first job was to repair the clothesline – two lengths of twine tied from a lemon tree to a grapefruit tree. Even I could have done that, and had, a few years ago, but I figured that seeing as I got him in for other things that he may as well do that, too. I left him to it. It was mid-afternoon. The sun was nearly setting when I remembered he was still on the property. He'd fastened three lengths of twine including one at an acute angle and at a height that required a stepladder.
He spent most of the next day screwing in the legs of a Formica table. He spent most of the next month repairing a glass sliding door. "You don't have to knock," I told him, after a fortnight. "Just come in." I began to imagine a horror movie. A handyman startles the householder, abruptly standing at the doorstep with workboots and a steady gaze. Later, he gets out his tape measure, one of those ones with a razor-sharp metallic strip that goes SCHTIK! when a button is pushed and the strip races back inside its case, and cuts the householder to ribbons…
More recently I put myself at the mercy of a handyman I contacted in the classified section of my suburban newspaper because there wasn't anyone listed at an online service. He didn't see a house. He saw a palatial estate; he saw an easy mark. I showed him the jobs. A cupboard door had come off its hinges. A lampshade had broken. A shower head had snapped off. He said, "$300."
We overuse the word gobsmacked. It's lost its real meaning; the mouth doesn't just fall open, it falls open because the brain is injured. I started swearing at him, and he said, "Well, okay, how much can you afford?" I pointed out that my personal finances were none of his damned business, that it was a matter of how much the work was worth. I hated him and should have slammed the door on his face but agreed on a figure which was still too much.
It didn't take him long. He left behind a trail of damage. The cupboard door doesn't close properly. He put the lampshade on the wrong way up. The showerhead drips. I'm going to have to get in a handyman. The horror movie continues.