Diary of a Small Contractor, Days 20, 21, 22
Thursday, October 23, 1986
Andrew owns a music store. He must be doing well. On an acre of lovely land in Woodside, his house is cutting edge 1950's style with big windows, high ceilings, flat roof.
A bachelor who rarely cooks, Andrew has a big kitchen in serious need of an update. For advice he's hired Isabella, my favorite decorator.
I tell Andrew I've worked at another music store, Swain's House of Music, his competitor.
"Don't tell them any of my business secrets," Andrew says.
"Do you have any?" I ask.
"No," Andrew says. "But maybe they think I do."
My job is to install new lights and a new vent fan. When I tell Andrew what it will cost, he chuckles and says, "I may be in the wrong business."
The kitchen - in fact, the whole house - is wired with low voltage light switches which were considered high tech in the 50s but now seem laughably crude, involving an entire closet filled with clunky equipment that belongs in a museum of archaic electrical gear. “Tear them out,” he says.
Besides running a music store, Andrew is a serious photographer. On the wall in the hallway is a series of photos, the kind that turn a naked woman into a black and white abstraction of lines and light. I don't like it. Then there's one that's a straightforward shot of a naked woman awkwardly climbing out of a washing machine. It makes me laugh.
"What's so funny?" Andrew asks.
"I don't know," I say. "It just is."
"That's what everybody says. How about this: it comments on the dual role of the American woman as sex object and domestic laborer."
"Were you thinking that when you created the shot?"
"No. I was just goofing around with a model."
"It's funnier without the commentary."
"That's what everybody says."
I tell Andrew about the Ansel Adams prints I hung — just yesterday — for Dr. Mike Van Dyke. Andrew says, “I used to study with Ansel. But I'm more of an indoor guy.”
I cut holes in the ceiling and the roof, install the wires, the ducting — and discover that the vent fan is a piece of shit. I fiddle with it for a couple of hours, trying to make the fan blades turn freely. It's underpowered. The mounting is so poor that the blades tend to chatter. It has no damper, so when not in use there will be a backdraft into the kitchen. Made by Braun, which should be ashamed to sell this crap.
Isabella selected the fan. A botch of a choice.
Now I'm in the position of somehow making this fan work — and work well — or else I make Isabella look bad. I'm loyal to Isabella.
Friday, October 24, 1986
I drive to San Carlos and pick up a roof jack and a cap into which I fabricate my own self-designed custom-built damper. Back at Andrew's house, I install it and beef up the fan mounting with some self-designed custom-built straps made of sheet metal. Sheesh. A lot of extra work, but now it's solid.
I cut out strips of drywall, run the wires (replacing old knob-and-tube), install the downlights. When I leave for the day, there are holes everywhere as if the house was attacked by a slasher. I'm falling further and further behind.
Saturday, October 25, 1986
I'd hoped to take the day off. Instead I spend 8 hours at Andrew's taping and mudding drywall, texturing, sanding, touching up details. I use "hot mud," which is quick-drying joint compound allowing two or even three coats in a single day. I'm talking to myself. Drywall is so mindless. I walk out to the truck talking or singing. I practice bird calls. I must look dotty.
Andrew notices. "You okay?" he asks.
"Sorry. Drywalling does this to me."
"Is it toxic?"
"No, just boring. Take a photo of me, naked, climbing out of a five gallon bucket of joint compound. Leave out the commentary."
Andrew studies me while he rubs his neck. "Hold your hand in the right place, and you'll cover up the commentary."
"I was only joking about the photo."
"So am I." Andrew pulls a roll of bills out of his pocket. "How about if I just pay you?"
Licking his thumb, he peels off twelve one-hundred-dollar bills. Good commentary.
Tuesday, November 15, 1988
A couple years later, Isabella and I return to Andrew's house. Isabella is a mother of three, divorced, a grandmother, still cute and peppy. Behind a facade of blondness, she's one wise woman.
Andrew isn't home. Isabella says our job is to de-bachelorize the decor. After twenty years of living alone, Andrew is preparing for his girlfriend to move in. My job, specifically, is to add some soft lighting.
In the hallway, the photos are already gone.
"Hey Isabella," I say. "Just wondering. When the girlfriend moves in, who does the laundry?"
Isabella sighs, wistfully. "The girlfriend, of course."
And I'll do the drywall.