My landlord warned me.
Then again, my over-sized, South Philadelphia, Italian landlord and I have a rather pedestrian relationship. That is, as long as I pay the rent, he allows me to live where I live. And enjoy breathing.
Which is probably why he warned me… to be careful. No doubt because he doesn’t want to lose one of the few good tenants he’s got. That is one who pays rent. On time. And takes care of the place. That he lovingly built. And lived in for 10 years. Before he got married. And moved across the river to New Jersey. And now has a ‘second job’ trying to have a second kid.
Hmm… Who would have ever thought that having another kid would require so much work. Especially at something you used to enjoy working overtime on. While taking so many precautions to defer the midnight feedings and predawn, aromatic diaper changes.
Life can be such a conundrum… And rather screwy. Or, in my landlord’s case – exhausting.
Nonetheless, last week I informed the oversized galoot, who throws around hundred pound sacks from his restaurant supply business much more easily then I can toss about air guitars, that the second-floor, wooden and glass French doors badly needed revitalizing. Not to mention the broken doorbell, and the front stoop.
And Big Anthony squeezed out a big give-a-shit smile, with some of his cigar smoke and uttered:
‘Did you get that notice of the rent increase?’
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I wiped my ass with it.’
Such is the grandeur of our cigar smoking relationship.
At that I exhaled and shrugged: ‘I guess I’m going to have to do it, so the doors don’t rot away. And I’ll end up freezing in the winter.’
‘Be sure to be careful with the polyurethane,’ were his parting words. ‘Keep the doors and windows open while you’re using it. And don’t forget to sand the doors down, first.’
Hmm… He didn’t need to remind me not to forget to tape around all the windows in the French doors – all 20 of them!
But of course!
Did I happen to mention that I’m no good with this manual labor stuff. The closest I’ve come to working with my hands the last 30 years has been pounding on my computer… and blocking punches from outraged readers.
Indeed, I am avid. I am willing and eager. But I was the guy in that once-a-week high school shop class who everything that I made ended up being an ashtray.
I remember a bloody time with one of my future-ex-wives. I was carving out some perches for our bird cage. And just before I sliced my left index finger nearly off she had already gone to the kitchen to fetch paper towels.
‘How did you know?’ I wondered as she was driving me to the emergency room to be repaired with 8 stitches.
‘You never fail,’ she said, and began to laugh hysterically. ‘You’re terrible with your hands.’
Hmm… I wonder what she really meant by that? Perhaps some day I ought to ask if Ed, my ex-best friend in Carolina, and her next, was any better with his hands. Then again they have stayed together the last 35 years.
No doubt I should have been handier.
But I am what I am. Like a puppy… panting, willing, excited, anxious… but has no bloody idea if he’s supposed to chew that stick… or stick it up his ass.
So I walked to the paint store. And after an hour of scouting about bought the sandpaper, brushes and polyurethane.
“Anything else I need,” I asked the youthful clerk. “Anything special I need to do?” The kid shrugged, like I was interrupting the only two thoughts guys that age have – tits… and ass.
His only disinterested response: “Cash… or credit card?”
It took me a good hour to sand the flaking crud off the heavy wooden doors. And well over an hour to tape around those 20 beveled windows.
Over an hour of taping! What-duh-hell-what-duh-hell…what duh-f-k am I doing?
But like my dear ol’ bourbon sipping Pappy used to preach to his two indentured servants – my brother and me: ‘Preparation is the key to success!’
What he meant, as we often learned, was that if we screwed up that he was prepared to plant his size elevens where duh sun don’t shine.
Then I began slapping on the first of four coats of the polyurethane. And even though I was completely outside, standing on the second floor balcony, the toxic aroma of the polyurethane immediately started smacking me up alongside my pathetic little brain.
The second coat got my lungs to begging. The third blew up my head like a beach ball. And by the fourth I was heavy into bourbon, beer and a shot or two of brandy.
Sheesh… the stuff is worse than an ex-wife.
Okay, perhaps I should have said: at least as bad as having ‘perfect’ me as your husband…
Then again, one merely kills you, while duh utter demonically tortures you until you welcome death. In front of a speeding Mack truck. (I’ll let you sort that out.)
And while I was leaning over the balcony, assuming a sickly position, Jo-Jo, who owns the car detailing shop across the street shouted up: ‘You should be wearing a mask!’
But of course!
And Mark, my neighbor to the south, who is a contractor, snorted: ‘You should have picked a cooler day!’
And then Vinny, my South Vietnamese neighbor to the north, who always looks like he’s scowling, shouted up: ‘You should have gotten my son to do that!’
What I should have done was heave my digested, gurgling beer, bourbon and brandy all over them.
But after another hour slumped on the deck, while my sickly sweat evaporated, I eventually pulled myself enough together to finish my other two ‘honey-do’ jobs: Fixing the doorbell without electrocuting the entire neighborhood. And repainting the front stoop that I somehow managed to construct without killing myself nearly 4 years ago.
At last I proudly stood out front, pointing out my day of accomplishments, in grandiose detail to everyone passing by on their way to the local pub. I didn’t care if they were deaf, blind or just dumb they were going to hear my braggadocio.
Most folks smiled politely, but then seemed a little nervous when I kept ringing the doorbell, and pointing up to the balcony doors practically glistening in the late afternoon sun.
Finally Adam, my ‘honest’ Jewish attorney stopped by. And after I rang the doorbell and pointed out my ‘excellent’ work on the front stoop and balcony doors, he offered his usually terse and honest assessment.
“You do remember what they did to that last Jewish carpenter, don’t you?”
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…