A long time ago, in a cold and mosquitoed place far, far away lived two much younger and more naïve Cunninghams. They were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Buffalo, Minnesota, and had recently been informed that their rent was going up $25 a month.
Given that our apartment was a tiny hovel unworthy of the rent we were already paying, and the fact that we seemed to find ourselves driving up to St. Cloud most weekends anyway, we decided to look for a better, cheaper apartment closer to a bigger city and my folks. We picked up the paper and among the apartment ads we found an ad that said “Why rent when you can own?”
The short version of that story is that soon thereafter we signed our name to a piece of paper proffered by a company who assured us that there was no obstacle to building a house starting in November in Minnesota, despite our stated concerns that winter might be a problem. Turns out, that assurance was good only until the ink dried on the contract. (And to this day, whenever any service or sales person tells us that something will be no problem despite our stated concerns, we look at each other say, “Sure, we’ll just rrrrip right through the frost!”) In any case, we didn’t have any money for a down payment, and we’d agreed to do sweat equity on the house in lieu of a cash down payment. We signed on to do all the insulation of our tri-level in progress, all the priming and painting, and all the staining of woodwork. Looking back, it’s clear to me that we only did this because we were completely ignorant of what that involved.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but by the time we moved in, because of the work itself, the trips back and forth from our apartment to the building site 50 minutes away, and the classic builder bullshit, Scott hated that house, and wasn’t the least bit sad to leave it behind when we moved to Arizona.
Building that house, we determined it was something we never, ever wanted to do again, and any naïveté we had going into it had been stripped from us by the builder’s shenanigans. It was at this point we came up with our new mantra: Pay. Da. Man. We had discovered through this long and maddening process that sometimes you save money at the cost of your sanity and health, not to mention oodles of time. Some things really are best left to professionals. Like the installation of a corner lot’s worth of sod.
Somehow, though, I forgot this mantra over the intervening decade, and am frequently possessed of a DIY fervor I’m quite at a loss to explain. Every single project begins with a combination of cockiness and a zealot’s gleam in my eye. It’s always the same: I think, “I have a great deal of (baseless) confidence in my own abilities to get a job done. I own and understand tools. I can do it!”
Only, it turns out, I can only sorta do it. Nothing works out like it should for any of my projects, ever. Apparently, I possess the knowledge of how things are supposed to be done, but lack the art that allows some people to wield tools with finesse and panache. I live in awe of people who can do such things. I desperately want to be Bob Vila, but when it comes to home improvement projects, I’m more Tim Taylor. At best. Actually, I’m more like this:
Never has this been more apparent than in the bathroom project I have been immersed in for over two months now. I started a long and nerdy post about this torturous process, but realized that I probably would’ve lost most of you before I even got the toilet dismantled. So I’ll let the pictures tell the story, if you’re inclined to view the entire debacle start to finish. If you click the picture below, mouse over the image in the slideshow and click on the ‘i’ that appears, and you’ll get the commentary of what is a sadder, sweatier saga than even the pictures show. I spared you most of the swearing and throwing of tools.
I have come out of this project several hundred dollars poorer, but with a greater self-knowledge than I’d had previously. I have learned that I am so very done with DIY projects, and if it cannot be fixed with a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, or paintbrush, I will hire it out.
PAY. DA. MAN. Words to live by, I tell ya.
(Clickey da wee monkey for slideshow.)