Home on the Range 

When we moved into our house three years ago, it wasn’t exactly a fixer-upper, but like any middle-aged “previously owned” home, it had plenty of issues (wood rot, decaying plumbing, mysterious paint color choices). After an initial flurry of fixer-upping, our wellspring of enthusiasm — along with our financial resources — ran dry. But like any homeowner whose capacity to make money doesn’t quite equal her capacity to dream, I still believe that one day I’ll be able to dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

A hopeful to-do list, stashed under my desk blotter, documents those dreams — of pergolas to be built, screen doors to be replaced, belligerent icemakers to come out, walls to come down, carpets to rip up, porches to screen in, et cetera. Every now and then, I’ll pull the list out, update it, and show it to my husband, who nods agreeably and then enlightens me as to a few other tasks that also warrant our attention — insulation, leaky coils, something about gutters — and I dutifully add them to the list, reluctantly prioritizing them over my admittedly less urgent and more cosmetic pet projects. I print out a fresh copy, read it, get depressed, and slip it back under the blotter with a sigh. Someday my prince, I mean, reasonably priced, skilled, reliable, and always-available handyman will come, right?

Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a handy fellow. He’s laid down wood floors, installed toilets, run cables through crawlspaces so tiny that my stomach would churn and palms sweat with vicarious claustrophobia. He’s built his own computers, taken apart the dishwasher and put it back together again (not sure why but, hey, I was impressed), rewired lamps, and regularly brushed the cat’s teeth. All miraculous feats, almost all performed before we had kids.

Before we had kids, we seemed to have nothing but time to pursue our little passions. He could build computers and sell guitars on eBay; I could lie around reading Trollope and watching Xena: Warrior Princess. No worries. But now, if he’s busy installing ceiling fans or laying flagstones, then I’m on childcare duty solo, as I am during much of the week. Not cool. Hence my to do list is not a “honey do” list, which of course has always begged the question: Who is going “to do” it all, if not my honey?

Enter my new handyman, Mr. X. I’m afraid I can’t reveal his name — I can’t risk anyone trying to steal him away. Sorry, but finally securing the answer to my prayers seems to have made me a trifle paranoid.

Good handymen are like good babysitters: You don’t get them by responding to flyers left in your mailbox or by enlisting the services of middlemen. Call it kismet, serendipity, or just plain good luck, but somehow they find you, arriving at your doorstep full of boyish enthusiasm and good cheer. And just as quickly as they appear, they can vanish, leaving you and your lofty plans twisting in the wind.

After about six weeks of phone tag, missed appointments, and interesting excuses (not that I doubt a single one of them!), Mr. X is on the job and blowing through my list so quickly, so competently, and so reasonably that I am coming up with new tasks as fast as I can to keep him here. In fact, I will do just about anything to keep him here. I’ve given him random pieces of furniture and materials that I know we could probably sell on Craigslist or at a garage sale, but I’d much rather Mr. X reap the profits if that’ll keep me in his good graces. I’ve considered baking cookies. I’ve thought about offering him a place to stay should he ever need one — like maybe the guest room he’s currently renovating for us. It’ll have satellite TV, wi-fi, and hopefully, a finished floor and painted walls when he returns from his long weekend, which he just extended by another day. I am biting my nails. I mean, so far he’s been as good as his word. But what if he has a family emergency? What if his truck breaks down? What if my garrulous five-year-old and her constant need to “check Mr. X’s work” finally drive him away? What if I’ve jinxed myself by writing this column or he reads it and thinks I’m some kind of stalker? Oh crap, what have I done ...


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