Saturday, September 01, 2012
If You Can Get It - 29
I clocked in at twenty minutes before midnight and got my official NaNoWriMo victory pic with a wordcount of 50,393. Now I'm up to 51,367 -- 4023 today. I hope people find it enjoyable, as I'll be taking the weekend off as we do some family traveling. The soonest I could post more would be Monday night, but it may be another day or two depending.
Paul was finishing up work in the bathroom by the time Kristy got home from work the next day.
“This should be pretty well set up,” he said. “I used a fast drying epoxy and let it sit for two hours before bolting the toilet to it. I told Katie to give it a day or two before caulking it.”
“Kristy,” Katie interjected. “Paul does electrical work too. I want to get a nicer light for this bathroom, and he could put it up for us. Do you mind? And he says it would be easy to replace the old two prong outlets with three prong.”
“Do you mind?” Kristy asked.
Paul shrugged. “It’s an easy job. If you pick up the fixture and outlets you want, putting them up is a matter of a few hours.”
“When would be a good time for you?”
Paul’s brow furrowed slightly. “This week I am very busy. And I will need to turn the power off, so it should be during daylight. Would you mind if I came Saturday morning?”
“I certainly don’t mind,” Kristy said. “You don’t have to work the weekend just for us, though. Next week is fine if that’s better for you.”
Paul shrugged. “I usually work six days a week. This time of year especially, people are in a rush to get projects done before Christmas. Then there will be a few weeks when no one calls unless it is an emergency, until the into the new year.”
“Well, if you don’t mind Saturday, that’s fine with us. Let me get you a check for this job,” Kristy led the way into the kitchen and got her check book out of her purse. “How much do I owe you?”
“Seventy-five dollars.” Paul pulled a yellow receipt pad out of his bag and wrote out a bill, which he handed her.
“Is that all? You had to come two times.”
“It was really a small job.”
“Okay. No wonder you’re busy. People must love your rates. I was sure it would be at least a hundred.”
Paul spread his hands. “Too many people overcharge. It isn’t right to charge people more than it’s worth just because they don’t know how to do the work themselves.”
“Well, there’s a lot that we don’t know how to do, and I’d be happy to have you back for lots more hours. Let me give you my phone number.” Kristy retrieved one of her business cards from her purse and wrote her and Katie’s cell phone numbers on the back of it. “Let me know if your schedule changes, and otherwise we’ll expect you Saturday morning. No matter how lazy we are we’ll be up and about by 9AM.”
“I will see you then.”
Katie spent the week doing an impressive job of painting the bathroom — creamy white bead board and cabinets, pale teal walls — as if determined to redeem herself after the toilet incident. By Saturday, it was all done and the floor scrubbed, pristine except for the box sitting on the floor with the new light fixture she had picked out.
Kristy awoke early Saturday and went for a run in the in the frosty early morning light of the first day of December. When she got back Katie had the coffee on and was mixing muffin batter.
“You better go get your shower now,” Katie advised. “You don’t want to be tying up the bathroom when Paul gets here in half-an-hour. I’ll have these muffins in the oven in a few minutes. Do you want chocolate chips or blueberries?”
“You’re hopeless,” Kristy complained. “I get out of bed early to try and stay fit and you’re mixing up muffins.”
“If you want to go gnaw on some celery instead, be my guest. I don’t see you passing up anything I cook.”
“I can’t! It’s so good.”
“Then why are you complaining? You’re thinner than I am.”
“Only because I work out and watch what I eat. At my age, if I ate like you, I’d look like Mom. Genetics bite, kiddo, and I’m not ready to settle into a comfortably soft middle age.”
“And if I knew what was good for me I’d get in shape now because it’s harder later. Blah, blah, blah. Blueberries or chocolate chips, Miss Taut Thighs?”
“Blueberries.” Kristy stalked off towards the shower, feeling that moral victory had somehow remained illusive.
Paul arrived just as the muffins were becoming cool enough to come out of the papers cleanly.
“We’re just having a late breakfast,” Kristy explained. “Can we get you anything? Cup of coffee? Muffin?”
“I already ate,” Paul excused himself. “Really, I can just start work.”
“Oh come on,” objected Katie. “You must at least want coffee.” She poured him a cup. “Here.”
Paul accepted the cup of coffee that was thrust into his hands, and Katie put a muffin in front of him, which he eyed speculatively.
“I’m sorry there’s nowhere to sit in here,” Kristy said. “That’s one of the things I want to change with the new kitchen design. Right now we just kind of stand around if we don’t go the dining room.”
Paul took a bite. “Mmm. You make them from scratch?” he asked.
“Always,” said Katie with some pride.
“You said things are usually slow for you heading into the holidays. Would that be a good time to work on some kitchen plans and get started on that?”
Paul nodded. “In another couple weeks, people will stop calling and I will have a lot of time on my hands. If you don’t mind, that would be a good time for planning a big project. The last few years, I’ve just used that time to catch up on projects around the farm if the work isn’t too bad.”
“You have a farm?” Katie asked.
“A very small one: 70 acres. Eventually it will be a full time sustainable livestock farm, but right now I just have a couple dozen goats and some chickens. I want to get cows, but cows take a lot more attention.”
“So is the handyman work just until you can get the farm running full time?” Kristy asked.
“It’s hard to say. I like working on old houses. And I think it’s important for farmers to be integrated into the community, not just treating farming as a business. That is how we got to the point where we eat corporate food that is grown in ways nature never intended.”
“So did you start the handyman work or the farming first?”
“After I left seminary, I came out here to stay with a friend and sort out what to do with my life. The job market was terrible, and I was helping Joe’s father lay down some flooring and do other things around their house. He was telling me what an absurd quote he’d got from a contractor to do the work. I thought, ‘There must be a need for honest guys who are willing to do this work.’ So I took out an ad and started doing work. After a year and a half, I was starting to feel bad about staying with Joe’s family for so long. I heard about this farm for sale, twenty miles out of town. It was going cheap, and there was a farmhouse on it, in such bad shape that you could count the stars in some rooms at night. I had a little money in the bank from the insurance when my father died. So I bought it and started fixing it up.”
“Wow,” said Katie.
After a moment’s silence, Kristy asked, “You said you were in a seminary?”
Paul swirled his coffee pensively, then shrugged. “I became convinced that I had a calling to the priesthood and transfered to a pontifical college half way through. Then I went on to seminary for the Chicago diocese. It pretty quickly became clear that it wasn’t my vocation. But I’m stubborn, so it took me a while to drop out. You said you saw my ad in the bulletin. Do you two go to St. Anne’s?”
“Oh no,” said Kristy. “We were raised kind of Catholic, but our parents didn’t really go to church except on Christmas and Easter until a couple years ago when they got religion. They’re big fans of this priest named Father Larry, so they went to St. Anne’s when they were visiting and brought the bulletin home.”
“Father Larry.” Paul shook his head. “Sometimes I think I should just go Latin Mass.” After this inexplicable comment Paul drained the rest of his coffee and gathered up his things. “I didn’t mean to spend all this time talking about myself. I had better go get started.”
Katie let the way to show him the light fixture she had picked out and Kristy gathered up the plates and mugs and bore them away to the sink.
It was mid afternoon by the time that Paul was done replacing all the electrical outlets.
“The nice thing about Sears houses,” he observed, “is that they are very compact, so it is easy to run wire.”
“How did they work?” Kristy asked. “Did you just order it from the catalog and a truck dropped off all the supplies?”
“Almost. All the supplies would come out in a train car. The lumber was pre-cut, and the instructions were included. You had to put up the frame, plaster, all of that. But the design was done and the measurements were precise. The materials were quite good, too. A house like this would have sold for a couple thousand dollars in 1919, and all you would need was the labor to put it together. It really was an amazing feat. The quality was far better than modern mass produced houses.”
“Amazing. I had no idea. I always just thought of the Sears catalog as cheap family clothes.”
“It was a different world back then. A more human economy.”
Once again, Paul’s bill was less than, to Kristy, seemed a normal price. Katie tried to persuade him to stay for dinner, but he refused. He did, however, promise faithfully to call in a few weeks when he was available to start planning the kitchen renovation.
Katie continued her progress through the house, painting, repairing and refinishing. Kristy was impressed at the progress and workmanship, though silently disappointed in the dearth of homemade meals. On a few of the nights when she came home to find Katie tired and spattered with paint, she revisited her old standbys of salad or frozen entrees. But generally these evenings were survived on a diet of pizza or Mamma Ming’s.
“This is amazing work that you’re doing,” she told Katie one night. “But I hope you don’t feel like you have to knock yourself out this hard all the time. Unless you’re enjoying yourself.”
Katie looked up from the masking tape she was applying to the window frame.
“I enjoy it. I’ve never done this kind of work before. I hadn’t realized how satisfying it is. Besides,” she added. “I’ve tried looking for a job around here, but the local kids have it sewn up tight. The girls who work the Corner Cafe all went to high school together. I didn’t want you to think I was sitting around just because I don’t have a job.”
“Sheesh, Katie, I wouldn’t think that. I hadn’t even noticed you weren’t working. You never just sit around anymore.”
Katie flashed her a crooked smile. “I think that’s a compliment. Or is it?”
Kristy shook her head. “We all have to take what we can get. How long before you have that prep done?”
“Another hour or so.”
“After that you’re done for the night.”
“How about if I go make us one of your recipes of cookies and we watch a movie when you’re done.”
“I thought cookies made your ass look fat.”
Their mother called on the 10th to discuss the house situation.
“The buyers are set to close on the 20th,” she told Kristy. “And they want to move in before Christmas, so there’s no renting it back from then. Your father and I have found an apartment we can rent in Johnson month-to-month, but we can’t move in until after the first. Now, some friends invited us to stay with them for a days. Our church home is giving us a send off dinner on the 22nd. So if you you still don’t mind having us, what I was thinking is that we’ll have everything moved into storage, spend those couple days with our friends here in town, and then come down to your place on the 23rd and stay till just after New Years.”
“Family holidays. It’s going to be just like old times.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind, Kristin? I hate to be a burden to you two. I know the house isn’t huge.”
“It’s just over a week, Mom. It’ll be fine. We’re glad to have you.”
“Really? Because we can stay in a hotel if that would be better.”
“Only if you want to, Mom. Katie will move into my room with me and you can Dad can have her room.”
“Okay. Well, thank you girls so much. It’s going to be so nice to have the whole family together for Christmas again.”
After a few more minutes of conversation they ended the call.
Katie, who had been eavesdropping avidly, pronounced, “We’re doomed.”
“Katie, it’s going to be fine. This is the kind of thing families do.”
“Wait and see if you still think that way when you’re having a sober New Years,” Katie predicted darkly.
Paul’s call later that week to inform them that he was available to start working on the kitchen was greeted with significantly more enthusiasm. He came over on Saturday and spent an hour taking every possible measurement of the kitchen, noting his finds down carefully on graph paper. The two sisters then took turns reeling off all those things which most appealed to them about a kitchen.
“There has to be an island,” Kristy said. “All modern kitchens have islands.”
“The thing I really liked about how her island in California was laid out,” Katie said, “is that I could get things out of the fridge, put them on the island without taking a step, prepare things on the island, and then turn to the stove without taking steps. I feel like I walk all the time in this kitchen.”
“That’s called a work triangle,” Paul explained, noting the phrase down on his pad.
“I also want there to be room for people to come in and talk in the kitchen without getting in the way,” Kristy added. “Whenever there’s a party, people gravitate to the kitchen, because that’s where the food and drinks are coming from. There needs to be room for them to hang out without getting in the way.”
“If we replace these cabinets, I think it would look good if we had wood-finished ones instead of painted like these,” Katie said.
“Oh, yeah, and those cool little racks under the cabinets for hanging wine glasses upside down. I’ve always wanted those. And a wine rack built in. Do you think we could have granite counter tops, or would that look wrong in here?”
“Tile would look more period,” Paul replied. “But it’s hard to clean. You could have butcher block on the island and then finished wood on the rest. I’ll get you some samples of different counters.”
After this sort of conversation had run on for some time, and Kristy and Katie had run out of ideas, Paul promised that he would think all these over and come back Monday evening with plans and drawings for them to discuss.
At this juncture, Kristy pulled out her check book. “I want to write you a check for all this planning work that you’re doing,” she said.
Paul shook his head firmly. “I’m a handyman, not a designer. This is just my way of making sure you get the work that you want.”
“That’s silly,” Kristy said. “This is work. It’s something that we don’t know how to do and you have the skills to do for us. It takes time. I want to pay you a fair rate for it instead of taking advantage of you.”
“This is just how I work, Kristy.” Paul gathered up his papers, stacked them carefully, and put them into a battered leather satchel. “When I’ve got a hammer or a drill or a saw in my hand, I’m working, and I charge a fair rate for that. I think of this as just earning your business. Lots of people do free estimates.”
“No.” Kristy was adamant. “This isn’t just a free estimate, this is free work. That’s just not good business. Look, I’ve dealt with pricing and profitability issues for years, and this just doesn’t make any sense. Now, you seem to charge about twenty-five dollars an hour. That’s another thing. You charge too little. That’s why you’re so busy all the time but don’t seem to get ahead. If you charged more, the amount of business you got would even out and you wouldn’t have to work so many hours. So.” She started writing in her check book. “I’m writing you a check for four hundred dollars. I’m sure you’ll spend at least ten hours on this over the weekend and Monday. And forty dollars an hour is the least you should be charging. Really we should get you up to sixty or a hundred. Here.”
She handed Paul the check. He accepted it, tight lipped, folded it carefully in half, and put it in his shirt pocket.
It seemed as if they might part in silence, but Katie spoke up, feeling the tension more than her sister.
“What time will you be coming Monday? Do you want to come for dinner, and then we can talk afterwards? We’d love you have you.”
Paul hesitated just a moment, then nodded. “All right.”
“Come at six. Kristy’s home from work by then, and I’ll have something good for dinner.”
Shouldering his satchel, Paul nodded to both of them. “I will see you ladies at six, then.”
Monday turned out to be the first snow fall of the season, though a light one. Katie matched the weather with a thick, rich beef stew which had been simmering on the stove all day, and fresh-baked bread. Conversation was at first slow. Katie filled the silence with a series of crazy-things-that-happened-at-Starbucks stories. Eventually she prevailed Kristy to recount some of her China adventures, and then Paul contributed several strangest-handyman-emergency-calls.
His plans, when he produce them, were meticulous: both graph paper plans of the kitchen layout, and surprisingly artistic elevation and detail drawings, showing what each wall would look like when you faced it.
“You see?” asked Kristy. “How could you say this isn’t work? This is amazing.”
Paul nodded, but turned away, unwilling to meet her gaze.
Katie served coffee and freshly baked cookies as they discussed changes to the plans and materials. It was ten o’clock by the time Paul left, with a meticulous set of notes and a promise to return the next night with revised plans and wood and countertop samples.
Conversation began and flowed more easily the second night, and it was nine o’clock before discussion of the kitchen plans even began. The notes this time were fewer, and the materials he suggested were accepted with enthusiasm. He cautioned as to the cost, but Kristy didn’t bat an eye, and promised to pay for all the materials up front.
Wednesday night the conversation was even more relaxed, and discussion of the business at hand was mostly restricted to the question of when to begin work. Paul expressed concern that it would be too disruptive for him to start work on the kitchen while their parents were staying. Katie said that so long as he didn’t begin until after Christmas, and the big dinner it necessitated, she could get by with feeding everyone even while the kitchen was in the throws of renovation. Kristy closed the matter by saying that if he was available to work, she had no intention of wasting perfectly good time, when he was likely to become busy again after New Years.
“We can eat out some of those nights if we have to,” she said. “Besides having someone outside the family around will keep us all on our best behavior. And you’ll like Mom and Dad.”
Katie rolled her eyes at this last, but it was resolved that work would begin on the 27th.
Thursday night was a night of angst as Katie contemplated the impending arrival of their parents and would allow nothing to calm her. While working through can after can of beer, she alternately cleaned frantically and harangued Kristy that she Simply Didn’t Understand what they were getting into.
“Katie,” said Kristy, as last, taking her by the shoulders. “You have got to stop. You’ve just vacuumed this room for the second time, and it was already clean. Calm down.”
Anger and tears seemed to vie for control of Katie’s face for a moment, and then her features suddenly cleared. “You know what we need?” she asked. “We need a party. A night-before-parents party.”
“We don’t know anyone to party with,” Kristy pointed out. “And Johnson isn’t exactly full of hopping clubs.”
Katie was downcast, but only for an instant. “I’ll call Paul! He can come over. I’ll get another case of beer. You can make those fancy drinks you’re always making. We can crank the stereo.”
“If it makes you happy, Katie.”
Katie pulled out her cell phone and rushed to the fridge, where Paul’s business card magnet hung. “Hey, Paul! It’s Katie. Are you doing anything tomorrow night?”
Paul arrived the next night with a guitar case in one hand and a six pack of Guinness in the other.
“I didn’t know you played,” Katie said as she opened the door.
“Only when I drink,” Paul promised.
Katie had made a desert of astonishing indulgence, which Kristy had insisted repeatedly she would be completely unable to partake of, but did. Kristy mixed up a Manhattan for herself, but Paul would accept only a tumbler of Bourbon. Katie was making rapid progress through a case of Little Kings and dancing slightly to the music that blasted from the stereo.
The evening was, afterwards, a somewhat fractured one in Kristy’s memory, whether due to the sequence of Manhattans or the selectivity of strong impressions. She remembered talking vivaciously over dinner, but very little of what she had said. Deeply marked, such that she could call it up easily years later, was the image of Paul sitting in the armchair, a fire burning in the fire place, the lights dimmed: Paul’s bearded head leaning back against the chair, playing his guitar with his eyes half closed and a bottle of Guinness by his side.
“I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead;
I just need some place where I can lay my head.
‘Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?’
He just grinned and shook my hand, "No!", was all he said. “
His singing voice was deeper than this speaking voice. She would not have thought to describe a sound so very masculine as ‘beautiful’, but she could think of no other word. Katie had curled up at the other end of the couch, a beer can still cradled in her hand, and fallen asleep. Kristy, however, was happy to sit and watch Paul singing in the firelight.
“About the time that Daddy left to fight the big war
I saw my first pistol in the general store
In the general store, when I was thirteen
Thought it was the finest thing I ever had seen”
She wished that it would never stop.