Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Autumn of Our Discomfort

Money makes the world go round, but it's who you know that greases the axle.

Shortly after we married, Hick and I decided to upgrade my newly-purchased $17,000 house. No, it was not the early 1900s, and we were not renovating a mansion. It was the cusp between the '80s and the '90s. My new old one-bedroom house was on a corner lot near the four-way stop that marked the "downtown" area of the 5000-person metropolis where I grew up.

We decided to put a computer nook into the living room. It was, after all, the dawning of the home computer age. The nook entailed knocking out part of the front wall to add an alcove. Hick had just the man for the job. Though a handyman himself, Hick was working in the city, raking in overtime, and gone for 14 hours a day. So he hired a guy he knew who was an excellent finish carpenter. The guy, Woody, worked construction during the day, and did side projects and roofing for cash in his spare time.

Woody showed up bright and early on a Saturday in mid-October. His intention was to knock out part of the front wall and get the section framed so he could enclose it Sunday. Then he could finish the interior the next weekend. We would be snug and under roof in the meantime.

Hick knew Woody from way back. He paid him half the money up front, with the rest to come upon completion. They had measured, decided on materials, and Hick bought them at a salvage store. It was a bargain for all involved. Woody was a stand-up guy who didn't take crap from anybody. He looked like D.B. Sweeney as Dish Boggett in Lonesome Dove, the miniseries.

The demolition went well. By evening, Woody had framed the nook, and covered the opening with blue tarp. He was confident that we would be under roof the next day. We had chosen this weekend specifically, because the weather forecast was clear and not frosty. It was not yet Halloween. Indian Summer was in effect.

Sunday dawned. Woody was conspicuously absent. All day. The work week loomed. We had a hole in the front of our house. Hick was mildly perturbed. "That's not like Woody. He's dependable. He must have run into some trouble." This was the era before cell phones. I'm not even sure Woody had a home phone. Hick usually knew where his kind of workers hung out, and simply dropped in to hire them for his off-the-books jobs.

I was not worried about the weather getting in. I was worried about people getting in. Namely, strange people who stopped at all hours at the house across the street. Stopped for ten or fifteen minutes, often with a person waiting in the car, then left, never to return. It's not like family was visiting. "What's going on over there? It looks suspicious. Is that a drug house?" I had gone to school with the dude whose father lived there. Dude lived there sometimes, and lived on the family farm the rest of the time. I had not known him to be a drughead in school, but something was fishy.

Hick disagreed. "They're not dealing drugs. The old man is a bail bondsman. People are showing up to get bail money. Not drugs." Like that made me feel any better about the clientele who could sit in the car and observe the blue tarp wall keeping them from walking in to see if anything was worth stealing while we were both in the city, working.

Monday went by with no word from Woody. Tuesday passed, Woodyless. Then Hick solved the mystery. "Hey! I read the court report in the paper. Woody has been locked up in the county jail for bar-fighting. He'll be back to finish the job when he gets out. I knew there was a logical explanation." Thank goodness our blue tarp wall was not broached by anything besides insects.

Woody showed up the next weekend. The nook turned out well. In fact, we also used Woody to build on a second bedroom, replace the sub-floor, expand the bathroom, and frame and roof our current home. He does quality work, that Woody.

I don't know if he used our neighborhood bail bondsman.

Thanks to Joe H., the Cranky Old Man, for reminding me of this story today.


  1. I think many of us know and have employed a Woody. Great story.

  2. I hope that you're printing up some of these family stories, so your two sons will have a written account of their history.

    This story has a place in that history...

  3. At least you got quality work.

  4. At least Woody had a good excuse. Contractors go missing all the time, especially when there is an imminent deadline, rotten weather or an incoming wedding. But when the bills are due they can materialize out of thin air. They must teach those skills in contractor school and Woody was locked up when that class was taught.

  5. Stephen,
    So talented, yet somewhat unemployable.

    My boys have no interest in such history. Genius will check it out if he is mentioned. The Pony's standard response is, "Huh."

    Yes, it was not a fence with three jacked-up gates. So we had to weather a week under threat of shady invaders. All ended well.

    Hick's friend used a contractor. He was showing off the new house, and said, "Take a look at my 4' x 6' parquet entry." Hick told him no way was that 4' x 6'. Funny how the contractor had a nice parquet entry in his own new house. You can't trust a contractor, even if he's your friend, apparently.