The case of the vanishing home repair guys

Of all the things we have lost in the pandemic — patience, beloved relatives, reasonably priced goods, optimism, jobs, human contact, smooth nerves unlike the raspy cat tongues we have now, the belief that the world is not out to get you — I take note of one particular loss.

The home repair guy.

Handymen are competent, knowledgeable about so many things. I just can’t find one. I moved downtown right before the pandemic and need many things. I replaced the furnace and air conditioning system that croaked as soon as the sale went through, but I needed other things too.

I don’t mean electricians and plumbers. They exist. Thank you, Jason. There are locksmiths. Experienced people will shoot over like lasers with chimney traps to get raccoons out of the roof. They charge lavishly. They know you will pay.

But people to do equally important things like paint, replace bathtubs and backsplashes, install flooring, mount curtain rods and TVs, build decks and fences, insulate windows, replace fixtures, repair the shed door and cement the steps — where are they?

Contractors tell me their guys have vanished. But where?

I have had half a dozen painters offer estimates. They write dubious assessments that keep changing. They can’t use ladders properly, and since I suspect they’re not as bonded as they claim, I worry for their safety. It wouldn’t be moral.

The kitchen and bathroom men take notes. They say shifty things like “Of course you’ll buy the tub and hardware and flooring,” knowing perfectly well that empty shelves make that silly idea impossible. They send estimates and vanish. But where?

And the others are terrible painters who slosh paint on the floor or miss bits or leave surfaces that catch your sweater.

In other words, they paint as well as I do. I am slapdash, don’t prep, work hastily, grow careless, fall into despair, and suddenly a simple Benjamin Moore Mascarpone project looks like a Rothko, or a daring mono-colour impasto you could pass off as found art if it weren’t already on a wall. Oh look, my fresco.

And then there are the mansplainers. For my dark garden shed, I need a new lockable door, mainly glass, in a made-to-order size plus a screened window that opens.

“You don’t need that,” an older contractor tells me. “It’s a shed door. Who cares? And why do you need a window that opens? It would cost you maybe $400.”

I told him what I wanted. He said I didn’t want it. No one has ever told him to stop talking to women customers this way. Even male housepainters tell me not to let the old guys back at the paint store bully me. They give me a card.

“Tell him you want this.”

“I want a cedar fence,” I told the older guy.

“No. You want pressure-treated.”

“It has to match the rest of the cedar fence,” I said.

“It’ll match when it fades.” No. It won’t.

This has never been a problem before. I understand that people have quit lousy jobs, and good for them, but where did all the restaurant servers go then? Have the competent handymen of yore become servers, the kind who spit on your steak or think nut allergies are all in your mind?

Are women servers now doing household repairs? If so, could they call me? Women. So competent.

The world unfolds. I recently rewired a broken lamp with gear from Amazon, thank you Jeff Bezos. I will paint my own walls, badly, as in my student days. I will replant my own garden — nine bean-rows, probably.

But I will just say this: all women should take home repair classes. A nasty future is on its way and when they say “self-care,” they should not mean yoga but rather operating a router and installing cross-studs behind the bathroom wall.

We should do our own repairs. I want that. (No, you don’t, says some guy.)