Unfinished Business

There are a lot of self-described home handymen out there.  I like to think that I’m one of them.  I love watching those home repair shows, especially the ones where the frustrated wife calls in the expert guy to ambush the unsuspecting, well-meaning husband about his incomplete or completely wrong home renovation.  The poor guy usually looks completely emasculated.

There should to be an aptitude test that everyone should take before they’re let loose in the home improvement stores.  Can you tell the difference between a hack saw and miter saw?  What does a router do? What shape is a Phillips head screw driver?  That kind of thing.  Maybe they’d get a tool belt or a certificate if they passed.

I was lucky enough as a kid to have access to a really cool workshop in our home, so I got a good start on understanding what tools did…and didn’t do.  I once tried to use a rasp as a hammer.  Bad ending for the rasp.  When I became a home owner, through necessity, I learned the hard way what jobs I could reasonably tackle and what jobs I should call in the experts for.

I do have one big growth opportunity, though – finishing a job.  I know there are a lot of women out there who pull their hair out over all the half complete projects their husbands have started around the house.  Guilty as charged.

I suppose that this has been a character flaw for most men through the

ages.  What was the logic behind the famous George Washington Unfinished Portrait?  Did old George get up to go to the washroom and never come back?  Did the artist run out of paint?  Maybe he said ‘lets pick this up again tomorrow’, then George had to run off to battle or something.

In the house I have now, I took on finishing the basement, which took several years to complete.  It wasn’t due to a lack of desire, but a lack of time and money.  We went into the project expecting it to take a while, but because it was the basement, it didn’t interrupt normal living.

We had our share of slow downs along the way, like rebuilding the bathroom 3 times…love you, honey!  Once I completed most of the framing, we bit the bullet and hired contractors for the plumbing, wiring, and dry wall.  By the way, hiring dry wall guys was the best investment I think I’ve ever made.

My job was to paint, lay flooring, then do the trim work.  That was it, then we could enjoy the ‘Man Cave’ to its fullest.  That was 3 years ago.

The basement looks fantastic if I do say so myself, but under closer inspection, there’s a little piece of trim that I never got around to installing.  3 years, and a 1 foot piece of white trim, and I can’t get it done.

That’s another funny thing about guys and their projects – when they show them off to friends, they immediately point out all the flaws.  Why is that?  Maybe we do that so no one else can point out our shoddy work.

Incomplete projects drive the ladies nuts!  How many homes have partially finished backyard projects, or a job started, the tools sitting out, and left there for weeks on end?

Well, I have a theory that should give the therapists out there lots to chew on.

We don’t finish these jobs, because we’re afraid.  There are two main fears that we men have:

  1. We’re afraid that if we finish the job, we’ll be tasked with another immediately afterwards, so the honey-do list never ends.
  2. If we put that last piece of trim on, and the job is finished, we are open to ridicule about how well we did.  As long as there’s one little thing left to do, we always have the default response when someone points out a flaw; “Well, I’m still working on it”, thus extinguishing any negative comments.

You see, you can’t truly fail if you haven’t finished trying yet, can you?  Even if the flaw has nothing to do with what you haven’t completed, there’s that little caveat that gives you an ‘out’.

That’s what the experts say, right?  As long as you don’t quit, you haven’t failed.  Well, the same thing applies here – as long as you’re still technically working on a project, you haven’t failed at it.

I also think a lot of men are like me.  I love tackling a project.  I lay awake at night, figuring out how something will come together.  I actually get a bit obsessive about, which may not be entirely healthy.  The trouble starts as the job gets a ways down the road and all the big manly parts are finished.

We’d do the big stuff – the deck is framed, concrete poured and the huge beams are secured in place.  Renting heavy equipment is like a day at Disney World for us guys.  Have you ever seen someone at the rental counter with an auger or hammer drill?  Like a kid on Christmas morning!  These large pieces of equipment also have to be lubricated….with beer and a couple of friends – as spotters, you know.  Now that sounds like a manly project.

But it’s those little finishing things that are kind of a let down.  It’s almost like driving home after a great vacation.  You know it’s  coming to an end, and all the fun stuff is over.  Back to the rental counter with your head down and a hint of sadness in your eyes.

Maybe that’s the tie in on all of this.  If we finish a job, not only are we in the cross hairs for the next one, and we have to fess up to a less than perfect job, it also marks the end of something we wrestled to the ground and beat.

If home projects ended with something cool like using a jack hammer or a flame thrower, we’d probably finish a lot more of them.  Unfortunately, they usually whimper out with a small paint brush and a rag, or a handful of dainty finishing nails.  Not very manly.

Is this what it comes down to?  Are we men so shallow and insecure that we intentionally refuse to complete home projects because it means all the cool tools have be put away, and the arts and crafts stuff comes out?

With all that to roll around in our noggins, here’s a thought.  From now on, all home projects have 2 distinct parts.  The first part is the big stuff; demolition, dismantling, framing, rough construction.  Then the second part is the little stuff;  painting, trim, door pulls, cleaning up.

Maybe the jobs should be shared with someone else less ‘heavy equipment worthy’ so we don’t have to deal with the glue guns and accent colors of the project world.  At the very least, we may actually say we finished something.

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The Awkward Shopper

I’ve been out doing back-to-school shopping with my kids.

Now that they’re older, with one in university and one in her last year of high school, the old list has changed a bit.  No more backpacks and colored pencil cases.  Now it’s modular shelving and office chairs.

We still managed to drop almost a hundred bucks at an office supply store, getting stocked up on extra paper, binders and pens, just for old times sake.

Today’s shopping was with my wife and daughter – my son, thankfully, was spared (and we were from him) from being subjected to ladies fashion and shoe stores.

While they happily browsed racks and racks of various sizes and styles of outfits, I was in charge of purse-holding, and rack leaning.  The rack leaning becomes a fine art after about 20 minutes of standing next to your ladies while they hold up outfits and say “‘what do you think about this one?”.

Leaning on the rack is the only thing that keeps you from falling over altogether, since these stores are clearly designed as a shopping marathon, and not a shopping leisure event.  No comfy couches, no televisions, no coffee machines.  This is ALL business, mister!

The endless line of clothes that dizzy the eye and the hours of standing on your feet, trying to stay engaged in the shopping process is not the worst of these outings, though.  It’s not even heading to the cashier with an armful of garments to hand over your credit card, or holding the purse – does any guy know how to hold a purse properly?  Really – I’m asking.

The big challenge is knowing where not to look.  Wandering eyes for any man in a ladies clothing store has to be the trickiest part of the process.  Standing there in the store, holding up another rack of clothes (hopefully not underwear), you have to refocus your eyes so that you don’t slip into unconsciousness.

It’s during this ‘refocusing’ that things can get dicey.  You look out, further than the rack directly in front of you, trying to recalibrate your vision, when you realize that you are looking directly at a woman holding up some slinky little number against herself.  This is coincidentally enough, the exact moment that she catches your nonspecific gaze at her.

Nothing can feel more creepy for either parties.  You’re trying your hardest to quickly look away, like you were never looking at her in the first place (which you really weren’t), and she, I assume, realizes that there’s a creepy dude staring at her while she sizes up outfits.

Awkward.

If you’re really lucky, you might catch the eye of another poor male soul, trying his best to look natural in this most unnatural of settings.  There’s a common bond in these unspoken connections – brothers in arms, fighting the good fight for the sake of our precious relationships.

There’s sometimes a silent nod – ‘Hey, brother, I feel your pain.  Hang in there.  You’re taking one for the team’. Somehow, we find comfort behind those desperate glances.

At least we know that we’re not the only creepy stalker dudes hanging out near the undergarments.

Of course, when your lady heads to the change rooms, there’s a whole other level of awkwardness going on.  Now, you’re standing outside the change rooms where ALL the women come out to get opinions on their finds.  You don’t know whether to quickly look away, or give a thumbs up on what they’re wearing.  You’re busted – no way out of it.

That’s one area of the shopping process that you can’t skip out of either – they want your feedback.  They need your feedback.  So, you have to standby and wait, again trying to look natural, leaning against something you shouldn’t be leaning against, hoping that when you hear that change room door open, it’s for you.

If the people who design ladies apparel stores were smart, they’d set up ‘Man Cave’ zones, where we could be within sight lines of our lovely shoppers, but sit in comfort – maybe they could have a TV set up somewhere – heck it doesn’t even have to be on a sports station – the Weather Channel would be better than the alternative.

I know this all sounds rather sexist, but I tell you, it won’t work in a Men’s store, because men don’t shop – they buy.  We pride ourselves not on the great purchase, but the great speed at which we made the purchase.

We’re not in there long enough for anyone to get sore feet or stand awkwardly against a rack of ties.  And we don’t try things on, either.

“Hmmm.  This plain white shirt seems okay, and it comes in large.  I’ll take it”.  Done.

When we get home, and put it on, it might fit – it might not.  If it doesn’t, that’s okay, because the old one was perfectly good – just a couple of stains.  We’ll just keep wearing the old one, kind of like our underwear.

It’s a wonder that the fashion industry hasn’t figured this all out yet.