Village Idiot, Jim Mullen: For me, DIY means ‘destroy it yourself’

Published 10:45 pm Friday, July 13, 2018

While I was traveling, my contractor worked on my house. I was a little nervous about letting him do it all without supervision, but since I don’t even know which end of a hammer is the one you pound in screws with, I’m not sure he needed any of my helpful advice anyway.

When I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to find he had done everything I had asked for — and more.

For instance, I didn’t ask him to leave a big pile of scrap lumber, pieces of drywall, empty paint cans and soda bottles on the front porch, but he did it for no extra charge. I don’t know if he does it for all his clients or if he just took a special liking to me. That’s just the way he is.

I’d like to call him and thank him, but the number I have for him is out of service. Maybe his voicemail is full. I’ve been sending him text messages, but that mailbox seems to be full, too.

One thing I thought I could tackle was painting. How hard can that be? Brush and can, meet window frame and cabinets. The big-box do-it-yourself stores make it look so easy. All the colors you can imagine! All the brushes, buckets, rollers and drop cloths! What could possibly go wrong?

But at the counter, they started asking questions. Did I want matte, flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss or glossy? What? No, I want paint. The kind that comes in a can. What am I going to do with it? I’m gonna paint! Why are you making this so hard?

The people behind me were getting restless and starting to make rude remarks.

“I guess some people don’t watch many home improvement shows.”

“Some people can even screw up a man cave.”

“Take your time. I didn’t have anything else to do today but visit Mom in the hospital, take my kid to dance lessons, buy groceries, mow the lawn and pay bills. It’s all good.”

Some people are just so impatient. Painting calls for zen-like concentration and focus. One little mistake, and — see, that’s just what I’m talking about. I shouldn’t have left the open can on the floor in front of the door I was painting. I should have known my neighbor Ralph would barge in and start yelling about his property values going down because of all the trash on my front porch. The nearly full can of Sunrise Peach semi-gloss spewed across the drop cloth and all over the new kitchen floor. Paint spatter everywhere.

“I’m trying to sell this house to finally get away from you and all your weird friends who show up at all kinds of hours and — oh, my God, what an ugly paint job,” said Ralph. “It looks like Jackson Pollack went on a bender in here. Now I’ll never unload my house. I’ve called the code inspector, and you’ll be hearing from him soon!”

“Good to see you, too, Ralph. Thanks for asking, I did have a good vacation.”

I’m always feeling incompetent about home improvements. I go to friends’ houses and they’ll say things like, “Bob installed a new water heater when the old one went kablooie last week.” Or “Betty put in the new garbage disposal yesterday. That thing can swallow a gator.” Or “Gladys painted the kitchen over the weekend; doesn’t it look great?”

How do they know how to do these things? Where was I when everybody learned how to do everything for themselves? Oh yeah, I forgot: We lived in an apartment for 20 years before we bought a house. The super did everything.

What do I know about fixing a house? Sometimes I want to open the window and scream. Like right now. Except this stupid window won’t open. That’s funny, it opened before I painted it.

I have no idea what’s wrong with it. I guess I’m gonna have to call a plumber and have it fixed.

(Contact Jim Mullen at