When I was a child, my parents called on John’Emry for just about any project that required tools. Little did we know that John’Emry was like an old dinosaur, one of the last of a dying breed. He could fix a squeaky floor, a leaky faucet or a leaky roof. He could figure out what was wrong with your car and bring you a load of firewood on his way over to tinker with the engine. He could clean out your flue, bush-hog the empty lot next door, and get the garbage disposal working. If your mantle clock stopped, he would take it home and have it back the next week keeping perfect time.
The only problem with John’Emry was that he talked a lot and he talked real slow. You didn’t want to ask him too many questions because frost would be in the forecast before he finished answering. But if John’Emry told you he was going to show up to do something, by doggies, he’d be there when he said he was going to be and he would figure out a solution to the problem at hand.
I vaguely remember my mother mentioning that John’Emry was a second cousin once removed, or something like that. At the grown-up age of ten, puzzling over a second cousin who had been removed made my head hurt. Even now I’m not really sure what it means.
Nowadays, you can pick up a local newspaper and find ads for a variety of handymen. Or, you can generally find a bulletin board at the local hardware or home improvement store covered with business cards of those willing to invest a few dollars to have their name, number and a thirty year old photo of themselves printed on card stock. But, like choosing candy from a Whitman Sampler, as Forrest Gump’s momma told him, “You never know what you’re gonna git.”
It didn’t take long after I grew up and moved away from my small hometown and John’Emry to realize being related may have been the secret to finding a handyman who would stick with the job. If an uncle or a cousin doesn’t show up, you know where to find them and if they do a bad job, your daddy knows where to find them. Now, twenty years and a dozen homes later, I’m still looking for a good handyman. The last few months have produced the worst results of all.
One of my first lessons was never to hire a handyman who shows up wearing a tee shirt or a hat that proclaims “I’d rather be fishing.” He’s telling you the truth. Jim Bob sounded half-asleep when I called him one rainy afternoon, but he showed up bright and early the next morning to see what all I wanted done. Behind his red Ford pick-up truck he was towing a snappy looking 17 1/2’ long Pro-Craft bass boat and a Mercury outboard motor.
I’ve never seen a man look at his watch as much as Jim Bob did that morning while we went over my to-do list. I should have known that he’d be out the door to the bait shop before the ink was dry on the check I gave him for supplies. Worse, I soon realized, he would not return until he ran out of worms or crickets or fishing tournaments or …my money.
It was a week before Jim Bob reappeared to drop off the supplies in my driveway. He had an errand to run, but swore he’d be right back to get started after lunch. The last I saw of Jim Bob was the tail end of that bass boat and a slightly dinged-up prop.
Bye-bye, Jim Bob.
The next handyman I hired was Bubba Templeton…a UT football fan if ever there was one. There ought to be an ordinance against anyone wearing that much orange on a daily basis. Bitsy, the sister of the subdivision’s developer, had recommended Bubba highly. Unfortunately, Miss Bitsy, who sidelined as an interior decorator, neglected to tell me that she and Bubba liked to play a little tackle on the side.
Every evening, just about the time Bubba was finally working up a good sweat on one of my projects, his cell phone would ring. Never mind that he was generally in mid-task and there was a hole in my wall, a household emergency invariably beckoned him. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that Bubba was pulling his truck around the corner and sneaking in Miss Bitsy’s back door. All that darned orange, plus a trail of Marlboro brown-filter cigarette butts, was a dead giveaway.
Since Bubba left behind several holes in the drywall and a substantial hole in the kitchen ceiling where a size 13 shoe had plunged through, I was hard-pressed to find another handyman as soon as possible. Luckily, I discovered a newspaper ad that day which sounded promising: Little Joe’s Home and Plumbing Repairs.
“Leaks, Creaks, Ceiling Fans & Painting Too!
There’s almost nothing Little Joe can’t do.
He’ll save you money & change your cares,
By fixing whatever with Home & Plumbing Repairs.”
The photo in the paper showed a blonde, curly-haired, forty-something man with a lopsided grin and a twinkle in his right eye – literally. It’s amazing what they can do with PhotoShop these days. I only hoped his work was better than that of his copywriter.
Little Joe turned out not to be so little and he’d ridden a lot of miles since a forty-something birthday. When he knocked on my door it took all my manners to stifle a case of the giggles and a suggestion that he switch his name to Hoss. Little Joe quickly explained that he’d been stuck with the nickname when he was born prematurely, weighing in at only 2 lbs. Obviously he had been eating ever since.
I really thought I was on the right track with Little Joe for a while. He had a touch of Irish in him and was generous with laughter. His mustache was just long enough to hide a few missing teeth and he listed to the right when he walked, due to knee replacement surgery the year before. The best things about Little Joe was that he seemed to be good-hearted, dependable, honest, and he never minded when Pee Pup jumped all over him for attention.
That week we progressed through my list of projects at a reasonable rate despite the fact that Little Joe moved slowly. He hung pictures and my cue stick holder in the bonus room, installed an extra phone line in the garage, and laid additional plywood in the walk-out attic.
One afternoon I was unpacking a few boxes in the kitchen when I heard Little Joe slowly shifting his weight down the stairs on his good leg. He called out, “It’s mighty hot up in that attic, Miss DJ. Can I get a glass of cold water from you?”
“Why, sure, Little Joe,” I yelled back up at him and grabbed a glass out of the cabinet.
When I turned around, I did a double take at the sight of Little Joe. In place of the flannel shirt he’d been wearing that morning, he now wore a faded teal green muscle shirt, a size too small. With a gleam in his eye and a snaggletoothed grin, he reached for the glass of water in my outstretched hand, which froze in mid-air.
My resistant eyes were drawn as if to a train wreck toward tufts of graying hair playing peek-a-boo around the tiny tight tee. Little Joe rested one elbow on the kitchen bar and proceeded to casually flex portions of his upper body while he sipped on his glass of ice water. The results of his flexing, however, were probably not what his mind’s eye envisioned. Instead of pecs and ‘ceps popping, the skin on his arms and upper chest gathered up and down like the Bali shades in my dining room.
I have no memory of what we discussed in the next five minutes – the longest five minutes of my life. All I could think was that Little Joe must have been watching late night reruns of Bonanza. And now, here in front of me, stood one old stud that needed to be put out to pasture on the Ponderosa.
Bye-bye, Little Joe.
I ran across a wonderful thing on the Internet last night. There’s a community college offering a series of courses this Spring called Ms. Fix-it: Basic Home Repair for Women.
“Do you feel helpless when confronted with a home repair? Each session teaches you how to fix common household problems, easily and safely.”
I love the idea that I have a choice between Sec. 201 - Power Tools; Sec. 202 - Carpentry; Sec. 203 - Plumbing; and Sec. 204 –Electricity, instead of a choice between Jim Bob, Bubba or Little Joe. I might have to start out slow, but the possibilities are endless.
Heck, I might even spring for a muscle shirt.