Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Good Bones

Right now I'm in love with half-a-dozen men. There's the plumber who painstakingly placed the fixtures in my bathrooms, and two flooring guys who are pounding down about 1000 square feet of beautiful new hardwoods; a funny guy who's happily scraping 100 years of paint from the built-in bookshelves and two college-age dudes upstairs, listening to Salsa music while painting Jack's room the perfect shade of Resolute Blue. I don't know their names, but I love them all because they are working so hard to complete my new-old home. I could have selected the house two-doors down, which didn't need nearly as much work (but surely had many hidden problems.) Instead I went with the total do-over, because it was the perfect house for me.
  The first time I walked into this house, it just felt right. But more than that, I appreciated the fact that the Builder, who bought the place to flip, had stripped it down to the studs in order to update and repair what ailed it. You cannot stand for a century without a major overhaul. (For some of us, 48 years are enough to require extreme scrutiny.) The beauty of buying a home that has been torn down to the studs is that you see clearly where the damage was, and where repairs are necessary. You are—at least— aware of the problems, and by becoming aware of the shortcomings, you can do what you can to amend or forgive the issues.
   Yet, buying this old home as it went through a total rehabilitation came with a major caveat: Dealing with the Builder. He was known to be temperamental and quite particular about how he worked. My realtor warned me that he might not even want to talk to me until the house was finished. "He's very good," she said. "But he doesn't like people telling him what to do." "Let me meet him," I countered, quite certain I could sway even the hardest heart. "I'm sure if he meets me, he'll see I'm reasonable."
A work-in-progress...July 10
   The next week we met. The Builder walked through the house showing me his floor plan, explaining what he would do where there were holes in the walls and gaps in the flooring. Yes, I could pick out paint colors and light fixtures and flooring, but I was told flatly that he would make no changes to his general plan. In short: As long as I stayed out of his way and let him realize his vision for the house, I could make a few cosmetic selections.
  The realtor was right, he was difficult, but I saw a man who took pride in his work. I also saw a man who had been, frankly, screwed over more than a few times in his career. I have friends who are contractors and I've heard the horror stories of homeowners who constantly change their minds, request additional work and in general complain, and then expect to not pay one cent more than the original amount contracted. I sympathized with the Builder. He didn't know me or that I had no intention of being a difficult client. In fact, I decided I would be the model client, no matter how difficult or brusque the he was with me. Buying this house would be good Buddhist practice!
   Now I'm not a total Pollyanna. I've worked with enough contractors over the years to be wary of their ways. I could throw around questions like, "When will the house be dried in?" or "Is that a load-bearing wall?" Yes, I know enough to get me in trouble, but not enough to get me out. In all my previous home-buying excursions, I've had a man to play the heavy, to defer to, or at least, to blame, but this time I was going it on my own. So I had to just trust the Builder. After all what was my option? To feel cheated at every turn? No, better to put my faith in this guy that he would do all he had promised to do. We made an agreement, he and I. He would do what he does best, and I will do what he required of me—and stay out of his way as much as possible. He's the Builder after all and has the blueprints.

  And no, I can't resist the metaphor: I am this house. I realized about a year ago that a roll of duct tape and a coat of paint was not going to repair what was wrong in my life. It is a most difficult undertaking to consciously let go of the old, worn, useless parts of ourselves—indeed, just to admit that they are old, worn and useless is tough—and take up better materials. And it can't be done alone. Perhaps the Buddha, sitting in lotus position under the Bohi tree, accomplished his do-over without the aid of others, but most of us need help. Most of us need a demolition crew with their cruel picks and saws to tear through the facade; and we need those who come in to assess the damage and make their diagnosis; and then, we need a team skilled technicians adept at placing wires and pipes and duct-work, and engineers who know what walls are load-bearing and those that can be torn out so more light can come in. Most of all, we need a Builder in whom we have faith; Someone who has a plan from the beginning and who will see it through to the end, even when we grow scared of the progress. We need Someone in our lives with vision. Someone who can look at our gutted house and say, "You were beautiful once and you'll be beautiful again." 
   There were times when I've felt quite "gutted" by the process, my very underpinnings displaced. My do-over has come a great cost, and yet, it's a bargain to know that what is being dried-in now has integrity. You see, I realize now that I have had a very good Builder all along.

1 comment:

  1. Love the house, especially the porch! Congrats! And love this post too. Here's hoping that I can figure out how to do a little makeover myself...without requiring too much demolition. We'll see. Good luck with the move. I'm so happy for you! M