About a man who never finishes remodeling his home.
MAYBE NEXT TIME, BROHER
MAYBE NEXT TIME, BROTHER
At some point, for those of us who have wandered off, we all feel the urge to gather up the loose ends of our family ties and make an effort to weave and stitch them together again. A career in the military, having separated me from my brothers and sister, I decided to start knitting up old ties by re-bonding with my favorite brother, two years younger than me.
As kids, Fred and I were inseparable. We shared a rich imagination and engaged in so many dare-devil adventures that our parents had serious doubts about ever procreating again. I have to admit, I’ve often marveled at how we actually survived all our harebrained stunts, like parachuting off the garage roof with ropes tied to the corners of a bed sheet, or shooting arrows straight up into the air and running for cover. Mom always said, “Because of you two knuckleheads, old doc Campbell’s going to retire a rich man.” Sadly, as teen-agers, we grew apart; and as adults we lived in different states, and sometimes, in different countries. We seldom saw or talked to each other until the coming of the internet era.
Reconnecting via email, I decided to drive up from North Carolina to visit him and his wife, Cholie in New Jersey. Cholie had dropped some heavy hints that he needed some help with a long-neglected home remodeling project. For me, an amateur cabinet maker, this was the perfect opportunity.
After an unevetful drive up 95, Fred greeted us with a big smile, his ham-sized hand stuck way out there. He looked to me like an older, overweight Hulk Hogan with the same white Fu Man Chu moustache. Standing next to him, I felt like an older, overweight Peter Parker, the alter-ego of Spider Man.
After the handshakes and bear hugs, we headed straight for the kitchen table and popped cans of cold brews as I scanned the bare wall-studs with their embedded cabled wires and plumbing. “How long do you think it’ll take us to finish this, Fred?”
Before he could answer, Cholie said, “How you like my skeleton house? For ten years have I been looking at this.” She waved her hand at the forest of two-by-fours. “Even in my village in Peru, we had walls. Please, brother, maybe can you help him to finish my walls this weekend?”
Across the table, Fred shrugged his shoulders and gave me a look that told me what he had been putting up with for a decade. “Sure, no problem sis. That’s why I came to visit.”
Ten years ago, when Fred decided to remodel his kitchen, he removed the old plaster down to the bricks and mortar, and erected the necessary two-by-four studs for the new walls and doorways. Somewhere along the way, the living room got involved. Although it turned into a major renovation, everything was coming along splendidly. With the wall-studs erected, and the electrical wiring and new plumbing completed, all that remained was to install the drywall and paint them. But, for some reason, and I’m sure the shrinks would have the answer, that’s when the project ground to a halt. For a decade or more, the kitchen and dining room walls, along with his wife, patiently waited for the project to be completed. However, their two boys had grown up living amongst a forest of wall studs, and they thought it was neat to be able to walk through walls instead of using doors.
His wife, bless her stoic Peruvian soul, was expectant, yet not fully confident that she would finally see her new walls. I was determined that this was the weekend her dream would come true.
While our wives took the AmTrack into the Big Apple to go shopping, we sat at the kitchen table, and, between runs to the refrigerator and the only bathroom on the second floor, we held a strategy meeting.
“I’m thinking we’ll need fourteen sheets of drywall,” Fred proclaimed.
“You can’t do it that way,” I said. "First, we have to take measurements."
“What do you mean?” He leaned his head back and long-throated a sixteen ounce can of Miller High Life, then crushing the can. After a loud belch, he said, “How many houses have you built?”
“None,” I replied, crushing my empty can right back at him. “But you’re only guessing. We need to make sure so we don’t waste time and money. If you’re not going to do it right, why do it at all?”
“Aw John,” he said popping another can of beer, “you‘re full of it.” He let out another long, loud belch, and the unwelcome aroma wafted across the kitchen table. His eyes were now no more than slits under overbearing white, bushy eyebrows. “If you don’t want to help me, just say so.”
“Just humor me on this,” I said. “Where’s your tape measure?”
“Hell, I don’t know. I don’t think I even have one. I told you, we need fourteen sheets of drywall and we’ll put it up this weekend.”
“Can’t we borrow one from a neighbor?” I persisted.
“A tape measure.”
“I’m not talking to any of those butt-heads.”
Across the table, Fred looked at me and made a tent of his hands. With his great belly, he reminded me of a Buddha statue with a Fu Man Chu moustache.
“I’ve told you," he said, with all the patience one reserves for a thick-headed child, "we need fourteen sheets of drywall, but if you want to measure it, be my guest. Anyway, it’s late and we might as well forget it today. We’ll get a fresh start in the morning. Whatcha say we go get us another case of beer?”
He was right. It was too late to order the drywall delivery, but instead of calling the order in like he wanted to do, he deferred to my superior wisdom, and we walked the two blocks to Crowley’s Bar on sidewalks cracked by harsh winters and buckled by a relentless siege of tree roots.
That evening, when our wives returned from the big city they found two philosopher-kings sitting at the kitchen table, awash in empty beer cans. It was obvious that no drywall had been installed. No sir, but all of the world’s problems had been solved, finally. They held their noses and went upstairs.
Saturday morning, accompanied by a world class hangover, I drove myself to Home Depot and bought a tape measure. As I was taking measurements for the drywall I could hear the nasal honky-tonk twang of Hank Williams singing through scratchy clicks of a dull needle on an ancient dust-coated record. Fred was already into the Miller's.
Determined to stay focused, I finished measuring the walls and placed an order for fourteen sheets of drywall. Who knew?
That afternoon, the delivery of our supplies came closer to five o’clock than noon, as promised. We directed the delivery men to stack the sheets of drywall neatly in the back yard. Fred played through all of his Hank Williams and Johnny Cash records again as we worked our way through a case of Miller’s. We decided that since the walls have already waited ten years, another day wouldn’t hurt. Due to the delays, my wife and I decided to stay another day or two in order to finish the project.
Sunday morning found all our hopes dashed. It had rained hard and steady all night. I don’t know how we could have slept through all that, but there you are. As a result, the neat stack of drywall boards sat in the middle of a small lake which had formed overnight in the back yard.
With the call for more bad weather, we were forced to return to North Carolina. I best remember Fred standing in his doorway, beer in hand, towering over Grace at his side. “Goodbye, bro.”
I looked at Grace, “Sorry I couldn’t be more help this time. We’ll be back soon and finish the job.”
She gave me a one-sided grin and shrugged her shoulders.
Fred’s big friendly face cracked into a smile. “Maybe next time, brother.”
“Yeah, next time we’ll finish it for sure.”
That was ten months ago. Today, Grace’s home is no longer a “skeleton house” because after Fred suddenly died of a massive coronary failure, she had a professional come in and finish the walls.