Touchup and Paint
“So you been broken and you been hurt,
Show me somebody who ain’t.
Yeah, I know I ain’t nobody’s bargain
But, hell, a little touchup And a little paint…”
Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch
I’ve had the sorry misfortune of rehabbing several houses. They all seemed like good ideas at the time of purchase, but turned out much different. In every case, I somehow tricked myself into believing, “A touchup here, some paint there, plant a couple of flowers, and BAM! Market-ready house, that would make any house flipper jealous.” Except that isn’t how it works. Ever. I’ve had upstairs toilet leaks, exploding water heaters, rotten fall through to your death floors, rotten fall through to your death attics, never ending squeaks, every possible failed appliance, busted garage door springs, old peed on carpets (peed on by old people, I think . . .), barren wasteland yards, leaking pools-faucets-tubs-showers, bare wires found the hard way, and smells—lots of rancid, sourceless stank—gifts that kept on giving wafting about, given with love from the former owners. One of the houses almost killed me, literally. I was about two days away from calling a priest to exorcise the demons out of it, or burning it down, when it finally decided to let me live.
Here are a couple of observations from my house rehabbing experiences, born of pain and suffering, that I share with others that are thinking about buying a fixer upper and remodeling it themselves. First, I recommend a good house remodel project if you want to hone your cursing skills. Admit it. Don’t be embarrassed. It happens to everyone as you get older—your cursing gets sloppy, routine, dry, flaccid. You just lose the power and stamina that you developed in junior high and high school and perfected in college as your vocabulary grew. But, hit your thumb one time with a framing hammer and it will all come back with renewed vitality and vigor. Open the attic stairs and have them swing down and hit you across the bridge of your nose, and you will soar to new heights, new eloquence—you will be making art you never thought possible in no time.
Second, if you buy a house to rehab, never start the rehab right away. Live in it for a while, a year or so, to learn about it so you can make the right repairs and improvements. Too many times I have dived in and immediately started fixing this or that, only to find I was sinking all my time and money into the wrong things. A year of observation gives you a chance to figure out what is hidden, and about to blow up, that the last owner painted over before carefully tiptoeing away. It’s tempting to do what the last guy did, slap some paint here and there to make it look better, but just be patient and the house will tell you where it is broken (sometimes in a deep demonic voice at 3:15 in the morning.)
Speaking of fixer-uppers, after my divorce, after the truly depressed stage, I noticed that my inclination was to try to get myself market ready (a rough task given that I had fallen into disrepair over the previous 20 years). I didn’t like being alone. I wanted to start dating, and possibly find a companion. So like anyone in America that has had 24/7 advertising pumped into his skull since birth, I thought about how I looked and ways I could improve in that area. Curb appeal. Touchup and paint. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that I was heading toward the same mistakes I made in rehabbing houses—rushing in to do cosmetic work rather than being patient and letting the house tell me where it was broken. So I slowed down—way down, even ended a serious relationship. I found out I was broken in all sorts of places I didn’t realize. I discovered that I didn’t want to flip the house if you’ll allow, rather, I wanted to do the hard work to make the proper repairs and make it a home rather than a quick turnaround project. I wanted to be a better man.
If you’ve just gone through breakup, I highly recommend that you resist the urge to immediately make yourself market-ready. Do yourself a huge favor and live in your own skin for a while. Find out where you are broken and get ready for some hard work. Start with the foundation and work your way up and out. You’ll like the you that you end up with, and won’t want to sell it cheap. When you get to that point, you won’t need touchup and paint to cheaply hide anything. And you won’t have the stank of a past relationship wafting about . . .
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