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2004-10-17 - 11:51 a.m.

Queens-style Home Improvement

I’m sitting at my computer enjoying coffee and breakfast and quietly avoiding the piles of work that await me today: grading, lectures, and the BIG TALK in Boulder, about which I had the standard nightmare last night. You know, the kind where you have fifteen minutes to shower, get dressed, pack, drive to the conference, finish preparing the lecture, and renovate the bathroom with yellow peeling paint at the same time. Okay, maybe the bathroom renovation isn’t a standard part of the dream (see previous entry).

This apartment did experience renovation action last week. Ever since I returned from Germany, I have wanted to make small changes in the apartment. The first necessary upgrades were related to mildew prevention. First agenda item was usurpation of the “Harley Davidson throne” – the squishy plastic blue sparkly toilet seat. It was the kind of accoutrement fashionable in the late 60’s, and expelled air like a whoopee cushion when one sat on it. “I have to go to the Harley” became a common joke in this apartment. Yes, this was the first item to go. The second removal was the dark-blue fish-patterned shower curtain. Actually, I loved and always wanted a fish-patterned shower curtain. But now I realize that dark patterns hide a multitude of sins, and in poorly ventilated bathrooms this means a multitude of mildew. My summer house sitter was wonderful, but I don’t fault him for not catching it all. Anyway, now an icy white allergen free curtain now hangs in its wake.

The other big adjustment was upgrading the kitchen sink to modern technology. I had one of those old models built before some clever engineer realized that one could mix hot and cold water in a single handle. I have heard that replacing a faucet is simple, so I went to the hardware store to investigate. I choose my particular hardware store over any other large offensive Home Depot type place because this hardware store is family-run, perhaps the last family-run business in the country. Plus, they are extremely knowledgeable, they help me immediately, and they DON’T treat me like I’m an idiot female (even when I ask ignorant questions).

I collected a number of smaller items before even broaching the faucet-replacement subject. I told the guy what I want to do and asked, "is this something that I can myself, and can you give me an idea of what it is I have to do?" He said, "Sure, you can do it." He led me to the back of the store, got the part, and started explaining everything to me, right down to how to use a basin wrench.

As he was explaining it and I was asking basic questions, a second guy stuck his head around the corner, "Why don't you get your husband to do it?"

I stared incredulously at Second Guy for a minute, and said, "I don't have one."

Then Second Guy said, "your boyfriend then."

I stared longer. "I think we're better of if I just do it."

The first helpful guy looked at the second guy and asked, "Are you through being a schmuck now??" and then continued to explain the proper faucet replacement procedure. After a few minutes he added, loud enough for Second Guy to hear, "My sister lays bricks. You can do this."

And then, as I stood at the checkout counter, he walked up and gave me a business card, wrote his name on it and said, "I'm George. If you have trouble call me and I'll walk you through it step by step over the phone. But it's pretty simple and I know you can do it."

This man is my hero, and he has my business for life.


It has been weeks since my interaction with my hardware story hero. Truth be told, replacing a faucet is more complicated than expected when one is dealing with a ninety-year-old house with archaic plumbing. I showed the upgrade piece to my landlady last week. She was startled that I had paid for a new sink, but I think she agreed it was time to upgrade. She said, “This look complicated. I get somebody to help.”

And so she did. And so it was. Last Wednesday afternoon, a 60-ish man came rumbling up the stairs with both landlords in tow, chattering away. (I like my landlords because they chatter away and seem excited about everything.) Not surprisingly, the plumber, who called himself, “Yugo,” was an immigrant, from Yugoslavia. He works out at the YMCA with my landlord, and does Tai Chi in my landlord’s basement. (I later learned that “Yugo” is a racial slur in Europe. I guess this is akin to gays adopting “queer” and women adopting “bitch,” to render the words less toxic? )

Yugo stuck his head under my sink and muttered, “No good. No good.” I asked, why not? It seems that I had purchased the wrong connectors (not George’s fault – George gave me standard connectors for what turned out to be non-standard plumbing.). I hit Yugo with a barrage of questions, which he answered in good humor before adding, “Sweetie, you make me nervous, are you going to take my job from me??” Not likely.

The whole procedure was like a party, because my landlords hovered about in the kitchen, drinking tea, laughing, and asking Yugo (and me) questions for the entire two and a half hours that he worked here. Yugo had that admirable creativity that one hopes for in a fix-it person, and a personality that everyone wants to be around. I tried to offer him a bottle of wine as thanks (I’m not drinking the stuff these days), to which he replied, “I drink no alcohol. I just want to find woman.”

Oops. Can’t help him there. So I said, “Well, good luck to you, you seem a charming and sensitive fellow.”

The party rumbled back downstairs where Yugo spent another two hours fixing various things in the landlords’ house. And that was that. I now have a new faucet, and have experienced another hue of life in Queens.

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