Home remodeling, by its very nature, is stressful, especially if you’re living
in the house when the remodeling is taking place.
For all those
contemplating such a move, beware of two phrases: “might as well” and “as long
as the kids aren’t sick.”
“Might as well,” as a friend pointed out,
happen to be the three most expensive words in renovations. It’s simple: You
start out wanting to change a rusty bathtub – a relatively simple procedure –
and end up completely redoing two perfectly fine bathrooms.
if you’re already going to spend a few thousand shekels doing one thing, you
“might as well” go all the way and do something else.
The Wife and I
experienced this last month when, indeed, we wanted to replace a rusty
We had no intention of changing anything except the tub, but
then the renovation guy came in and said if we were going to change the bathtub,
we might as well replace the floor tiles.
And if we replace the floor
tiles, we might as well tile the walls. And if we tile the walls, we might as
well change the toilet. And if we change the toilet, we might as well extend the
sink. And if we’re doing all that – going to all that trouble – we might as well
do the same in the small adjacent bathroom so things look uniform.
time it was over, “might as well” cost us about 20 times what we originally
budgeted to change the bathtub.
And not only does the workman understand
this “might-as-well” psychological truth, but so do those helpful, cheery folks
in the bathroom appliances store. I go in looking for a bathtub, and walk out
the proud owner of a “hanging” toilet.
I didn’t even know hanging toilets
existed before I walked in. Hanging gardens, yes; hanging toilets? Never heard
“You don’t want that kind of toilet,” the skilled saleswoman said
when we selected a standard commode. “You want a hanging toilet, the kind they
have in all the hotels and gas stations.”
And, indeed, we were sold. What
a toilet! You don’t see the tank, it’s easy to clean underneath. A real
Okay, it’s more expensive, but if you’re already redoing the
bathroom, you “might as well.”
So we bought the hanging toilet, brought
it home, and the workman, who quoted us one price for installing a regular
toilet, now hiked it NIS 1,500 to install the special one.
“You want a
gas-station toilet, you pay gas-station prices,” I told The Wife, who was aghast
by now at how much this was all going to cost. But we went through with it. Why?
Because we might as well.
Which is about the time that second key phrase
– “as long as the kids aren’t sick” – began to kick in.
Cadillac of a toilet in our Volkswagen-sized bathroom was a little more
complicated, and was going to take the workman more time. That meant we would
need him to come every day, at regular hours, to do the work – just like regular
I love skilled tradesmen – plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, floorers, plasterers, mechanics – I really do. Some
of my best friends are skilled tradesmen. I respect them because they have a
skill I lack. I can’t tile a wall, replace a bathtub, install an air conditioner
or change a piston.
Yet – and I know I’m generalizing here – my
experience in this country has taught me that many in the lunchpail set have a
different work ethic.
Namely, they don’t feel compelled to turn up every
day for the job, or work a full day once they do arrive.
The guy who
redid our bathroom came highly recommended by a friend. He seemed like a nice
fellow, his estimate was not outrageous, and he reassured us that as much as we
wanted the job done quickly so we could shower in our apartment, he wanted to
finish swiftly so he could move on to other jobs and make some real
“So how long will it take, about a week?” I asked,
“Yeah, it should take about that, as long as the kids don’t
get sick,” he replied.
Thinking that answer a bit odd, I inquired about
“Well, are they healthy?” I asked.
“How many do you
have, by golly?” "Two,” he said. “And they are healthy.”
healthy, my eye.
Twenty-five years working at The Jerusalem Post, I’ve
taken maybe two days off because one of my kids was sick. This guy had his
equipment parked in my living room for 17 days, and three of those days he
didn’t show up because his child wasn’t well.
Another day he showed up at
4 p.m. because his “car broke down.”
“How’s the remodeling going?”
asked my friend who first recommend this guy.
"Great,” I said, “when he
It’s as if this fellow – a Romanian speaker in a Jewish
country – never heard of the Protestant work ethic: showing up punctually to
cheerfully work eight hours and get the job done.
By about day 14 – when
the dust in the house made it seem like I was living in a coal mine, when I’d
run out of friends whose homes I could shower in, when the original rust on the
bathtub started appearing in my dreams as a lovely decoration we should have
cherished – I wanted to grab this guy by the collar and scream that if I had his
work ethic, I would have been fired years ago.
I wanted to shout that you
just can’t show up for work when you feel like it, that the great wheels of
commerce don’t turn that way.
But I didn’t grab him, or scold him or
whine, because he had his junk strewn all over my living room; because the
bathroom was half remodeled; because I knew that in the end I was going to pay
no matter what; and because right then I needed him more than he needed
So I bit my lip, offered him another cup of Turkish coffee, implored
him to please deign to come the next day, thought about how I could encourage my
kids to learn a trade and land a job with great hours like his, and then –
naturally – went to yell at The Wife.
After all, she’s the only one who
noticed the bathtub rust.