Out there: Remodeling ruminations

‘Might as well’ happen to be the three most expensive words in home renovations.

rennovations 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
rennovations 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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.
Why? Because 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 bathtub.
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.
By the 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 of ’em.
“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 mechaya.
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.
Installing this 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 people.
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 money.
“So how long will it take, about a week?” I asked, hopefully.
“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 those kids.
“Well, are they healthy?” I asked.
“How many do you have, by golly?” "Two,” he said. “And they are healthy.”
Yeah, right, 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 shows up.”
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 me.
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.