Living In Dropcloth Territory

We’re having some painting work done, and living briefly in the active painting zone is an adjustment. There are drop cloths everywhere, paint cans and brushes, buckets, turpentine jars, taped off windows, tarp-covered furniture, shop vacs, and general painting tool bric-a-brac scattered pretty much everywhere. And on the counter and in the refrigerator are foods and bottles of unknown provenance brought over by the painter to provide fuel during his painting day.

Fortunately, he let the place dry out and air out a bit before we arrived to see how the work was going, so rather than heavy paint fumes we’ve got the delicate scent of freshly painted rooms. It’s a smell I like.


We’re having work done on our new place that’s brought us into contact with some of the skilled tradesmen of America — a painter, a floor refinishing crew, and, thanks to a mix-up by Columbia Gas, a furnace technician and gas company employee.

IMG_4722I refer to “skilled tradesmen” because it’s impossible not to be impressed by the skills these artisans possess.  It started with our painter, who asked thoughtful questions to make sure he knew what we wanted, gave us solid deadlines and worked weekends to meet them, meticulously applied his painter’s tape to avoid drips and smears and used different brushes from his extensive collection as the work required, and finished on time and on budget.  It was obvious that he cared about the quality of his work.

The same has been true of the flooring guys, who’ve repaired some sections of hardwood floor, diligently taped off vents and cabinets to avoid dust issues, and painstakingly ground off the cover coat on the original hardwood floor without marring doors or baseboards.  Even the furnace technician and gas company worker who came to address our gas problem, on Super Sunday, were unfailingly courteous, competent, and professional as they used their inexplicable equipment and performed their inexplicable tests to first determine that the gas had been erroneously shut off and then get it flowing again.

It’s nice to know that there are still capable craftsmen out there who take pride in a job well done and the results they can produce.

Plumbers In Demand

A few days ago our kitchen faucet started leaking at the base when the water was turned on.  At first it was a trickle; eventually the leak became a gushing, fizzing torrent that we handled with a wadded-up towel.

IMG_4850I’m not a practical, fix-it-yourself kind of guy.  I don’t know bupkis about plumbing, I don’t have the tools, and I don’t plan on learning the trade with blundering attempts on the most-used faucet in our house.  So, Kish called the plumber we’ve used before.  He’s happy to help us, but he told us we’d have to wait three weeks.

Three weeks!  Sorry, he said, but he’s got work scheduled for the next three weeks solid before he can fit us in.  And his jam-packed work schedule mirrors what we’ve heard from other craftsmen you need from time to time around the house.  We’ve got a sliding door that is misbehaving; the handyman we called said he’ll be out to take a look in a month.  We’ve learned that if you want to book painters, or carpenters, or brick masons, you really need to plan ahead.

The little lesson in all of this is that there is always going to be paying work for people who are good at skilled trades.  We’re always going to need plumbers, electricians, painters, and the other jack-of-all-trades fix-it guys.  Because our national policy for decades has been to try to push everyone toward getting a college degree, the influx of new tradesmen has dwindled, and now there’s apparently a shortage — which means you wait three weeks for a plumber.

I’m guessing that the plumber who can’t come out to take a look at our faucet for three weeks is doing pretty well in his business.  I wonder if the gaggle of unemployed law school graduates who are loaded down with student loan debt ever regret that they didn’t learn how to use a wrench?

Paint Job

Lately, as Kish has noted, we’ve been having some painting done at our house.  The experience has got me to thinking about work, and jobs.

Our painter has been doing a good job.  He shows up at the right time.  He is quiet, keeps to himself, and applies himself fully to the task at hand.  The quality of his work is high, and there have been no accidents or incidents, no drips or splots or runs.  In short, he has all of those intangible characteristics that separate a good worker from a bad one:  reliability, diligence, carefulness, and concern about quality. And, to cap it all off, he charges a fair price for his work.   We learned about this painter through word of mouth, and it’s no wonder that he came highly recommended.  It’s also not surprising that he is being kept busy.  It’s hard to find a capable, dependable, reasonably priced painter these days.

When you think about it, being a painter wouldn’t be a bad gig.  You work by yourself and set your own schedule.  You don’t have to supervise employees or pay rent for a storefront.  You might occasionally encounter an unreasonable or pesky customer, but for the most part people will appreciate your work and thank you for a job well done.  And your job can’t be outsourced; for so long as people live in houses, paint and painters will be needed.

So why don’t more people become painters, or carpenters, or electricians, or auto mechanics, or plumbers?  I’m not the only person who is asking that question.  Mike Rowe, who hosts the TV show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, has written to both President Obama and Mitt Romney about the shortage of skilled labor and the dismissal of careers in such occupations.  President Obama did not respond to the letter, which Rowe sent four years ago.  Romney at least has read it; now we’ll see whether he says or does anything about it.

Not everyone needs to go to college — and, in the process, incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt that will limit their life choices thereafter.  As we look at our national policy on education, we should consider the need for people in the skilled trades, stop acting like those jobs are somehow unworthy, and stop trying to convince people that they inevitably will be failures if they don’t go to college.