Tricks of the Trade


Chapter 4

Yesterday evening, my husband began the process of teaching me how to mud sheetrock in the one room of our house that now has walls. It’s one of those things that looks fairly easy when you’re watching it, but turns out to be a lot trickier once you slap that first sticky blade full of white goo on the wall and start spreading.
“Just imagine you’re frosting a cake,” I told myself as I tried awkwardly to smooth the gloopy substance over the screws I was covering. In fact, the whole process had reminded me of making a giant batch of vanilla buttercream while I watched Steve put the huge mixer blade on the end of his drill and start whipping the mud in the bucket to a smooth consistency. He must have drawn the same comparison in his mind since when he was done mixing, he said, half jokingly to Etienne who had volunteered to rinse the mixer blade in the hose,

“Just don’t go licking it.”

I like making these comparisons in my mind whenever I tackle something new that I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle. It boosts my confidence. I have often, for example, noticed the similarities between construction work and, say, sewing. It’s the same idea, you know- studying the pattern or design, measuring and cutting the pieces and putting them together. I mean, is there really such a big difference between a needle and thread or a hammer and nails?
I’ve often thought building houses would be a really fun hobby that I would be totally capable of if it weren’t for two things. First, of course, the expense would be a hindrance. But the second, an even greater deterrent- my pitiful lack of upper body strength. Few things have put a damper on my attempts to help my hubby on his various renovation projects through the years than my puny arms. They were already whimpering at me after only a few minutes of reaching overhead to mud the screws on the ceiling.

“But why do you have to help?” you might ask. “Isn’t your husband a contractor? Can’t he do the work without you?”

And I would reply yes to the last two questions. But since we never seem to be able to find a home that is not in rather desperate need of repair, I have simply preferred to learn how to help than to sit around waiting for him to get home from work at night.
I can’t seem to help myself anyway. I am rather an impatient person by nature and if there is a big job that needs doing in front of me, I’m gonna try to get it done as soon as possible. (Unfortunately, this ‘get it done’ attitude doesn’t usually impact my list of daily housework though. Not sure why.)
That is why this whole house saga has been such a trial for me. I do not like unfinished work. I’d rather someone do a quick, half-ass job and call it done than have it sitting there waiting for some future, potential perfection. And I’m happy to do the half-assing myself. The hubby and I do not share this outlook, if you haven’t noticed.
I remember when we moved to Memphis five years ago. We were going to live in an apartment complex for the first time in my life and I remember thinking,

“Hooray! Finally a place to live where we won’t have to renovate!”

Steve was the manager of this particular apartment complex and as such, he had tried to find us a nice, ground floor apartment. But when we arrived, it was to discover a few of his workers frantically cleaning and scrubbing an apartment that obviously hadn’t been lived in in a while. The smell when we walked in was, to put it mildly, off-putting.

“Did the carpet cleaners make it yet?” Steve asked his workers, trying not to wrinkle his nose.

“They’re on their way,” was the reply.

So we decided to go grocery shopping while we waited for the carpets to get cleaned and hopefully released from the clutches of that awful smell. We got home late and all was quiet and dark in our new apartment. We unlocked the door, laden with groceries, expecting the fresh smell of industrial strength shampoo, but all that machine had managed to do was dredge up the foul odors of who knows how many years past, leaving us standing in a cloud of eau de wet dog.

“Should we?” asked my hubby.

“We should,” I replied.

And after putting our groceries in the fridge and our children in their beds, we tore out the entire carpet and left it in a moldering heap on the front porch to be dealt with later. Then we went to bed ourselves, breathing a little easier.
The next morning Steve had to go to work, but before leaving, he told me he would bring some tools home that night to help scrape all the old carpet padding off the subfloor so we could begin replacing what we had removed. But I couldn’t stand just sitting there all day, staring at that big old mess and waiting for the necessary tools. So I found a good substitute in my trusty old kitchen spatula.

And when, during my scraping, I encountered hundreds of little staples that had been holding the carpet in place, I discovered that a butter knife worked fairly well in prying them up. Of course neither the spatula or that butter knife ever worked very well after that, but the floor was cleaned and ready to go by the time the hubby got home.

In addition to the now unnecessary tools he had brought home that evening, he had several boxes of a faux hard wood laminate that was to take the place of the stinky carpet. And when I protested that he wasn’t going to have time to lay it all, he taught me how to measure and cut the pieces to fit and then spread the adhesive.

It’s just like making a quilt,” I told myself, going so far as to pull out my clear plastic quilting ruler to make the job easier. Even Steve had to admit it was the perfect tool for the job.

And now, with this biggest of all renovations before us, I figured I might as well learn to mud and add it to my list. Of course, we hope to be able to have the funds necessary to hire out the majority of the sheet-rocking and mudding since it is such a mammoth task. But just in case, I figure it’s a good idea to start increasing my store of construction knowledge. And who knows, I might even learn to hang the sheet rock itself.
But I should probably do some push ups first.


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