Somewhere in this universe, if life after death exists, my father is rolling over in his grave. Or rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulders, throwing up his hands…whatever the ghosts do when they see their descendants doing stuff that they think is ridiculous.
And it is NOT my father’s fault. Let me be clear. He tried to raise me right. He taught me the rights and wrongs at an early age, the benefits of doing things right the first time or at least having duct tape nearby. Well, to be totally candid, industrial duct tape or white fibreglass tape. But he taught me. Ish.
To wield a hammer, to build sheds, etc. None of them were particularly PRETTY when done, but his builds were at least presentable. Mine? Not so much. My poor workman abilities are not limited to carpentry. I suck at drafting, machine shop, plumbing, automotive, bird nest removal, eavestroughs, Xmas light mounting, etc. About the only thing that I’m decent at for some of this stuff is electrical, and I know enough to know how dangerous it would be for me to do actual wiring. For something like a ceiling fan, I could, in fact, work out the wiring, but I wouldn’t have a clue how to ensure the fan itself would stay mounted on the ceiling.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I understand the theory. But everything I do in this regard goes slightly, umm, awry. Let me digress for another minute. In my bathroom, aka our main bathroom, there is a simple brushed nickel towel rack. If you’ve ever put up a towel rack, you’ll know that there are 3 or 4 main designs for how the rack attaches to the wall. One of the most popular is a plate that attaches to the wall at each end, and the brackets that hold the bars themselves actually “slip” over the plates like a sock/sleeve to hide the screws and hardware underneath. Nice, tidy, pretty and functional. Well, unless I put it up. Then it isn’t very nice. It definitely isn’t tidy when I screw up the holes in the wall and have to use larger anchors that I expected to make sure the stuff stays in place. It isn’t pretty since the sleeves don’t go all the way to the wall to sit flush, no matter how much I fiddle with it. And it is functional in the sense that if you don’t pull it too much one way, both bars will stay up. I’ve thought about using some super glue to make sure the bars can’t move in the brackets, which would also make the whole thing more secure. But I haven’t.
That towel rack? It’s about a 5-minute job. Maybe 10. I think it took me close to 90 minutes, and it looked like crap. We can do IKEA stuff, and assemble other things, all good. But designing my own stuff like a bookcase? Sure, it’ll be functional. But it won’t be something you want in your living room with your nice furniture. I’m a “functional garage bookshelf” kind of carpenter.
And even if I could get past the quality issues, the frustration is always off the scale. I dread doing any of these projects as I know they are NOT going to go the way they’re supposed to…if this was a sitcom, I’d be the guy who attempts to fix his toilet to save $30 and ends up with a $600 plumbing bill to fix his mistakes.
Enter the simplest project that I can’t do well
If you think of all the little things you could do around the house and then rank them for ease, most functionally-literate trades laypeople, aka homebodies who do things themselves, would rank hanging pictures on a list of things anyone can do. Oh, sure, people will say they have no idea how to do colour schemes, or things won’t be level, but they generally are willing to do it and adjust.
My experience has been more one of frustration with anything bigger than a calendar. I frequently will plan ahead, particularly as I am frequently hanging on drywall. So, if it’s small, a simple nail will do. Beyond that, the only thing that has consistently worked for me is to drill a small hole, put in a wall anchor, put in a screw, and voila! One wall plug/anchor to hold everything! Well, almost everything. Oh, who am I kidding? Most of the time it doesn’t hold ANYTHING I wanted it to hold. Not shelving units to the wall, not shelves on the wall, not heavy stuff that hangs. It just doesn’t stay.
Flash back some 11 years, we moved in, and one of the things we wanted to hang was a painting we bought in Hintonburg a few years ago. We had it hanging over our fireplace at the old house, and to be honest, it worked as I drilled holes in brick and used hard-core plugs that could have been used to mount exercise equipment. The whole house would fall down before those things came out. Anyway, it was up. But when we moved, we weren’t exactly sure which room we wanted it in, the family room or the living room, but likely the living room. Yet I have had no confidence that whatever I put in the wall would hold. It’s not super expensive art or anything, but it’s significant to us both for the cost and the sentimental value. We bought it ourselves while doing a local art tour, and we enjoyed buying something “together” for our new home at the time (two houses back).
So, it got put in a box with a bunch of other stuff we wanted to hang but weren’t sure where or how, and we basically ignored all of it. For the last 11 years, the stuff has sat. Some of it was visible and enjoyed without being fully mounted; others were just in boxes.
And things probably would have drifted along that way with our naked walls until we eventually die or move. Or both. Except in the fall, Andrea and I were out running errands in Barrhaven, I wanted a small couch pillow, and there was a small furniture store in the plaza we were in, so why not check there? We did, found one, and all good. But while we were in there, we happened to notice a framed painting on the wall. It’s commercially generated, sure, but it was nice. A landscape by the sea that both of us noticed and thought, “Wow, that’s pretty good, actually.” We can afford stuff by real artists, I won’t pretend this is exceptional art, but we really both liked it.
So I went back in when Andrea was out another night and ordered it for her for Christmas.
Let me digress with a small story
The store called to say it was “in” and that I could pick it up. The lovely young lady who had served me called me and left a message, and then called a week later and got me, and was about to call a third time when I finally made it one afternoon after school with Jacob. The intent was that Jacob and I would put it in the back of our compact SUV, and it would be from the two of us to her. Great. Got there at 4:00, paid for it, picked it up and realized it was actually a lot bigger in person than the one that appeared on the bare store wall. No worries, we have a Rogue, we’ll be good. Nope. It didn’t fit in the back diagonally (it was off by about an inch to be comfortable), and it couldn’t go in across the back seat vertically (about 4″ too long). And you don’t want to “force” a painting to fit. 🙂
I called a cab, told them I had a large painting, and that I needed a van. Someone showed up with an SUV that was even smaller than ours. I called back and said a minivan would do, it didn’t have to be an actual van, but no joy. Talked to the store and the assistant manager, but not much in the way of options from them. We could return it and have it shipped from the warehouse directly to my house (which I hadn’t been offered originally and would have said no to anyway because I wanted it to be a surprise when it arrived), but that wasn’t going to work well for logistics or timing. What other options did I have? Oh, right. Home Depot rents vans so people can carry large purchases home themselves. Or wood sheets. They’re large enough to carry 4×8′ sheets easily, so the painting would fit fine. It was 4:45 p.m., and the store closed at 6. The race was on! I dropped Jacob at home, raced to Home Depot, rented a van, drove to the suburb in the rain and dark skies, grabbed the painting, took it home, dropped it off, raced back to Home Depot for a time duration, and turned it back over. All done. By just after 6:00, and a total rental cost of…wait for it…$28, including taxes. It was cheaper than a cab, actually. Anyway. Got it home, it was done, and hiding it easily for six weeks was out of the question. I had to tell Andrea not to go into a specific area of the basement until after Christmas.
But with Christmas over, and a new large painting to hang, along with other stuff that really should be on the wall, what was the poor excuse for a handyman to do?
Time to get noodling.
One gig platform
Many people use various gig platforms to find jobs, but lots of people use the gig platforms to find temporary workers for specific projects. I used Fiverr to find someone to do a cover page for a book ($12 plus some tax, as I recall). I had someone assemble my exercise machine last year from Task Rabbit. There are a bunch out there for various tasks.
And I have a bunch of things I want done this year without the time or energy (or, in this case, the ability either) to get them done. Back before Xmas, I got a friend to assemble my 3D printer for me, and I’m looking forward to getting going with it in February. I’ve got some other things that have to be done before I allow myself time to play.
But I was noodling if I might have the guy who did my exercise machine come back to reassemble an exercise bike that has been disassembled since 11 years ago, too, when we moved, along with two other things that he could put together way faster than I can with less fuss and frustration. Anyway, I went on TaskRabbit, wanted to make sure he was still there, and I realized something.
I had forgotten that I ended up on TaskRabbit because that is what IKEA uses for local assembly. They basically just refer people to TaskRabbit to find someone to assemble furniture if they need that help. But they have people on there who do TONS of stuff.
Garden setup. Eavestrough clearing. Leaf raking. Assembly of furniture. Some painting if need be. Plus, a dozen other household chores.
And…wait for it…hanging stuff in your house. Drapes, curtains, pictures. Ding ding ding ding ding! We have a winner, folks!
Laying it all out first
So I knew we had about four big things that I felt were really beyond me. Two paintings in particular (new and old); a stone wall hanging from a friend that we have NEVER hung, it’s really heavy; and a larger poster in my basement (it’s a Star Wars reissue poster that references the original name for the third movie, Revenge of the Jedi instead of Return of the Jedi). But if a talented Rabbit was coming in to do those four, and there’s usually a two-hour minimum, we asked ourselves, what else could he hang? We unpacked everything we had that could possibly be hung, and laid it all out. Some of them required new frames as the old ones were cheap or the wrong colour. Others needed frames entirely, they were prints or hangings without any case around them. We weeded some stuff for quality and tastes changing over time. There may have been a few gifts that got purged in there.
Then we went around the house with it all and put sticky notes on the wall where the picture/print/painting/wall hanging would go. Then I made a list. How many were there? Well, let’s see.
If I start in the living room, there are only two, both large paintings. The hallway to the kitchen has a Hawaiian sunset picture printed on canvas, the powder room has a small Van Gogh print we bought in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh museum sometime around 2004 / 2005 or so, and a “welcome” sign was added to the kitchen wall, and the heavy stone artwork was added to the playroom. TOTAL: 6 items
As you go up the stairs to the second floor, we decided that the big walls we have there would eventually house mostly family photos. To that end, we hung one large constellation poster that shows the sky above Ottawa on the day our son was born, and two multi-photo panels on either side of that for four on one wall, plus three more on another wall. Not all of the picture slots are filled yet, but the frames are up. TOTAL: 8 items.
Once you are upstairs, there are generally four areas that got the “TaskRabbit” treatment. The hallway has a polar bear picture and one other I can’t remember at the moment, plus a new large bulletin board that will house a new world map where we put in pins of where we have been. Given Jacob’s interest in geography and history, and travel, that will likely see some good usage over the coming years. And the main bathroom has another Van Gogh print, plus while he was here, he fixed the “PolySpecial” towel rack. TOTAL: 5 items.
The master bedroom gained a print of a moon painting done by a local Indigenous artist that did a show at Jacob’s old school, I really like his Indigenous astronomy stuff, a print of 3 pandas on clear glass, a print of a sketch by a local artist in Quebec City of the entrance to Lower Town at the base of the funicular, a small Van Gogh print in the ensuite, and a large Van Gogh print over the headboard. Oh, and he fixed our curtain rod that had come loose at some point. TOTAL: 6 items.
The big room that Andrea uses as an office already has some decoration on various shelves around, but Andrea added a wall hanging, a print, and a wooden fish (all from travel in Asia, I think), plus a small painted postcard from Twillingate when we went to Newfoundland. TOTAL: 4 items.
The guest room gained four items from Andrea’s travels, with a Van Gogh print from Amsterdam, a painting of a house in Jamaica, a wall hanging of an elephant in fabric that we framed, and a wooden carving from Australia. TOTAL: 4 items.
We offered more options for Jacob’s room and office area downstairs, but he has lots of things up on the walls, mostly with tacks and things (posters, pennants, etc.), so he was good.
Which leaves me in the basement. I had him hang two diploma frames (Trent, Carleton), an achievement award I got from RASC for service to the astronomy club, the Star Wars poster I mentioned, a brand new large magnetic whiteboard, a picture frame with space for about 8 small prints in it that I will print on my colour printer soon, and a Van Gogh print in my bathroom.
Then I come to three kinds of special paintings to me that are not worth much money at all. I bought them in 1992 in Victoria when I was at law school. We went out for dinner one night and we all went downtown. It was February, and cold by Victoria standards, but we went and wandered around the harbour. There was a performance artist in his 20s doing spray paint art. Those who are handy in this type of endeavour consider it fairly easy as you aren’t trying to paint a realistic picture, but more representational art. I’ll describe the easiest painting as I saw him do it first in about 20 minutes.
First, he took three areas of the painting and painted a bunch of colours on top of each other to make three big blobs — one mostly green, one more yellowish and one more red. With some white mixed in, he smeared all three to give the sense of motion across the surface. Streaks basically. Then he put three small paper plates over them of differing sizes to cover what was under them. But the plates didn’t cover all of it, more of a subset of each blob. Then he sprayed the whole painting super dark black, going over the plates. When he removed the plates, he had perfectly round circles underneath that had these smeared/streaked designs on them. Then he took white paint (actually, I think he did this before removing the plates) and sprayed his fingertips and just flicked it at the black matte. It made it look like stars. He worked for 20 minutes and had this freshly spray-painted space image with three cool-looking planets, stars everywhere against a black background. I loved it. I think it cost me $15 to get it.
Then he did another one while we watched. This one was a bit more surreal, where you were looking out at a universe from a watery surface of an alien planet, there were comets streaking by, but the foreground planet was really cool. There are some sci-fi and fantasy elements in it, the colours are quite different, as are the techniques. I had to own that one too. It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen done.
And then he did a third space one just before we left. It is a large circle (like a portal) at the top, and in the portal, you can see a lake/river, some small mountains, a giant pyramid behind them, a setting planet behind that in the sky, and a sun starting to emerge from behind the planet. But the portal drains into the lower half of the painting, where there is a surreal alien vista with weird mountain formations and a lake. And he used streaks downward to simulate a waterfall from top to bottom. Plus used his thumbnail to add some birds flying in front of the waterfall. It was an extra $5 to get that one, so I spent $50 in total for the night. Having no idea what I was doing, I just knew I had to own these prints.
Are they high art? Absolutely not. But they were amazing to watch, I’ve now owned them over 30 years, and this is the first time I have had all three up simultaneously. We replaced the cheap frames I bought 20 years ago for two of them with only slightly more expensive but nicer ones from Michael’s. The portal one? I had that framed way back in 2002 or 2003, and it cost me close to $100 on some big discount sale at the time, five times the cost of the painting itself. But it blows me away. I can’t look at any of the three without a sense of wonder of “what’s out there”. Long before I rekindled my love for space, paintings like these resonated in my soul. TOTAL: 10 items.
That’s the ball game, folks
41 items hung, and 2 hanging items were fixed. We spent about $300 at Michael’s buying new frames, even with their perpetual framing sale. And then another $260 for the 4 hours the guy was here today. A little over $500 and more than 40 items hung, many of which have been waiting for 11 years or maybe 30 if you include the space paintings.
A pretty good deal for someone who couldn’t do it right or well himself. A friend mentioned she thought it was good money too since her and her husband take an hour to hang one item!
Andrea supervised the roll-out today while I worked, but I popped upstairs regularly to check on how it was going. The painting in the living room was a big wow for me, and the pics in the stairwell were big for Andrea. Jacob hasn’t pronounced on it yet. I look forward to people being able to come over this year and not see naked walls everywhere.
Oh, and while he was here? I knew he ran a general contracting business of his own, he’s only been with Task Rabbit since last spring/summer as a client of his kept bugging him to join. In the first 4-5 months of being on the site, he made $50K. Less some basic parts costs, I assume, as he came with ALL the hardware for hanging things and chose different hardware for various types of items to hang. But I digress. I knew he was a contractor and did other stuff, so I had him look at a problem I have with my ceiling from when the air conditioner lines were removed by a young gun with no idea what he was doing. He’ll give us a separate quote, and we’ll probably have him come in next week to fix that over two days. We chatted about how to shape the ceiling, and he talked to us about our laundry room, too, all good.
He was awesome, and we’ll use him again. I just won’t wait 11 years to end up writing a cheque.