Love Is a Many Splintered Thing

Especially between handymen and their clients

By Carolyn Strickland

Old houses have always spoken to me. And sadly, I tend to buy the ones that can barely put together a sentence. Termite-infested. Bad plumbing.  Missing a kitchen. Sign me up. Over the years I have purchased nine houses that were in need of extensive therapy. While other women I know have fond memories of old boyfriends, mine are of handymen. Although I never felt any physical attraction for them, or even knew most of their last names, my love was no less real. Don’t judge me.

My first handyman love was Kenny.  He had no chin, weighed about 95 pounds and had twinkly blue eyes, and with a knack at stripping paint that was awe-inspiring. I loved him for weeks. I would wait for him each morning, coffee in hand, and watch the magic happen. I liked to think his hyper-focused work stemmed from a willingness to please me. Turned out it was methamphetamines. 

Edward ripped out a wall of termite-eaten wood, reframed it and sheetrocked it expertly in three days. All while smoking thousands of cigarettes and blaring AC/DC on a portable paint-drizzled boom box. I’ve never been a smoker, but to this day, the smell of tobacco and the song “Highway to Hell” reminds me of progress. And termites.

Then there was Shorty. He was 4’11” on a good day so I fell in love with his self-deprecating sense of humor and his ability to fix plumbing while whistling. And he easily fit into a crawl space. My heart beat faster each time I saw him, until I didn’t.

Rumor has it that he married one of his clients and moved to Argentina. Jealousy consumed me for about an hour.

Billy was an elderly interior painter. Despite his failing eyesight, he could cut a straight line into a wall with no need for taping. I worshipped him — until he showed up one day asking for money for a job he had never done. “I meant to do it,” he explained, “so you should pay me anyway.” We broke up after that.

There were hundreds of other crushes. Yes, dear reader, I was very promiscuous with my house renovations. If the handymen did good, conscientious work, I was instantly smitten. A bad tile job and things got ugly. I would kiss and tell all over town about any careless work. 

The best, however, was Lewis. Lewis was able to fix an interior leak that no one else would even attempt. He was patient, focused and brilliant. In fact, he was almost perfect until one day he casually dropped into a professional conversation that he had pet ferrets. These are the meanest animals on Earth, the only ones who hunt for sport. The Menendez brothers who killed their parents kept pet ferrets under their beds, for God’s sake! Lewis then mentioned that his ferrets raced around his house in their own remote-controlled jeeps. This was already too much information. But then the clincher — they were “show ferrets.” One of them won first place in the softest fur division, he told me proudly. 

At that moment, something changed. This was the strong, silent, handsome man whom I imagined spending evenings at home in his woodshop crafting artisan furniture. Not blow-drying ferrets.

Lewis had seemed like a lasting love. No longer. He might just as well have asked to use my bathroom because he had to “tinkle.” Lewis, my favorite and best, suddenly felt like a distant memory. I could no longer be with him.

Love, like houses, is a complicated thing. Choose carefully, and know when it’s over. I miss Lewis. I miss them all. Sparks will eventually fly again, I’m certain of that. “Just open your heart and remember to breathe,” I tell myself.

The end. For now. I still need a good electrician. 

Carolyn Strickland is a real estate agent at Leonard Ryden Burr in Winston-Salem.

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