My mom was always


My mom was always careful to point out to me that learning a new skill required a lot of careful, patient, and sometimes tedious investment before it started paying off in fun and enjoyment. The example I remember her using was fencing: looks fun, but it takes years of careful, repetitive drilling before it’s really enjoyable.

Boy, was she ever wrong about that. I found this out a few years ago, when I started taking fencing lessons from a short Eastern European Olympian: “Here, wear ze white jacket of a Twenties robber baron. Here eez a sword. Now lunge at ze wall, and make Hungarian noises like me! HUP!” Plus, you get to rip off your mask and snarl like a short-tempered movie villain pretty much from the first lesson, so fencing was, overall, 100% instant gratification for me.

The same turned out to be true for learning karate (they let you wear the uniform and do the double-fist glowering-bow thing from the FIRST DAY of classes!), riding a motorcycle (nobody can tell if you’re an expert motorcyclist or not, as long as you just turn the corner from the people you just fell down in front of), and being a dad (regardless of how hard actually being a good, reliable child-raising husband may be, carry a baby and a diaper bag out of the men’s room and the entire restaurant breaks out into a standing ovation.)

You know where the crap curve is in full effect, though? Buying a house. Like every other big-ticket purchase, when you look at the new house, it’s just some kind of silhouette, surrounded with a dazzling corona of desire: “Look! A fireplace!” “A porch for sitting on!” “There’s a pogo stick in the yard across the street, and chalk drawings on the sidewalk every day!” Once you come away from settlement, though, it’s painfully obvious that you’ve also purchased a metric ton of elderly carpet, naled down with gleeful, rusty abandon by a savage crew of Malay staple gunners, a kitchen larded with rancid grease, and a rusted water service coupling BELOW the main shutoff valve. That coupling made a strong plumber turn pale, tiptoe slowly to his van, and roll slowly and carefully away, not starting the engine until he was a quarter-mile from the house. “Sweet Jesus, I was just two days from retirement!”

Kate, Lydia, and I will move into the new house in about three weeks. Before then, we want to get the floors sanded, stained, and refinished, get the interior painted, and kill the hive of giant, brawling wasps living in the front embankment. We want to get the radiators in the bedroom and upstairs bathroom replaced with cast-iron baseboard, and we want to get the two layers of greasy adhesive tile in the kitchen ripped up and replaced with vinyl floor. We want to get the gutters fixed, add a ridge vent to the peak of the roof, and fix the leak in the chimney that’s causing the plaster to fall down in chunks. And we’ve got to call Philadelphia Sububrban Water and the Holy Roman Catholic Church to come in and see about our water service.

Really, it’s not that bad — I can’t complain with a straight face to my friends with Manhattan landlords who are actively trying to kill them — but I want to do violence on the person of the next do-it-yourself magazine author who blithely says “be sure to get estimates from at least three reputable contractors before proceeding with work.” Oh, sure: “be sure to send at least three human astronauts into Earth orbit before attempting a moon landing.” Mmm-hmm: “Be sure to construct a land bridge between North America and Asia before walking from Alaska to Siberia.”

Perhaps I’ll just run a foil through the vitals of the next person who gives me that “three reputable contractor” advice. It’ll add a nice bit of instant gratification to this tedious, unrewarding grind. HUP!

My mom was always

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