Broad Strokes


We have been remodeling. Or rather, we have people do it for us, since neither of us has the time or the skills. Well, we’ll get to the skills… We needed new windows in the front of the house, because the old ones were rotted out. We bought ready-made wood windows, and in August the remodeling began.

The carpenter had to break out the old windows, make a frame, and install the new windows. That was a four-day job that took him five weeks, among other things because he did everything wrong the first time.

After that we had hired a few painters to sand and spackle the inside of the windows, and then prime and paint them. They asked a certain amount and we agreed. After the first day I came to look at the progress, and I saw that they hadn’t sanded first. They had just primed right over the umpteen layers of old paint. My husband confronted them about it, and at first they denied everything, but when it became clear that we were not falling for it, they said that they would have to charge extra if we wanted everything sanded.

So we found another painter who we agreed to pay by the hour. He’s an older man, very friendly, but possibly very forgetful. He was supposed to spackle everything first, because the wood was rather rough, but he forgot, or pretended to. And so it goes. It’s now the end of October, and on the inside the windows still need to be sanded, spackled, and painted again. And he has only just started on the outside. Just started in the sense of not having done much yet, because the starting date was the beginning of September.

A carpenter here isn’t really a carpenter, and a painter isn’t really a painter. There don’t seem to be any trade schools. You can just go to Wal-Mart and buy some paint brushes, and hey presto, you’re a painter! It’s pretty sad when I have to point out to the “painter” which areas need spackling, and that I feel I should tell him to use a finer brush, and to thin the paint a little, so you don’t see the brush strokes, and to at least make straight brush strokes, and to tape first if he can’t, but I don’t, because there’s no point.

For the value of the house it doesn’t matter, because everybody’s paint jobs are terrible.  Nobody knows any better, so nobody cares. I just have to get over my Dutch painting standards.

(From a letter in October, 1997.  South Texas)

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