“I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
These are generally unwelcome words. We’re grateful they didn’t come from a surgeon reporting an egregious slip with the scalpel, nor had either of us pronounced them as a referendum on our marriage. This declaration was from the contractor who has been working on our kitchen and laundry room for two months.
In the early 2000s, before the economy cratered and when seemingly everyone remodeled their homes from top to bottom, I would pretend to listen, rigid with boredom, as neighbors and fellow parents from Christopher’s elementary school went on endlessly in excruciating detail about their home improvement projects. Most of these narratives described various disasters.
We have lived in our house for 25 years but have done no remodeling. A couple of months ago, we decided to give our modest 1942 kitchen and laundry room an upgrade. I know, what were we thinking? Here I am, one of those tiresome people nattering on about a remodeling project despite my vow not to.
Having a new kitchen will be lovely, I’m sure. The process so far has involved a regular diet of ramen cooked on the camp stove, a wasteful supply of paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery—I refuse to wash dishes in the bathtub—and a soundtrack of the evangelical radio station the crew favors. Even with my home office door closed, I hear what sounds like a very angry preacher bellowing about the crucifixion.
This week we thought real progress was finally at hand. New appliances were delivered and installed. I was keen to inaugurate the new washer, lacking sufficient quarters for another Laundromat run. I flung in part of the prodigious mound of clothes that had accumulated since my last Laundromat trip and fired up the new machine’s complicated dashboard. A terrible, grinding noise filled the room. We listened for a moment, aghast. “That doesn’t sound good,” said David, the master of understatement. “No, it doesn’t,” I agreed helpfully. We shut it off.
Turns out that shipping bolts should have been removed. Gigantic bolts lock the drum and keep it from turning while the washer is transported. How that step was missed, why those outsized bolts that look like they’d do quite well in Frankenstein’s neck were left in place, and why we were told it was OK to use the new machine will remain a mystery.
Today’s “terrible mistake” didn’t have to do with those shipping bolts, but involved drilling the wrong holes in the new kitchen cabinet doors. The doors were taken down and spirited away, because now the mistaken holes have to be patched with Bondo, and the doors reprimed and repainted. We had a semi-finished-looking kitchen for a day; now the cabinets are agape again.
The contractor roared away in his truck, probably distraught. I’m not a contractor of course, but I am self-employed and well understand that interruptions or mistakes in a project mean that your pay will be delayed too. So along with annoyance, I feel kind of sorry for him.
Of course, in the big picture mis-drilled holes don’t constitute “a terrible mistake” or even a problem worth mentioning. We’re lucky that most errors and blunders in life, big and small, can be fixed whether it takes Bondo, an apology, an eraser, money, paint, time, or a rewrite.
When the kitchen is complete, you are all invited for dinner. Ramen will not be on the menu.