So as mentioned before, I spent the better part of last week working on my old apartment in New York. Primarily what I set out to do was repair some water damage that had occurred in three different parts of the apartment from three totally separate incidents. The damage, however, was all the same. The water had caused the paint to separate from the plaster and it fell away in great sheets. I needed to patch spots in the walls as small as six inches square and as large as twelve square feet.
Now, I'm not the handiest person in the world. Strike that. I actually can be pretty handy when necessary. Most of my lack of handiness can be directly traced back to my not being able to hold a flashlight steady. I'll explain.
My father is a and always has been a really handy guy. He knows how to do a wide variety of things. He knows how to do these things pretty well. Given enough time, he could build you a house from scratch. A well built house you could depend on, not some rickety affair. Back in the day before cars went all electronic, he could probably fix pretty much anything on one of them, too. In our basement, at any given time, there were at least two lawnmowers. One was functional, the other was either being pilfered for parts to keep the first one functional, or was being rebuilt to become functional in turn. In fact, I think he used one lawnmower for almost the entirety of my existence. I remember it being more rust than red, but it worked and it mowed well — especially because he kept the blade sharp (yet another thing he did himself). Point is, Pop fixed what needed fixing.
As a kid, if I was going to help, I had one job. That job was to hold the flashlight. A simple job, really. Anyone can hold a flashlight, right? A menial task to be sure, and one I relished because it meant spending time with the old man. Trouble was, it was an activity I wasn't particularly good at. You see, I got distracted easily. I was trying to watch all of the action not just the repair, so often the flashlight wandered around and resulted in Pop not getting light where he needed it most. Consequently, it wouldn't be long before Pop would lose patience and invite to go play somewhere else.
What I failed to understand is that while I viewed the holding of the flashlight for Pop as he fixed stuff as spending time together, Pop's view was a little different. I think he viewed the task at hand as an actual obstacle to spending time together. His intent was to get it done, get it done right, and get it done quickly. My inability to give him steady light and help achieve that goal complicated the matter and prolonged said task. But understand, it wasn't malicious. Pop worked long hours — often eighty or more a week — and the last thing he wanted to do was work some more at home. He wanted to get things done and enjoy his family.
The upside to this is that he tended to get his repairs done relatively quickly when I wasn't in his hair. The downside is that I ended up not learning how to do a bunch of stuff. Granted, when it comes to certain things Pop is good at, I'm sure I'd fall short. I'm not mechanically inclined. If I had a busted lawnmower, I wouldn't know how to fix it, and any attempt I made at trying to take it apart would surely lead to the inevitable purchase of a new lawnmower. Certain other things, however, I could have benefited a bit from. And so now I am forced to call him on the phone when things need repair and describe the given situation as best I can. He'll, in turn, try and talk me through what I need to do, step by step. It's not a perfect system but it's better than nothing.
Cut to last week. There I stood in our old apartment with large patches of wall and ceiling where 75 years of paint had broken away revealing bare plaster beneath. Me on the phone, as I slathered joint compound onto these large spaces and trying to fill what amounted to a 3/8 of an inch difference in depth. Pop talking me through how to smooth things out. Giving me instructions on what I should do the next day and the day after that. Always the guy in a control tower telling some random passenger how to safely land a 747 like in so many Hollywood movies.
And so I worked away the hours alone in my old place. Pop on the phone periodically, telling my to check my altimeter and watch my airspeed. I'm not sure that I did a good job in the end. I do know that the results were vastly superior to the damage itself, but I don't think I'll be getting any "Plasterer of the Year" award.
Still, I walked away thinking several things. The first is that I am in awe of plasterers. Their abilities are far beyond my present understanding, and I have a feeling that I'll be calling on their skills before all is said and done. The second is that I am even more in awe of fresco painters. They are, after all, responsible for the application of the plaster as well as the painting of it. I would not be fit to shine their shoes let alone those of their apprentices. Third, and finally, I'm in awe of my Pop. As the years have gone by, his patience has increased and he is not so quick to send me off to play. And as the years go by, more and more it is he who holds the flashlight.