The First Old Coot article; Invasion of the ladder people

I took a sabbatical last month – no old coot articles for four weeks, ending a string of 827 articles in a row. Now, I’m starting over, resubmitting that first article that was published Nov. 27, 2002. I hope it’s the restart of something good. 

If you walk down the pleasant streets of Owego, you’ll notice a proliferation of ladders leaning against historic clapboard homes. At first blush, you might think the homeowners of our quaint village are an ambitious lot, tackling one restoration project or another on their 150-year-old houses. You’d be wrong!

I stroll through town every morning, on a meandering route to Dunkin Donuts or the Awakenings Coffee House and back home again, sipping coffee and listening to Imus on my Walkman. I do an inventory of the projects underway in the village, mostly looking for techniques to keep my 197-year-old house in good repair with minimal effort. I’ve learned that the ladders are props, a last-ditch effort by the male occupants of the dwelling against which they lean to avoid a job that’s been held off for two years or more. And, husbands are not the only ones guilty of this rouse. Many home repair contractors employ the same tactic. 

Husbands resort to this “ladder-lean” strategy at the end of a protracted domestic conversation that goes something like this.

(September, year 1) – “Honey, the east side of the house is starting to peel. Do you think you should paint it before it gets worse?” (reply) “Yea, I guess. But I don’t want to do it till spring. Why have the new paint face six months of bad weather?”

(April, year 1) – “Honey, are you going to start painting the house?” (reply) “Yea, but it’s too damp and cold. I’ll get to it when it warms up a little.”

(May, year one) – “The weather looks good now honey; are you going to start painting?” (reply) “Yea, but not till after Memorial Day.”

(June, year one) – “Honey, Memorial Day has passed. Why don’t you get cooking?” (reply) “I want to wait till the kids get out of school. The school busses spew out a ton of diesel soot starting and stopping in the neighborhood; it will ruin the finish.”

July – too hot.

August – too muggy. 

September – after Labor Day. 

October – too cold at night, the paint won’t dry properly. 

(May- year two) – “Honey, the house is a disgrace! The paint is coming off in bushel basketsful. I’m embarrassed to go out and get the mail!” (reply) “I’m on it babe. I just need a few weeks to figure out what supplies I’ll need to get it done. You don’t want me to do a slip-shod job do you?”

(June – year two) – “Honey, the kids can’t play in the yard anymore and there are so many paint chips on the lawn that the dog refuses to leave the house. Are you going to paint the house, or do I have to call a professional?” (reply) “I’m starting it this weekend. Jeesh, give me a break, would you!”

On Saturday a ladder gets placed against the east side of the building. The project has officially begun, but other than setting up the ladder, no actual work has taken place. A new line of dialog begins; the ladder buys another year of inaction, two if the husband is a clever old coot. 

A similar exchange takes place between homeowners and home-improvement contractors, but the game is initiated with a sign, not a ladder. The second the contractor gets the job he puts his sign in front of the house, announcing, “Another quality remodeling job by Cracker-Jack & Sons Inc.” The sign is the only activity for two months, in spite of 20 heated phone calls from the homeowner. Then, the ladder ploy is used; followed a month later by scaffolding and miscellaneous equipment. At the peak of the conflict, the contractor arranges for lumber to be delivered, usually in a manner that blocks the driveway. This trick is designed to prevent the homeowner from hiring a new contractor. It takes two letters from an attorney before a single board is cut. The job then goes forward in spurts: three days of intense activity, two weeks of no activity, 16 angry phone calls, and a repeat of the pattern until completion. 

There are many variations of this construction-delaying tactic: blue tarps on roofs, an “X” taped on a broken window, three rows of new siding installed; it’s running rampant in many towns across America. Psychologists call it “male performance deficiency syndrome.” I call it, “The Invasion of the Ladder People.” Take a walk through your town. You’ll see what I mean.  

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