The Private Pleasures Of Little Jobs


March 09, 1991|By Rob Kasper

Life is a choice between big challenging jobs and piddling little ones. Especially on Saturdays.

The big jobs, like moving a wall, require large chunks of time. And they are high risk. If you screw up, your half-finished project is out there for the world, or worse yet, your neighbors, to laugh at.

But the big jobs also get the glory. When you paint a large living room, people notice. Most folks have been brought up properly, and know enough to pretend they like a new paint job.

Lately I've been drawn to little jobs. I can't seem to find the time for big undertakings. And my attraction to the small stuff increased a few years ago after I took a week off to "touch up" the paint on the outside of the house. I transformed our previously sedate-looking house into something resembling a three-tone parfait. The next year we gave that big job to a house painter.

Little jobs, however, go unnoticed, or at least largely unappreciated.

When, for example, you patch the hole in plaster wall, the kids complain that they lost a secret hiding spot for their treasures. Your spouse asks, not too pleasantly, why the patch is a different color than the rest of the wall.

When you fix a leaking bathtub faucet and wait for the adulation of the masses, you discover that only you cared that the drip drips no more.

And when you replace not just a burned out hallway light bulb, but the socket that holds the bulb, you feel proud as you bask in the radiance of the now functioning light. But your family often seems no more illuminated of your efforts than they were a few days earlier when they walked the hallway in darkness.

Still, little jobs can provide private pleasure. Like a sculptor who works to please himself, I know that the world may little note nor long remember that a wall was cracked here, but I shall never forget that I spackled there.

To be done well, little jobs require that you have the right attitude. You gotta think small. You gotta remind yourself that you're not renovating, you're repairing. You must keep in mind that this is not a battle with the house, it is a skirmish. You want to move quickly without getting lured by the siren's call to explore the rocky dangers behind the wallpaper.

The other day, for instance, when I was perched atop a step ladder struggling with the itsy-bitsy screws that held the new ceiling light socket together, I had to fight off the urge to seriously examine the wiring.

I saw that insulation covering the wires was still good, no metal was touching metal. But I also noticed that the wires were old. And in my head I heard the voice of the expert workmen, the kind of guy who keeps all his pencils perfectly sharpened and writes repair books. The voice was telling me, "That wiring really ought to be replaced."

Back when I was a fledgling homeowner, I would have heeded that voice. I would have unscrewed the entire lighting fixture, taken it down from the ceiling, and poked around in dusty rafters tracking old wires.

By day's end, I would have ended up on the phone calling friends to get the names of their electricians. The hallway would still be dark. I would be depressed.

That is what happens when you let a little job go astray and become a big one.

But as a veteran homeowner, I knew not to listen to that voice. I knew I had to keep a firm hand on my screwdriver.

Instead of venturing into the realm of old wiring, I simply attached the new socket to old wires. Then I put in a new light bulb.

When I turned the electricity back on, nothing went blooey. Another little job had been completed. It gave me no small sense of satisfaction.

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