Friday, February 13, 2009

Remember all the boxes? Well, there's one in particular that I've left out of the attic. I've been going through this one box, and trying to file everything away somewhere else, somewhere proper. I found in it an old folder of articles, essays, and newspaper clippings that I'd saved over the years, back in the cumbersome days before the Internet -those long slow days of the library microfiche. So I came across an article about the virtues of being a handyman. I was a handyman at the time, and I guess the little piece had a profound enough effect on me that I cut the thing out and saved it. I think I got my contractor's license as a result, actually. Back then I was miserable as a handyman, and I was miserable as a writer, too, but I was inspired by the piece and eventually figured I could get my license and go legit.

I showed the article to my wife, who read it and nodded, "We're a success!" We don't have fancy cars and granite countertops, but we've got a big backyard, don't have to put our kids in daycare, and have time enough together to take salsa dancing lessons on Friday nights. Life is great. Is this as good as it gets? Not sure. That's something unsatisfied people ask. It could get better, but I don't need it to. It could also get worse, and I don't need that either. Grateful every day for every day, that's the goal.

Anyway, it doesn't have the rusty charm that the torn, faded old newspaper clipping does, but it's here if you want to read it. (It's short.)

I mention it to balance out all the complaining I've been doing, both vocalized and in my head -which is the worst kind. As happy and satisfied and successful as I am, I'm a Complainer. It's possible I've just been doing it too long and have gotten good at it, or perhaps it's in my genes. Whatever: I don't want to be one. (And I have a funny feeling no one else wants me to be one either.) I try to redeem my complaints with some semblance of humor, but sometimes you just get too tired to be funny, and, God help us, too tired to laugh.

I had a customer recently who was filled with complaints. She had a nice home (granite countertops) and a nice yard and nice things and even though I thought her patio cover looked perfect, nothing I did seemed to make her happy. For people like that, the sun is too bright and the rain is too wet. And then I had another customer who had a leaking patio cover. I'd built it a few months ago and it was an unusual application, so a few leaks were to be expected when the rains came. I met with him and asked him about the size of the leak. He laughed and said, "It's a waterfall." We chatted for a while. He just got out of back surgery and had to go back for shoulder surgery. Hadn't been to work in months. The guy was in pain enough that he was unwilling to move a few steps up the ladder to see how I repaired the leak. "I trust you. I'll call you again if it doesn't work," he said. Nice guy. Grateful just to have me return the call.

Today is Friday the 13th, not a blameless day. A perfect excuse for complaining. It happened that my in-laws, who are no strangers to the fine art of complaining, were over yesterday. Now, these guys are gambling aficionados and believers in Luck, and I mean "luck" as the handy always-at-the-hip tool of the gods, the all-pervading Force that both enables and undermines, and the object of all complaints when no one else can be blamed. So, just for fun, I mentioned that Friday the 13th was coming. I expected a loud, long-winded, plaintive diatribe about the day, but what I got was a cheerful "I love Friday the 13th!" which totally took me by surprise. I expected Friday the 13th to be a baleful day of incremental contempt and dismay, a day best spent in bed, but instead I think they went to the casino. I guess I have a few things to learn about when and where to place my complaints. It all just goes to show: you can't rely on a Complainer to come through for you, just as you can never come through for a Complainer. They're as unreliable and inconsistent as bad contractors.

Hey, life is good. I like the rain. I can't complain! Or at least, I shouldn't. The problem with complaining is that there's always someone who has less than you and never complains about it. The other problem with complaining is that there's always someone who has more than you and nothing to complain about, but they do it anyway. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, which in my house means watercolors and chocolate and king crab and strawberries and candles and a nice bottle of cabernet at home. How can you complain when you have so much to look forward to? Perhaps that's the secret. That, and gratitude.

I still don't like Forrest Gump, though.