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Lessons from Kitchen Remodeling

So, you love your home so much, you’d rather stay and just remodel? Here’s what you’ll learn:

Day 1, Demo Day: After they strip your kitchen of everything – including the kitchen sink and all the circa 2005 McDonald’s Happy Meal toys that rolled under the stove and refrigerator, you will prepare dinner on 18 square inches of countertop in your daughter’s bathroom, where you’ve already piled the microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Your wife will come home from work, swallow hard and immediately start feigning her suspiciously positive, what-a-great-adventure-this-is attitude, immediately confirming your daughters’ belief that life without a kitchen sink and a dishwasher really is the first level of Dante’s Hell.

Day 2, Hangin’ and Bangin’: A bunch of wall holes get covered with sheetrock, the bottom cabinets get eased into place, and the kitchen has a whiff of normality. (Don’t laugh. Two days into your next home improvement project and your definition of normal will be lower than the Kardashians' too.) Your call to your appliance company to check on your new stainless steel package from the Suburban Trite Collection will go like this: “Great news!” Appliance Man will say. “They just shipped today!” And you’ll respond, “Perfect! Because I need them for installation in two days!” And Appliance Man will say, “Um, okay, but they’ll actually arrive in 12 days.” Because the truck driver from US Appliance up in Michigan sets his cruise control to 7 mph. Nevertheless you’ll feel very superior about the fact that you refuse to deforest the planet by using paper plates for the entire two weeks you lack a dishwasher. And that feeling of superiority will last the first 40 seconds you are on your knees, scrubbing dishes in the bathtub.

Days 3-4, Urologists, Jason and the Salvadoran Smack-Talkin’ Stilt Walkers: Your contractor’s assistant, who will win over your wife by telling her he just loves Il Divo too (and later win you over by privately admitting that he sends his wife to their concerts while he stays home to watch Star Trek reruns), spends the day at his urologist’s with kidney stones. Meanwhile, the granite templator arrives to build a fascinating, fake countertop of cardboard strips while sniffing immense amounts of toxic glue, which is probably why it takes him 10 days to cut the stone to match the pattern. The next day you’ll meet Jose y Eduardo, the drywallers, who are 4”11 Salvadorans who wear $300 stilts to make themselves 10-feet tall. And who, because you have the most pathetic, useless kitchen in the world, bring along their own microwave, which they plug in on your front porch to reheat their leftover arroz con pollo. And, after you mention your wife is from Puerto Rico in order to bond with them, you will hear Jose call out to Eduardo en español, “Hey, dude! Be careful. She speaks Spanish.” Which prompts you to ask, “Does he curse a lot or just badmouth all the homeowners?” Which simply prompts Jose to smile awkwardly. That night you decide: To he** with the Mother Earth, we’re using paper plates.

Day 5, Missing Texture Man. In this very abbreviated workday, you’ll return to discover that as bad as you think your kitchen has gotten, given 90 minutes and a little gumption, a diligent contractor can make it a whole lot worse. But none of this matters if Ray, The Texture Man, stops responding to your contractor’s calls. (“Ray?! Are you there?! For gahd sakes, Ray, pick up!?”)

Days 6 and 7, Trim, Lights and a Satin Finish. On Day 6, your contractor’s assistant returns from three days of hugging his urologist while his wife screams, “Push!” He slaps on the baseboards and installs the canister lights. Your contractor will then mention that if you were planning to get your destroyed kitchen painted, it should happen tomorrow before he throws the crown molding on. The next day your wife will mutter about the only painter you can find at such short notice – because the dude complains endlessly, listens to terrible music and – because he didn’t wear a belt – flashes her at least one significant crack he left un-caulked. Worst of all, at the end of the day, the annoying painter actually climbs into bed with your wife with big splotches of Cincinnati Hotel Hannaford beige still on his elbows. But what the he**. That’s marriage.

Days 8-9: HomeIndirect and Texture Man, The Sequel: While Day 8 saw a construction worker rapture, Day 9, however, will see a return of action. Your contractor’s assistant will show up in a chipper mood and announce, “Yesterday I passed the stone!” And you’ll excitedly ask him, “Did it look great?” Because you momentarily think he drove by the granite place to check on your countertop, which they’ve being cutting for eight days because they’re using a butterknife. But once the words actually clear your lips, you suddenly realize (a) he’s actually talking about his kidney stone and (b) the look on his face means you won’t be invited to his Christmas Party. Twelve hours prior to its supposed delivery, you’ll receive an e-mail from HomeDirect – the shipping company taking 12 days to truck your appliances from Michigan because Miss Daisy has canned her chauffeur and seized the wheel. “Please be advised that your appliance delivery will be slightly delayed as we verify details of your order,” it will say – because superior, growing-like-gangbusters companies always wait three and a half weeks to verify details of your order. Clearly HomeDirect is a company that is going places – just not to your house. Because your contractor has finally located Texture Man II to apply knock-down to the 4’ x 2’ remaining portion of the kitchen ceiling, he pins plastic sheeting around the middle of the kitchen, giving all the fifth graders attending your daughter’s graduation party the creepy sense that Dexter has decided they’re dessert.
Day 10, Crown Molding Makes You Royalty, Right? If you’re going to buy cabinets, spring for the crown molding. Even if you walk around in undershirts with yellow holes burned into the armpits, it’s a relatively cheap way of fooling yourself you’re now high class. With the trim and hardware on the cabinets, your contractor will inform your wife that she can pull her late grandmother’s old, chipped, never-used dinnerware set off the back porch and store it on a high shelf where it can properly gather nostalgic dust again for years. And you’ll get excited – very excited – because rumor has it your granite will be ready for installation on Monday.

Day 11, Next Time Pay the Sales Tax. On Day 11 Texture Man II will arrive with four additional assistants to apply knock-down texture to a 4’ x 2’ area of your ceiling. After you’ve waited for them for more than a week, it will take them five minutes. Your daughters will LOVE your friend’s idea that they tuck a time capsule into the sink counter’s wall before the granite counter caps it. So they’ll run to their rooms and carefully write a letter detailing life in America on June 9, 2014, for future generations to cherish. And it will read like this: “Hey! My name is Grace! I’m cool! I love writing in green pen! I have two dogs! See ya!” Which will at least make clear why the world, one century from now, ran out of exclamation points before fossil fuels.

Day 12 and Day 13, Panic and the Grand Finale. Yes, Day 12 and Day 13 were technically separated by a few days, because of HomeIndirect, which will ship your appliances to Tampa via Cambodia. Lessons learned? When everything is going swimmingly, you’ll decide, once the backsplash is roughly 80 percent complete, that perhaps…just maybe…quite possibly…you picked the wrong color. Your contractor will patiently wait as you parade your neighbors and family members through the kitchen for their input. And your brother, who you forced to bike over to your house in the rain, will growl, “No one looks at backspashes anyway. I don’t even remember what my own looks like and I was just standing in my kitchen. Here’s the bottom line: Do you hate it $1,000 worth cause that’s what you’re looking at?” Then your wife will come home and immediately overrule you, so there was no point in bothering all those people in the first place. The two of you will then go pick out a new kitchen table, which will seem perfectly fine in the showroom, but when you put it into your thimble-sized kitchen, immediately makes you feel like you’re making an embarrassing cameo appearance in Honey I Shrunk the Kids III. But your wife and your daughters will overrule you on that too so, for the next 15 years, you’ll just sucking in your stomach and sliding past it in order to get onto the pool deck. The appliance truck will roll up at 9:30 a.m. on Friday and two shady looking characters will lower the gate. And you will spend eight minutes wildly unboxing and unwrapping everything before they can drive off. And – aha! – you WILL find a small dent in the side of your stove, so you say to Mr. Delivery Man, “While it’s on a hidden side, I’d like you to note it in case there’s other damage that might affect its operation.” But Mr. Delivery Man will look at you in disdain and tap his delivery manifest. “Buddy, you have bronze level service,” he’ll say, looking ready to spit on the ground to emphasize just what a loser you are in the appliance delivery world. “I can’t note that. I’m not even supposed to stick around while you unbox everything.” So you’ll decide to give him a bronze level tip, which consists of all your pocket lint. When your contractor asks you for the new appliances hook-up kits, you’ll then stare at him blankly. Because bronze level service (a) doesn’t include hook up kits or, for that matter, (b) anyone to tell you they existed. So your contractor will scribble out a list for you to take to Lowe’s. Then, just before you depart, he’ll eye you and – wanting to actually finish that month – will just decide to go himself. And with the backsplash grouted, you realize that it may just work. But it doesn’t matter really, because The Monster Kitchen Table blocks everything from view anyway.

But it’s finally over. Your kitchen is officially done.

Still thinking about remodeling?

Cuz I’m going to the beach. I’ll be back in 2016.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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Runner Girl and the Shamemobile

While I was stopped at the traffic light with the window of my swagger wagon down, they struck again.

Two scruffy guys in a truck laughed at me.

I immediately stopped singing along with the Taylor Swift song on the radio.

I almost glared at them and raised the window, but that’s what my grandmother would have done. So I did the other thing my grandmother advised: I initially ignored them.

It worked no better at 48 than it did at 8.

It was the second time in a week some dude had pulled up alongside of me and cackled.

I surreptitiously used the rear-view to check my nose for boogers.

And my forehead for a capital L.

Was it my trusty 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan with anti-lock brakes, side curtain airbags and the stink of sour milk belching death from the reusable shopping bags?

How far I’d fallen.

In college, to motivate myself to study, I’d tape the Mercedes Benz ads from the Washington Post to the fake wood paneling of my Baltimore row house.

Now I owned a decade-old manlyvan and a paid-off Toyota Corolla – both with more scratches than a flea-infested dog.
It’s what happens when you park both cars in a Florida garage that holds the hurricane plywood, the leftover pool pavers, a lawnmower, edger and weed-eater, 13 cans of leftover paint, three different power saws, a large toolbox, the pool vacuum, 9 inline skates (not pairs, mind you), four hula hoops, a large basket of sports balls, tennis racquets and baseball bats, the interior and exterior Christmas decorations, an 8’ x 8’ beach tent and assorted beach chairs, 30 pounds of beach pails and shovels, two boogie boards, five bikes, three scooters and a large plastic Little Tikes ride-in car that belonged to your high schooler – all of which your daughters regularly rake down the sides of both real-sized cars.

Because each vehicle has 18 inches of clearance.

Nevertheless, after I pull into the garage and the girls prepare to jump out, I still feel compelled to raise my voice. “PLEASE BE CAREFUL OPENING THE DOORS SO YOU DON’T—“



A few weeks back, as I pulled the Corolla up to my daughter’s high school, she rushed forward and jumped in before the pick-up spot. “OK! Let’s go!” she said brightly. But I slowed near the crowded pick-up spot so I didn’t hit another car. “No!” she cried. “Why are you slowing down?”

I flashed back three decades. My father, who owned the worst, beaten-down cars ever manufactured, had borrowed my 90-year-old aunt’s ’68 light green Chevrolet for the morning run. My older sister threw open its door at a busy intersection a full block from her high school.

“Where are you going?” my father cried.

“This is fine!” she hollered. “Bye!”

Five years later, as I waited for Dad to swing by in his beat-up Oldsmobile to pick me up from high school, two guys walked up from the Wendy’s fast-food joint on the corner. “Some dude just lit his car on fire across from the fire station!” one cried.

Dozens of kids burst into laughter.

I stood, silently calculating the odds that I was related to the extra special loser who sets his car on fire across from a fire station.

“The loser couldn’t get his car to start and so he sprayed gasoline into the carburetor and it blew up!”

More laughter.

Apparently 100 percent. The old carburetor trick was the giveaway. I’d be walking home because my father was standing beside the burnt-out hulk of his Oldsmobile in front of the fire station.

“You’re embarrassed by the car,” I said to my high schooler.

“No,” she shook her head.

“I’m going to beep the horn.”

She grabbed my hand. “I’ll kill you.”

Did it occur to her that the car looked like it had survived the Jurassic Era because of her?

Did she remember, two months prior, when I scolded her to lift her cello high, suck in her breath, arch her back and wedge herself between the two 90-gallon automated garbage cans in the garage so she did not drag the instrument’s deadly endpin across the car hood?

She had lifted. She had sucked. She had wedged.

“NO! NO!” I screamed, “HIGHER!


I stared at the two-foot long canyon etched into the hood. 

Was it any wonder the scruffy dudes were laughing at me at the intersection?

But, sitting there, it suddenly occurred to me: maybe it wasn’t my Shamemobiles’ scratches. Maybe it was the magnets!

When my wife turned 40, she enthusiastically embraced the motto of middle-aged, suburban Americans everywhere: Let’s Run Away From Death!

Five kilometers at first.

Then ten.

Then while out drinking with girlfriends one night, they dared each other to register for a half marathon.

With Death still gaining, they later went for broke: a full one.

All the while documenting their progress with oval car magnets that proudly announced how far they’d gone in public with lots of other sweaty, scantily dressed, panting people.



Proving to everyone that the car owners were not as decrepit as their middle and high school students think.

Unless, of course, the magnets actually belonged to the driver’s wife.

Who, to shake things up, slapped two large pink ones onto his manlyvan reading: “Runner Girl!” and “I know I run like a girl! Try and keep up!”

Because her Corolla already sported so many magnets it was pulling the International Space Station into a lower orbit.

So I turned to the scruffy guys and jerked my finger coolly back toward the magnets. “They’re my wife’s.”

The guy smirked at me. “You have a pretty voice.”

And they roared into the intersection before the light turned green.

By Christopher Barrett, Publisher


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Dragging Across the Finish Line

It started out with such excitement! Such energy!

There were new backpacks with zippers that zipped. The school-room scent of new pencils with intact erasers. And fresh notebooks gleaming in un-creased, un-scribbled perfection.

But now?

If I get one more perky e-mail from a homeroom mom, I’m gonna bury a broken pencil nub in my skull.

Unless it has a good eraser. Then I’ll horde it through summer.

The last day of school is June 6. Please knot a rope to my leg, loop it around the school bus and drag me across the finish line.

What a thrill the first week of school was eight months ago. The new clothes. High school orientation. The excitement of the first football game. Even the open houses with all the parents excitedly plucking construction paper leaves off their elementary teachers’ whiteboards.

“What?” I shamed She Who Controls the Universe. “You only took the leaves for a twelve-pack of facial tissues, a six-pack of antibacterial wipes and two reams of colored paper! I just saw Jacob’s parents take four leaves. Go grab the one for the $50 Staples gift card!”

Departing, we gushed to the teacher. “If you need anything else, just let us know!”

Two weeks ago she e-mailed the entire class list: “I deeply apologize but I’m in need of five reams of paper to get us through the end of the school year.”

“What in hell do they need so much paper for?” I asked my wife.

Blame it on the fact that I stopped wearing my Spirit Shirt back in January.

By February I stopped religiously cutting out Box Tops.

By March the insides of all my daughters’ lunchbags smelled like decomposing skunk. (You want to know why all the school kids and their families engage in a Competitive Hurl-a-thon every March? Their lunchboxes become Princess Cruises. Note to the PTA: why not turn this into a successful fund-raiser called Pledge-a-Puke?)

By April I started signing homework papers without looking at them.

“Dad,” my straight-A fifth grader (my only heir with an overactive conscience) stopped me. “I only got an 84 on that one.”

“Oh,” I said, looking down. “You did only get an 84.”

She looked ashamed.

“Hmm. Do you understand all this stuff now?”

She nodded.

“High five!”

Fortunately my daughters are all more responsible than I am.

In fact, the other night, just after I put my youngest to bed, she rushed back into the living room, interrupting The Walking Dead finale. “But I haven’t done my 20 minutes of reading!”

I patted the sofa. “I’ll put the closed captions on while you set the timer.”

After spring break, who has time for standards?

I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel. This is my life: I have exactly 78 school lunches left to make. Does the fact that I’m seriously considering blowing our entire vacation budget on Lunchables make me a bad parent? Seven times the recommended daily allowance for salt doesn’t seem to harm fish.

I just want to tell the pick-up-line hyperparent ranting about teachers who show movies each day after the FCAT: “I support the shift to full-time video education beginning in May. Unless, of course, you’d care to complete the remaining five pages of Sunshine Math.”

It’s the time of year when one of my daughters will tap her parents’ shoulders after everyone is in bed. “Sorry to wake you,” she’ll whisper, “but I forgot to mention I have to build a working particle accelerator in a shoebox for science class.”

“By when?”


My wife will groan and I’ll lose another brutal round of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

It’s that time of year when my youngest will burst into tears. “I need to complete 215 more IXL math skills in two weeks or I’ll be the only one who doesn’t win the end-of-year ice cream party!”

If her math skills were better (Four out of three Americans seriously struggle with math by the time May rolls around), she’d realize there are one, two, three (Yes, three!) gallons of ice cream in the freezer, which she could secretly party with every night after Rock, Paper, Scissors.

What other joys do the last five weeks of school hold?

1. Three concerts requiring trips to the mall. (Despite 14 years of year-end concerts, we apparently still don’t have the right black pants.)
2. Two last-minute high school service projects involving (a) multiple rounds of bingo with the elderly and (b) saving the pandas.
3. A request from the homeroom mom that everyone contribute toward a Mother’s Day gift for the teacher, for whom we have already purchased a Christmas gift, a Teacher’s Appreciation Week gift and a birthday gift. (Yes, you’ve actually been homeroom-mom-shamed into buying more gifts for a teacher than you do for your own mother. Thank you for your participation!)
4. A last-minute play calling for two full costume changes, one of which requires pink cowboy boots.
5. A science and engineering competition requiring 12 empty paper towel rolls, a Geiger counter and a pack of multicolored ostrich feathers.
6. An All About Me/Star Student project forcing you to drag the tattered one out of the back of your high schooler’s closet, paste a new photo over her preschool one, jam it into your third grader’s hands and swear no one will notice that her parents are once again in their early thirties.

If I were a drinking man, there’d be nothing left for you.

So to survive, I’m putting all my children’s teachers and all the world’s homeroom moms on notice:

You people are on your own.

See you in August.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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