I’ve been thinking about the aphorism that just because something is simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy. My wife and I bought a house at the beginning of the month and have been furiously working on getting it move-in ready. Things that seem to be relatively simple: laying stick-and-peel tiles, painting cabinets, re-hanging said cabinet doors, installing a dishwasher… However, the truth of the situation is much different.
A 25 minute tutorial on YouTube later and I was an “expert” on installing my new dishwasher that Lowe’s refused to install because it involves screwing in the stabilizers. After an hour of the LC light blinking (it means to check for a leak – took me 45 minutes to figure that one out) and water all over the newly laid stick-and-peel floor (which was now not so sticky) I had to take a break. I had to walk away.
It is an incredibly simple process. Hook up the water hose to the water, the drain hose to the garbage disposal, hook up the electrical to the outlet. Test the machine and you’re good to go. Nevertheless, it probably took me 2 hours to get it installed…and that was after Francisco – the handyman (who should be a general contractor) – helped me to clamp down the hose to the disposal so that water stopped spraying everywhere. Very simple, but not exactly easy.
This is not about my ineptitude (I’m not, I just play at it). I am capable and getting better every day. Francisco is more than capable…he’s more than just good. Forget his insane work ethic for a moment (he says that he completes 3 projects per week, on average). Yes, he works quickly and efficiently. He doesn’t make mistakes. He is truly an artist.
I’ve been hiring Francisco (who does have a last name, but I didn’t ask for his permission to write about him so…) for well over 5 years for various projects for both sellers and buyers. He lives just a couple doors down from the house we are getting ready to leave. In all that time, we didn’t have the opportunity to talk much. That’s not really fair…I didn’t take the time to get to know him in a way that I should have. It’s always been about business. But since he’s been working on our new home…the “hard” stuff (or at least the ceilings that Chrystal won’t let me try to do)…I’ve taken the chance to get to know him better, and I am a much better person for it.
Yesterday I got a lesson on texturing the ceiling, but it was so much more. He told me the story of when he first came to the US and saw some guys working on a house. He looked at them and decided (at 18 or 19) that was what he wanted to do with his life. Over the past 30 years, he’s taken the time to learn and perfect his craft. He’s gone from Tradesman to Artisan. He showed me the difference between the ceiling that he textured and the walls that some poor schlub worked on back in ’87-88. He gave me a tiny spot that no one would notice so that I could learn how to texture. He went over it again after me, but reminded me that it was my first time and that I would improve. It was a simple process, but not easy.
Francisco doesn’t measure how much water he puts into the compound; he does everything by sight and feel. He sprayed the texture on the ceiling, stopping along the way to make minor adjustments to the sprayer. After the texture went up he followed behind and swirled it so that there was the pattern that he was looking for. I watched as he pirouetted around the room, dancing with the step ladder, making sure that every section of the ceiling was just right. He talked about heart, and how important it was to have passion for what you do.
That was his real objection to the texturing on the wall. Whoever had done it might have been technically good, but there was no feeling behind it. It was just a job. And that was the 1980’s. Think about how automated everything is now. Think about how simple all of the tech companies have made doing everything. We watch YouTube videos to learn pretty much everything these days. We have automatic bill pays. We have one-click buttons to buy instantly from Amazon. We can sell our home with one click on Redfin…
What we can’t do when something doesn’t go as expected is talk to an actual person. I can’t even find a number on most company’s websites anymore. I have to chat with an AI driven bot before I can chat with an actual person who runs through the same script as the bot, who eventually gives me the main 1-800 number where I get to speak to an automated phone tree…I am not a luddite by any stretch of the imagination (I’m not banging this out on a Remington Typewriter, after all!) but I am not sold on the idea of simplifying everything for the sake of simplification. It’s ok for things to be complicated. It’s ok for things to be difficult. Learning a new trade and becoming a craftsman is good. It shows that you care enough about something to stick it out.
Really, what we’ve lost with simplifying everything is our heart. The heart and love for craft that Francisco has. There is artistry behind it and it has been beautiful to watch over the past couple of weeks. Even though I know that we’ve strengthened our relationship, I will miss working with and learning from him once we’re done in a week. He makes the simple look so easy.