I’m an everyday illusionist. I wrap myself in layers of mystique set to misdirect and confuse those who cross my path. I carry with me a halo of competency that causes many to assume I’m a capable, competent individual. If they were to look closer they’d discover how very wrong their assumptions were. I run on a fake it till you make it platform. In truth, I don’t have a great many practical skills. If I were to find myself stuck in a forest alone I’d likely just wander around for a short while until I died, moaning about the lack of local pho restaurants. If anything goes wrong in the house, my default response is to wonder who I could convince through friendship or money to fix it. I’ve never had to do much in the way of manual labour, so the sight of me trying to accomplish anything constructive is laughable at best.
Which is why it was so odd for me to offer my services to friends with an overwhelming amount of home reno work to do. They’re moving soon and need all the help they can get making it look spiffy for potential buyers.
Truly I meant best, blindly flinging myself into their home before thinking of the havoc I could wreak. When my girlfriend and I arrived, I offered explicit instructions as to my use:
- I don’t know how to do many things.
- I will ask silly questions.
- I will be incredibly slow at first.
- By the time I’ve finished I will have gained some competency.
- You will seriously wonder how I’ve survived life thus far.
My girlfriend is not an incompetent person. She’s done a ton of stuff before, so she was a lot easier to manage. They had a ton of projects for her, like sanding down a door, dusting its grooves and spray painting it. Useful stuff. Me on the other hand, they dumped on the floor and set to work. They were gonna paint the base boards/quarter rounds and needed it taped off. I also learned what base boards and quarter rounds were. Looking around my house now, I can see that they’re everywhere. I set to work right away applying masking tape to the floor and walls. At first it was significantly slow going. I was so set on getting everything tight up against the base boards/quarter rounds that I was taking an age to set anything down. I’d do small bits at a time, afraid of having even a speck exposed to potential paint. Or what if I left a smidgen of the baseboard covered? It’d never get painted and I’d no longer be trusted to help with anything, banished from their friendship for all eternity. THE WORST PUNISHMENT.
I got faster. After I’d done one corner I realised I’d need to start moving things out to get access. Their TV cabinet? Right in the middle of the floor. All those carefully wired speaker cords? GONE. I pulled out the nails they’d used to keep the cords in place, undoing all their hard work. In my head I told myself all this stuff needed to get done eventually, but it was hard to shake the idea that I was committing minor vandalism at a friend’s place. I moved around the living room putting tape down at the top and bottom of the baseboards/quarter rounds. My friend started following my work around the room, painting as she went. Eventually I finished up my taping and wanted more work to do. She instructed me to remove these box shelves on the wall then pull out the plastic screw covers drilled into the wall. There I was, balanced on a chair holding this shelf with one arm, cordless drill between my neck and left shoulder, holding a plastic zip lock bag in my left hand while carefully trying to drop the loose screw into the bag. As I said, I’m not a competent person. Though I did manage to pick up the drill between my big and index toe. That should count for something.
She had to leave to have lunch with her boyfriend, so told me to take over the painting that she’d started. Painting her house? She was trusting me? The only painting I’d done was as a child in school. I painted many shit things, the only highlights being a taniwha and myself as a werewolf. I reluctantly took up the call to adventure as she assuaged my fears. It was only the first coating, I couldn’t fuck up too bad. Had she met me? To be honest though, it wasn’t too difficult. I’m sure I wasn’t doing an amazing job, crawling on my side, but as a first attempt I think it was only slightly shabby.
Riding high on my relative success, I taped off another window alcove and set to painting. I tried to make sure I got all the corners, then got in there with a paint roller. After the handheld brush, the roller was a revelation. I made sure not to lay the paint on too thick and aimed for an even spread. By the time I’d finished, exhausted as I was, I had no concept of whether or not I’d done a good job. Then I thought hey wait a minute, this morning I didn’t know how to do any of this. The fact that I’ve done a job at all is progress enough. By the time I’d left, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and pride.
So maybe there’s something lurking behind my illusion of competence after all.