Rely on the Incompetence of Strangers

There’s an I Love Lucy Christmas special where the Christmas tree looks uneven, so they trim a little from one side, then compensate and trim from the other, and so on back and forth until it’s a mangled mess. The tree was just fine to start, but each time they “fixed” it, it looked worse. That is pretty much how I attack home repairs. Painting is going okay, and then I try to fix it a little and it looks worse than before I started. I hang curtains, but in the process I punch a bunch of holes in the wall trying to remember how to use a drill. Mistakes compound mistakes, until I surrender to the chaos/mangled Christmas tree.

I mess up all the time. Our grocery store was out of coarse kosher salt (the most egregious stocking issue we’d had until last week, when they were out of every kind of chicken except tenderloins). I needed salt of course, so I put in an order with a different store who didn’t have my preferred brand but I was desperate and they offered curbside pickup. After a few days we decided the new salt was all wrong — it wasn’t flakes, it was like tiny balls of salt that were unpleasantly hard and refused to dissolve in sauces, and it contained a lot of impurities that I had to fish out when I salted my pasta water (thanks, fancy organic store). Cranky that I had wasted money and meals on lame salt, I ordered some online, and when I retrieved the box it sounded like a rain stick. The box of salt had been poorly packed and had broken open and spilled the salt all over the inside of the packaging.

As a fairly normal human person, I am full of mistakes. Messing up makes me mad at myself, but when other people mess up I become enraged. I don’t have time for my own errors, let alone the errors of experts. Packing a box of salt for shipping is not among my many talents, but surely enormous shipping companies like Amazon are familiar with such things, since they presumably ship salt to people other than me.

When I brought a can of paint to the hardware store for a color match, I already knew my painting skills were shaky at best, but when that new paint dried and was not even close to matching the paint I brought in, I almost passed out. Why do they offer to “match” paint at all if they aren’t going to make any effort to actually make the same color? In my defense, I kept telling myself it would dry the correct color because surely this trained employee and the digital matching process wouldn’t let me down. My experience with painting is often marked by feelings of confusion when the color doesn’t look quite like I’d imagined, so I trusted the experts because what do I know? It ended up being several shades off, and also the wrong sheen, as well as being a shabby paint job.

After months of calling our builder to get the exact paint color and style of paint used on our walls, and getting the paint from the same source as the original painters, I finally repainted the off-color walls this weekend, only to discover the color is still not correct. It isn’t terribly noticeable but made me blind with rage. Who, in fact, is the expert if not the person who painted your house in the first place?

The same sort of thing keeps happening and it makes me absolutely insane. Our four year old dishwasher broke last year, and after waiting months for the city to get its surge of COVID under control we finally called a repairman who replaced a $200 part that fixed it for three months. When I called back, hysterical that the dishwasher had broken again a week before Thanksgiving, he said, “huh, they just don’t build them like they used to…” and then I blacked out from fury with the intensity of a thousand suns. They don’t make them like they used to? This machine is four years old and I would expect two hundred dollars worth of repairs to last longer than three months, since it wasn’t quoted as a fix that would make the dishwasher operational for two dollars a day until our down payment ran out.

Whenever I’m making a purchase I hear my mother’s voice saying, “you get what you pay for!” The voice isn’t in my head, it’s on the phone warning me to spend a lot to ensure quality. She insisted we get the kids a really nice table and chairs for homeschool, and though the set was prettier than others I’d considered I wasn’t sure the cost would equate to benefit with three kids who destroy pretty much everything. The new expensive table arrived a month late and seriously damaged, and since then the paint has started falling off the chairs unprovoked — it’s just abandoning ship in spots that haven’t even been abused by my children. What, exactly, are we paying for here?

Of course I sound like The Supreme Karen, but it isn’t that I need to speak to the manager or become internet famous for yelling at a store employee. Usually I just fume and complain to my husband or rant on my blog (hi) because I’m terrible at confrontation. It’s just that we are fucking shit up on a massive level on our own here, and we can’t afford any unforced errors. My paint jobs are sloppy and impatient, and I don’t have time to smear the wrong color all over my kitchen. I am already accidentally selecting three bags of onions rather than three onions for our online grocery order, I don’t need the staff at the store substituting sold out items using a blindfold and a dart board. My kids are capable of ruining all our furniture on their own, we don’t need to pay extra for it to arrive pre-ruined. It is highly possible a kid will throw crayons into our dishwasher and clog all the plumbing with melted wax, so I don’t need our dishwasher — which we selected as an upgrade when we moved in — to fry itself to death every few months and be “fixed” by Professor Harold Hill. We’ve got trouble right here in River City, y’all.

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