The House Is Gonna Be Great - A Thing I Wrote About Home Repair for River Valley Woman

Earlier this year, I asked Eileen, my editor at River Valley Woman for the 2019 schedule of issue topics and content deadlines. While she always welcomes my pieces for their annual 'man issue' in the summer, she is also willing to at least humor me when I tell her I want to put something together for other issues too.

Sometimes the topics are too far of a stretch for me, or aren't the right fit; other times, I know it won't be all that difficult to put something together for her. For the March edition, I saw that 'home and garden' was the theme, and I knew that I'd be able to write something.

I just didn't know that the essay would more or less write itself.

The March issue of River Valley Woman is out now in Southern Minnesota, as well as online in a 'flipping book' style publication. My piece begins on page 70, and even spills over onto page 72, since I always ignore the word count I'm told to try to keep things to. Again, one million thanks to Eileen and River Valley Woman for this opportunity. 

The House Is Gonna Be Great

Have you seen the movie The Money Pit?

It isn’t very good, so it’s okay if you haven’t. It’s a 1986 ‘screwball’ comedy starring Shelly Long and Tom Hanks—in it, they wind up buying a dilapidated house that requires an excessive amount of work.

Hilarity, or something, ensues as things continue to fall apart around them.

I remember very little about The Money Pit. I presume it had a happy ending, but there isn’t a lot of it that stuck with me, save for a scene where Hanks has fallen through a hole in the floor, and becomes stuck. Eventually, he begins manically singing “The Name Game” until someone can help him.

I also remember a running joke—more or less the conceit of the entire movie. The line, “The house is gonna be great,” is used repeatedly throughout—especially as things, for the couple, become worse.

* * *

My wife and I bought our home almost a decade ago, hastily moving in a few days before Thanksgiving, 2009. It was a foreclosure—an unfortunately drawn out process where the out of state bank that owned the house itself could have cared less that a newly married couple were interested in buying. Then there was our realtor, devastated that we were going with something we could afford—not building a brand new home, as she continually was suggesting we do.

When we initially moved in, we did a lot of work to make the space livable—like having the carpeting professionally cleaned so it wouldn’t like urine, or painting the walls of the second bedroom so they weren’t bright pink and covered with sponge painted butterflies.

Once the space was livable, we started talking about all the things we could do to the space, like tearing out the carpeting in favor of something more glamorous, or making bathroom in the basement exponentially less sketchy.

And we did do some minor work on the house, sure, like eventually painting the exterior, occasionally remembering that the back deck needs to be re-sealed, and a little landscaping in the front—the first phase of a projected, multi-phase and costly endeavor; but you know, a decade can pass, and you’re still begrudgingly tromping on the same carpeting, and that bathroom in the basement is used for ‘emergencies only.’

A decade in, and you’re also cursing the kitchen in its entirety—the confounding layout that makes it impossible for two people to work in it at the same time, or the fact that none of the cabinet doors actually close all the way.

All of them dangling open ever so slightly, like that scene in The Sixth Sense.

The house is gonna be great.

* * *

A number of things, nearly all of them increasingly unfortunate, happened in order to bring us to the point where we are at now; and that point is where we have a brand new front door for our home, sitting in our garage, waiting to be installed.

Only it cannot be installed—or at least, installed in the way we would like it to.

Near the end of the spring, the first unfortunate event occurred, and my wife Wendy and I found ourselves in a position we were unfamiliar with—one where we could consider doing work to the interior of the house.

Lists were written, and then re-written, of all the things we could do, and their levels of importance. Some of these things were projects we could probably handle on our own, and wouldn’t wind up being terribly expensive.

However, a majority of them would be rather costly, and were all completely out of the realm of things we could comfortably do on our own; though, admittedly, neither of us is very ‘handy.’ We had, famously, almost killed one another while attempting to install a ceiling fan in our bedroom.

The fan itself only worked correctly for less than a year.

The house is gonna be great.

* * *

We decide to go with a new front door as the first large scale improvement because the door the house came with is…a piece of garbage. It doesn’t have any kind of window—not even a peephole to see who may be on the other side, so since there is no light coming in, that corner of the living room is incredibly dark and sad.

The door, along with the rickety storm door crammed onto the outside of the door frame, are both hung in such away that allows them to let in a laughable amount of cold air during the winter—to the point where ice has formed on the bottom, and you can feel an actual blade of cold air, slicing through the living room, when you walk by.

Wendy had an idealized new front door—one with three small windows, staggered and descending diagonally. On our very first trip out to research doors, we are told this kind of door exists, can happily be ordered for us, and we’re given an estimate of how much it would cost.

The very next day, a series of tornadoes come through Southern Minnesota, and the winds knock a very, very large portion of a tree onto our house, puncturing a hole in our roof—among other things.

The house is gonna be great.

* * *

I spent almost all of October, and into November, going back and forth with our homeowners insurance company about our claim from the storm damage, and what they should be compensating us for.

The new front door of our dreams, as well as a new storm door to go along with it, were ordered at the end of October—we were told to expect them in ‘about two weeks,’ but by the beginning of December, the doors were nowhere to be found.

One of the things that kept us from even pursuing our lengthy list of projects sooner was wondering how to pay for it all—do we blow through my wife’s savings and see how far down the list that gets us?

The day before Thanksgiving, we sign all of the paperwork for a Home Equity Line of Credit—suddenly, the sky is the limit on our projects and their respective costs, but the sky, of course, will want to be paid back over time.

This is not the actual door, but the best the internet
could provide in terms of an example.
The doors arrive, and we pay for them—perhaps it was a literal omen that I chose to laugh off that the total came to $1,666. They are delivered, and two days before they are set to be installed, Wendy has the realization that we never specified, nor were we ever asked, what side we wanted doorknob and hinges to be on—and has, more or a less, a subsequent anxiety attack regarding this seemingly overlooked detail.

The next day, I call the place the doors were ordered from, and the person I speak with assures me that the door is set up the right way—meaning, the same way our current door is: from the exterior, the hinges are on the left, and the handle is on the right.

I tell my wife this news—it calms her, but only slightly. “But what if they’re still wrong?” she asks.

On the day the doors are to be installed, maybe 10 minutes after I leave the house, I receive a call from our contractor. The door is, in fact, not set up the same way—it is hinged on the right, with the handle on the left.

The house is gonna be great.

* * *

The day ends with a cavernous, mechanical hum overhead from a ventilation system, and the dull roar of amusement park rides—in an effort to ‘drown our sorrows,’ we wind up in an unlikely place: the Mall of America, seeking solace in vegan fast food from Earth Burger.

The front door can’t be returned, or exchanged, of course—it was custom ordered. Wendy and I both think of a way to possibly salvage the situation, like having the door installed on the back wall of our garage, in an effort to make it easier to get out to the backyard.

“I’m trying to tell myself we shouldn’t stop trying to make our house not a dump,” Wendy said to me earlier in the day, in a text, after all this unfolded. Maybe our house isn’t a dump—it’s just lived in. You move in and have a lot of big ideas, but as the years pass by, and life itself causes you to make concessions, resigning yourself to the fact that maybe the bathroom in the basement is always going to look like the set of a horror movie, or that the kitchen cabinets will always be ever so slightly open.

We still need to get a new front door—we’ll try again, ordering the same door, and hopefully we get the ‘in swing’ correct.

We try to laugh at our thousand dollar mistake, because if you can’t laugh at yourself with something like this, what can you do? Cry? Sure. You can do that too.

The house is gonna be great.