I was still a drunk when She Who Must Be Obeyed embarked on an adventure that pushed our marriage to the brink of calamity. I love her with every hair on my back, but building a house while I was sobering up was probably not a good idea. For a start, I don’t even know where I bank. To me, finances are like Billy Mayfair’s putting and Ryan Seacrest — nothing I can do can keep them straight.
Second, details are not my fastball. I like to think in broad strokes and massive movements. The minute someone tries to tell me the difference between beige and ecru, my arms start flailing and I yodel in tongues, then I run to the lawn and roll in beagle crap so people will avoid me. Contractors and interior designers know this tactic, and I respect them for it.
I also hate making decisions, particularly those about river stone, shingles, dust ruffles, blah-blah, I’m not f—ing listening. So I agreed that She Who Must could have an unlimited budget, which she exceeded in spectacular fashion. Along the way I learned a couple of code words that must be heeded.
Allowances. These are the limits your builder sets on elements of your project. Say the kitchen allowance is $20,000. This will get you papier-mache cabinets, a potbellied stove with one hot plate (or a potbellied Mexican with one hot tamale, whichever is cheaper) and a four-cubic-foot refrigerator. Any addition, upgrade or deletion is extra, and the only thing actually guaranteed to work is the Mexican.
Upgrades. “Yes, of course, Mrs. Feherty, we can do that. I’ll just add it to the list.” If you ever hear this, kick whoever said it hard in the nutsack. It won’t save you any money, but you’ll feel better.
This project took so long that I sobered up and noticed some minor problems. Even to my admittedly untrained eye, the framing looked as if it had been done by rabid marmots. Shouldn’t there have been a parallel line or right angle here and there? I was gently reassured by my builder, who wore spotless suede Gucci loafers, and who only came around to drop off bills that were 30 percent above estimate.
When the floors went in, I lost it. After 40 years of reading greens, I can tell when I’m standing on even a tiny slope, and in the upstairs game room, with Gucci Loafers present, I placed a golf ball on one side of the room and we watched as it rolled to the opposite side and dented the sheetrock. “Do we need drainage in here?” I asked.
One of the steps on the grand staircase was more than an inch shorter than the rest, obviously a booby trap for my elderly parents. In the guest bedroom, one side of the dormer windows was flush against the outside wall, while the other was an inch proud. Did Gucci Loafers really think I was that stupid that I wouldn’t notice this crappy workmanship?
I finally told Gucci Loafers that I was going to write a column in the most popular golf magazine in the country about my homebuilding experience, and that he could choose the ending. It could be happy or sad, depending on how things turned out with the house. He started showing up a lot more, and one time there was even dirt on one of his loafers. And now, She Who Must be Obeyed is happy, which was the only thing I asked for in the first place.