Just like a handywoman
03/24/2010 10:00 PM
I wish I had a nickel for every South Looper who asks me every week to recommend a handyman. “My handyman retired,” they lament. “I need someone now!”
“My handyman is sick this week,” they kvetch. “My handyman doesn’t have time for me.” They complain their handyman doesn’t know how to fix what needs fixing because it’s too complicated, or he’s too messy, or they don’t like him anymore because he’s too undependable or too expensive or too unpleasant. Or too judgmental.
I wish I had another nickel for everyone who looks at me like I’m nuts when I give them the name and contact information for my handyman. Who happens to be a handywoman.
Yes, my handyman is a woman. She lives in a beautiful loft on Printers Row with her husband. She is a well-educated former businesswoman who looks like Uma Thurman’s twin sister. She is a fabulous party giver, a creative home decorator and has a fashion sense to beat the band. She can throw a ga-ga outfit together out of bits and pieces at a moment’s notice. She can cook too. Get the picture?
Janice Koerber decided at midlife to become a handyperson and she has been fixing things for friends in the South Loop, as well as strangers and people out of the neighborhood, for several years now.
Trust me, Janice can do anything. When she decided to do it (she knew she had a talent for this) she went to Harold Washington College to study plumbing and electricity and things like that. She didn’t just decide to go to work on a home’s innards without the proper preparation.
Sometimes I have thought of the jobs that needed doing around my house as insurmountable. But Janice quickly figures out the problem and the solution by using her noodle, which for some reason I don’t ever seem to use when it comes to my house.
Years ago, a rail came out of one of my maple “farm-style” chairs in the kitchen. My previous handyman was unable to get the rail back in and make it stick. He finally asked to take it home to work on it properly, and I consented. He had it for several months. Then he brought it back unfixed. “I tried everything,” he said, rattling off all the attempts: special glues, clamps, you name it. Everything.
Janice was over one day and I showed her the chair. “Any idea why it’s not fixable?” I asked, just in case. “It’s fixable,” she said. Janice proceeded to dig out a small container of some potion from her well-stocked work bag, squeezed some on, replaced the rail and tapped on it a few times. And it’s been strong and sturdy ever since. She knew exactly what it needed and she fixed it in less than 20 seconds.
Another time, a carpenter quoted me a huge price (which he wanted in advance to boot) to replace my back door, which was beginning to rust along the bottom from inclement weather. Not only would I be paying through the nose but the inconvenience of it was overwhelming — he had to practically remove the back wall of my house to get the new door to line up properly. The whole idea had me depressed.
I mentioned the dilemma to Janice and she thought for a few seconds. “Why don’t I just put a brass kickplate over the rust?” she asked. “It will cover the rust up and keep it from getting worse and the door will be saved.” For less than $10, she salvaged the door — and my sanity. And probably the back wall of my house.
In my house, Janice has put in beautiful fixtures, old-fashioned doorknobs, lots of dimmers and any and all kinds of doodads that have made my life better, including “systems” in two closets. She’s painted and fixed and adjusted. And she has done her share of psychiatry on me, too. Among her talents is good listening and good advice.
“I mean, why are you wanting me to put in this beautiful crystal doorknob when the rest of the room looks like Tobacco Road?” she’ll ask. But then she’ll smile, drag out her tools and do it.
She understands dangers, too. She never forgets the circuit-breakers, and once, when she replaced the tile grout (or is it the caulk?) in my shower, and cleaned out the routs with bleach, she warned me not to use anything with ammonia in the bathroom for a while. If I had, the fumes from the two chemicals would combine and kill me!
But that’s Janice. Always the chemist, the nurse and the friend. A fixer in the truest sense of the word. And pretty much a girly-girl girl as well as a craftsman, the juxtaposition of which is still a novelty even in 2010. She is competent but never arrogant; knowledgeable but never haughty; and she has a conscience about my time, my budget, my idiosyncrasies and my eccentricities.
But, hey, isn’t that just like a woman?