One drawback of growing up with “creative” parents: Being rebellious is hard work.
But I found a way.
My dad thought most manual labor was below him. He was a musician, songwriter, playwright, and occasional vacuum-cleaner salesman (No lie: You do what you must when you’re a creative). But lacking the funds to hire the rustic tradesmen and roustabouts who would allow him to remain isolated in a grand, silver tower of aesthetic purity, he — himself — took on the projects common to suburban homeowners.
One of these projects: Bathroom remodelling. When we moved into our three bedroom house in Maryvale in 1978, it had two dingy-but-serviceable bathrooms.
Dingy. That would never do.
So with my mom helping him, he quickly ripped out the walls and fixtures of the master bathroom, leaving not much more than the toilet. That’s how it was in the fall of 1978, shortly after we moved in. That’s how it remained in the fall of 1991, shortly after my dad’s other unfinished projects (me, my sister, and my mother) were forced to move out and go our separate ways.
So for those intervening 13 years, the whole family used the same single bathroom for most or our hygiene. There was really nothing wrong with that. That’s how several generations in America grew up. Maybe 98% of the world still bathes in streams and poops in pit latrines. A single working bathroom in a good-enough domicile counts as luxury for most humans on this planet. It would have been ok.
But dad’s project bug soon spread from the gutted bathroom and infected the one that had still been healthy. My dad’s wiring skills weren’t the best. There was a short in the double-box switch and outlet he had jimmied into the wall over the sink. His quick fix was to just unscrew it and let it dangle over the sink where I — as a rapidly-growing 16-year-old, shaved.
My dad was busy writing songs in the family room. Or watching Barnaby Jones. I guess.
I stared at those exposed wires for a month or two. I grew fixated on them. I wondered what could happen should I or someone else slip while barefoot on the wet floor and — finding that the towel bar had also been a victim of the project-bug — might grab for the outlet’s wires instead.
So I decided to fix it myself.
I got the Reader’s Digest homeowner’s how-to book from under the sofa. I rounded up the tools. I repaired the wires, replaced the outlet, and even repaired the hole in the drywall I needed to cut to extend the cable.
But then, just as I was sanding down the last coat of drywall joint compound, I was busted. He stormed in on me when I wasn’t looking.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!!!! YOU’RE WASTING YOUR LIFE ON THIS . . . THIS . . . CRAP!!!” Dad explained.
I felt ashamed. I had gone against his wishes. I was supposed to be writing songs or something. Sanding drywall was beneath us. We were artistes. I had dishonored the family. I was sad I had chosen this as my foray into teen rebellion, when I could have been snorting coke or running hookers or something else mildly interesting instead.
See, it’s a lot harder rebelling in a family like that. You can’t just do drugs. You need to do drywall. Electrical, even.
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BTW: I went on to refine my drywall skills while rehabbing a few houses as an adult. Then I got all uppity-like and wrote a novel. You can check on my work at www.diamondtbook.com