From a Dutch election poster, 1981.
I had never used one of those Web sites in which you list an odd job and ordinary people vie to do it for you. The arrangement seems almost too good to be true. So when I was faced with a household repair, I decided to make a go of it: I started a profile and posted a request.
“Small Welding Job” I titled it. “I have an old brass bed with a shaky frame that needs to be soldered. I think it will be a straightforward job if you have a welding machine/iron. Thanks so much!”
Within minutes, I had received a notification: I had a match! The young woman in question looked omnicompetent and had a bunch of glowing reviews. We arranged a time and I gave her my address, feeling very pleased with the whole business.
That night, I got a message. “Please call me by 10:30 P.M. or this task will be canceled,” it said ominously. I called. We reconfirmed our appointment. I gave her my apartment number.
At five A.M., I was awakened by an incoming text message. It was my handywoman. “There is no trace of the existence of your apartment online,” she wrote. “I do not feel safe with this situation. Thank you for understanding.”
I wasn’t sure how to defend myself against this. “I swear it’s real,” I wrote back lamely.
The next person to respond to the ad seemed less neurotic. His listed skills ran the gamut from computer repairs to holiday decoration. “I imagine your bed just needs some screws tightened,” he wrote. “It needs to be welded,” I wrote back, “I’m sure.” We settled on a time.
In due course, on a cold and rainy day, the guy—a teenager—arrived on my doorstep. He told me he had traveled from deep in Queens. He had a large backpack and was wearing one of those back-support belts. I led him to the bed frame.
“Oh,” he said. “You’re right. It needs to be welded.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“I don’t know how to do that,” he said.
There was a silence.
“Well,” I said, “as long as you’re here, maybe you can take a look at my computer. I can’t install any QuickTime players and I’m not sure why.”
I led him to the laptop. He sat and stared at it for a second. He pressed a few buttons.
“Um, I don’t really know Macs,” he said.
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll take it to the Genius Bar. I know—the other day I did something to my TV. I think it’s just a question of changing the channel or the settings, but I can’t seem to get it to play.”
He stared at the TV. He pressed a few buttons.
“Yeah. This is beyond me,” he said.
There was another silence.
“Is there anything else you need done?” he said.
I had an inspiration.
“Yes!” I said. “Can you close the window in the kitchen? It’s sticking.”
“Yeah, this is pretty stuck,” he said after fiddling with it for a moment. But finally he got it closed.
“What a relief!” I said. “That’s been making the apartment really cold! Thank you!”
“Um,” he said. “I don’t really feel comfortable charging you for your time.”
“Don’t be silly!” I said heartily. “You came all this way, in the rain … ”
“I didn’t fix anything,” he said.
“Not true. You closed my window, and there is no way I could have done that. It was really stuck, and really high up. That’s why I’m wearing a coat and a scarf in the house. I mean, this has really improved my quality of life. A lot.”
“Okay,” he said. “You know, if you get a welding iron, I could maybe try to do it.”
“Definitely,” I said. “If I get my hands on one, I’ll definitely be in touch.”
“Okay,” he said again. “Well, thanks.”
“Thank you!” I said.
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