Every year there is a conference for tradeswomen in Maine. Not Surprisingly, it is called the Maine Tradeswomen's Conference. It is a two-day affair, with a Job fair on Friday afternoon and dinner, plus a full day of workshop sessions and seminars and hands-on stuff on Saturday.
Because of my overwhelming charm (and a solemn promise not to say anything inappropriate), I have been asked to be one of the speakers at the Saturday night dinner hour. The chief woman in charge of this shindig is a friend and her instructions to me were: No swearing. And no sex talk.
Well shit, then. What am I supposed to say?
Something about being a self-employed contractor, work for myself, every day is something different, independence, freedom, yadda yadda. But none of the good stuff. Phooey. That's ok, though. I'll do it and be honored for the chance.
I have also been asked to do a session on installing ceramic tile. Seems I've done a couple tile jobs lately that make people think I know what I am doing. Got 'em all fooled, I say.
Actually, I am looking forward to the tile thing. I've been busy making lists and preparing lesson plans, such that they are. I was in the big city of Bangor yesterday and found some affordable trowels and tools and such, so I picked them up. I'll find some more at my local Reny's. There is a place called the Re-store that sells odd sized and leftover materials from construction jobs. I hope they might have some tiles that we can pick up on the cheap.
And I have been sworn to NOT share the story of my first tile job. Wanna hear? Of course you do. If not, you know where the knitters are. Have fun.
Many years ago when I was single (both are key points here), I lived in the big city of Portland. I was working with the union as a sheet metal worker apprentice and was doing the usual cycle of work like crazy, get laid off for a month or more. During those down times, it was nice to find little jobs to help supplement the unemployment pittance.
I had a friend from my old college days who I stayed in touch with off-and-on through the years. Back in college, I was hopelessly in love and devoted to my first girlfriend. Strictly unavailable. This friend of mine had a more, shall we say "fluid" understanding of relationships and would often swing by the newspaper office to flirt outrageously, get me all flustered and blushing and then flounce off to have coffee with friends.
We have always been close, and at one point she even posed for me when I did a series of black and white nudes for a class. She was enormously pregnant at the time. They are still some of my most treasured works. Interesting thing: when protected by a camera, I am unflappable. Same goes for when I am bartending. Behind the bar, nothing phases me. I can flirt and talk trash and be outrageous. I could light cigarettes, and make the girls blush.When I come out from around there, well, let's just say not so much swagger. Ahem. It is a sad truth of being me.
So anyway, years have passed, I was no longer with that first girlfriend, and I have been spending some time on the phone with this old friend. As is typical with me, I often cannot tell when a woman is flirting with me. Often we both have to be entirely naked before I am really sure that I am reading things properly. So she's lamenting that she doesn't like the tub enclosure in her house. I ask what she'd like. Tile, she says. I can do tile, I say, thinking with some other part of my anatomy besides my brain.
I had never held a ceramic tile before that day. Ever.
But, blessed (or cursed) with extreme confidence, I figured there were some pretty moronic tile guys out there. If they can do this, I can certainly figure it out. We scheduled a three-day weekend when I could come up and do this job, she flirted some more, I blushed some more, and we both marked our calendars for a weekend in October.
Another thing that might be of interest here is that this friend of mine was married back then. In fact, she married a guy in college - and had a baby with him - who had previously identified as gay. I don't have to tell you that this caused enormous concern and confusion among the gay community on our tiny little campus. Our numbers were small enough, but when something like that happens, it strikes at the dating pool of both genders. But, accepting as we were, we all said OK, whatever floats your boat, and we went to the wedding. I even took the pictures.
By the time she and I were talking about tiles, they had split up. He had his own place across town and they were doing the child-care and custody shuffle. So now I am dealing with a single mom. This is an utterly foreign thing to me, so I called another friend who was a single mom and ran the scenario by her. Am I reading into this more than I should? I asked. Not on a bet, she said. If she's sending the kids to be with dad for the weekend, that's a sign. As a single mom, I can assure you, you're in.
So I headed up the highway with a truck full of tools and a light heart (or whatever) filled with anticipation.
Only I arrived there late at night on the day before I was to start the job, to find her girlfriend in residence. Her on-and-off-for over-a-decade-rumored-to-be-violently-crazy-girlfriend.
Whoops. OK. I did misread all of that flirty stuff. I'm just here to fix the bathroom. Whatever. Gotta call that friend when I get home and tell her she's full of shit. I laid myself down in the spare bedroom and went to sleep.
In the morning I awoke to find that the girlfriend had just left for a four-day haul driving a truck.
It was a little unnerving, but not one to cross relationship lines, I grabbed firmly hold of the notion that my old college chum was in a relationship and thus off-limits, and I set to work on the upstairs bathroom. I worked and worked and ripped and tore and made it up as I went along. We drove to the big box hardware place and bought tile and cement and grout and she flirted and I blushed, but remained resolute in my understanding of the binary state of things. (She had a girlfriend, thus she was unavailable to me. Period.)
At the end of day two, a harsh rain blew in, covering the full moon with a storm front that sent my senses off the edge. I am sensitive to weather and the phases of the moon and have been known to make some of my most ill-advised decisions ever at the height of one or the other. We went to the local hotel spa to sozzle and shower, then out for dinner. The flirting increased. A delicate negotiation followed. More flirting. It all felt very "Dustin Hoffman saying 'Why, you are seducing me, Mrs. Robinson!' Pause. gulp. 'Aren't you?' " Are you sure about this? Quite and very. Well. Ahem. Yeah. Ahem again.
I gained a new respect for the heretofore in my experience largely unseen physical strength of moms.
The weekend went well. The almost ex-husband came over to say hi and check progress. If he noticed which bed was slept in and which wasn't, he didn't mention it, and he took the kids to his house for the night again. I dearly wish he had not turned out to be such an ass, but I did adore him for that one weekend.
When the tiles were up and done, the faucet and shower stuff put back together, and my tools were getting loaded onto my truck, I heard my - what? customer? client? Those words suddenly seemed awkward at best - friend on the phone. The girlfriend had just crossed back into Maine and would be home in a few hours.
I hit the road back to Portland, just a little bit shaken by the whole experience.
I vowed off tile jobs for a very long time after that. Too complicated, I said. No thanks. Oh yes, I do know how, it's just... well ... why don't you have me build a deck instead, hmm? Or paint the kitchen. Yeah, just not tiles.
And I don't get to tell that story, either in the workshop session or at dinner Saturday night. Can you imagine? Feh.