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Whittling Column: The Laurel and Hardy of home repair


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

I became an elementary school teacher back in the days when male teachers were handed their diploma and a paint brush in the same ceremony. Low pay and the need to eat regularly combined with a long summer vacation meant you automatically became a neighborhood handy man. 

My best friend and fellow teacher partnered up.  As a team we were still about three cards shy of a full deck so we became the Laurel and Hardy of home repair. 

We wallpapered and painted interiors during the winter and painted exteriors and mowed lawns during the summer months. Our skill level wasn’t all that high but neither were our prices, so we were in demand. 

My partner, we’ll call him “Norton” to disguise the fact that his real name was “Gary,” was a little on the impatient side. He didn’t like picky things like painting trim, but could paint like a house afire on the broad flat areas. 

I’m the artistic type — patient, slow and not one who enjoys sweating.

We made the perfect team — Norton painted the house and I did the trim and we usually finished at the same time. We did a great job and didn’t even charge for the entertainment we provided for much of the neighborhood we were painting in. 

On one job, our ladder didn’t reach high enough to paint the peak, so we invented a 10-foot paint brush by taping a paintbrush to the end of a pole. It worked great, even if it was a little clumsy, until the brush ran out of paint. How do you dip a 10-foot paint brush into the paint pail? We solved the problem with Norton on the top of the ladder with the brush and me with the paint pail on the ground. So much paint dripped on me in the process that I looked like I had spent the day under a seagull convention, but it worked.

We hired a helper one summer. An exceptionally bright young man who was planning on attending college in the fall and could use more money than he was scheduled to make working for the town in the summer park program became our third team member.

He was the perfect foil for all our foolishness. He was as serious as a funeral and extremely conscientious. We soon discovered he had a fear of heights and wouldn’t go more than two rungs up on the ladder before he froze. He spent the summer painting all the low parts. 

One house we were working at had an ankle-nipping, yappy little dog that took a dislike to our helper and he’d sneak up behind him and bark, startling him into making some amazingly artistic stripes in unusual locations. It became such a ritual that to continue the fun (for us), we replaced his drinking cup at the water cooler with a little kid’s sippy cup in the shape of a puppy. 

He was very happy when we finished and moved to our next job. 

Norton waited until he was painting two rungs up and zoned in on the job at hand before sneaking up behind him and barking at him in a remarkably accurate imitation of his small canine nemesis. Norton and I both thought the half pail of white paint on the evergreen bushes added a much-needed bright spot that increased the sidewalk appeal of the house. 

I am afraid we may have carried the teasing and fun with our helper too far. We both loved him like a son and we’re sorry for the psychological damage done to him during that summer. 

He went to college, graduated and became a lawyer. We still blame ourselves.

Thought for the week — You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage him.

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach Dick Brooks at

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