The ladder is still on the back porch.
A ladder standing in a house is the universal symbol of a job left unfinished. I ran out of time and will get back to it. Promise.
Summer used to be a time when I evaded such projects. A time when nobody would be home long enough to notice that there’s work to be done. Instead, there would be trips out of town. Evenings at the baseball park. Dinners out. Drinks after work. All squeezed in between time at the office.
In a successful summer, home is mostly a sleeping platform and cleanup station before the next thing.
But Pandemic Summer has proved to be an altogether different season. And when you spend more time indoors in one place, that time forces you to contemplate how rundown things have become since you last paid attention.
I put in a new kitchen faucet within a week of sheltering at home. And even as I was squirming beneath the counter connecting it up, I knew this was only going to be the first of many projects headed my way.
I’m hardly alone. Last month, the hardware store chain Lowe’s announced sales had improved 34.2% in the second quarter over the second quarter last year. Good times in bad times. Home Depot’s domestic sales were up 25%. A lot of paint buckets being hauled to a lot of homes.
I walk around my block on garbage pickup day and at the end of driveways, I spot bathroom sinks, empty paint cans and rolled-up carpet that looks especially stained in the unforgiving light of day. More people with projects. People who thought, “How long could it take just to paint that ceiling?”
The ceiling, the one above the ladder, was what they call in the painting biz a thirsty surface. Plaster that sucked up paint like a sponge and then demanded more for dessert. It took multiple coats plus touch-up sessions before I abandoned the site. If you look hard enough at a ceiling, you will always detect some shadow somewhere that suggests a missed spot. After awhile, it’s best just not to look up.
I used to think this boom in house-fixing, home-painting and even home-buying was happening around me because the more fortunate among us are stuck with our own environments. And that means we are tardily starting to notice our surroundings. But maybe there’s more to it.
These are not normal times. There are dangers to avoid out there that we’re not used to, and not everyone is handling this situation well. People are acting out in public more than usual. I mean: More than usual for Florida.
And weird times breed especially poisonous politics. Each TV ad and mailing tries to scare us a little harder. You can’t tell political ads from home-security system ads.
Even the usually boring Flagler County Commission meetings are dealing with people in full villagers-with-torches-and-pitchforks mode over facemasks.
Meanwhile, the governor is talking up full-on police crackdown legislation to save a state teetering on anarchy. Mobs in the streets! This is going to be a close election, and he needs to angrify a base that’s already pretty surly.
So maybe the current home-renovation boom is happening because a lot of us are collectively trying to impose just a little calm, order and brightness into the small spaces we can exercise some control over.
Maybe having something to do that improves our immediate environment, rather than stare at a screen and scroll through the swamp of anger, lies and distortions in social media.
I don’t like seeing the ladder, but I’d rather be on a ladder than on Twitter and certainly Facebook. This may stay up until November.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: In trying times, the home-improvement ladder goes up | MARK LANE