Tucker Carlson,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 15 1998 3:30 AM

Tucker Carlson,


       Woke up at 8 a.m. when two Guatemalan guys carrying a sheet of drywall opened my bedroom door and gave me a long disapproving look. Still in bed, huh? they said without saying it. For a moment I felt totally confused. Who are these people? Why are they in my bedroom? And why do I feel so terrible?
       Slowly I unraveled the mystery: I feel bad because I went to bed late. I went to bed late because I was writing a free-lance piece about the 1998 congressional races. I wrote a free-lance piece about the 1998 congressional races because ... of course--the Guatemalan guys. They're "doing" our bathrooms. And I'm paying them. With money from free-lance pieces about the 1998 congressional races. So they can come to my house and wordlessly insult me as I lie in bed feeling terrible because I stayed up late writing ... The circular quality of it all made me queasy.
       I'm going to be seeing a lot of the Guatemalan guys this year, and probably next. Last month we bought a new house. The fact that it hadn't been updated since 1906 seemed like a strong selling point at the time. "That way we won't have to tear out all those schlocky '60s renovations you find in most old houses," I said to my wife. She nodded in what I took to be agreement. We settled on the place, then left town for two weeks on vacation.
       For reasons too complicated and embarrassing to explain, we never had the house inspected. Not that we didn't know it needed work--the dozen or so broken windows were a strong hint that it did--but somehow the place seemed more charming than decrepit. Getting some officious inspector in there to nitpick over every deficiency didn't strike me as worth the $500 fee.
       The house still seemed charming when we got back from vacation. Only it also seemed decrepit. The wiring, I noticed for the first time, was antique and cloth-covered. The water pressure was so weak it was impossible to wash the dishes and shave at the same time. The basement, on the other hand, had more than enough water--though only on the walls and floor--and smelled like an entire animal shelter worth of cats had lived there for a decade or so with no litter boxes. The back stairwell had been boarded up since the mid-1960s after someone apparently fell down it and died. The main stairs were creaky and worn concave on every step. Many of the moldings had been smashed. Much of the woodwork had split into splinters the size of hatpins.
       Then there were the bathrooms. A couple of years ago, I went to Philadelphia to do a story about crack houses. The anti-drug group I was profiling had decided to use the Roman siege technique to clean up its neighborhood. Rather than push the cops to close down a nearby crack house, it petitioned the local utility companies to suspend power and water service to the place. Then it waited. For months.
       Crack heads, it turns out, have a cockroach-like ability to survive in barren environments. By the time the addicts finally moved out and I toured the house, probably 20 people had lived there for several months with no plumbing or heat. There are two things I remember about the place. First is the floor, which was covered (don't ask me why) with hundreds of empty bags of Munchos, the repulsive fried-onion faux potato chips that probably aren't even made anymore. The second thing I recall vividly is the bathroom. Every tile on the floor and walls was cracked and smeared with what looked like a mixture of motor oil and bacon grease. There were a number of elbow-sized holes in the walls. In the corner, next to the trash-filled bathtub, was a five-gallon bucket that had once held construction adhesive. It was overflowing.
       Our bathrooms didn't come with honey buckets, but for suburban Virginia they were as close as you'll ever get to the feel of a Philadelphia crack house. My wife immediately declared them off-limits to the children, then called a contractor over to rip them out. That's when yet another myth from childhood died a hard death. All that chatter you hear from yuppie parents at the playground about how expensive it is to "do" bathrooms? It's all true. Every word, and worse.
       That's what went through my mind at 8 this morning after my run-in with the Guatemalan drywall men. I got up and went to work.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for the Weekly Standard.



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