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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation


August 15, 1999

I sat down this morning with a sweater I'd made for one of the grand-kiddies and tried to decide what to do with the neck which appears to be a bit 'chokey,' as my kids used to say..

I'm a fair-to-middling knitter but not much of an engineer and something goes awry, I don't seem to be able to deal with it.

While I was studying the situation, it occurred to me that many of us are in a similar situation and wouldn't it be marvelous, especially in these financially restrictive times, if someone would set up an organization to handle an exchange of resident skills?  Oh, not just to fix a sweater that might conceivably turn a small child's face blue - assuming it would go over his head in the first place - but any kind of fixing.  People who can do things and people who want things done, do them for each other, no money changing hands, that sort of thing.

All they'd have to do, the organizers I mean, would be to make up a file of people with services to offer and then advertise. Anyone wanting a job done could phone the office stating what skills or services to be offered in return. 

Thus, should you be a talented taxidermist, hopeless at dry walling, they could find you a demon dry waller to drop over and do his thing with your Gyproc while you, by way of return, would undertake to stuff his trout or weasel or mother-in-law, or whatever.

Of course, that might be a bad example, I really have not worked out all the details.  I suppose it could be some time before they could trace the particular type of dry waller required.  One, that is, urgently needing a bit of taxidermy.  And besides that, I guess the system would have to work on a time basis: one hour's legal advice for, say, one hour's dustng and cleaning. 

Still, I suppose there would be nothing against an arrangement between do-er and do-ee, or actually, between and do-er and do-er, to eliminate the manhour factor and settle for piecework.  That way you could tear down my rear end to find out why my ancient Ford half-ton goes pucka-pucha-pucka instead of vroom-vroom when I step on the gas, and I could come by to taste your bread and tell you why it has the taste and texture of a very old art-gum eraser. 

Going with the time-factor agreement, it might well be that it takes you all day to restore my rear end while one brief nibble might be all it takes for me to come up with the solution that your yeast died and should have been buried three years ago.

And there would be nothing to discuss, my service was equal to your service, I'm just better, or quicker, so would you just get out there and get it finished, please.

So, what do you think?  Sound good?  At the risk of sounding just a tad immodest, I would venture to suggest that it is the best idea to come down the pike this fall.  For most people.  The toughest part might be coming up with a marketable skill.

Take me, for instance.  Now, there is no end to the chores around here requiring the services of any number of do-it-themselfers.  Most of the sheds and additions are in dire need of more paint. The built-in sewing machine cabinet has not yet been.  Every container in the place holds cranberries that have to be jellied, sauced, juiced, or otherwise made palatable.  And Phil has not moved in nearly two hours and if the taxidermist has finished with your mother-in-law, you could send him up.

But in return, I don't have much to offer.

I play the piano a little.  Not as little as some people wish I would but there it is:  I play the piano a little, mostly unfinished works because of key changes or quick bits.  But if someone would care to take a drive up here to Arkell and do something with the cranberries, accepting, in return, two and a half variations of Sivery Waves or all of Scott Joplin's Entertainer with something funny in the left hand, we've got a deal.

As well, I have a repertoire of sleeping, smiling, frowning, crying cartoon faces that I can dash off at the drop of a "Draw sumpin', Gran."  And, given a few seconds to unclog the pipes, I can rip off 15 verses of The Drunkard's Son in a manner that would bring tears to the eyes of a marble statue. 

Any offers to gravel the driveway or re-finish the old desk as a quid pro quo for that sort of thing?

My technical abilities are willing, but few.  The other day I fixed my glasses with  some Scotch tape and a dab of Crazy glue and they're still holding.  The only thing is, I can't take them off any more. But what the heck...I've been needing them more and more, lately, anyway.

And last week I decided to put up a blind in the spare bedroom and I'm not sure what went wrong but all of a sudden, the whole frame split all the way down to the sill and I ended up having to bang in six more nails to hold everything in place.  And then the blind still wouldn't hang the way it was supposed to.

What I can do, after a fashion, is belt out the odd 1000 words or so of this foolishness.  It's not much but it's very nearly all I've got. And in exchange, I just need someone to deal with the cabinet that needs building in and the taxidermist. 

In fact, I wish you'd hurry with the taxidermist.  I'd like him to do something with Phil before he finds out about the window frame.

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