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Dear Harrison Ford


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Dear Harrison Ford,

You may enjoy learning I saw Star Wars as a child in a great old theater on a downtown block in my tiny hometown. (It closed not long after, as a multiplex had opened in a strip mall near the highway). Also, and I bet you hear this less often, I befriended a very pleasant and charming Amish man a few years ago, and he recounted how he was often asked if the film Witness was an accurate portrayal of Amish life. His answer was an emphatic yes. (If you're asking why an Amish man had seen Witness, or any movie for that matter, the reason is he had not always been Amish.)

This brings me to the swinging of hammers, the barn-raisin' if you will. Mr. Ford, I have never hired a contractor, and my wife would very much like a new kitchen. She's been after me for years, (and also her mother, each time she visits, walks in the kitchen and says "what you really need is a new kitchen" as if somehow I'd forgotten). Once when some new upstairs neighbors visited, there was an awkward moment when they were telling us about their renovation. The neighbor exclaimed "The apartment had the original sink and stove, can you imagine?!" just as she turned the corner and saw our original sink and stove. Not one to let an awkward moment pass, I said "We have original everything. I think it's cool." But I was lying.

It's my understanding that at one time you were a successful contractor in California. Also, you now live part of the year in a high-rise apartment somewhere in Manhattan, as I recall the twittering murmurs of people in neighboring buildings--with a view of your expansive windows--inviting friends over for cocktails for a chance glimpse of you and Calista Flockhart making out or perhaps ballroom dancing. (I don't live anywhere near you btw.)

I understand you are a perfectionist, and command a vast amount of respect from the people that work for you. Through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend who helped renovate one of your homes, I was informed you simply wrote "NGE" in pencil over anything that did not meet your expectations, anything that had the slightest flaw. And the highly-skilled craftsmen, of course, would rework it until the NGE no longer appeared when next it was inspected. As you already know, NGE stands for Not Good Enough. Although, it could just as easily mean Not Great Enough, Nada Grande Emperies, etc.

I took out a loan, and we bought a design from that big box hardware store, picked out the cabinets, appliances, etc., and a contractor visited recently and quoted us an insanely large estimate, which would have amounted to double our loan, (and our loan was double what I actually want to spend). Luckily, a friend of my wife's told us that the quote actually meant the contractor saw the job was too small to be worth his time, so asked for more money that any sane person would pay. I would not have known this by myself, as I know nothing of contracting.

Once, I did hire a painter, a musician/painter friend of a musician/web designer friend. Admittedly, it was inexpensive, but throughout I knew it was not quite the professional job we wanted, the reason we hired someone to begin with, otherwise we would have done it ourselves. I often imagined you writing NGE on the uneven walls, the half-stripped radiator, the unpainted doors, and wished to do the same, but instead cheerfully asked the musician/painter (via phone) to fix certain things he'd missed. He said he would, then simply didn't do them, charged us a reduced rate and left the job almost finished. Almost, the operative word.

This is why I'm writing you (aside from the dual purpose of posting on my friend Rich's website). If you have some free time this summer, if you could help my wife and I hire and manage a contractor, or maybe deal with our co-op board, or basically just be willing to step in as needed, I'd very much appreciate it. As I can't imagine anyone saying to you they were going to do something then not doing it, inflating a price, or rifling through your stuff when you're not home.

You may ask why a man like me would admit to what may seem a basic lack of skill and understanding, that therefore somehow I am less a man. I freely admit I am embarrassed I do not understand the workings of humanity and carpentry. As my mother's brothers and her father were all Navy Seabees, and skilled carpenters, and there are cabinet-makers, furniture manufacturers, home builders, scattered throughout my ancestry. Boats and planes my Dad sculpted out of wood were my childhood toys. When you visit our apartment on the Lower East Side, I'd be happy to show you the washstand my grandfather made, and the elaborate rocking chair my Great Uncle cobbled together and gave my Mom as a wedding gift. After Dad was killed, and my Uncle came to stay with us just after his fourth tour of Vietnam, my Uncle did the masonry for our back patio, welded wrought-iron railings and a grate for the fireplace, repaired the shutters, etc., and when he wasn't working, sat in the shade of our garage whittling a stray stick with his pocket knife. I was five, and I suppose had he stayed longer I may have learned something. To me, my Dad's old tools were more playthings and objects of fascination than useful items. I sat in front of the television for hours with his carpenter's level, absently trying to keep the lolling air bubble in the center of the little green window, as I watched MASH or Happy Days, and ate fistfuls of Duncan Hines pound cake. Several times as I child I was given mini-ratchet sets as birthday presents from a neighbor or cousin, and they remained unused, as no one taught me what they were for. I still don't know what would require ratcheting.

If you can help me Mr. Ford I'd be hugely grateful, as there is a world of things I don't comprehend. For instance, I don't know how to be angry without my voice rising an octave, or how to drive a helicopter, or ballroom dance, all of which I'd like to learn, and be able, if needed, to help teach my young son, as teaching him the theme from Happy Days will not help rewire the basement or install a dishwasher.

Sincerely,

John Ball

PS: Happy Father's Day to one and all


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post #97
bio: john ball
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6/17/2005
12:49

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