Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Follow the Signs

By Walter Jowers

JULY 28, 1997:  Imagine you're an actor dedicated to your craft, but mounting bills have got you thinking about a day job. So you try out for a gig playing PBS' Barney, the purple dinosaur. You get the gig, along with a mandate to make the 60-pound suit look cheerful; otherwise, they'll haul your ass out of there and stuff it with another pathetic wannaBarney.

Now imagine a cooling fan in the Barney suit shorting out in mid-gig, leaving you with no choice but to shed the smoke-filled head and punch your way out of the suit. By the time you're free of the purple deathtrap, you're coughing and retching like a heartwormy dog, all in front of an audience of scarred-for-life 3-year-olds.

It happened. The actor, who went nameless in press reports, suffered just a teensy bit of smoke inhalation; he was treated and released after a routine exam at a Dallas hospital.

Now, I don't know about y'all, but I call that a sign. Time to quit the acting business, move back in with the parents, or just go live under a bridge. When you're down to animating a smoking dino-suit, I say it's time to move on.

Same thing with the Mir space station. It's been on fire, its own supply ship knocked a hole in it, and the electrical, guidance, and life-support systems are running rougher than a Yugo. I'm no rocket scientist, but if I were, I'd tell the Mir-dwellers, "You boys just climb into the escape pod and fire the retros. Time to come on home."

But they might not listen to me. A lot of people don't. About once a month, partner Rick and I will inspect a house that has way more broken parts than working parts, a house that could be demolished and built back from the ground up for less money than it would take to fix it. Now, you might think to yourself, Who'd want to buy something like that?

The answer is: Plenty of people. And as far as I can tell, it's because they're sold on the idea of make-do, cover-up, Band-Aid repairs. When I tell 'em they've got a leaky roof, they make up their minds to put another layer of shingles on top. When I tell 'em their foundation is rotten, they make up their minds to stick some concrete blocks under it.

I swear, this country just hasn't been right since the aluminum-siding people started telling homeowners that covering up rot is better than actually fixing it. Now a big chunk of our citizenry thinks there's nothing around the house that can't be fixed with some kind of putty, tape, or tar.

For instance, the ad says: Driveway cracked? Seal it! Truth is, the sealant will probably trap water and make the driveway crack worse. Then you'll need more sealant. Brilliant marketing, huh? And how about this one: Leaky basement? We'll drill holes in your walls, let the water in, then pump it out! This does work, but most folks could get the same results by just cleaning their gutters.

Speaking of gutters, I love this one, a local radio ad for a product that's supposed to keep leaves out of gutters: Once we install our product on your gutters, we guarantee that birds will never nest in the gutters again! I'm pretty sure this bird-nest thing was never a problem. Not even a pigeon is stupid enough to nest in a place that floods periodically.

Believe me when I tell you: Half-fixing something is worse than just leaving it alone, because it just means you'll have a job-and-a-half to do later. If you're buying a house, don't think you're going to come out ahead by half-fixing things now, then setting things right on the second go-round. It won't happen. It'll be like the first mortgage Brenda and I had, which featured negative amortization. This meant the more we paid, the more we owed. Honest to God.

So when you come to a trident in the road, and the first sign says, "This Way to Halfass," the second sign says, "Pay More Up Front But Do It Right," and the third sign says, "Turn and Run," here's what you do: Go any way but toward Halfass. Nothing good ever happened in Halfass.

Visit Walter Jowers' Web site at http://www.nashscene.com> or e-mail him directly at housesense@nashscene.com..

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