Column Classic: The Fixer

By Lisa Scottoline

You may remember that I’m in Home Improvement Frenzy. Aluminum siding is coming off, cedar shakes are going on. Working at my house today are stonemasons, roofers, and carpenters, but none of them is single. 

It gets worse. 

Yesterday morning after it rained hard, a stonemason hurried in to tell me that my levee was broken. He was upset. So was I. I didn’t know I had a levee. I didn’t even know what a levee was. All I knew about levees was that somebody “drove his Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.” 

“How bad is a broken levee?” I asked. 

“Very bad.” He told me that when my levee broke, my springhouse got flooded, and because I have a well, that probably meant I had no running water. 

“Really?” I crossed to the faucet and turned it on, but only a tiny stream of water came out. “Uh oh.” 

“You need an excavator.” 

You can imagine how this news delighted me. I was already fixing everything that could be fixed on the house, and I had been so worried that I would be limited in the amount of money I could spend on home repair. I didn’t realize that I could spend money fixing the ground, too. 


My ground was broken, and suddenly the possibilities were limitless. I could spend and spend and spend, especially if the next thing to break was the sky. I could hire carpenters to build a wooden frame and support heaven itself. And after I had repaired the earth and the sky, I could move on to the sea. 

I hear the tides need holding back. 

So, to come back to the point, I learned that a levee is a mound of dirt that holds water in a channel, to control the runoff.  If you live in the suburbs, you know about runoff.  Runoff belongs with words like aggravated assault and tax increase. Runoff can make even sane citizens take up clubs, and if you start a conversation with a suburban type on the subject, be ready to settle in for the duration.  Ranting will be involved, fists shaken, and development decried. Also, revenuers, then gov’mint in general. 

I had to get my runoff under control, and fast. One of my contractors knew a guy who knew an excavator, so the excavator came and gave me an estimate to repair the levee. It would cost $10,000. 


I gazed at my broken levee, wondering if I could get a shovel and do it myself. 

As far as I could tell, a side of a hill had washed away, and the dirt had to be dug out and piled back up again. It wasn’t rocket science. I could make a gutter, like in a bowling alley. Or like the moat around a sandcastle, at the beach. I mean, how hard could it be? 

But my assistant Laura reminded me that I have a job and told me to get another estimate. 

“Do I have to?” I asked her. 

“Of course.” 

Now here’s another thing. I don’t usually get a lot of estimates. I don’t have time, and basically, I trust people. I know that labor costs money and so do materials. Everybody is entitled to make a living, and I have found that people are fair and honest. 

“Get real,” Laura said, so I listened to her, as I do in all things. I called a second excavator, who came over and gave me a second estimate. His cost? 


To review: two excavators, one estimate at $10,000 and one at $1000. For the same job. 

You can imagine how delighted I was to hear this news, which showed me another way to spend even more and more and more money. As much as I was spending to fix my house, I could be spending ten times as much with no extra effort. All I had to do was hire the right contractors. 

I called Laura and told her. “Can you believe it?” 


“Now what do I do?” 

“Get another estimate. You need three.” 

“Yes, master.” 

I hung up, excited. Maybe I could get an estimate for $100,000. I wanted a top-quality levee. A prestige levee. One that you’d need a Mercedes to drive to. And it would never, ever run dry. 

So, I went online looking for a third excavator, letting my imagination run free. Outside my window, I noticed that the clouds were looking a little gray. Dingy. They needed a fresh coat of white paint. The cost would be in the prep. Power-washing, burning, caulking, priming. It would cost a fortune to paint the clouds. 

I’m on it, people. 

Copyright 2008 Lisa Scottoline