REMEMBER the man in "The Graduate" who told Dustin Hoffman he would give him one word and then said portentously, "Plastics." Well, I have one word for you if you are, God pity you, bent on remodeling your home. It is "Nag."
My nagging capability has brought me some bitter tributes over the years. I have been asked to consider what I sound like when I begin with, "I told you." or, "You promised." I have reaped sighs or silences. Shrewishness, I had been told, and I believed, is counterproductive.
It is, however, the only way when you want to have a wall or two knocked down or one put up, as is my case. Believe me, I know, and in my little project, the first flake of plaster dust has yet to fall.
The first thing you find out about contractors is that no matter what they say, they don't call you. You call them -- again and again and again. I thought for several months that I had a contractor, having engaged a person to engage one, but it turned out, on the eve of a parley that had taken longer to arrange than the Reagan-Gorbachev summit, that he was not available -- he had another job to do.
The defecting contractor broke the contractors' code and called me up. "You didn't call me," he said.
"No," I said, "I thought you were all signed up."
"Well," he said, "I never heard from you."
Then it came to me. Here was the first man I had ever encountered who not only expected to be nagged. He wanted to be.
I began to inquire around and found a whole new class of women -- naggers and proud of it.
Sally, who supervised the renovation of a mansion, told me, "Sure I did. I was my own contractor, and I got up at 6 every morning and started calling around to the workmen. 'You'll be here at 7,' I would say. If there was any bleating about a car that wouldn't start, I'd cut right in and say, 'I'll come and pick you up.'"
Elizabeth, another friend, a gentle liberal, had her kitchen done over -- and herself as Catherine the Great in the process.
"I found out a couple of the crew were illegals. If they goofed off, I'd stand at the bottom of the ladder and say, 'If this isn't finished by this afternoon, I'm calling the Immigration Service.' It worked."
Now that I've got the drift, I'm on the phone early in the morning. I talk to recording machines and wives. I try never to be hysterical. I'm saving that for later.
I remember how it was five years ago, when I had a couple of floors repaired and a dishwasher installed. It was a two-week job and it went on for five months. The workmen disappeared for days on end. They had another job, they said. They always have other jobs, something bigger, more rewarding, for people, they hint, who are ever so much easier to deal with than yourself.
They are basically insecure, I guess. They fear running out of work, although considering the number of people on their knees imploring their services, I don't know why. They start one project, but another comes along, so they drop the first for a while, grudgingly come back if threatened, then swing between the two, with the result that neither gets done, especially if they have to take time out from both to negotiate a third.
When they finally abandoned me altogether and my rug was white with plaster dust, I broke out the hysteria. They are used to scenes, of course, but I got the screams up to a volume that brought a certain attention, although I was no good for the rest of the day.
As I say, I have all this to look forward to. I'm just barely out of the planning stage, which began last December. I have been dealing with "space designers" and "interior designers" -- call them "decorators" if you want the Big Chill.
They come in and look around and say withering things like, "There's a lot going on here."
What I found almost at once was that while they would remodel my apartment, they really wanted to remodel me.
One looked at the wall of books in my living room and said, "I'd like to take those shelves out of there and put in a wall of paintings."
"But I read," I said, "I don't paint. I don't have any pictures."
"I could find you some good ones," he said.
A brisk young woman told me I should watch television from the window seat she proposed to install in the dining room.
"It gets cold there in the winter," I said weakly, beginning to grasp the important point that my habits had to change, just as surely as as the armchair I had just had redone in blue velvet must be recovered in beige, her favorite color. "The room has to be 'pulled together'," I was told.
So, I gather, do I. But I must go now. I have nagging to do.