NYC Renovation Chronicles

Is your contractor looking through your underwear drawer?

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The Situation

Whenever a client finds out that I used to be hands-on--running a paint crew and working side by side with carpenters and plasterers--a funny look comes over her face. In an overwhelmingly male trade, being a woman on a construction site is a rare thing, and my female clients imagine it must be like being inside a locker room.

When they say, "Can I ask you a weird question?" I can pretty much predict what comes next.

So, you want to know what the guys are up to while you're at work?

Here's the Deal

• Yes, if you have a dresser that has to be moved so they can work behind it, the crew is going to look in your underwear drawer. They can't help it, really, because dressers are too heavy to move unless you pull out all the drawers. So if you want to keep the thongs and sex toys private, stash them at the back of a closet. (And btw, it's an inside joke among contractors that clients always seem to "forget" the handcuffs attached to the headboard.)

• Yes, they are having more fun at work than you. They're listening to NPR, or singing along with the radio, or arguing about football. As a woman who's had first-hand experience, I can tell you that a construction site can be a very pleasant place to hang out. The people working there generally like their jobs, they're creative and well-informed (all that NPR) and they banter in a particular way that's the best part of male energy.

• Yes, they are talking about you: What you wear, what your furniture is like, what color paint you chose. Don't you talk about your boss? Hey, you're an interesting person, and your stuff is all over the place. It's harmless, and almost all of the time, good-natured.

• Yes, they are checking you out, just like the guys at the office. If you're a single woman, they may well be debating whether or not you're a lesbian. (I think this is to figure out whether or not they have a shot with you.) I learned this from the contractor who would later become my boyfriend and business partner. (His scientific analysis included, in the lesbian column, that I had short hair, cats and an Indigo Girls cd.)

• No, they don't care if you're gay. (And if you're a guy, sorry, they could care less what's in your underwear drawer.)

• No, they don't talk about women incessantly. Unless it's their wife or girlfriend. Seriously, the number one topic at any job site I've ever been on has been relationships: You know the scene in Trainspotting where Ewen MacGregor and his pal are at the pub, deep in conversation and vexed about their "birds?" When their girlfriends return from the bathroom, they ask, "What were you two talking about?" The boys reply in unison: "Football."

Other NYC Renovation Chronicles posts:

Contractors vs handypeople: What's the difference?

A board's eye view of your renovation wish-list

Cooling your heels one meeting too many

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