The three of us stood in the kitchen and talked. Actually, my wife and I mostly listened. Sonny told us he was scaling back on processed sugar, trying to drop a few pounds from his barrel-chested frame, cut his cholesterol. He had graduated from the nearby liberal arts college before catching the "bug for bugs" while working a summer job for an exterminator. He's been married twice. His younger son is a soccer fanatic. His older son, from his previous marriage, was serving in the armed forces in the Middle East. He—the son—had just overcome a long and serious drug problem.

All this we learned not only in our first meeting but in less time than it takes to TiVo through an episode of Law & Order. And just like on TV, where time is compressed and characters reveal a great deal in just a few ticks of the clock, Sonny worked overtime on oversharing. And on subsequent days so did our other contractors. The p­onytailed plumber and part-time equestrian. The philosophical landscaper. The hippie slate-roof expert who's a dead ringer for the Dude in The Big Lebowski. To a man they offered too much information, using our kitchen and bathrooms as confessionals.

I know, for example, the plumber, William, is actually named Ritchie. But because Ritchie's father was named William and because William started the business, Ritchie feels obliged to keep William's name on the truck and on the voice mail, even though the man was a bad businessman and not by any stretch the most attentive father in the world. I know that Ritchie raises horses on a farm he bought with his wife. Or longtime girlfriend—it's never quite clear—and the lease may be in her father's name. It's hard to keep track. Ritchie's elderly mother won't sell her house in the adjacent town and come live with them, despite endless entreaties that it would make everyone's life easier. Also, he is considering declaring bankruptcy.

I worry about Ritchie, because he's a nice guy, hardworking and honest. Then there's Hector, head of the marijuana-smoking (but not marijuana-dealing...those were the other guys) painting company we hired to strip and repaint our porch. I can't blame him for his self-medication—not with an alcoholic wife, a young son killed by a drunk driver, a brother involved in an affair with a burglary suspect. Hector shared this last fact with us to explain the suspect's absence from the paint crew that day, and from that day forward, as she fled south to evade the authorities.

I worry about Hector, too.
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