The following column found at, by Scott Bethke, was the fodder for this month's diatribe:

"Honey, take a look at the ceiling. Notice how you can see the nails through the paint? That's water damage. The roof must be leaking. No, the upstairs bathroom is over the kitchen. It's definitely the roof. We need to take care of this before the drywall rots or the lights short out. Hey, you know the guy who built Sheila and Barry's old deck? You remember, the one that collapsed at their Fourth of July cookout? We should get him to fix our roof.

"I know we have his phone number around here somewhere. Yeah, it's on the fridge magnet. Here, Don Maliszewski. I know it says ‘Dan.' That's a typo. He gave the Garvers a bunch of these magnets when he came to redo his job on their sewer pipe after it flooded their basement.

"Hang on, it's ringing. Oh, shoot. ‘The number you have reached has been disconnected.' Boy, maybe his gambling debts finally caught up to him. You know what? I don't need to call him. He practically lives at Flannery's Tavern. I'll just scoot over there and let him know we want an estimate.

"He gave the Johnsons a great quote on their wiring. It ended up costing more but that's how these things go. Don explained that the cost of materials went up, which is why he needed an extra $200 for light switches. Well, they still saved a bundle. They would've had to spend $500 more if they'd gone to a licensed electrician. Instead, they were able to use that money to stay in a hotel after that terrible fire.

"He did the Garvers' fence, too. You used to be able to see it from here but it blew down during that storm. It looked good when it was up, though. The slats were all even. Too bad it had to be the only thing in the neighborhood that got damaged in the storm. Must have been one of those freak wind gusts you hear about on the news.

"Anyway, the Garvers said he was great whenever he showed up. He's a really interesting guy. He has all kinds of stories about back when he was a biker. Did you hear about the time he got knifed at the Sturgis rally? That story is amazing!

"I'm not married to using him, though. The responsible thing to do is to get price quotes from several people. Hey! We should ask those high-school kids who mow lawns if they want to give fixing the roof a shot. They might be pretty good at it. When they're mowing lawns, they miss a lot of spots and leave the trimmings lying around but maybe they'd be better at something more challenging, like roofing. Or, hey, how about that guy-what's his name? Jerry Anderson? The guy who got arrested for trespassing and peeping? You don't spend all that time on a roof without picking up a thing or two about how it's put together.

"Unless some of the other quotes come back really low, I think Don's our guy. He did a nearly adequate job on the bay windows in the Perry's house. He finished that job about a year ago and it's still holding up. It took a little longer than they planned but only because the city halted the construction. Yes, Don was wrong when he said they didn't need a permit. But he offered to finish the job late at night, when the city inspectors would be off duty. So, work was held up for a few weeks but Don did a super job taping that tarp over the hole in their wall. It rained three times and not a drop got through!

"Oh, no ... I just remembered that Don's in jail! Well, I don't know that the roof is so bad that we can't wait the few months until he's free. It's not like he killed a guy on purpose. His scaffolding collapsed when his partner climbed on it, honey. They charged Don with, I don't know, something shy of manslaughter ... neglect? Negligence! That's the word. If a jury said he didn't kill the guy on purpose, that's all I need to hear. Shoot, everyone makes mistakes. I'm all in favor of giving someone a second or third chance.

"Honey, no. I don't trust the Yellow Pages. You don't know anything about those guys. ‘Licensed and bonded'-what does that even mean? Who licenses them and what is a bond, in this case? Honey, a guy in the phone book is likely to tell you anything to get your money. But you practically have to beg Don to agree to take on a job. Yes, I'd really prefer to go with someone unreliable whom we know. The roof will turn out all right. You just wait and see. Now, let's go visit Don in the pokey so we can get things rolling."

This parody would be funny if it weren't so true. Back in the day, when I still had to work up a good sweat to get paid, the preceding would have pegged out my blood pressure. How many of you have seen white spots in front of your eyes after reading this?

I once had a builder actually tell me, "I really like your work and want you to do my drywall but I got a much cheaper bid and you will have to match it ... and oh, by way, I expect the quality to be the same as before." What? Needless to say, I walked-after leaving a portion of what was on my mind behind.

Since the third quarter of 1995, in my neck of the woods (Mid-Atlantic region), housing prices have risen 45.4 percent. Nationally, the average is about 33 percent and the hottest markets have grown by more than 50 percent for the same time period.

We are all painfully aware of the rising cost of materials. In a piece written by Inquirer Real Estate writer Alan Heavens, for the ARI e-newsletter, reported that Georgia-Pacific raised its drywall prices for six consecutive quarters. In the same feature, it was reported LaFarge North America raised wallboard prices six times between August 2003 and July 2004. Users of USG and National were not immune, as they had similar increases passed on also.

Metal prices had to be tracked on a nuclear-powered calculator. Any estimator bidding jobs more than one day out did so at great peril. Who knew being a job estimator would be a contact sport.

Then there is the price of fuel. Enough said. With crude oil approaching $60 per barrel, the delivery truck of the future may have to be powered by bat guano to be cost effective.

These are the facts, folks. And you wanna hear the sad part? The square-foot price of installing and finishing drywall in many of the places I travel is down! How can this be? The biggest gripe I hear (other than no one is making money) is there is no labor to be found. Do you see a correlation? If the price of labor had risen to keep pace with the cost of everything else, I wonder how much grousing would be heard.

How can a tradesman be expected to live on the same square foot price he was getting years ago? It now costs him $60 to fill up his pickup. If he lives where I do, his property taxes have risen by double digits in this same time frame. The only way this poor slob can save anything is to order off the dollar menu at Mickey Ds. Until something is done to make the playing field more even, we will witness a mass migration from the skilled trades as never seen before. Look around the job tomorrow. How many 20 year olds do you see? The trades are graying. Ask any of them if they would like to see one of their children follow in their footsteps and the answer will undoubtedly be "negatory, good buddy." I dream of a day when the skilled tradesman is looked up and recognized for the years he has spent perfecting his art. This will not happen as long as labor is viewed as being disposable.

I don't claim to be a genius and no, I don't have all the answers. But I can see the writing one the wall and it spells "trouble."

Remember: You need to recognize greatness!