Tall, dark and handy 


It's the kind of sign that turns heads, like if you saw a naked person or an escaped lion on the side of the road. It saysâ "Rent-a-Husbandâ" and when I saw it I did what everybody probably does: a Little Rascals double take. I wondered what kind of a business it could be and why anyone would pay someone to lay on the couch and watch football (my idea of a "husband" clearly being Homer Simpson).

Lixi Garcia, the Orlando office manager for Rent-a-Husband, is used to the jokes and mistaken notions. She smiles when she has to correct wrong impressions. She got a call the other day from "some girls at the traffic light `in front of the store`. They said, 'Can I rent a guy with blue eyes and blonde hair?'" She gets plenty of calls like this from guys, too, who are crestfallen when they discover that it is not a stud farm. She even gets calls from straight guys wanting to know if they can rent a wife.

Actually, the "husbands" of Rent-a-Husband are the opposite of Homer. These are guys who help around the house. Think Tim Allen and Bob Villa grafted together: a guy who is forever assessing that the gutters need cleaning, the trees need trimming and, jeez, those kitchen counters are looking awful; it's time they were replaced ... And then this guy actually does it. Right. The first time he's asked. The first time he tries. And then he goes away. Always in the mood

So it's really a handyman service, the brainchild of Kaile Warren who has written a guide to home-maintenance, who appears on the CBS "Saturday Early Show" offering home-care tips and who has parlayed a clever title into a business that now has outlets in six states. The "husbands will do the jobs that never get done around the house," says Orlando operations manager Kevin Stephenson. A "vow" in the company newsletter, The Orlando Hectic Times, promises that the rental husband will always be "in a good mood" when doing them.

And contrary to first impressions, the "husbands" are strictly business -- there to fix the sink, move the furniture and replace the broken window (at $45 per husband, per hour). They're there for anyone, including couples who don't want to spend their weekend time doing more work than they did while they were at work (although one regular fix-it-up Joe I told about the business said he'd find the idea of renting a husband emasculating, to say the least).

Certainly Florida's aging population could use a little help around the house when those rotten kids aren't around to do it.

And wouldn't you be surprised if your husband turned out to be a girl? Rent-a-Husband does hire women, Lixi says, noting that "husband is just a name," and what's in a name? With the right skills and the ability to pass a background check, anybody could be a good husband.

Note, though, that these husbands don't get personal. They do not pick the kids up from soccer practice, accompany you to family reunions or go to the dreadful company holiday party with you. I asked. They won't do it.

I didn't ask for myself. As a renter, I never have to lift a dainty, hothouse-flower pinky to do any Red Green jobs. And, as a singleton, I'm fortunate to have friends who are quick to say, "Do you need help?" if I volunteer to do so much as move an ottoman or to look under the car hood if it sounds like something is playing maracas in there. Friends who, if I call screaming hysterically that there is a cockroach the size of a baby scuttling around the closet, will come over -- no matter the hour -- with a shoe and a squirt gun full of Combat and expect nothing in return. Thank God for White Knight syndrome and mothers who guilted their children into being so helpful. Nagging desire

Still, in that everybody-needs-somebody-sometime-especially-when-the-toilet's-broken kind of way, a service like this could be helpful. And the clever title could go a long way. In fact, there have to be other marketable stereotypes out there that could be rented to the consumer in need. I could use Rent-a-Mom, a Marge to the aforementioned Homer, who would do my laundry, arrange my breakfast into a smiley face and guilt and nag me into acting responsibly.

I know a ton of people who could make a tidy living as Rent-a-Guests, guaranteed to make even the most tiresome social affairs sparkle. If only I could hire Rent-a-Neurotic, someone who would sit around and do all my needless worrying for me so I could get on with my life.

I'm sure there are other services you wish you could call to have someone assist you and then go away quietly to never return. But I'm sure thinking nasty thoughts is one of those at-home jobs you can do yourself (although for $45 I might be willing to make a list ... )

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