Tuesday, April 26, 2011

In which I get in touch with my inner manager for a change

When Primo and I moved into our house, the basement-flooding, heat-losing, 1928 brick moneypit that we call home, we needed a fair amount of work done. The penultimate penultimate owner had been a little old lady who became too frail and probably too cash strapped to do much maintenance.

The penultimate owner was a contractor who bought the house from her, discarded all the coal in the basement, ripped out the nasty carpets and replaced them with more nasty carpets, cut the gas line to the kitchen where it would have been useful for say a gas stove for those of us who hate cooking with electric, and installed new brass or bronze - whatever - switchplates while ignoring the cracks in the driveway and the carpenter ants in the balcony.

The owner who sold the house to us was a young single guy, Tad, who never shoveled the sidewalk and never wondered why the sidewalk was shoveled anyhow or at least never wondered enough to ask our next-door neighbors, who were the proximate cause of the shoveled sidewalk, as Eric's dad loves his snowblower and would clear Eric and Regina's sidewalk before the crack of dawn and would do the neighbors' sidewalks as well. That is, until he got tired of never being thanked, which meant that once we were in the house, Mr Eric's Dad did not clear our sidewalk. Thanks a lot, Tad.

Tad's other activities, besides not shoveling the sidewalk or thanking the person who had, were to sit in bed without a shirt and lean against the wall. Not against the headboard but against the wall. When a shirtless man leans against a wall every night or so for 15 months, eventually he leaves an oily man print on the paint, a print that is bright and clear once the bed and the man are removed.

Tad's other other activity was to use the microwave for everything - the oven was brand-new spanking clean - without covering his food, which would not have been such a problem except the penultimate owner, Mr Contractor, got the microwave at the scratch and dent center, which I am normally a big fan of, but the reason the microwave was there was because it was missing the interior plastic sheet that covers that little honeycomb screen in the door.

Must I get explicit and describe for you what happens when a person, Tad, heats his uncovered Spaghetti-Os in a microwave with an exposed honeycomb screen? There is tomato sauce and other stuff stuck on the inside of my microwave door that I will never be able to remove because I cannot clean through honeycomb.

What Tad did not do was diligent or even any maintenance.

It was left to Primo and me to replace the balcony that was being eaten by carpenter ants. You would think that carpenter ants + wood would be a good thing but no it is not. You never want someone to say the words "carpenter ants" and then say something about your house. It is a bad, expensive thing.

It was left to us to rip out the nasty carpet and polish the beautiful wood floors.

It was left to us to get the furnace checked. Actually, we waited until our furnace broke in mid-December on one of the coldest nights of the year before we thought to do this one. Oh sure we'd looked at the service record attached to the furnace, which we pass every single time we clean the cat box, and had mused to ourselves, "Well that's interesting. It's been over ten years since that furnace was serviced," but we had never actually considered taking drastic action like having the furnace serviced so we wouldn't be without heat on one of the coldest nights of the year. But if Tad had done it right, then we wouldn't have had plugged tubes so I'm throwing this one on him.

It was left to us to scrape the deep rust off that metal thingy that goes under the bricks at the top of the window opening. Apparently, if you leave these things to rust, they will eventually cause the mortar going on the diagonal from the corner of the window to crack and fall out and then your house will fall down.

By "left to us," I mean, "left to us to find someone who knows how to fix these things and charge us a lot of money to do it."

We had hired a man recommended by the pastor of Primo's church to help us move from Primo's apartment to the house. We called him "Amish Al" to distinguish him from our friend Normal Al. Amish Al had an Amish beard. Normal Al is clean shaven.

Amish Al was great when we moved into the house. He was strong and had his own tools and knew how to assemble Primo's big obnoxious desk and how to take the door off the hinges to get some things inside.

He had only one failing: he showed up too early, which is a common problem around here. I have mentioned my dad's cousin who showed up for lunch half an hour early. I no longer have Dad's Cousin over for lunch; instead, I meet him at a restaurant. He is always early. The past few times, he has called me half an hour before our scheduled meeting time to tell me he is at the restaurant. I tell him that's fine, I haven't left my house yet and I'll see him at 1:30 as we planned. The other day, he didn't call, but when I got to the restaurant ten minutes early, he had already finished his lunch.

When we moved out of Primo's apartment, I told Amish Al to arrive at 1:00. "We don't need you before then," I said. "Primo is not picking the truck up until 12:30. One o'clock or 1:30, even." I didn't need someone standing around on the clock when the clock was mine.

Amish Al showed up at 12:30.

Primo and I were just getting ready to eat lunch.

I had already moved all the food to the house. All the food except the last little bit of freezer crap that I normally wouldn't eat but was there and I will eat bad food before throwing it out, which is fine as a survival strategy if you are expecting famine but not so good if you want to stay in your thin jeans.

We had enough food for two people.

I should have told Amish Al that we weren't ready for him and to come back. But that seemed dumb. Then I made the mistake of asking him if he had eaten lunch because I was confusing the roles of employer and hostess.

He hadn't eaten.

Even though Primo was staring daggers at me, I offered to share our lunch. I should have told Amish Al there was time for him to go out and grab a sandwich. I should have. But I shared our lunch. Which Amish Al found too spicy for his taste. Really, Amish Al? You're complaining about a meal to which you were not even really invited?

But Amish Al did a good job of actually moving, so when we were looking for a handyman to scrape the rust from the whatever you call thems and then paint the metal, I called him. Primo was all, Why do we have to do this now? I have too much work! This is stressful!

And I was all, This needs to be done so we might as well get it over with before winter.

I impressed on Amish Al the importance of not arriving before 8:30 a.m.

"Primo works late and he sleeps late," I said. "Please do not ring that doorbell before 8:30. Not one minute early."

It must have killed him to wait until 8:15, which was when he did ring the bell. "I got here early," he told me.

The rule is if you arrive early, you drive around the block or sit in your car and wait. That's the rule. But nobody seems to know that here.

I have to admit it's not just here. I organized an alumni event for my college when I lived in the south. We were having a little party at Gayle and Jim's house for the incoming freshmen in our area. "Our area" included some towns 100 miles away. The party started at 6:00.

At 5:00, I was at Gayle's house helping put out dishes and silverware when the doorbell rang. It was a new freshman and her family from a town 80 miles away. An hour early. They must have decided they couldn't just take in the sights around town or wait in the coffeeshop. Instead, they came to the party, which was not a party yet. This would not have been a problem except instead of offering to help, they (well, the dad, mostly) expected to be entertained.

The next year, they showed up early again. That's when I realized the dad was just a complete boor.

Amish Al rang our bell early. Primo just sighed and went upstairs. I showed Amish Al what needed to be done and then came back inside.

He completed the rust removal. He did just fine on the rust removal.

Then he started the painting.

Primo went outside to look.

He ran back inside and hissed at me, "He's getting paint on the bricks!"

"So tell him to stop!" I said.

"It's your job to supervise! I'm working! I told you I didn't want us to charge forward on this!"

"Supervise?" I said. "Why on earth should I have to supervise?"

"Because he is getting paint on the brick!"

Here is my philosophy on painting: I should not have to explain to someone that he needs to stay in the lines when he is painting an object. As in, if I hired someone to paint the kitchen, I would not expect to have to say, "And remember: no paint on the refrigerator!"

But perhaps that level of detail and micromanagement is necessary.

As he stomped up the stairs, Primo yelled, "You need to handle this!"

Here's how good I am at confrontation:

Not good.

Oh sure yeah I am a bossy know it all who knows how everything should be done, but my style is to talk behind someone's back rather than address the actual situation. I am great in imaginary confrontations, where I seethe my disdain and contempt at the person who has done me wrong, but in person, I tend to suck it up.

For example, I just picked up a shirt from the tailor. I got this cool shirt at Goodwill for $7. It's black with pink ribbons sewn horizontally at one-inch intervals from top to bottom. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that the shirt had been mismarked and was much larger than I thought. It would fit me with some minor alterations - the zipper would have to be re-set, which would be tough because of getting those ribbons to match. It would fit my boobage-gifted sister as is.

I took it to the tailor and explained that 1. I didn't want to spend a lot of money to have it altered because it was from Goodwill and 2. if it was going to be too expensive or if it couldn't be done properly, I would just send it to my sister. So don't do it if you can't do it right! That was my message or so I thought.

A week later, I picked it up.

It hadn't been done right. The ribbons did not match in the back. And I was being charged $17 for it not being done right.

I said meekly, "So these don't exactly match, do they?"

The tailor looked at me impassively.

I muttered passively aggressively, "I should have just left it alone."

The tailor looked at me impassively.

I was waiting for him to say, "You are correct! This is a crummy job! I will do it over! And I will charge you less!"

But he did not say that so I gave him my American Express card and stomped out of there.

I am not exactly Miss Stand Up For Myself.

But. When it is a choice of a stranger being upset or my husband being upset, I pick the stranger.

I went outside and told Amish Al to stop working. "Amish Al," I said. "You are getting paint on the brick. That is unacceptable."

He looked puzzled. "Oh," he said. "Well I guess I'll clean it off."

"No! Stop! I'll take care of the painting. Wait here."

I went inside and got his money. "Thanks for what you've done," I said.

"So might you have more work?" he asked.

I felt sad because I knew he really needed the work and up to the brick painting, he had done such good work, but he had, in that one move, shown himself not to be trustworthy of working on our biggest financial investment. Plus I knew Primo would have a hissy fit if I hired him again.

I lied. "I'll call you," I said.