Friday, September 21, 2012

Contractor Blues

Son: When's the man coming Daddy?

One of the first rules of hiring a contractor is Don't Hire Anyone Banned From Doing Something Because They Were Drunk. I'm all about forgiveness and tolerance in a lot of situations. I've worked in an office with people who had been in jail for some very unsavory crimes and got on with it all. And people make mistakes. But when you hire a contractor you tend not to bother with asking if he can drive to your home with his tools and whatnot. It's sort of a given. But there was something iffy about it before he started working. But he'd given us a couple of references and the one my wife had called had given him the thumbs up. It was sort of fuzzy - and after he was dropped off with the minimum of tools and his girlfriend drove off he began to vaguely explain that he has been banned from driving for some time already. But not to worry - he'll get his license back in a few months. But he got to work on the dot at 8.30 in the morning and plugged away at ripping out the floorboards, the rotten sub-floor and anything else down there that was in danger of collapsing. 

He started working over two weeks ago approximately the same time as my daughter started school. So for my son a life without his sister (something he's never known) seemed to involve a surrogate replacement. Except of instead of a sweet, explosively-excitable little girl in return he got an overweight, chain-smoking, cocky, ultra-proud Tea Party advocate who cannot name you one member of the Republican Party without having to dig deep. We had hired him for a semi-reasonable rate to completely tear-out and rebuild a floor. It had such a steep incline that the doors at either end of the room really should have been fitted with one of these -:


After a few days he'd re-framed the room so that it was actually level, put the sub-floor down and had started laying the new floor to match the living room. Id' already encountered many of his interesting lessons in life - usually about minorities and how people who tell him what to do get the shit kicked out of them - by this point. Add he was so patently transparent about things he wasn't good at or didn't understand well - but would try to hide it by being excessively cocky about his ability in that area lest you notice. But he'd been generally polite about not spouting off in front of my son. But the longer he was in my home the more comfortable he began to feel about his own opinions on anything and everything. I pride myself on being able to get people to open up tell me things. It's not a two-faced thing at all - I'm just good at that. And he started puking it out and was seemingly unable to cork it up. He told me about how on prior jobs he had fucked up so badly that he'd been fired. Then he would veer into telling me how on the other job he'd given us a reference for he'd been let go without finishing it because it had taken him almost double the quoted length of time to build a porch. His portrayal of this story was that it was completely unreasonable and that could be proven by cockily remarking that he had been hired by, "two gay guys from Jersey." That was his entire explanation. He then gave an expression that he would give seemingly every time I spoke to him after that. One which said, "need I say anymore about how everyone else other than me is an idiot."

But whatever. I'm not the thought police. Believe whatever you want. And he seemed to be plugging along nicely on schedule. Add my father-in-law had dropped by to give a protective cursory glance at the work and gave his approval. Oddly the contractor had invested such buddy-buddy trust in me by this point that after the old-man left he started going on about how he hates hack-carpenters who think they know what they're doing. And then proudly displayed his cocky, familiar expression. A little rude and odd - but again I don't really care. Do the job and nobody cares.

Oddly his ridiculously transparent cockiness completely disappeared whenever he answered the phone to his girlfriend. Like a lot of people I know when speaking on the phone he seems to believe hes been transported to a completely private, sound-proof world where people within audible range of his voice can't hear what he's talking about. So he would spill his insecurities about the job, and relay his astonishment at how he managed to do something he wasn't sure of by just copying what was there before. But every time he got off the phone it was if he'd just gloated about something and he would strut about the house like a rooster. He was so impressed with himself. And combine that with the other method that he used to praise his own work - which was to denigrate any other work that had been done in the home regardless of who did it (meaning me, my wife, my father-in-law or the contractor we had help us when we were rebuilding).

But then he started doing it wrong. He couldn't figure out the threshold. He screwed up painting some of the trim and had to do a few too many spackle-jobs after laying the floor that he pretty much begged to paint the walls to cover up the dinks. His cockiness and openness flowed so freely that his misogyny practically bled out of him. He would make remarks about how my wife was probably unable to see how fucking amazing his work was. Not in a personal manner. But because - being female - she not only doesn't understand Big Boy Work but is notoriously hard to please. You know women - always fucking moaning and never happy. Add he relayed that he felt my wife had been condescending by asking him if he can hang a door. He stated with bravado that nobody can hang a door like he can. Add no contractor worth his salt should set foot on a job site without knowing how to do that blindfolded.

But he was plugging along and in my mind my being in the living room would have been negative. So I'd take my son out as long and often as possible to playgrounds, bike paths and various places just to let the contractor get on with it. But when I'd get home a few hours later I'd find that little had been done. There was always a reason. Sometimes they were pragmatic reasons. But sometimes they'd be ridiculous - like not being able to go on because he'd run out of finish nails. Then I'd point at the windowsill at the two boxes of finish nails. Then he'd do something that infuriates managers of people all across the world. He'd spend the last two hours of his day working solidly, quickly and efficiently to make up for the slack, laziness of the day. Then he'd gloat about how he'd done that - unable to see that from a managers perspective you'd done the least amount you could all day long and just about salvaged it by getting your head down and doing what you were supposed to for a bit.

The next day he came he almost confirmed that he was - at best - a chancer. To make it all interesting though he didn't come for two days because he said his girlfriend had appendicitis. Which - with his proclivity for absurd exaggeration ended up being a story where they went to urgent care, nearly had a severe car accident with what he believed was a a getaway car (how he would know this, I'm not sure), then going to two hospitals before someone could perform the very special kind of appendectomy that was needed. Which apparently involved three separate incisions. But he did show up driving her car without a license which lent some credence to the story. But then he would call her at her work - having made a miraculous recovery from the unique surgery she'd been through barely 48 hours before. After some ridiculous story about how he learned everything he needed to know about carpentry from a heroin addict on a painting crew painting skyscrapers in Memphis (none of which involves carpentry at all - which might have been his point) he got to the new basement door he had to hang. Before getting cracking he puffed out his rooster-chest and called me in for a lesson. Reminding me of the insult my wife had naively lactated at him he then vaguely and without any actual detail of any kind blathered on about the super-duper secret of hanging a door. Which pretty much added up to him saying "I hang it and keep changing it until it's more or less level." Genius. And with his level of expertise it takes ten minutes. After a cigarette obviously.

A few hours later he'd hung the door. He'd apparently used a lot of swearing and whining as shims, because a lot of them farted out of him while he did it. His protestations about how there was obviously something funny about the door/door handle/store they came from were pretty grating so my son and I buggered off out. When we came back he'd only managed to trim about another ten feet of wall and was painting the casing around the door he'd hung. He then claimed he'd cut off the tip of his finger and may have to leave for the day, "if it starts bleeding." That's right - he's so fucking hard and such a good contractor that he doesn't bleed when he's on a job because that's unprofessional. He warned me the door wasn't finished and he might have to rip it out. Which was confusing as he was currently painting around it. We went out again for some stuff he said he needed and to get my daughter from school.

A few hours later he'd pretty much just applied some tape to the wall so he could paint a little more. He then got to work on the other door - making an overly-exaggerated point that doing so was heroic considering he was going to be taking off soon so starting a new project was risky. Which evidently it was because he couldn't do it. It didn't hang quite right and the trim was hideously banged up. He'd also painted over the hinges in a hurry to make it look like he'd done steady work all day long, as opposed to just spunking out a quick, sloppy blast at the end of the day. When the paint dried on the first door it stuck. And somehow he nobbed-up the handle so that it only turned one way. Add he still hadn't actually finished a room yet so now three entire rooms were unusable. So I made a comment about the next day and he said he was right on schedule give or take a few days and went home. That night the wife and I agreed that I could - if it so tickled my pickle - tell him to get fecked the next morning. 

Next morning I told him I'd like him to finish up. The stuff he'd done the day before was poor quality so I pretty much gave him the chance to to redeem it. At which point he nervously said that he'd easily finish everything - which included framing and hanging a closet door, laying the floor in the mud room, hanging the bathroom door, trim and completing all the other jobs by lunchtime the next day easily. He wasn't arrogant or cocky. He was worried and silly. After a day of back and forth to the store (bought doors with parts missing) and then realizing that the matching doors didn't match I got annoyed. Partly becuase the store had cocked up (twice). Partly because my son had thrown up. And partly because he'd clearly done a shittier job than before by rushing to get stuff done. On reflection some of it is worse than I would have done if I'm honest. Almost every drop of puffed-roosterism vanished then. I told him to forget the door and the floor and just finish whatever he could. When I came back from getting my daughter he had all his gear outside and was banging on apologetically about how he'll call us about the floor the following week. He hadn't finished the trim or even painting the tiny bits he had left in the first room. Instead he'd been sweeping up with a broom for about an hour and making a grand show of moving off-cuts of wood from one pile to another one 5 foot away.

Ten minutes later he left after I took his ladder out to his car and one of his bags. I think that got the point across. I paid him for the work he had done. But annoyingly all day long today my son has been asking, "when is the man coming?" I told him that he isn't and my son asked if his sister was home today. She'd been at school for 4 hours at that point. He's somewhat expectant - possibly waiting for the next surrogate to show up. Which was slightly irritating when a guy showed up to sell seafood and steaks out of the back of a car (maybe the third time someone has done that around here).

But that contractor isn't coming back. But being the chancer that he is (and with his level of almost autistic reading of body language) I bet he calls asking if we'll be a reference. Tit.

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