Thursday, February 27, 2014

Post- Script.

Mr Tabubil's mother is wonderful.  When our lease on our rental apartment ran out with our new apartment still a gutted shell, she smiled as we took over her apartment with our boxes and bags, and she fired up the BBQ and baked apple pies to keep us both in fighting trim. She came apartment hunting, she came tile shopping, paint shopping, appliance shopping - willing to drop everything and anything to lend me her opinion or a firm supportive arm. She stood behind me when I needed moral support, quietly acting as my second guess and sanity check. Was I legitimately upset?  Was this really happening?  Should I be mad or had I lost all perspective - and possibly my mind?
            Always she was there there, with a firm nod of "Yes. Stand your ground. Kitchen plumbing is not optional - nor are front doors - and walls are meant to stand up straight.  I promise you they are."

About a week after the new flooring was installed, there was a day where I couldn’t be on site.  Mr Tabubil took over my agenda - he had a couple of sub-contractors to pay, and a delivery time to nail down with the people who’d sold us our stove. Easy as pie.
            That evening I was in the kitchen making sandwiches with my mother-in-law.  The front door slammed and Mr Tabubil came crashing in –  banging doors and thumping his feet and generally throwing an absolute tantrum.
            The stove people had been intolerable, he shouted.  He waved his hands a lot and stamped his feet -
            Firstly, they'd told him that  the store manager had cancelled the delivery because we hadn't paid on time.
            "What delivery?!” He’d said.  “And what do you mean we haven't paid on time?  There was no time! I'm here to schedule a delivery.  I’ve got the receipt for payment right here -  I’m here to make a time!”
            At that, apparently, the stove people had gotten personal. Rather in the same vein as the man from the flooring company. And Mr Tabubil was infuriated. Because this was ridiculous!  Who behaves like that?!  All he’d wanted to do was schedule a damned delivery!
            It was the funniest thing I'd ever seen.  The poor man was stamping up and down the kitchen, waving his arms at the light fixtures and literally vibrating with rage, and instead of sympathizing, I found myself shaking with laughter.  I looked over at my mother-in-law.  Her eyes were bright and she was making little fizzing noises - and squeaking through her nose, whenever he turned his back.
            Mr Tabubil roared and stamped away into the living room.  My mother-in-law and I grabbed each other by the shoulders and we rocked back and forth, crying with laughter. It was tremendous.
            Mr Tabubil thumped his way back into the kitchen, looked at us in disbelief and opened his mouth- and my mother-in-law shouted "Yes! That's right! One more, Mr Tabubil! A big one! All together now- AGGRRRRGGGGHHHHH!"
            And Mr Tabubil gaped at her and said "This is serious!"
            "Yes!" She cried.  "I know! I've been there when it's all happening!  I've seen Tabubilgirl come home every day! This is exactly what it's like!"
            She and I looked at each other and we were off again, laughing like loons.  It was massively liberating, seeing things from the other side of the mirror.. But mostly I just laughed and laughed.  It was too terribly funny.
            And then I made the poor man a sandwich.  His blood sugar was low.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Seriously last post about the renovation. Honestly.

You can blame the cats. We hadn't planned to replace the floors in the bedrooms when we renovated the place. Yes, the carpets were a little manky-looking, but manky-looking is okay, isn't it? We'd give them a good shampoo and replace them with wooden floors a year or so down the line. The budget wasn't infinite, y'know?
            Our contractor Rodrigo pressed his lips together and said absolutely nothing.

It was when the rest of the apartment had been gutted and its floors and walls and furnishings hauled out to the skip,  that we began to smell the Smell.  It was a deep, rich, feline stench that seemed to spread and to strengthen hourly. In the bedrooms the stains in the corners of the carpet blurred and twisted in our tearing vision, stretching out long wavering arms of Smell and reaching up to grab us by the throat. 
            It was cats. Twenty years of cats, to be precise. Twenty years of incontinent cats on a carpet that had never been once washed or wiped, or toweled dry - twenty years of incontinent cats who'd made themselves favorite places in the corners of carpets, and the lower reaches of what had once been drywall  -  and  was now a crumbling font of rich ammonical reek -
Our contractor moved in with crowbars, and I went out and bought floors. 
            I found good floors.  Sturdy and solid and shining, from a firm that positively wallowed in positive affirmations, and which offered me a complete installation for a very good price.
           Everything was sunshine and roses right up to the day of installation - when it turned out that things had gone ever so slightly wrong. 
            The floors had been delivered, all right, but not to us. After the initial irate telephone call of "What the heck did you do with the wood we delivered yesterday? The installation boys are here and say you're hiding it on us!" the company became very cagey on the subject. Persistent questioning disclosed that  the delivery crew had  knocked on the door of an entirely different apartment in an entirely different building at the entirely opposite end of Santiago, and an enterprising somebody had said "why yes, I am Tabubilgirl" and signed for it on the spot.
            I don't know whether she ended up keeping it, but an entirely brand new load of flooring arrived at our address the two days later, and we never ever mentioned it again.

I was gifted with two strong young men to do the installation.  They were apprentices and it was apparently their first week on the job, but they swore that the supervisor's arrival was imminent. Really. Double-swear, and they wouldn't touch so much as a hammer until he came to show them what to do. Double-triple-pinkie-swear, really
            They had sincerity in their eyes, and I had invoices for laundry sinks and hot water heaters to pay, so just imagine my surprise when I came back two and a half hours later and found the job almost complete, with no supervisor in sight.
            The installation had gone iffily. The two young men had a decent grasp of right angles and appeared to know how to use a saw, but their technical knowledge had clearly been exhausted before they got to the complexities of the hammer. I'm not claiming any superiority of technique, but when I hold a hammer, instead of dialing in the location of the blow by approximates and test swings, generally I aim for the nail. 
            Our brand new rooms looked like they'd been ground zero for a convention of clog-dancers rehearsing for the annual stub-toe all-comers.
            "Are you going to replace the floor?"
            "Can you give me a reason why not?"
            "Because we won't."
            And that, apparently, was that. After a conversation that was extremely unsatisfactory on all sides, phone calls happened, and I got the opportunity to deliver lines like:
            "I would like to have a reasonable discussion on the subject, one that consists of more than "I can't', 'its not possible', and 'Its not my fault'. At present we are not having that conversation."
            My delivery was splendid - strong and outraged, with hint of fragile wobble and tears. And it only took the company three weeks to get back to me.
Pro tempore, we were building bedroom closets. The basic infrastructure had gone up before the new floors went in, but the shelves and the drawers needed building, and our cabinet maker swore black blue and sideways that the only possible place in which to build them was right next to the closets themselves, ("as close as possible for measuring purposes," he said) right in the middle of the brand new master-bedroom floor.
            I offered him the living room. He looked at me scathingly and whistled between his teeth. I insisted on the living room, and helped him out by picking a load of saw-edged fiberboard and carrying it out of the bedroom. He went home early in a fit of pique and when I got to the apartment the next morning, I found he'd beat me by half an hour. He was back in the bedroom, sawing merrily away - bits of fiberboard clattering off of the end of the sawhorse and bouncing off the (formerly) varnished floor.
            While I waited for Rodrigo to arrive, we compromised on a layer of cardboard to cover the floorboards and a dropcloth on top of that, but when I came back from inspecting the installation of countertops in what might someday be the kitchen, the dropcloth had been rudely pushed to the side of the room and the cardboard wasn't anywhere. The carpenter was hammering now, the spent nails pinging gaily off the floorboards, where occasionally, they stuck.
            Words were had.
            "Don't worry about it."  Rodrigo said when he arrived. "I'll talk to him. He'll keep the dropcloth. But don't worry so much - he doesn't want to hurt anything. He's a careful worker. How much damage could there be?"
            Every morning I put that dropcloth down, and every morning it went away - pushed away, scuffed away, dragged away - tools were lost under it, nails were kicked under it, claw-hammers were dropped on it, the claw-points facing down-
            Rodrigo, staring glumly at the mess, said that he'd be happy to go fifty-fifty for a new floor if the flooring company ever called back. And I  began cataloging  scratches with post-it stickers. I was keeping score.

While writing this piece, at this point I stepped away from the computer and went to find Mr Tabubil.
            "I'm writing about the floor." I said. "And I don't know if I should be writing about it. Who's going to believe me? After everything else I've written about this renovation, I feel I'm at a point where the only sensible reaction a reader can have is to say I'm making it all up."
            Mr Tabubil giggled. "You do have to admit-"
            "I know." I said. "It's ridiculous. I've been going through my email and phone records - even I hadn't remembered how ridiculous the whole thing was. Do you remember how when I finally did get through to the flooring company, and they told me that it the situation was entirely my fault?  I hadn't said what sort of installation I wanted. I hadn't said I wanted nice."
            Mr Tabubil burst out laughing.
            "Seriously! I got angry, and eventually they agreed to send a man to look at the floors - and when he did, he arrived two hours before schedule and called me on the telephone, screaming and shouting and calling me the most vile names- and when my voice began to shake, he stopped yelling and very calmly told me that since I had failed to show up for our meeting, any possible consideration of any hypothetical damage was off.
            And when Rodrigo found me, holding the telephone and looking for someone to disembowel, he told me not to take it personally because it was only a regular business tactic."
            "I remember that!"  Mr Tabubil said.
            "He's trying to intimidate you." Rodrigo told me. "Particularly because you're a woman - he knows he did a bad job, and he thinks if he can scare you enough, you'll go away." And I looked at him and lifted my hands and said "But Rodrigo, I will go away. I'm new in town. I'm just a gringo. I've got no contacts - I've got no networks - I've got no leverage - I've got no way to make them fix it."
            And Rodrigo looked at me grimly and said "I might." and went away to make some phone calls and three days later it turns out that suddenly the company was going fifty-fifty with him on replacement floors, no argument, just like he wanted, and he wouldn't say a single word about it. Only I went and did some investigating myself, and it turns out he just might have threatened the company with a city-wide boycott - a whole city full of contractors refusing to let any of their clients use that company for their flooring. All for three new bedroom floors in a little apartment in Providencia. Nobody is going to believe a word of it!"
            Mr Tabubil whooped. "Nobody in North America is going to believe a word of it! But write it anyway. Everyone in Chile will know exactly what you're talking about."

So here's how it went:
On the day of the new installation, I was out shopping in the city. I didn't want to know, and I didn't want to care. Mr Tabubil decided that someone ought to. He told his boss he was working from home that day and took his laptop over to the new flat to watch the show -
Around about 11, my cell phone rang.
            "I don't want to hear it." I said.
            "You do," he said earnestly, "you really do. Guess who the flooring company sent over to install the new floors?" And he giggled. 
            "You're not serious."
            "Yup." He said, and giggled again. "They sent the same two idiots who laid it the first time. Rodrigo is… sort of upset. Listen -" he stopped talking, and in the background of the call I could hear roaring.
            "I" I said, "Am going to go eat ice-cream. And maybe watch a movie."  
            And I hung up. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Copa de Oro

The Santiago spring might be mostly made of Platano Orientale, but the city has more than a few golden poppies as well.

There’s a lovely story about how the copa de oro poppy came to Chile:
            When news of the California Gold Rush arrived in Chile in 1849, thousands of Chileans went north to try their luck on the gold fields. The sailors that carried them deserted their ships and left their captains stranded in San Francisco, scrabbling for sailors to take them home.
            These ships, returning empty to Chile, brought poppy seeds with them, mixed up with the stones they used for ballast in their empty holds.   Unusually considerate for an invasive species, the poppy hadn’t much interest in virgin Chilean wilderness.  It preferred earth already broken by humans, and spreading inland from the coast, made its way across cultivated fields and along road and railway lines, right across the central valley, all the way up into the foothills of the Andes.  It was Chile’s first shipment of California Gold.  
            The truth is far more prosaic. The California poppy came to Chile all across the second half of the 19th century mixed up in Shipments of Alfalfa. Christened Copa de Oro (cup of gold), the golden poppy  found a dry Mediterranean climate extraordinarily similar to its native California, and burst out everywhere all at once.  Ironically, in some lights, the climate of Central Chile seems far more suited to the Copa de Oro than California. The plants spread further, grow larger and when they get going in spring, bloom bigger - pervasive to the point that to the point that many Chileans today presume that it’s a native.  In spring, the short green plants bust out in flowers, drifts of gold and electric-orange blossoms carpeting the valleys and ridges and hills of Central Chile, turning their faces up to follow the sun.

A plant like the Copa de Oro deserves rather better than an ignominious origin in a sack of alfalfa. Let’s go with Californian gold.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Platano Orientale

Santiago does an awfully pretty spring.  We’ve got jacaranda trees that bloom purple on every block, dropping pools of purple color on the streets beneath them and casting pools of purple shadow all around them on the sidewalks. We’ve got Ceibo  – the original burning bush, with its small spring leaves blotted out by scarlet pods like clouds of hanging red flame. We’ve got wisteria hanging over walls, heavy and honey scented. We’ve got bright golden Californian poppies, spreading thick across the verges and the hills -
            But most of all we’ve got the Platano Orientale.
            A pl├ítano is, in direct translation to the Spanish, a banana, but the Platano Orientale has nothing tropical or edible about it. It is the Eastern or Oriental Plane Tree - once beloved of Hippocrates, and today equally beloved of Santiago’s municipal councils.  Tall and spreading, with a leaf rather like that of a maple, it grows like a weed, spreading up and out to make shady green tunnels of our hot summer city roads.  And twice in every spring and early summer, it sprouts a crop of fluffy brown pods, which launch themselves on the summer breezes and inundate Santiago. The air fills up like a glass bowl full of dandelion clocks. Walking down the street is like walking through a storm of ash, thick and furry.  On windy days, sheets of platano seeds come drifting across the sidewalks, piling up in gutters, and snagging in trees and bricks and paving stones.
            Platano seeds get everywhere.  They filter under window -frames and blow through keyholes .  They catch in your zippers and your pockets and you trouser cuffs, and they catch in your eyes – which weep, and in your nose, which itches, and in your throat, where it  lands on your tonsils with a shock like a live electrical wire.  And then you cough – a terrible, barking electric cough.  You cough and you cough and you cough you cough – bent double, helpless and weeping -
            My first spring here, I spent three days in the hospital after that terrible electric cough met my outgrown childhood asthma and brought it all back in full liquid-lung terror.  There’s an awful lot of asthma in Santiago.  It’s not just the pollution – and Chile produces smog like it’s the mainstay of the GDP. It’s the way the spring belongs to the Platano Orientale.
            Mr Tabubil, who has never known an allergy in his life, succumbed within weeks of arriving, and passes the spring red-rimmed and hacking.  My Dad, equally hardy, visited us last spring, and half-way across a traffic intersection, he stopped dead in the road and doubled over with that terrible electric cough, locked in an attack that required every instrument in my mobile asthma arsenal to bring under control.
            And I have quite the arsenal.  Since being released from the hospital, spring comes pre-loaded with an arsenal of sprays and drops and inhalers that would make a hardened hypochondriac blush. Our municipalities might love the Platano Orientale, but every doctor I’ve met would, given half an opportunity and an illicit batch of Agent Orange, defoliate the whole city in one fell swoop if it would get rid of That Tree. Medical committees, armed with infographics and statistics, make eloquent claims on the public interest and the public health.  They bring in experts on horticulture and respiratory medicine.  They drag in respiratory patients for dramatic personal narratives. But the platano grows like a weed in poor soil, and when have sense and logic ever prevailed against a budget-minded municipality anywhere?
            And doctors talk darkly, in surgeries and over cocktails, of axes in the dark.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Big Pink!

This is Mr Tabubil on the subject of Valentine's Day:
            "Did you know that price of flowers goes up by seven hundred and thirty percent on February 14th? The florists know you're coming. Flowers and chocolates mean nothing except that you are a sheep following a ringleader that’s baa-ing just as loudly as you are.  All of the romance -  if there ever was any - is lost in an expensive wash of cheap sentimentality - and sheep. Roses, particularly, are a meaningless gesture in a mercenary sea of overpriced artifice and scripted spontaneity and I think everybody should pull their quilts over their heads and stay there until the whole horrible thing is over. Gnnnrrrrggghhhh."
            "Can't you just appreciate the spirit of the day and take the occasion as an opportunity to express love and joy toward the people you care about?"
            "Since I already feel as if I’m being sucked into the hungry maw of the ugly capitalistic advertising machine, I don't think people should even kiss on Febuary 14th because if they do, Madison Avenue will get the wrong idea and start charging hearts and sparkles to my Visa card." 
            "Does that mean I don't get flowers, then?"
            Which just shows that you can help anybody reach their breaking point if you do it right.

But I'm not really a bad person. In fact, I felt for the poor fellow. It's true that February 14th is undoubtedly over-commercialized, and last year I thought I'd empathize a little - I'd embrace his horror of the season and do things his way.
            I was thinking polyester. Polyester granny panties, a box of chocolates with a bite out of every single one, my oldest, saggiest bra, and a dinner of liver 'n onions.
            Vive l'horreur.
            It certainly helped that he'd gotten home the morning of the 14th  from a trip overseas and was jet-lagged to a point only a shade this side of lucid. I may not be a bad person, but I'm not always very nice.
             "Oh Tabubil!" The man wailed. "I didn't get you anything and here you are making dinner all for me-e!  I don't deserve a wife like you!"
            "No kidding." I thought, and bent over the frying pan, holding my breath.  I set the table and proudly uncovered -
            "Calf liver?"  Mr Tabubil breathed, turning green.  "Have I never mentioned to you that I don't… um.. er..." 
            "No." I lied firmly. "You never." I took up a knife and sliced.  He covered his mouth and made a choking sound.
            "I'm sorry" he mumbled through his hand "but the smell..."
            And then the jet-lag kicked him in the back of the skull and he came over all remorseful.
            "And you cooked it all for me-e! Even knowing how I feel about the 14th. Well, I feel awful. I should be grateful - I should be loving this.  I'm a bad bad baaaaad bad husband!"
            Fortunately for both of us, there were leftovers in the fridge that he could eat while I choked down a slice of the liver. 
            "Tabubilgirl, your face looks sort of, well - "
            "Not at all!"  I gasped.  "S' lovely!  Not quite what I was expecting, but it's the first time I've made it, and - mmm-mmm!  Yummy! And special - all made just for you!" 
            And that went straight down the black hole of remorse as well.  He knew things weren't quite right, but  was too strung out on time-zones to do anything but swallow the flashy neon malarkey I was peddling wholesale. He  felt so terrible he ate half of what was left on my plate.
            Liver disposed of, "Valentine's Day presents!" I cried, bouncing up out of my chair to grab the chocolates.
            "Sweeetie..."Mr Tabubil moaned, and when I handed him the big heart shaped box his face took on an expression intended to convey love and gratitude, and guilt, and deep deep remorse for not repaying me in kind. 
            "I don't deserve you."  His eyes said, damply, to my own. "You dear dear sweet sweet darling."
            And then he opened the box, and his features turned- in rapid succession- to shock, distaste, disgust and at last, a deep, dawning suspicion.
            Swallowing a deep breath, he stalked in high dudgeon to our bedroom, where he shut the door firmly in my face and proceeded to laugh his head off.
            Eventually he calmed down enough to let me in and we went back to the kitchen for proper dessert - a big squashy chocolate cake. He made me take the first bite. Which hurt, because I'd selflessly resisted the urge to bake our leftover Halloween spiders into the middle layer. And if he really loved me like he said, he'd never even have dreamed of thinking it.  I'm not all bad.
            Things were perfectly amicable until we went to bed, and then he saw the granny panties and I had to make a run for it.
            O divine granny panties - $5.03(less tax) of slippery nylon knit, oily plastic sheen and the ambiguously pink color of an undercooked ham. They creeped up past my belly button and drooped down past my thighs, and capped the dimples above my knee-bones with embroidered nosegays all done up in ecru plastic lace.
            Don't ask how long I spent looking for drawers that looks like that.  It was an odyssey of many parts and many stories, of triumphs, tragedies, great leaps of faith and heroism past the bounds of woman and of man -
             O  raise your voice for vinalon and acetate - for britches that ride up past the ribs and briefs that wallow underslung - for running hosiery and slipped knits - for bobble knit, for ladder stitch, for gossamer translucency,elastic bands that clamp your thighs with purple grip -
            Stripped to my dreadful nylon drawers, I stood, chin raised, and proudly stared my husband down.  He looked at me and looked at me and sat very very still.  His mouth opened, and he said "Take those off."
            And then he turned his head to the wall and very firmly went to sleep.

Happy Valentines Day!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Almost the last renovation post. Honestly.

A few night ago, Mr Tabubil had a skype call with his sister. I heard her asking “how Tabubilgirl was doing? How’s the blog? I haven’t heard much from her for the last few months-”
            And poor Mr Tabubil got an earful from my direction while he winced and said very carefully into the microphone that "No-o, Tabubilgirl has had to put her life rather on hold for the last six months or so. She's acting pretty cabin-feverish, these days, as well-"
            And then he had to dodge a pillow that had been mysteriously flung out of nowhere right at his head. And another one that was mysteriously aimed right at his computer.
            "You can't hit her." He yelped, his arms wrapped around the monitor. "She's in Washington. How cabin-feverish are you? We’ve reached some sort of delirium state now?"

Hello. I’m back. It’s been a while. I descended into the dark underbelly of the kitchen design industry, and then I clawed my way up and out of the other side, and I no longer come home at night to howl and shred pillows in the privacy of my room.
            Bawling after the fact, in privacy, being less legally compromising than threatening kitchen designers with defenestration as a motivational technique.

The last time I talked about the renovations, we were having an extremely dynamic day.  Among other interesting events, I was on the phone with the head office of a kitchen design company, trying to find out why a delivery of kitchen cabinets wasn’t happening. The call wasn’t going very well.

When the cabinets did finally arrive at the flat – only three weeks after they were completed in the factory, they didn’t actually fit. 
            The dimensions of the cabinets didn’t match the dimensions of the kitchen or the dimensions on the architect’s plans, neither of which corresponded with each other in some rather significant respects. 
            I called the head office to complain, and got a martyred sigh in reply. They’d worked so hard, the Architect said, on those cabinets. They really had. Cutting, gluing, screwing, sanding – her voice got a whole lot crisper and a whole lot harder. Whether or not they actually fitted was now immaterial. They were there. If we wanted new ones we’d have to pay up front for a whole new kitchen. And if we had a problem with that, we could smoke it.
            Eighty decibels of heated opinion later, I had a new set of cabinets on order, with no idea that this was going to be the high water mark of our relationship. In retrospect, I should have dropped the issue and found a new kitchen to go with the cabinets instead.
            Along the way to our finished kitchen, we learned all sorts of things - for example, right about the moment when our building’s residents at the point of defenestrating us, we discovered that our kitchen designers had a whole department of painters and plasterers and general odd-job cleaners and construction specialists on standby – devoted exclusively to the repair of apartments that didn’t actually belong to their clients. In all fairness, they did get the all the apartments on floors two through four of our building completely cleaned up on only two hours notice, but it gave us some serious pause for thought.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo,  our general contractor, was getting curious. And the kitchen countertops had arrived. They were the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong material and only five weeks late, but at this point, that was about par for the course.

“I’ve got a friend who does kitchens.” Rodrigo said one afternoon. I was sitting in the half-painted hallway outside the kitchen with my head in my hands. Inside the kitchen, a pair of young apprentices- their very first week on the job-  were sealing the joins in the stone countertops with a silicone almost exactly opposite on the color wheel, and refusing to call a  supervisor on the basis that any discrepancy in color was due to vision problems. Mine.
            But I was fighting back.  By this point in the game, I had the Head Executive of the kitchen company on speed-dial. 
            “He’s an independent contractor, this friend of mine,” Rodrigo said. “He’s pretty busy at the moment. Has all the work he can handle – and more.” 
He waited politely while I dialed the CEO’s number and yelled at an answering machine for a while.
            “They’re not picking up?” He said.
            “That’s the fifth time I’ve called. I think they’re screening my number. Can I borrow your phone?”
             He handed me his cell phone. I dialed and got the answering machine again, so I yelled at it from his phone for a while. 
             Rodrigo scratched the back of his head reflectively.  “I’ve been asking around,” he said. “Everyone in Santiago who does kitchens is pretty busy right now.  Turns out your kitchen company has been kicked off of half their projects in the last six months. You said you got the recommendation from a friend?”
            “Two friends.” I sighed. “Their kitchens were amazing. They couldn’t say enough about these guys. They were swift, professional, timely, good at what they did -”
            From the kitchen came the sound of stone grinding on stone. We both grimaced.
            “They might have been all right when your friends did their kitchens," Rodrigo said.  "What was that,two years ago? But they’re a different outfit now. Too many clients, too many workshops, a new manager-”
            “Who doesn’t return phone calls?”
             He sighed. 
             I sighed.
             In the kitchen, something heavy fell on the tile floor. Someone swore. I put my head back in my hands. “I’ll get Mr Tabubil to call from his office,” I said. “His office switches up the numbers on outgoing calls. The kitchen company can’t keep up.”

At the end of the day it took some serious legal lawyering to get the apprentices out and the kitchen anywhere near finished.  Outside the kitchen, the general contracting was also going swimmingly, on account of how the same day the apprentices arrived with the countertops, our plumber hooked up the new pipes in the laundry, and sealed and painted the wall up behind him – without stopping to leak-test the new seals. Our downstairs neighbors had a bathtub’s worth of things to say about that.
            So did the elderly lady four floors below, who was complaining of a great big waterfall coming through her kitchen ceiling. It was definitely there. It just vanished when other people came around. Why was the floor dry?  It was dry because the puddles drained away through the floor while we were ringing the doorbell.  The only cure was going to be a brand new kitchen of her own – we had some rather nice designers we could pay to do one for her, didn’t we?