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. 

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