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Copyright © 2017 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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tiny as quotation marks
july 1, 2017
Twenty years' worth of these Latelys I've written, a generation of me, hundreds of thousands of words, it amazes me how much of my life I've chronicled online, and when you look back, I'm not surprised so many of them deal with my encounters with home repair people. Because a routine of home ownership, of life ownership, is that rotted wood must be loudly crowbarred off, lawn weeds irregular around the margins must be repeatedly doused, electricity must be twisted to our will, plumbers must attend to the drip within our walls because the steadiness of moisture destroys, absolutely.
So we got a letter from the insurance company that handles our Home Owners policy. A Home Owners policy is insurance covering your house in case something goes wrong. Goes up in flames, rafters red grins; first floor floods, pet food bowls floating past your ankles; hail beats your roof down to its knees. Our annual policy is up for renewal. They're going to send out an inspector to check out our home. From the outside only. To see if we have any problems which might cause us to file a claim in the next year. The inspector's risk assessment of our home will determine what the company will charge us next year in premiums, or if they'll even be willing to renew our policy.
At the time we received the letter we had a lot else going on in our lives, so didn't really pay that much attention to it.
About a month later we got a follow-up letter from our insurance. They weren't going to renew our policy unless we fix two problems the inspector found:
Which is disappointing. Like walking into your kitchen in the morning and seeing a cockroach on the white wall is disappointing. What a way to start your day, with the violent slap of small murder.
I called our insurer. The woman I spoke to on the phone said the leaning trees were in our front yard (she was looking at a digital photograph the inspector had emailed to her office).
"We don't have any trees in our front yard."
"No? Well, are you sure? That's what he's claiming."
"We have ligustrum hedges on either side of our front door. Could that be what he's mistaking as trees?" They are beautiful, pale green and some jade, each June opening the bud between their leaves to tempt with white blossoms, attracting hundreds of fluttering butterflies tiny as quotation marks. But they are quite tall. Tops spreading across our first floor roof. They could be mistaken for trees.
We have a lawn service. They come out every two weeks, mow and edge our front lawn for twenty bucks. I called the owner, Carlos, to see if he might be interested in trimming our ligustrums down below the first floor roofline. He agreed to stop by and give us a quote.
Normally, Mary and I wear pajamas all day (because if you don't leave your home for weeks at a time, why the fuck would you wear anything else?) But because Carlos was going to ring the front doorbell 'sometime' that Wednesday, I had to put on normal clothes. Wear a belt. Slip into shoes. Ugh.
When he did ring, I went out front with him, showed him what I wanted. He looked up at the tallness of the ligustrums, how they lay their heavy green branches across the slant of our shingles, a pet's snouted profile against a lap, circling from one side of the hedges' beds to the other. "I do it for you forů four hundred and fifty dollars." Eyes swiveling to mine.
I look up at the ligustrums. Shifted my eyes left, while Carlos waited. Because of course, you never, ever, immediately agree to a price a vendor gives you. If you do, they're going to immediately think, I should have asked for more! I have no idea what a fair price would be to cut back these hedges, and Carlos probably doesn't either, but the real issue is: Are we willing to pay four hundred and fifty dollars to resolve this issue? So I can go inside and change back into pajamas? I broke the suspense. "Okay."
"Good! I come back Monday."
Concurrent with all this, Mary and I had to renew the inspection sticker on our Honda CRV. In Texas, and most other jurisdictions within the United States, each year you have to bring your car into an inspection station to make sure what you're driving meets emission standards, and is generally road-worthy (tires, steering system, brakes, etc.) Once you pass this inspection, and offer proof that you have liability insurance for your car (in case you get into an accident), you get a certificate you mail to the motor vehicle department along with a check for about seventy dollars, and they mail you back a square sticker you adhere to the lower left glass of your windshield, showing you're in compliance. If police see you're displaying a sticker that's out of date, you'll be pulled over for noncompliance. Which is a big deal.
So Mary and I drive our CRV to a local inspection station we've used for years, about a week before the deadline. Sit side by side in the small waiting room, painted cement block walls, TV bolted below the ceiling turned to a morning talk show, middle-aged men and women following a cheerful chef around as she cooks a meal that substitutes strips of zucchini for pasta for people who have decided they're gluten-intolerant.
The guy working on our car opens the glass side door, tells us we've passed. I go to the back counter of the waiting room to write a check, get a folder. The certification we passed inspection, put inside the folder, is something we'll need to send to Texas Motor Vehicles along with our check, to get our compliance sticker.
We drive home. The next day I have to go to the dentist to get two crowns fitted. I go upstairs to my study, with a Manhattan on the rocks, type up the cover letter to send with the certification and the check. Open the folder I was handed from the inspection station.
There's no certification inside.
I call the inspection station.
"Hang on." Comes back on the line. "Oh yeah, it's still here."
They forgot to put it in the folder.
Mary and I get dressed, drive back to the station. The guy, talking to another mechanic, hood of a car raised in front of their conversation, recognizes me as I get out of the car. Walks to the office, comes back with the certification. "There you go."
I had to make a second trip because of his carelessness. "No apology?"
He's confused. Tall, long black hair, sunken cheeks. "Sorry about that. I thought I put it in the folder."
I hold up the certification. "Obviously, you didn't."
We drive home, make dinner. Rinse our plates in the sink preparatory to putting them in the dishwasher, run the garbage disposal, and the stainless steel sink floods with backed-up water.
The next morning, we drive to the dentist. I get both crowns fitted, which takes a while. I admit I'm feeling really tired after the procedures. Drive home. I get down on the kitchen floor on my stomach, disassemble the trap under the kitchen sink, looking for any blockages that would cause the sink to back up.
So we have to call a plumber. I go on the Internet, lighting a cigarette, vetting local plumbers based on their reviews.
The one we choose comes out, overweight black guy, friendly.
He gets down on his hands and knees, looks in the cabinet under our kitchen sink. Pulls his head out. "How often do you use your garbage disposal in a week, Mr. Moore?"
I shrug. "Several times a day."
"You use your disposal every day? Really?"
Now I'm concerned he's going to think we're living 'high on the hog', flicking that switch all the time.
Turns out we need a new disposal. Leaves to buy one from the local Home Depot. Installs it, replaces all the PVC pipe under our sink. Does a really nice job. We run the water, the disposal, to make sure everything flows. Write him a check for about four hundred dollars. We'd use him again. Add him to our list of dependable vendors.
Monday rolls around.
I get dressed, belt, shoes, because Carlos is arriving with his crew to cut the ligustrum hedges down below the roof line. They're out there for hours with chain saws.
I go out when they first arrive to point out exactly what we want.
Hours pass, me wearing the belt and shoes.
Around five, they take off.
I go out through our front door to inspect.
Huge, huge pile of ligustrum branches in our side yard. Taller than me. But there are still a lot of branches that reach the roofline. So they're going to have to do more chainsawing when they come back, though I suspect they think they've finished cutting, just have to haul everything away.
The next morning, I get dressed again. My pajamas are starting to wonder why I'm ignoring them. Like a cat that isn't being petted, whiskers circling back, getting cranky. We all know the last thing in this world you want are cranky pajamas. It can lead to all sorts of embarrassments. Ear cocked while we listen to the local weather report, I hear the thrumming arrival of a heavy vehicle. Kiss Mary's lips, rise out of bed, walk rapidly through our downstairs rooms to the front door, swing it open, go outside.
Carlos has a pickup parked at our curb, long trailer attached. His crew carrying the cut branches over to the trailer, tossing them on the long bed.
"You need to cut more branches." I walk Carlos over to the hedges, point out all the branches still on the hedge that rise above the roof line. "All these have to come down."
"Okay, okay. You know, this is a lot of work for four hundred and fifty dollars. More than I thought!"
I give him a friendly smile. "Well, it's what we agreed on, right?"
I go back inside.
An hour later, I see they've cut down all the additional branches, loaded everything into the trailer to haul it off. I go out with a check for four hundred and fifty dollars, shake Carlos' hand.
We vet a carpenter on the Internet and arrange to have him come out to repair the dry rot in one eave that needs to be fixed in order for us to renew our Home Owners insurance policy. But we decide, as long as he's out here, we might as well have him do all the carpentry work the exterior of our home requires. The thing is, we've lived here for twenty-five years, we're conscientious about putting out food and water for the area's wildlife, and as a consequence over the years our exterior has been gnawed at by mice, squirrels, raccoons, demons, and who knows what else.
He's a skinny white guy with gray and white hair. We agree to pay him ninety-nine dollars an hour, a forty-five dollar "showing up fee"(which is becoming more and more common with repairpersons), plus a one hundred dollar "roof fee" for having to put his shoes on our roof to fix the flashing on our utility pole (the one hundred dollars covers his employer's liability insurance in case he tumbles).
He's out there two days, early morning to late afternoon, hauling off rotted wood, sawing, measuring, hammering, painting. At the end of the second day he knocks on our front door to tell me he's ready for me to inspect his work. And he did a great, professional job. The one repair I did want which he didn't do is to replace a small section of soffit high up on our second floor roofline, where a mouse or whatever the fuck had tried to chew through to our upper attic. The steepness of the roof's pitch at that height made him uncomfortable. I didn't want him to do anything he didn't feel safe doing, so I told him to not bother with that request. I'd hire someone else to do it later on. He presented a bill for twelve hundred dollars, which I immediately paid. I gave both him and the plumber five star reviews on social media, because they deserved it.
That was on a Friday.
Monday morning, Mary and I sipping coffee in bed, watching the local news, petting cats, I get a call from him. Which surprised me. Why is he calling? He sounds really nervous on the phone. I'm not going to recreate the whole conversation, but the point is he had been in southern Texas over the weekend helping his daughter move out of the home she shared with her husband, now that she and her husband were getting a divorce, and arriving back in Dallas Sunday night, getting ready to submit his worksheet for the prior week and the checks he had collected to his boss, he realized he had undercharged me by over eight hundred dollars. I didn't have his invoice in front of me, but I remember he had written on it, 'Paid in Full'. Still, he and I had shook hands on his hourly fees, and if in fact he had miscalculated his total fee ("Math isn't my strongest suit"), I felt a moral obligation to make up the difference. A handshake should trump bad arithmetic. So I wrote him out a check for the eight hundred and something difference.
Now that the hedges were trimmed from the roofline, and the soffit fixed, I was ready to photograph both repairs with my smart phone, and send the proof to my insurance company.
I open our front door, go out onto our green lawn, smart phone on. Tilt it up against my eye towards the repaired, repainted soffit. Snap. Go further out onto the front yard, standing near the sidewalk, turn around, snap the trimmed-down ligustrums.
Send both photos to my email account, so I can forward them to the home owners insurance company as proof we had the repairs done.
Except the photos never arrive at my email inbox.
Snoop around a little on my smart phone (which we rarely use), and discover that for whatever reason, the smart phone can no longer connect to the Internet.
Go out again into the front yard with our IPad. Snap, snap. Send the pictures to my email account. But days later, they still haven't arrived. Why? Who the fuck knows.
We have a digital camera. Go out a third time into the front yard, long story short, the camera doesn't record the pictures.
We had the needed work done, but were unable to document it on three separate devices.
I am not happy.
Go on Amazon. Buy a new digital camera. It arrives. Go out into our front yard. Turns out the camera doesn't come with a memory card. So it can only store one photograph at a time. I snap the repaired soffit. Go upstairs, download it to my computer. Delete the photograph from the camera's small onboard memory. Go back outside. Snap the trimmed-down ligustrums. Go back upstairs. Download it to my computer. Attach both photographs to an email to the insurance company.
As a result of Mary's stroke, she needs to take Coumadin every day to thin her blood (so it doesn't form clots, which lead to heart attacks and strokes) and also needs to be home-tested every week by me, a needle poked into her fingertip to extract a dark bead of blood, that bead then carefully laid on a test strip inserted into a meter to analyze her Coumadin level (It should be between 2.0 and 3.0).
Her supply of Coumadin pills was getting low, so I ordered more from the supermarket pharmacy we use for prescriptions.
We go in to pick it up, and as I'm walking away, I see the pharmacist has not given us Coumadin, but instead Warfarin, a generic substitute. Sometimes generic substitutes can work, but Mary's cardiologist warned her that in her case, she should only take Coumadin.
Go back to the counter. They don't have Coumadin. It'll take two days to get it.
Mary's Coumadin is more important than any other pill she's taking for her well-being.
Turns out they have two pills in stock. After some discussion, they agree to give us both of them. But Mary needs more Coumadin in just a couple of days.
After I insist the pharmacist himself come over to the front counter to discuss the seriousness of this situation with me, he promises he'll get a full supply by Friday, and will never again substitute Warfarin for Coumadin.
Friday morning I call the pharmacy and they assure me they have Mary's Coumadin ready. Not Warfarin--Coumadin. Which is essential--Mary took her last pill Thursday.
We drive down to the supermarket where the pharmacy is located.
There are yellow and black "Do Not Cross" police banners strung all across the entrance to the supermarket, like spider webs.
I recognize a bagboy in the parking lot, daisy chaining empty shopping carts. "What happened?"
"Some guy in a car hit a lady coming out of the supermarket and dragged her body across the parking lot, but he didn't realize he had hit her and was dragging her."
"Is she all right?"
"I don't know. They rushed her to the hospital."
We have two HVAC systems in our home--one for upstairs, one for downstairs. They're independent of each other. The thermostat for the upstairs rooms stops working--it no longer responds to us programming it to lower the rooms' temperature. Shit.
Our home insurance company calls. The inspector approved our hedge-trimming and soffit repair. So, good news.
I call a HVAC repair company to come out and replace our upstairs thermostat, so we can have air-conditioning upstairs again. Meanwhile, we have every electric fan in the house upstairs to try and cool the rooms. (Mary and I work upstairs in the late afternoons, early evenings, on our different projects.)
Monday, the HVAC guy shows up. Friendly, heavy-set Latino. I take him upstairs, explain the problem. Twenty minutes later he comes back down the stairs, problem fixed. And it only costs us two hundred and fifty dollars.
That night, as Mary and I lie side by side in our bed, ready to drift off, I felt happier than I had in a while. We had taken care of the home owners policy issue, the inspection sticker for our car, my crowns, the garbage disposal, the front hedges, the carpentry issues, getting Coumadin for Mary, finding a way to finally photograph the repairs we had made for our insurance company, the upstairs air conditioning. I normally sleep until four a.m., but this morning I slept until five a.m. I woke up feeling absolutely refreshed. We had faced all these problems, and overcame them.
The following Monday morning, drinking our coffee in bed, getting ready to go out into the kitchen in our pajamas to make bacon and eggs, buttered rye toast, we heard a loud thumping noise from our downstairs attic.
The downstairs air conditioning stopped working.
We're headed towards the hottest time of the year in Texas.
I immediately called the HVAC company.
Unfortunately, a heavy rainstorm had created so many air-conditioning problems across the metroplex they couldn't get a repairman out to us until Friday. That meant four full days (and nights) where we would have no air-conditioning whatsoever downstairs, where we sleep, spend most of our day, cook, eat.
The four days were unbearable.
After a day or so of that indoors heat, you feel light-headed all the time. Your thoughts move as slow as snails, lifting their feet halfway out of glue, pulled back down again.
By Friday, we were wiped out. Telephone ringing. He's on his way. Doorbell ringing. He's here.
I lead him to the ladder in the master bedroom closet set below the trap door leading to the first floor attic.
After twenty minutes he appears back in the kitchen, face sweaty.
"I have good news, and bad news."
So, there go our hopes, right?
"The part you need is covered under your warranty. But it's not in stock anywhere in Dallas. I have to special order it."
"When will you have it?"
Which means we have to continue living in this hell the rest of Friday, all of Saturday, all of Sunday, all of Monday, and part of Tuesday. After already living in it the past week.
I authorize him to order the part. Thank him for his help.
Mary and I have an uncomfortable next few days. We try sleeping upstairs, since the second floor system is still working, but there are no longer any beds up there, so we try sleeping on a bed spread laid on the carpet in my library, but that's really uncomfortable, and since the downstairs is hot, and heat rises, it is a little cooler upstairs, but not enough to make up for our lack of a bed.
So we wind up downstairs, take a cold shower together, facing each other in the tiled cubicle, holding onto each other's bare shoulders, lowering our foreheads, grinning as our hair gets wet, then lay down on our hot bed, sheets and blankets stripped off. Wake up every hour, sip warm water from our bedside glasses, try to fall back under as quickly as possible. Doing this through the hottest days recorded this year in Dallas.
The HVAC guy said he'd be out between eleven in the morning and four in the afternoon.
He calls around noon.
On his way.
On our doorstep, large tool bag strapped over his left shoulder, big cardboard box in his right hand containing the replacement part.
Climbs up the stepladder through the ceiling of our master closet, up into the downstairs attic.
We wait in our breakfast nook, drinking ice water, sweating. And wait. Occasionally, the sound of him shuffling around up there. After a while I'm thinking, It's taking too long. It's the wrong replacement part. Or it's defective. Twenty hot minutes later: It might be the right part, but it turns out he needs another part to fix our problem. Sometime after that, he reappears in the breakfast nook, avoids our eyes, goes to the front of our home to check our first floor thermostat.
Again without a word, passing us, reentering our bedroom, climbing back up into the attic.
Mary's wet face looks anxious. I give her the thumbs up.
Above our heads, above the ceiling, starts up a quiet thrum.
Mary rises from her chair, walks into the kitchen, to our stainless steel side-by-side. Raises both palms towards the HVAC grate in the white ceiling. Blonde hair lifting around her lovely face. She turns towards me, grinning.
We have air. We have coolness.
There's a forum I'm a member of that unites our local neighborhoods online. I really like it. Neighbors use it to ask for recommendations for repair people, shout-outs for nearby restaurants they like, etc. I sign into that site late afternoon and find out the woman at our local supermarket who was hit by a car, dragged across the parking lot, died. Her injuries were too severe, destroying, absolutely.
The day after our downstairs air-conditioning is fixed, Mary and I get dressed, drive into town to buy groceries. I pick up several cartons of cigarettes at Walgreens, then we park at Sprouts, go inside, buy a huge supply of fresh produce, filet mignon, chuck roast we'll grind up for cheeseburgers, meatballs, meatloaf, chili, who knows what else. Our local supermarket is next, where a week before the woman was dragged to her death. Shopping cart full of dairy products, condiments, baked goods, more meats.
Drive home, unload all those dozens of plastic bags from our CRV's trunk, back seat, front passenger seat, carrying them from the heat of our closed garage into the cool kitchen, spreading them across all the black counters, the stove's cold burners, the wide black table in our breakfast nook. Put everything away.
Stumble into our bedroom, strip, put on our pajamas. Fix ice water for each of us. Get in bed, lying on our backs, absolutely exhausted. But we're done! All problems fixed! We can stay inside, do whatever we want, whenever we want, for the next thirty days! Turn on a recording of the latest episode of the Bravo reality show, Below Deck.
Beauty, one of our cats, jumps up on the bed.
I weakly pet the top of her head. "How's our girl? How's our good girl doing?"
She meows at me with her green eyes. Bobs her head. Bobs her head. Throws up all over the bedsheet by my stomach.