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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2004 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
Return to lately 2004
december 1, 2004
Saturday, November 6, mid-afternoon, I opened a back window in our living room, ungracefully climbed through it to the cool outside air of our garden, turned around to accept, through the opened window, a large, flat, square box of hot pizza, then stood back as Mary herself, much more agilely than me, climbed out through the same window. We walked single file along one of the grass paths in our garden, me in front holding the pizza box, until we came to one of our bedroom windows. I passed the pizza box back to Mary, slid up that window, climbed through into the silent dimness of our bedroom, took the pizza box back from Mary, waited as her right leg came through, sneakered foot touching down on our carpet.
In previous Latelys this year, I mentioned Mary and I decided to redo our kitchen.
We got rid of the white countertops, put in sleek, gleaming black counters. Replaced our white side-by-side with a tall, wide, beautiful stainless steel side-by-side that looks like something you would float towards, hungry, upside-down, on a space station.
The next phase in our project was to replace the kitchen floor.
We have white vinyl floors. Over the past thirteen years, the vinyl has gotten some dents and nicks. A colorful blue can of Progresso soup that proved to be heavier than we thought, lifting it out of its white plastic shopping bag, its cylindrical weight toppling off our fingertips; a large chef's knife, gray steel side covered with shreds of green bell pepper, onion, golden garlic mincings, the reflection of our alarmed eyes, somehow sliding out of our outstretched palm. And anyway, we were tired of looking at white vinyl.
We decided to replace the white vinyl with wood floors, the same tone as our wood cabinets.
We had our countertops installed through Home Depot, hadn't had a problem, so they seemed a natural choice.
Mary and I walked around the walls of our kitchen, breakfast nook and utility room with one of those retractable metal measuring tapes, a pad and pencil, drawing a rough sketch of the space to be refloored, measuring each wall length (as it turned out, we were remarkably accurate. The actual measure came out to two hundred and eighty square feet. We had estimated two hundred and ninety square feet).
We took our sketch to the local Home Depot, flipped through the different wood floor samples on display, chose one, hunted down the guy in charge of installing wood floors.
He sat us down at his desk, in mis-matched chairs, started calculating. In addition to the actual square footage to be covered, he also needed to know what was on the other side of the floor at each transition point into another space (for example, beyond the southwest side of the kitchen floor was the carpet of the living room; beyond the edge of the floor in the utility room was a drop-down to the concrete floor of the garage).
After he calculated all that, computing add-ons for paste, quarter-rounds (the thin strip of rounded wood that goes against the base molding on each side), and a lot of other things we had never heard of, he arrived at a figure of three thousand, three hundred dollars.
We had no idea what the cost would be, but looking at each other, we realized, okay, it's worth thirty-three hundred dollars to get a wood floor in the kitchen.
"How level is your current floor?"
I hadn't expected the question. I felt a need to defend our kitchen, as if it reflected on us, as if I had been asked how often we bathed ("You've been living for thirteen years in an unlevel kitchen? What kind of people are you?"). The qualifying phrase my mind came up with was, "It appears to be pretty level." I thought about it. "If I put a marble on the floor, it wouldn't roll away."
He smiled the smile of a home improvement expert talking to a home improvement amateur. "The thing about a wood floor is, since we're going to be gluing it down, the subfloor has to be absolutely level. If we find it isn't, we can use leveler, but that costs fifty dollars a bag."
"How many bags would you need for our space?"
He shrugged. "It depends on how unlevel the floor is."
"What's the most it could cost?"
"Four hundred. Maybe five hundred."
Another spousal sideways glance. "All right."
They would deliver the boxes of wood planking one day, then wait two days for the wood to "acclimate". The wood would have to be inside our living quarters during this mysterious acclimation process. It couldn't be in the garage, since the temperature in the garage, unheated, uncooled, is different from the temperature where it'll be installed.
"Now, what do you have on the floor currently?"
"Home Depot doesn't remove vinyl. You'd have to do that yourselves."
"Why don't you remove vinyl?"
"The asbestos risk."
"Our floor's only thirteen years old."
He showed how powerless he was by rotating upwards his right palm. "Our venders won't do it, sir. It's not too difficult to remove, though. You can score the floor with razor blades, pour hot water over the vinyl, then pull it up. You can do it in one day."
Somehow, I just didn't see us doing that. What if we ran into a problem? We're amateurs. And meanwhile, we've got three thousand dollars worth of wood "acclimating" impatiently.
"Home Depot sells vinyl floors, right?"
"Yes sir, we do. That's an option for people who don't want to go to wood."
"And arranges to have them installed?"
"Aren't your vendors concerned about the asbestos risk then?"
It was obvious he hadn't expected the question. He didn't really have an answer.
We thanked him for giving us a quote, but walking through the immense parking lot back to our car, we decided to go somewhere else (I've spoken to other installers about the asbestos/vinyl floor issue, and they've all said it isn't a problem. When I bring up Home Depot's position, each one has made a face. "They just don't want to do it.")
I called CC Carpet. "We want to put wood flooring down in our kitchen. There's vinyl flooring down there now. Does CC Carpet remove vinyl flooring?"
"Yes, sir. No problem."
We arranged to have someone come out to do a measurement and give us a bid.
A tall young guy arrived the next morning, carrying panels of different wood floor samples, which he leaned against the front of the white settee in our living room.
He pulled out a flexible metal tape measure, began bending the yellow length of the measure around our floors. That took about ten minutes. When he finished tapping numbers into his little hand held calculator, he raised his head, told us he could do the whole floor for two thousand five hundred dollars.
(The wood we were going to buy from Home Depot was half an inch thick, whereas CC Carpet's floor was one-quarter inch thick, which probably explains the reduced price.)
"And that figure includes pulling up the vinyl floor?"
"Yes sir, it does."
Sounded good. "How soon could you install it?"
"Doesn't the wood have to sit in our home a couple of days, to acclimate?"
He looked surprised. "No. We can install it right away."
"Do they glue it down, or…"
"They nail it."
We signed up, agreeing to have our credit card be charged the twenty-five hundred dollar amount.
After he left, we faced each other, smiling. We were finally going to get our wood floor!
A few hours later, the salesman called back. "I have good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?"
I hate that gambit. Always have. Does anyone choose to hear the good news first?
"Well, the bad news is I forgot to add in the cost of pulling up your existing vinyl floor. The good news is, we can install the floor tomorrow."
"When you gave us your quote, I specifically asked you if it included pulling up the vinyl floor."
"I really apologize, sir."
"So what's the cost of pulling up the vinyl?"
"One hundred and ten dollars."
Well, it was a lot less than I thought it would be. So I agreed to the extra cost.
The next morning, we tricked all the cats into one of the upstairs bedrooms, shut the door behind them.
The installers were due to arrive between eight and nine.
At nine-thirty, I called CC Carpet.
The woman who answered told me she'd have the salesman phone me back.
As it turns out, he had called my business number late the evening before, to let us know the floor would not be installed today as promised. The installers hadn't finished their previous job, so there'd be a day's delay.
I canceled the contract.
For one thing, I didn't like it he told us the cost of ripping up the vinyl had been figured into the cost he quoted us, then called back to say that, in fact, it hadn't been. Not a lot of extra money, but still. Plus it bothered me they weren't going to install the floor on the day he had told us (the "good news"). Also, the more I thought about it, it seemed odd to me they would be nailing the wood slats into the subfloor, which was sure to cause permanent damage to the subfloor, rather than either floating the wood floor or, preferably, gluing it.
So Mary and I were pretty depressed for a while.
We weren't trying to do something extraordinary, after all. Just have a wood floor put in our kitchen.
We didn't pursue it any further for a week or two, getting other things done. One afternoon after one of Mary's doctor appointments in Dallas, on the long way home, we stopped by Carpet Mills of America.
A middle-aged Arabic man showed us the wide-planked options the company sold (we wanted the wood planking to be at least five inches wide, because we thought that would look best). As it turns out, on all three occasions- Home Depot, CC Carpets, Carpet Mills-- we chose the exact same flooring, the "butterscotch" finish put out by Armstrong Floors.
The salesman came out to our home a few hours later to do the official measuring. Three thousand, four hundred dollars (their planking was half an inch thick, like Home Depot's).
We signed to have half the amount charged now to our card, the other half after our flooring was installed.
"When will they install it?"
"Here's the number for the man who supervises the installation." He wrote it on our receipt. "If he doesn't call you by next Tuesday [this was Thursday] call him."
"If he doesn't call you…" Not very reassuring.
Monday came and went.
Tuesday morning, I called the number, asked to speak to the supervisor.
"Mr. Moore, we can deliver your flooring this Thursday, and install it Saturday."
All right. "What time will they deliver the flooring?" (Important, because we have to round up all the cats, lock them safely away).
"Between nine and eleven."
Our front doorbell rang at nine-thirty, long before I had time to worry they weren't going to come.
We had cleared an area of our living room for the shipment (our living room also held all the furniture from our kitchen and breakfast nook, table, chairs, bookcases, plus the contents of the floors of the two kitchen pantries that would also be covered, so it was pretty crowded. My weight machine, and our exercise bicycle, were lost in the clutter of furniture).
The foreman for the job carried in the eleven boxes of wood planks, which were long enough, shallow enough, to look like coffins for anorexics. I offered to help.
After he had all eleven boxes inside, in two stacks, he took a look at our breakfast nook floor, holding a long strip of quarter round. He placed the quarter round on the vinyl, sliding its straightness around. "Needs leveling."
I got down on my haunches beside him, looking at how the straightness didn't touch the vinyl in all places. He glanced sympathetically at me. "More money."
"Probably four bags. Maybe four bags, fifty dollars a bag."
"Two hundred dollars?"
He explained the leveler mix, once it was put down, would need to completely dry and harden. That could take one to two days, which meant the actual planks couldn't be laid down until Sunday, maybe Monday.
A thought occurred to me. "I assume we can't walk across the leveler while it's drying?"
Okay, so first I'm disappointed our wooden floor isn't going to be installed on Saturday after all, and maybe not until Monday, then it dawns on me Mary and I won't be able to enter the kitchen or the breakfast nook for at least one full, twenty-four day.
The problem is, our downstairs bedroom is off our kitchen.
Before the leveler was poured across the subfloor of the kitchen and breakfast nook, we'd have to make a decision as to which side of the house we were going to spend the following twenty-four hours.
It didn't make sense to choose the bedroom side, because there's no door there to get in and out of our home. So we'd have to sleep upstairs. Any food we were going to eat during that twenty-four hour period we'd also need to keep upstairs, on ice in coolers. And no TV, since our only television is in the master bedroom.
Friday night, we were lying in bed, after having moved our coffee maker, microwave, and a lot of other stuff upstairs in anticipation of tomorrow. The TV was on, but I was staring at one of our bedroom bay windows, wondering why I was.
I sat up. "Okay, here's an idea."
Mary looked over at me.
"What if we unlocked a window in our bedroom, and unlocked a window in our living room? While they're putting down the leveler, we'll stay upstairs, drink our coffee, heat up lunch in the microwave. After they leave, we'll come downstairs, crawl out the living room window, walk across our back yard, crawl in the bedroom window, then we can watch TV. When we're ready to work on projects [late afternoon], we'll do the reverse. We can order a pizza for dinner, waiting on the living room side for it to be delivered, then crawl in and out of windows to get back to our bedroom, so we can eat it in bed."
Early Sunday morning, we crawled out the bedroom window, in through the living room window, to wait for them to arrive to install the floor. Once they were in the house, we went upstairs to ditz around for however many hours it took.
I got on the Internet, located some transcripts for Six Feet Under, my favorite TV show of all time, started to read them.
After an hour of hearing them downstairs cutting wood, talking to themselves, the foreman called up from the living room. "Sir?"
I looked over the waist high wall of my study, down at his uplifted face.
He blinked up at me. "Problem."
I went down the stairs, right hand sliding along the top of the rail, telling myself it had to be something incredibly minor, like one of the crew had to run out to Home Depot to get more adhesive, so the job would take twenty minutes longer.
Some of the wood planks had been put down, about four rows, in front of the windows in the breakfast nook looking out over our garden. They looked beautiful.
He got down on his knees, pointing at the laid planks. "The wood? No good."
I got down next to him, looking at where he was pointing. Because of the language barrier, it took me a minute to understand what he was saying. Some of the planks abutted tightly against each other, no space between. One or two of the planks had a slight gap between the joinings, about the thickness of a cardboard sheet's edge.
"That little gap? Seriously?"
"No good." He chopped his hand across the air representing the unplanked section of the floor, and I came to understand he was saying that thin misalignment would grow and grow if they laid the rest of the wood.
It never, ever occurred to me the wood wouldn't be good.
He said they had to stop, photograph the minuscule gap in the wood in order to get a refund from Armstrong, then wait until they received a new shipment.
He didn't know when the new order would arrive (since it was Sunday, and the office was closed, they'd have to wait until tomorrow to find out the availability of the wood we had selected.)
"How often does this happen?"
"Ten percent of the time?""Yes."
"Fifty percent of the time?"
I was astonished. "Fifty percent of the time?"
"No, no. The other."
I explained it to Mary while they pulled, from off the adhesive, the beautiful wood they had already laid.
We went back upstairs, glumly sat around, waiting for one of their guys to return with a camera.
I clicked on Google news. The first thing I read, in the Entertainment section, was, Six Feet Under Canceled.
After they left, Mary and I went downstairs.
Our refrigerator was out in the crowded living room. Our washer and dryer, unhooked, were in the garage. Our kitchen floor was covered in a dark gray cement-like substance, except that by the breakfast nook window, the concrete was covered in ridged swirls of root beer colored adhesive.
I called Carpet Mills that Monday, talked to the supervisor. He had faxed the order for the replacement wood to Austin. As soon as he heard back from them, he'd call me.
I called that Thursday. The supervisor wasn't there, so I spoke to his assistant. She told me the wood was on back order.
Back order. Two of the most frightening words. (Have you ever noticed how some of the worse phrases in English consist of two words? Fuck you. Who sez? You wish. Big deal. Drop dead. Bite me. No way. Get lost. Dream on.)
We had already paid half the cost, sixteen hundred dollars, with a credit card. The contract we had to sign to get the floor installed had a thirty-five percent "restocking fee", meaning if we decided not to go ahead with the installation, we'd be out over one thousand dollars. Plus, the contract stated in big bold letters that after fifteen days from the date the contract was signed, there were no refunds. (Why sign such a thing? Because all the floor installers we contacted had the same provisions, and the on-line Dallas office of the Better Business Bureau had reported that all disputes with Carpet Mills had been satisfactorily resolved.)
"Back order until when?"
"When I spoke to them, they told me two weeks, but they said call back today, to see if they've found a supply closer by. I can call you this afternoon after I speak with them."
I gave her my home phone, work phone.
Of course, I didn't hear back from her. They never call back. Once they get off the phone, someone says, Hey! Wanna get a Diet Coke? And all thoughts drain out of their mind.
So I called her the next morning. They had found a supply, which would be arriving either later today (Friday) or Saturday. They would probably deliver it Monday, and we'd have it installed Wednesday.
We went through our second weekend floorless.
Tuesday, I called back, wondering where our wood was. The installer said it was being delivered the next day, Wednesday, with installation Friday.
The next day, Wednesday, the installer actually showed up. With our wood. I was shocked.
"So you'll be out Friday to install it?"
He gave me a mournful look. "Can't. I come Saturday?"
"That's this Saturday, November 20, right?"
He shrugged, smiled. "Eight-thirty?"
That Saturday, nine-thirty, I called the supervisor. He remembered my voice. "I spoke to him this morning, sir. He's on his way."
He showed up at ten-thirty. Throughout this whole, aggravating process, that had now stretched out to three weeks, I never once raised my voice, swore, or lost my temper with any of them, because it wouldn't help the situation, and in fact would almost certainly have made it worse. My goal wasn't to right all the wrongs in this world. My goal was to get our fucking floor put in. So I didn't ask why he was two hours late, just told him we'd be upstairs if he needed anything.
The first two hours they were down there, hammering away, using the electric saw, were tense for me, because I expected at any moment to hear "Sir?" come floating up over the second floor landing, with news that this batch, too, was mysteriously "bad".
But it didn't happen.
Mary and I went downstairs at one point to see what was going on. They had started on the kitchen side of the space this time, and had about half that floor laid down (with thin strips of bright blue tape stretching from plank to plank - I wonder what that was all about?). Our refrigerator was back in place, facing the door of one of the pantries. Old friends reunited.
In all, it took them seven hours to get the floor finished. I heard from below, "Sir? Done."
Mary and I went downstairs to inspect their work.
The floor looked beautiful. Even better than we dared hope. I had a mental list of things I wanted to check, that they had gotten the corners right, had put the flooring in both pantries, had laid trim completely throughout, etc. It was all perfect.
I put my hand on the installer's shoulder, shook his hand. "Thank you."
Would we use Carpet Mills again?
It had really depressed us the first order couldn't be installed, that the planks were misaligned, but even at the time of hearing the news, I realized that wasn't Carpet Mills' fault- it was their supplier's fault, and no matter who we went through, we still would be dealing with the same supplier. Plus, I appreciated it the installer had been honest. The imperfections he had seen in the alignments were something I never would have noticed myself. He could have just slapped the mis-matched pieces down. Instead, he did the honest thing (and in the process lost a day's work).
The only complaint I have against Carpet Mills is the by now universal complaint against almost any company, poor customer service. They don't return your phone calls, don't call when they say they will. But, sadly, that fault, in and of itself, these days, is no longer a reason not to do business with a company, since there are so few companies that still do have good customer service.
And the floor really does look beautiful. I keep forgetting it's there. Walking out from the bedroom, stepping down from upstairs, I see again the warm, natural glow of it, and smile.
This month, December 14, Mary has to appear before a judge in Dallas for a hearing to determine if she's eligible for Social Security disability. Mary had a severe stroke two and a half years ago. She almost died. Although she's made remarkable progress since then (she was completely paralyzed on one side and unable to even say her own name the first days following her stroke), she has not recovered to the point where she would be able to hold a job. She can't say full sentences, and continues to have difficulty understanding what other people say. She can't write, can sometimes read words, but can't understand the sense of them in a sentence (she has aphasia).
We've had to wait over a year for this hearing (that's how backed-up the Social Security court system is).
Getting on Social Security disability would be a big help to us financially. It would also allow Mary to qualify for Medicare, which would reduce our on-going medical costs.
I'll report on what happened at the hearing in the next Lately.
Wish us luck.