Getting work done on the house is nuts. Not only do you need to like the people you hire, philosophically, you also need to like them physically, as they are in your house everyday.
And shit is expensive. But not everything costs money. Sometimes you get roped into doing more. Sometimes deals just come your way.
Several years ago one of our neighbors was having some concrete work done and he figured if he got other people to hire them as well, he’d get a deal. We let the guys pour us a new set of front steps, and they offered us a steep discount if we did something else.
OK, we said, why don’t you take away our concrete deck, which was already in pieces, and tended to collect stagnant water. So the Samoan concrete guys broke the deck into more manageable-for-them sized pieces, drank two cases of Hawaiian Punch, and drove the deck away. We were left with a large dirt mound (and 24 empty cans), which was all fine until it started to rain, and the backyard turned into what the dogs called the “great epic most fun thing.”
We called up a contractor whom we met originally when we bought the house. Before the housing bubble burst he had run his own construction company. Now he taught Kundalini yoga. His prices had come down by a lot. He was also into tea. We served him and his worker (who only drank iced tea) all sorts of Chinese teas as they built our deck, using a discontinued Trex color that was 50% off at the builder’s supply. During one afternoon tea our contractor mentioned something about needing to see the dentist. His truck needed work too, as it was leaking oil all over our driveway, so we asked him to put up yoga ropes in the garage which we made sure he hung from first to test the engineering.
More recently, we decided we needed a new kitchen counter. The grout in the kitchen was chipping and gross, and I had gotten tired of photoshopping out the brown bits from my Instagram pictures. But a new kitchen counter leads to craziness. Do you also get new cabinets and sink and faucets and drawer pulls and shelf liners and lighting fixtures and flooring?
We decided to list out the real mod cons.
1. Let’s plumb the espresso machine so we don’t have to constantly dump the bucket we currently use in place of a real drain.
That’s it. End of list. Everything else is, as they say, Russian chicken feed.
We scored LED lights from a guy we know from the Velodrome who sells them wholesale. Then he turned out to be a Trumpian. He, the Trumpian, thinks he’s getting an invite to “see the lights,” but I stick to my “you gotta like them philosophically and physically” mantra.
That seemed easy enough, but then we had to go through the process of hiring a cabinet maker who flaked for 6 months and then took another 2 months to officially flake. Meanwhile we entered our fireplace design era, and it turned out that the guys who set our tiles do a lot of general construction work, especially kitchens and bathrooms. Yay!
Then came the hard part. Turning off the espresso machine felt like unplugging from life support. We embraced the nail gun. We washed dishes in the bathroom sink. We MOVED THE CAT FOOD BOWL. We ate one tray of cold baked ziti a week.
We returned the crappy Heath tile samples under cover of night via bicycle rather than face that saleswoman again.
We got to bring out some old friends and wire them up.
Incidentally, the contractors LOVED our deck. It became their giant work space.
This is what we’ve been living with all these years.
Our counter guy is a Russian Jew from Belarus who has great recommendations on where to get real Tel Aviv falafels, where the people can be “slightly rude.” He’s a Stalinist at heart and a big Viktor Tsoi fan. He thinks an espresso offers clarity. He only takes his espresso when the job is about to be glued in.
It’s all concentration when he’s working and in true stone mason fashion makes sure to measure twice. He told us his definition of “professional” meant that you could do what you do without really paying attention and it still comes out fabulous. He said he didn’t really become a professional until a few years ago. In the end he used some tight connections to score us a small piece of Calacatta marble that is so silky and luscious it feels like even I could carve Persephone’s soft butt out of it.
But maybe I’ll just make pastries on it, and get a soft butt that way.
The final plumbing.
Sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail.