Rosetta Stone: Local Service Contractors’ Edition

This may seem strange if you are not currently attempting to repair or rebuild in lower New York—but a plumber, electrician, roofer, sewer specialist, or dumpster delivery person who says, “I will swing by later today” will not.  Will not.  Do not interpret this quote literally or even figuratively; it actually means, “There is no way in hell I will even consider giving you the slightest thought for the next 72 hours.”

The simple promise, “I’ll shoot you an estimate in the next coupla days” can be translated thusly: “Leave me eleven more voicemails explicitly requesting an estimate and I will have my secretary call you back in three weeks and ask you why you called.”

If someone assures you, “I’ll be there in the morning,” I recommend that you respond, “So what you’re saying is, I should bundle up and bring breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the curb of my deconstructed house and expectantly, then desperately scan the side of every truck that rounds the corner until dark?”

Our electrician of the last 8 years has vanished from our lives.  Soon after the storm, we managed to book a supposed appointment—a feat that earned us bragging rights for a week amongst the neighbors.  We confirmed the day before—positively thrilling!   When they didn’t show, we actually thought it strange.  We didn’t yet understand that for our electric company, the Old Normal was as severely compromised as the wires they would formerly come and fix if you needed them to.  So, Steve naïvely called and left a message.  Nothing.  Still surprised and (slightly) annoyed, he called again the next day to reschedule.  Nothing.  Again.  No answer, no callback, no excuse, no apology; nada.  This after eight years with a small company that has been in business since 1925!

It is now considered normal for local service companies to disappear with someone’s $1700 and go into hiding for up to fourteen days.  Sometimes they do call!  Plumbers are “stuck in sewers.”  National Grid responds after you leave 23 messages (no, really—23).  Dumpster guys have “girl trouble.”  The heating/air conditioning guy might not call for seven days and then contact you via text message—at four a.m.  But our contractor, Seth, who does not even live in New York, comes during waking hours on the scheduled day at the given time with the right materials, and lays out a plan and follows it.

Friends in Oceanside have had a contractor “working” on one bathroom since January.  At the rate Seth is going, he will have our whole house finished in the same period of time.  That is, if the other people he must reluctantly depend on can get it together for the one or two days they are needed.

We have this Superman building our house and our house alone–the man of steel (and lumber and foam).  He plans to construct the lower level from some magical water, wind, and bacteria-resistant polysterene (foam!).  He can lift houses at a single bound.  He offers us labor and materials at otherworldly rates from this place he calls New Hampshire.  He stores our new tile, floor, fixtures, furniture, and appliances back in the land from whence he came, in a cavernous workshop that never ends.  And at the end of every week, before flying back home to “New Hampshire” in his “plane,” he takes us out for a lobster dinner.

Angel?  Alien?  Or—just a New Englander who once exclaimed, “Oh, boy!” in a Lionel trains commercial, has 4 inventions under his belt, opened two bagel shops, ran a hotel, cooked for the Queen of England, landscaped for L.L. Bean, started a large construction company and designed and built hotels and commercial properties, and now travels up and down the East Coast erecting indestructible shore houses.

Huh.  A likely story.

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2 responses to “Rosetta Stone: Local Service Contractors’ Edition

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