Friday, June 21, 2013


From the moment he sat on what Consumers Reports rates as the best toilet on the planet, Alan hated it.  It was too high, there was no room for him to sit (even though he doesn't have much of a backside), and the curved connection between the bowl and the tank felt like sitting in an electric chair.

To top it all off, the damn toilet rocked.  If he'd wanted a rocking chair, he said, he would have purchased one.

When Alan is not a happy camper, he pouts, throws hissy fits, and, in this situation, accuses me of not consulting him about the damn toilet, and causing the whole mess by deciding to renovate the bathroom in the first place. All of his frustration gets dumped on me -- you should pardon the expression -- and the normal stress of of upgrading a home is increased ten fold.

If you were so concerned about the toilet, I said, why didn't you come with me when I chose it?

I liked the old toilet.  There was no reason to get rid of it.

It made loud noises.  It gurgled.  And no cleansing detergent on the market could clean it completely.

That didn't matter.  Alan hated the new toilet and would not be satisfied until another one took its place.

The extra height -- what most toilet manufacturers sell as the antidote to Baby Boomers and older folks whose knees are getting a bit creaky -- seemed silly.

My knees are in great shape, he said.  Besides, talk to the experts and they'll tell you that the best way to eliminate is to be close to the floor, not a million miles above it.

There was no getting around it: Either the toilet or Alan had to go.  At that point, I was hoping for the latter.

After a week of hysteria, Alan marched off to Home Depot with my blessings.  Get whatever toilet you want.  I don't care.

Hours and multiple phone calls later, he came home with a new toilet seat.  Maybe this will make it better, he said.

A good try, but no bananas.  

Nope, he still hated the thing and wanted it gone.

I paid good money for that toilet, and I wasn't adverse to returning it, buying something less expensive, and using the credit to help defray some of the unexpected additional costs of redoing two bathrooms.

But the toilet sat.  And it sat.  Alan even sat on it as well. 

Finally, he announced with great flair that he was off to buy a new toilet, no matter what.  He roamed between Home Depot, Manards, and Lows.  He spent hours.  He was exhausted and confused.  He must have called me a half dozen times.  I can't sit on most of them, he complained.  Or I've had to climb to top display shelves about a mile high.  I'm sure I'm going to get kicked out any minute now.

At long last, Alan came home with a new toilet.  It was white with a round bowl and, according to him, about as comfortable as any toilet could be.  We'd have to pay an extra $50 to have the old/new toilet removed, and the new toilet installed.  At that point, I didn't care.  Anything to get this toilet business behind us.

Funny thing.  The toilet he brought home is exactly the toilet we have in our downstairs powder room.  As far as I can tell, the one I ordered was a heck of a lot more comfortable and would have lasted years.  But, no, we now have this little guy that will probably split in half the minute Alan gets angry at something and bangs the seat closed. 

Let's hope he doesn't develop any knees problems or difficulty sitting and standing because this standard size toilet isn't made for aging Baby Boomers subject to all kinds of eventual body breakdowns. 

I wish us both luck!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another

     The renovation blues continue.  Sorry to be a bummer and bring anyone who might be reading this (Anyone out there?) real down.  I'm trying to rally.  I really am.  But it's hard when the bad karma or whatever it is continues at a reckless pace.

     I love our new shower door.  It's one of those doors without the old-fashioned metal surrounding it and keeping it in place.  I walked into the bathroom and waved at the man who had been part of a duo who had worked hard to put it in place.  The door was solid as any spa door (we do have a Mr. Steam that was part of the house when we bought it), and I could see myself sitting on the shower bench, steaming away after a particularly strenuous dance class or a freezing winter day.  The sweat would pour out of every pore in my body.  I'd be so hot that I'd have to stand instead of sit to get away from the steam-spraying jet close to the shower floor.  I'd stretch and breathe and steam away sore muscles, congestion, and all negative thoughts.

     Then a tile cracked.  The weight of the marvelously heavy door had been too much for the porcelain tile "expertly" installed above the top hinge.  And just like that, the door had to be taken apart and removed.  Easy come, easy go.

     To say I was devastated would be a bit too dramatic.  But I was feeling like a Drama Queen and wanted to imitate out first contractor who was a master at throwing hissy fits.  But I took it on the chin (which, by the way, has an unsightly pimple  - - - at my age.)  Thankfully, my husband had pulled another one of his disappearing acts and wasn't there to see the damage.  So, the beautiful shower door now sits against a wall in the guest bedroom until the cracked tile can be replaced and, this time, cemented in for safe keeping.

     Oh, but the trouble didn't end there.  No, we had an even bigger disaster.  Yesterday morning, when the crew had not yet shown up and the shower had been cleared of most of the grime from the day before, I ran my hands over the 8" X 20" tiles, most of which were already grouted.  Some of the lines were straight, and the tiles were flush against one another.  But then I felt one ridge, then another.  What to do now?  We'd looked forward to the work coming to a thankful end with the painter coming in and the job done.

     There was no way I could accept the work.  And the tiler was supposed to be an expert, the apple of the contractor's eye and also her husband.  We'd talked to him days before about the importance of having a seamless wall with no visible indentations.  He'd even removed two tiles to set them correctly.  I don't know what happened.  I have no idea why he continued on his merry way.  He should have spoken up and said there was a problem, that the shower was out of square and that the frame needed to be rebuilt.

     So, on the day when I'd hoped to see the bulk of the job competed, half of the largest shower wall was torn down to begin anew.  No more Ms. Nice Client.  The extra cost would be absorbed by the contractor.  And she'd have to pay for the new tile.  And we wanted a new tiler, someone who could do the job the way it should have been done in the first place.

     Problem was, there was not a piece of the special-ordered tile anywhere in the city of Chicago.  Not at any of the multiple dealers we called.  Not at American Olean Midwest.  We'd have to wait at least a week, if we were lucky.

     The new tiler saved as many pieces as he could.  We found two pieces of tile stuffed in the corner of the garage.  And the owner of the store from which we purchased the tile in the first place had thankfully ordered one more box that miraculously arrived later that afternoon.

     We still don't know if we have enough.  The job may have to come to a halt. 

     The only good news is that we love the paint color now up in the guest bath.  And the Chicago Blackhawks play tonight after their thrilling win halfway through the third overtime.  Maybe having a Stanley Cup team will help ease our angst and carry us through what has become the renovation from hell.  Or maybe we'll camp out in a hotel and try to forget all the mishaps, the mistakes, the filthy house, a cat whose lost his meow from all the dust, and the stress that sent me to a massage therapist and my husband off the deep end.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Renovation Blues

     I pledge today never to do a major renovation project again.  Two weeks have turned into five and counting.  If it's not one problem, it's another.  The tile order was wrong, and we waited an extra two weeks for it to be remedied.  The bamboo doors came yesterday with hinge holes in the wrong place.  They had to be sent back for repair.  The owner of the company was incensed and asked our contractor whether she was the painter.  I could hear his raised voice across the room and thought, once again, that men are impossible when it comes to asking them to fix what was clearly a mistake.
(Check that:  Men are impossible.  Period.)

    Oh, the owner said, we always deliver the holes that way.  But we can plug the incorrect ones, and you'll never know the difference.

    Really?  A circle about the size of a silver dollar can be plugged, and we won't notice.  Give me a break!

     That call was the second of the day.  The first was in response to my having left a voice mail, questioning whether the tile "consultant" might come to the house to see all of her mistakes and mismeasurements she'd made.  A very irritated co-owner of the tile company screamed, If you'd wanted a consultant, we could have gotten you one for $100/hour.  Why wasn't that mentioned in the first place?  And who was this woman I'd assumed was a consultant with whom I met a zillion times and who drew drawings for us?  Drawings, by the way, that were way off.  

     If I'd read my horoscope for yesterday, I'm sure it said something like stay in bed and read a good book.  The stars and planets are way out of whack, and you'll be a lot happier taking a break from the world --- and renovation!

     Luckily, I have a slew of appointments this afternoon and can bust out of this joint.  It's time to get back to some semblance of a schedule and get my life back on track.

     My husband, thoroughly fed up with EVERYTHING, has told me that I'm not to ask him one question today.  Not one!  He wants out of this madness in the worst way.  He hates having to get out of bed at 8:30 a.m.  He can't stand all the little mistakes that send him into tirades about workers who have no professional and personal stake in the work they do.  He's not even convinced that the bathrooms look better than before.  But, if it's my money that I choose to "throw around" like a bourgeois princess, then go right ahead.  He would, he said, be perfectly happy with the seventy-five-year-old bathroom and the one we renovated 20 years ago that he hated from the get go.  Suddenly, he thinks the green marble counter top, the cute design of white and green tiles on the floor and in the shower are the height of style.  Never mind that he complained from Day One, accusing me of lifting some design from one of those chick magazines.  Oh, well . . .  In this case, he was correct.

     I know I should never say "Never."  I want to leave the door open, just in case I change my mind.  For now, I'm done with renovating bathrooms or any other rooms in my home.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In Search of a Corned Beef Sandwich

     It's been a rough couple of weeks.  Long story short: We (rather, I) decided to finally, after 20 years, renovate the two full baths in our home.  Work began without much fuss, but that changed in a sledge of a hammer.  After just two days, the contractor fired his crew.  They hadn't done something correctly and refused to fix the problem.  Out the door they went.  Oh, brother, what do we do now?  The contractor's remaining crew was tied up in another job, and it seemed as if he couldn't trust those guys, either.  "Not to worry," he told me.  "We'll find a way."  Find a way?  I'd already paid this guy a hefty sum and wanted the work done yesterday. 

This is really about my search for a corned beef sandwich, I promise.

Back to the crusty contractor who, with every question I asked, got more frustrated and then threw his first of several full-blown hissy fits.  (Only later did I discover that he was a vet who proudly displayed the red, white, and blue on his web site.  Don't get me wrong: I support the poor guys and gals who've had to do our dirty work in the Gulf and in Afghanistan.  But I was beginning to think the guy must have seen active duty and was suffering from PTSD.)  I didn't trust him, he said.  I was too nosy.  I hovered over the crew (oh, yes, by then we had a second crew).  In short, I was becoming the worst client he'd ever had.

Seriously?  It's my money, my house, my new toilet, new floor and wall tile, new faucets, new sinks, new countertops . . . And he has the nerve to tell me I'm asking too many questions.

I should have fired him as summarily as he'd fired his first crew.  But he had a chunk of my money that I knew he'd never return without a fight, maybe a trip to the local court house.  And where would I find another contractor to pick up the pieces at the height of the building season? 

So, I persevered.  The crew he'd rustled up happened to be terrific.  The contractor, officially a sub on our job, was a woman born in L.A. but raised in Guatemala.  Her crew only spoke Spanish.  So I got a chance to continue my slow but steady journey toward a semblance of fluency in the language I'd been studying for over two years.  All good, right?

Not really,  The crazy contractor was still in charge, and he tried his best to cut every corner possible.  He had them put the spout for the tub and shower sticking out of the tub.  Against code and just plain stupid.  He insisted that the possibly 100+-year-old pipes in the old bathroom just needed a quick revamping.  Not a good call.  One of the pipes burst, sending water through the floor and down our front staircase.  A 3-foot square hole in the ceiling had to be cut, and the crew spent a day revamping the pipes.

Nine days after the job got underway, Mr. Wacko threw a big-time fit over my questioning his abilities and decisions.  I was in Home Depot talking with him on the phone, and the head of plumbing got on the line and threatened to report him for "not knowing a damn thing about plumbing."

Disheartened, I dragged myself home, penned his walking papers, and pushed the SEND button.  If the new crew would take on the remainder of the job, great.  If not, I'd . . . well, I didn't know what I'd do.  Walk around on top of filthy tarps and butcher paper, use an old toilet downstairs, wash my hair in the only functioning tub . . . whatever it took until I could find a sane and competent contractor. 

And then the emails began to arrive like venom from a pissed-off snake.  Ten of them in less than an hour. 

"I did nothing but try to work with a difficult customer who listened to everyone BUT the General contractor."

"You have a right to inspect the work but it is also my JOB and you have to respect that or it becomes impossible. You made it impossible. Take some responsibility. Geese, you aren't a child."

"Ps...don't be so melodramatic. When you upset someone they generally become upset. You two take the cake."  (Now my husband had been added to the mix.)

"Are you annoyed by my emails?  Does it bother you, like you bothered me with your constant questions, repeated ad nauseam? Over, and over, and over, and over....and over?"
(Yes,  I was bothered but never gave him that satisfaction.  I did not respond to any of them.)

 Then he really went off the deep end:

"I'm sorry, I should have been your good little slave.

Speaking of "slave", where you upset that I brought a black man into your house today?
(I could add all the sics for this guy's pathetic prose, but I'll save you the interruption.)

I mean, you were very willing to bring me back despite my attempts to end things. However, once a black man was inside your home, you jumped at the opportunity to end things.

I hope you and your husband aren't racists who put on a good show, but don't trust them in their home?"

He fired the "black man" the following day.

So, back to the corned beef sandwich.  I had a hankering for one, one with sauerkraut, melted cheese, and, yes, Russian dressing.  (Apologies to my observant Jewish friends!)  You might say I was a bit stressed and, like many, felt I deserved a treat.  I knew the best place to get myself that sandwich and got in my car and headed for Kauffman's Bakery.  But I couldn't remember if it was west on Touhy or Devon.  I reached into my purse for my iPhone.  It wasn't there.  Damn!  I'd just have to wing it.  I drove a couple of miles up and down both streets.  No luck.  So, I pulled into a gas station and begged the attendant to use his cell phone.  He fiddled with his phone and then admitted that the reception was really bad and that he'd thought of getting a new phone but couldn't afford one.

Then I spotted it: the familiar yellow of the phone book sitting on a shelf behind the counter.  I mean, without a cell phone and with no public phones left on the planet, what's a gal to do?  No wonder I hadn't found the store.  It was on a street two miles north of where I'd started my journey.

Hungry but relieved, I approached the store from the wrong side of the street and made a quick U-turn into the parking lot.  I ordered my corned beef sandwich, grabbed a few bagels, even added a few pieces of apple strudel for all my effort.  Hell, I deserved it.  The cashier totaled my purchases.  I reached into my purse for my wallet.  It was gone.  I had no money and no credit cards.  I did have my checkbook, but the store did not accept checks. 

The possibility of having spent almost an hour in search of a corned beef sandwich only to leave empty handed felt like the betrayal of the crazy contractor.  What had I done to deserve such disrespect and disappointment?  I rummaged through my purse again.  Where the hell was my wallet?  Then it dawned on me: I'd changed purses the night before and forgot to put it and my phone back into the purse I was now carrying. 

I did have my library card, my insurance information, a Petsmart credit card, an expired AAA card, a few useless business cards.  And then I found it: A MC card I'd never used but, unfortunately, had never activated.  So close.  Already embarrassed by the long line of customers waiting behind me, I sheepishly moved to the side of the counter and spied a phone, a real phone.  Might I please use it to activate my credit card?  I stood there like an addict with one last shot at a fix while a second cashier went to ask her manager.  "Yes."

I activated the card on the spot, paid with my credit card, and, got the hell out of the store.

Funny thing, the corned beef sandwich was dry, the bagels didn't taste as I'd remembered them, and the piece of apple strudel I picked at on the way home didn't begin to ease my stress or feed my hunger.