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.

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