Living La Vida Loca

A comprehensive strategy can make your busy work life easier

My wife and I were returning to our home after a New Year's Eve dinner. We had a very busy fall season and were pleased to be able to spend a long, quiet holiday weekend together. It was a rainy night, so we opted for a romantic dinner for two at our favorite local restaurant, sharing a bottle of wine and a great meal. We knew we'd be in bed and asleep long before the ball dropped and the revelers sang Auld Lang Syne.

My wife removed her coat and shoes in the foyer, and when she moved toward the kitchen she uttered a yell of shock. I ran in to check on her, immediately following her gaze to the large puddle of cold water she'd just stepped into in her stocking feet. We said simultaneously, “Where's this coming from?”

We turned on all the lights at the front of the house, illuminating a shiny stream of water entering from the framing above the front door. After checking the plumbing system, we decided the culprit was most likely some rotting wood on the Palladian window frame over the door. We ran to get towels to mop up the mess, then put down several more to absorb what else we would seep in during the night before retiring for the evening.

Morning broke on New Year's Day, and an outside inspection confirmed our suspicions. We got out the ladder and found nearly two feet of rotted wood window frame allowing water to seep behind the brick and into the house's framing. We got out plastic sheeting and duct tape—the waterproofing cure-all—aware that we wouldn't find a builder on a holiday, since finding one even in the best of times takes patience and persistence. I started calling around the next day.

It took me 15 telephone calls, three estimates, and nearly week of hassle to select someone who could perform the work in a relatively short time. The guy I chose was far from the leading candidate, but he was available and claimed he was capable of getting the problem solved quickly. We made an agreement.

Even after several weeks, the work continue, albeit at a snail's pace. For starters, I have found all local builders refuse to work when it rains. It doesn't appear to matter if the work needing completion is indoors or out. Apparently, if the weatherman calls for rain, they collectively turn off their bedside alarms and retire to dream up other plans for their day off.

Last week, Fred the Builder (not his real name) called me to explain that he had to leave the job at 4:00 pm because he was tired and it had been a long day. He had arrived with a small crew that day after lunch saying he was late because had to work on his hot tub at his house that morning. I took a mental note to try that excuse on my current employer some time. Fred also said they had predicted rain for the next day, but that he would come over to work on the inside woodwork if, in his words, “it wasn't raining too hard.” The following day was cloudy, but it did not rain a drop. I never saw him.

Two days later, Fred promised to be over at the house first thing in the morning to complete the inside job so he could receive his next payment from me. He said he would be there between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. I made another mental note to see if my professional colleagues felt the hour between 9:00 and 10:00 constituted “first thing in the morning.”

He ultimately called me around 10:30 saying he was at the police station reporting a stolen generator, but that he would try to be there after lunch. He also mentioned that the carpenter he subcontracted to finish the woodwork was the one accused of the crime, and he may not be able to come, since he may be explaining things to the police.

When Fred finally did arrive, he asked if I wanted to sell a snow blower I had stored in the garage. I considered his request, suggested a price, and we again shook hands on the deal. He agreed to deduct that price from the monies I owed him for the next phase of the work.

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