A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my living room on a lazy Saturday morning, watching something silly on my laptop when there was a knock on the door. My wife was gone for the weekend on a business trip, and I was not expecting anyone.
Confused, I answered the door.
It was a workman. He was very happy to find me home. I do not remember his exact words, but they expressed his relief. He explained that he had an appointment with the apartment on the opposite side of the building, the one whose kitchen wall is shared with mine. He had been hired to work on pipes in the wall between our two apartments, but, due to a scheduling mishap, here he was at 11 o’something AM, and the people in the other apartment would not be there to let him in until after 3 PM.
He asked if I would mind if he came in and fixed the pipes through my wall. This would save him hours of waiting around, he explained. He offered to let me call his boss to verify that this was all above board.
It is in moments like this that I feel I shall never really grow up. I am nearly thirty years old, but in that moment all I felt like doing was calling my parents to ask what to do in a situation like this. I had not noticed any problems with our sink in the kitchen. I had made no appointment with this man. Nothing in all the world compelled me to show this man a kindness and let him in to my home to do his work. The very fact that he had come to my door uninvited with a sad story and a request for a favor triggered deep suspicions in me. I wasn’t at all sure what this stranger stood to gain from being let into my home, but I still suspected him of something.
Did I tell him sorry, no, go wait, I just don’t trust you?
No. I asked to speak with his boss.
His boss - let’s call him Tony - explained that they had been hired to do work by the complex’s HOA, and that this was all free of charge so far as I was concerned.
So that was...good? However, I was still suspicious. These days, you can call anyone and they can claim to be anyone. What did the claims of this mysterious “Tony” really prove?
So, did I then tell him sorry, no, go wait, I still don’t trust you?
No. I let him in. He said it would take only an hour or two. He pulled out all the bottles and cans and cleaning supplies from under my sink, removed the pipes beneath the sink, cut a hole in the wall, replaced the pipes inside, replaced the pipes outside, put my bottles and cans and cleaning supplies back, and then gave me a number to call to schedule someone else to come in and fix the hole in my wall.
And so, huzzah. Now, out of the blue, it was on me to make another appointment with someone else to get a hole fixed, a hole that I had never asked for, nor needed.
And so, that Monday afternoon, I called the boss. Let’s still call him Tony. He told me his scheduler would contact me. To make an appointment.
Tony’s scheduler - let’s call him Sam - called me when I was at work and left a message.
I called Sam back, explaining my work hours and when I was home. He explained that, because workmen work during the day, when I work, it made it difficult to schedule something like this. Was I ever available during the workday, when I normally work?
As it happens, occasionally my job has half days. This is when I usually run errands and get things done. I had one coming up the next week, and so, with a sigh, I made an appointment on that day. Sure, this meant I couldn’t use that day for other things now, as I would need to be home while the workman worked, but at least I had the sweet consolation of knowing that I had asked for this entire situation in the first place.
That next Wednesday, I came home straight after my half day. I made lunch. I tidied up. I made tea. I got out a book I have been stubbornly trying to finish, and settled down to wait for the workman. I assumed he would be late.
Two hours and change later, I was still waiting. When my wife got home from work, I finally called the scheduler, “Sam” to you and I. He wasn’t in, so I left a message.
A short while later, Sam returned my call. There had been a mix-up. This new workman had, quite naturally, been sent to the apartment that had originally made the appointment to work on the pipes in the first place. This made sense on a certain level. It confirmed both that life is casually hilarious and that Sam’s office was not that well organized.
Sam asked to reschedule. I asked, in measured tones, that since I had made the time for them today, and they hadn’t shown up due to their own administrative failings, would it be possible for them to come at a time more convenient for me? Sam said they would be happy to. I made an appointment for that Friday as soon as I could get home.
The hole under my sink, you see, had been covered with paper and painter’s tape, but paper is flimsy and painter’s tape is temporary. My building is old, and there are roaches about. Occasionally, I see them outside. Thus far, however, there are no roaches in my apartment. I wished to keep it that way. I wanted that hole permanently plugged.
Friday dawned. The day rolled by. After work, I came straight home. Another workman sat on the grass in front of my apartment, leaning against scraps of drywall. This, I thought, is my man.
Did I invite him in?
No. I had learned my lesson. I entered my apartment. A few minutes later, he knocked
on the door. With a sigh, I allowed him in.
This new workman spoke very little English. He was younger than the previous workman. He seemed like precisely the sort of person you would send on after-hours assignments on the Friday before Easter weekend, which was just what this weekend was.
He made himself comfortable in the kitchen and got down to his business. I took up my place in the living room, once more tackling that book I keep meaning to finish. For the first few minutes, good progress was made by both of us. I made it through several pages in my book, and the sounds of meaningful drywall work drifted my way from the kitchen. There were sawing sounds, the sounds of equipment being laid out, the hardworking sound of a screw gun.
Suddenly, right in the middle of this screw gun sound, I became aware of a very different sort of sound from the kitchen. It was a rushing sound. A gushing sound. It sounded a lot like water pouring powerfully from a pipe.
That better not be water pouring into my kitchen, I thought.
Turns out it was.
The workman stood up, yelled, “The main!” and turned and looked at me. I looked at him, barely containing my complete lack of amusement. He rushed out, looking, no doubt, for the main. Thank God he found it. The geiser slowed to a trickle. Then it stopped.
I stood and surveyed the kitchen. Water puddled the floor. I got dirty towels from our hamper and tried to mop things up. The workman returned, mumbling apologies and saying the word “plumber” over and over. He had his phone out. He called someone and spoke rapidly in Spanish. He hung up.
“Plumber!” he said.
“Great.” I said.
“Sorry.” he said.
“Plumber?” I said.
“Plumber!” he said.
In order to keep the peace, I decided to let the conversation end there.
With that, my drywaller left the apartment. I don’t know where he went.
At this point, my wife arrived. In her presence, the great dam of my barely contained rage burst. I did not, let the record show, shout at her, at my delightful and lovely wife. But, when she asked what was going on, my explanation was colorful.
“Is a plumber coming?” she asked.
“Yes?” I replied.
I got on the phone. I called the only number I knew to call in this situation, that of the boss. Let’s keep calling him Tony.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Not great,” I began, and I tersely explained my situation.
“My drywaller drilled into a pipe?” Tony asked, aghast.
“I will fix this. Thank you for calling me.”
Tony hung up.
A few minutes later, our young drywaller returned, accompanied by someone carrying a toolbox. This newcomer smiled politely at my wife and I, and, with nary a word, began doing industrious plumbing type things in the kitchen.
A minute or so later, Tony texted me.
“My plumber is on his way,” read his text.
I glanced into the kitchen, where plumbing was already being actively plumbed.
“Someone who seems like a plumber is already here,” I responded, “But I don’t know if it’s your guy. Your drywaller has a friend here.”
The young drywaller and his mysterious companion continued their work in earnest, none of which involved drywalling. By this point, they had even made the original hole larger - you know, so they could really get at that pipe (that they had broken) in order to fix it. They brought in an industrial vacuum to deal with the remaining water on my floor. They brought in a blow torch. They lit something on fire. I waited, praying for the best, but feeling generally pessimistic.
Eventually, and still with nary a word to me, they arose and left the room, carrying their equipment.
It was at this point that the plumber Tony had sent chose to knock on my door.
“Hello?” I said.
“I am Hernando,” said the plumber, shaking my hand.
Hernando wanted to talk. No one up to now had wanted to talk with me at all, and it caught me by surprise. What he wanted to talk about mostly, though, was what the plumbing problem was exactly, which is not something I was all that clear on. I knew some bullet points. Drill. Sudden geiser. Probable hole in pipe. But I knew no details.
Smiling like a professional, Hernando strode into the kitchen and poked around under the sink, looking at the me intently and asking friendly, reasonable questions.
“Look, I just live here,” I finally said, “You’d have to talk to the guys outside.”
“Oh?” he said.
“Yeah, they were working on stuff. I think they are still out there.”
I peered out the window at the gathering of three trucks outside. The workmen conferred. Hernando got into his truck and left.
Eventually, the young drywaller returned.
“Today, Saturday, or Monday.” he said.
“Today, Saturday, or Monday.”
“Are you asking me when I want you to do the drywall?”
“You can do it today?” We both glanced at the clock. By now it was after 6 pm.
He sighed. “Yes. 3-4 hours.”
“If you can do it now, do it now.” I said. “I’m here.”
He sighed. He nodded.
He did it.
For the record, It only took him two hours and change.
“I will come Monday morning early to paint,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“I will come Monday morning, early, to paint this,” He repeated.
“I work then.” I said.
“Call my boss. Make an appointment.”
We’re still trying to find a time that works.