I ‘hooked up’ – to use modern parlance – with my husband, Al, because he was tall, good looking, well built and athletic. Chemistry. He also cooked breakfast when I had sleepovers. He was, and remains, kind and considerate.
When we moved into our rental house, we didn’t have to do home maintenance. Al did paint the bathroom once. It looked all right. Who cared? We were renting. He also installed a bamboo blind in our front room. He got it backwards so the draw string was on the inside, against the window. No matter. He removed the blind and got it round the right way.
Al cooks. Every night. The best spaghetti marinara ever on Saturday nights. He continues to give good breakfast in bed too. He's been a great dad to our two kids. He can do complex mathematical calculations in his head in an instant. He's a fair gardener. He can do heaps of stuff.
But he can’t do ‘home maintenance’. And neither can I.
As home-owners, therefore, we’re at the mercy of trades-people.
After 25 years I decided it was time to replace a grotty jerry-built hall cupboard. Do you know how hard it is to get a tradie to even return a call?
After hours searching the net and making phone calls, leaving messages that didn’t get responses, finally got through to a carpenter who seemed interested in taking on the job. He asked me to phone through some photos, which I did. He sent back some rudimentary drawings then quoted close to $10,000 to build a largely chip-board, melamine lined two door cupboard. WTF? An entire bathroom renovation not that long ago cost that much.
Perhaps he didn’t want the job so over-quoted it.
The only other person who returned my call - a ‘handy man’ - was Costa.
Costa said he’d ‘make a few calls’ to his friend the cabinet maker and see what he could do. Having done that, he quoted less than half the price of the other tradie. With only two options, I ‘commissioned’ him to do the job.
Here was the rub. He wanted, up front, $3,500 – most of the cost - before he’d take on the work.
‘Youse’ve got to see it from my point of view. If youse back out, I’ll be stuck with a cupboard I can’t do anything with.’ I suppose that was a fair call. He seemed polite. Didn’t let the black strands combed over his bald pate put me off. Bells were ringing, but I gave him a cheque anyway.
‘Youse’ll have your cupboard finished in five weeks, once the cheque clears,’ he said, writing a receipt in one of those receipt books you can buy in the stationery section of Big W.
That was on October 14. On December 8, we were still waiting for him to start the job.
‘What youse’ve got to understand,’ he said when I called, ‘is that everybody wants the job done before Christmas.’
‘But when I gave you a cheque on October 14, you said it would take five weeks. See it from my point of view. I’ve paid you $3,500 up front, and you haven’t started the job yet.’
‘I’ve been a business man in this area for twenty years.' Costa was arcing up. 'Do you think I’m gonna run off with your money? $3,500 is nothing, anyway.’
‘It’s a lot of money to us.’ He couldn’t really argue with that. Moved me up his priority list.
The other source of anxiety? What if he was crap? I’d handed over heaps of money without having any idea whether he was up for the job.
Costa almost finished the job yesterday, December 15. He proved to be polite, and did a clean job, but he kept weird hours. He only did half days.
‘Are you doing another job?’ I demanded. Well, I was interested in knowing how it worked. ‘Or do you have to look after your mother?’ He’d told me when I’d interrogated him at the first meeting that he was thirty-eight, single and lived with his mother. Amazing what a nosy person can discover.
‘Mornings just don’t work for me,’ he said a bit too loudly.
So Al and I took two consecutive days off work to let him in. It’s taken three half days and a couple of unscheduled after hours visits to do a job that could have been completed, as far as I could tell, in a day and a half..
The door knobs aren’t quite aligned, but overall, he’s done a good job. I trust the $400 I’m still to pay him will be enough incentive for him to return in the new year and ‘finish the seams.’
Meanwhile, I needed an electrician to replace the thermostat displaced by the demolition of the old cupboard. Booked the electrician; took yet another day off work. The bastard didn’t front. No call; nothing.
At that stage I was prepared to live without heating until autumn – it’s summer after all. But I made one last internet search and called some random electrician. Lo and behold, someone answered the call.
Next day, right on time, two thirty-something sparkies arrived and briskly completed what looked to me like a tricky job. Up and down the ladder; ‘fishing’ for flex behind the walls, as they do. Swept up after themselves. Great legs.
I was curiously aroused.
And as soon as Al gets home, he'll cook dinner. I've only had to replace the cupboard once, but I get dinner every night. So you can stay, Al.