Friday, April 25, 2008

The Apprentice

When you live in a house built before the advent of indoor plumbing, you develop working relationships with a whole host of contractors. Along with contractors come apprentices. Apprentices tend to be high spirited and as such they do and say a lot of silly things. This is to be expected, since most apprentices are about nineteen years old. I hope nobody thinks I am hating on apprentices because nothing could be further from the truth. Apprentices are fun, and anyway, I'm sure I said and did a lot of silly things when I was nineteen.

When we put the addition on our house, and there was one nineteen year old carpenter who my children nicknamed Pumpkin. He was so young, he would direct most of his remarks to the kids, as if he still felt like he was one of them rather than one of the grown ups. He kept us endlessly entertained. He would do things like lay down a thick bead of glue and then accidentally put his fingers in it thus gluing his hand to the framing. During the course of the workday, the foreman would keep the radio set to NPR, at a discreet volume, but when he left for the day—leaving Pumpkin to do the cleaning —the radio would be switched to a country music station, at a volume somewhat more than discreet. But that was OK, because we thought Pumpkin was utterly charming. Especially when he danced to the country music as he swept up the rubble. My ten year old daughter said, “Mama, when Pumpkin smiles at me I feel happy.” I know how she felt.

Alas, we haven't seen Pumpkin in a long time, but the tile guy brought an apprentice along the other day. That morning, I got a tearful phone call from Mr. McP, asking me to deliver his forgotten homework to him at school. The tile guy hadn't arrived yet, but I left the door open for him. I couldn't have been gone more than fifteen minutes, but when I got home, the tile guy greeted me in the hall with a concerned look and mentioned something about a leak, and did I know where the water shut off valve was.

My first thought was to feel guilty. Maybe this is because I am Catholic, but I immediately assumed that if we'd sprung a leak, it was my own fault for having an old and crappy house with crappy pipes and why would any contractor want to work on a house that is so crappy and owned by someone who is obviously a complete idiot. So we got the water shut off and once that was done, I noticed the apprentice sponging up what appeared to be Lake Erie in my bathroom. That's an exaggeration. It wasn't Lake Erie, but it was rather more water than is good for the subfloor. Somehow the toilet supply pipe had been cut, below the level of the shut off valve. Still feeling like an inadequate and irresponsible homeowner, I said something about how it was no big deal, and how we were going to need a plumber to reattach the toilet anyway. The apprentice sat back on his heels and announced cheerfully, “It was all my fault.” Awesome. “We can fix it. Plumbers are stupid,” he assured me.

So, they did fix the leak, and cleaned up the water, and I didn't really mind the mishap, what with being so happy that there was nothing to feel guilty about, and after all, what you don't know about your subfloor won't hurt you.

You're probably wondering why the tile guy didn't head to the basement and find the shut off valve himself. I'm sure he would have done just that if our basement weren't accessible only from the outside of the house, through a door that is padlocked and to which he didn't have the key.

I am not ready to share pictures. For one thing, they haven't applied the grout yet, so the whole job looks unfinished. Also, I am still a long way from my Bathroom of Perfection. The walls, for example. They didn't look bad compared to the old shower and the rotted framing and the scabrous mix of plywood and vinyl that had been the floor, but now, lined up against spanking new tile floor and shower their awfulness is emphasized in a new and terrible way. What are we trying to say here? Hovel? No.

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