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After Work: Falling Into a Bad Place

...Next week, no progress. Nor was there any in the weeks to come.

The workman didn’t answer his phone and as time dragged on, and she continued to call, there was a recorded announcement . Service had been discontinued…

Dona Gibbs tells of workmen who fell into a “bad place’’ where, to the frustration of home owners, hands become incapable of completing their allotted tasks.

For more of Dona’s finely-finished prose please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

One of my friends once owned a weekend home “upstate”, which is what dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers call any place that’s outside the city. Whether it’s in nearby Westchester County or perched on the Canadian border, it’s upstate.

Anyway, she and her husband dashed up for a bucolic getaway, a leafy haven filled with small furry animals that regularly attacked the garden and recalcitrant contractors who attacked their bank account.

Every Monday she had a new story.

There was one that especially stuck in my memory, even though she related it close to fifteen years ago. Recently, I’ve had occasion to reflect on it.

She thought a brick patio would add to the charm of the cottage. She envisioned a small area where she could put a small table for two and enjoy coffee in the morning with the birds chirruping and the bees buzzing among the flowers that she’d eventually get around to planting.

She called in a workman who nodded, scribbled a few notes, hummed, climbed into his truck and drove away. He phoned later and mumbled a figure for the work.

My friend agreed, and two weeks later when she and her husband returned, the work had been done. The patio looked a little rustic with a surface that dipped here and there but it seemed in keeping with the casualness of the house.

Time passed and many cups of coffee were enjoyed.

Then came the day when the workman rumbled up the driveway.

He’d been worried about the patio, he said. He didn’t think he’d done a good job and he’d like to redo it –make it nicer. No, there would be no extra charge to the homeowner.

He explained that he’d been “in a bad place” at the time and he’d like to clear his conscience about the sloppy job he done.

My friend agreed.

The next visit out the patio had been torn up. Bricks were stacked at the corner of the house. String, stakes and gravel marked the area. A rake and shovel leaned against the house near the backdoor.

Next week, no progress. Nor was there any in the weeks to come.

The workman didn’t answer his phone and as time dragged on, and she continued to call, there was a recorded announcement . Service had been discontinued.

At the time, I thought the story was amusing.

Now I find it poignant, especially since over the years, I’ve had to deal with several workmen who have fallen into a “bad place” after agreeing to take on a job.

There was the moody Jamaican painter who stared meditatively at the ceiling on his cigarette break. He was part of a crew who were renovating our small apartment. When he finished the ceiling he told me, he’d be off to Jamaica before the cold winter set in. He stroked his soul patch and sighed.

He never got the chance to finish the ceiling. The contractor fired him. Too many cigarette breaks, too much sighing, I think.

The contractor entrusted the finish work to his best friend.

The best friend was writing a musical, he told me. He traveled to the job on bicycle from the further reaches of Brooklyn.

Every time I stopped by to see how the work was coming along, Music Man was dreamily gazing out the window.

Weeks turned into months.

“What’s your music like?” I asked him.

“Like Leonard Cohen’s,” he answered. Now Cohen’s work is not exactly cheery and this news didn’t make my heart leap up in joy. His show was Christmas-themed, he told me. He’d make me a CD, he said.

Several weeks later, the contractor had replaced him with a brusque, grumpy man. He was obviously a stranger to the creative arts, but he had a skillful way with a hammer.

Music Man and his best friend since childhood, the general contractor, were no longer speaking, I was told. Somehow, that didn’t surprise me. I never got the CD. That didn’t surprise me either.

I wish this saga of disappointment and creative, sensitive workmen were at an end, but it continues.

We hired someone to refinish the floors in a small room. He’d worked for us before. He did careful, meticulous work. We could trust him, we figured, to complete the job while we were away.

Dear Reader, you are absolutely way ahead of us. He didn’t. He too fell into a “bad place.”

In my disappointment, I did what I always do when searching for an answer. I checked him out on Google. I found his personal website. It was filled with philosophy and poetry recommendations -- all things to ponder while I’m looking at an unfinished floor.

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