Wednesday, December 28, 2011

the last brick

For those of you who like the end of stories, here's what happened with the brick.
At the beginning of Sept I wrote that we were having the brick on our house redone. We found a man who removed the old brick and turned it around, giving the old brick a new life. We'd seen other facades he'd done in the neighbourhood and were ready to let him have a go at our house. That was when? Sept 1st that he started? (And actually, it was July of last year that he signed a contract.)
Today, an hour before the first big snowstorm of the year started to hurl and blow across the city, he set the last brick in place. Note my restraint in wording that last sentence. In my head I use more expletives. Emoticons with teeth. Behind my desk, I have an imaginary bricklayer dartboard.
Originally he told us that he would be finished by the end of Sept (which I didn't believe). Then that he would work while we were gone to the Gaspé in Oct (which I also highly doubted). Then that he would definitely finish by mid-Nov, though he still had 2 1/2 walls left.
I had stopped talking to him because I knew that if he pulled the hangdog, it's-not-my-fault face one more time, I would jab his trowel into his carotid artery. I had already heard all his excuses. He'd dallied so long at finishing our house that some of his well-worn excuses had been recycled. He needed to pay to rent the scaffolding. But we'd already given him money for the scaffolding. There was a guy who was supposed to work with him who quit. Well, sure, he quit because he didn't get paid (though we'd paid the bricklayer). He felt justified in not paying his guy because his guy would only buy beer, get drunk and not show up the next day for work. So he assured himself a few days of work by not allowing the guy to buy beer. Brilliant, except that only lasted for so long before the guy got fed up, sometimes drunk too, and left.
Some days the bricklayer did 20 rows of beautiful Paul-Klee-coloured bricks. Other days he futzed around a window. He disappeared for weeks at a time, claiming he was sick. Except that his bunged-up cement mixer disappeared as well, and when R was jogging, he saw it installed at another job site.
A neighbour said we should sue the bricklayer for prejudice because he wouldn't finish our house. Sue him to get what? He didn't even have a bank account. He knew every trick for avoiding disgruntled clients.
A friend who's a stone mason told R not to let the bricklayer lay brick below freezing. The bricklayer told R he was using a special retardant product designed for mortar. R found the empty bottle. Even with the label torn off, who in Canada doesn't recognize an ordinary bottle of anti-freeze?
We tried to charm the bricklayer with compliments. On R's days off, he picked up a mallet and helped remove the old brick. We offered him more money. We were long past caring about the contract. We wanted him to finish and GET OUT of our backyard.
If the bricklayer had any sense of fairness, it didn't apply to us. Trying to reason with him was like running hobbled through a maze. I felt badly that he was working in nothing but a hoodie in the freezing cold with bare hands, but it wasn't our fault that he'd let the work drag out until the freezing cold. Nor our fault that he wasn't wearing a jacket.
Three times the police warned him to stop parking in the alley or he'd get a ticket. But he kept parking in the alley.
If this were a Grimms fairy tale, I'd look for a moral, but morals are harder to identify in real life which slides off the page and shimmies to its own tune. Obviously, had we hired licensed bricklayers, we would have had recourse to their governing body. But we can't afford what licensed bricklayers charge.
Maybe the moral is: leave well enough alone.
Or: you get what you pay for.
I believe there will come a time--when the heaps of old mortar, piles of broken brick, broken buckets, empty cans of power drink have finally been cleaned up--and we've rebuilt our deck and maybe even managed to get some grass to grow again, and I will look up and love the new-old brick walls we saved.
But for now the wind chill is -22C (-8F) and snow howls past the window and I'm inside.

ps. R has read this and points out that there were lots of interesting aspects to bricklaying and even the bricklayer which I've ignored. He says this is a disgruntled post in which I do no more than complain. Sorry. It makes me cranky to live with scaffolding jammed up against the windows for 4 months.

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