mardi 8 septembre 2009

Counting to 10

They're too tall

that's my fault

But it isn't all my doing. I can hardly even talk about it. Not that the pillars being a little too tall is even the issue really. It isn't. It just doesn't help.

No, it's the inability to read or to follow a plan, nay, to even consider using one until it's clear there is no choice. Then, I have to write instructions like you would for your son for how to make spaghetti balls. No, forget that, too complicated. Scrambled eggs. No. Boiled eggs. Not even poached.

Mom, how come they don't have shells on when you pack them for me?

See? It's like that.

It's why you still do their laundry and pick up their dirty clothes from around the hamper, when it's half-empty.

It's why you pick up the damp towel and hang it up before it becomes one with the floor covering and stiff, when there are towel racks in the bathroom right next door.

It's the "Why think when there's someone there to do that for me?".

This is what becomes of the plans, if they aren't left in the car while they start the work. On the ground, through the night, damp from the dew and the sweat of the previous day's work.

Georges appeared at the kitchen window, next to where I was trying to summon the courage to work on the drawings for the structure under the entry court paving and the new kitchen entry; the one they won't be doing because I have seen their carpentry skills, and it's true: my husband and I do have better ones. Instead, I was just feeling tense and defeated.

"Madame Sisyphe, vous pouvez venir deux minutes?" At least he doesn't ask me to come "just for a second". Two minutes is code for "come sit with us while we work and explain everything".

Georges bent back down besides Jose, where they had been trying to figure out how to make the uncut brick form the motifs. I listened.

"Vous êtes surs que vous ne voulez pas que je fasse des dessins avec les cotes exactes? Vous n'aurez à faire comme je vous l'indique." Georges considered my tenth proposition to make drawings of each and every brick and exactly how to cut it and finally accepted.

"Oui, Madame Sisyphe. Ca serait mieux."

From behind me, where I sat at the kitchen table, I heard loud thumps, like the fall of an ax over and over. I tried to imagine what sort of work on the brick would involve an ax and make a dull thud. And then I heard a car start up. I went out to look. A rope wrapped around the tree stump and led out to the truck straining at an odd angle in the narrow street. Jose stood and watched the stump moved toward him, millimeter by millimeter. It wasn't going anywhere. I leaned down with one of their tools and started to scrape away at the remaining dirt. I hit another big, uncut root. Jose saw me and came back over to look. I showed him a root as big around as my arm.

"Il y en a probablement d'autres comme ça. Il ne va pas bouger jusqu'à ce que vous les aurez trouvé et coupé." He nodded and took the ax, attacking the root. Georges came back in and looked. Jose told him in Portuguese that there was another root. Maybe more. Georges removed the rope from the stump, and I headed back inside.

I came back out with my sketches of each brick, measured from a new drawing on the computer, measurements to match the ones Georges gave me, and gave it to Jose. Georges came over to look. And then it came to me: this, too, was pointless. I felt very, very tired.

They looked at it without really understanding what they were seeing. I began to explain, wishing I could go get my hair cut. Anything.


It didn't seem possible. I pointed to the motif, each brick of the same cut numbered alike, and then to the series of numbered diagrams, showing precisely how to cut each one so that it would work. I might as well have done it with the orangutans or the chimpanzees at the zoo. Georges picked up a brick and showed me the wide face.

"Alors, je marque ici et je coupe --"

"Non, Georges," I said, turning the brick in his hand to show him the narrow face. "Ca c'est la face qu'on voit. Il faut marquer là et là et couper." I pointed to where to measure and cut. He still looked doubtful. Jose took the brick and showed me the wide face.

"On marque ici et là --" I shook my head no and turned the brick to the narrow face. This is where you mark and cut it, here and there. They both looked confused. I took the brick, the tape measure and the pen, marked it out and handed it back. Georges cut it, returned and moved it around, looking for it's place. I picked up the drawing, took back the bit of cut brick and oriented it according to the drawing. Then, I set it in its place and took another brick. I did the same. Georges cut it and started to look for where to put it.

I'll spare us all the details. Finally, after a few more, "Ah! Oui! Je comprends, je comprends." Except he didn't. I suggested that they work it out in a frame on the ground and returned to my drawings, and, after a time, the rhythmic thud of the ax started again.

I went back out only to find Jose alone in the courtyard, sitting by the pillar, looking hot and bothered. Georges was down at the café.

"Madame Sisphye," said Jose, sounding the most put out I had ever heard. "Ca ne marche pas." I saw what he had done in the frame on the sidewalk between the pillars.

No, Jose, of course it doesn't work because it is cut wrong. It can't possibly work like that. If you would either just listen or follow the plan, it would work.

Georges returned. He looked hot and bothered, too. I was that close to letting them have it, except what good does that ever do.

"Georges, je vais vérifier quelque chose. Peut-être CAD a foiré sur les dimensions alignées. Si non, ça marche." He listened and nodded to my suggestion.

"Oui, Madame Sisyphe, parce que quand je perds mon temps comme ça, ça me frustre." Subtext: you have asked us to do something complicated, we don't get it and we don't feel like losing any more money because we can't understand.

Yeah, Georges, when we lose our time, it frustrates all of us, I thought; I said, "Laissez-moi aller voir vite."

"Oui, laisse la aller voir," said Jose, showing solidarity with me.

The dimension was perfect. I rotated the thing the 67° so it would be parallel to the worksheet and pulled a linear dimension. Same thing. Their mistake. I returned and began setting up the bricks they had cut. It came very close to working, except the one they had cut wrong, trying (I'm sure) to find a solution, certain I was wrong, when the drawing shows very well that it works.

I took up the measuring tape and began measuring the cut bricks, off by up to 1.5 cm.

"Elles sont parfois un petit peu pas le même mesure."

"Elles sont parfois plus que 1 cm trop court ou trop long."

"Ca fait la différence?"

"Ca fait toute la différence." I had just gotten off the phone, ranting to my husband between patients. He had called me back after I told him in the middle of an appointment that I was about to throw myself from the roof.

"Reste avec eux et marque les coupes toi-même."

"C'est ce que je faisais! J'ai d'autres choses à faire, tu sais, et même si je reste avec eux, ben, ça leur fâche au bout d'un moment, je suis sure. Et moi? Pourquoi je dois le faire quand on paie des professionnels?" Translation of my tantrum: That's what I was doing, staying with them to mark all the pieces and oversee it, but I have other things to do, you know, and even if I stay with them, well, that must irritate them after awhile, I'm sure. And I? Why do I have to do is when we are paying professionals?

I looked at Georges, who was about to start protesting, the same smile on his face that means that I can't get mad because he's smiling. The hell I can't, but I won't. "Georges, je vais les marquer toutes moi-même. Vous n'avez qu'à les couper plus exactement." He started to protest. I headed him off at the starting block, insisting on my own point rather than hear him complain that the work is complicated (read expensive) for them.

"Non, ça va. Je vais les marquer toutes. Comme ça, vous n'aurez pas en vous soucier." What more could he say? I was going to take care of everything. He'd have nothing to worry about, except cutting them with a wee bit more precision.

This brought us to the level of the courtyard. The ax falls. They had been digging up the surface getting ready to prepare for the concrete slab. Jose had looked like he was going to pass out earlier, when I found him leaning on the long ax handle. Feeling sorry for your workers is a very dangerous thing. You either give in to their endless hinting and pay them more, or you do the work for them. So far, we were shooting two for two.

"Combien on doit creuser, Madame Sisyphe?" asked Georges.

"La chappe va faire combien encore?" How thick would the slab be?

"6 cm, avec de la feraille, 6 cm ça va." I usually see 10 cm. Whatever.

"36 cm en dessous du sol fini de la maison." His eyebrows flew up. He'd have to dig. I was learning to interpret quickly.

"Et la pente de la rue?" How much slope would there be from the step down from the street?

"Il faut mésurer."

A little rough calculation involving a stack of bits of brick, a few slender lengths of wood, and other for a spike, a bit of lumber and a level showed that they definitely didn't want two small steps at the addition.

There was also the question of the change in form of the courtyard and how much of it would come under the new contract I'd need for the walk and patios in front of the "petite maison". I knew he'd want to stop the courtyard along the line of the house like it was before the idea for the entry. Now, that many square feet had to be shifted elsewhere and still counted in the old contract and the levels had to be prepared so the later work would coordinate. Georges looked dubious.

"Aie aie! il va falloir qu'on casse ça aussi," said Jose, pointing to the low wall under the hébé. I nodded.

"Je vous l'ai dit avant. Ecoutez, puisqu'on fait l'entrée, il faut changer la forme de la cour et enlever cette plante pour pouvoir passer." Jose nodded his head. He was only trying to understand things from a physical point of view. Georges had his head full of what I might be trying to get away with in terms of cash money. "Il y a une partie de la cour qui se deplace d'ici," I pointed to where the new entry will go, "là-bas." I pointed to where the low wall and the hébé were. "Et puis, il ya une nouvelle partie qui compte dans le contract que vous disiez que vous ne pourrez pas faire avant novembre. Il faut la préparer quand-même, si non, on risque d'avoir des problèmes." The clouds dispersed from Georges's brow. I had made it clear that I understood that some of what lay around where we stood counted as new work that was part of a future contract, not all, but some, and that we had to do a minimum of it now to make sure the future work matched.

We returned to the question of how many steps. My turn to give in again. What did it matter? It was stupid to have only 10 1/2 cm high steps anyway, so what did one or two matter. I sat on my haunches in the chopped up dirt trying to stay out of the sun and considered the question. The argument of the wall against which I was leaning being fragile for that kind of excavation was fairly convincing.

"D'accord. Partez comme pour une marche." I got up and went back inside.

I'd had enough for one day.
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