mardi 9 mars 2010

Intention to work

Grill at "petit salon"

This could be -- I said could be, conditional tense, not even existential yet --, the dénouement, of this long and regrettable saga with the renovation company with which we contracted to renovate "this old house".

Would it be superfluous to say how much we regret it, having said that the saga is "regrettable"?

The worst, though, and here I must ask you to keep this to yourself, is that I haven't found another mason in the area who would have known how to do the work this way. That was why I hired these guys, and why we have suffered through the hell to the hoped for bitter end. One guy said he was familiar with it all and knew where to get the materials. He's on my long-list for future repairs to the work.

The letter from a lawyer friend of my brother-in-law went out just before we left for Argentière in the Mont Blanc Valley. The timing wasn't excellent, but I didn't think we could credibly let another week go by. Too many already had since they packed up at the end of September, swearing they'd be back as soon as they had the brick for the paving, in early November. We'd been through this with them before, the work having begun in July 2008, and it now being early 2010. Several times.

The letter solicited a spirited and error-ridden message from Joachim, Georges' cousin and probably the legal head of the company, until he was likely forbidden from ever running a company in his name again and had to have Georges sign the papers, at least in name, which is forbidden in France, but that's just an ace up our sleeve, should we ever require an ace. At least that's our best educated guess from his insistence on acting like the boss whenever we are forced to threaten legal action to get them moving. He called our lawyer, who listened to him for a quarter of an hour and then told him that his time was up; he had other things to do. Au revoir, Monsieur.


I can just imagine Joachim's stunned Cro-magnon face, listening to the silence. Once he starts talking, there is nearly no stopping him.

"Il t'a appelé pour t'embrouiller," said my brother-in-law to his friend.

"Personne ne m'embrouille," said my new hero to my brother-in-law, for that is Joachim's goal: get you on his side by talking a mile a minute, telling his favorite version of the facts, and mixing everything and everyone up. Only, he was forgetting one thing. He was calling our lawyer.

We ignored him.

I called Georges instead, even though my brother-in-law offered to for me, to save me the displeasure and play to their machismo. A businessman with a background in law, he is tougher than my husband, who now recognizes that we never, ever should have given them the 50% on the contract renegotiated last July prior to the work being completed to our entire satisfaction. Georges stared at me when I looked at him directly in the eyes last September and said, "Je tiens à vous dire -- devant mon mari -- que je ne suis pas d'accord. Je ne vous donnerai rien puisqu'un contrat c'est un contrat, et vous n'avez pas satisfait les termes du contract." His mouth hung open several seconds after I finished, and I made sure to pointedly include my husband in my penetrating regard.

No answer. I called again the next day, getting him after the first ring. I was so surprised, I had to collect myself before remembering how to speak. He promised to call back. That's my recollection, anyhow.

He didn't.

I left for the mountains, and I waited to hear from the lawyer.

The next Monday, I tried again. He answered.

"Bonjour, Georges. Vous ne l'avez pas répondu, je tiens à vous faire remarquer."

"Je sais." He acknowledged it; he hadn't called me back. "Quand est-ce que vous serez là?"

"Jeudi prochain, et je vous attendrai pour ce jour là."

"On sera là."

Brief. They'd be there Thursday. In the end, I added a day and gave them the choice, Friday or Monday.

Yesterday, Monday the 8th, Baccarat barked. They were there. Georges and a man I am not sure knows how to speak. He has more than likely been instructed not to fraternize with the enemy, although Georges and I have resumed our resigned "we sort of appreciate each other because we don't have against personal against one another and this really sucks" -- even though I think he does play a little game with his cousin and is smarter than he seems -- attitude. It gets us through the days.

They unloaded the brick that has been sitting at Point P in Saint-Ouen L'Aumône for months, and the silent one installed the grill on the window of the petit salon and then started in on the joints in the brick pillars, while Georges complained about having to do the details they have left until now, before going off to put the old postal mailbox back in the wall. For some reason, it is surrounded by natural colored chaux.

And then he appeared at the door.

"Madame, les grilles pour les petites fenêtres, on les installe? Où est l'autre?" he asked, leading me around to the pile of wallboard ready to go to the dump by the gate the wind tore off its rusted hinges while I was away, sending it flying into the street.

"On ne les remettera pas," I told him. They are ugly, don't match each other, let alone the others around the house.

"Ah bon? On fait quoi alors?" I shrugged.

"Vous sauriez pas où je peux trouver d'autres rapidement?"

"Leroy Merlin." The solution to everything. It's like saying "Home Depot". Not exactly special, but I am running out of energy myself. So, Leroy Merlin it would be, if they had anything remotely decent.

I checked today. They did. Or I am just worn down and out. They are ordered.

At 4:27 pm, Georges announced they would be back in the morning with the door handles and lock for the gate. He had hunted up the bronze numbers for the pillar from where he had left them, somewhere among the bushes in the planting border (makes sense, right?), and the little bell. I had to help him locate the lamp from above the entry door. He'd left it behind a cedar tree. It was covered with spiderwebs and cedar twigs.

"Je la nettoyerai," he promised, looking a little sheepish.

This morning, they were back and accomplished so little as to have made the drive over hardly worthwhile. I didn't even see more than the silent one, working on the joints (this could take a year at the rate he is going), until just before they both disappeared, Georges moving briefly into my line of sight while talking on his cell phone (his main occupation), leaving the keys on the inside of the lock Georges installed on the gate.

He wouldn't be avoiding me, would he?

And, speaking of intentions to work, Sam began January with some of his own, even if it was without conviction and involved an interpersonal struggle. Two, actually: Sam against Sam and Sam against his mother. I didn't budge. His bac is a minimum, and it's time to stop laying it all on the teachers. I met them. They aren't that bad.

Yesterday, Sam came home from school, a little more bounce in his step that usual.

"Hey, Sam, how was your day?" I sounded like Deborah Reynolds.

"Okay," he said. Okay? Okay? He never says that. It's always, "It sucked." I looked at him. "I had three grades today, and they were pretty good, or, well, at least they were better. They were tests just like the bac, and if it were the bac, they would probably be even better." That's true. His school grades extra harshly, to leave them nervous and insecure until the bac, certain that is the best way to guaranty a better result on the bac than they would get were they to grade more in line with the bac graders.


He told me what he'd gotten in Spanish, History and Geography and English.

"I would have had a perfect grade in English, except I spelled 'piece' wrong. I spelled it 'p-i-e-a-c-e'."

"You put an 'a' in 'piece'? How did that happen?" I asked, filled with wonder.

Easy now that I think about it. All you have to do is think "piece" and "peace" and combine them in your excitement over one of the few perfect grades you will ever have in your experience in lycée.


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