vendredi 12 mars 2010

Un massacre

The 1868 mailbox

That's what Georges called the patina he and his semi-functional assistant applied to the natural-colored chaux (what we call "natural stucco") he put around the mailbox. A massacre.

I agree with Georges, but where I take issue is I would call everything they have done in the last week, and not just this butchered patch job, a massacre.

And the rest just takes my breath and typing fingers away.

Georges tapped on the living room French door.

"Madame Sisyphe," you know he doesn't call me that; he uses my last name," je peux rentrer?" I motioned for him to come in. He cut to the chase. They were leaving, promising -- just like last September -- to return as soon as he had the brick for the paving. Promises, promises, and I think I'm going to be sick.

Some of you will get that reference. I wore white. My first long dress. It was 1970. I drove my mother and my soon to be or just stepfather nuts all the way home from the theater, the seed planted for later harvest.

Or not.

The rest of the conversation in that moment was a blur. I think we went outside directly, where he started to make the rounds of what had been ticked off the list of contract items left to be done, and what they were not going to do. Naturally.

We always get to this point. You can count on it, just like you can count on another recitation of why this project has gone so badly, and how unfair it has all been to them, and how we have gotten such a great deal, "malgré", he added quickly this time, "tout le stresse." he really wanted me to think it had all been worthwhile "malgré" the misery and suffering, the stress and the hardship on the "nerfs". I didn't race to reassure him that it had.

I am not at all sure that it was.

"Mais demandez autour de vous. Personne ne fait ce genre de travail." Or, "We had you over a barrel," in other words. This he knows I know, except that one local mason actually is familiar with the technique of mixing the pigment into the stucco.

"Oui," dit-il, "il sait ce que c'est, mais --" Could they have done it? I don't know, but I'd nearly just as soon have painted the house with a toothbrush and a single can of house paint than have Joachim and Georges dominate our lives with their cinoche (slang for "cinéma", meaning "their act") for two years.

He had led me out to the planting bed along the far edge of the top terrace, turning to gaze at the house. He wanted to talk about the leak again, insisting that it came from the chimney, which I already knew. It's what I had told him all along, and it is part of redoing the exterior of the house to make sure that it is watertight. Those are not extras, and if you consider them extras, you are obligated to bring them up as a professional, not bacler le travail and wait for the client to tell you water pours into an upper bedroom every time it rains hard.

He disagreed. Most politely of course. Oh, and there was the roof.

"Madame Sisyphe, le toit, vous le voyez, il n'est vraiment pas bien. Il faut le refaire." I had heard this before, from him. Funny that the roofer who has worked in the house and who lived in the village says it's fine. A little wavy, but. I remember, too, having taken Georges up to the attic to inspect the original timber trusses holding it up. He had been obligated to acknowledge that they were in perfect condition, but today, here he was, pointing to the ridge of the roof over the newer part that juts forward.

"Voyez le faite? Il n'est pas droit. Il est fait en zinc, et avec le vent, il se lève. L'eau rentre."

"Georges, on n'a pas de problème de pénétration d'eau à cet endroit. C'est près de la cheminée que le problème existe." He wasn't going to be easily put off.

"Oui, mais je vous le dit, l'eau rentre là et ça touche la charpente."

"Et alors, ça fait quoi? C'est le grenier. Il n'est pas fini et c'est airé. La charpente et saine. Vous l'avez vu et vous l'avez dit vous-même." What he wants is a contract to replace the roof.

What he is not getting is a contract to replace the roof. Not now, not ever. We continued to look at the house.

"Il reste, bien sur, la patine sur les murs qui sont trop clairs." It figured in the contract to apply a chaux-based patina to the walls that had come out too light, so that the house would be of a the deep ocher where the walls had turned out to be a washed out yellowish color. This Joachim had insisted was possible and promised when we pointed out that the walls didn't match, back in October 2008. He didn't swear the life of his son, as Georges did at least three times this afternoon, but he was adamant, and righteously indignant when we expressed our reservations. He had even signed the revised contract in July that promised this element of work.

"Mais, Madame Sisyphe, on ne peut pas. C'est pas possible." My eyes bugged out of their sockets. My mouth turned suddenly very dry. My ears began to hum. It was not possible to use the chaux-based patina to make the walls the right color as promised?

"Ce n'est pas possible? Ce n'est pas possible, vous dites, quand Joachim prétend depuis plus qu'un an que cela ne représente aucun problème? Ca veut dire quoi?"

"Mais c'est normal. La chaux est appliqué sur des supports différents alors elle ne va pas réaggir de la même manière tout autour de la maison."

I had heard this all before. He had heard this all before. He had been there when Joachim had told us how this would be handled at the end of the job by applying the patina to the walls. I let him have it, and he did what he always does: he stood there and took it, until I had finished and he could speak again. Which he did.

"Vous devez voir autour de la boite aux lettres où j'ai mis la patine. C'est un vrai massacre."

I did not go immediately and look at the massacred chaux around the mailbox. There were other things he was claiming we had refused and, therefore, they did not need to do, such as the chimney for which the brick I had gone all the way to Montlhéry, south of Paris, with a representative from Wienerberger to select in person in their warehouse so they could order and install it. I felt the earth start to rush up at me, but I refused. I would stand there and I would set him straight. I would take it like a big girl and give it back like an Amazon, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When they had told us that the chimney was cracked, the old cement on it rotten and the bricks behind crumbling into paste, I had asked them to add that to the estimate, along with several other adds, which they did, and which we accepted.

Not only did we accept it, we had paid for it, along with the other items.

"Mais, Madame Sisyphe," insista-t-il, looking perfectly shocked, "si vous l'avez accepté et vous l'avez payé, vous n'avez pas trouvé ça pas normal qu'on ne l'a pas fait?" He was seriously asking me, after all that we have been through, if I didn't find it abnormal that we had paid for work we had never gotten.


"Georges," I narrowed my newly bugged-out eyes and raised my jaw from the floor and into motion to speak, "ça ne serait franchement pas la première chose qui nous choque depuis que vous avez commencé les travaux."

Ah la la la la.

"Mais vous n'avez payé que la brique."

"Georges, quand vous faites un prix pour la cheminée, ce prix n'est pas pour les matériaux mais pour le main d'oeuvre et les matériaux. Si nous l'avons accepté et nous l'avons payé, nous avons payé pour le travail et les matériaux, alors."

"Mais, est-ce que vous avez la facture?" Every sentence begins with "but". But, do you have the bill?

"Savez, Georges, c'est notre banquière qui a cette facture, et elle l'a mise aux archives car elle a cru que les travaux ont du être terminés tellement longtemps vous avez mis pour les éffectuer. Elle se souvenait d'une durée des travaux de quelques mois, pas de quelques années." He looked somewhere between amused, embarrassed and sheepish. As usual.

Our banker really did transfer the entire file to the archives. She really did think, after so many months without the presentation of another bill from the contractor, that we had finished. Long ago. She called me on the phone the day I finally sent her another one, to ask what it was. I had been extremely confused. How could our banker not understand that it was a bill for the work on our house that we were submitting for payment from our loan. I had explained the whole story to her, and she had listened in silence, and then offered her sympathy.

"Je verserai l'argent pour la somme de la facture dans votre compte immédiatement," she had assured me, simultaneously reassuring me that some people do their jobs effectively.

So, he had cleaned up a bit more of their mess, loaded it on the truck, waiting out on the sidewalk along with Igor at the edge of my peripheral view, to head back à la rue des Pas Perdus, and was hoping for me to tell him everything would be alright, that I accepted everything he said, and here we were, having the usual parting conversation.

"Bon, Madame Sisype, si vous dites que vous l'avez payé ça doit être vrai. Vous n'avez aucune raison de me mentir --" damn straight I have no reason to lie; I don't need to. "Je verrai aussi au bureau. On doit avoir une copie de la facture."

So, he will look for the bill, the proof that they had billed us for the work on the chimney and that we had paid. Meanwhile, I have another 6 m2 of bricks for the wall he insisted they were never going to do once we had told them it was too high a price, and Georges had told me, But, it's too late to cancel the brick order. We'll lower the price. Just the brick, Madame Sisyphe?

And now, here I was, understanding that he had always intended to make us pay for the brick, deliver it and leave it, sitting in our garden, at the edge of my peripheral vision.

And the chaux and patina around the mailbox? It is a massacre.

We'll let them keep going, and, then, when they ask for the balance due on the contract, we'll point out just what was not done "to the satisfaction of the client", and we'll make them our final offer: do it now to our entire satisfaction, or take this amount, sign that you agree to accept it and cut your losses, and be done.

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