I didn’t think any of this was particularly funny until my husband Sam called and asked a simple question, “How does the basement look?”
Sam is in California, and while he is away we hired my son, Andy, to hang a dropped ceiling in his office, which happens to be our basement.
We paid for the materials; Andy came over on Sunday after a trip to Home Depot to pick up everything he needed to do the job. Since he has Wednesdays off from his “real job”, he took Monday and Tuesday off from work to do the project.
On Monday morning Andy and I had a brief conversation before I headed out to work.
Andy said that he could do this kind of work for a living and believed that could do well because he’d charge a lot less than other contractors.
“What about insurance?” I asked.
“I don’t need insurance,” He said. “I’m careful.”
“I don’t care HOW careful you are, even photographers get insurance when they’re shooting weddings. You’re working in peoples’ houses. You just never know what can happen,” I replied.
“Yeah, well, I don’t need insurance for this job.”
“True, but you would if you were working for other people.”
Andy thought he would have this job done by Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest.
Piece of cake.
Sam thought he’d be done by Monday.
Neither one of them came close.
On Monday, Andy discovered that he didn’t have enough ceiling tiles, so he made another run to Home Depot. He spent the day drilling into concrete and wood, making sure the lines were level, and installed some of the frame to hold the tiles. He also had to add some wood to frame in the stairs that lead into the basement from the kitchen, and the storm door we have at the bulkhead exit. When I came home eager to check the progress he said, “You won’t really notice anything.”
I went downstairs and noticed quite a bit. Tools, more tools, extension chords, insulation (?), tool bits, and the frame work that he did. Nice job…so far.
“I know it doesn’t look like I did much, but this is the hard part.”
I could relate to that. I know when I’m getting ready to paint a room it takes forever to tape all the window frames, wash the walls, etc. In short, prep work is a pain in the neck.
“Not at all, Andy, I’m impressed. So you think you’ll be done by tomorrow?
“Probably not. Oh and something happened.”
“What happened?” I asked
“I knocked a speaker off the wall.”
I walked over to one of Sam’s prized speakers for his surround-sound system that makes our basement sound like Lincoln Center that once hung on the side of the stairs. I didn’t know what to say. I was pretty sure I knew what Sam would say if he were standing there.
As if reading my mind, Andy said, “It still works,”
“I can glue this,” Andy said.
“Ummmm..I don’t know if I would trust glue on plastic to hold this when you hang it back up.”
“Yeah…well, I think I can just drill a hole through here, and re-hang it,” he said pointing to another part of the plastic piece that wasn’t broken.
“Well, I guess this would be why I need insurance,” Andy said.
“Yup. This would be one example.”
I came home from work and walked into a dark house to see Andy sitting on the couch in the living room. In the dark. Oh, I already said that, but any mother knows that when she walks into something like this, something is wrong.
“Hi Andy,” I said in my most cheerful voice.
Andy didn’t answer. He was looking at his phone.
“Hi Andy,” I repeated, “What’s going on?”
“Andy! I’m talking to you! What’s up?”
He finally looked up from the phone and said, “Something happened.”
I panicked. I thought something had happened to his wife, or kids, and that’s what he was looking at on the phone.
“What happened?” Oh God…please…
“The lights went out,” he answered.
“What??? Is that why you’re in the dark?” I asked, and walked into the kitchen, which still had lights.
“No, not up here. Downstairs. The lights went out downstairs.”
I opened the cellar door, flipped the switch, and there was light.
“What are you talking about? The lights work.”
“Not the ones downstairs,” he said as we made our way into the basement.
Some of the lights worked, others didn’t. He had this little tool thingamajig that lit up and flashed spasticly when he touched it to a live wire. There were three sets of lights that had no power and when he touched his hand held strobe light to the wires, there was nothing.
“See mom? No activity.”
Andy said that in order to hang the ceiling around the lights he cut the power, and removed the bulbs. When he was done hanging the ceiling tiles, he put the bulb back in and switched on the light. At first the light went on, and then he heard a “POP” and the lights went out.
“Is this going to start a fire?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” He said.
“I need a better answer than that,” I said.
“No, Mom, the lines are dead, I showed you. There is no power.”
“But WHY is there no power? Maybe the reason the lights won’t light up is because there’s something going on in those lines. Shut the breaker off.”
“It is off.”
The breaker is off?”
“Well no wonder the lights won’t turn on! Switch the breaker on!”
He did, and there were still no lights. Still no sign of life in the wires when he tested them.
“I think there’s a loose connection. When I moved the lights, the wires must not be attached tight enough. And I think I know where the problem is.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Behind this wall,” he said pointing to a wall HE built this past summer to enclose the furnace. Said wall now has shelving attached.
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“Nope, it HAS to be that. The wires all lead into a box behind this wall.”
“So you have to tear the wall down??!!”
I swear to God at that moment I really wished I had named him Jericho so that this would all make sense.
“Only part of it, but I’m not going to do it tonight.”
I heaved a sigh.
Andy said, “Don’t worry mom, I can fix it.”
“I’m not worried,” and surprisingly, even to me, I wasn’t.
We came upstairs and talked for a little while. The next thing I knew, Andy was up off of the couch and downstairs.
And the wall came tumbling down.
At least that’s what it sounded like. I didn’t want to know.
When he came upstairs, quicker than I thought he would, I asked, “Did you take the wall down?”
“Did you find the problem?”
“No, it wasn’t there.”
“HUH??!! You said it HAD to be there.”
“Well, it wasn’t.”
“Then where is it?”
“It has to be in the switch that controls those lights. That’s the only other place those wires go. I’ll fix that tomorrow.”
“What about the wall???!!”
“Oh, I put it back.”
“Already?” I couldn’t believe he could take a wall down and put it back up that quickly.
“Well, its back up, but I don’t have it nailed in or anything.”
“Okay, so you’re going to secure the wall AND fix the wires in the switch so the lights work AND finish installing the ceiling tomorrow?”
“Well, I hope so. I called my boss to take tomorrow off.”
“Please cut the power off before you start playing with those wires.”
“Mom, I know that. I’ve worked with electricity before.”
So we came upstairs once again, and Andy said,” Oh by the way, I noticed one of your struts is broken clean in half.”
“WHAT?? What strut?”
Andy pointed to the living room floor in front of the fish tank, “The strut right here.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about and I looked at the floor. I didn’t see anything.
“You can see a broken strut right there?” I asked in amazement.
“Yeah,” he answered, looking a little perplexed.
“How can you see that? I don’t see anything!”
“NO! Not up here. Downstairs. I saw it when I was working downstairs.”
“Oh you mean when you were knocking the lights out?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Yeah. But it’s not serious. This part of your floor might collapse in 30 – 40 years.”
“A strut is broken in half, and you say that’s not serious? You need to tell Sam about this.” I could feel myself shutting down. I couldn’t process one more thing. I didn’t want to know one more thing.
“Oh, and this job is going to cost you more than we thought.”
“Ya think?” I laughed. I wasn’t entirely sure that he wasn’t a full time contractor.
As if on queue, Sam called from California.
Sam asked,”So how’s the basement looking?”
When I started telling him the story, Andy and I laughed so hysterically that I couldn’t even get it all out. Sam, on the other end of the line, three thousand miles away, wasn’t laughing.
I could hear, “What do you mean? What do you mean? He took down the wall? Why aren’t the lights working?” and other sounds of chaos.
“What’s all that noise?” I asked.
Sam was…well…not happy. I could hear it in his voice when he answered, “its California traffic. Cars are whizzing by, a motorcycle just passed and …this traffic is ridiculous.”
Had I known he was driving, in California traffic, I probably would have just answered, “Fine. The ceiling looks fine.”
I tried to smooth the waters, “Sam, it really wasn’t this funny until I started telling you about it,” I laughed.
When he finally got all his questions out and I had given my best answers, I said, “Oh yeah, and it’s going to cost us more.”
Why is that funny? I have no idea, but Andy and I laughed like jackals once again.
Sam, being Sam, said, “I don’t care what happens. When I get home, I want the ceiling hung, the wall fixed, and the lights working. That’s all I want.”
Sam has an expression that he has repeated ad nauseam since I have known him, “It don’t hurt to want.” I didn’t say it, but I sure thought it.
Andy has until the beginning of May to hang the ceiling, if the house doesn’t collapse in the meantime. I have it on good authority that I have 30 – 40 years before that happens.