Hey, what d’ya know- it’s January! That means that for the two-thousand and fourteenth time since the (presumed) birth of Christ and the second time since the (confirmed) death of Dick Clark (America’s Deadest Teenager) another year has begun. Enjoy your moment in the sun, Seacrest- for sooner than you think, the Four Horsemen of Celebrity Irrelevance (Age, Overexposure, Bitchy Media, Fickle Fans) will come for you. Then you’ll be that forgotten old man in the studio, face locked in place by the rigor mortis of plastic surgery, kept safe and far away from the action and relegated to leading the countdown at midnight while millions of viewers and a dozen very nervous producers watch on pins and needles- simultaneously cheering for you to finish successfully and shamefully wishing for your humiliating failure. All except me- I’m just gonna hope you fail. Oooooh, that’s gonna be sweet. I just hope my dementia won’t be so far advanced that I’ll still be able to remember who you are how much I hate your stupid face so I can properly revel in your decrepitude. That’s something to fucking live for.
Anyhow, 2014 promises to be a remarkable year– with something great for everyone! For instance, if you love ice dancing but hate gay people- the Sochi Olympics are perfect for you! Putin’s even getting wireless receivers installed, so he can watch from inside the Closet. Of course, there’s more space in that closet now that Brian Boitano has come out- an announcement which elicited the exact same response as Joan Fontaine’s death “Didn’t that happen years ago?” Not that Putin ever thinks of Brian Boitano in that way. Or at least, not very often- and when he does he immediately has to rip his shirt off and wrestle a bear.
So, yeah, the Winter Olympics is one of the gayest sporting events around- right up there with Ru Paul’s Drag Race and all WNBA games- -so why would the IOC possibly put them in a country where you can’t even say “Biathalon” without being arrested for spreading homosexual propaganda? And if they had to put the Winter Games in Russia- how did they manage to find the one fucking Russian city where it’s not actually cold? I mean if there’s one thing Russia has going for it is that it’s REALLY REALLY REALLY cold just about everywhere. Don’t take my word for it- ask Napoleon and Hitler. So finding a COLD Winter Olympics site in Russia really shouldn’t be all that hard- hell, I’ve never even been there and I can think of six, it’s like finding hay in a haystack. And I don’t want to imply that greed, corruption and graft were involved in making this choice- I prefer to simply say it outright “greed, corruption and graft were involved in making this choice”. It’s either that or a simply terrifying level of utter ineptitude- and I’m honestly not sure what’s more frightening. I mean- come on, putting the Winter Olympics in Sochi is like, oh I don’t know, putting the Superbowl in New Jersey in February or putting the World Cup in Quatar in July. Hmmm. Wait a second.
For me, though, 2014 isn’t about large sporting events or midterm elections or legal weed in Colorado (though that does make a trip to see the in-laws more tempting). I’m excited about 2014 because it’s the Year of No Renovation. You see, when we first bought our house in 2008 at what we falsely believed to be the bottom of the market (which it turns out was as bottomless as the Mimosas at brunch) there were a few little things that we needed to take care of- including:
- Move water heater outside
- Move washer & dryer outside- build enclosure
- Repair foundation
- Install new bedroom door
- Remove dead tree in backyard
- Replace pavers in backyard with concrete pad
- Replace shed in backyard
- Redo all landscaping in front & back yards
- Put in new wooden fence around front yard
- Remove popcorn & repair plaster on living room ceiling
- Replace all hardwood floors and install new subfloor
- Replace torn linoleum kitchen floor with new tiles
- Replace all kitchen appliances and fixtures
- Replace lighting fixtures in kitchen and bathroom
- Replace kitchen cabinets
- Replace kitchen countertop
- New backsplash for kitchen
- Replace all tile in bathroom including floor and wall tiles
- Remove all rotten wood from bathroom floor & walls and rebuild sections of floor and walls
- Replace bathroom sink, vanity and all fixtures
- Replace bathtub with new shower
- Paint entire house
- Fix closet doorknob
Now, as you’re reading this list- keep in mind that there are only four rooms in the whole house- bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room. Now this number of rooms is perfect for my new version of Clue for the mentally challenged (the only weapon is a pointy stick), but it’s not really ideal for major renovation- since, when one room is out of commission- we’re pretty well fucked. I mean, we can’t even buy more than eight rolls of paper towels at a time cause we’ve got no place to put them- imagine what it’s like to have to move the refrigerator into the living room cause we’re working on the kitchen. I’ll tell you what it’s like. It sucks a lot.
Still, we didn’t really have much of a choice but to do this stuff because our house was built by hobos in the 20’s in exchange for bathtub gin and stale biscuits and maintained for most of it’s life as a rental property with all the love and care that you would expect from a series of Los Angeles landlords who treated the place like Larry Hagman treated his liver and Congress treated the trust of the American people. Seriously- if this place were a puppy, Sarah McLachlin would have had you weeping at what those bastards did to it. So over the last five years, we’ve gradually tackled one item at a time until finally this past summer we were ready to take on….The Bathroom (tum tum TUMMMMMM).
Now, if you are a homeowner and you’re considering renovating your bathroom, then the best thing you can do is sell your house or burn it down for the insurance money. If those aren’t options, though- then the next best thing you can do is find an honest, reliable and competent contractor. But how can you tell if the contractor you’re considering is honest, reliable and competent? The key is to ask the right questions. Here is a brief questionnaire you can use:
Question #1: Are you Israeli?
There are no more questions.
Now I know that sounds bad- but before you start accusing me of speaking for Hamas or Hezbollah or, God help me, even CNN- I need to reassure you that I love Israel and, ok, sure, Israelis, too- hell, I’m an Israeli citizen myself. So- no need to get all Price-Taggy- just listen to the story:
On July 3rd, my wife and I met with an Israeli contractor. For the purpose of this post, I’ll refer to him as “Doron” because that is his actual name. We had planned to have an in-depth conversation about our bathroom renovation- discussing several different options for walls and flooring- bathtub vs shower, possibilities of fixtures, etc- and that after this discussion, he might price out a couple of different scenarios, and we would figure out the timeframe and create a mutually agreeable schedule. No need to rush into anything.
So, Doron comes to the house, takes one look at the bathroom, talks to us for 30 seconds and says “OK- so take everything out, put in new floor tile, new wall tile, new sink and vanity, recessed lighting, do hot mop and new shower. I give you very good price, it is not problem, we start on Thursday.”
Now, I don’t like to be hurried in these situations- and there was no way I was letting this Israeli flim-flam man push me into a project I wasn’t ready to start. I was gonna hold firm:
Me: Uhm, yeah…well…you know, that sounds good but, you know, we were, I mean, kinda just hoping to, you know, talk about the job and, you know, maybe think about our options and, you know, uhm, come up with a plan. You know?
Doron: I understand. It is not problem. This is holiday week, my guys don’t have a lot of work. I give you very good price. We take everything out. Do new tile, hot mop, shower. One week. Not problem. We start on Thursday.
This only made me more resolute and determined:
Me: Sure, yeah, I get it. That’s cool and all, but, you know, with the holiday and all. I mean, there’s probably a bunch of stuff we, you know, aren’t going to have time to…you know?
Doron: OK. I understand. It is not problem. I tell you what. I give you same price. We start on Monday. All you need to buy is shower head and new valve for shower.
Doron: Not problem. We take everything out, new tile, hot mop, shower. One week. Not problem. You buy one thing. How hard is that to buy one thing? I give you very good price. We start on Monday.
Clearly this was going nowhere. It was time for me to pull out my secret weapon:
Me: Well, Ok, well, listen we need a little time…can we…you know…talk about it and get back to you.
Doron: Of course! Not problem. Take some time to talk. No rush. I go outside, make some calls, come back in 5 minutes and you talk. OK? Not problem.
Do I even need to tell you what happened next?
On Monday morning, we started the job. It didn’t matter that we weren’t ready. It didn’t matter that we didn’t trust him. It didn’t matter that we had absolutely no idea what “hot mop” meant, but that it sounded like some sort of scatological sex act involving excrement and hair and possibly soup – the Israeli occupation of our house had begun and I had remembered an important lesson from my childhood- that there is no argument you can possibly make that can not be refuted by “it is not problem”. Are you paying attention, John Kerry????
Still- maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? I mean, all we needed to buy was one thing, right? Just the shower head and the new valve. Oh- and, of course the tiles. And the sink and vanity and mirror and toilet paper dispenser and towel rack and medicine cabinet and metal tile edging (that’s a thing- I swear) and paint and wainscoting and toe kick.. Oh, and the grout. Damn you grout! More about that in a minute.
Still- at least the job would be quick- one week right? I mean, sure it meant having to get up at 5 AM to go shower at the theatre and spending money every day on a dog sitter so that our loveable family pet could lie like a lump on her rug for a change and hoping and praying every day that they would leave us with a working toilet before they left each night- but still, it would only be for a week, right? That’s what Doron said- “One week. Not problem.” Well, as it turns out “Not problem” is one of those quirky, idiomatic expressions that doesn’t translate so well from the Hebrew. What it actually means isn’t “Don’t worry. I’ve thought through this carefully and can assure you this isn’t going to be a problem” but “Maybe this isn’t going to be a problem. Maybe it’s going to be a HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM. Who knows? Who cares? I’m just gonna say whatever it takes to get you to shut your goddamn pie hole and write me a big check. OK?” It’s a subtle distinction.
Anyhow, it’s possible that the job indeed would have taken one week more or less- except when they took the wall down they discovered this:
This is what’s commonly referred to as “termite damage” – though the technical term used by contractors is “winning lottery ticket”. Now- don’t worry, Doron assured me that they could fix this, not problem. All they had to do was rebuild the walls. Of course, in order to do that, they first would have to replace all the floor joists to make the surface flat (FLAT NOT LEVEL. VERY IMPORTANT DISTINCTION! PLEASE NO ONE EVER EXPLAIN THIS TO ME AGAIN EVER!!). But before they could do that, they would need to rebuild the entire foundation of the whole building to provide a solid base for the floor joists. But before they could do that, they would need to take down all the stucco in the front of the house and reapply it, since- hey why not? We’re suckers- we’ll pay anything! But before they could do that, they had to pick up the entire City of Los Angeles and move it off several miles east off the San Andreas fault so that there would be no possible risk of earthquake damage to the floor and foundation. But before they could do that they needed to have Superman fly around the world a whole bunch of times really really fast so that they could go back in time and coax a dinosaur into stepping on the very first primordial termite to prevent the species from ever evolving and therefore preventing any possible future damage to the wood. Fortunately, he said that he would give me a very good price and this would only take one week. Not problem.
Through some act of sheer will, I summoned my own inner Israeli and managed to convince him to please just fix the damn floor and walls and that we would take our chances with shaky foundation, loose stucco, shifting tectonic plates and the evolution of the wood destroying insect into the modern termite. Not problem. So- ok – just add one or two days and 30% to the cost of the job and we’re right back on track? Right? Cue the wacky mishap and apology montage!
- We’re so sorry- we accidentally got the wrong permit and had to reschedule the city inspection, which means we’re going to lose almost a whole week of work.
- Whoopsie! I know we promised you guys that there would be a crew coming in to work over the weekend, so you made arrangements to stay in a hotel and board the dog but we forgot to schedule someone. Sorry!
- Oh, no! Did we leave for the day with a gushing leak under the sink and only a small Tupperware container to catch the water and then NOT TELL YOU GUYS ABOUT IT so that you woke up at 3 AM to discover that the bathroom was flooded and all of the brand new tile work most likely ruined and you had a complete nervous breakdown? That sure was silly of us!!! We’re so wacky.
And how do you think I responded to these mishaps? Would it surprise you to hear that I responded with grace and gentle good humor and that I never once raised my voice or (Heavens to Betsy!) used profanity? Me, too! I would have been totally shocked! How crazy would that have been??? Thank God I totally lost my shit each and every time something got screwed up, screamed myself hoarse at Haddas, the long suffering scheduling manager whom Doron hired when he got sick of customers yelling at him directly, and used the word “Cocksucker” more times than is perhaps considered socially acceptable in any setting other than a Sopranos episode. Phew! (Why is cocksucker used as such a derogatory term? I mean, when you think about it- that’s one of the nicest things one human being can do for another- shouldn’t it be used for people who do special favors? Like- “Thank you so much for picking me up a the airport. You’re a true Cocksucker.”)
Three weeks into the project and with no end in sight, we were exhausted. Our nerves were frayed, my voice was shot, the dog was applying for emancipated minor status and Haddas was experiencing PTSD every time the phone rang at home. It was time for the project to end. And that’s when we had the Great Grout Catastrophe.
When we redid our kitchen a couple of years ago, we decided that we would use the same floor tile and grout (#370 Dove Grey) for the bathroom whenever we finally got around to renovating it. This was the one thing we were always sure of, our light in the darkness, our bulwark against doubt and despair. No matter how bad things got, how much got screwed up, how many times we heard the phrase “hot mop” and recoiled in horror – we believed- no- WE KNEW that everything was gonna be ok because we had the Right Floor Tile and we would buy #370 Dove Grey Grout. And when the time came for us to buy the grout (which, oh, by the way, Haddas notified us we would have to do at 4 PM the day before they were going to need it, so we had to leave work early and scramble- OOPSIE!!) we drove to our Friendly Neighborhood Persian Tile Store and said with the great confidence of true believers: “One bag of your finest #370 Dove Grey Polyblend Sanded Grout, Sir- and be quick about it!” And when our Friendly Neighborhood Persian Tile Store didn’t have #370 Dove Grey Polyblend Sanded Grout, we drove post-haste to a Much Much Much Less Friendly Neighborhood Tile Store. There were no spots in the lot so my wife waited in the car double parked while she was yelled at by homeless people (why were there homeless people at a tile store? Because we live in Los Angeles, my friend, because we live in Los Angeles) and I dashed up the steep stairs to the second floor above the showroom, as quickly as I could (it’s not that quickly) ran to the back, dug out a bag of the #370 Dove Grey Grout, bought it mere seconds before the store was to close and ran outside carrying my sacred burden just in time to be yelled at by a crackhead. I’m still not totally sure why.
On the way home we were giddy, exultant, ecstatic even. Finally we knew that something would go right. After all the fuck ups, all the delays, all the OOPSes- here was something that could not be screwed up. For, Lo, we had now in our possession the Sacred Sack of Polyblend Sanded #370 Dove Grey Grout and everything was going to be alright.
The next day at work I couldn’t wait to get home, eager to run inside and see our beautiful new grout on the floor. I burst into the house, ran into the bathroom (there’s far too much running in this story) turned on the lights and saw…..just how terrible it looked. The grout looked nothing like the kitchen floor. The color was all wrong, it was much too light, not grey at all but practically blue. I was enraged- THE FOOLS!!! Somehow they had managed to fuck even THIS up- SURELY this was the result of apocalyptic incompetence- they had diluted the grout so it was much too light, they had not been careful when applying it so dust had gotten mixed in and the color was now wrong, SOMEHOW THEY HAD DESTROYED EVEN OUR PERFECT, UNASSAILABLE , INVIOLABLE MOTHERFUCKING GODDAMN COCKSUCKING POLYBLEND SANDED #370 DOVE GREY GROUT!!!!!! And if you think I overreacted to a little problem with the grout color then FUCK YOU, clearly you’ve never renovated a bathroom before – this shit is LIFE OR DEATH.
A lot of screaming and yelling later, I had made Haddas promise to send Amnon, the foreman, to the house the next day and clean the dust out of the grout because I was CONVINCED that was the problem. The following day, Haddas called me and assured me that he had been there and done it. Once more, I couldn’t wait to get home. Once more burst into the house, ran into the bathroom, turned on the lights and saw….it looked exactly the same. I was devastated. Once more I called Haddas. Once more I said simply terrible things. Once more I demanded that Amnon come back and fix this terrible miscarriage of justice (once more, to be clear I WAS NOT OVERREACTING TO A PROBLEM WITH THE GROUT COLOR. OH GOD, MY HEART. MY HEART. I’m ok.) but this time- I would be there at the house with him to make sure everything went perfectly. Finally, we would have this resolved. Finally, this project would be over and we would be able, once more to SHOWER IN OUR OWN GODDAMN HOUSE.
The next day, I met Amnon at the house. I showed him the hideous grout in the bathroom. I showed him the correct grout in the kitchen. Bathroom. Kitchen. Kitchen. Bathroom. Clearly he could see the difference. Clearly I would be vindicated. I stood back with my arms folded and chin up and waited for him to respond.
He looked at the kitchen floor. He looked at me. He knelt down to get a closer look, thought for a moment and said:
“This isn’t the same color. This is Charcoal, I think.”
The nerve! The impudence! The sheer impertinence of this man speaking to me in this manner! (Sorry, watching Downton Abbey while I write this. It’s making me a little uppidy.)
“It most certainly is the same color” I said. This is #370 Dove Grey. I know it for a fact.”
He didn’t say anything. He just went out to the yard, poured out little bit of the Dove Grey grout into his hand. Mixed it with some water and smeared in between two of the tiles on the kitchen floor.
He was right.
The color was completely different.
We were wrong.
The one thing that we knew absolutely to be true- beyond and shadow of a doubt. The one incontrovertible, unquestioned, 100% certainty that we had been holding on to was wrong.
It sucked a lot.
Fortunately, Amnon had a solution. He could have a guy come the next day, scrape out all of the Dove Grey grout with a knife and put in #60 Charcoal grout instead. He said it would only take a day or so and they would give us a very good price. Not problem.
So- clearly now you can see why I’m so FUCKING happy that 2014 is going to be the Year of No Renovations. After all, we’ve just about finished everything on our list. Except for the doorknob on the closet, for some baffling reason. And lately we’ve been talking about French Doors in the bedroom to the backyard. Well, when I say “we’ve been talking”, my wife brought it up and I collapsed into a fetal position shoved my fingers in my ears and said “la la la la la la la. I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.” It’s a mature discussion.
But, you know, the bathroom did ultimately come out very well. Despite all the mishaps, the work they did was terrific. And if you are going to get a shower- turns out “hot mop” is the way to go! Maybe we could just, you know, call up Doron to come take a look at the bedroom. Talk about the possibility of French Doors. And that after this discussion, he might price out a couple of different scenarios, and we would figure out the timeframe and create a mutually agreeable schedule. No need to rush into anything.