It’s fall and therefore time to take sledgehammer in hand and re-do a room or two. This fall there is an upstairs guest bath to update plus a blank wall outside my lower-level office to transform into a kitchenette. The term “kitchenette” loosely translates to mean: something that is sort of like a kitchen but smaller and not actually a kitchen. Preparing a meal in a kitchenette is unthinkable. However, preparing a meal-ette is thinkable, if you think Pop Tarts and coffee.
For the last several projects of this sort, I have employed a Jack of all trades except his name is Vlad, not Jack. Vlad is originally from the Ukraine where he served in the Soviet Army, has a military tattoo to prove it and learned to build things with care and precision.
What Vlad has not done is to work diligently to speak English with care and precision. Having said this, let me admit that he speaks English better than I speak Russian. The list of Russian words with which I am conversant include: “nyet”, “da”, “Stolichnaya”, “Dr. Zhivago” and “Rachmaninoff”. Vlad knows hundreds of English words, mostly nouns. His challenge is putting these nouns in proper order and connecting them with appropriate verbs.
Here, I must make it clear that I am very fond of Vlad. He is a good, hard working man and I would never hurt his feelings by making fun of his fractured English. However, our communications often lead to misunderstandings. The process involves both of us repeating the same phrases over and over but at ever increasing decibels until we believe that we understand one another. Sometimes this belief is incorrect.
The phrase that Vlad most often says to me is “I splain you (insert construction noun)”. This phrase is often delivered with the tinge of exasperation of someone who clearly sees why my idea won’t work, could possibly cause the entire structure to collapse or eventually catch fire. I value his input but only after lots of loud back and forth which often leads to Vlad drawing crude sketches to illustrate the fatal flaw in my idea. English words sometimes fail him but drawings usually work. Vlad must consider the ignorance of the student for these construction lessons.
Vlad’s band of sub-contractors are mostly immigrants from the Eastern Europe and Russia. There is a Ukrainian electrician, a Russian tile installer and his brother the painter. There is a Ukrainian plumber, a Romanian cabinet maker and a counter-top installer from Belarus. During these home improvement projects, the sound of good-natured and boisterous Slavic banter rings through the neighborhood. To the uninitiated ear it can sound like a full throated argument. In the early going my neighbors were concerned for my safety. I assured them that this group of honest and talented craftsmen are loud friendly friends.
On rare occasions, Vlad must rely on Hispanic sub-contractors, then the language mash-up can truly be head spinning. Luckily, we have an Applied Linguistics major from the Czech Republic living with us until her university graduation. She speaks fluent English, Spanish and passable Russian. When necessary, she enters the construction communications fray in order to move things along. Vlad considers her a genius. He also cautions his workers that there is a potential spy in their midst who understands their comments, should they be snide or lecherous.
For this fall’s projects, I am the general contractor. This means that I select and pay, up front, for virtually everything but the 2X4s, nails, sheetrock and labor. The shower and sink fixtures are from Germany where they make these plumbing fixtures to an anal retentive level of precision. For other parts of a bathroom, however, that would be counter-productive. Ergo, the toilet I’ve selected is not German and carries the brand “Toto”. All I can figure is that, upon returning from OZ, the dog went into the plumbing supply business in Japan. The tile is from China, sold at a local warehouse outlet, where courteous and recent middle eastern immigrant sales people total up your order, take your money and then watch with amusement as you load 18,000 pounds of tile into your trunk. All-in-all, the projects have a decidedly multicultural theme
My primary job on these projects, besides paymaster, is being the chief designer. In this role, should something turn out looking awful, I draw myself up into a posture of pooched-lips disgust and blame Vlad.
I can’t wait to get started on the color palette.
Observoid of the Day: “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Mark Twain