Contractor Blues

So, we are nearly finished redoing the kitchen and ground floor of our house. The remaining issue — the TV hookup — is going to require a visit from the cable guy tomorrow morning. In the past 24 hours, I have learned volumes about the exciting world of HDMI cables. I’ll add that to the vast amount of arcane information that I’ve picked up in the past six months.

Because when I am about to spend a shitload of money, I do what I do best — I research the hell out of it.

Yes, we spent all the moneys on this renovation, but I still did it tens of thousands of dollars cheaper than other families in town. First, I came up with the perfect design for the room by going to five or six different kitchen designers and stealing their ideas. I pinned hundreds of pictures in Pinterest and watching hours of HGTV.  Then, I found a cabinet wholesaler to get me the right price, and I had him redesign the plans three times until it worked perfectly.

Then, I found a contractor who wasn’t a darling of the rich families in this town. Rich the Contractor was cheaper than the town groupies, but working with him required me to do a lot of supervision of the subcontractors. Rich did a great job with the woodwork and installing the cabinets, but everybody else — the plumbers, electrician, tile guy, sheet rockers, floor guy, fireplace guy, painter, architect — needed oversight and sometimes, I had to pay them separately, because the contractor didn’t want any liability for their work.

I could probably run any kitchen renovation in any home right now. I just got a PhD in kitchen repairs. I briefly thought about going into the home flipping business with Rich the Contractor, because I don’t suck at this. He was hinting at it, but that’s not my path.

And Rich the Contractor is thinking about moving into home flipping, because his job is ending. My guess is that our kitchen is his last job. His best worker left last week, when he was scooped by a big corporation that could pay him ten dollars more per hour and give him benefits. Rich can’t find anyone to replace him.

His business is barely profitable. Rich spends $24,000 per year on health insurance for himself, his wife, and his two 20-something kids. He can’t compete with the guys who get their health insurance through their wives or go without. He insists on following the letter of the law for everything, so he pays tons for workplace insurance, workman’s comp, social security. He gets inspections and follows local codes. He hires other guys like himself — middle aged, white guys who live in the area — to do the subcontracting work.

When it came time to do the painting, Rich recommended one of those middle-aged, white guys from the area. His quote was a $1,000 more than the Latino from Newark. Carlos and his friends did a fabulous job and were in and out of here in a day.

Like the contractor from Murphy Brown who never left, Rich has been here for two months. Whenever I needed a break from work, I would go upstairs and pick a fight with him about politics. He’s a Trump voter, so there was lots of fodder. In fact, Rich gave me a question or two to ask the high profile subject that I interviewed last month.

On top of losing his career due to competition from big corporations, more agile immigrant businesses, and his aging knees, his kids are struggling. One is doing okay at a local state college getting a degree in communication. He says that she’ll find a job. But his son, who wanted to be a cop, can’t find a job without having a family connection in the business, so he’s waiting tables and living at home.

Rich is ticked off about a lot of things, so he wasn’t really able to sort out how he can’t be upset at the high costs of health insurance on the one hand and then resist efforts to reform the system on the other. You don’t have to go to West Virginia or Kansas to meet people who aren’t thriving in the new economy.


Restaurant Rights and Race

Last weekend, I met up with Margie and Suze at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. We’ve been friends since we all started at our first jobs at Simon and Schuster on the 16th floor of the Gulf and Western building, now a Trump building, in Columbus Circle 1987. We still talk several times a week and meet up in the city as often as we can get away from our families.

The routine is always the same. We meet up at a bookstore and then roam through the neighborhood stores talking non-stop and then eventually end up in a restaurant for more non-stop chatter. It’s good to have old friends.

It was a blustery day, so we ended up in restaurant quickly after brief visits to ABC Carpets and Fishes Eddy. As we settled into several plates of dumplings and scallion pancakes at a Chinese restaurant, a commotion broke out around us. A guy who was working outside the building got into a shouting match with the restaurant owner. He wanted to use the bathroom without buying any food. The owner blocked his way to the bathroom and said that the bathroom was only for customers. The worker yelled that he just wanted to use the toilet and leave. After lots of yelling, the worker finally left.

And because race and restaurants are in the news, I have to say that the worker was African American. The owner and the customers were white or Asian.

We got into a debate at the table. One of us thought that the owner should have let the guy use the toilet. He was in a construction outfit. He was clearly not a homeless guy. She felt that the worker’s race was one of the reasons why he was shuffled out of the restaurant.

Another friend said that restaurant owners never let non-customers use the toilet. Anybody who is in New York City knows that you can’t use a toilet in a restaurant without buying anything, and you have to know where the open-use toilets are, like the second floor of that Barnes and Noble.

Who was right?

SL 721

Getting tons done without a kid or a kitchen contractor in the house. I’m in heaven.

Are you watching Roseanne?

Students are less likely to take additional classes in a subject, if their intro class is taught by an adjunct, rather than a full-time professor. Jonah had a horrible adjunct in his writing class last semester who was then fired in the middle of the semester and then replaced by an even worse adjunct. They let him (and his classmates) retake the class this semester with a full time professor. It went much, much better. Huge.

10 areas with the fastest-rising home prices, which includes this area on Lake George. WANT. CAN’T HAVE IT. We’ll probably rent something by a lake by the Delaware Water Gap this year.

Michael Cohen in that plaid jacket with the cigar. Image of the week.

Kids aren’t improving their reading comprehension levels, because they need to know shit in order to understand what they are reading. They can’t understand a reading passage about the civil war, if they know zippo about American history. There’s been some good research on this. I should have written this article. Pissed at myself.

Colleges recruit at richer, whiter high schools. College Fairs are a big business around here.

The End Times of Brick and Mortar

Last month, Ian remembered that he had $50 worth of gift cards for Toys R Us in the bottom drawer of his desk and that those cards had to be used quickly, because the company was going bankrupt. We hastily purchased some electronic items, but we were notified three weeks later that the order was cancelled without refunding the gift cards. The company ate our $50.

So, I’m currently trying to work through the phone tree at ToysRUs to get that money back. I know it’s a lost cause, but losing $50 is bugging the crap out of me. Even if all the good stuff is gone in the stores, I want to buy diapers or something and donate it to the local food pantry. The odds of getting this money back is very slim, but I have to give it a shot.

Toys R Us is yet another business that cannot compete with the convenience of online shopping. Our local mall is a ghost town and is mostly used by retirees who pace back and forth to get their steps on the Fitbits. Sears will soon be replaced by yet another fancy supermarket with lots of prepared foods.

Is the demise of ToysRUs and its fellows a bad thing? No more teenagers hanging out at the foodcourt at the mall. No more flat-iron salesmen at the kiosks chasing me down the hallway with their products. No more lines of kids waiting to get their pictures taken with the Easter bunny. Does it matter? Probably not.

I’m quite happily buying picture frames, rugs, and eyeglasses online. My rug showed up in two days and was perfect. My glasses were inexpensive and were easy to exchange when the first pair were too large. Framing my picture online saved me several separate trips to get the picture printed and then matched to the right frame. Over this winter, I also purchased my holiday cards and a stylist-approved outfit — all online.

The stores that are going to survive the continuing extinction of brick and mortar are going to be like creatures that survived the dinosaur extinction — smart and agile and small.

People still want to go out to be inspired. They want an experience along with their shopping. So, stores that show you what your rooms can look like with their products, an IKEA for example, will be fine. Stores that provide services for the busy family, like the prepared foods at the fancy supermarkets, will keep expanding. Stores that make you feel hipper with carefully curated items and hip workers will be okay.

But you should hurry up and spend your gift cards to stores with piles of dusty board games or piles of discount jewelry. Their days are numbered.

A New Day

Yesterday, I planned on rebooting my work schedule for the spring. One project needs a new home, and I need to pull together new projects for the various venues places that I publish. But I was defeated by extreme weather in the Age of Global Warming.

The skies opened up, and the streets flooded. After an hour of waiting for Ian’s bus, I gave up and drove him, which is an hour round trip. Then his school’s parking lot flooded, so his school was let out after lunch period. Between shuttling Ian back and forth and prepping for his 16th birthday party — a small family thing at a local Chinese restaurant — not much happened work-wise.

In the old days, work-day washouts were more frequent. There was always some emergency that surrounded the boys, which made a flexible job a necessity. Now, these events are rare, but are still frustrating. I didn’t sleep much last night, because I was writing in my head. I have to purge those words during the day, so I can sleep at night. Sigh, it’s tough being neurotic.

So, it’s Tuesday, but it feels like a Monday. I’m making lists and taking notes. And blogging. More to come.