Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Roofers

Several weeks ago, my wife and I found ourselves in need of a roofing contractor. I will readily admit that contractors, like mechanics, intimidate me because 80% of the time I have no idea what they are talking about and I simply nod my head in faux comprehension to retain some semblance of my manhood. Feeling in over my head, I asked a few friends if they knew a trustworthy roofer (this was often met with laughter) and when that turned up nothing I scoured the yellow pages for ads that were reassuringly absent of any grammatical errors.

I settled on two different local contractors who had positive ratings with the Better Business Bureau and websites that did not feature banner ads for Both men spent about twenty minutes on the roof before they descended and began using terms like “inadequately-distributed soffit ventilation system” and “undersized-gutter backflow.” I nodded solemnly to assure the contractor that I fully understood the grave nature of these structural shortcomings and would intermittently repeat the last line he said in the form of a question to highlight my attentiveness.

“Mr. Taylor, I would definitely recommend that you go with the shingle-over PVC ridge venting.”

“So you think the shingle-over ridge venting would be the best choice?”

They both agreed that I should pursue a homeowner’s claim as the damage appeared to be caused by hail. My insurance company sent out an adjuster named Tim who got on the roof and came to the conclusion that my contractor was delusional and that all the “hail damage” he had identified was the result of “boot scuffing” that was so widespread it appeared as though my home had been used as a set-piece for Riverdance. I then called the insurance company to request a second opinion, and from there the conversation quickly slid into madness:

“I would like to request a second inspection.”
“We can have Tim come back out as he is familiar with the property.”
“Why would you send the same guy back out?”
“Sir, I do not understand. Do you have a problem with Tim?”
“Not at all, but I am not sure how Tim can give me a second opinion.”
“Sir, we are trying to accommodate your request by sending someone out for a second opinion.”
“No, you are offering to present me with the first opinion for a second time. I don’t want to get into the semantics of this with you, but generally a second opinion has to originate from a second source.”
“Sir, was there something wrong with Tim?”
“I am sure his integrity is beyond reproach, but again, by sending Tim back out here you give him only two options. One is to reverse his prior findings thereby admitting either passive incompetence or outright dishonesty. The other is to retain his dignity and agree with himself. Do you think that situation fosters objectivity?”
“Now that you put it that way, I don’t know why we would send out the same guy again. Mark will be there next week.” 
After Mark came out and concluded that Tim must have “been on my neighbor’s roof,” we set a date and time for the contractor to begin. As I would later learn, an appointment to a contractor is not so much a fixed moment in time as it is an abstract concept to be studied in retrospect. One particular day they called me at 9:00 AM to ask me when I was going to be home to let the painters in. After reminded her that no one had told me the painters were coming and I was at work, she said that she would call me back and let me when they could “reschedule.”

The next morning around the same time, I received a call informing me that the painters would not be able to make it that day and needed to reschedule for the next day. When I again relayed to her that I was at work and no one had informed me that were slated to work that day at all, she said they would reschedule for the following day in order to accommodate me.

When the painters did arrive, they consisted of a husband and wife team named Earl & Judy. I soon learned that Judy’s grown son from a previous marriage had been living with them for almost a year and a half while he was “getting his life together.” At one point after Judy needled Earl about eating slow at restaurants, he responded “Why should I hurry when I eat since all I have to look forward to at home is staring at your son’s useless feet on my damn coffee table.”

They were a pleasant couple and informed me that the young man was slated to move out that weekend. When I jokingly asked if they were going to celebrate, Earl turned rather serious and stated that he planned to remain inebriated for the better part of three days. I knew that he meant every word.

To be fair, what the workers lacked for in punctuality they compensated for in craftsmanship. Most were friendly and only one made me slightly uncomfortable (he favored wife-beaters and had the habit of staring two inches east of the person he was addressing) but all in all it seemed to work out OK.        

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