Friday, July 09, 2004


We've been dealing with contractors of late. Specifically, cement contractors.

Everyone I talk to about contractors gets this look on their face, like they've just realized what's on their toothbrush isn't toothpaste.

"Contractors," they say. "Oh yeah. We had some work done."

Cement contractors seem to have a certain look to them. They are generally leathery-skinned, kind of like deshelled tortoises, at least here in Southern California, one can only assume from years of basking in the sun, taking people's cash.

We have had about five contractors in, bidding our job. The job is pretty straightforward: we want them to take out the horrendously ugly cement and tile in our atrium, and build a deck in there*. We also want them to take out the horrendously broken concrete that is our patio and replace it with non-horrendous, non-broken concrete.

Pretty simple, right?

But contractors can't just come to your house, take a look at the job, and say something normal like "five grand." No. They have to give you more. They have to deride their competition and make it clear that they are not to be trusted.

First, they try to worm out of you the names of the other contractors that have been there before them. Then, when you say "Well, Western Gutbusters was here, but their quote was a little high..." they get quiet for a moment.

"Kafkaesque," they say conspiratorially, "I don't like to say things about the other guys," and it is clear that there exists a bond among concrete contractors. There is a secret ceremony where they swear allegiance to each other. They go fishing together on weekends. They raise their children in large cement contractor groups on an island somewhere, the location of which can never be known by the common customer. In the darkness, a candle flame burning between them, they pledge to never, ever, say things about the other guys.

"But..." and then it comes out. The dark secrets they don't want to tell you, the very telling of which will damn them to a hideous and eternal punishment.

"Don't get me wrong. Gutbusters are a great operation. But, you know."

"Yes?" I ask.

"They're not licensed. They're not bonded. They hire guys off the street. They hire children off the street. Old ladies. They've got old ladies carrying their cement. I hear they like old ladies a lot, if you know what I mean."

The contractor looks at you as if you are now part of a circle of silence. You cannot tell anyone the knowledge that he has given you, on pain of death.

Or "The guy that runs Gutbusters? He's a great guy. I went school with him. But he changed a little, you know?"

"Yes? Changed how?"

"Remember the Fantastic Four?"

"Oh yeah, The Human Torch, The Thing. He's not The Thing, is he?"

"Don't joke."


"He's a supervillain. He's like Dr. Doom, the guy that runs Gutbusters. He's fashioning an iron mask, several floors below his home. He means to take over the world with a Doomsday Machine."

"A Doomsday Machine?"

"Something about freezing the world. Look, it doesn't matter. But all he needs is $6500, and he can finish his machine, enslaving the Earth. I know he might undercut my bid, but what I'm saying is that you and your wife and your family will spend the rest of your lives like deer in the winter, snuffling for roots under layers of snow, and eventually, you will succumb to the cold."

"So I shouldn't use him, then?"

"It's up to you. I'm not going to say a word against him."

Another tactic one of the contractors employed was to describe how he was basically a reanimated corpse, willing himself to stay alive only to do my concrete. And I'm not making this part up. The other, Dr. Doom part, I may have embellished.

I had been talking with the guy for all of about two minutes when he came out with "I've only got half a liver."

I was nonplussed.

"Yep. Used to have a problem with the hooch."

First off, I didn't know anyone said "hooch" anymore. This guy was like one of those Stephen King characters that appear in the first hundred pages and sell the protagonist a possessed car or something. I could tell because all during our conversation, he was having an italicized internal monologue.

"I used to have a problem with the hooch"

Why'd you tell him that? Why --

"But I don't touch a drop any more."

You know you touched a drop. You drank an aerosol can of Lemon Pledge this morn--

"No sir, but my medication, it costs a lot. It costs eight thousand dollars a month."

Maybe we should get burgers for lunch. But you always get cheese. I don't like chee--

"And my eyes? They're made of wood."

No cheeseburgers no cheeseburgers no cheeseburg--

He starts to cry. "I got no eyes, man! No eyes!"

And so on.

The crux of the matter is that all these freaks have come to my home and bid on my job. And, really, there's not that much difference in the bids. They give me the bid and they leave, some of them making it clear that their very existence depends on getting this job, intimating that the bid is in fact so low that it will mean that they will spend the rest of their lives on the streets, telling the story of how this one guy with an atrium ripped him off.

And what happened, in each case? They flaked out on me. Every single one. I want to give these people my money, because frankly I'm too pretty and weak to remove cement myself, but they won't take it. I've called them repeatedly, and been assured that they are all ready to go with the job, and then they never call back. I can't figure it out. I want to give them my money.

Why will no-one take my money?

Because they all hate you and you're pretty and weak.

Shut up.

*This is only if they are multi-classed contractors. If they had D&D style character sheets, they would be Cement-Deck Contractors, kind of like Fighter-Magic Users. I don't know what level you have to get to before you can start learning Tensor's Floating Disk as a contractor.

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