Wednesday, September 26, 2007

if anything should happen to me...

On my block a house is being gutted and turned into as much of a McMansion as can be squeezed into its tiny lot. This is an inconvenience to anyone in the neighborhood who is home during the day, but it should be a bearable annoyance. In my case, however, it has developed to a point where I actually have concerns for my personal safety, and my husband, who should be concerned about my safety, is instead concerned for my personal sanity.

The crux of the matter is that the contractor has a number of orange plastic pylons, which he likes to place in the street. This is a very narrow street. Although it is nominally a two-way street, it is just wide enough for one carefully-piloted car to squeeze through if cars are parked on both sides. (On this street, one must be prepared at all times to squeeze into empty parking spaces if a car is coming the other way). The street is not wide enough to play slalom and dodge those pylons.

As the only stay-at-home parent on the block, I am unique in coming and going all day: take Lola to pre-k, return, get Iris from school, perhaps take a child to gymnastics, go to the grocery store, pick up Lola at pre-k... It never ends. So perhaps it is inevitable that I would enter into conflict with anyone who chooses to put things into the street each day in front of my house. Once I got one of the loathsome pylons caught under my car and dragged it accidentally for two blocks.

Of course, the pylons are not the only cause of annoyance. I held my tongue when the workers woke me up early one Saturday morning blasting mariachi music at insane volumes. I didn't say anything when the excavations threw up so much dirt that my car was unsafe to drive each day (there was so much dirt on my rear window that I couldn't see through it to reverse, and it was scary). It wasn't until the day I was blocked in by trucks that open conflict erupted. That day I was on a tight schedule, returning Lola home from gymnastics in time to meet her speech therapist. As I turned into my block, a large truck pulled out in front of me. Irritatingly enough it waited -- as did I -- for a woman driving the other direction, but rather than wait for me, the truck decided, "Screw you, Oldsmobile-driving loser" and pulled out, nearly hitting me. It then just stopped, at an awkward angle blocking the street, and started performing various arcane construction maneuvers. Further down the block ANOTHER truck was parked in the street, fencing off the block in another direction (and mind you, the speech therapist paid $110 an hour was expected to arrive any minute by car). "I need to get through!" I said through my window to the contractor. "Just park here," he said. At that point, I was cranky and expressed that the street should not be blocked, I should be able to get through, and that they had thrown up so much dirt every day that it wasn't safe to drive my car. The contractor did not apologize for anything at any time, insisting that this was just a part of life and I needed to accept it, but did allow that he might have a worker hose off my car at the end of the day. I said that if he did that, I would really appreciate it, and then Lola and I rushed into the house.

A little over an hour later, Lola and I emerged, practicing our R-words as we drove our filthy, unsafe car to pre-k. I then took the car to the world-famous Touchless Carwash and ran some other errands. Later in the day, I drove home after collecting Iris and Lola from their schools. There was a pylon idiotically placed right in the street in front of my house, where I customarily (and obsessively, as I'm a bit of a crank about my god-given parking space) park. There was no way to park without hitting it unless I were to stop the car in the street, get out, move the pylon, park, and then replace it. I refuse to do that, and so I ran over the pylon.

As I got out of the car, the contractor came over and went into a rage that I had run over his pylon. (Indeed, I had not realized as I parked that my front wheel had actually come to rest on the pylon). He said that he had washed my car for me that day, but that was an out-and-out lie which did not take me in. I was home for only an hour, and when I left, my car was completely covered with dirt obscuring the rear window (indeed the poor workers at the Touchless let out exclamations of horror as I drove in; sorry, Touchless artisans!). There was no way the car could have been washed, dried completely, and become covered in dirt again IN JUST ONE HOUR. I didn't point out the lie, but I said, "Actually, it was unsafe when I left and I just paid $30 to have it washed." The contractor demanded I move my car off his pylon, and he got in my face in a rage. A former litigator myself, I am no stranger to men trying to intimidate me, and my trained response is to not back down. I refused to move my car and said that if he didn't want his pylons run over, he shouldn't leave them in the fucking street. Meanwhile Iris and Lola were nervously fidgeting. The contractor stomped off mumbling threats, and I ushered the girls into the house quickly. I felt genuinely unsafe, and I called the Sober Husband. He was in a meeting and declined to take my calls.

The next day, the Sober Husband walked over to talk to the contractor. The husband reported back that the contractor was obviously very upset over his run-in with me and felt I was being completely unreasonable in running over his pylon. The pylons are supposed to alert drivers that there will be construction ahead. The Sober Husband, without consulting me, agreed that I should stop my car in the street, get out while leaving the car running, move the pylons, then park and replace the pylons. Likewise when I leave, I should adjust the pylons, again leaving the car running. The husband looked chagrined and pissed when I informed him that I refuse to live by that. I do not feel comfortable leaving my car running on a steep hill with my children in it while I fuss about with a pylon, and I just don't feel that I should have to go through this inconvenience. In my opinion, if someone leaves something in the street, they should assume the risk it will be run over, NOT expect others to take care of that property.

Yesterday when I left at noon to take Lola to pre-k, there were no pylons in front of my house. They were placed across the street and further up the street from my house. I felt relieved and thought that perhaps the contractor had come to his senses and decided to just not put the stupid pylons where I was coming and going all day. Later I returned with Iris and Lola, and what did I see but a pylon placed very prominently, centered right in front of my house. There was no way to get into the spot where I traditionally park without striking the pylon (or, in theory, leaving the car blocking the street in order to get out and move the stupid thing). However, no one was parked in front of my next door neighbor's house, so I decided to be the better person and park in a different spot. I reversed and backed up so that I was partially in front of my house. When I got out, I saw that my bumper had just tipped over the pylon, although I hadn't run over it... and there was a big, heavy thing which had been hidden under the pylon. Fuck. I carried in the object, which appeared to be part of a construction pole with a large metal ring embedded in one end, and put it on my porch. (The Sober Husband opined later that it is a chock for stopping large trucks).

The only logical explanation is that the contractor planted that chock hidden under the pylon to sabotage my car and teach me a lesson. If I had run over that pylon on my way into my spot, it could have severely damaged my car. I was shaken. I considered calling the police, but felt that in my city, where there is considerable gang violence in places, the police would not want to bother with an incident of "I almost had my car damaged." I couldn't prove that the contractor had done this, although there was no one else who would have a reason to do such a thing.

This morning the Sober Husband told me that he was going to return the chock to the contractor in case he needed it. "No! It's evidence!" I said. He looked at me with a sort of pity mixed with disgust. "I don't want to be the guy who is against safety," he said. In the Sober Husband's mind, the contractor stands for Safety and Hard Work, and evidently the wife stands for Danger and Sloth. I think this contractor, a short, prematurely balding man, is likely suffering from Napoleon's Syndrome, which causes him to think he can bully women. I also think he's unhinged, trying to wreck my car.

My discussion with the husband was interrupted by a spectacularly ill-timed phone call. Over a month ago, I sent a complaint email after I had some astonishingly bad and rude service at my pet food supply store, and this was the moment at which the owner of the store was calling to discuss my complaint. It was the first time in fifteen years I'd made a complaint against someone at a business, and the response came just as I was trying to convince my husband that the contractor tried to sabotage my car. The husband's thoughts were transparent. Against my wishes, he carried the chock back to the contractor and went off to Doggyo to spend a day working and refusing to take his crazy wife's calls.

Dear readers, if you should cease to hear from me, look for my remains in the construction project on Mono Way in San Francisco (or perhaps in a burnt-out teal Oldsmobile with Burning Man and PETA stickers). Feel free to say, in a judgmental way, "She told you so" to my widowed spouse. And, incidentally, the Sober Husband drove over a pylon today and had great difficulty extricating it from the undercarriage of his car. "It was impossible not to run over it," he admitted.

12 comments:

Freewheel said...

Maybe you should use your lawyering skills to "find" a code violation that necessitates halting construction.

hokgardner said...

Oh you've touched on huge pet-peeve of mine - contractors who feel justified in taking over public roads for their private constructions projects. You have my sympathies and support in ANY actions you take to get back at this contract, within the law of course. : )

the Drunken Housewife said...

Hokgardner, my post was so long I didn't cover all the details, but here is one you'll love: the contractor put his dumpsters on the opposite side of the road from the construction project. So all day long, there are little Bobcat excavators CROSSING THE ROAD and TYING IT UP. There is absolutely no reason in hell to put the stuff on the opposite side of the street. None. Except perhaps the desire to annoy others and exercise some petty little power to do so of the short, balding, rage-filled contractor.

Freewheel, at this point the house in question is a gutted skeleton over a dirt hole. It's got to be finished at some point. I think really I have no ability to stop this project, but I think I will complain to the state contractor's board.

The Woman of Science said...

I'd start confiscating any pylons which had to be moved in order to park your car. I'm sure the girls would love building forts with them.

Of course, what you really ought to do is start documenting anything appearing unsafe, inconsiderate, or suspicious. Be nice and conspicuous while taking digital pictures of the construction site. Then send them to the Better Business Bureau with a note explaining the problem in each picture.

It's a pity that there's no way to get INS involved without screwing up the lives of the labor force too.

Yummy Mommy said...

You sound like my kind of girl! I would be SO pissed at this situation, I'd be busting some short, balding contractor heads! I think woman of science's suggestion is probably a more reasonable one- make sure baldy knows what your up to, and maybe he'll change his tune.

Silliyak said...

Brush up on your OSHA regs, you're sure to find some violations, then report them. You can take pictures of transient violations (no hardhats etc). Make sure they have permits. See if contractor has out of state plates but is a CA resident. If they are scabs, see if any local unions would be interested in picketing.
Or you could try being extra nice to the workers and ask that they NOT pylon your house or obstruct your passage, warm brownies each morning, cookies, lemonade, revealing tops etc.

lauren said...

This reminds me of when the rental house I reside in one corner of was sold to an insane person. She LOOKS normal, even likeable, on paper. However in reality she is crazy: without warning, an army of contractors descended on her suite (with which I share a - thin!! - wall) and GUTTED IT to build what we came to call the Barbie Dream Castle. I had just started working from home, and was in hell due to noise, dust, unsafe working practices performed by slipshod contractors.. I actually did call the city to get them halted because of some of the crap they pulled. And it went on for months. So I FEEL YOUR PAIN. Be strong. Have another martini.

mombo said...

As someone who is married to a person who does this kind of work sometimes I have a different take. Your best bet would have been to go over to the contractor, introduce yourself, point out your house and explain that you have two children and are coming and going all day. Let him know that your other neighbors are gone so if he could please keep the pylons out of your way, it would be much appreciated.
To be fair, construction is just a pain in the ass and there is no way to get around most of this crap. I know that you feel pissy and put out but it's not too late to make a truce with the contractor ( baked goods will help ) and work it out that way.
I have seen my husband move a car parked in the wrong place out of his way with a forklift. Trust me, contractor is far more annoyed and concerned about the people nagging him to get their mcmansion done so that they can have the folks out from the midwest or east coast for their picture perfect Thanksgiving and roast marshmallows in their Great Room than he is about you.
My advice is to make friends.
Yes, I am sure that dude has an attitude with you and drives a giant truck like an asshole but still...
ps. someone linked your blog to you know where and I have been enjoying it greatly. xo mombo

kathleen said...

May I suggest a phone call to DPT (553-1200??). We also have alot of constuction in this part of the woods. While I consider myself the patron saint of contractors (always hunting people down on street cleaning) I had this one ***hole who insisted on blocking my driveway- as if it was his God given right. DPT quickly pointed out who's right it really was. And needless to say- the contractor doesn't park there anymore. So try DPT -they may be able to give you guidance and lord knows they are always happy to ticket.
You are my guilty pleasure!

FENICLE said...

I hate it when they invade quiet peaceful neighborhoods!!! Especially places that are already established. It's so disruptive.

Alison said...

Well, I'm starting to worry. It's been days now with no word from you! But surely the mad builder doesn't work weekends ...

Just reading your woes made me feel stressed. I don't think I'd have the guts to do anything much about it though - I would even be paranoid enough to figure that he'd guess it was the mad lady in the car who'd set the DPT onto him. The one angle I'd try would be to talk to the owners of the house-to-be, if you can find out who they are: surely they don't want to feel hated by the whole neighbourhood before they even move in, so maybe they could put pressure on the contractor to act nice.

On the bright side, at least they won't be working there forever. And just think how much having a McMansion down the road will improve your own property value ...

Chaos Control said...

This is yet another example that supports my theory that we should all have the right to interview and vote on potential neighbors before they are allowed to move in next door to us and reap havoc on our lives!!!!