Stairway To Heaven…

One of my last reviews, ‘Home Despot,’ seems to have triggered an unusual set of events that I will lay out before you here. The critical essay itself spoke of no one person, but, instead, it railed on a group of people known as contractors. And everything I said in it was true. And the anger and criticisms I displayed in that work were all justified. I apologize for none of it. Based on my many experiences with this group of workers, I look at everyone I deal with suspicion and a belief that they will fail me somewhere in the process of doing any work for me at all. No matter how small. Indeed, no matter how important. To me, but to themselves as well. And they almost always serve my cynicism to be correct. There are exceptions and exceptional craftsmen out there. But they are rare indeed. And I call positive attention to them as much as I heap negative criticism on the failing majority. And it is not always so simple – so black and white. A lot of theses guys are actually good people and mean well. But that doesn’t mean that they are good at what they do. And that is what is being judged. The quality of work. Combine that with the overall experience and it adds up to a score: 5 stars, 1 star. Whatever. If you don’t wish to be measured in this way, then don’t put yourself into a place where all of your work is open to criticism. After all, as a contractor, you are stating that you can do a certain type of work at a certain level of quality.

After a disturbing event while having a shed built, which I will address in a different diatribe, we felt we had lucked out with a couple of gentlemen who built the actual foundation for the shed(s). For the sake of this critical essay, we will call them Miguel and Marty. I will review them by name in the correct places for that matter in the near future. They dug out the shed foundation, created the matrix for the shape, supervised the concrete pour, and finessed and finished the actual surfaces. It was beautiful. I watched the entire event and even captured some video. Impressive work and craft.

Not only was the work done extremely well, but both Miguel and Marty seemed so genuinely polite and amiable and capable, that we invited them to quote on building us a badly needed set of back stairs in cement. Simple. A modest project of only 5 steps with two outer walls. About four feet square in all. Their quote came, but I think we were already sold based on their prior job. We agreed to have them do it. We even paid them 50% up front (which, incidentally, is illegal in California. Contractors are only allowed to ask for a maximum of $1,000 deposit. Having moved here from out-of-state, we had no idea of this and were enlightened later by our lawyer). A date was set and so it was to be.

The expectation was that the stairs would be built in one to two days time. Miguel and Marty arrived on a Monday. I was immediately aware that something had changed in their tone with me. Well, Miguel’s anyway. Marty kept to himself mostly. Miguel began speaking about how “interesting” our house was. He exclaimed that it was “like a fortress!” Curious, I thought. What did that mean, not easy to break into? His next question was in trying to preserve parts of the old stairs that we wanted (needed) removed and had agreed to prior to getting his quote. Seemed like he was already trying to alter the amount of work they were supposed to do. Make it a bit easier, I suppose. He did not seem happy that I wasn’t going along with his new plan to curtail the workload. So they broke down the old stairs, not being careful at all to avoid letting huge chunks fall to the cement paths surrounding the stairs. I was very concerned that they were going to crack the path. Luckily, in the end, it held up to the destructive attempts, though it had shifted position slightly. Now I was certain that there was some attitude affecting Miguel’s demeanor.

For reference, I put it to you that during their first job on the sheds, Miguel and Marty were treated extremely well. I always offered water and snacks. I chatted with them. I treated them with respect and I never judged them before they finished their job. And when they were done with the first job on the sheds, I felt like they were actually really nice and honest people who cared about their craft and respected others and others’ property around them. Truly. And that is the reason we invited them back for more work.

Throughout the remaining days of work on the stairs, Miguel kept dropping one liners that he quoted directly from my ‘Home Despot’ blog review found elsewhere in this blog site. He purposefully pulled specific items to throw in my face like: “Do you mind if I take some photos of your house to show friends and family? I promise I won’t sell them to anyone.” Smarmy. This was in reference to my comments on how some contractors who work on your home, having gained access to your lifestyle, schedule, and property layout, do not necessarily use the info for their own misdeeds, but, instead, sell or give the information to others who will then rob your house having never been there. Thus never becoming suspects or seeming involved.

Obviously, Miguel was put off by my commentary on how a lot of seedy contractors operate. Or the fact that a lot of contractors are, indeed, seedy. Funny how I never put him into that category, originally. Also funny is how my comments are based on fact and my own experiences. Ask any police official – particularly an investigator – and you will learn just how many home crimes, rapes, and robberies are committed by contractors. People who have been in your home. It is a simple fact. And if I am not allowed to voice my opinions based on my experiences, then I guess I should be getting Miguel’s permission to think and feel anything at all. My mistake. I didn’t know that he was the defender of the ignorant and arrogant masses of people calling themselves contractors. A superhero for criminals? Really? I thought he believed in standing up for everyday people and their right not to be lied to, mislead, overcharged, ripped off. I guess I was wrong about Miguel.

The one liners thrown back at me from my own blog felt full of spite. And so, to coincide with the crappy attitude, the work suffered. The cement pour went badly. It seemed Miguel ordered too little for the job, as well as not keeping it wet enough. So, in the end, as the shape came into view, the structure suffered visually. It was missing chunks all over, as well as pitted with holes everywhere. Try as Marty would, he could not get a nice smooth finish on the stairs. Miguel doesn’t retain the skill set that Marty has, so he couldn’t really do anything once the cement was poured but watch and make suggestions to Marty. A true manager.

The other fun event was that on the day of the cement pour Miguel decided to bring his “girlfriend” to “help out” with the work. Really? She was there for three simple reasons. To finish scoping out the house as much as possible, to send home any messages Miguel may have missed the first time around, and lastly, to respond to my comment that we never see women doing any home improvement work as actual contractors. Right, “liar?” She asked questions about our car… again taken from my blog and thrown back at me. Questions about the house itself. Questions about the neighbors. Questions about the sign that reads ‘beware of dog.’ Comments about how you couldn’t burn the house down. And so on… Gathering information purposefully to antagonize. To throw what I had said in my blog back into my face. Even though it was never written about Miguel and Marty or anyone like them. As a matter of fact, we were so impressed after their first job, that when the stairs were done I was going to write a huge glowing review of both Miguel and Marty and how they excel where all others fail miserably. Not to be, Mon Chéri.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a lot of physical work. Timing and organization are key. And it seems that if there were ever any possibilities of failure – of any kind – that you would pose those to your client up front. Long before any work started. This never happened. And the controls Miguel should have had in place simply weren’t there. He told me to my face several times as they tried to rescue the finish, that they failed by not having enough cement and by having the mix too dry. They even had to go buy more bags of cement which were hand mixed to help and try finishing off the project. Other issues were things like taking half of the quote up front. It is illegal in California for a contractor to take more than $1,000 up front for any work of any kind.

As it became clearer that our “new” stairs were going to look like crappy worn-away stairs, Miguel intimated that one of the options for a fix was to tear out the entire new stairs and start over with a fresh pour. Ridiculous. How much stress do you wish to foist onto your clients? Really? Break this new pour to pieces, trying to damage the walkway and foundation once and for all? His other option was to go and buy a cement to use as a skim coat. We agreed. We had little choice, really. Now that the experts had failed us, we had to try and salvage something out of this.

Of course, they couldn’t come back for another week! As a good person who actually cares about the quality of your work and service, don’t you think it important to fix your fuck-ups immediately? So do I. Another way to dig a knife into my side for my prior blog. Miguel’s revenge was coming to completion. He was now the punisher.

So they returned in a week’s time and proceeded to fail with the first attempt at a new skim coat. Which meant they had to scrape it all off before it completely dried and go to the store for something else. The third attempt at making a stairwell for us ended with a crappy skim coat that had no real nice texture, was uneven, and had multiple variations in color because the mix was done in small batches by hand. So now we have had this Frankenstein stairwell to live with. Great. Mission accomplished Miguel and Marty? Nope. Now Miguel was going to try to contact some “people” who might know how to fix the issues with the second skim coat attempt. Another comment about the finish from Miguel was that we should probably not give the stairs “heavy use.” What the hell does that mean? They are stairs. Meant to be trodden upon day and night, yes? In the meantime, as the new skim coat dried, fractures began appearing throughout. It is now obvious that the “finish” is cracking and will likely break apart with use. This means we are stuck with an embarrassing and ultimately dangerous situation. If someone should slip and fall on this “craftsmanship,” then there will be some questions to be answered for certain. I think I can say with some certainty that Miguel and Marty don’t know what they are doing with stairs. Or that they know exactly what they are doing.

At this point we had had enough. Enough of our time and energy wasted on someone else’s mistakes. Compounded. Enough anxiety at the verbal attacks and digs. We politely sent an email to Miguel stating that we were simply going to “cut our losses” and deal with the stairs the way they were left. Miguel pondered this email for three days with no reply at all. On the fourth day he did reply with an apology and offering to remove $300 from the remaining 50% due him…

Have you stopped laughing? Wipe the tears from your eyes and I will continue.

What a responsible soul this Miguel is, huh? Does he deserve full payment for half of a job? A wonderful example of why I wrote my initial diatribe on contractors to begin with. As of this writing, we responded to Miguel’s email with our own email asking him for the license number associated with this job. Again, it took him an entire weekend to respond. When he did, he never supplied the license number (avoided mentioning it completely – as a matter of fact, he has been purposefully creating new emails for each response in order to remove any trail that would be easy to follow as court documents) and he wanted to come off as trying to “work things out.” All he wants now is his full paycheck for a crappy, unfinished job. The real issue is that we simply do not trust them enough to allow them back for any more fixes, or attempts. We are now surrendered to the fact that we will have to live with his abomination and find our own way to fix it. But as far as money is concerned, it seems we have already paid enough for a half-assed job and we aren’t willing to fork over any more money. And rightly so. We’ve paid in frustration. Overpaid.

I am not done. The finishing touch placed on everything by Miguel is this last note. Pulling from one of the last comments in my blog, Miguel gets a bit literal if not childish. When they had “cleaned up” and were getting ready to depart after their third failure to make a finished stairwell for us, Miguel sent Marty on a small but important mission (because Marty is Miguel’s dupe). Without looking up, Marty went to the back of our yard and behind our new sheds where he relieved himself. When you read “Home Despot” you will know which line this was referencing. This was Miguel’s period on his punishment of me. A class act all around, wouldn’t you say?

Am I not to vent my frustrations and anger over such events for fear of retribution? The hell I won’t. If people act like guttersnipes, then I will call them guttersnipes. That’s it. I’m done with all of this ignorance and arrogance. It needs to be called out. I am sick of being bullied, especially after being nice to people. I am tired of being lied to, cheated, and measured by the car in my driveway. Assumptions of my wealth and background are erroneous and always way off the mark. People have no idea what I have gone through in my life nor how I came to be where I am, good or bad.

There’s also a more ominous side of it all in that it feels like Miguel has gone to Facebook and linked-in where he has garnered some sleazy false information on me – it would help justify his entire new attitude toward me since we parted the first time. Tell me, are you one of those people who use your own skills and judgement after a personal connection with someone in order to assess what kind of person they are? Or do you take what is bandied about online as unquestionable truth? Vicious hearsay and comments perpetuated by people who never even met the person they are maligning? Or comments by people who are simply jealous of someone? Do you simply belong to the mob? Or are you your own person? The whole thing stinks of the internet mob. And I really thought Miguel was a well-grounded individual. Too much “reality” TV I guess… I only wish Miguel would get his head out of his arse and go back to being a well-grounded and polite person with good convictions. But that could be a long stretch. Especially in his righteous state of mind. I guess all of that Midwest upbringing didn’t sink in after all.

My hat’s off to you, thoughtful, gentle man, full of love and kindness. A man who can hurt others for sport and/or fun must indeed be a ‘real’ man.

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