I write this column in all sincerity, but what are you asking me for? A rhetorical question if there ever was one. To what I refer is the question I was asked earlier this morning by one of the home-improvement tradesman working on my upstairs bathroom. Having made significant progress on the bathroom in the five weeks or so since I published “And So It Begins,” a column detailing the few facts I retained about the demolition/renovation and the anxiety I felt about it, today’s task was waterproofing the shower enclosure/bathroom floor in preparation for the tile, if I understand correctly. Now, as further context, I know very little about home improvement (car repairs, computer technology, lawn and garden; shall I go on?). Moreover, I know very little Spanish. Combine the two, as happened this morning, and you are asking (literally) for trouble.
The waterproofing man arrived at 8:45 a.m. The day before, his boss/presumably the owner, had stopped by for a walk-through and to drop off materials for the job. I thought I would see him again, I was wrong. The only person on the job is the person whose English is better than my Spanish and the only Spanish I know, I know from a cartoon character, “Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse in all of Mexico,” I grew up watching on Saturday-morning television. After directing him to the upstairs bathroom, within a few minutes, the man walked downstairs and asked/motioned for me to follow him back upstairs, I figured there was likely a question that needed answering so immediately I got off the couch to assist.
Once we were both inside the bathroom, he started pointing to the walls (front, back and sides), ceiling, niche and planned-for bench within the enclosure, to ask for – so far as I could understand, what needed to be waterproofed (I’ll spare you any details about the process since I’m unlikely to do so accurately). Now, other than asking the project manager Simple-Simon-type questions about what is going on, what has gone on (literally and figuratively) and what is planned to be going on, I am out of any kind of loop. The workmen come in. I point them upstairs. Then I go into my office and mind my own business. I rarely check their progress, Generally speaking, I only look to see what’s been done after they’ve left. I am not in any body’s way and I don’t serve as any kind of resource other than answering the most basic questions: “Is that the basement door?” ” Do you mind if we shut off the water?” Is there a hardware store nearby?” As such, I am the least-bit helpful.
The man working today is new to me/the project. He’s not been here before. But I did open the door to let him in and I did direct him to the upstairs bathroom. For all he knows/has experienced so far, I seem to be somewhat helpful. Ergo, after a bit, rather than calling his boss, he came back downstairs to solicit my help. Limited though I knew it would be, I was happy to try. As the conversation began, it became clear to me that not only did I not know what he was talking about (job wise), I couldn’t even understand what it was that he was saying. I was lost in translation and lost in intention. As I attempted to answer/explain/guess what he was asking while we were both pointing/gesturing/talking, I quickly realized that this was a language match not made in heaven. Nevertheless, we eventually came to some sort of an understanding of the task at hand and back downstairs I went.
Sitting on the couch, I began to feel uncomfortable about the instructions I think I had just given/agreed to. As a result, I considered calling my project manager at home on a Saturday morning to get some clarity/confirmation about what I think had just transpired upstairs. Not at all bothered by my weekend intrusion, and after listening to a condensed version of this column, Stefan assured me that what seemed to be happening here was supposed to be happening.
And here I thought outliving my lung cancer prognosis by six-plus years was a miracle.