Uncommon Nonchalance

Dearest Rachel –

It seems I’m writing you a lot about yesterday’s events, as opposed to what’s going on today. For what it’s worth, today we are starting on a new phase of the project, with a whole different team, as the fellows who specializing in laying tile are going to be working on the flooring for the remainder of the week (and probably on into Tuesday before they’re finished). I’ve also been warned by Tim that I’ll need to wake up, shower, and get dressed a bit sooner to accommodate them, as they apparently work from 7 to 3, as opposed to the 8 to 4 the regular team does. Don’t want them to show up with me less than fully put together, after all.

So, since they’re just getting started, and this is going to take several days before we see the finished product, there’s no real point in dwelling on whatever it is they’ll be doing just yet. After all, there have been a few other transactions that might be worthy of comment that I just hadn’t gotten to yet. And this is one of them. The fact that it happened yesterday rather than today just means that I need to tell you about it that much sooner.

It shouldn’t come as any great surprise that, with a project of this size, there are installment payments to be made along the way. Additionally, you and I have both acknowledged to each other that this house was specifically designed to create the most interior space possible for the least amount of money back in the day. All of which was perfectly fine – it’s how we both came to love and afford the old place, after all. But it the process of the remodel, the team has discovered a number of places where the old place needed to be brought up to code, and undo the shortcuts that were taken back in the day. Some of these upgrades were built into the price of the project, as it was known from the start what the house did and didn’t have, due to the rules in place at the time it was built. Some of them were only discovered in the process of tearing up the old floors, walls and other connections, and had to be added to the overall cost.

So yesterday, the bill came due, both for an installment and for the necessary upgrades. You might be able to guess that it was a significant amount, but I shan’t bore you with actual numbers; they would be irrelevant to you in any event, as you left me in charge of the household finances throughout our lives, and inflation has probably skewed some of these numbers to the point where you wouldn’t be able to determine whether they were reasonable or not. Heck, even I’m hard-pressed to judge that.

What amused me about the situation was that, when Time presented me with the three bills (one was the main project installment, one was for the additional work to bring it up to code, and I think the third was a little bit of both? Maybe additional supplies and wiring? I forget), he prefaced it by saying that this was the part of the job that he always hated dealing with. I get the need to be diplomatic about it – and in a certain way, I can relate to what he’s saying, because it feels like that point in a game when I’m winning by a ridiculous margin, and feel kind of apologetic about it, because I’m well aware of how unpleasant losing can be – but it does strike me as a bit disingenuous. I mean, come on, man, you’re getting paid today. What’s to hate about that?

Well, it seems that he’s accustomed to customers reacting to the bills with what can best be described as ‘sticker shock.’ Now, while I realize that the numbers I’m dealing with are by no means what anyone would call small, they aren’t exactly unexpected, either. I walked into this project with my eyes open, and I’ve even had to pay an installment or two before; there’s nothing about this to protest about. Similarly, while the additional amounts might raise eyebrows, they aren’t out of line, given the things I’ve been informed of along the way. I might have an issue with having to have six or seven smoke detectors installed throughout the house – you’ll recall my becoming the embodiment of that old joke about knowing when dinner was done because of them (and that was only steam, I swear!) – but Tim tells me that the new ventilation system in the kitchen should ameliorate that (as will the fact that I intend to use the self-cleaning function on the oven regularly; something I couldn’t do with our old wall-mounted appliance). The thing is, everything has to be brought in line with the current building codes, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

So, while he offers me time to go over the bills and ask questions about each little line item as I do, I don’t see any point to it. I just sit down and write out the requisite checks (he agrees that I could write out a single check to cover everything, but for the sake of his own accounting, he admits that it would be easier for him if I make out three separate payments. As an accountant myself, I get that, and oblige. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of checks to use) to cover everything.

It seems that my nonchalance about paying for the work (and the materials) is a fairly unusual thing, which I can’t bring myself to understand. Dad has often talked about dealing with customers who get so nitpicky about every single detail – and he was selling a quality product, and everyone involved knew it. Why would a customer balk at paying for something when that’s the very reason they went with the brand in the first place? I always assumed that, in order to purchase high-quality products like this cabinetry, one would be sufficiently well-heeled to be able to afford and appreciate its quality. Given that, why fuss over a few relatively minor issues here and there – especially when it comes down to building codes? Don’t people get that ‘you can’t fight city hall’? Why cut corners when you’re buying top-of-the-line? Am I so unusual?

I asked Dad about that yesterday, and he told me about a few customers he’d had. Sure, there were those who would have readily agreed with me that quality comes at a price, and there’s no sense in balking at it. There were also those who had legitimate issues with installation or the occasional bad product – hey, mistakes happen, even to the best of us – and the sooner they’re spotted and dealt with (especially by the customer, because that means it’s probably egregious), the better for all concerned.

But then, there were those who, as he quoted Uncle Tru, were ‘heap big smoke, no fire.’ Texans might refer to them as ‘all hat and no cattle,’ and certain members of the urban population might say they were ‘frontin’.’ Some people buy nice things as a status symbol, but they’re stretched too thin to really afford them. He talked about a colleague of his in his early days in sales who sported some of the sharpest suits, and wondered how he managed them on his salary. Turns out, he didn’t – he was buying them on the five-year plan. Crazy.

So while Dad’s clients tended to be upper-middle class at least, there were some that were faking it rather than making it, and they were the bears to deal with.

Clearly, we’re doing better than that, so we can afford to be nonchalant about payment. To be honest, honey, our portfolio has lost so much more this year than I’m forking over to Tim (and Mike, and Lisa, and Abt) that it doesn’t make sense to complain about such relatively little things (again, I won’t say how much, but were I have been able to spend the evaporate, I could have bought that cottage on the island between three and four times over). And if they make the house safer and more durable, so that Daniel can stay here the rest of his days, we’ll have more than gotten our money’s worth – which I can’t necessarily say about this year’s stock market.

Still, there’s a way to go yet, and while the worst of the surprises are likely over and done with, there is lot more to pay for. Again, we’ll likely get our money’s worth, and while it may not feel like home at first, it will be something we can grow into.

As always, honey, keep an eye out for us, and wish us luck – I’m sure we’re going to need it.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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