Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wanted: A Competent Contractor (05-12-10)

My days are spent trying to get contractors to give me estimates to make the shed usable as an art studio to spread my art supplies around. There is no middle ground; contractors are like day and night.

An upscale-looking remodeling website recommended this contractor based on my zip code. Right off, when I see that this gentleman specializes in Lake Oswego and West Linn remodel, I doubt that my modest project will be worth his attention… In any case, he comes promptly with his dad, a retired architect. Both are dressed in business casual, and, with similar perfectly creased pants and matching shirt, look so much alike that I can’t help repeatedly cast surreptitious glances from the father to the son during the visit. Rather than give pertinent directions as to what I am expecting from the project, all I can do is distractedly point to the inside of the shed and lamely say that I want it, you know, “nice.” They walk around the inside of the shed, take notes on a legal-sized pad, nod their head in unison, and promptly leave with the promise of an estimate... Neither ever calls back.

According to my real estate agent, this guy is a true artist who worked on various local artsy projects on a regular basis. He looks like a nice quiet young guy, but seems to be pretty bummed out due to some recent losses in his life. He explains what could be done to turn the shed into a really cool building and seems knowledgeable about how go about to achieve that result. The problem is that he doesn’t have any tools at the moment, and neither do we; I am not sure how this problem can be overcome. He sends me a rather vague text estimate via his cell phone.

The day I find a crudely printed black and white flyer in my mailbox praising the merits of this contractor, I am particularly fed up with deciphering Yellow Pages ads in tiny print, so I call him, my heart full of hope. He seems competent enough, but I am not sure he understands what I mean by "an artistic look, like in North Portland," using materials from the Rebuilding Center. The blank look I get in return and his immediate naming a nearby suburban home improvement center as a perfect source for materials suggests that he does not, in fact, know what I am talking about. As I ponder whether this guy has ever been anywhere outside of suburbia, he clears his throat and spits something huge on the gravel outside the shed... (My mental picture of my perfect little shed is now jarred by the presence of pools of spit…). His high estimate confirms my determination to not hire him.

Many times, one relies on a network of people who recommend people who did a great job, etc. This contractor, a smiling, happy-go-lucky type, comes with high recommendations. His estimate is very affordable, but I am not sure he understands the scope of the project, despite my best efforts to overcome the language barrier. When I mention getting recycled materials, he suggests vinyl windows, then shouts "No problem!" when I object. In fact, he keeps interjecting "No problem!" for every issue we may find, be they carpenter ants or structural beam that need strengthening. This is a man with vision. He gesticulates, waves his arms around; we could move over that wall, remove the siding; we could even tear down the building and build a new one! Despite his contagious enthusiasm, deep inside I suspect that there will be problems down the road...

Again, the homeowner benefits from using references, and references from other contractors are valuable. This guy exudes a quiet self-assurance in his capabilities, seems competent and immediately comes up with sound solutions to eventual issues we may encounter. He clearly knows what he is talking about and asks me to give him a chance to prove his skills. As I finally think I may have found the right person for the job and I see my charming little art shed taking concrete shape in my mind, I get an email from him. His high estimate is distressing; I just can't afford him.

So, it looks like I will either pull my hair over costs, or pull my hair over having to babysit someone all the way...

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Toxic Couch: Part Two (05-10-10)

Now, you may ask, what does NOT work on a cat-stench-infected high-end leather sofa bed and recliner bought on Craigslist? Here is the answer, from direct experience: Febreze (1 bottle); Nature's Miracle (2 bottles); Biokleen (3 bottles). Add to that, a couple of big rolls of paper towels to spread the products all over the leather.

I removed the cushions from their zippered covers and took them to the laundromat, with the idea that if they were thoroughly cleaned, the problem may be resolved at last. Armed with detergent and bleach from home, I loaded three large-sized front-loading washers with the cushions. I filled the soap and bleach dispensers with what I estimated to be the required amount of liquid to deal with the situation at hand, and for good measure, I added yet more soap and bleach in each washer's dispenser. I watched as the machines filled with soapy water, and as I saw the water level rise behind the glass door, I noted with slight alarm that there was an awful lot of foam.

I was alone in the laundromat. I could see some foam pushing through the soap dispenser door on the top of one of the washers; I tried to wipe if off with my hand, but the foam was coming through anyway. A card on the wall behind the washers said that the place was under surveillance 24 hours a day. A glance to my left confirmed the presence of a camera overhead. I casually walked over to the thrash can by a folding table and pulled out an old pair of jeans that had been tossed away.
The foam had worked its way through the dispenser door and was now pulsating down the front and side of the washer and pooling on the floor. I tried to wipe everything, like it was just no big deal, once in a while glancing at the camera overhead. As I was busy wiping, I caught sight of mountains of foam cascading out of reach, at the back of the washer and the one next to it... Needless to say, once my load was done and the cushions had gone through a dryer cycle, I was out of there in no time.
But the cushions had come through with flying colors. They were clean and smell-free. There was hope, after all.

Filled with visions of myself sitting on my luxury distressed leather couch and telling people about my good fortune ("Would you believe, I got this $4,000 Restoration Hardware set on Craigslist of all places!), and bolstered by my success with the cushions, I decided that I might as well also take the leather cushion covers to the laundromat.

I walked in like an old pro, put detergent in the dispenser, inserted money and washed them, three times for good measure. I stood in front of the machine like it was perfectly normal to have this unappealing, even gross, stuff churning inside, and watched the yellow-brown water swirl about behind the glass, every turn of the drum causing a shot of brown color to ooze into the foam. Once done, I carefully stretched the wet covers and ran them through a gentle dryer cycle.

But despite the thorough washes, the part of the cushions that had been at the back of the sofa and recliner still smelled awful and rank and was gummy and sticky to the touch and stained my fingers with an oily substance I tried wiping on my jeans. When I got home, I asked Gary to help me gently stretch the covers, to then let them air dry on a chair in the sun. Cripes and aggravation! Inadvertently pulling too hard on one of the gummy corners caused the leather to tear!