I am currently writing a book on the odd jobs and various things I’ve done for coffee money. Here is a ROUGH DRAFT of one of those stories:
A Day in the Life of a Mason
Being someone that will do anything for twenty bucks and someone who can read directions well, I have recently developed quite the reputation for being handy–solely with my grandmother. In an effort to help me scrape together enough money for my coffee addiction, Grandma tells everyone she spends time with about my legendary ability to follow instructions, apropos housework. A month later, this brilliant marketing scheme finally pays off and a little old lady named Cruella requested my services. I gave her a ring. A fast talking stutter answered as if she was hiding from the Gestapo. “Huh Huh Hello who is this hu hu who are you lu lu looking for who are you?”
“Hi, this is Phil. I’m Toni’s grandson. She said you might need some help around the house.”
I give her a second because I assume she’s old, if she’s been hanging with G-ma—maybe she has to sit down for this. Once politeness turns to awkwardness, I proceed. “Sooooooo, do you need help with anything?”
“Ok. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Well I really don’t have much money I told your m m mom I don’t have much money?”
“Actually Toni’s my grandmother and that’s fine if you don’t have much money, just pay me whatever you think is fair. I mainly want experience as much as anything else.”
Cruella responded, “Ok, but it’s supposed to ruh ruh rain this week I need to concrete the cracks in my sidewalk and it cant be raining do you have experience with masonry your grandma said you were handy?”
“I have done little things with cement and caulk. I’m not a professional. But I can read the instructions and follow them”, I repond caustiously and already worried about having to deal with this woman.
“Ok well I’ll call my son and ask him when its gonna rain or not and ill call your mom uh uh uh ok?” Her voice is a constant vibrato like she’s scared of using her words and everything she says sounds like a question, even when it obviously isn’t. I let her go and wait for a clear day to start my career in masonry.
After several calls on several different days—all ending in rejection, I am ultimately able to convince Cruella that it isn’t going to rain and today would be a good day for me to come over and look at the job, so I could at least have an idea of what it will entail. I ride my bike twelve miles to what happens to be one of the nicest neighborhoods in the third biggest US city, across the street from a certain zoo, which will all remain nameless for anonymity and liability purposes.
Luckily, it is only 90 degrees, so I will be sweating profusely, but I wont pass out. I arrive, knock on the medieval lion’s head door-knocker, turquoise paint-chips fall off the door to the crack-striped, wooden porch, and a frantic mouse yells from the basement, “I’m down here the stuff is down here I don’t use the front door?”
I walk down to the sunken basement level and take a look at the broken foundation. “Is this the wall you want me to work on?”
“Yeah I can only pay you $100 though I don’t have much money I have to pay property taxes they’re almost $30,000 I can only pay you $100?”
“That’s fine. I wasn’t even expecting that much. I mostly want the experience. Just pay me at the end whatever you think is fair. I trust you.” The fact that she is apologizing for paying me more than I wanted, made me think that this was going to be more than a minor repair. “Remember, I’m not a mason. I’m not a professional. I am smart though, and hard working, and anything with directions I can figure out, though it may not be pretty.”
“That’s fine I just need this wall sealed up the rain’s getting in and this whole wall is caving in You’re mom said you are handy have you done this before?”
“Toni is my Grandmother, not my mother, and like I said, I’m not a professional. I can seal this up for you, though.”
I explain a few more times that $100 is more than enough and a few more times than that that I am still, in fact, not a professional and Toni is still not my mother. She already has the cement and caulk in her living room. I read the directions and begin to mix the cement to fill the major gaps. I am a little nervous because cement is a pretty permanent thing and what this wall really needs is to be torn down and rebuilt; It is so warped that that the wooden porch is about two feet to the right of where the wall meets the ground. There is no way to fix it, but if I can seal the cracks, hopefully I can prevent further damage.
The cement is fun to mix. I put on my hot pink dishwashing gloves because I’m not sure what deadly effects the cement might have on my skin. I fill a plastic tub with a few scoops of dry cement dust, about two pounds, and add one half cup of water. It only takes the slightest hint of water to turn this dust into rock. The droplets trickle down, bubbling, transforming instantly to what will soon be the new foundation of Cruella’s home.
The cement is very hard to work with. I try to meticulously fill the cracks with a small clean clump of clay, but half of it sticks to my trowel, the other half hangs from the wall like a melting Hershey’s kiss. I can’t seem to swipe an even, flat patch.
Now I take a large glob of putty and slather it on like barbecue sauce on brisket. This excess cement allows me to leave a smooth surface despite the extra sticking to the trowel, but the small bucket Cruella supplied will not come close to solving her problem at this rate. I ask Cruella for more cement or money to get some, to which she responds, “Just pick some up from Home Depot. I’ll add the cost to your bill later.” The 1.6 miles ride to Home Depot is easy, but carrying a bucket of cement on a bike during Chicago rush hour is not. I do make it back—barely, and continue the job.
Every few minutes, Cruella comes out to critique my work and ask for help with another chore. First, I was using too much water in the cement, it was soupy. Then I wasn’t using enough, it was clumpy. I wasn’t spreading it thin enough. It was too thin. She brought out a take-out menu with chicken scratch written on the back. It was her resume, which I edited for her; Surprisingly, there were very few mistakes and it seemed well thought out. Back to masonry. Then her door won’t close, so I removed and replaced the dead-bolt. Back to masonry. Then she asks me to clean her blinds. She doesn’t have any running water and the water bottle isn’t big enough for the cement and the blinds–also, she has no electricity, so seeing the blinds, or anything else inside for that matter, are too difficult to see. I take the blinds down the block, to the park, and wash them in the kiddy water-playground. Back to masonry.
The under belly of the staircase needs to be sealed as well, but the cement isn’t sticky enough to keep from falling down. I use the tacky caulk to build a lip on the wall that the moist concrete can rest on until it dries. It’s not pretty, but it will keep the rain out.
She comes out again to ask me to take a look at her garden. I’d rather get this over with and move on with my day, but I acquiesce to her request. There isn’t actually much to see but weeds and knee-high grass, but whatever. Back to masonry. She follows me back to the front where, after seven hours of back cracking work, she gasps and jumps into a panic attack. “Oh my god! This is Awful! It looks Awful! I thought you said you were a professional?!”
“I know it doesn’t look great, but it will keep the rain out and I told you it wouldn’t be perfect. What you really need is a whole new wall. This is a major project.”
“No no no this is all wrong! I can’t sell my house like this! You said you could fix it.”
“I told you, I’m not a mason. And Toni isn’t my mom either–she’s my grandma. Just pay me whatever you think it is worth—$20. I don’t care.”
“I don’t have any money and this is all wrong. Oh my god, this is so bad. I don’t have any money, but I will get you $50 of food stamps if you want.”
“Ok. Fine. Can I at least get the money for the extra cement I bought?”
“I don’t have any money. And that’s not even the cement I like? Don’t worry. I’ll talk to Toni. Your mom and I’ll work something out.”
“Fine. Let’s just go to the store.”
“Not now, I have to mail something.”
“Ok. I’ll help you mail it”
“No, that’s fine. The mailman is going to pick it up.”
“Ok. Let’s go to the store then.”
“You don’t have a car?”
“I have my bike. And my backpack. I just picked up the cement on my bike.”
“No. You can’t carry groceries without a car.”
“$50 doesn’t get you as much food as it used to. Besides, that’s for me to worry about—what I do with my groceries.”
“No, that’s a lot of food. You can’t carry all that plus I don’t have any food stamps right now. I’ll talk to Toni I’ll talk to your mom We’ll work something out?”
I’m sick of chasing her arguments in circles, so I agree to let her and my G R A N D mother work it out. After a few different brokered deals, Grandma and Cruella agree that next month we will all take a field trip to Aldi’s, with a car, to get some groceries.
I love learning and I love trying new things, so I didn’t mind doing the hard work, for hours, in the heat. I didn’t mind carrying a bucket of concrete on my bike across town. I didn’t even mind that, despite being unemployed, not only did I not make any money on this job, but I spent half of the cash I had from donating plasma on her cement; I actually paid her for the hours of hard work! And that’s just fine with me—It’s a learning experience. What really pissed me off is that she was outside every five minutes, watching me work, observing the process, and waited until I was done to freak out and bail. I don’t like being deceived and I don’t like being dicked around. Just tell me you need help. Don’t bait and switch my good will.
As of the writing of this book, I haven’t seen a dime, or an apple. Though I did go back the next morning to collect the $10 I spent on cement, which she was gracious enough to reimburse. I understand that she is too old to work much and probably has to finagle her way out of a lot of expenses on her fixed income—I mean, she doesn’t even have running water. I don’t harbor any negative feelings about her or the day I spent working there–though I did draw a huge cock in the cement on my way out.