Scene: A darkened bedroom. A man and a woman lay beneath the sheets, lightly snoring. The clock on the bedside table reads 3:58 am. At 3:59 the alarm begins blaring.
Me: (sitting bolt upright) Sweetie. Sweetie? SWEETIE!!!
Him: (throwing off the covers and tumbling halfway out of bed) GAAAAAHHHH! WHU–HUNGH–WHAAAAA?
Me: (standing up, taking off my jammies and pulling on my clothes) It’s 4 am. We have to go downstairs.
Him: (confused, holding a pair of pants by the leg as if he’s never seen such a thing before) Downstairs?
Me: (through gritted teeth after standing on an exposed nailing strip) Yes, downstairs. In the elevator. To the change rooms. So we can use the bathrooms. Because we currently don’t have a bathroom. (muttering under breath) And with the way the renos are going, I’m not sure if we’ll ever have another one again.
Him: Yeah, but why 4 am?
Me: Because our neighbours are disgusting bloody savages who can’t stop banging in the sauna, so the change rooms are closed between midnight and four. You know, this is why we can’t have nice things. Also why we’ve been running down the hall at 4 am, trying not to piss ourselves before we even make it to the elevator. Speaking of, how are you doing with those pants?
Him: (has fallen back asleep on the bed with the pants over his face)
Me: Right you are.
Aaaannnnnnddddddd…SCENE! Then just lather, rinse and repeat for about two more solid months.
Right, so I’m not going to mince words. On the subject of the home renovations we carried out this spring, they sucked. Despite doing what we thought was appropriate due diligence on the contractors, materials and overall scope of the job, we ran into problem after problem, issue after issue, obstacle after obstacle. The entire process could best be termed an ordeal.
Our general contractor was in over his head, and we were far too accommodating of this. Nice, friendly dude, really seemed to know what he was doing when he came to spec the job, got on well with my mother, a woman with a lot of experience in home renos who was acting as our “sanity contractor” – seemingly all good things.
General contractors can be skilled in specific trades, but the main job of a general is to co-ordinate a project. That means arranging for sub-trades, pricing, sourcing and picking up materials, and just generally putting out any small fires as they flare up.
And our general did all that – with the exception of the materials-sourcing, nearly all of which was done by my mom – but in odd fits and starts that wildly threw off the too-optimistic one-week timeline for the project (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!) Construction in our building can begin at 8 am, but he’d show up at 9:30, 10 and announce that he still had to go pick up an item clear across the city. Then he’d disappear for the next five hours, leaving some combination of me and my mom to “supervise” the workers. It wasn’t uncommon for him to pop by for just half an hour of work every few days. All while I had to sit there and play baby-sitter to our unit and our building. I can’t tell you how much time I spent this spring just sitting around staring at shit videos on YouTube, simply trying to keep myself awake and coherent enough to answer any questions the trades might have, or to guide a worker around our rather labyrinthine building. Our contractor just didn’t seem to have a very good handle on the job, and so it dragged.
On the subject of the trades, we were mostly happy with the people the contractor brought in. The one glaring exception was the tile guy, who was the replacement for another tile guy, who was on site maybe 15 minutes before he was sub-subbing the job out to yet more tile guys. And those tile guys? Barely restrained animals. Slammed doors, threw their tools at the ground, BLARED their nu-metal, swore constantly, yelled, pissed off my neighbours and, unfortunately, scared the living crap out of me in my own home. I was upset – and then ANGRY – to find myself, on the day they descended on our apartment, kind of cowering in a corner of the livingroom, phone at immediate hand, sizing up the heft and weaponability of the small wooden box beside me that contained our cat’s ashes. They also directly went against our requested design plans, and tiled me into the apartment (and Mr. Finger Candy out of the apartment) for six hours. I snapped this photo the day they were here; just looking at it gives me a mild panic attack.
I addressed my concerns with our general that evening, and he didn’t know his tile guy had subbed the work out to these tile guys; did not even seem to know who they were, disconcertingly enough (only if you look at it from the perspective of the safety of my person, family and home.) He apologized profusely and said they would not be returning to complete the job.
So guess who showed up the very next day? Let’s just say it was an awkward handful of hours.
Nice guy or no, our contractor’s laissez-faire attitude towards just about everything caused a lot of problems and delays. There was simply too much competing work being proposed for too small a space, in too little time. And with virtually no oversight happening, it took next to no time for things to just spiral – pun intended – down the drain. You know, if we had a drain. Anywhere.
That’s how we wound up using a public bathroom five to 10 times a day – just not between the hours of midnight and four because, you know, banging neighbours – for two months. That’s how we wound up attending a friend’s wedding in the only clean formal clothes we could dig out of the random pile of de-closeted vestments heaped on our second bed (themselves buried under tote bags of shoes and boots, the glass shelf from the bathroom and two or three ceramic tile samples.) That’s how we wound up nearly breaking every single one of our toes and all four of our ankles after returning home from that same wedding, quite inebriated, to a floor full of ceramic tile clips that we were positively forbidden to stand on (really, really super difficult when it is your only path to and from your bedroom, and also when you’ve been drinking things called Fishbowls. The joke at the wedding that night was “Woah, woah, woah, slow down! You two are drinking like you’ve got access to a bathroom!”)
By the time it became clear to our contractor how very far things had devolved – things we had been pointing out to him, to little note – the damage was done. Our home was no longer our home, just a bombed-out work site that we (fitfully) slept in. By that point we had been living with bare floors for months, floors piled high with weighted underlay, and partially completed floors laden with clips. All of our possessions were in boxes, stacked high on any elevated surface we could find, as well as both balconies. Our livingroom was a mini warehouse of construction materials, plumbing components and every single door we owned, unhinged and leaning against any available surface. Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust, dirt and construction debris. We did not have a functioning kitchen for over a month, and our appliances had all been pushed out into the diningroom. Our bathroom was still MIA.
It’s also why we were deeply, unpleasantly unhappy, bickering and sniping at each other every single day. It’s why we were stressed and short-fused and prone to snapping. It’s why I woke up every morning for two months with a knot of dread in my stomach – what stupidity was going to greet me this particular day? Everything was just a perpetual, torn-up mess. Without a kitchen, we ate terribly – a lot of takeout, too much pizza, and whatever cold things we could grab from the fridge in the diningroom. And without a bathroom, we were loathe to drink too much, so I’m sure we were both wildly dehydrated. And while we were very fortunate to have bathroom facilities on site that we could access for most of the hours of the day, our 3:59 am wake-up calls were doing nothing for our general dispositions or biological systems (you will never be so hellishly aware of how crucial all of that is to your very functioning than when you’ve been denied access to a bathroom. Turns out the earth does not revolve around the sun, it revolves around a bathroom.) We were also carrying out a terrific amount of after-hours cleanup, because none of the trades, save the plumbers, had any respect for our home. Add some nosy, justifiably ticked-off neighbours to the mix, a dash of enforced boredom (I’m one of those people who can’t work/create/entertain myself very well when there are strangers about; I sat in my livingroom for weeks just listening to music on my phone) and a joint sleep deficit that probably numbered in the hundreds, and you’ve got a recipe for great unhappiness. We weren’t the most pleasant people to be around.
Then one late spring day it just ended. I don’t even think I was here for the final day of work; pretty sure I subbed that out to my sanity contractor while I popped out for coffee. By that point, I simply didn’t think my brain could handle one more SPECK of stupidity, of which there had been so very, very much. And frankly, I just didn’t want to see our contractor – I don’t think he was aiming for anything malicious here, but he didn’t have a clue, and we paid dearly for it. I’m sure he was grateful I wasn’t here.
Then our part of the piece began – the cleaning and the painting (why do we have so much wainscotting?!) and the putting back of possessions. All of which took forever, but not as long as the actual renos, hey-oh! Okay, so this was the bad, boring part – the WHY? portion of a film trilogy – but there’s a satisfying ending to this three-part tale, and that’s a lovely, updated apartment with an actual functioning bathroom! So please join me next time for the big reveal, including a little Cribs-style video I shot of the (nearly) finished product.