Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jack of all trades, butcher of some

Alex's cousin Elberth* is a good guy. He's the guy you call to climb up on the roof and clean the gutters. Or paint the roof. He mows the lawn if we don't have time to do it ourselves, trims the bamboo, puts up shelves, paints stuff and hauls rubble off the property in wheelbarrows. He's usually the guy Alex takes along on survey jobs to clear brush, hold the prism pole, etc.

Alex's cousin Freddy is also a good guy. He's an electrician.

Alex's cousin Randall is yet another good guy. He's had different kinds of jobs at different times, but has been apprenticed to Freddy on an as-needed basis for a long time. He's not a licensed electrician, but he has some study and plenty of experience.

Alex, in addition to being my favorite among these various good guys, is a land surveyor by trade. He'll also dive in there and put his hand to whatever needs done around the place, often calling Elberth to come over and lend a hand if it's a big job.

When Alex has an idea, he likes to make it happen. Right then and there. Me, I'll talk about a good idea but then tend to let it sit for a long, long time. Sometimes forever. There may be a happy medium to be found, but that's a topic for another time.

So on Sunday Alex mentioned that we could try moving the stereo down to a spot under the stairs. For several reasons, I thought that was a good idea, worth a try at least; but then we noticed that there was no outlet under there. Alex went straight out to the shed and got an extension cord long enough to reach around from the playroom. I said I'd rather leave the stereo where it was until we could hook it up right. He said okay.

He said he would call Elberth to come over and install the outlet. I said, How about Randall? Elberth does good work with a lot of things, but he's not really a "measure twice, cut once" kind of guy. He'll go ahead and make a heavy pencil mark on the kitchen ceiling (say) before being absolutely certain that that spot will work for the new light fixture. Or he'll grab some leftover electrical wire from the shed and work for 45 minutes to thread it through a teeny hole and across to where it needs to be hooked up, and only then discover that it's not quiiiiiite long enough to run unobtrusively down the corner and over to the new bathroom lamp but has to hang diagonally across the wall.

Not that he wouldn't (probably) do a perfectly good job with the outlet. It's just that he's the guy you want trimming the bamboo and painting the roof. That's all I'm saying. Alex agreed that Elberth isn't, in Alex's own words, "detail oriented." I was, however, to discover that, detail orientation notwithstanding, Elberth had something Randall could not compete with: he was available the very next day.

The power company, you see, had announced that the power would be out all day on Monday for repairs to the main lines. We saw four or five power company trucks out working on the lines when we drove down to take the kids to school. I went on to the gym and when Alex picked me up afterwards, he had Elberth with him and had already bought the new outlets (he wanted an outdoor one too, since none were installed when the house was built.) They wanted to take advantage of the power being out to go ahead and install the outlets. (It being so very difficult to turn off the power oneself.)

Well, whatever. I did turn off all the breakers in case the power came back earlier than expected. I also gave them my 2¢ regarding outlet placement, then I went about my own business. At Alex's suggestion, he and I got lunch for everybody by reheating leftovers on the grill and cooking some steaks he had bought the day before. Joanna, who was here cleaning, finished and went home. Elberth finished and Alex took him home and went to pick up the girls. I turned the breaker switches back on and read my book.

The power didn't come back on until early evening, just as Alex was pulling in with the girls. I would normally have started supper when they got home, but the kids wanted to play outside with Alex, so I put it off. Then the power went back off, just as it started to rain and get dark. Alex and I debated what do do for dinner and he really seemed to want to fire up the grill again. Plus, having yet to master the art of selective information, he had already mentioned it to the girls and they were excited, so that's what we did.

The lights came back on as we were eating dinner, but we had so many candles lit he went ahead and turned them off and we finished eating as we were. I took a bath while the girls got ready for bed and watched their video, then they were tucked in and we watched a video and went to bed.

The next morning was Tuesday, so Alex had to leave early for a class he's taking in San Jose. I took the girls to school and went to the gym as usual. When I got back home I showered and had a snack, then came upstairs to check the E-mail. Unfortunately, this was not possible because there was no power in my office.

I checked the fusebox and one of the switches was still off. I turned it back on, but it immediately flipped off again. I wondered if it had somehow been affected by the comings and goings of the public power supply the day before. I've lost an appliance or two to that before, although never a breaker switch. Then for some reason I checked Alex's office (which is directly below mine, and where they installed one of the new outlets) and found that the power was out there too. Ahh, maybe the switch is just doing its job.

So I called Randall and arranged for him to come fix my house that afternoon. (When I told Alex on the phone that I was having Randall come fix it, he asked why I didn't just call Elberth to come back. I explained my reasoning, which included the word "prudent.")

I stopped by and got Randall when I picked the girls up from school. He came up to the house and found the short in the second outlet. The one that, while I didn't observe the entire process, I did at one point see Elberth hammering into place because it didn't fit right in the hole he had made. Actually, the short circuit was in the source outlet, on the other side of the wall from the newly installed one. Randall fixed it and was ready to leave, when we noticed that the new outlet under the stairs was now protruding an inch and a half from the wall. When Randall opened it up, he found that the box that holds the wiring inside the wall wasn't actually screwed in to anything. And the wires from the source outlet were so short that there was no room to work with them anyway. So he fixed that too.

I got the girls back into the car and took Randall home then brought the girls back home, stopping first to pay the electric bill at the grocery store. It was raining when we got there, so after parking the car I sat for a second making sure I had turned off the various wipers (front & back), defrosters (front & back), headlights, etc. I explained to the girls that they needed to get out of the car quickly because I would be standing in the rain for however long it took them. They did a good job and we went into the store. Somehow, though, I neglected to do the one thing I always always do when parking the car, and that is to pat my back pocket and make sure the keys are in there.

I thought maybe one of the guys at the store would be able to help me get into the car, but that apparently isn't a service they provide. They did permit me one phone call and fortunately Alex was on the bus heading into town and agreed to take a cab over to the store and rescue us. I got the girls hot chocolate and a sandwich to split while we waited, and Alex showed up much sooner than I thought he would, given that it was rush hour and raining.

We got in the car and came home, then decided that the best thing for dinner would be to go to the bar/restaurant across the street. The girls could round out their dinner, we could have a couple of beers and Alex could watch the second half of a soccer game that was only being shown on cable, which we don't have.

That was Tuesday. Yesterday Alex didn't have class and wanted to spend the day together, so although we did check the E-mail and send several messages to clients of his, I didn't get a full complement of computer time in.

I spent this morning making lunch and doing some spot-cleaning because I was going to have lunch guests. Unfortunately, their car broke down. So now I have a really big pot of soup and a fairly clean house. And the afternoon free (well, until I have to get the kids at 3:00. Hey, look at the time.)

And that's where the hell I've been all week. In case, you know, anybody was wondering.

* The H is silent. So's the T, pretty much.


Dad October 12, 2006 6:19 PM  

Yeah, I've missed you, but I trusted that no news is good news!

Is this a case of "You get what you pay for?"

[Alex is MY favorite among those various good guys, too.]


juliloquy October 12, 2006 9:08 PM  

Man, we need some cousins around to do all the projects that we never get around to. Glad you got everything fixed. Bad wiring is nothing to mess around with. El Bear indeed!

Anonymous October 13, 2006 2:59 PM  

I was kind of wondering what was up, but not in a stalker kind of way. :)

I am very fortunate that between my husband, my step-dad, and my father-in-law, I have several jack of all trade type guys.

However, I have also experienced the short circuit thing. One afternoon Mike decided to tackle the honey-do list and installed a new ceiling fan in our living room. While installing it, he accidentally skinned one of the wires. We didn't notice until Mike turned the fan on for a test run. And there was a loud SNAP! and all the lights went out. While I practiced my relaxation breathing, Mike went back up the ladder and fixed the problem.

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