By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. It took me the better part of nearly 5 years to suffer through the demolition of my Cambridge condominium and through all the never-ending (and always expensive ) stages to its glorious resurrection as a place fit for — me. Naively I thought I knew what would happen next, would happen that is when 25 years and more of serious art collecting would be positioned, each item in its appointed place, each contributing its special characteristics to the overall effect, the sum producing the critical “Wow!” factor.
Yes, I thought I knew just what people would do and say upon entering this earthly paradise, brilliantly lit, extravagantly appointed, a thing of beauty and a joy forever. But, as I still cannot quite grasp, I was wrong. And so, as a matter of your domestic comfort and serenity of mind, I am sharing my experiences with you… and you will thank me — vital if you should ever remodel and rehabilitate. God help you.
Let’s get the contractors out of the way.
This is not a story of how to select a contractor, attempt to bind them through contracts which are never to your advantage, much less how to keep them on schedule, within the budget. I am still not calm and judicious enough to write about that. My remarks on the subject of contractors deal with something I knew nothing about before undertaking this signature project; I did not know how many people have brothers-in-law and cousins, too, named Vinnie…. how much did you say you paid; Vinnie’s unlicensed but he could have saved you a lot of money… and look how your contractor is gypping you. The conversation always went something like this…
Delivery man brings package to my door… and sees I’m remodeling. “Can I take a look?” What you should say now is “Over my dead body”… and slam the door in his face. But it’s too late; the ever quick and curious delivery man is inside, and scrutinizing.
After a couple minutes of intense peeping, he renders his considered opinion: “Dr.,” he says, “what you’re doing here is amazing… incredible… You paying a lot of dough?” He doesn’t wait for an answer; he knows… and he knows I know he knows. I nod. Already I feel his hand in my pocket.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I wish I’d known. I gotta cousin Vinnie, over in Everett, Mass. Let me make a call, Doctor, youse Harvard guys, no offense, are over your head with things like this. And I want to help you, ’cause I think the world of you.” When they say that, you’re doomed. It goes without saying that it isn’t just delivery men, next-door-neighbors, people met casually in the grocery store check-out line who have cousins named Vinnie… no way. Every contractor seems to be amply stocked with the breed… and a cell-phone that instantly connects you, the money guy, with the next character certain to be feeding at the trough. Just writing this makes me break out in hives.
I can remember one dismal, and damned expensive, encounter with a never-ending conga line of unlicensed hooligans named Vinnie. Just telling you about one such encounter will, I trust, produce sufficient enlightenment for you without completely humiliating me. It concerned the recessed lights in my brand-new-in-every-way kitchen. I liked them.
But it is not the way of unlicensed cousins named Vinnie to like any work, any work at all, done by anyone other than themselves. They have made plausible disliking an art form… you’ve got to hand it to them, you never feel the complete effect of the shiv until they’ve left…
Electrician Vinnie didn’t like the new, expensive, kitchen lighting system. It was too this and not enough that. He might have understood his mumbo-jumbo analysis but I (while always sagely nodding my head) did not. Anyway, next thing I know my brand- spanking-new kitchen lighting is a mass of pulled out wires and smashed glass on the floor. I don’t mind telling you I threw myself down on the newly installed marble floor (soon to be re-laid by the flooring Vinnie) as if I were holding the mangled corpse of my beloved and wept bitter tears. Vinnie, of course, was already at work contacting the lighting fixtures Vinnie, who of course made me ashamed that I had ever had the temerity and bad judgement to do anything with anyone but him. Even with all the “special because I love you, man” discounts, the cost was 50% more than I had just paid for those now completely useless original light fixtures. I only knew, of course, after Vinnie gave me his “best offer, man.”
Soon, my wallet was being emptied not only by the original Vinnie but by his shiftless son Vinnie, Jr. whose skill at creating and delivering excuses for not showing up as scheduled was astonishing; then his wife Mrs. Vinnie (“she can wash your clothes and clean your house”) and of course those cute Vinnie by-blows of the next generation who took every opportunity to visit — and devour whatever was not nailed down. I knew them all… and suffered accordingly.
But all bad things must come to and end… and so it happened here.
In due course, even the ever resourceful Vinnies of every kind and description ran out of even implausible ways to “help” me. In short, they had battened, waxed, and grown fat off that once happy and self-contented man — me. One never to be forgotten morning, I woke to find they were gone, like so many gypsies in the night. Their tools were gone, even their half-eaten pizza (from Cousin Vinnie’s grease pit in Medford, Mass) was gone… anything with any value, no matter how remote, all gone.
I felt as happy as any prisoner on Death Row getting an irrevocable, eleventh-hour reprieve. It was, in fact, the happiest moment of my life… but, of course, it didn’t last. Happy moments in the midst of such projects are few and far between… but the tears are in my eyes now as I fondly recall the moment their removal was certain.
Problem goes, problem comes.
You know you are alive if you have problems. Only dead people don’t. By this measure, I must be the most alive cat on the block. Not only do I have problems; I positively seek them out. This was conclusively proved when I went from the frying pan of construction into the fire of arranging and proper presentation of the beloved items from my art and artifact collections. I started collecting as a boy, coins, books, autographs principally political. And if I collected it I know just when and, in theory, just where it is now. It is a herculean task, I can tell you… and the days when the art movers were here drove me close to becoming a Franciscan monk… because they are allowed very few personal possessions. It seemed a good idea….
… especially after the art movers had probed the limits of human endurance by stunts, while hanging, worthy of the flying Walendas. I can assure you you never take your eyes off their lithe movements when what they are hoisting an irreplaceable 17th Century Old Master. But no matter how anxious such moves made me feel, it was worse when the first visitors came to see the results.
The first thing I say is, “Don’t touch.” Of course that then becomes the first thing they do. They ignore the Biblical injunction from Jesus who told them “Noli me tangere,” don’t touch!
The second, “no liquids in the drawing room.” Moments later they are all but holding a car wash amidst the treasures of the Habsburgs.
And as if this were not enough, when they are poking and prodding, they say, “I have one just like this,” they announce about unique, valuable silver from the descendants of Joan of Arc. “Yeah, I got it at a garage sale for 56 cents. How much you pay?”
I want you to know something. If I end up murdering one of my guests, the jury is sure to acquit me. Lawyer Vinnie will see to it…
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
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