The Client is Always Right

Many years ago my mother decides it is time to repaint the apartment in Queens, where I grew up, and she resided for almost fifty years.  The landlord will reimburse her, so she can do as she pleases.  After gathering some referrals from friends, she interviews a pleasant young man who comes over to look around and quote the job.  A price and start date are agreed upon, and I happen to be there the morning he starts work.  He enters with two spotless canvas drop cloths, new rollers and tray, brushes, putty knives, etc.  He is wearing impeccable creased white painter’s overalls.  My mother turns to me, and says quietly in our native French, ‘ooh, this doesn’t look good’.

. . .

I am cutting bluestone slabs to fit into an intricate paving pattern, using a dry cutting diamond blade on a 5” grinder, one of the most lightweight, portable, simple, and most efficient ways to do the job.  When you hold the tool backwards the dust exits the front of the cut for maximum efficiency and user comfort, aimed correctly at vacant space, to be dispersed by the wind, as there are no EPA or OSHA guidelines as of yet.  Our client comes outside to admire what has already been set, and offers ‘gee, that’s a lot of dust, don’t you need a respirator?’  ‘No, ma’am,’ I reply, ‘we are professionals, we don’t breathe the dust.’

We are working in a middle class neighborhood replacing a concrete sidewalk in front of a 1940’s house, a modest GI Bill single family typical of countless American first generation suburbs.  These places were built fast for the wave of returning war veterans, not necessarily poorly, but haste sometimes dictates cutting corners.  A classic exterior issue, not uncommon in contemporary tract housing as well, is speedy and improper backfill of soil against the foundation, leading to settling against the house.  This can be remedied with the two teenagers and a pickup truck of topsoil method, but the sidewalk is another matter.  We have come equipped with the proper 16 lb sledge hammer and 6 foot bars- approach for concrete demolition, but quickly encounter an unforeseen obstacle.  It becomes apparent that this settling occurred long enough ago that a prior owner had another sidewalk poured over the original, making our total depth 8 to 10 inches.  Ow!  Only option, rent a pneumatic 60 lb hammer and tear it out like highway crews do, with extreme prejudice. 

At one point our elderly client comes out to review the chaotic scene.  Given her age the noise doesn’t seem to be an issue, but she is genuinely compassionate about what the crew is going through.  She pulls me aside, and yells ‘this is awful what you boys have to do, can’t you pour something on that to make it go away?’