Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Well, honestly, not really disasters, but definitely annoyances. Yesterday was filled with them, one after the other. They put my best Buddhist intentions to the test, and I came up wanting. It was, as they say, "one of those days..." Let me enumerate my woes.

Seven a.m., Joe the gardener arrives--a good deal earlier than usual, but I had called to ask him to help me with the fish fence...

The fish fence is the electric wire we have installed around the fish pond in the Buddha garden right outside our bedroom. (It's the Buddha garden because we have a little Buddha sitting there, amongst the potted plants. The fish pond is inherited from the previous owner of our house.) The reason for the electric fence is to discourage the raccoons from feasting on our fish. We have had dealings with these creatures in the past; they climb down from our neighbor's tree and do their fishing from the side of the pond, and they have been known on occasion to fall in. The last time this happened, we decided on the fence. It gives them an unpleasant, but not fatal shock, and they seem to have learned that fishing in our pond carries penalties they do not wish to incur.

It has been some time since they last made their nocturnal visits. Then, last week, Ellie noticed that one of the fish was missing. The water was muddied, some of the water plants had been disturbed, the pump that keeps the water circulating had become disconnected, and the fence was broken. Hence my call to Joe, and his early arrival.

Joe, for all his many other admirable qualities, is not an experienced electrician. With my helpful suggestions from the sidelines, he did manage to rewire the fence and reconnect it, but for some reason could not get the electric current flowing. Repeated attempts at correction produced no results. Time for the expert, then.

We have a go-to guy from most of our household problems, but he's expensive and I chose on this occasion to be cheap. Well, the expense was somewhere in the back of my mind. I went to the yellow pages, found a local guy, and called him up. I like to use local guys, rather than the big advertisers. He said he'd come round a little later.

8 AM-ish. I had a quick breakfast, had a cup of coffee. And when breakfast was over, made myself my usual second cup and brought it down with me to my office, where my current project is to put order in the chaos. I had left the project uncompleted overnight, and things were strewn all over. Books, files, folders, office supplies, all higgedy-piggledy around the room. A nightmare. My printer had given out a few days earlier, and there was a new HP in its package, waiting to be installed. So I brought my cup of coffee down and set it down somewhere where I could be sure that it was out of the way. (It proved to be so out of the way that I spent much of the morning looking for it. More later...)

9 AM-ish. I had just got started on the office when the doorbell rang. Hayk. I knew he had to be Armenian because I had a good friend Haig, now long since disappeared, but despite the "k" on Hayk's name tag, I assumed it had to be the same. Besides, his command of English was not of the best--a fact that would soon take on critical significance, as you'll see. He came round to the back of the house, studied the fish pond and the electric fence, and said he had never in all his years as an electrician been asked to deal with something of this kind. Still, he started investigating the wiring, tut-tutting in dismay. They all have to do this. It's a part of the ritual, to point out the dreadful deficiencies in the previous guy's work. But I knew he was right. The mess of wires, cables, timers and boxes in that small back area was clearly not functional, and probably not safe. I asked what it would take to make just the fish fence functional and safe. He scratched his head. Re-wiring, insulation, a GFI... $125, he thought. I gave the go-ahead, and returned to my office job.

10AM-ish. The printer, of course, refused to work. I moved my computer forward to take a look behind...

... and moved it back again. I think I may have uttered my first profanity for the day. I went back through the easy-to-install instructions with the same result. Third time around, I discovered my mistake: I should have connected the firewire to the computer after going through the initial stages of the installation, not before. Of course. Fine print. Ah, well, one triumph, the printer worked.

Meantime, things were escalating in the Buddha garden. In the manner of all handymen everywhere (at least in my experience,) Hayk was discovering more and more problems as he worked. More crossed wires. More timers with no apparent function, more boxes that should have had GFIs but did not, more boxes with no source of power. Called repeated from my labors in the office, I was constrained to recognize each time that, yes, there was a problem there; it needed to be fixed. I had actually been aware for some time that there were problems, so perhaps now was the time to get them fixed...

Oh, did I mention that lost cup of coffee? I found it. This would have been around, say, 11 AM-ish. I was rearranging some books on the top shelf, above my desk. Above where the new printer had been newly installed. And something slipped. In fact, a whole row of precariously balanced books slipped, pushing over a number of other items I had left on the shelf, which in turn pushed over... that lost cup of coffee. A full cup. Its contents erupted over everything. Over the books, the papers. The new printer. And below, the carpet...

This may have been the cause of my second, louder, more enraged expletive. Ellie came running. Emily, our trusty assistant who had been working with Ellie in the upstairs office, came running. We surveyed the damage. Emily set to work on the rescue of the new printer, from which cold coffee was now seeping alarmingly. Together, we got to work on the carpet. A panicked call to the carpet cleaners. Water, we were told. Flush it out and blot it out. No chemicals, no soaps... The problem was not just the big patch of spilled coffee but, because it had fallen from that height, the hundreds of small, scattered spots, each one of which needed individual attention.

Back in the Buddha garden, at the end of the morning now, Hayk was ready to wrap things up. The original $125 bottom line had risen by now to $500. But he seemed to have done the job well. Everything worked... and better than before. I sighed as I wrote out the check. And I was saying goodbye to my new Armenian friend when he just happened to mention, casually, I thought, that the motion sensor light at the side of the house was malfunctioning; it was being activated by motion even during the day, unnecessarily, and power was being wasted. Hayk could fix that, no problem, he said (I thought he said; remember, the language problem?) for $25. So I thought, why not? In for a penny... Might was well get it done, and the extra cost seemed reasonable. Hayk said he'd be back in an hour or so to get it done.

And indeed he was. Rang the doorbell, announced that he was getting started. Fine, I thought. I went back down to my study and took some cash from my wallet. I didn't have the exact change for the $25, but I thought he'd be sure to have some. Maybe I'd even add a fiver, to show appreciation. So then, an hour or so later, another ring at the door. Hayk was done. Wonderful, I said, do you have change for a twenty? He looked at me. "It's $275," he said. Two hundred and seventy five dollars? I was appalled. "But you said," I said, "twenty-five." Hayk shook his head. "Two hundred seventy-five," he assured me: "I said." "But, but, but," I stammered. I had thought it was a matter of changing a bulb, brushing up a sensor... "I would never have agreed," I told him, "if I'd known it was that much."

Still, what can you do? Apparently there was a part involved--an expensive part. I don't actually care that much if the motion sensor light goes on in daylight, maybe once a day or so, when I pay a visit to the trash cans. There can't be that much power wasted in those moments. But there it was. Fixed. As I had requested. My outrage brought the invoice down a bit, scarcely enough to appease my wrath, but I wrote another check. Hayk and I parted, not on the best of terms.

Still seething, I called Ellie to confess to the fact that we were $700 poorer than the start of the day. She advised me, infuriatingly, to breathe.

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