Sunday, August 31, 2008

The tale of two talkers

Two men visited my house last week. My husband invited them both, then disappeared pleading obligations at his office, leaving me to entertain them. If it sounds like the opening of a love triangle or rectangle -- you don't know me very well.

No, just another saga of dealing with service representatives. In this case we needed someone to fix a leaky roof.

The first man we phoned had been referred to us by the contractor who recently rehabbed our bathroom. We liked him immediately, a referee -- my husband was a referee for almost 20 years. And we were astonished when he suggested that the roof might be under warranty, maybe we should try contacting the company who installed it. We thanked him for the advice and called the installer.

The company installed our roof shortly after Charlie and friends blew through in 2004, hired by the previous owners as part of the house sale agreement. The roof actually wasn't installed until 2005. A blue tarp covered part of our roof for several months before they could fit us into their busy schedule. Florida looked liked a blue-tarp-nation after those storms passed through ripping off roofs and tipping trees over onto otherwise sturdy houses. Ours damage was a combination of the two -- shingle ripping and tree tipping.

The crew finally arrived, no one spoke English. A supervisor strolled by now and then and we'd try to snag him and ask questions. Nails, parts of shingles began floating down into our yard as they tore off the old. I listened to nail guns popping for a couple days and then silence. The neighbor came over to apologize -- he works many commercial sites providing plumbing for large projects. He's well versed in the construction arts and always curious and has to check out projects in the neighborhood. He said he hoped we didn't mind, but he intervened a couple of times when he saw the workers making mistakes and forced them to redo a couple of spots. We thanked him profusely and should have taken his warning that perhaps the men working on our house were not prime roofers. We trusted.

The roof leaked -- just a little -- in a couple of places. My husband kept putting off calling about them. Now almost four years later we have major leaks -- he finally calls. Surprise, the roof is under warranty.

Last week their sales rep raps on the door. He's harried and in a hurry. He has twelve more calls to make -- Fay has stepped up his business considerably. I show him the spots on the ceiling, he walks around on the roof and tells me parts of the roof must be ripped up because boards have lifted, etc. He'll have a crew put a tarp on to protect us from further damage.

We wait.

No tarp.

But a few days later we receive an estimate for almost $2,000 worth of work -- no mention of warranty. We phone the referee again and ask for a second opinion. He quickly adds us to his busy schedule -- Fay has been good to his company as well -- but manages to visit us within 24 hours. He greets me at the door, hands me his card, follows me looking at and assessing the damage to the ceiling, offers his sympathy and moves on to the roof. He climbs around, I shout up to him what I know. He scratches his head. Asks to see what the other company had suggested was wrong. He says, "I don't see that. The boards are raised and wavy because they used particle board. It just does that. It is consistent throughout your roof."

I had noticed that too, not as ascetically pleasing as I would like, but my husband, a former lumber salesman, had explained about the boards rippling tendency. No, the man standing on my roof said, "I think the problems are nail pops and improper installation of flashing around the chimney."

He jumped down, got a caulking gun from his truck, lifted a few shingles, applied a little caulk here and there, pounded a few nails in and removed a few others and came down off of the roof. He wiped his hands, mopped his forehead, and sat at the table writing up his recommendations and estimates while cooling down in the air conditioning.

He recommended that we return to the first company and explaining that all that was wrong should be covered under the warranty. I stared at him. This sounded like an honest assessment, not profit based spin.

He handed me his assessment and estimate which came in lower than the first, and did not involve ripping up my roof in several spots. It did involve replacing the flashing and shingles around the chimney. Even I saw that the water problems started in that location.

Then to my surprise he added. "What I did today may be all that is needed to solve the problem."

My stomach clenched. I asked, "What do I owe you for today's work?"

He shrugged. "If it works -- send me a check for $50. If not. It's just part of the estimate if you use us. If you go back to the original company, which is what I suggest, then forget it. It wasn't worth paying for, it didn't fix the problem."

He wished us well, genuinely wished us well. Shook my hand and left.

Yesterday we had another gully washer. With Gustav in the Gulf and Hannah howling in the Atlantic we knew we were bound to get some 'weather.' It rained, it blew, it was a deluge for more than four hours. I was at work through all this and expected to come home to a river in the family room.

But the roof did not leak. Not one drop stained our ceiling anew. The 'estimator' the man who took a few minutes to repair the little problems that he could with a caulk gun and hammer and a little bit of elbow grease 'while he was up there' just saved us money and helped me have faith again. He didn't just talk and tally up profit for his company, he provide customer service, gave of himself without expecting a reward or payment. Perhaps he knew how effective honesty and integrity are in customer service?

I gladly tell you that I met an honest man: Jeff Sleeper of Gilileo Roofing Service.

I don't know much about the company he works for, but if anyone asks me to recommend a roofing company -- I will give them Jeff's name and contact information. He's been with the company for 13 years. It would surprise me that a man of that kind of integrity could represent a company that doesn't hold to his standards.

Oh, and the contractor who recommended Jeff -- he has our seal of approval and undying gratitude for a job MORE than well done: James Ashley of Barrier Free Lifestyle, Inc. But, that's another story!

Friday, August 22, 2008

A wet week of blue and gold

It's been a busy week with us gearing up for Fay's visit, then trying to carry on a normal life in nonstop rain for past three or four days. Amazing how dark and dreary Florida becomes without sunshine! The photo shows vehicles traveling through a flooded section of US Highway 192 in Melbourne, Florida, Aug. 20. More than 15 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Fay fell in some parts of Florida causing streets and homes to be flooded. EPA/CHRIS LIVINGSTON

I realized how difficult it is for government and school officials to decide when to cancel schools. I guess they figured out that weather is not an exact science, but still managed to listen to the forecasts and cancel school before the storm hit and fill the schools and buses with kids when the winds and rains built into a facsimile of a tropical storm. Yet, I think all worked out and safety prevailed.

But I'm thankful for the rains, maybe those along the coast see things differently, but we needed the rain and our damage was minimal. A leaky roof. The good news it is still under warranty from when it was replaced shortly after Hurricane Charlie visited. (Is it ironic that our governor's name is Charlie?)

If I were back in Ohio, this week would have been devoted to the Allen County Fair. A friend wrote to tell me about her 'goat boys' that her granddaughter raised as 4-H projects and showed at the fair. They earned a respectable 5th place and their involvement made their days at the fair even more special. Relatives showed their 4-H projects and took home the blue, while Olympians participated in Beijing. It's been a good week.

The photo features Presley Burden, 9, and her feeding calf Turbo. Burden competed in the fair this year with two feeder calves, one heifer and one steer. I bet her parents and grandparents did the same thing when they were her age. There's something satisfying, hopeful, about a multi-generational family tradition.

The Christian Science Monitor published my essay about the fair and lemon shake ups in their Home Forum section, if you want to check out my fair memories. Of course those barely scratch the surface. For several years I worked in the fair office during fair week and it was the most fun and exasperating time I've ever spent. We'd laugh, we'd kick boxes in frustration, we'd greet Alan Jackson, Reba, Arizona, and all of the other big names who added our little fair to their performance schedule. My days were filled giving directions to people trying to find the fair. They'd call from home, from their car, from pay phones. We pointed people to various locations on the fairgrounds, announced lost kids and lost parents, and gave updates on special activities about to begin. I miss that involvement and that energy that took hold of us during that week we had prepared for all year.

All seems to balance out this week, tipping a bit toward world peace and faith in our next generation and less towards disaster and fear of world wars. Maybe if Russian President Putin visited the Allen County Fair, he might forget about bombing Georgia.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Hair, New You

I visited a website and saw the statement: "The world is a scary place when you stop liking yourself."

Truth be told, whenever I head for the hairdresser, it is because I can't stand being the person beneath that head of hair for a moment longer. That moment for me came two weeks ago, but my Zophia was headed out on vacation and I couldn't get an appointment with her until this past Tuesday. In desperation I considered going elsewhere, maybe back to the girl who had immigrated from Vietnam and cut every middle aged white woman's hair in the tried and true old traditional style. But her husband creeped me out. She enlisted his help to wash hair before she cut and well, it was just too much to think of him hovering over me with that fake smile and his hot breath on my cheek. I waited for Zophia. After all she transformed me once, I had faith she could find that same woman again.

Tuesday Zophia cut and whacked, whacked and cut and in the midst of the cut convinced me to go for color. Get rid of the gray.

My kids said, "Age gracefully. You're old. Accept it."

Zophia had other ideas. She stamped her foot and in her delightful Polish accented English declared, "Color would be the last thing I would give up. I'll be coloring my hair when I'm 80!" Zophia is also a size zero with great bones and curves, but that's another story.

She chose the color based upon my natural brunette tones and slathered it on with her trusty paint brush. After a good steaming and a thorough rinse and shampoo, I sat pensively as she dried and styled. I looked at this stranger in the mirror. Who was I kidding? That wasn't me.

Poor Zophia was heart broken that I didn't react as excitedly as she was. She called on some man waiting for me to get out of the chair so he could get his haircut. "Tell her," Zophia urged. "Tell her how beautiful she looks."

He gritted his teeth and I saw the look. He saw fat, old me and no haircut would take his eyes off of thunder thighs and angel wings. Immediately I recalled a junior high trauma. Jerry Woolum laughed at me in my gym shorts and got his cohorts to do the same. Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, I should have ran up to him, gave him a shot to the groin with my chubby knee and laughed as he rolled around on the ground, his friends grabbing their crotches in sympathy. Or, maybe that wouldn't have been the best way to handle it, but I'd like that story much better than me running into the shower room in complete humiliation.

So, I must agree with that opening sentence. Not only is the world scary when you don't like your looks. It is downright painful. According to an article in The Star Phoenix, "[A] 10-country survey revealed that two-thirds of females aged 15 to 64 will disengage from normal activity if they feel badly about their looks."

A bad hair day can make imbeciles of us all, it seems. We stop giving our opinion, stop interacting and stop putting ourselves out there. We hide, seek invisibility and turn mute.

One hair care company has trotted out a marketing strategy aimed at improving self esteem. "Children's hair care brand Soft & Beautiful Just for Me! launched the second phase of its national self-esteem program on August 4 with a new book and a six-city book tour. The book, Trip in Time, is written by A'Lelia Bundles, the great-great granddaughter of hair care legend Madam C.J. Walker."

Walker's formula helped African American women feel better about their image, whether they thought they looked more white, or were simply taking care of their hair and themselves, their self esteem grew. It also made her the first female American millionaire. Women lined up and paid a month's wages for whatever Walker was selling. Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, Ms. Walker knew that women, hair and self esteem fit together.

That need to look good never ends. Anyone running a nursing home or provides health care knows that the way we look influences our recovery or health. Every Monday Mom, age 96, visits the beautician. After getting her hair washed, curled, dried and styled, she's ready to face the world. One of the nurses' aids skillfully applies makeup and Mom is a new woman. She fights to keep her head up and face whatever new pain or ailment her body throws at her -- beautiful hair turns out to be one of her best weapons against the blues.

The topic fascinates people around the world, in every culture. If you looked at those National Geographic magazines and their photos of near naked natives, you might recall that hair played a big part in their rituals. Braids, specific styles for each position within the community. Or the Amish and the custom of not cutting a girl/woman's hair. The Muslim need to cover the hair because it will be too great a distraction and may lead a man to sin.

Grant MacCracken explores what makes "those dead strands of protein extruding from tiny pores on our heads the cure-all for self loathing and insecurity" in his book "Big Hair."

Growing up in the 1960s with the hit song and Broadway show "Hair", I know that hair makes a big difference in how you feel about yourself and how others react to you. My father hated long hair on men. Of course those of my generation with long hair would point to pictures of Jesus and say -- "What about his long hair?" Which could lead to a whole 'nother discussion about styles through the generations and what they mean.

But for now let me say, "I like my hair. I am adjusting to the new color, and my coworkers tell me it looks great. Some of them wouldn't lie and others I'd know if they were lying. So for now it is short, dark and beautiful and I like myself a bit better for it.

But, Zophia! I have to talk to you about the expense of this self esteem and beautiful hair care! Seeing a shrink might be less expensive. But then again, having someone wash my hair -- what great therapy. And I don't know any psychologists or psychiatrists who provide such service.

Note: the photo and many many more galleries of hair cut photos can be found online.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

When did a closet become one of the most expensive rooms in the house?

I glanced through a flyer last night -- the Home Mag. The "Anything and Everything for your Home" magazine.

We are coming to the end of a major bathroom remodel in our house, so decorating, remodeling, even cleaning are on my mind. Who knew that the air conditioner would suck up that fine drywall dust and spread it through out the house? I wanted to get away from dust, so I opened the magazine. I ogled Spanish roof tile and closets by design. A chandelier in a closet? A closet bigger than my master bedroom? More cupboards, drawers, doors, than can be found in my kitchen? Just who would want to come out of that closet? The photo looks sexier than my bedroom. There is more cupboard space allocated for shoes than I have for simple storage in the attic or garage. And who has that many shoes? I know, Imelda Marcos. I haven't owned that many in a lifetime.

And don't get me started on the garage! The magazine's back page sports an ad featuring this pristine room lined with maple cabinetry, a polished tile floor and an invitation to "Win a Mercedes-Benz for your Ultimate Garage."

Do people really fall for this? When did life become a race to build the most beautiful storage area? When did hiding possessions become so important? Are we ashamed of the things we own? I can't imagine it is because Americans are humble and don't want to flaunt their possessions.

Closets -- they're a recent concept aren't they? I recall moving into a house built around the turn of the century -- the twentieth century -- and the 'master bedroom' (biggest bedroom) closet consisted of one pole hung down the middle of a room just big enough to give my clothes a hug when I shut the door. Mom said they used armoirs when she was a kid and I see they have made a comeback -- most house TV and computer equipment, but still I like that old world charm of a movable closet, so self contained and compact.

Wall to wall clothes certainly had a different meaning in that tiny space than it does in these echoing chambers. These tributes to consumerism and dare I say waste? They resemble a high-end department store showroom rather than a storage room. I think I'd be embarrassed to have a closet like that. I certainly couldn't hang my Target, Kmart, or even Sears purchases on those racks! And who would clean it? Now that I've reached a certain age and the kids are gone, so I have no slave labor, I judge acquisitions based upon 'who cleans them,' 'how hard is it to clean them,' and 'why would I want to clean them.'

I've watched my share of the HGTV shows devoted to organizing one's clutter and I should practice what they preach. When we made our latest move, we downsized a truckload of accumulated junk to the thrift shops and I felt better for it. I can't think of a thing we gave away that I have missed. Those who browsed my garage sale commented, 'Wow, three decades of stuff -- 60s, 70's, 80s...." I looked around that sale and saw my life and realized how drab it was if these 'things' were what defined me.

Some of the things cluttering my house, my life, have to do with family history. I save them for my children so they will have a sense of belonging, so they will know the line of people from whence they spring. Instead of housing these artifacts in dusty boxes, maybe I should design a closet museum in which to display them -- complete with chandelier and espresso machine. I could see a room in which my family photographs, letters from Uncle Homer in the 1940s or our ancient family tree that stops at the turn of the century (20th Century) would be displayed in splendor and beauty. There's nothing more important than family, is there? Uncle Homer would appreciate the chandelier.

But in my utilitarian life, the last thing I need is a closet showroom for my dirty sneakers and ratty sweatpants. I think it is time we all came out of the closet, stopped lusting about better storage and start jettisoning possessions. The people on the Titanic would have gladly thrown everything overboard to keep that boat afloat -- maybe we need to focus more on life and living and less upon trying to own more. It is not true, do not believe that "he who dies with the most, wins."

He who dies with the most only ensures that his progeny will fill several dumpsters before able to sell the house and get their inheritance. So give it away, throw it away, recycle it, donate it, but get it out of the house! Who wants to spend weekends dusting a chandelier in their closet?