Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kindness and Generosity

If you've been following along, you might have noticed that I had painters in to repair a bit of a skylight leakage problem following the installation of new roofing on the little house. This is the interior ceiling of the little house with the small stain of a very slow drip over the winter. I know it's barely visible in this photo, but it's a faint light brown stain that starts narrow just at the bottom of the skylight and widens as it slowly makes its way down the ceiling toward the pipe that is my gas heater's chimney pipe.

The roofing company, Brady Roofing, sent the foreman of the roofing crew and a helper out to paint that one triangle of my ceiling. They did a lovely job, but I nearly killed myself getting ready for them to paint that wall. My two best and biggest bookcases are against that wall and they are both glass fronted. So to protect them I unloaded all the books and moved them into the greenhouse. Turned one bookcase's front to the wall and disassembled the other and moved it into the greenhouse. I took down art work from the wall below. It was a hard days work getting ready for them. And to make it harder I've been sick way too long, and am weakened by this illness and the emotional part of rejection of the novel has finally hit.

The surprise of this encounter with the foreman and his helper was the charm, intelligence and elegant English of the new guy. His name is Ricardo and I couldn't stop talking to him. It slowed things down and probably annoyed Omar, the foreman on the original job. What might have taken a couple of hours stretched into most of the day. I know it must baffle Omar and Brady Roofing that I won't agree to an 8 AM arrival time. I find it almost impossible to go to sleep before 2 AM, so getting up at 6 or 7 is a punishing call-time for me. If they were doing the whole ceiling I'd agree to the early time. But I knew it wouldn't take that long to do that one triangle. However, once I discovered that I had an intelligent man from Mexico working in my house, I wanted to learn something about Ricardo. He was willing to talk Mexican politics. Heaven. Hillary was in Mexico and telling us that the Mexican drug wars were our problems. This man, Ricardo, is a man who the Italians would have called "simpatico." I liked him immediately. And during the day of my asking prying questions I found out that he had been making his living as a handyman. I asked him what he specialized in and he said he could do it all--plumbing, electrical, you name it, he can do it. And based on the care he gave the painting I'm betting he can do it well. So I got his full name and phone number and planned to call him as soon as I get my property taxes paid.

Then I got a call for the charming man who owns Brady Roofing to tell me that Ricardo was offering to come back to paint the rest of the ceiling. I explained that I couldn't afford to pay him just yet. Mr. Brady said, "Ricardo wants to make you an offer you can't refuse. May I put him on the phone?" "Yes, of course."

Turns out Ricardo is willing to come back and paint at no charge to me. How is this possible? I could never let a working man come work for me and not pay him. That would be unthinkable. It goes against my sense of fairness and value for the skill and time of a working person. If you do hard work for someone else, unless they're family, you should get paid. But I'm not family. The weather has been bad here and the roofers are not working outside, so he says he has time and is ready to schedule the job. Still I put him off a couple of days. Then we schedule it.

I don't know why I thought Ricardo would only paint one triangle at a time. I thought he would be alone. I thought it wouldn't be too much to ask him to do the moving and lifting and draping. I just didn't have it in me to do that myself. I'm a ghost of my usual self. I made no effort at all.

Ricardo arrived promptly at 10 AM with another worker, a Mexican man who doesn't speak English. I was smoking and drinking my coffee and watching the morning news. And so they set about moving furniture, and taping and draping the walls, protecting the things that weren't essential to move.

And all the while I talked to Ricardo. And all the while I talked to him I schemed on how to make him part of my family. If I had a son I would want a son like this man. I feel kinship with him. I think this is part of the meaning of the word "simpatico." There is no English word that encompasses all that "simpatico" means. But kinship is part of it. We could talk about anything. I could wax lyrical about Ricardo and his lovely self, but I don't want to embarrass him. I told him I write a blog, and he just might see this. I tried to pay him. He said no. It's a really difficult ceiling to paint and in the past has required scaffolding. I argued with him, trying to explain why it was so important to me. How could I hire him to do other jobs if he wouldn't let me pay him? He still said no. When his back was turned I slipped a couple of hundred dollars in the pocket of his jacket. It wasn't a tenth enough. I was sitting at my computer when he left. He pulled the money out of his pocket and frowned at me. He handed it to me, smiled and shook my hand. I was starting to tear up when he left. This is how my ceiling looks now. More photos later.