Christie Shary

Short Stories - The Ghostractor

The Ghostractor

Where is he? As usual, he hasn't shown up this morning. Can't be a weather-related problem-the sun is shining full-tilt. 'Surf's Up' today-wonder if he's hit the waves instead of our backyard deck? Maybe he's got a hangover-a drugover, whatever. Perhaps it's his son again-kicked out of school another time. Oh, I know, he's got the flu-for the third time. Must be a bad flu season this year, but so strange that we've missed it at our house. Then again, it might be his bursitis acting up-that's it! How can one lift a hammer with bursitis? Impossible! Oh, I've got it-his helper has car problems and didn't show up at his house. Then there's his 'anxiety attack.' And get this, the latest excuse-just this morning, in fact. "I can't come today because it's too windy and I might get sawdust in my eyes." You've got to be kidding?Duh? Have you ever heard of wearing safety goggles? Geeze, this scenario is beginning to sound like a page out of a social worker's notebook, not a poor helpless homeowner looking for his landscape contractor.

Why he's only been on the job-or should I more correctly say 'off the job' since November. Many thousands of dollars later he's built a small viewing deck, installed a few railroad ties up the hillside and managed to produce a hole in our rear yard half the size of Montana. Why, that's okay, he's going to fill in the gap with the latest synthetic product on the market-TREX-which he claims to be the number one specialist in installing. Oh, sure, right. The day we see it there we'll probably both be in the hospital with broken legs after forgetting that the family room French doors lead to nowhere-only a huge hole in our back yard.

Our little dog has already forgotten this fact. He hit the old support bars while aiming for the 'pretend deck.' He cracked his head and about broke his neck. And last week he sprained his ankle. Before we know it, the animal rights folks will be knocking at our door. And that's just the beginning of our contractor trials and tribulations over the past three months.

Oh yes, our contractor has accomplished one thing! He's left us a tremendous pile of trash in the rear and side yards. Where the barbecue used to be stands a mountain of dirt, chunks of cement, plastic bags, and discarded pop cans and juice containers. Not to mention all those cement bags, candy wrappers, cigarette butts and such.

"Oh, I always run a very clean scene," he promised us. This was pre-contract signing, of course. Now our yard appears more like the city dump.

And still no deck.

Of course, he explains to us that he's been doing lots of work, it's just that OUR travel schedule won't permit him to be here every day. EVERY DAY? Right! He appears on the scene for about an hour or so if we're lucky, and that's, of course, when he doesn't have one of the above-listed problems.

"I'll be there bright and early tomorrow morning," he cheerfully says, as he runs to the bank to cash our weekly check. One thing we've learned is that we no longer pay him until the end of the day because if we give him the check any earlier, he disappears from our construction site like vanishing ink.

Where did he go? He was just here. We remember the checks we shouldn't have written and vow to never do it again. We fool ourselves. The next week we are doing the same stupid thing all over again as he says he doesn't have money for materials and that he has to pay his day laborers. Poor guys, we feel sorry for them. We'd hate to have to support our family dependent on him, our dear contractor. We can't stand the thought of them starving, so another check is written. After all, they don't have a rich daddy to turn to.

We finally come up with a new name for him. We call him our "Ghostractor," which seems fitting for one who flies in and out of our lives so frequently. Maybe he should become a magician-he's certainly got the disappearing act down pat. And to think that he was a fireman for over twenty years-I certainly hope he was faster at fighting fires than building decks.

Yesterday he finally showed up at 10:30. Hmm . . . I took a look at him. Awfully tan for supposedly working in a shady back yard all day, now isn't he? I figured he'd been on his surfboard again that morning. If only he were so dedicated to our yard. Yet he has the biggest, sweetest smile on his face when he strolls into our yard in a perfectly white t-shirt and new Levis, his hair carefully primed. "Good morning, ma'm."

Yeah, right-well it isn't a very good morning for me, you fool. I stomp my feet and head into my office, before I go outside and bop him on the head, to see if I can knock any sense into him. At the same time, I know it's very doubtful-totally doubtful, actually. And I wouldn't want to cause him another 'anxiety attack.'

Whatever his excuse, I know he won't be around for long this day either. Why, it'll soon be lunch time and then off he and his helper go to Jack in-the-box, Del Taco, Carl's Jr., whatever, all of which we have evidence of in our rear yard. Then, about an hour after returning from lunch, he always finds an excuse to leave the premises. I've even thought of offering him use of our downstairs bathroom, if I thought it would keep him on the job. But I know it wouldn't, so why waste the toilet paper?

My husband has even taken to driving home at lunch time to see how things are coming along, like there would be any changes? I call it his 'babysitter role.' But being the optimist that he is, he hopes for the best, thinks maybe his visits will motivate our Ghostractor. But no such luck. He just waits for my husband to arrive, tells him all the marvelous and creative things he's going to do to our yard, or asks for more money for supplies. Or, as a last-ditch effort to get out of work, tells my husband that he way underbid the job.

Well, sorry-maybe you'd best spend some of your 'free-time' taking an estimating class instead of in a bar or at the beach, or wherever you are. Honestly, I do sometimes wonder how some people ever survive in this life. Our Ghostractor must have a special deal worked out with the 'Man Above'.

To tell you the truth-which our Ghostractor is not a specialist at incidently-we're getting entirely sick of this whole thing. We'd like to have our barbecue back, with a deck below it, of course. You see, it's not easy barbecuing in a hole in the ground and we're getting so weary of sandwiches and stove-fried food that we could vomit right in the Ghostractor's backyard hole. But as he's seldom around, he'd never notice our distress markings anyway. But for now, our barbecue's tossed in the middle of my now-destroyed meditation garden. Poor Buddha has been looking very sad indeed these days. So have all my other flower-filled planters, tossed randomly as rags in the corners of the yard or balanced precariously on unfinished walls screaming, "Get me out of here! Please!"

Then there's the brand new fancy dancy spa that we purchased. Its custom cover now serves as a work bench, a tool storage place and a counter for leaving snacks and such. In fact, so much construction dust has seeped beneath it and into the spa that we're sure we'll be taking mud baths after the next rain storm instead of our planned soaks in the bubbly clear water.

But this year weather has not played a part in our work delays. It's been perfect almost every day, so our Ghostractor can't use this for an excuse. Oh, pardon me, it did rain for one day, I believe it was New Year's Day, in fact. Of course this put him out of business for the entire week because he claimed the back yard was too wet for working. Well, la de da, can you imagine that?

Yes, we're disgusted, all right, but what can we do? He has us over what they call the old 'contractor's barrel.' He's basically telling us, "I can 'walk' on this job and not finish it at all . . . or, if you're very nice to me and give me some more money, maybe I'll show up and finish it after all. So, what'll it be?"

We call this 'blackmail.' But what are we to do, call the District Attorney? Send a letter 'special delivery' from our attorney to his post office box? Who would receive it, the Post Master? Then again, we could go to his building material supplier, dirty his name. We could threaten not to hand out any good references on his behalf. We could lock his tools up in our garage. But then how can he finish our job without tools? He can't exactly hammer and saw with his hand, now can he? We could put a lien on his truck. But that wouldn't do much good as he'd be a ghostractor with no way of getting to the job, even if he did intend to come. How about going after 'his business.' Now what business might that be? And would we ever want to inherit it? No thanks!

We've thought of it all. Yes, it is one great big mess, both figuratively and otherwise. And whose fault is that? We have to admit it's mainly ours. Why did we listen to that young kid at the lumber store who said the Ghostractor does great work? He's probably his partner in crime. Why were we so impressed upon meeting him, with his neat appearance and polite ways? Aren't contractors supposed to get dirty while on the job? Aren't they supposed to be a bit weathered and tough? These things should have certainly raised a red flag to us-a preppy little polite contactor with a shiny new truck, which by the way, we've probably paid several payments on by now.

It was like we were a young married couple who had just purchased their first home and wanted to fix it up. We've been 'around the block' a few times after owning over ten houses, all of which enabled us to deal with contractors in one way or another throughout the years. Suddenly, here we were accepting one at face value and not even checking his references. Now how stupid can we be? It's almost embarrassing.

But we have learned one lesson. Always hire a contractor that you can actually 'see'-one that at least shows up for work. Then perhaps, with any luck, he'll actually accomplish something. Our Ghostractor is definitely not what we had in mind.