Photo: This is a picture of my front yard from a few weeks ago. You can’t drive over it because my septic system is under all that dirt, and if you drive over it, you can damage it. There is a way to drive to the front of the house. You see that dumpster there? Yeah… you can drive to where that dumpster is by very carefully navigating between a few trees and driving over a little bump of a hill. This isn’t a big deal when the ground is dry… but when it is wet and slippery…
I dropped Ursa Major off at school yesterday, hurried to my car and hustled off to the grocery store. I did the shopping without breakfast or coffee, and I was already in a bad mood anyway.
Why was I in a bad mood?
Because the electrician for the house quit mid-project. My general contractor neglected to tell us about that until Saturday. He assured us, however, that the guy who quit was not going to charge us for the work that he’d done (ok, that’s good?) and that he had a new guy lined up who would be starting this week (mmhmm… ok) and that they should still be able to hit our deadline at the end of the month. Great. So when I sent my contractor an email on Monday asking about this week’s work and he told me that no one was at the house because of the 3 inches of snow we got (come on… we don’t even stop for 3 inches in Maryland let alone here in Massachusetts), I was a little pissed.
So I decided that I’d be paying everyone a surprise after preschool at the house. If anything to meet the new guys who would be working on my home and also to make sure that my general contractor got a good look at me and my angry face.
But I had to go to the grocery store and then pick up Ursa Major. While it was certainly no picnic to rush home, get the groceries in the house, get the cold stuff in the fridge and then run out the door like a madwoman (especially with Ursa Minor in the back seat screaming) I was able to get it done. When I pulled up to Ursa Major’s preschool, there was a lot of emergency equipment at the church next door (which also runs a preschool): two cop cars, two fire engines, and handful of other minor equipment… it was weird. I checked my cell phone to make sure no one had called me about an emergency and found nothing. So I shrugged, got Ursa Minor out of the car, and began walking toward the school (where there was no emergency equipment).
There were some people from the church gathered together–3 white women and two MetroWest cops were huddled together talking on the lawn between the church and my son’s preschool. They weren’t near where I was going, nobody was addressing me, and I was trying to push Ursa Minor along. I pick up Ursa Major from the playground at the back of the school, so as I got closer to the building and prepared to turn the corner to go around back, I noticed something: All talking had stopped.
All five people on the lawn had stopped all conversation, turned their bodies and were staring at me. No, seriously. Three white women and two white suburban cops had stopped everything that they were doing, turned themselves as best they could, and stared at me as I walked up to my son’s school.
I looked around me and saw nothing wrong and then made eye-contact with one of the cops as though I was waiting for instruction (am I going the wrong way? Pretty sure I’m not.), and when I got nothing, I flashed an awkward smile and then kept it moving. Hello, yes, I’m supposed to be here, I’m not doing anything wrong, I live in this community, I’m picking up my kid. Thanks for making me feel like I didn’t belong here for a moment. That’s super warm and welcoming.
I got to the playground and learned from the teachers that there was a gas leak (or something) next door. I picked up my boys, but on the way out, I saw one of the other cool moms–we’ll call her Jenn. I asked her, loud enough for other people to hear: “Did you get the stink-eye on the way in?”
She stopped and looked at me, “No? What stink eye?”
“The cops and a few of the moms out there gave me the stink eye when I walked up.”
She stopped and gave a wolfish laugh, “Well, you know why right?”
We both laughed. I retold the story for the benefit of the teachers and other moms–they kinda mumbled some excuses on behalf of the people on the lawn. Jenn and I knew better.
I shook my head and said my goodbyes, I still had another stop to make. The boys ran down the walk and I ran after them. They were no moms or cops to give me looks on my way to my car. The situation next door was winding down, I guess. Well, when one of those squad cars left the parking lot and drove my way while I was putting Ursa Major in the car, I gave it a pretty nasty look as it went by.
For those of you who just read that and are thinking “what’s the big deal?” This is what some of us call a “microaggression.” A microaggression is an uncomfortable experience wherein a member of a majority group (in this case, White people) say something or do something seemingly benign and non-confrontational that “others” a member of a minority group.
An example of a microaggression would be if I were to share a class with a white male for a semester and sometime toward the end of it, that white male says something along the lines of “you are just such an interesting and different Black person. I’ve never met one like you before. Sometimes, I don’t even think of you as Black.” (This is a true story. This totally happened to me.) Microaggression. That dude totally thought he was giving me a compliment.
The reason why this particular episode is a microaggression is because this group of people (two of which have been given a modicum of authority), through their actions, made me feel incredibly uncomfortable for a few breaths. Their body language and facial make-up clearly stated “who are you and what are you doing here? Do you belong here?” even though I was doing nothing wrong and I was in the right place. I am a person who lives in this community.
But I had to shake it off..because I was on a mission, remember? Time to take the boys to the house, get the mail, meet the electrician, and have a little chat with my general contractor. I also wanted to see if the drive-way had been plowed (we hired a dude for that).
I pulled into my un-plowed driveway and noticed a man in my front yard on his cellphone. He was standing next to an F-150 that was not on my driveway…. it was in my yard….
I got my mail and threw it in my car. Driving up on the unplowed, though not icy, surface, I notice that the man was not alone–there were two other men with him. They were on the ground around the truck.
I turned my car around and put it into park, Left it running so as to keep the boys warm and stepped out to see just what was happening.
So here I am on my property, walking up to three men Black men who are working on a truck. They had tried to back up the trick in the little bit of grassland between my house and my neighbor’s house. (I wish I had a picture of it… this is a possible thing to do, but it takes a little work. There is already a dumpster over on that part of that house. However, the people who delivered it did it when the ground was solid and dry, not wet and slick with snow). I walked up to the men and they ignored me for a good minute or two. The one man was still on his cell phone, I believe he was speaking Cape Verdean Creole. Finally, the man hung up his phone so as to look at me with a little bit of annoyance.
I put on a smile despite myself. “Hello! Is everything ok here?”
The man mirrored my smile and looked at the truck with a chuckle. “We’re just a little stuck, you see.”
I inched over to see the damage. The other two men were trying to prop up the truck on wood planks to get traction. A lovely black streak of dirt sprayed from the truck into my neighbor’s backyard. I put a hand to my forehead–I had to say hello to my neighbor anyway…
“Are you here to work on the house?” I asked, trying to keep up a neutral demeanor.
“Yeah, yeah we are.” The man answered simply.
“Who are you with?”
“We’re the electricians!” The man announced.
Of course you are.
“Cool… have you talked to [contractor] today? Is he supposed to be here?”
The man waved his hand. “We’ve talked to him twice this morning. He’s not coming today. We’ve got it. Well, we’ve been doing this all morning. When we get the truck out, we’ll probably only do a half-day’s worth of work.”
Oh yes, this is totally what I want to hear.
“Can I help in any way, gentlemen?” I addressed my question to the two men who were crouching on the ground. I didn’t have much to offer, but I did have a car and a cell phone and AAA.
One of the men looked up at me and put on a big grin. “Oh no, lady…. this is man’s work. Wouldn’t want to get you all dirty!”
The three of them laughed.
I walked passed them and went toward my neighbor’s house. I wanted to talk to her about the plow service (we share the service with her because it’s a shared driveway). I hadn’t had a chance to put my finger to the doorbell when the door opened.
“I offered them some sand…” the octogenarian, I’m going to call her Agnes, said after greeting me. “they looked at me like I had three heads. Do they speak English?”
“They do, yes,” I said in a non-combative way. “I just spoke with them. I’m surprised that they didn’t take your offer…”
“They’ve been at this for way over an hour. I’ve been watching the whole time. I told your husband that they probably should let trucks drive that way when the ground is wet…”
She continued. “If they want to use the sand, they still can. As long as they bring the bucket back…”
I went outside and offered the bucket to the men. They were happy to partake this time around. I thanked Agnes loud enough for them to benefit and then resumed my talk with her.
“I can’t stay long, but can you tell me if the plow guy came yesterday?”
“Oh no… he doesn’t usually come for a few inches….” Agnes said with a chuckle.
uh… what? That’s what we pay him for. If he doesn’t come for a few inches, we shouldn’t give him money.
“Well, I mean, the driveway is a mess. Does he come out to treat, at least, when things look like this?”
“I’ve never known him to treat with salt or sand…” Agnes said contemplatively.
What is the point of this fool? I’m now excited to get on my phone when I get to the car.
I said goodbye to Agnes, but asked her to call me if something else happened. Sure enough, she called not 5 minutes after I got in the door here. “They were able to unstuck the truck, but, I can’t believe it! They just decided to drive the rest of the way to the house. So I don’t know how they are going to get out of there! I can’t believe they didn’t just decide to go back to the driveway!”
I was so excited to call my contractor. Angry Black Woman mode is in full effect.
“[Contractor]… how are you?”
“I’m great, how are you?” He did, legitimately, sound like he was having a good day.
“I’m… great…” that wasn’t my happy voice, “Have you spoken with your electrician today, [Contractor]?”
There is a pause. “Why yes, I spoke with them this morning.”
“Did they tell you that they are stuck in a ditch in my front yard?”
Another pause. “No, they didn’t…”
“Well, yeah, they were. Then they drove over to the house anyway. I’m extremely concerned that they are going to drive over the septic later when they leave. They have also been there for most of the day, but haven’t done any work. One of the guys told me they are only going to put in a half day today. I was like, ‘really?””
He chuckled. “Oh my God… is that really what he said?”
“Yeah, don’t think he really knew who I was…” (upon later reflection, that’s my fault. I didn’t introduce myself as the owner of the home.)
“Yeah, no, I don’t think he did…”
“Listen, this isn’t really a great impression. And didn’t you say that the plumber was going to be in today? There was no one there but the electricians in my front yard.”
“What? The plumber is supposed to be there… and I was told by [his two other assistants] that they were going to be there today…”
“There was nobody there, [Contractor].” Dude, come on. These are your people. This is your project. Get your shit together. And if you don’t have your shit together, you better pretend that you have your shit together? Why am I, the client, breaking this new to you?
An extended pause, rustling of papers. “Okay.”
“So, can you do me a favor and just give your guys a call and let them know that they should absolutely not drive over the front yard? And then, can we talk tonight or tomorrow and talk about what the hell is going on?”
He took umbrage to this. “I mean, we’re just going to move forward. I’ve got to start getting in contact with your bank and stuff so we can start talking about draws… I mean, we haven’t been paid for 6 weeks…”
Really, bro? I lower my voice, get a little formal: “I’m happy to help you make your draws. We’re not in the business of keeping money from you. I would like to make sure that we’re on track with everything with this project, though. Will you be at the house tomorrow?” The answer better be yes.
“I was planning to be there to check on a few things.” Yeah you were.
In my low, cold, not compromising voice: “Great. Why don’t you give me the name of whoever you want me to call at the bank, and let’s plan on talking tomorrow about progress, yeah?”
How fast can he get off the phone? “Sure. Happy to do that. Thanks!”
I’m not going to give him the opportunity to call me. I’m going to get these boys dressed in a little bit and then I’m just going to pop in. Clearly I need to be significantly more hands-on to get this going.
I believe that men who work with their hands should be treated with the same dignity of those who are in the “creative” classes who work with their minds. I have a lot of respect for men who wake up in the morning and work on homes, buildings and the systems that keep us comfortable. You know this. The trades are important. They matter and these skills take time to cultivate. Furthermore, I’m just not a micro-manager. Not my thing. Not my style. But if you trigger my “you’re not that competent” feeling… well, you pretty much get me on your ass all the time. So, welcome to Sparta, [Contractor].
Hopefully, my Friday post won’t start with “I fired my contractor on Wednesday.” We’ll see. Sorry for the long post!