Before I tell you about the dude who came in here and fixed my shower and said weird things I’ll mention real quick that my downstairs neighbors were seeing water on their bathroom ceiling last week, right over their tub, and it turns out my shower is leaking, that there’s a hole down in the whatever. Fortunately my landlord jumped right to work on getting it fixed. Even offered to shave a couple hundred bucks off the rent since we won’t have access to the bathroom for a week.
Scary to see this happen outta nowhere and realize that, if I was a homeowner, I’d need to have several thousand dollars at my disposal in order to get it fixed. Either that, or good credit.
At present, I have neither.
The casual expensiveness of life.
What I actually wanna tell you about is the guy who showed up to lay the new tile in our shower after the previous set of guys tore everything out.
Raul. He’s in his late 50s and he shows up at 8 a.m. with a skinny gray-haired partner who doesn’t speak English.
They go straight to the bathroom and get to work.
I head to my room and do the same.
A couple hours later I come out to see Raul perusing the walls, hands behind his back, appreciating my roommate’s Grateful Dead posters.
He looks at me with a smile and says, “Lemme tell you,” and then he tells me: it’s a story about the best concert he ever went to. Him and three buddies in Orlando with a bag of Quaaludes and the strongest weed on the planet. Blue Oyster Cult and Rolling Stones and some other bands. He can hardly remember. But he got fucked up and made a buncha friends and then he got laid, right there in the grass, people all around him. Watching. No cell phones, nobody taking pictures. Nobody gave a fuck. Great weekend.
He rubs his chin and smiles at the memory. “It’s like it was yesterday.” Then he sighs and shakes his head and makes a solemn gesture at the bathroom. “We punctured the water line. Bit of a setback.”
He leans in to whisper, because we’re confidants now, and as he’s leaning in I see the long slice of scar tissue that falls from the corner of his eye to the corner of his mouth, and he says, “That guy in there? He’s not my normal guy. He acts like he knows what he’s doing. I said, ‘You sure you know what you’re doing?’ He says yeah yeah no problem. Next thing:” he makes a stabbing gesture, “pffzt. Sticks punctures the line. Thing starts gushing. We had to shut the water for the whole building.”
“Oh yeah! No problem. Plumber’s on the way.”
So the plumber shows up and he’s in a hurry. Bustles through the living room without addressing anybody, throws the tools down in the bathroom, gets to work.
Raul goes outside.
I wait a few beats and follow him out there.
He’s leaning on the balcony, hands clasped as though in prayer, looking remorseful. I go and lean on the railing beside him.
I don’t say anything.
After a moment he says to me, in the same confidential whisper as before, “That guy in there’s my cousin.”
“Yeah but he’s not just a plumber.” Raul plucks with two fingers at his gray t-shirt. There’s a company logo across the chest. “This is his business. He’s the boss.” Then he gives me a tormented wince and leans in closer, “Don’t ever work with family.”
I nod and look at him. I’m wearing a surgical mask over my mouth and I think this makes me more of a blank slate cuz he goes on in that whisper to tell me how pissed his cousin/boss is, that he had to rush over here from some other job in the Gables.
“And I said to him, ‘Look, you won’t let me use my guys, you stick me with Fulano—what do you expect? And this—it’s like my father used to say, God rest his soul: this is why you hire one team to do one job.’ Otherwise you got a new crew coming in every day, tryna figure out where the last guys left off…it’s a clusterfuck, Alex.” He looks out into the parking lot and shakes his head. Thinks for a moment. Then looks back at me all nervous and wide-eyed and says, Not that it’s gonna slow things down! I mean the job’s gonna get done, no problem.” He laughs. “You just caught me at a-a-a-a moment of weakness. A crisis of faith.”
The guy in the shower bellows for Raul and Raul goes running past me, into the apartment: “Dime, primo!”
The project can resume.
The plumber/cousin/owner comes bustling out of the apartment in the same huff as he arrived, shouting over his shoulder as he goes, shouting at Raul, “No more surprises, OK?!”
Raul comes chasing after him, into the stairwell, calling down, “Gracias, primo, I’m so sorry! Okay? Oye! Oye mira: have a blessed day! Okay?”
I get back to work.
I’m working on an article for Culture Crusaders about a new beer from Veza Sur and after a while I come out and see Raul looking at the art on our living room walls again, hands behind his back, while the guy in the bathroom throws things around.
“How’s it coming?”
He bounces his brow and swirls on his heels to face me. And he approaches with a smile. “It’s going beautifully, Alex, everything’s on track.” But then his smile sinks, and he leans in, and I notice more scars on his face, and he says, “Between you and me: they’re telling you Thursday? It’s not gonna be Thursday. Best case scenario? Friday afternoon you can take a shower. But we’re going fast. I promise you. My father used to tell me, God rest his soul, he used to say, ‘When you’re doing a job in somebody’s home don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re a burden.’ So believe me: we’re doing our best. The only issue,” he shrugs, and throws a thumb over his shoulder to indicate his inexperienced partner. “Things aren’t going 100% as they should, you understand?”
They go on working until four, Raul tells me his back is killing him from walking up and down all these stairs all day.
He stops at the door, drenched in sweat, and wishes all of God’s blessings upon me, over and over, and then he’s off.
“Until tomorrow, my friend!” and then, from the bottom of the stairwell, “God bless!”
I start making a late lunch now that they’re gone…and my mind wanders off, thinking about Raul. All the scars on his face, the extreme religiosity, the deifying of his late father. I think that maybe he was the runt of the family. The wild child. He turned down chances to take part in the family business and tried to go off on his own. But he got mixed up with a bad crowd. Maybe did some time. Came outta prison and decided he wanted to do right by the family business. He’s middle-aged, but he’s humble, and he’s found God, and he’s ready to learn, ready to do some honest work.
And so here he is, spouting blessings, working hard, savoring those sweet sweet memories of sex and quaaludes and Rollin Stones on a summer weekend in the 1970s.