Monday, November 30, 2009

The Renovation

Turning a coffee shop into a restaurant doesn’t require a great deal of renovation, especially if you are planning a cafeteria service bistro. The seating and serving areas remain the same, requiring only some changes to the kitchen and enlargement of the dish pit. As small as the renovations may be, however, they leave the restauranteur facing his or her arch nemesis: the contractor. Contractors bring along a particular set of challenges for anyone, but for a female restauranteur in Humbug they can be a special pot of trouble.

Rule number 182 in Humbug etiquette is to never comment on any construction or mechanical error, no matter how egregious, unless you have balls and a penis. When I pointed out to the framer that he had put a door in backwards in comparison with the drawing, he simply said, “Well, it’s in now, so you’ll have to learn to live with it.”

In an attempt to conform to Humbug etiquette, I avoided my instinctual reply which was, “Well I sign the fucking cheques here, so unless you want me to write your name backwards, turn the fucking door around!” I thought for a bit and then opted for the more passive-aggressive response, “Well, I’ll call the fire marshal and ask him if a fire exit can open inwards.” I hadn’t even picked up the phone when I heard a drill gun removing the screws. It was frustrating to have to think of a way of saying what I wanted to say without actually saying it – but I was glad it worked.

As soon as the door was reversed, however, the framer disappeared, never to be seen again. I would like to say ‘never to be heard from again’ but of course he was prompt in sending an invoice and asking me to pay for the half of the work he had completed. Contractor after contractor disappeared after doing as much or as little of the work as they enjoyed, each sending an invoice for the portion of the work they had done. Painters were the worst. Every single painter I contacted promised to come on Monday and when I called on Monday to find out where they were, they promised to come the following Monday. This continued for five weeks and I finally decided to do the painting myself.

Since my renovations were minimal, I only had to paint a small area at the back of the restaurant. I walked down to Humbug Hardware and Lyle, in good Humbug fashion, let me have his master collection of paint swatches so I could match the colours as accurately as possible. After a quick round trip, I presented him with my selection, and asked for five gallons of ‘pepita’. Doing business on Humbug’s Main Street, marked or otherwise, seemed so much easier than the tedious journeys across even a medium sized city. It would have taken me hours to make the round trip to a paint store in Cuspidor, and there was no way that they would have let me have a master ring of paint swatches. On the other hand, in Cuspidor, I might not have wasted five weeks waiting on delinquent painters.

In just a few days I had two coats of primer up and was busy rolling in the first coat of pepita. I had to open the back door to let some of the paint fumes out, and I was quite enjoying the nice cool breeze when I got the uncanny feeling that I was being watched. I looked around and was startled to find a little old lady standing right beside me, watching the roller descend the wall.

“Who are you?” I exclaimed.

“Where’s your husband?” she asked, oblivious to my dismay.

“Who the fuck are you?” I barked at her.

Her head jerked to the right in a Humbug Huh, and I realized I had sent her into a system crash. I didn’t want to change the topic or move onto inane weather commentary but I had to find a way to reboot her. I decided to try repeating the question without the ‘f-bomb’.

“Who are you?” I asked again.

Suddenly re-animating, she replied, “I’m your neighbor,” seeming to think that would make sense to me.

“What neighbor, who the fuck are you?” I demanded.

Once again she crashed into the Humbug Huh posture and once again I had to reboot her.

“What neighbor, who the – who are you?” I demanded, sans profanity.

Once again re-animating, she replied, “I have the boutique next door! Why are you upset?”

“What the – uh, are you doing here?” I further demanded.

“Your back door was open. Don’t you have any children?”

For a moment I was speechless. What the hell did children have to do with her walking into my restaurant uninvited? Nothing was making sense. For the second time I looked around for hidden cameras. This had to be some sort of twisted prank, I was sure of it. I decided to play along.

“I don’t have a husband or children,” I responded.

“Why not?” she asked, completely void of inhibition.

“An open door isn’t an invitation,” I said, “why would you just walk in like that?”

“Don’t you WANT to be married?” she continued, so oblivious that I was gobsmacked.

I decided to just escort her out, and I asked her to please knock the next time she wanted to speak with me. She sort of giggled and muttered, “Knock, ha ha, on an open door, ha ha.” I decided she must be the senile mother of the boutique owner. I later found out she wasn’t senile, and she was in fact the owner of the boutique. As is common of many Humbug women, she suffered from the inability to speak with other women on any topics other than husbands, children, and baking. Sad.

Upon completing my coat of paint, I locked up the back and decided to head out the front and down the street to the bakery. I loved having everything so nearby. I hadn’t gotten three steps down the street when another little old lady beckoned me to stop. After a brief exchange of gratuitous salutations and comments on the weather, as I had learned was customary in Humbug, she turned the conversation to a more serious matter.

“I just thought you should know, a lot of us think the paint you’re using isn’t a very good match for the old paint,” she said. I have to admit I was quite agitated by this and spoke a bit harshly saying, “A lot of us? Who exactly is ‘a lot of us’? Just how many people have been wondering in and out while I’ve been painting?” Defensively she replied, “Oh, we haven’t been inside. We were just looking at the paint swatches over at the hardware store. The colour you picked is too orange.” “I see,” I said, a bit embarrassed that I had been so set on edge by the crazy lady I had encountered earlier, continuing with, “Well I guess you’ll just have to come in and see for yourself when I open.”

I managed to cut the rest of the conversation short but as I walked away I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of people collect in a hardware store to analyze someone else’s paint swatches. Admittedly there likely wasn’t any implied confidentiality in selecting and purchasing paint, but the public disclosure of my choice sort of bothered me. Humbug’s version of small town life had a much slower pace than I could have imagined without experiencing it first hand. The most difficult consequence of this slow pace was the rate of the contractors. The renovation, which should have taken five weeks, wound up taking well over 7 months.