The boss man wasn’t there today. That’s what the worker told me, standing in the great room of our half-finished house. He was sanding. I was inspecting. He thought the homeowners might want to talk to the boss. I wanted to talk to him, the man guiding the sanding machine, the one who would rub the stain on the floor. The man who knew what he was doing.
Later, after our business conversation ended, he called me aside. “You want to see a pretty floor?” he asked, thumbing his phone. A photo of a herringbone floor segued into view. A lovely, complicated floor. “That’s a 5000 square foot job,” he said, swiping to the next photo. “That’s a beautiful floor,” I told him, proud that he wanted to show me the floor. That he understood I loved the work he was doing on my floor. Before I left, he showed me a photo of the boss man, kneeling on the herringbone floor. The two men were friends, it seemed. This is the way it is when you work with local businesses. People. Craftsmen. You work with life.
One of our errands took us to another supplier. The supplier and I had been corresponding on email: me changing my mind and him being patient. I stood at the counter and placed my ordered. But before he took my credit card and charged me, he said, “I need to have a conversation with you.”
He told me about a bad PSA count, a biopsy, a doctor’s hints at cancer. He expected a bad report, and, if he was right, he and his wife would have to close the store. He wanted me to know the warranty would be good, but he might not be there for followup. “Before you paid me,” he said. “I wanted you to have that choice.”
I’m not revealing any details on the supplier because he had told no one of his health issues but his wife and now me. That’s what happens when you work with local businesses. You come to care for them. As people. Kind people. Then life interferes.
When we arrived home, a text burbled onto my phone. The metal table legs the woodworker had ordered from his friend had arrived. Were the legs at his shop? Yes, and he would be there a bit longer if we wanted to see them.
We walked over—down three blocks, over two. The dog was ecstatic to be outside. We arrived to meet the woodworker’s dog. The woodworker cranked open the backend of his truck cab, slid out the legs. Good looking legs. He was happy, pleased with what he’d found. I was happy. He and I admired the legs, a cigarette dangling from his lips. We said our goodbyes and walked back home, the dog happy.
This is what happens when you work with artisans. You walk to the neighborhood shop. You meet the dog. A bubble machine floats bubbles onto the sidewalk. The train whistles. Life.
When it all comes together and I’m sleeping on my bed, I’ll dream. The dreams will expand, contract. In the moment between the focus, I will see the artisans who have put together my shelter. The mustached tiler kneeling on the bathroom floor, carefully trimming the tile to fit the space. The electrician, catching my eye as we discussed whether a sconce was necessary beside the fireplace. The sander smiling at the photo of his boss, the store owner solemnly fulfilling his ethical standards, the woodworker tapping his cigarette onto the sidewalk. To each I am grateful. For his contribution. His talent. The excuse of a house that led their lives to intersect with mine.