P was a stocky guy with red hair and a red mustache. From the moment
you shook his hand, you liked him. He had an open personality and an
In the gold mine of real estate known as Los
Altos, California, John P bought a new house with enormous rooms on a
cul de sac of similar structures. Back in 1981, I don't think anyone
had coined the term "McMansion" yet for mass-produced, oversized
dwellings with ersatz architecture. But ready or not, here they came.
P hired me to replace the chintzy globe in his entry hall with a
colossal chandelier. He liked my work. "I'm going to get you a pair of
Forty-niner tickets," he said. It was, from him, the ultimate
compliment. He quickly decided to install track lights, sconces, and
wall washers all over the place. And a couple of Casablanca fans. Oh —
and how about outlets in the wine cellar, the master bath, the walk-in
John P was a child. He'd interrupt me when I was
speaking to someone else and once — I don't know how he did this — he
had the operator break into a phone call at my own home so he could ask
me a question about his fireplace. Another time when I arrived at his
request after a 45 minute drive, he told me he'd decided to go to a golf
match and would I please come back another time? When he couldn't
figure out how to operate his dishwasher (which I had not installed), he
called me at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night asking if I could talk him
through it, and I couldn't get angry because from the sound of his
voice, he was on the verge of tears.
John P had a daughter who
was pretty, blond, and simple. She liked to watch soap operas, sun
herself by the backyard pool, and bake cookies. Young men would come
around, and she'd go off in their shiny cars. She loved babies. She
wore a health profession uniform, didn't seem to work very often, and
had an endless closet stuffed with expensive clothes. When she found
out that I'd written several novels, she crinkled her nose and said,
"How do you think of all that stuff?"
John P had an elderly
mother who would follow me around, pushing a walker, fretting about dust
and cautioning me about black widow spiders which she was convinced
were everywhere though I never saw one and, she admitted, neither had
she. When she wasn't banging around in her walker, she'd sit watching
the soaps, occasionally muttering "That bitch!" to herself as evil
unrolled on the screen.
At first it seemed odd that such a large
new house had been built with such minimal lighting. Then I started
noticing nail-pops in the drywall. When I cut holes for new outlets,
there were gaps in the insulation. Standing at a Palladian window, I
saw a crack of light around the frame — I was seeing right through the
exterior wall! The window had no flashing, no caulking. Incredible!
I told John P about the problems. "You should go after the builder," I said. "He should fix this stuff."
"The builder? He's incompetent. You've just shown me the proof. So do you know any good carpenters?"
The one who happened to be available was Fuckin' Floyd.
tackled the problems with his usual gusto. He ripped out siding and
slapped flashing around windows. He carried gallons of tar — which he
called monkeyshit — up a ladder to the roof. He struck up conversations
with granny — who had an almost equally salty vocabulary — and they
quickly became friends.
Floyd kept a watchful eye on the
daughter sunning by the pool, but he scarcely spoke to her. Puzzled, I
asked, "You got a girlfriend, Floyd?"
"First I get paid. Later, maybe I get her."
Floyd had made an assessment of the house with the high-end kitchen,
the Jacuzzi bathroom, the multiple fireplaces (in balmy California), and
then all the shoddy details: "Whip cream on a turd."
Like a lot
of homebuyers, John P wasn't stupid. He just wanted a large house with
goodies. In California in the 1980s, plenty of big-time builders
scrambled to meet that need. Catching the first wave, I surfed for
years as a small contractor cleaning up the details that the big guys
John P paid promptly with both cash and praise. He
recommended me to his friends. I don't know what happened, if anything,
between Floyd and his daughter. One thing, though: I never got those