Out in Normandy, our white elephant was whiter than ever…
The huge house we acquired as a conference center is still undergoing renovation. It is livable…comfortable…and even elegant. But there are wires hanging out of the wall…some radiators won’t turn on…others that won’t turn off… And the authorities still argue over how to finish it off. Those charged with protecting the dignity of the handicapped want to see an elaborate elevator, right in front, so the wheelchair-bound can enter through the front door. Those who are meant to protect France’s historic buildings, on the other hand, want to see cripples limp in through the back door, so the façade remains as it was in the time of Louis XVI.
The real problem is that almost anyone who ever worked on the place was either incompetent, dishonest or…most often…a mixture of the two. You always come across a few bad apples on a project this big; but we seemed to get a whole barrel of them. But then, the law of averages caught up to us. What luck! We found a handyman who is so handy, he seems able to correct, singlehandedly, the errors of a whole army of clownish electricians and befuddled plumbers.
“Today, diplomas are all that count,” he explained yesterday. “You get a guy with a diploma showing that he knows how to do electricity, then they turn him loose on the job. Take a look at these wires. [He pointed to a tangle of wires of various sizes and colors…where he had pulled down a section of sheetrock in the ceiling]. No respectable electrician would do a thing like this. They’ve got the low current wires – you know, for the doorbell and the alarm system – mixed with the high current wires. And then…look at this…they ran them all together through a steel pipe. It’s hard to imagine a dumber thing. The wires together in the steel pipe will create a kind of induction that is bound to cause trouble sooner or later…
“When I was coming along, it wasn’t like that. I had to learn on the job. But those were the good old days. People still took pride in their work. They weren’t just trying to earn money. They actually enjoyed doing a job well. And they enjoyed teaching younger guys how to do a job properly. France used to have excellent craftsmen. They were respected. Because these did what we call ‘noble work.’ They did it right, mostly for the pleasure of doing it right. But those days are gone. Now, you have people doing jobs as fast as possible just to earn as much money as possible. They put in this sort of thing and cover it up before anyone has a chance to give it a thorough inspection.”
Why don’t we just call the electrician back and get him to do the job right, we asked?
“Ha ha… Well, in the first place, he wouldn’t do it. He was paid two years ago. You could sue him…but by the time you ever got a settlement he’d be dead and buried…and so would you, probably. Besides, you don’t want him anywhere near this place. He’s done enough damage already.”
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