by Karen Topakian
My father had an uncanny knack for hiring people. The wrong people.
Like the man from the pest control company who spent more time making a deal with my father about the TV in the basement than exterminating rodents. Or the roofer who preferred picnicking on our front lawn with his buddies to fixing the roof.
Almost universally, everyone my father hired wouldn’t merit a recommendation from the Better Business Bureau.
When my parent’s modest brick front ranch house needed painting, my father looked no farther than a neighbor’s hire to do the job. And that was good enough for him.
“Hey Alice, see that guy walking up the street?” asked my father pointing through the kitchen window on a spring day. “He’s painting the church. I’m going to ask him to paint our house.”
“How do you know he’s a good painter?” asked my mother wiping the counters.
“The church hired him, didn’t they?” replied my father.
“You don’t even know what he charges,” said my mother shaking her head.
“That’s why I am going across the street. I’ll ask him.”
And he did and he hired him. Then the trouble began.
My father saw the painter walking, because he came from the bus stop. The painter didn’t have a car. He didn’t have any tools. He didn’t have a ladder.
My father drove him to the paint store to pick up the paint. My father provided the ladders.
In May, the painter started scraping the clapboard sides and back of the house. When the temperature climbed, my mother offered him cold water. She let him inside to use the bathroom. They chatted briefly. She left him alone to do his job.
Then he disappeared.
A few days later my father asked when he returned home from work, “Did the painter come today?”
“No sign of him,” replied my mother standing in the kitchen with her hands on her hips. “It’s been days. Don’t you think you should call him?”
“I can’t call him,” responded my father shuffling through the mail. “He only left us an emergency number of some woman.”
My mother declared, “I think this is an emergency.”
“Okay. I’ll call tomorrow and leave a message,” responded my father reshuffling through the mail.
The next day my father left a message.
A week later, my father asked my mother the same question about the painter.
“Does it look like the painter came?” answered my mother. “Why don’t you call him again?”
My father left another message.
Every few days, my parents repeated the same conversation. My father left one more message. With the same results. No painter.
For six weeks, the outside of their house stood in the same raw unfinished state. Every time my mother went in the back yard to hang up the laundry, she saw the reminder of the half-finished job and seethed.
One day in July, my mother spied the painter walking up the street toward the house. She darted out the kitchen door to meet him on the front lawn. “Where have you been?” she demanded.
“I got another job,” the painter answered matter-of-factly.
“But you had a job…here. Painting our house,” said my mother dumbfounded.
“I got an offer for another job,” he argued. “You wouldn’t want me to pass it up?”
“Yes, I would.”
My mother glared at him and went back inside. The two never spoke again. She never offered him water or the use of the bathroom.
He finished painting the house.
The next time my parents needed their house painted, my father spied a tall lanky guy painting the neighbor’s house.
“Hey Alice,” said my father. “I found someone to paint the house.”
“Did you check first to make sure this one had a car?” asked my mother.
“Yes, he has a car,” said my father sarcastically. “He’s painting the Miller’s house,”
“What’s the hitch?” asked my mother. “Because I know there is one.”
“No hitch,” answered my father. “He’s just a house painter.”
My father was right. Sort of.
A few minutes later, my father walked into the kitchen followed by a young man standing roughly 6’5”. He introduced him to my mother as their new house painter. They sat at the kitchen table as the guy pulled out a piece of paper from his back pocket to fill out the bid.
“I never did this before,” said the guy. “I never priced a job.”
My mother kicked my father under the table.
My mother saw the words, Customer Pays for Paint, at the top of the page.
He presented them with a bid of $1,500.
“Looks good to me,” said my father excited about the low price. “Where do I sign?”
Both men signed the paper and discussed when he would start.
After the guy left my mother said to my father, “He bid too low. He didn’t add in the paint costs. He doesn’t even know how much paint he’ll need.”
My father shrugged.
“But then again he probably won’t need a ladder,” added my mother.
Within a few weeks, he finished the job and my father paid him the $1,500.
A few months later, when my father came home from work, my mother ushered him into the back yard.
“Look at this. The paint’s already peeling,” proclaimed my mother pointing to the back corner of the house.
“I’ll scrape it and touch it up with some leftover paint,” retorted my father.
As they walked back into the house, my mother stopped. “While you’re at it, here are a few more. Here, here and over there,” my mother announced gesturing at several places on the back of the house.
“Armen, you got what you paid for. A lousy job.”
“I can’t call him back to fix it,” admitted my father. “He might remember I never paid for the paint.”