Saturday, July 7, 2012

Setbacks (Frustration and Friendship)

After signing the lease, I was feeling pretty light and breezy. I thought we were just about home free. Now it's all about packing, I thought. And a few little things here and there like getting Rowan's apartment set up with some cooking facilities.

If only.

My disabled father was visiting us for a few weeks, giving his wife some long-needed respite. Last weekend I drove Dad down to Salem, Oregon to meet up with JoAnn (said wife) and do the Dad-handoff. Two of my best friends live in the vicinity, so I took a couple of days to visit each of them, and I had a wonderful time.

When I got back, I discovered that in my absence, the dryer had gone kablooie and the old roof leak had reasserted itself and Rowan's soon-to-be bedroom was all wet again.  The dryer is a minor annoyance - Homero can fix it, and the part only cost $28 from Sears - but the leak is another story.

This roof leak has a long and ugly history that I don't care to reiterate at the moment. Those who wish to hear the whole unsavory story of mold, racism, and multiple marital spats may do so here. And here. And, finally, here. The short version is that despite the employment of two separate professional roofing firms and a boatload of money, we still have a mystery leak.

I don't know how you find out the source of a leak like that. Get up on the roof with a hose on a sunny day and have someone else in the attic with a flashlight? Maybe. Tear the whole roof off looking for the damn thing? Oh great, imagine that - "Hi new renters who have already signed a lease. Come on in and look around. Oh the roof? What about it? What do you mean where is it...?"

The way we fix problems like that is to throw a barbecue. This isn't an approved method, but it generally works to invite over a dozen or so Mexican friends who collectively have about a century of roofing and carpentry experience. After feeding them all grilled chicken, potato salad, and plenty of cold beer, just tell the story. Within minutes you will have Mexicans all over your roof, pointing out problems left and right. That's what happened at our house a few days ago, anyway.

"Caray," said our friend Juan. "Este no esta nada bien." And: "Hijoles," and even "Carajo."

These are words you don't want to hear when your Mexican friend is crawling around on the roof. It either means he's found some really bad shit, or that he's fallen off. Juan had, indeed, found some bad shit. No flashing where there should be flashing. No "drip panels" along the gutters, whatever those are. No metal guard around a vent pipe, which is where he thinks the leak is. He said he could stick his finger right through the roof, and that ain't good. It elicited a hearty "Caramba" from Homero.

Allow me to indulge in a cliche for a moment. You can't find good help these days! What is it with contractors in this town? Does nobody do things the right way anymore? You pay through the nose and  get crappy workmanship, and if you dare to complain, it's all "I'm gonna sic immigration on you!" I know, those of you who didn't click on the backstory links are going "WHAT?!" Go on, click on the last link. I'll wait.

Our friends said that if we just bought the materials they would come back up next week and fix what could be fixed without tearing everything apart. Juan is certain he can fix the leak, at least. They won't hear of taking a dime. The very idea is insulting to them. These are the same friends who gave us presents to bring to their families, the last time we went to Oaxaca. We made a day trip out to their village and feasted with their mothers, sisters, and wives. We handed over the gifts of cellphones, earrings, and love letters, and brought back fresh photos and videos of growing young children singing happy birthday to their faraway Papas.

These friends are the same ones who help us with butchering the goats, and for whom Homero has crossed borders which they cannot cross themselves. Our family and this family have become, quietly and without fanfare, part of one of those circles of mutual aid and support which are so very Mexican. Crecencio and Homero are not formal  compadres, but the relationship between our families is beginning to seem like it.

Crecencio is bringing his family home to Oaxaca at about the same time as we are leaving. For a while there was talk of trying to caravan, but I don't think anything is going to come of that. In any case, I am so happy that we will have some friends within striking distance down there. Homero, of course, will have scads of friends, but I will have none outside of family. It's nice to think we will occasionally be able to visit our friends, and my children can visit their children, who are also friends.

Friends are good, in any culture.


  1. That kind of friendship is irreplaceable. I read the back story (which I hadn't read before) and I am impressed by your nasty (yet polite) letter writing skills.

  2. Sofie- it's a well cherished familial skill, handed down from generation to generation. My mom
    Learned it from her father, whose most effective threat was "shall I take out a full page ad in the Times?"

    In my generation, it's actually my sister who has mastered the art. She can write a letter that can make a banker cry.