CONTRACTOR CHRONICLES: The True Adventures of a Remodeling Contractor
This is the first in a series of what I hope will be a continuing saga of my true adventures as a remodeling contractor and some of the unbelievable things that have happened to me during a 30+ year career dealing with the general public.
This first tale, like all my stories, is 100% true and I swear that it is accurate in every detail. It took place in Atlanta, GA about 26 years ago. The principals are long dead and would laugh out loud if they could, so there is no need to protect their identity any longer.
Cotton was a cantankerous older gentleman who lived in a working class neighborhood in the inner city. He had been a painting contractor in his working life and he still thought of himself as a good judge of painting ability. Cotton wanted to have his house painted and he decided to “audition” prospective painters. The way he went about it was to have prospective painters climb up a ladder, scrape peeling paint off a clapboard and proceed to paint it.
Cotton was nearly blind. Everyone who showed-up to display their skills that day could tell he had vision issues and some thought they could fool the old man and just do an average job. Well, Cotton might not have been able to see, but he could hear real well. He would listen for the sound of the scraper and the gliding sound of the paint brush. If it did not sound right—you did not get the job.
I arrived for my “interview” and watched the guy before me as he climbed up the ladder. Winking at me, he proceeded to slap the paint brush back and forth in an attempt to paint Cotton’s house.
“SH*T, come down from there—you’re no painter !” Cotton bellowed.
“Well, I thought I was,” replied the befuddled applicant.
It was my turn next. I climbed the ladder having figured out what Cotton wanted. I silently glided the brush back and forth across the clapboard. Cotton cupped his hand to his ear and strained to hear something. Finally, he said, “Come on down. You got the job.”
As I stood next to him on the ground he smiled wryly and said, “You are the only one out of this sorry bunch of people, that have wasted most of my day, that know how to paint. You don’t go slap, slap, slap with a brush. You glide the paint on and lay it in the right way.”
Shaking my hand he said, “When can you start?”
As you might imagine Cotton was not easy to work for. He was very critical of everything I did and stated flatly that “his way of doing it was better than mine.” I nodded in acceptance and continued with my work.
As lunch time approached one hot day, Cotton offered me a plate of BBQ. It looked and smelled delicious, so I swallowed a big fork-full and thought to myself, “This might be the best BBQ I have ever tasted.”
Cotton said, “It is good ain’t it?” I said, “Yes it is.”
He nodded and looked away. Something he often did. Not a man of many words.
I said, “When you get a chance write down the recipe for me, so I can make some of this sauce.”
“Can’t do that,” he said. “Why not?” I said. “Because it is a secret,” he said without ever turning around.
I finished Cotton’s job and he paid me and said it looked great. I’m not sure he could see it very well, but it did look pretty good. Asked him once more for the sauce recipe and he just shook his head firmly, NO.
Years went by. Sometimes when I passed by his home I would wave at him sitting on the front porch. One day the phone rang and Cotton’s wife said that Cotton was very ill with cancer and near death. She asked if I might drop-by the house as Cotton had asked to see me before he died. She indicated he spoke of me often. Surprised and very touched, I said, “Sure, I will come by this afternoon.”
As I entered the house I was directed to Cotton’s room. He had been a heavy smoker and his lungs were about gone, so he was covered up in bed even though it was a hot summer day. He motioned me close to him and asked me in a hoarse whisper to tell him some stories about painting jobs I had been involved with as of late. I did. This seemed to delight and comfort the dying man. He smiled and laughed and coughed and laughed some more. There was nothing in particular about my stories that were funny or entertaining, but he liked them.
As the time passed and it was time for me to leave. I smiled and said, “You never did give me your secret BBQ recipe, Cotton.”
This angered him greatly. He sat-up in the bed and said in a loud voice, “I told you, you Son of a B*tch—IT IS A SECRET!”
A better ending would be he died right then, but he didn’t. He lived several more days before expiring. After the funeral I asked his wife, “Did he ever tell you how he made that BBQ sauce?”
“No”, she said. “He never told me. It was a secret.” People are very strange.