October Surprise!

            Every locale I have ever been do has a pithy homespun sounding saying regarding the local weather, “if you don’t like the weather in, I don’t know, Buttfuck MD, wait ten minutes!”. This is usually espoused by some old bastard who probably thinks he coined it. This is especially true here in Buffalo where the old Polish woman down the block, whatever block you happen to be on, will lob that old chestnut out following a, “was it you who ordered all this hot weather?” and perhaps an f-bomb or two. This isn’t Jersey, so we generally smile weakly and try to get away before being engaged in more inane conversation. Be that as it may, the saying is sometimes, or at least once, true.

            It was Thursday, October 12th 2006, and there arose some cries of surprise when a co-worker looked out the window and drew everyone’s attention to the fact that big wet flurries were coming down. I was immediately agitated by this for a number of reasons. For one, the morning had been unusually warm at the tail end of the Indian summer and I did not bring a jacket. Second, I had not yet armed my vehicle with the usual winter accoutrements meaning I’d have to clean off my windshield with my bare arm if this shit actually stuck. Finally, ever since my wife relocated here I’ve heard nothing but griping about the constant winter snowfall, that I still maintain is really contained between late December to early March, from the onset of fall until close to the 4th of July. This certainly didn’t help my case! I knew as well that my in-laws would sit back and say, “ah, typical Buffalo!” as they liked to express skepticism when calling mid August and being told that not only were we snow free, but roasting.

            I was annoyed to see it not only was sticking, but coming down harder by the time I decided to go home. As I feared I was stuck clearing the heavy fall with my arm. I made a slow way home and when coming down my street noticed that something about my property looked… off. Just not right. I couldn’t pin it down right away. Got it. I was reasonably sure I had not left the gigantic tree in the front leaning down upon the house when I left that morning! Well, this certainly wasn’t good. Not possessing a degree in architecture or anything useful, I had no idea if the weight of the humongous snow covered tree was enough to cause the house to collapse, so I decided to go in and make some phone calls, but smartly leaving my car back at the end of the driveway.

            I got a hold of Molly and suggested she might come home early from her internship and wisely left out any concerns of structural collapse. We did some calling around to see if we could find a tree guy willing to come out that day and ended up booking 4 different ones and figuring we would go with whoever came first. At the time, the whole issue seemed be really nothing more than a minor annoyance. Dave the tree guy came a couple hours later, and by that time the tree had leaned into the house even more and a few branches had broken off. The snow never abated. I took the precaution of parking both cars in the circle of the cul-de-sac where they would be mired in for several days more. Dave put my fears to rest and let me know that the house would hold up the tree nicely, and that if it did decide to uproot completely and fall, it would smash up our neighbor Wendy’s immaculately kept property. He’d come by in the morning to take it down and we decided to have an evening in.HPIM0179

            That evening, as anyone who experienced it, was surreal. We sat on the couch watching TV and listened to the gunshot cracking sounds of branches breaking and the reverberating thud as they hit the ground. We worried of the power going out, but figured it would have already if it was going to. Ha! Optimistic fools. Lightning flashed and the sky had a weird green glow to it. Molly worried of disaster but I found the whole experience kind of cool. Very apocalyptic and exciting; something different for a dreary October day. Around three o’clock in the morning we were awoken to the sound of the power going out. We went back to sleep, confident it would be back in the morning. Our 8 days of darkness had begun.

            We woke from daylight in a silent house, growing steadily chillier without the electric life that was usually breathed into it. The view out the front was almost overwhelming as we could not actually tell what we were looking at. It was an unbroken sea of snow, leaves, and wood at all angles making it impossible to get true perspective. Out the back we could at least tell that it was indeed our yard, but it as well had become a cacophony of branches and snow heaped together as if by the tirade of a mad god. There sure was going to be a lot of cleaning up to do! To our delight, we found the land line still worked and I set about making some phone calls. My first call to National Grid drained us of hope although we received nothing but lies. Our area was not expected to be back up until the following day! My mother lacked power as well, but my sister was still on the grid so we pumped her for news. Hundreds of thousands powerless! Worst natural disaster in WNY history! Abundant use of exclamation points! It was worse than we thought.View out Front Door 101306

            A few things were readily apparent. One, we had to come to terms with the fact that we would go the day and night with no power and must compensate. There was a possibility that tree Dave would not be coming by as not only was our street absolutely impassable, but Harlem road as well. No entry or exit, we were housebound as when they had that blizzard on Little House on the Prairie where Paw almost froze his ass to death on some fool errand. Third, my irritation with the fact that we had an electric stove increased exponentially. Lack of hot comfort food on a shit day is indeed a foul thing, especially after choking down a cold lox sandwich for breakfast; oily chilled fish on untoasted rolls being less appetizing when shivering than even expected. I made instant coffee with hot water from the tap and grimaced at every sip. Yard on 101306

            We spent the morning and part of the afternoon outdoors in the yard with the mistaken notion that we would have things cleaned up in no time. I with my bow saw and Maw with her loppers, we broke down and stacked an impressive 4 large branches that day accounting for a total of 0.3% of those fallen. I campaigned to buy a chainsaw when access to the open road was restored. It was foul sweaty work, rewarded with having to strip off soaked clothing in a cold house before jumping in the shower. Thankfully the hot water heater was gas powered! At lunch I remembered the grill and we dined on the first of many hamburger meals to make use of the huge amount of ground beef we had for some reason. The first was like heaven; the rest, not so much so.

            We felt completely cut off from the rest of the world. The fact that I avoid the neighbors, plus being the ‘that guy’ on the block what with my hole digging and front lawn vegetable garden, we didn’t feel the neighborhood solidarity as others seemed to be experiencing, although one kind woman gave us firewood, whom I still owe. No TV, no internet, just land line reports from Laura or the Jersey folk telling us how much worse the situation was than everyone thought. We wouldn’t hear it – the recorded message on the NaGrid line said we’d be back up tomorrow dammit, and since they never made another update, we could only assume it was gospel.

            As the day drew on the last remnants of heat left over vacated, I decided to make use of the glorious fireplace and heat the place up a bit. The one bit of fortune we had was that the nature of the problem provided as much fuel as one could shake a stick at, even if it was green wood and a good recipe for a chimney fire. Being without TV the first night was a nice experience. Molly tried to teach me how to play the piano and we finally settled into a long Boggle tournament by firelight. Little did we know that the tournament was to last the better part of a week and that I would not, even once, ever win a round despite my English background. My requests to sprinkle a few Trivial Pursuit games in the mix to liven things up were denied.

            Saturday morning came and we tried the tree service again now that it looked like the roads were finally clearing some. According to the receptionist, Tree Dave was AWOL and we may or may not see him. This was depressing and we beat the walls in anguish. We geared up for another day of darkness, cold, and expending massive amounts of energy to clear pathetically small patches of the back lawn while subsisting on tired old burgers and cold fare. Suddenly Molly called from the living room, “Something is happening! Something is happening!” A bucket truck had pulled up in front of the house. It was Dave, come through after all and accompanied by a grown up version of Scut Farkus from ‘Christmas Story’.

            Scut took to taking down our tree almost immediately and had the distinction of being the first and only decent contractor we encountered in the ensuing debacle, as well as one of the most unconventional. While Molly and I chopped away in the back, Scut swung his mighty chainsaw around, lopping tree limbs with a cigarette hanging from his lips and a beer in his free hand. Although I was fairly certain there were OSHA regulations of some sort against that kind of thing, I wasn’t about to say anything. He observed my pathetic sawing and when he took a break to go eat a sandwich and drink more beer, he loaned me his chainsaw with an admonition not to hit the dirt, without ever asking if I knew how to use it, which I did not.HPIM0254

            Later that afternoon, after clearing several more branches with Scut’s chainsaw before he had consumed enough beer to want it back, I was able to make it off the block for the first time. Armed with a clear order to bring back hot food, I ventured out. I found the Mickey D’s closest to us still powerless, as was Jubilee which is too shitty a store to carry hot food anyway. Making my way up Kensington into Williamsville, I encountered my first area where power was restored and pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot along with 100 other powerless people with a yen for a Big Mac. An hour later I returned home victorious with hot burgers and super salty fries. The taste of heaven, though I didn’t know it would be our standard fare for a full week on.House on 101506

            I’m going to decline going into the painful detail of each and every day, except to hit some highlights regarding how bad it sucked. Daytime wasn’t so bad. We had daylight, the house didn’t seem as cold, and for the most part I was trying to spend as much time at work as possible. Night time, however, blew monkey balls. We tried to spend as much time at Laura’s watching her precious TV, even though my brother-in-law usually had some tedious game on, but having to come home after made it almost not worth it. Nothing like leaving the light of civilization to turn down a dark and lifeless street resplendent with shattered corpses of the once fine trees that sold us on the street to begin with. Entering the front door, we would arm ourselves with flashlights and make our way though the frigid environs, change in the cold, and spark a fire to get just a smidgen of heat.

            The silence was broken only by the crackling of the damn fire that always needed tending, the roll of the fucking Boggle cube, and the tell tale hum of the lucky bastards peppered about the area with generators. One night when going to bed I made the galactically stupid mistake of drawing my wife’s attention to a noise in the room (she had been wearing ear plugs and took them out for this) and suggested that it might be a bug. This resulted in a protracted hunt by flashlight in a large messy room for something I had zero chance of finding. Good times, good times.

            Depression began to settle in as friends and co-workers got their power back while we continued to sit in darkness while Buffalo resumed normalcy for the most part. It began to look as if the situation were permanent, that Snyder was being consigned to a green initiative and reverting back to the… well, I guess the Victorian or maybe Edwardian age. The numbers without power dwindled from the hundreds of thousands, to tens of thousands, to simply the thousands. We began to expect to see our house alone displayed on the NaGrid website as the last pocket of Suckstobeyouville.  Then along came Dick. Wondrous Dick! Spewing with kindness Dick! Stop that; that isn’t how I mean it. Dick, a co-worker of mine, announced to me on the Wed morning after the storm that he knew of a generator we could borrow.

            I took off early from work that day and got the thing wired up. My first obstacle was that my damn drill lost its juice, so I was forced to fire up the generator and use it to charge the battery. The genny was a small model capable of putting out just a few amps and needed to be refilled every hour, but during that hour it was able to power the furnace, the sump, one lamp and the TV. Oh how sweet life was again! For the first time in a week we had both true warmth and the awesome glow of the ‘King of Queens’ big fat ass to delight us. The downside of course was that every hour I had to slog out into the rain and slush and refill the damn thing, but by the time we were ready to go to bed the house was toasty and we absorbed enough brain killing programming to lull us into complacency once again.

            Finally, late afternoon on the 8th day, I was in the downstairs bathroom getting my pee on when a miracle occurred. With a resounding thunk and chirp the house roared to life again. Lights came on; as did everything we had left on the week before. Glorious! The initial pain was over, and it was time to face the real music and deal with insurance agents and contractors. Little did we know we would be looking back on the days of darkness with true nostalgia.

            Under the reveling light of best possible kind, humming florescent, it was fairly evident that we would need to file an insurance claim and get a hold of some contractors. Our main roof was battered, the flat roof was punctured and the library beneath said flat roof was inundated with lots of moisture. Now we had planned to get the roof done anyway, but we kept that little nugget from the claims adjuster and let him think the storm was the reason it looked so old and shitty. By the way, State Farm… booya! They managed to find things to cover we didn’t even think of, and believe me, I itemized every little thing that could be linked to the storm by even the flimsiest of associations. This guy bought all that and a whole lot more! It was also the very last time I managed to gain any type of satisfaction in dealing with someone regarding this.

            First order of business was the roof. We had planned on getting it done anyway and had already contracted with the fabulous G Brothers. We went with these blokes who still humped around old timey wooden ladders because not only did they promise to do the roof, but that they could also drop in the solar tubes I bought and install an exhaust fan in the downstairs bathroom, all for only $200 more for the follow on items. A steal! They did quick work on the roof, showed up on time, and managed to raise the price after pulling the old, “Gee, I never saw anything like this before!” schtick regarding the flat roof. Like these assholes in business for 30 years could possibly be surprised by the way some other asshole slapped tar and shingles down in such a way as to warrant an extra days work. Fuckers.

            They finished the roof and immediately began badgering me for payment prior to performing the other two tasks. We withheld, but mainly because the bank was slow to release our funds. They finally showed up to do the tubes, spent an hour hemming and hawing before finally admitting they didn’t know how. The badgering began again and I badgered back about the fan. Their electrician showed up, took a quick look, pronounced the job impossible and left. They finally knocked the $200 off the final price (after raising it $300 for the flat roof) and I settled up. Since that time we have experienced 3 separate leaks in the flat roof, left dozens of messages, and have yet to see them return and honor their 10 year warranty.

            Worse was the crew we hired to do the library. The main outfit seemed to be pretty good at first. They swept in, got everything dried up, then left for several months. In the intervening time we got Slappy the carpenter and his crew of boneheads whom the main outfit contracted to do the actual repair work. Slappy was a real piece of work. Unreliable, slow, and overly reliant on scrounging what he needed from homeowners. Seriously, his first day in he asked to borrow both a hammer and a drop cloth. What kind of goddam carpenter doesn’t have a hammer? Another day I came come to find his crew found, used, broke and then hid my shop vac; another item I would think the idiot would have had. On top of it all, he had one needy schmuck working for him who drove us crazy. Every few minutes he needed something and would appear, looking sheepish, in the living room with another story. “Uh.. Mr. Wolf… I uh, cut myself. Do you have Band-Aids?” or  “Uh… Mrs. Wolf… Um.. can I  uh go to the bathroom?” It never ended with this dill hole. On top of it all, his work was shoddy. On the very last day he came in to replace the two strips of wood between the windows and used different type and color wood and didn’t understand why we had a problem.

            I got a little bit of payback on Slappy when he began harassing me for his money. He was so bold as to call me up and actually threatened to put a lien on my house if he didn’t get paid right away. My response, go ahead and try! I explain the most basic element of how contracts work with this fool who claimed to have been a contractor for decades. Basically, I didn’t have a contract with him, I had one with the drying company who subcontracted him, so really didn’t give a toss if he got paid or not. I only had to pay the drying company, who as near as I could figure, disappeared completely without ever billing me. Oh, the satisfaction of watching him slink away.

            The drying company finally came back in March, finished what they needed to do, and I settled up with them. Apparently they were also tired of Mr. Slappy and his shaggy horde of miscreants.

            The day finally came when there was just one last thing to take care of. Replacing the rug in the library, back hall, and we thought of doing the bathroom as well. We did some shopping around and considered doing the Kenny, Kenny carpet. We walked in and could not get anyone to talk to us, so we walked out and down the street to the venerable Max Pies where we were accosted by their sales douche Mike. A little more savvy in our negotiation skills by now, we wheeled and dealed, dropped a bogus quote from Kenny, and came down to a mutually agreeable price with Mike, or so we thought. Later that evening, we decided we didn’t want to do the bathroom at that time after all, so called Mike and asked for the price with the bathroom taken out and received an answer we could live with.

            Two weeks later the carpet people came on by and I had the old carpet ripped up as per the agreement to save on cost. Consummate professionals, they set to work, but sought me out after a bit. Here is what they showed me. Library, carpeted. Back hall, carpeted. Hallway between library and back hall… bare floor. Dude, they didn’t give us enough carpet to finish the job. I assumed there was an error and called up Max Pies and sought out Mike. This fine piece of work went on the defensive before I even opened my mouth. “You said you didn’t want to do the bathroom!” he whined at me, followed by a quote for $200 to finish up. I had had never done so before on a phone call, nor have I since, but I exploded.

            Ol’ Mike there was chock full of the flimsiest excuses I have heard. First it was that ‘I wanted it that way’, which didn’t hold up because what kind of frigging idiot wants two carpeted areas with a nice hall of dirty plywood connecting them? Second it was that in the carpeting world, that hall way was considered “part of the bathroom” and I should have known that. I got the installer, who was uncomfortably standing right there and asked if that was part of the fucking bathroom and got him to admit that made no sense. Finally, his excuse was that I “beat him up on price”. Don’t sell it to me for that then! I cried deliberate low balling, bad faith, breach, and every other pseudo-legal term I could think of and demanded the number for Max Pie himself. Mike blustered and desperately tried to avoid giving it to me, but I won the day.

            I called Max, who doesn’t actually exist, or whatever the owner’s name is and left a very polite, but quite blistering critique of his salesman’s business practices on his machine. He called me back shortly and arranged to give me the remainder of the carpet needed at cost with free installation. I had the pleasure of calling Mike back to make the arrangements and got to enjoy him getting very passive aggressive until I threatened to call Mr. Pie again, after which he shut up and took the arrangements.

            The install was scheduled for two weeks thence and I had to burn another vacation day to be there. Mike, in his P/A manner, managed to corn hole me one more time and sent the installer over with a close but decidedly different pattern of carpet. I immediately left another polite, yet brutal, message with Mr. Pie, whose number I kept handy. He gave me a blustering apology and offered to have the installed come any time I wanted as to not inconvenience me further. I picked Sunday evening, just to be a dick, but we did tip the fellow well. Over 6 months after the first flake fell, we were almost back to normal, you know, aside from cleaning up the wood, replanting the front lawn, repairing the light post, taking down the awnings, and several other odd jobs, many of which remain undone to this day.

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