Thursday, March 31, 2011

Horseshoes, hand grenades, and bathroom door stalls

As I said yesterday, the Bronx Zoo cobra’s escape through a faulty door took me down a long memory lane of "Failed Moments in New York City Building Contractor History."

On a recent trip to NYC, I snapped the following photo of a women’s restroom stall at LaGuardia. Over the years, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by this airport, which is essentially a third-world outfit. I think the rats from the Greenwich Village KFC-Taco Bell must be in charge of maintenance. It’s usually filthy and totally disorganized, and about one in ten of the water fountains and toilets actually has running water.
ABOVE: Proof that close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades,
and bathroom doors at LaGuardia.
It may be hard to tell from the photo, but the door to this particular stall is an inch or so WIDER than the door frame. As a result, it’s impossible to close and latch the door.  In other words, when the contractors were installing the doors to the various stalls, they decided to "keep it real" by not "measuring" (like an old fart!) before putting up the door frames. The bathroom seemed to have been somewhat recently renovated – newish tile, mostly un-graffitti-ed doors, at least one working sink... Which is all very nice, but what you really want from a restroom is a door that you don’t have to hold shut with one hand while you pee.
But then again, I’m a “princess.” Or, so said one of my former Manhattan landlords, a short, stubby man named Frank who spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. The reason for my being a “royal pain in the ass” was a) I had no oven and b) he refused to turn on the heat before it sank to at least 42 degrees (true story), and c) my apartment had more mice than the aforementioned  KFC/Taco Bell.
“Yes, you do have an oven.” Frank responded to my complaint, rolling his eyes as if talking to a very young, very idiotic child.

And he was not wrong. An oven was physically present in the kitchen/bathroom/pantry area, and the stovetop worked fine. Conveniently, you could even cook an egg while sitting on the toilet. But the oven itself was hors de service. You see, when they “renovated” several decades earlier, someone had installed the pipes to the sink DIRECTLY IN FRONT of the oven door.

They could’ve just as easily installed the pipes to the side, or put the oven somewhere else. Or worked out any of a hundred possible solutions to this problem. But, like whoever installed the snake-proof door at the Reptile House at the Bronx Zoo, the contractor wanted to get to the OTB to watch a horse race, so he just said… "fuck it!"


And called it a day.
When I first met Paul, he lived in what was touted as a “newly renov8d loft!!” in Brooklyn. I will say that the place looked pretty nice, and the recently-gutted bathroom included a new tub and plumbing. All was going well until one day, early in the morning, Paul and his roommate heard a pounding on the door. It was the mentally deranged downstairs neighbor, saying that water was “flooding in through the ceiling.” At first, they just assumed that this guy was on some sort of hallucinogen. Which he probably was.

In the way that paranoid people sometimes really are being followed, his ceiling had, in fact, turned into Niagra Falls.
Water was indeed gushing through the ceiling (hey, at least it wasn’t TIGER URINE).  Crazy Neighbor was ranting, red in the face as he accused Paul and his roommate of letting water splash over the side of the bathtub. Still, this didn’t wash (no pun…), as we’re talking hundreds of gallons of water.
To his great annoyance, the contractor was called back in. After a very casual week-long investigation in which the bathtub couldn'b be used, he discovered ... (wait for it) ... the pipe that connects the bath water to the outgoing water pipe was never connected. That’s right. They installed a bathtub, but never bothered to connect one pipe to another. He acted as if this was just a tiny little oversight.
The contractor, who hailed from an unspecified former Soviet country, didn’t see what everyone was so worked up about.
“In my country, we do not need the fancy Capitalist ‘pipe connections’,” his expression seemed to say.
Now, I don’t want to generalize about Eastern European building contractors. I’m sure that at least 12% of them are actually very hard-working and see every job to completion (a higher percentage than most American contractors). But in this particular contractor also installed a light in the hallway that was always on, because he’d forgotten to put in a light switch.
“Where I come from, you pay extra for light switch,” he said. Like a humorless Yakov Smirnoff routine (or is that redundant?).  
Mabye this was the guy they hired to “fix the snake door” at the Bronx Zoo Reptile House? Right now, the Eastern European contractor is rolling his eyes, annoyed that they’re so annoyed by such a teensy-tiny little detail.
“In my country, we do not need fancy latch for snake door.” He will roll his eyes, mystified by how the Capitalist system has made us all soft, lazy, and unnecessarily afraid of snakes.

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