"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in construction (2)


The Contractor

It is good to like your contractor.

We don’t just like our contractor,

we love him.


Loving your contractor—that matters to me.

I come from a family of builders.

In 1950, my father created a construction company in Phoenix, Arizona that is still going strong today.


My fearless brother, Jon, started a green building company a few years ago at the lowest depth of the recession, when the last thing you’d bet on in Phoenix was the success of a fledgling construction company. That is, if you didn’t know Jonny.

The company is flourishing, exploding, really.

Jon and his business partner, Lorenzo, have more jobs than they can handle. The city of Phoenix is so impressed with their community-enhancing projects that they are offering matching funds.


Attitude. Like my father, my brother has the most life-enhancing attitude of just about anyone I know, so magic abounds in his life. You think I’m exaggerating? Try clearing up your ‘tude and watch the magic you attract!

Back to our Paris contractor. Andrew is a quick, tall, slender man of forty, who was raised in South Africa. He came to Paris at the age of 21, and he now speaks the most perfect French of anyone we know whose first language was English.


Andrew did a renovation of our Paris apartment, and has done repairs to it since. His work is impeccable, reasonably priced and finished when he promises to finish.

So who do you think we called to make a few upgrades to our chambre de bonne

Andrew came by early this week and we sat around our dining room table over coffee and told stories about noisy neighbors. He, like we, lives on the fifth floor of a building, in another arrondissement. (We live in the fifth, the arrondissement of the Book People, the Latin Quarter, where teaching began at the University of Paris, the first in Europe, in the mid-eleventh century.)

A quiet young American woman lived above him. Then she attracted a French boyfriend, Big Foot.


A contractor’s life begins early in the morning and is hard-driving all day. It requires a good night of sleep. The couple upstairs banged around late at night.

Andrew knocked on their door and politely asked for quieter footsteps so late at night. She slammed the door in his face. (And he’s the president of his syndic!)

Another night, they awakened him at 2 a.m. He got out of bed, went upstairs and knocked. No response.

“I know you’re in there,” he called out, “I can hear you. Come to the door, please.”

The boyfriend opened the door and said, “Stop bothering my girlfriend.”

Andrew had no desire to bother the man’s girlfriend, he said, but they were disturbing his sleep!


Who are these people with no empathy, no compassion for others?

We know Andrew. We know his request would have been made in a tactful, reasonable way.

How was it going with our noisy neighbor, Andrew asked.

She’ll be quiet for a few days, so we turn off our white noise fan, and then each succeeding day she’s noisier and noisier.

It’s strange to me, this incapacity some people have to feel others’ reality, this narcissism: Here are my needs. Don’t bother me with yours.


Richard and I walked with Andrew to have a look at our chambre de bonne.

Andrew looked at the place with a contractor’s eyes. “What a mess,” he exclaimed. “What I’d do is knock out this wall and this, and open it into one big room.”

“But we don’t own it,” we said.

He looked around at the red tomettes (floor tiles), which were so old the floor in places rose and fell like the surface of the sea.


He looked at the overhead lights, which were strung on two low-voltage wires all across the ceiling of the kitchen and main room like circular doilies on a clothesline.

He looked at the sink, which had been painted over and was now cracking in spots as if covered with petrified yogurt.

“It does need a few repairs,” I conceded.

Andrew laughed gaily, as if to say, “A few, she says!”


“The landlord is willing to pay to refinish the sink and to fix that baseboard,” Richard said. The baseboard looked as if mice had been gnawing it. There were little holes where it met the floor.

My enchantment with the place had taken a hit. My spirits were sinking.

“It might need painting,” I allowed.

“That’s the least of what it needs,” said Andrew.

We three moved from room to room, making a list of what needed doing: shelves in the bathroom, a couple of missing shelves in the built-in bookshelf, the sink refinished, Ovideu, the whimsical Romanian electrician consulted about whether the ungrounded plugs would still protect my computer if it was plugged into a surge protector.

Andrew said he could spare a carpenter and a painter next week from another job on the Île de la Cité.

We locked the door to our chambre de bonne, waved goodbye to Andrew and headed home.


I was blue the rest of the day. So much of enchantment is subjective. You fall in love with someone or something, and you do not want to hear someone say about your beloved, “What a dog!”

But if the love is true, it lasts.

All night long, half asleep, I envisioned what I’d do to this chambre de bonne: a sisal rug with the right pad beneath would solve the sea-sick-inducing floor. A built-in horseshoe-shaped desk would fit perfectly into the room. The lighting store at the end of our street had a great selection of lights.

I envisioned the stories and poems I’d write, the creative life I’d have in this magical aerie. I began fiddling with the end of a certain short story in my mind.

And then I remembered, This has nothing to do with the surface of the room. It was a matter of atmosphere, of soul. Every writer knows that feeling of walking into a room and thinking, I could write here! It might have something to do with the proportions of the room, it might be the view or the lack thereof, but I think it has more than anything to do with the sense, Here I could work without being interrupted. That is the essential thing that writers need: deep immersion in the dream of the work.

The next morning I asked myself a question: Would Baudelaire have loved this room?

Oh yes he would! I answered.

Then it’s good enough for me. The blues fled, the enchantment returned, and I loved my contractor again.







We haven’t seen a hawk yet in Paris, but we’ve seen pictures.

Just before you die, everything in your character seems to become reduced down to its essence.

In cooking, a reduction means cooking a liquid until some of the water evaporates and the remaining liquid is thicker and has a more intense flavor.

As a boy, he was home-schooled by his mother; they covered eight grades in six years. When he entered a private high school at the age of 12, he was smaller than the other freshmen. He made an astute decision: he would have no enemies in his life. Instead he would make friends.

He changed physically, grew tall and handsome, but that decision formed the core of him. Everyone would be his friend, no one above him, no one below.

His Amherst College roommate had a blind date one night with a girl from Mt. Holyoke, a blonde beauty, with brains, spirit and character.

When the roommate returned, he asked him if he’d mind if he asked her out on a date.

That was fine, the roommate said. He’d only just met her. She didn’t belong to him.



Hawks are the swiftest of birds.

He and the blonde beauty were engaged before long, and the roommate saw that he’d been too slow to recognize what his friend had instantly seen.

They married in Massachusetts in 1943.

Few Americans doubted then that fighting the Axis was a just cause. He joined the Navy and was soon commanding a sub chaser in the Pacific.

English, Irish, Welsh and French by ancestry, he was born and bred in New England.

After the war was over, he and his bride settled in Massachusetts.

They wanted a family, and one, two, three years later, they had three babies.

They were focused in life, and focused in work. He found a job in a pre-fabricated housing company, doing what he loved to do from the time he was five years old: building something.

No one is lucky all the time, even a man who is strong, focused and kind.

The company went bankrupt.

But he’d married a fearless woman.



Let’s go west, she said.

They drove across the continent in a Ford sedan, looking for job opportunities in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

They sat on the beach in Santa Monica, looked at each other and said, All the doors were open in Arizona.

They moved their young family to a small house in Phoenix, bought with a GI loan.

He worked for other contractors.

She sewed curtains for their house, clothes for her children and tiny clothes for the two girls’ dolls.

Then, with the right partner, he started his own construction company.

She helped him as the company secretary.

Do it right the first time, was their motto.



Get to the goal swiftly, like a hawk.

Vision and passion, strength and focus—these are qualities one needs to find the right livelihood, choose the right mate.

But what if at the core your intention was to be a friend to everyone?

Wouldn’t you then approach the business of constructing buildings and houses in an open and generous manner?

Wouldn’t you offer jobs to those whom others tried to exclude?

This he did, being among the first to hire Native Americans, blacks and Latinos in Phoenix.  

Wouldn’t you offer employees the chance to buy shares in your company long before it was common practice, simply because, if your profits were increasing because of their good work, their profits should increase, too?



And if you were married to a woman who was not just smart, but had X-ray insight (the first time she saw Richard Nixon’s face on TV, she said, “He’s a crook”)—wouldn’t you listen to her, really listen, when she argued against the Vietnam War?

Wouldn’t you, a Republican businessman in a Republican state, have to re-think your convictions?

Wouldn’t you even have to admit that the Democratic Party was a better friend to everyone than the Republican, and change parties, even though almost every business associate and friend you had was Republican?

And when you and your wife, who now had five children, traveled through China in the ‘70s, and you saw how humane the Chinese practice of providing on-site childcare at work was, on returning home, wouldn’t you offer it to your employees?

And wouldn’t you laugh good-naturedly when you showed people slides of your China trips, and they called you and your wife “Commie pinkos?”

Was there anything that could obstruct or discourage your friendly approach to the world?

I never saw it.

Not when your powers failed you one by one.

Not when you could no longer work.

Not when you had to give up driving, mobility in the world.

Not when your memory started to go.

Not when it was mostly gone.

That sweet core of goodness, the kind treatment of others—that was there till you took your last breath.



You looked so much like a hawk, the slight curve of your nose, like the beak of the peregrine falcon on your family’s ancient coat of arms.

The morning after eleven of us gathered around your bed to say goodbye, all of us loving you deeply, a large hawk appeared outside your home, perched on a palo verde, looking fiercely in at the place where you and she used to sit and eat breakfast.

He looked in at your blonde beauty and your two youngest daughters.

He swiveled his handsome head to look at your two oldest daughters in the guest room.

He looked south towards the place where your son lived.

And then he flew away.

Mother had never seen a hawk so close to your home before.

She guessed that it was a Swainson’s.

I called Richard in Playa del Rey. As I told him about your beautiful death, a hawk circled the courtyard of our home. This was the first time he’d seen a hawk anywhere close to our house.

Later, you circled overhead when we walked by the sea.

Here in Paris we haven’t seen you soaring yet. But we are looking.