[If you just came in, I'm explaining how I raised my practically-free house six inches with little money and only a teenager to help. It's taking much longer to explain than it did to do the work. That's because a house weighs much less than my ego]
I was, at one time, a general contractor.
They don't call it that, officially, back in Massholechusetts where I earned the credential. You're a "Construction Supervisor." I understand they have differing degrees of construction supervision licenses, but I've never met anyone with anything but the "unrestricted" version, me included. I was licensed to pull a building permit for -- and bang the nails into -- anything from a doghouse to a skyscraper. Whoopty.
I want to share with you, my dear readers, a secret. It's a secret that might do you some good. It's a secret that might make you rethink my approach to living in a house that cost less than a Corolla, and perhaps even give it a go yourself. In the story of the license lies the secret.
I didn't technically need the credential at the time. I thought it would be handy to have. I was rehabbing people's domiciles, and a lot of times a building permit was required, but I was always working for the owner of the house, and the owner of a house can apply for a permit on their own, and hire someone whether they have a license or not. That's how it went for a long time. My expertise; their name on the line that is dotted. The process got unwieldy, so I decided to put a stop to it. I was only doing the work in the first place because the customers had tired of hiring a GC that knew squat and then hiring me to fix everything. They wanted to get rid of the middle man, and so did I, after a while. The middleman was always a rough framing carpenter.
I'm not sure what it's like now, but in the not-too-distant past, all general contractors were framers. It was the traditional way of life for them and the customers. Deal with a framer. The framer had the most to do with producing the house-y like form of the house, so at one time it seemed to make sense, but it really doesn't anymore. A general contractor used to employ all the subcontractors and build a house, soup to nuts. Now everyone, including the framing contractor, is just a subcontractor. The subcontractors have subcontractors at this point. There's no natural center in the general contracting onion anymore.
The framing contractor doesn't know anything about design, he just reads plans. He doesn't know anything about foundations, or plumbing, or electricity, or painting or any other finishes. HVAC is alchemy; masonry is a Dark Art. All he knows is cutting bird's mouths in rafter tails with a skilsaw, and how to get a sheet of plywood onto a roof in a ten-knot breeze. Those are important things to know, but it's only one or two legs of the housing centipede.
I did not come from the world of framing. I didn't even know who or what to see or do to get a license. There were courses offered at various Upstairs Stripmall Truckdriving and Mani-Pedi schools, but I had basically stopped attending school after I turned fifteen, so I wasn't about to submit to sitting at a glorified card table, under a flickering fluorescent tube, with a dull docent reading facts to me off a mimeographed sheet as an adult, either. Give me the book, and butt out, I thought.
Try to find that book. I dare you. This was before the Intertunnel was in high gear, so I had to call and go hither and yon, and no one knew nothing about nothing noplace. Bookstores would try to sell me one stupid International Building Code book after another, everyone else had bupkis. I finally asked a building inspector who was drunk in a bar I was playing music in. Pretty much every third drunk person in a bar is building inspector, anyway. Might as well get some use out of them. He told me I had to go to the State House to get one. It was the only way.
So I went to the same desk in the State House where Paul Newman asks for a phone book in The Verdict, except he's pretending he's in a hospital, and I'm pretending I'm in a bookstore. The person behind the counter was pretending to be working in both cases. Only a state worker in Massholechusetts can pretend you're not there, and avoid eye contact entirely, even though they aren't doing anything and there's only 24 inches of formica between you. It's an astonishing talent.
After they got bored of me, they asked me what I wanted like a forties detective asks a safecracker a question in the movies. I was expecting a hose if I lingered. They sent me away, to another room, to get another non-look from someone for a good long while. I was finally allowed to ask for what I wanted, and wordlessly, the State Senator's good for nothing brother in law, or whatever he was, left the room for two minutes on the clock. I didn't know whether he went to get what I wanted, or if he had decided that today he'd had enough of me, and everyone that reminded him of me, and had quit, and was never coming back, or what. I began to wonder if he was Godot, or I was.
He finally came back, and plopped six hundred pages of shrink-wrapped drivel on the table, and said, "Fifty bucks." The pages were originally typed on a typewriter, then mimeographed, and then the mimeographs were photocopied, and then each copy was photocopied from the last copy, so I was looking at the Xerox version of The Telephone Game. You were supposed to figure out what it said back when Jack Hynes' secretary first typed the thing back in the depression. There was an enormous light blue three-ring binder that went with it, and he plopped that down next to it. I briefly considered asking why he didn't put the pages in the binder before he handed it out, but I was afraid he'd just say, "Fifty bucks" again, so I left and did it myself on Paul Newman's counter.
(to be continued)