Despite his sartorial eccentricities, Freddy was a serious craftsman who knew his trade.
And, unlike so many other workmen we’d hired on Vieques, he kept the project on schedule and on budget.
We could hardly believe our luck.
In no time flat, the old bathroom had been gutted—we joked that it looked better demolished than intact…
…and soon it was time to start rebuilding it from the ground up.
Leaving nothing to chance, Michael and I had bought the tile for the renovation at the local hardware store and had it delivered to the house, where it was stored in a locked room downstairs.
We’d also bought a new sink console in San Juan and had it shipped over, as well as new hardware for the sink and shower and new towel bars (all matching).
We’d even shelled out for a new toilet.
In other words, everything was ready. All Freddy had to supply was adhesive, grout and massive amounts of elbow grease.
“I start today!” he announced by phone one morning.
I was sitting in my office in D.C. trying desperately to impose some semblance of order on my work day—while wishing with all my heart that I could be in Vieques supervising Freddy’s efforts (with the occasional side visit to the beach).
“That’s great!” I enthused, amping up my normal speaking voice in an attempt to match his level of exuberance.
“It will be beautiful thing!” he almost screamed.
I held the phone away from my ear.
But then he dropped his voice a decibel or two. “And yet the tiles you bought, they no fit.”
I brought the phone in closer. “Huh?”
“They strange size.”
Was it my imagination, or had Freddy’s grasp of the English language deteriorated appreciably since last meeting? While I pondered this somewhat metaphysical question, I forced myself to try to focus on what he was telling me at the moment.
“But they’re standard six inch by six inch tiles,” I protested weakly. “I have the invoice right here on my desk.”
“Not all standard. Some bigger, some smaller.”
This made no sense. We had ripped open one of the boxes the day the tiles were delivered, and all of them had appeared to be exactly the same size.
“So you’re saying that some of the tiles are bigger than six by six, and some smaller?”
“What do the boxes say?”
We had checked the boxes ourselves, but who knew.
A long pause ensued, during which it sounded like Freddy was banging together a cabinet-full of pots and pans…
…while simultaneously dragging chains over a metal grating.
“Six by six, all of them,” he huffed.
“So the boxes are mislabeled.”
“Can you cut the tiles to fit?”
Another long pause followed, punctuated by enough bangs and whistles to constitute a Steve Reich concerto.
“I try,” he said at last. “But it cost more.”
Audible groan from my end. “How much more?”
A very pregnant pause.
“A little,” he said unconvincingly. “Or maybe a lot.”
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