DECEMBER 2005: “Another trip around the sun!”

Well, here it is December and, for the first time!, I'm writing about it as it happens. Let's see, one, two, only took me nine months to get caught up. Hey, in the life of a writer that's nothing; it's nothing. Are you kidding me? You should have seen the rewrites alone... (Sorry, sometimes movie lines possess me.) Okay, so what's happened so far...damn, I can't think of a thing. Oh, that's right, I blocked it from my memory; another "Trip from Hell."
As you'll remember, November ended with the beginning of assembling our Ikea kitchen cabinets. "Aack!" (As Calvin might put it.) As I age—some days quicker than others—it seems more and more I want to do less and less, well, can't really blame that on age: I've been that way from the git-go. But, anyhow—and to get this page off the ground—I figured when TC said we needed to go to Panamá City that it would get me outta the "kitchen," so to speak. Little did I know...
The day began at 7:30 a.m. by picking up Eric and Arcadio (the muchachos we hired to clear the lot and burn the pine logs) then dropping them off at Ingaso. At that point, had I been clairvoyant, I would've turned the car around and headed back to Lamelot. I wasn't, ergo, I didn't.
Our first stop, a lighting store to pickup two three-dollar fixtures, was a harbinger of things to come: it took almost two hours! "ˇAllă la peste!" (Most of you will remember that that's a Panamanian way of saying, "Phooey.") Antiquated inventory systems, wrong item numbers, missing inventory, wrong finish, Draconian returns, paperwork in quadruplicates (for two three-dollar items, mind you), inefficient and apathetic employees, on and on, and you get the picture. TC was fit to be tied, if you can believe that. And here's a reversal of fortunes: she's the one who said, "This doesn't bode well for the rest of our trip." Scout's honor! Usually, I'm the pessimist and she's the hammer and, at the time, I remember thinking, "Huh, so this is how feels."
Needless to say, TC's premonition proved true: during the rest of that long and frustrating day we only accomplished three more items on our list. Fortunately, we spent that night at La Estancia, and went to dinner at Café Barko out on the Amador Causeway, with Tammy and Gustavo. Two cervezas and a filet mignon later, and I was feeling pretty good about things. Too bad we had to wake up the next morning and face the music anew. Por favor, has anyone, anyone checked whether Mercury is truly in retrograde?
As you might guess, I was more than happy to return to cabinet duty after we drug ourselves out of the city, after driving back to Altos amidst Friday night traffic and not pulling up to Lamelot until 10 p.m. Sheesh. But, it never rains when it can pour, for we woke up the next morning to no email service, and this time it was our State-side web host who was to blame; the problem wasn't straightened out until Monday. (And you wonder why I don't like to get out of bed?) So, seemingly without effort, December gloriously launched itself then perfunctorily fell flat on its face.
And it occurs to me that writing in the past tense might be preferable, because the memories aren't as fresh, therefore, they won't hurt as much.
Anyway, while we were gone, things kept happening at Casa Ingaso. The tile layers were working their way through the house, tiling anything that didn't stand still, and los muchachos were back at it with our UFO landing site. The plumber was installing faucets and the electrician was beginning to put it outlets and switches. For all my pissing and moaning, Casa Ingaso was looking better and better every day, and hope still sprung eternal from our ample breasts that we might actually move-in before the end of the year...
Our builder, Eleuterio Gutierrez, is still claiming we'll be moving in by the end of the year. Just a couple of weeks ago, it was hard to believe, especially when it felt like there was so much yet to be done, but now things have started happening. The tile workers are running out of tile jobs, los muchachos are painting the outside of Ingaso, the plumber has installed toilets and sinks and faucets and tub, and almost magically, fans have appeared overhead! "Hoohah!"
The day I walked into my future office and saw that wonderful Casablanca hanging there, I allowed myself to believe. Sure, we don't have doors or windows on the terrace side, yet, the kitchen is still mostly on paper, the major appliances have yet to put in an appearance, and there still isn't anyway for a moving van to get down to the house, but a ray of possibility is peeking-in under the techo (roof). One can only...hope.
We've learned some lessons during this process—like: have official plans—and for those of you contemplating building in Panamá, here are a few more. Put measurements on the floor plan for everything, especially the drains and toilet connections, exact measurements from each wall and to other points. Why? Because, they will be installed off-center, and possibly way off-center, if measurements aren't specifically called out—and sometimes even if they are called out.
You see, normally, you would assume that a toilet drain would be placed in the center of the area between sink and shower. Makes sense to me. But, noooo, one of ours was about two inches from the sink and two feet from the shower. Why? No one had one friggin' clue! The other two weren't quite as bad, but neither sits right where you would think they would obviously go.
Does this point out a problem trait of los muchachos? Are they indifferent to symmetry? Your guess is as good as mine, but make your measurements bold and clear, and then double check them before the foundations are poured. It took three months of "reminding" and then a whole lot of cement-chipping to finally get ours where it belonged—guests will be glad.
I guess what I'm saying is, don't take anything for granted, don't assume something will be done the way you would expect it to be done. It seems that rather than ask how you want something done, your muchacho might decide for himself and do it his way. Nine times out of ten, however, "his way" is a way you would never have thought of, much less okayed. And, what "his way" ultimately means is: redoes, setbacks and delays.
Another problem we've had to deal with: paying for on-the-job training. Over the last nine months, we've paid to have unskilled labor learn how to do a job while doing it (our ceiling comes to mind), and it's training we'll be reminded of every time we look at that particular area of construction. Of course, a lot of this is caused by pressure on the builder to complete the house at a certain time, coupled with a shallow pool of skilled workers—rather than wait for the "professional," a builder feels compelled to do it with the men at hand.
Personally, I'd rather wait or pay more to have someone who knows what they're doing (results always seem to turn out better that way), but at the same time, the walls here at Lamelot are closing-in on me, meaning, I'd love to move, NOW! So, everyone feels like they're caught between a rock and a concrete block. Even so, we are more than appreciative of the professionals who do come to work at Ingaso, like our tile layers. Not only is their work excellent, but when they aren't sure what to do, they ask! They seem to understand that doing the work to "our" satisfaction is important. Oh, not the how's and why's of laying tile, but the final look.

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