These tin men belong in Oz

April 10, 1995|By KEVIN COWHERD

A few days ago, my wife and I experienced simultaneous psychotic episodes and decided to have the aluminum siding on our house replaced.

So we looked in the Yellow Pages for people who do this sort of work. They're easy to find. All you do is look for the little picture of the contractor wearing a ski mask and waving a gun at the homeowner, who has his hands in the air.

That's a joke, only it isn't a joke at times, if you catch my drift.

Anyway, we got in touch with three contractors. All promised to send someone out right away to give us a free estimate.

But as I hung up the phone with the last contractor, I had a vision.

In this vision, a stack of $100 bills were piled high on a desk. Suddenly a breeze came along and the bills began floating along one by one down a narrow hallway.

They floated and floated on this gentle current of air until finally arriving in a bathroom, where they disappeared down the toilet to a loud flushing sound.

I didn't know what the vision meant, but it left me badly shaken.

The next morning, an impressive-looking van pulled into our driveway. A man jumped out and smiled and pumped my hand. He said his name was Sam. Sam the siding man.

Sam was incredibly cheerful. He examined the house and took bTC all sorts of measurements. Then he jotted down all sorts of figures on a clipboard. Then he worked these figures into all sorts of complicated-looking formulas.

L Finally, Sam announced he was ready to "talk price" with us.

"How much?" I asked.

"Well," he said, "first let me tell you that we use only the finest vinyl siding, which is much, much better than aluminum."

"Great," I said. "How much?"

"The material we put down first is quality, too, a combination of . . ."

"How much?"

"All our siding is guaranteed for . . ."


"Twelve thousand."

At the sound of these words, I felt my heart stop. Suddenly Sam seemed to be speaking from the end of a long, dark tunnel.

I looked over at my wife, but she wasn't moving at all. A coffee cup was frozen at her lips. Her eyes were wide and unblinking.

"Look, what you did! She's dead!" I wanted to shout, except I had no voice now. The only sound that came from my lips was a pathetic gurgling.

Finally I managed to whisper: "Twelve thousand dollars?"

Sam smiled and nodded.

I told Sam we would have to think about it. Sam said he understood. I said maybe we'd be getting back to him. But seeing as how he had almost killed my wife and taken years off my life, too, that was doubtful.

As soon as he left, I went to the refrigerator to see if we had any beer. It was only 10 in the morning, but I felt I needed something to steady myself.

Two hours later, another van pulled into the driveway. A man jumped out and smiled and pumped my hand. He said he was Ernie. Ernie the siding man.

Whistling happily, Ernie went off to measure the house. How come all these siding guys are in such a great mood? I asked my wife. She said they were probably just cheerful people by nature.

Ernie finished up his measurements and sat us down. He told us his company had 25 years experience with siding and was bonded and licensed and blah, blah, blah.

Then he showed us color photos of homes that had been sided by his company. They looked beautiful, all right, except they also looked like the kinds of homes you might find in Beverly Hills. I thought I saw Warren Beatty in the doorway of one house.

Finally I said: "What's the bottom line here, Ernie?"

"Folks," he said, and I thought that was a nice touch, calling us folks, "we could have this house looking absolutely gorgeous for $13,500."

We showed Ernie the door -- well, I showed Ernie the door, because my wife couldn't move at this point. She sat there at the kitchen counter, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue and mumbling: "Thirteen thousand dollars . . ."

The third siding contractor arrived later, but by this time we were too bummed out to listen to his pitch. I told the kids to throw rocks at his van if he didn't go away, and finally he did.

He wasn't that cheerful, either, if you want to know the truth.

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