So here we were in the middle of December 2011. Two of our children would arrive the next day for their Christmas break, but our new condo had no electricity and an empty elevator shaft. We reluctantly booked our family into the boutique hotel across the street from our so far uninhabitable home 10 storeys up.
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At the same time our furniture and appliances had arrived and were strewn about the road. Eddy the Realtor was shouting at our contractor, Juan, who had just finished the second coat of paint in our main living area, about the work Juan did for Eddy at his home. It was all in Spanish and seemed nothing to do with our predicament, so Michelle and I got on with carrying the little stuff up the stairs (pots, pans, coffee-maker, microwave oven) from the growing pile around Eddy’s car.
The furniture truck arrived with the rest that we could not store at Eddy’s office. Juan screamed one last time at Eddy and left, but before he did, he whispered to me that Eddy was using the money he was holding in trust for us to complete his own kitchen.
My knees weakened and I made a grab for the banister to prevent myself from dropping the flat screen TV for our bedroom. Eddy, who had no idea that Juan had just dropped a bombshell, came over to say that Juan was finished anyway, so who cared if he quit. My new friend Don got me to put my head between my legs and breathe.
He said, “This will all pass someday, so smile.” I sat there with what I am sure looked like a drug-induced grin, as helpful people passed by, bringing news of having dropped this or scratched this. “Ha ha ha ha,” was all I could say. That comment by Juan would change my relationship with Eddy, and he could tell, even if it proved not to be true.
I had always trusted Eddy with our money and had been very happy with at least that part of the condo story, but it only takes a bit of poison in the ear to make a believer into a doubter. It is human nature, I am afraid. Especially in a man who was as torn as I was with what we were doing and didn’t know who we could trust.
I put it to the back of my mind, as it was not going to get the baby bathed at the moment. We had to get the heavy furniture and appliances up to our penthouse, but how? The stairway ceiling was not tall enough and the empty elevator shaft just stared vacantly back at me. What began to unfold I could never make up.
Three Mexican labourers appeared and set up a pulley system that baby Jesus would have recognized. After trudging to the terrace overlooking the road in the apartment next to ours at the top of the building, they set up a triangle of wooden 2×8 boards, with a nail and a pulley containing a frayed yellow plastic rope. They nailed one end board into the cement and piled foundation blocks onto it to prevent it from giving way, leaving the pulley and rope dangling over the edge.
I turned to Eddy and squealed, “You don’t mean to tell me that we are going to pull refrigerators and beds up here using what would have been ‘low-tech’ when they built the pyramids?” He looked sheepish. “It’s Mexico,” he said for about the nine billionth time.
A crowd had gathered on the sun deck of the nearby hotel, with a much larger local one on the street. They were all staring expectantly up at us and the three labourers, who had started to flex and stretch in preparation for that afternoon’s work, bowed for pictures. More worryingly to me, all work had stopped on the large sewage pipe and the electrical line winding its way down our street. “Get back to work!” I shouted ineffectively as they all waved at Michelle and me. “Well done, Chris” she said optimistically.
After their prep, the workers wrapped the rope around the first bed, the king-size one for the main bedroom. They attached it with nothing more than a loop around the middle and began to heave. The crowd gave an approving murmur while several of our gringo friends sadly shook their heads. The bed shot up to the first floor, where a man I had not noticed before tried with an old broom, to keep it from hitting the side of the building.
Of course this only worked at storeys where there was a landing where the poor guy could stand. When the bed made its move to the second floor, the broom fellow had to dash up the stairs while the bed struck the side several times on its journey upwards. There seemed to be bits falling off as it rose.
As it passed the sixth floor we noticed that the loop was slipping and might soon come free, creating a catastrophe. I began to perspire openly while my wife said, “This does not look right.” By the ninth we were praying loudly as the knot was barely holding on, not helped by the guy with the broom pushing at it in an effort to keep it from the harsh cement sides. As it approached us, Eddy and I reached over the balcony, grabbed the edge of the bed and yanked it over, amid the sound of distant hand-clapping.
Several more near disasters took place but somehow we were getting it done, that is until the refrigerator was placed in the lariat. We could see that the workers were getting tired. Each item took longer to lift with gloveless hands in the mid-day sun of Mexico. Why did they wait this long to lift the heaviest and the most delicate? At that moment I cursed our decision to buy the large two-door ice-making behemoth that was now being tested with the rope. The whole operation had looked iffy before this, but now the rope kept sliding off. The eldest of the workers below us slipped the rope through the door handles, waved happily up at us and then nodded to the others as they began to take the strain.
My wife Michelle yelled politely, “Sir, sir, don’t do that please, it might affect the warranty!” The fridge groaned upwards to the first floor, where the broom struck it. The great chrome appliance began to spin as it was yanked towards the second storey, slowing at first then faster. Now it was striking the side of the building and spinning. The guy with the broom shouted helpfully, “No good!” Another man with an even older broom appeared to assist, but that only made the bloody thing turn faster. Also I was beginning to hear alarming noises from the ancient pulley structure above us. The one nail holding the apparatus was not happy and as I strained to see, was bending.
The battered fridge was now at the sixth floor, but the labourers shouted up at us that they needed to rest. “Rest?” I bellowed in protest, while the floating, spinning GE product banged haphazardly against the empty elevator shaft. I thought about the now-useless two-year warranty – I would never be able to explain the rope burns and bruises on a brand new product. However they might have left the cardboard box intact.
It was getting harder in spite of Don’s advice, to maintain my fixed smile in the face of all this. However several local people rushed to the assistance of the exhausted workers and held the dangling weight while the boys took a short break.
I am not sure how but we all survived that day, but I remember there was a great deal to drink afterwards. We certainly made a splash with all our neighbours. Our fridge is today the subject of much conversation at parties as my wife points out its bumps and bruises to much hilarity.
However on that day almost four years ago we were exhausted, but it ended well, because I suddenly remembered the penalty clause: We would collect money if we were not in by Dec. 15. It was the 17th!
Next column March 25: “Where’s my money?”
Copyright Christopher Dalton 2015