It’s never really a good idea to invite a vampire or a salesman into your house. You have only yourself to blame when your blood gets sucked.
My wife Kara and I made this unfortunate mistake last week, when we invited a (certified!) Basement Designer into our home. We thought we’d made an appointment with a contractor, the kind who actually does things, but as it turned out, the company we’d contacted sent us a high-pressure salesman instead, perhaps because we’d wronged them in some terrible way.
Since we had our baby a couple of months ago, Kara and I have been talking about how nice it would be if our small basement could be a playroom instead of a concrete slab surrounded by concrete blocks topped off with exposed insulation, the kind of insulation that drops little pink particles into the air so that after fifteen minutes down there, you’ve inhaled enough fiberglass to legally register yourself as a Corvette.
Originally, I was going to finish the basement myself, using my weekly fifteen minutes of new-father discretionary time, along with my complete lack of relevant experience.
“I’m going to go down there and start finishing the basement,” I said to Kara, marching down the stairs with the confidence of a five-year-old who’s going to build a castle out of sticks and kite string. I stood in the center of the concrete floor and turned in circles, looking at the tangle of exposed pipes, the radon remediation tube, the humming boiler and the hopper windows.
“Done already?” Kara asked as I came back upstairs five minutes later, shaking my head.
And so it was that the salesman came to our door carrying two briefcases full of samples. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call the salesman Barf, because his real name was Ralph.
Barf was very interested in selling us a complete basement system that used his company’s proprietary materials. Our dog Memphis sat on his feet, trying to eat the crown molding samples that he pulled out of his bag, begging intently as Barf waved them over her head. If Memphis was a Catholic Church, the sign out front would say, “Our Canine of Perpetual Hope.”
“Do you understand that drywall should never be used in a basement?” Barf asked. We nodded gamely, but without the level of enthusiasm that he was looking for.
“No, really,” he said, zeroing in on Kara, “Do you understand that? Because if you don’t, we can go over it again.”
Kara nodded slowly for a second time, and because Barf hadn’t been married to her for five years, he didn’t realize that the intensity of her gaze at that moment might very well have been sterilizing him.
After taking some measurements in the basement, Barf wrote an estimate down on a piece of paper and handed it to Kara. There’s no need to wrap any jokes around the number on that page, which was a punchline all by itself: $38,500 to finish a 500 square-foot basement.
I gave Barf the only rational response I could think of, which was to splash holy water on him, hoping he would melt.
After he saw the shock on our faces, the price magically dropped to $29,000. I realized then that we were in the midst of a haggle. Haggling is my favorite thing to do, when I can’t find anyone to give me a barium enema.
Ninety minutes into what we thought was going to be a quick estimate, Kara and I didn’t feel like playing ball.
“What can I do to get you to sign up tonight?” Barf asked. “This price won’t last!”
And it very well may not. But somehow, spending the next five years in the basement with my sticks and kite string is starting to sound not so bad after all.
You can give a garlic necklace to Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.