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Monday, June 16, 2003

Filing legal documents is part of my job, because nobody in the construction business trusts anyone else. Maybe there are better reasons for all this paperwork, but the law keeps us from filing claims and other actions unless we've done all the preliminary work. I'm not sure why that is. It seems to me that a contract is a contract and should be enforceable without anything else being necessary.

Construction is a nasty business, as I've learned in the nearly seventeen years I've been associated with it. Early in my career with the Company, I was witness to verbal abuse, threats and even a shoving match that stopped just short of a fistfight. In the end, it's always about money, but that's not the only reason for the friction between contractors. It's also about time (which, of course, is money) and personalities.

The Boss being a prickly paranoid person, no allowance is made for anyone else's good faith. Every conversation, no matter how casual, must be recorded with a confirming letter. Verbal agreements are turned into written contracts as fast as I can type. And the slightest suspicion that we might not get paid starts the paperwork panic that was in full furor today.

I've learned not to mind the preliminary notices that we have to file. It doesn't mean anything will come of it, and it's an accepted part of the business. It's really a precaution, should anything come up later that forces us to take the next step.

Unfortunately, fear set in with the Boss today. A check that was promised for last week still hasn't arrived. The work we did was finished at the end of January, and since this was work we did for another contractor, we depend on them to collect from the owner and pay us according to the agreed upon terms.

When we get to this point on a project, I do my best to talk the Boss down from the ledge. At first I suggest giving them a few more days to pay. Maybe the mail is late, or the person who has to sign the checks is climbing a mountain in Peru, or someone in their office was eating a jelly sandwich and our check accidentally got stuck to someone else's check and put in the wrong envelope.

I mean really, anything could happen, and the check might arrive tomorrow and we'd have done all this work and worrying for nothing.

The day always comes (unless the check really does arrive) that I run out of arguments and the Boss runs out of patience. It's better to run everyone else through the wringer than take a chance we won't get paid the last few thousand dollars. I can see his point, but I still don't like doing it. Too often the check gets here the day after, and the process of releasing a Stop Notice is far more complicated than filing one. Notaries get involved, and possibly attorneys. It might even cost us more than we're owed. That has actually happened.

So that's how I spent my Monday, doing paperwork that it's my fondest hope will turn out to have been unnecessary. I want to trust the other contractor. I want to do business with them again. I want to develop a relationship with them, and a reputation for being easy to work with. But alas, the last word isn't mine. Now the deed is done. Let the repercussions begin.

14 June 03

Grumpy geese at Sonoma State.

If I could have convinced the Boss to make one more appeal, all this might have been avoided. But he dislikes making those kinds of phone calls almost as much as I do, so all I could do was fill out the forms and send them off to the State of California. We're asking them to hold back payment to the other contractor until we get paid, or to write a check directly to us.

It shouldn't be hard for them to stop writing checks, since there's currently no state budget in place and the whole government will soon be shutting down unless the legislature gets back to work on the business of the people, instead of taking junkets to Jamaica or golfing in Palm Springs.

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No baseball tonight, so I watched two movies that could not be more different from each other. A Sunday in the Country: character-driven, French, quiet, long shots, very little plot. Empire Records: all energy, all American, noisy, shots inspired by music videos, very little plot. I liked them both, in their own way.

Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

One year ago: Bad Review
"Maybe I should watch it backwards, so that everybody ends up alive when I'm finished."

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