The emperor’s new tiles

Once upon a time, in a faraway land covered with snow and ice, there was a little white house. And in the little white house lived three perpetually hungry boys and two perpetually grumpy parents.

And in that little white house with the hungry boys and the grumpy parents was a bathroom. At first glance the bathroom didn’t seem much different from other bathrooms in other houses, but if you looked closely you would notice two things. There were pink spots on the bottom of the white bathtub. And the [fake tile] around the tub was lifting away from the wall.

So one day a man named Nick* arrived to fix the bathtub wall. Nick arrived in a large forest green cargo van filled with all sorts of things: a portable radio to play all his favorite songs while he worked, a large vacuum cleaner to clean up his mess, a pair of tennis shoes to wear inside the house while he worked and lots of other things.

Nick was a very friendly man with pale eyes and shaggy hair and an earring in his left ear. When he wasn’t carrying boxes of tiles or plastic tubs filled with tools, he was carrying a stainless steel travel mug filled with coffee. Because Nick liked his coffee. And his cigarettes.

This wasn’t a problem, per se, except his love of coffee and cigarettes caused him to take a lot of breaks. Which wasn’t a problem, per se, except it caused Nick’s work to take a lot longer than it should have.

[At least to the grumpy parents’ inexperienced eyes.]

Yes Nick, the friendly tiler, worked at a painfully slow pace. Each morning he’d show up at the little white house. Sometimes he arrived at 9 and sometimes it was 11. But he always arrived with a smile on his face, and a greeting for the youngest of the perpetually hungry boys, who loved nothing more than standing two feet away from Nick; watching him work.

The first day Nick pulled the faux tile away from the tub-wall. And then he painted the wall with a dark grey paint to help the new ceramic tile adhere to it. When he came back the next day, the youngest of the perpetually hungry boys looked at him: ‘what’s taking you so long?’ he asked. And the grumpy parents laughed because the young boy had been bold enough to say what they’d been secretly thinking.

Nick went in the bathroom and closed the door and played his music and worked for a while. Occasionally he would go sit in his van to smoke and sometimes he would announce he was popping out for a coffee or driving across town to look for more tile or whatnot.

As soon as he’d leave, the grumpy parents would run into the bathroom to see what he’d accomplished during his lengthy confinement in the tile-less space. One new row of tiles, sometimes two or three. ‘What’s he doing?’ the grumpy father of the hungry boys asked no one in particular. ‘I guess the rows are straight,’ he reluctantly conceded, as a man who’d encountered some difficulties where the installation of ceramic tile was concerned. ‘I wonder if he’d be mad if I finished the job,’ the grumpy father threatened wondered. The grumpy mother rolled her eyes and ushered the grumpy father out of the bathroom so it would be ready for Nick whenever he returned.

And so it went.

Each day Nick arrived. Each day he sequestered himself in the bathroom for varying periods of time. Each day he left for coffee, or more tile, or cigarette breaks. Each day the grumpy parents sneaked into the bathroom in his absence: to see what he’d done. And each day it seemed like the work was no closer to being complete than it had been the previous day. And the day before that.

Even though Nick was  working until 7 or 8 each night.

And then one day, Nick had to stop work, because another guy was coming to the little white house to magically transform the spotted pink and white tub into a bathtub the color of freshly fallen snow.

[With the aid of a very offensive-smelling, likely carcinogenic glaze.]

So Nick had to abandon his leisurely vigil for a few days. ‘I’ll be back on Sunday,’ he announced on his way out the door. ‘And then I’ll come back on Monday to grout, and probably on Tuesday……’

*Nick’s name has been altered to protect his privacy.

3 thoughts on “The emperor’s new tiles

  1. You’re right, more like Wednesday I’m guessing. And then at least two more days before we can actually use the tub……The youngest asked him point-blank tonight: ‘why are you still here?’


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