“Hello”, says the voice at the other end of extension two hundred and three
“Hey there, to whom am I speaking with please”, I say back in the most polite charm voice I can muster at 7:45am on this hot, Wednesday, ninth day of August, two thousand and eleven morning.
“Uuum, you called me”, the soft-spoken, yet altruistic voice on the other end says back to me, as though his first cup of coffee is still marinating his morning vocal cord,
“ha! I’m sorry, this is Michele Peterson, from Chattanooga, TN and I’m looking for someone up there at Devon International who might talk to me about some drywall I purchased from you folks back in 2007?” I say back, praying this guy might bring some clarity to my already very abused murky mind.
You see, I’ve been up all night “studying” my current HVAC “situation” happening at my friend and client Les’s house in St’ Elmo, and I’m trying to figure out why the damn HVAC coils keep breaking down; two coils in three years just seems like a lot for a HVAC unit I bought new four years ago. And, although it’s a very big long shot, Les’s buddy at Trane suggested Les get his drywall checked out so Les called me two days prior to my extension 203 conversation today and asked,
“Michele, where’d you get your drywall you put in my house?” as I’m riding up to Durham, NC with my significant other, having just packed up my annual beach vacation to St. Augustine Florida.
You see a few weeks prior to this morning’s conversation with Mr. Robert Mulhern, in-house counsel for Devon International in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, I had been sitting on the beach telling my Mommy Gah (my literal and figurative sensei, mother of forty-one years) about my inner fears, about how my inner voice was telling me to quit the home elevator business because it just wasn’t making me happy anymore and even though I had survived the 2008 crash by the hair on my business chin, many things about my survival had tested my business strength, tenacity and resolve.
And even though I had started my new elevator business “REMI”, had brought my sister Alice on board eight months prior, had held my breath as the Wall Street-Government guys figured things out, had rather be focusing my hopes and dreams on my real estate endeavors in and around Chattanooga, I wanted something to quell my current frustrations of where I was in my business life.
“I don’t know Mommy Gah, it feels like something big is about to happen to me and although I can’t explain it, it just feels bad”, I tell my Mother three weeks prior to my conversation with Mr. Mulhern on this fateful August of 2012 morning.
“Who is this again”? Mr. Mulhern asks very diplomatically.
“This is Michele Peterson, from Chattanooga, TN, I bought some drywall from you folks back in 2007 and I’m trying to figure out if “your” drywall was from China or not. Because look, my father’s a truck driver, he picked it up for me back in 07′, but he can’t remember where the drywall was from, and when I bought “your” drywall; look, your sales guy told me you guys were a supplier of drywall and that y’all’ had a warehouse insurance claim for some drywall that got wet because of a warehouse flood so that’s why you guys put it on EBay to sell for such a cheap price. And look, I’m just trying to see if this drywall I bought was Chinese because we picked it up in Alabama”, I say back with the best of my twenty four hour lack-of-sleep urgency voice.
“I can tell you we are “party” to a lawsuit in Louisiana”, he says back; quietly, slowly but full of duplicitous.
“Hmmmm, ooooh K, what does that mean? Does that mean your drywall was made in China?”, I say back sheepishly, cautiously, curiously but quickly,
Silence, silence happens on the other end of my current extension 203.
“Hello? Hello Mr. Mulhern…………Barry are you there?”, by this point I had looked Mr. Mulhern’s picture up on Devon International’s website (I think you can tell alot about folks just by seeing into their business face). I also wanted to know what Mr. Mulhern’s position at Devon was or rather how high up he was in Devon’s corporate structure?
It appears as though I am talking to Devon International’s lead council, Devon’s in-house lawyer.
“Barry, look, this is important to me because though you don’t know me and I don’t know you, I need you to know I’m not a bad person and you’re not a bad person, but listen Barry I have to know; because look, this Chinese Drywall “stuff”, it looks bad and listen what you’re not understanding is I’m not your typical business person calling you up, I’m someone who actually gives a shit, and these are my family and friends who bought these houses I built, I’m not some big developer down in Florida, I’m Michele Peterson, Im not a lawyer, I’m not some big whig who thinks she’s better than everyone else, I’m just me and I can tell by your voice Barry, you’re not a bad guy either, so look Barry, just tell me, just tell me, I can handle it, it looks like your company sells a lot of Chinese “stuff” but I gotta know for sure Barry, I learned a long time ago not to assume anything, so listen Barry I need you to tell me, is your drywall your company sold me Chinese?”
The difference between the word “your” and “the” is critical in my current circumstance, my use of “your” in almost every business conversation I’ve ever had in business over the last twenty years always let’s me know what type of business person I’m dealing with and how much consideration is on the other end of my line.
I’m giving Barry all I can enrol this Wednesday morning, all the southern charm I can plead, all the “look we are just two folks sittin in a tree” and although I’ve only been in a fight with a Yankee one other time (I’ll tell you about that story another time, that fight worked out pretty well for me back in 2001) I can tell Barry’s gonna be a tough button to crack.
“Ms. Peterson, I can only tell you the lawsuit we are party to is in Louisiana and its complicated. But you can go online and find out more, now I hate to do this but I’m gonna have to let you go now I wish you luck, just look online, you’ll find everything you’re looking for online”, he says back to me as though he’s controlling the mute button but has no idea which button to push,
“Wait Barry, listen I’m busy too, believe me when I say this earnestly, I’m busy too, but look, it sounds like you might not wanna tell me your drywall is Chinese and look I’ve got an eBay receipt here from back in 2007 but it doesn’t tell me where the stuff is made…..so is it that you don’t know where your drywall is from or can you not say or will you not say?Because look Barry I’m a fatass and I hate to tell you but my blood pressure must be through the roof right now and you sure can help me out by letting me know whether I’m standing in quicksand or whether I’m standing in mud, because look Barry, mud I can deal with but whenever I’ve seen folks standing in quicksand, I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit go down. I’ve seen folks do alot of crazy things to get out of it or to avoid it all together and look before I call my friends back to let them know whats going on with their HVAC unit or their house, I don’t want to speculate, i don’t want to start a fire where fire is not gonna help!! So look, I just need to know…..Is your Drywall, is your drywall, is it “Chinese” Drywall Counselor?”