The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

brown wood plank closeup photo

The side fence blew down last month, December 15th to be exact. That’s when an atmospheric river washed over California.

An atmospheric river. That’s the term that the weather boys and girls have been using when we get a lot of rain and wind off the Pacific. It’s only been a couple of years that I’ve heard that term, atmospheric river.

We used to call it a windy rain storm, or “cats and dogs.” Dad used to say, “It’s not a fit night out for man nor beast.” My grandparents might’ve called it a gully washer, a term which people can relate to. Well, I guess folksy people who know what a gully is, can relate to it. That’s likely a dying, if not already deceased, population – unless you live in the Deep South or the Midwest.

Why can’t forecasters on TV talk like normal people? They used to. Now they talk in jargon.

I don’t give a shit about your Doppler radar, your high pressure, your southern oscillation or even La Niña. Just tell me if I need an umbrella tomorrow.

I wish that the perky weather girl or the fresh faced perfectly coiffed weather guy would dump the meteorological mumbo jumbo and deliver the forecast in terms that are understandable to the common man and woman. “Cover your asses folks. Bring in your pets and tie down the lawn chairs because it’s gonna rain like a bastard and blow like a Vegas call girl.” It doesn’t get more common than that and it’ll get people’s attention.

Whatever you wanna call it, we had a big storm.

The next morning, Mother Nature sounded the all clear and I went outside and surveyed the yard; front yard -check, southern side yard-check, backyard – check; that is if I didn’t count the overflowing swimming pool.

An hour or so later I heard Cora yell from the dining room, “Oh my God!”

What now? Did she discover a puddle from a leak in the roof? A dead body out in the corner of the backyard?

During midwinter, a dead body is preferable to a leaky roof. Just call the cops. “Officer, I swear I don’t know how this corpus delicti got here. Maybe the wind blew him in.”

The roof? Try and find a roofer with time on his hands and reasonable pricing, right after an atmospheric river.

I went into the dining room and Cora pointed to the fence, or what remained of it. Two sections were gone, boards flung about the yard. Another section was wobbling, the planks dangling and swaying from the top runner like a row of loose teeth.

During my morning inspection I’d never thought to look at the one side fence that’s been teetering on collapse for years. We’ve been stalling on getting it replaced and now the atmospheric gully washer had forced our hand.

I went out to try and patch the gaps but the waterlogged wood, rotten after more than 30 years, wouldn’t have it. The poor old soul wasn’t up for any further struggles. It was spent. All it wanted now was a simple burial in the landfill.

I filled the gaps with a few feet of deer wire from Home Depot.

We also have a deer wire view fence that runs along the back that’s getting old so we decided that we’d have that replaced along with the side fence.

After securing the perimeter I paid a visit to the internet to find “fencing contractors near me.”

I was disappointed to find that there aren’t a lot of “fencing contractors near me.”

I found one local guy but he’d been torched on Yelp. I don’t always believe Yelp. I still think back on the guy who gave only one star for the apartment he’d rented on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. His complaint? Too much noise down on Bourbon Street.

So despite the bad reviews I looked up his contractor’s license and saw that it had expired. That eliminated him. I figure if you can’t be bothered to renew your license you’re telling the customers who perform their due diligence, that you don’t perform yours.

A little scrolling brought me to a website called Angi. I’d heard of Angi. She had a list once but she dispensed with her list in favor of a new system, which, after using it, brought to mind that old saw, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

A dialog box popped up on Angi’s first page, “What can we help you with today?”

“Fence contractor,” I answered.

This brought me to the next page which asked me my zip code which led to more pages asking for more details about me, myself and my project. Without realizing it, I was being led down the electronic path.

I was waiting for a list of contractors to pop us so that I could pick and choose. Instead a dialog box popped up that asked for my phone number, which I stupidly gave. That was a mistake.

I’d barely shut down my computer when the first call came in, “Are you looking for a fence contractor?”

*Uh, yeah, how did you know?”

The guy skipped that part and started describing his services. In the meantime, my phone was lighting up with incoming calls.

I told the guy I’d call him back and as soon as I hung up another call came through. Daniella was her name and fencing her game.

I asked Daniella how she got my number and she told me Angi gave it to her.

Good old blabbermouth Angi. Don’t ever trust her with a secret – or your phone number.

“Is that how it works? I contact Angi and she broadcasts my number? I’ve already got about five calls.”

“Is that all?, said Daniella. “You’ll probably get a lot more today.”


Since I had Daniella on the line I made an appointment for a guy to give me an estimate at noon on the 21st.

On the 20th, I got a call from Daniella confirming our appointment for the next day. That she was confirming was an encouraging sign.

And then she asked, “Is there another decision maker in the household? We like both decision makers to be there when we give an estimate.”

For a fence? That was not so encouraging.

“There’s my wife, but she’s got an appointment. I think she’ll trust me with it, and we’re not going to make a decision on the spot.” Daniella seemed concerned.

The next day, Daniella’s estimator showed up on time and I led him to the back. With tape measure, a small ream of paper on a clipboard and a pencil tucked behind his ear he went to work. I left him to his task and after about 30 minutes I went out to check on him. How long could it possibly take, I wondered.

“I’m almost done. Another couple of measurements and we’ll sit down and talk.”

Sit down and talk? That’s what they tell you at the car dealer when they lead you into the little room where the inquisitor, aka the closer, tells you that 5 bucks off the sticker price will literally take food off his table. Once the price is established he tries to upsell you on all the shit you don’t need. You know, everything from an extra extension on the already extended warranty to the special coating that protects the underside of the car against the road salt that they spread on the streets of Minnesota (even though you live in San Francisco where it never snows).

In for a dime, in for a dollar. I’d already spent a half hour, so Daniella’s fence guy and I sat on the little stone wall next to the pool so he could make his pitch. And what a pitch it was. A curve ball I would say.

“So, we’re going to use top grade redwood and 4×4 pressure treated posts. We’re going to set each and every screw perfectly when we build your fence. We’re going to set the posts into 18 inch square piers.”

Piers? I thought. The Golden Gate Bridge sits on concrete piers. Isn’t it customary to just dig post holes, set the posts in cement and let them dry overnight?

“Again, we’re going to use all the highest grade materials. We’re going to dispose of all the debris.” And then he added, “Do you know that the disposal rates are very high?”

I was sensing a set up.

He was sounding suspiciously like the teenage boy who asks his dad if he’s familiar with that treacherous, badly lit “S” curve over on Main Street, setting up the confession to the old man that the family car is wrapped around a tree over near that badly lit “S” curve.

I wanted to ask him if we could cut the crap, but in the interest of diplomacy I said, “Okay. What are we talking here?”

And still he persisted.
“This fence will be solid. It will last you for 40 years.”

That’s nice, I thought. If I’m still around I’ll be 108 years old and probably won’t even know what a fence is.

He brought up the “very expensive disposal costs” again.

“So what’s this gonna cost me?”

He didn’t actually tell me. He wrote 2 figures on his pad and tilted it in my direction. You know, like the closer at the dealership does when you’re buying a car? They never tell you the price. They write it down on a slip of paper and slide it to you. Probably because they can’t actually say it with a straight face.

The side fence, the solid redwood one would run $14,000 dollars. The deer wire fence, $7000.

I was stunned. We’d had the other side fence done a few years back and it was only $2000 dollars. Inflation is bad, I thought, but geeze Louise.

By now I knew this was absurd but for some strange reason I asked how long it would take to complete the job.

“Fifteen days.”

Fifteen? I was aghast.

I should have just shown him the door, but for some reason, possibly shock, I asked him about that time frame. “Fifteen days? That’s a problem. I have two dogs. Can’t it get done sooner?”

“Well I can double the crew.”

At this point I came back to reality. “Uh, isn’t that a little steep? I just want a simple fence. You know, something to just keep the dogs in and the coyotes out. I’m not looking to repel the Russian Army.”

“Well, I haven’t included the disposal fees. They’re expensive, about $2500 dollars.”

So it was worse.

“Look,” I said. “If I go into the house with these numbers my wife’s gonna come out here and kill you. She’s an accountant. She has a pencil and she knows how to use it. If I accept these numbers, she’ll kill both of us – dead.”

The diminutive Filipina looked up at the policeman, “Honest officer, I don’t know how these dead bodies got here. You see, we have a gap in the fence. Maybe the coyotes dragged them in.”

So now the negotiation began. He offered to absorb the disposal fees, which of course wouldn’t take a dime off the cost of the fence.

All the while he expanded on my new glorious fence. It brought on a sort of nostalgia. You know, back to those unforgettable days when a certain former president was lobbying for a fence of his own. My guy stopped short of promising that my new fence would keep out “rapists” and people “bringing drugs.” And I will give him credit, he didn’t promise me that Mexico would pay for the fence. Still it brought back those tender memories of bygone bullshittery and the feeling that I was being hornswoggled.

By now it had become a matter of sending him on his way but he wasn’t done. He got on the phone so that we could conference with a fellow back at the office. Ah, the closer.

The two tried to dicker with me on the cost of the disposal, as if $120.00 dollars per linear foot of a new fence was perfectly reasonable.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “Just prepare your proposal and email it to me. I have more quotes coming, so I can’t give you a yes or no right now.”

The guy on the phone, the closer, asked the question that’s become a staple at the car dealership. “Well what were you planning on spending?”

“I don’t know. You’re the first quote. Just have Daniella email me a quote and I’ll go from there.”

I was trying to be a nice guy about it and just ease the estimator out the gate without siccing Cora on him. She’s MY closer.

In my mind I could see it as clearly as a blue sky beach day, Cora stomping her foot, and giving him a look that would whither old Satan himself . “Are you crazy? You’re a scammer? Do you think we’re stupid old people? You’re stupid.”

Don’t let the fact that she’s a diminutive grandmother of four fool you. She’ll knock Connor McGregor down to size if she thinks he’s trying to pick her pocket.

Thankfully I was able to usher him out without resorting to the nuclear option.

When I told a friend about the quote he suggested that we do the job ourselves. A fence building party. I demurred. I haven’t built a fence since I helped my dad back when I was in my teens. I didn’t feel like boning up on fence building when this would likely be my last ever fence.

I also know how those things work out. The guy with the tools or truck or whatever gear is absolutely essential almost always shows up two hours late. Then comes the planning phase during which there’s a debate about politics or which team will win the upcoming big game, interrupted by some occasional mention of the task at hand. Once the work has finally started and we’re about an hour in, someone suggests, “Let’s take a lunch break. I’ve got some beers in the cooler.” And thus the day and the project are lost.

In the end I found a guy who took the measurements in about five minutes with one of those laser gadgets. He didn’t invite me to sit down and talk. He just thanked me for the opportunity and told me he’d email me a quote later in the afternoon.

Before he left, I asked him how long the job would take.

“Two days max,” he said. “Depending on how the concrete sets we might get it done in one.”

Later that same day I got his quote for $5000.00 dollars, complete with disposal.

I never did receive a quote from Daniella.

A closing note: As I write this, a crew is outside putting up a new fence. They’re all Mexican (or from somewhere south of our border), and it brought to mind the constant whine that I hear from people off to my right about “foreigners” invading America and taking jobs from Americans. These “foreigners” build what needs to be built, plant and pick our crops and oftentimes are the sous chefs who prepare our nice meals. Well, without these “foreigners,” try to get a fence built, a new driveway poured. your yard groomed or even a meal at that high class restaurant that you go to when you want to splurge. Let me know how it works out for you.

28 thoughts on “The Forty Year Fence

  1. I had to laugh about the bit in wich you wrote that Mexico was gonna pay for the fence. 🙂 But yes, over here in the Netherlands it isn’t that much different. Jobs like this are very dire and when one is able to find Polish workers, it’s done for a reasonable price, fast and meticolous.

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Peter. I’m sure you’re familiar with then “president” Trump’s insistence that Mexico would pay for the border wall that he wanted to build. As I’m writing this, the crew is just finishing clean up. Four men, and just eight hours.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Jane Fritz says:

    Loved everything about this post, Paul(ie), starting with your observation about the sudden use of the term “atmospheric river”. We’ve been wondering the same thing. Enjoy your new, reasonably priced fence!

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Jane. As I write this, the guys are just cleaning up. Eight hours, from start to finish. Good to know I’m not the first person who noticed that “atmospheric river,” is a new phenomenon.

  3. nesfelicio says:

    Excellent post on many levels.
    Enjoyed most the thought bubbles with the estimator.

  4. Scott Blake says:

    Yes, atmospheric river is fairly recent. Gully washer, I’ve heard that it is most commonly used in Texas. I wouldn’t count on weather folks taking your advice but I’d certainly like to hear it spoken as per your example. I’m guessing that guy on KPIX whose eyes you damn every time he appears must have been in mind when you wrote that section.

    You’re not the only one tempted to yell “Just tell me if it’s gonna rain, damn your impudence!” In Millbrae I had a neighbor who was one of the local weather TV guys. Sometimes I’d see him at the mailboxes or the laundry room and say “Lawrence, you done me wrong!” when the forecast turned out badly. We made a running joke of it. As is often said about the Bay Area; if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.

    I like that story of the Yelp review of the Bourbon Street rental. It reinforces my belief that the world won’t end in nuclear war, famine, or Mother Nature turning her wrath on us in full fury. It will end with an overdose of stupidity, bearing down like the biggest asteroid imaginable.

    The estimator with a clipboard and pencil sounded encouraging, using old school methodology. Overall that’s a hilarious tale, maybe not for you but for your intrepid legion of readers. I can picture Cora’s actions as you imagined them, except for the homicides. I was there when she was accosted by a guy selling solar panels. She managed to politely tell him to sod off and he probably didn’t realize that he had been told to sod off.

    1. Paul says:

      Older doesn’t translate to better. I had two estimators measure using the laser. They were able to measure focusing straight along the top of the fence line. The one who used the tape measure not only took longer, he had to wind his tape around obstacles. It took him longer and his measurements turned out to be longer than the two who used the more modern instrument (their measurements were almost identical to each other).

      Cora has always treated the door to door cold callers with politeness, whether they’re selling solar or selling god. She understands that it’s a difficult, thankless and in some ways demeaning way to make a buck.

      The fence guy though, was invited in and he clearly seemed to be in the grifting business. My sense is that she wouldn’t have treated his offer with kindness and understanding.

      I’m finding that there are a few different words for gully. In North Dakota a gully is a wash.


  5. Up here on Vancouver Island we used to call those tropical moisture fuelled rainstorms “pineapple expresses.” I guess that didn’t sound grim enough for the heavy-duty versions we got this fall and winter. One of them in mid-November flooded an agricultural area and killed thousands of farm animals. A whole town had to be evacuated. Major highways were closed for weeks. And that was after the “heat dome” (another new term) last summer. Climate change is real. But I guess California knows that too, what with devastating fires in recent years.
    Good description of finding a fence builder!

    1. Anonymous says:

      Yes, “pineapple express” here in Seattle, too, until “atmospheric river” showed up.

      1. Paul says:

        We had “pineapple express” also. I guess the atmospheric river sounds more dramatic.

        Thank you for reading and commenting.

    2. Paul says:

      Hello Audrey, For a brief time they were called “pineapple express” here. It seemed to have a short shelf life. Not descriptive enough? Demeaning to Hawaiians maybe?
      Climate change is indeed here. Just a week ago a wildfire broke out in Big Sur south of here. At one time not that long ago that would’ve been unheard of. Now there is no longer a wildfire season. The danger is year round.
      The fence builder. I have a feeling he does good work at a reasonable price unless he senses that maybe he’s dealing with a gullible old person. I think he might have been hoping I’d pay him a 10% deposit, the deposit at the 50% completion stage along with the 2500 dollar disposal fee and then I wouldn’t see him again. Maybe I didn’t get an emailed quote because he realized that it might be used against him in reviews.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  6. Toonsarah says:

    Haha, your fencing ’emergency’ gave me a great read, especially the bit about Mexico paying for it 😆 But your postscript hit a bit of a nerve. The UK version of what you describe would be the east Europeans who moved here after their countries joined the EU – Poles, Romanians etc. They have been willing to do the sort of work that many others shy away from, i.e. hard graft picking fruit, butchering meat, commercial cleaning, hospital porters, social care work. And they have proved to be great handymen – the Pole who fitted our new bathroom was hard-working and a perfectionist. But since the UK left the EU many of them have returned home, and those that used to come as seasonal workers to help with harvests don’t come. Crops have rotted in the fields and/or employers have had to put wages up to persuade British workers to take on the jobs. So food prices are going up alongside the rising energy costs that all countries are having to deal with. Oh, and the global supply chain problems are made worse here by a shortage of lorry drivers, another job that Eastern Europeans used to do more willingly it seems than we did, AND we’re making it harder for them to drive over here with goods because of additional paperwork. Not to mention the impact on our health service, at the very worst possible time, of lots of European nurses and doctors also returning home, no longer feeling welcome here 😡

    Oops, sorry to hijack your post for a rant, but ………..

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Sarah,
      The immigrants are in a no win situation. On the one hand they aren’t wanted, accused of taking the jobs of the native born, of living off of government benefits, of not paying into the system, of bringing foreign customs into the country, of not speaking the language and not assimilating.

      On the other hand when it’s hard to find goods, or a contractor or workers, whether it’s blue collar, healthcare or even technical, both businesses and consumers wonder why the system is strained.

      Finally, no rant. Your comments are most welcome. Keep them coming. No limitations on number of comments or their length.


      1. Toonsarah says:

        We get the same accusations levelled at them here. Those voicing them don’t stop to consider that they can’t be both ‘taking our jobs’ and ‘scrounging off the benefits system’ 🙁

  7. Immigrants literally saved me and nursed me back to health over a 12-day stint in the hospital after a back surgery gone slightly sideways. People are people and for me, all are welcome, always. I love this post, Paulie. BTW, up here those gullys are called “draws.” 😀

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you for the kind words Martin.

      I’ve wound up in the emergency room more times than I want to mention. I would say that in every instance I’ve been cared for by nurses who came from the Philippines. If it weren’t for the nurses from China and the Philippines our already critical shortage of nurses would be worse.

      Draws. I think I’ve heard that term before. Probably in a western movie.

  8. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,
    I’m happy you wrote about your fence. Whether you intended to or not, it led to an even more serious issue — foreign workers.

    I share Toonsarah’s sentiments regarding Brexit. I know of many in the UK who’ve experienced the same problems. We have similar issues in Canada with a faction invested in populism, anti-immigration ideals. Formerly known as Wexit (now the Maverick Party, ugh), they advocate independence for Western Canada. They’d love for us to close off borders to ‘foreigners’, citing loss of jobs for Canadians. Problem is, these were not jobs the citizens of the country did or wanted to do, nor did they have the credentials. Even more irksome, these are people who’d rather suck from the teat of social welfare programs than do the labour. They know the system and feel entitled to better jobs.

    Covid has exposed a lot of this by way of jobs that now remain vacant — even with an increase in wages. As you alluded to in your post, most restaurants can’t fill the lower end positions. These ‘foreigners’ have taken the time over two years to find better work, go back to school, or move away. The previously high paid chefs who mistreated them will have to wash their own dishes — if they still have a restaurant.

    Back to your fence — that first salesman was comically bad to think a 40-year fence would be a good selling point. Maybe he was trying to compliment you, or maybe he’s just bad at math. And … he is REALLY lucky Cora wasn’t there based on your story. If he thought he could play one against the other, I doubt he would’ve left unscathed.

    😀 eden

    1. Yes, this entire issue with immigrants and keeping them out (Thanks, Trump) is a huge problem in the U.S., as you all know. One thing I worry about when talking about how they take low-end jobs that people in the countries they’ve entered don’t want to do is that people start thinking of immigrants as grunt, dirty-job workers only. It’s certainly true that immigrants often take those jobs, but all too often they’re seriously underemployed. I know you weren’t suggesting that, but what are your thoughts how to avoid or deal with that perception on the other end?

      1. Paul says:

        Hello Martin,
        “people start thinking of immigrants as grunt, dirty-job workers only. It’s certainly true that immigrants often take those jobs, but all too often they’re seriously underemployed. I know you weren’t suggesting that, but what are your thoughts how to avoid or deal with that perception on the other end?”

        Some quick takes.
        When she was going to college, my daughter worked at three different high end restaurants. The kitchen staff at all three, from bottom to top, were almost solely Hispanic and that included in two cases the lead chefs. Her experience was that even those who started at the lower end jobs managed to work their way up, even when it meant jumping to a different restaurant.

        Silicon Valley is just down the interstate from where I live and according to an article that I read recently, Silicon Valley’s foreign-born workers mostly hail from India and China. More than 60 percent of those working in computer, mathematics and engineering fields in Silicon Valley are foreign born, according to the 2020 Silicon Valley Index, produced by Joint Venture.

        There is a backlash over this from some quarters, complaining that they are taking jobs from Americans, that companies are hiring these engineers at a lower rate of pay. The employers counter that this is not true, that there are simply not enough qualified Americans to fill those jobs.

        Also here in the Bay Area, if you go to a hospital, it’s more than likely that your nurse will be Filipino. If it weren’t for the Philippines, we would have a serious nursing shortage here. That’s a recognized reality here. I’ve heard of people who resent being under the care of a Filipino nurse. Well, chalk it up to the racism problem here in America I guess.

        So the perception issue. Yes, it’s assumed here that if you hire someone to repair your roof or pour your driveway you’ll have Hispanic workers doing the job. By the same token, the perception out here is that if you end up in the ER your nursing supervisor will likely be a Filipina.

        I guess perceptions die hard and they get killed through experience.

    2. Paul says:

      Hello Eden,
      Yes, the right wing finds itself in quite a bind. They want the borders closed but they also want affordable goods and services.
      They want to have their cake and eat it too but they want someone to bake the cake for them.

      I saw a recent article which said that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a conservative organization if there ever was one, is clamoring for more immigrant workers.

      As for my fence guy, my feeling is that the following would have happened. He would have taken his 10% deposit, started the work by pulling down my fence, overcharged me for hauling away the old materials, taken a second 10% installment when the work was 50% and done and then disappeared. It happens.

      Thank you as always for reading and commenting.

  9. Hettie D. says:


    1. Paul says:

      Thank you Hettie.

      1. Hettie D. says:

        It just sounded SO FAMILIAR, that it’s not even funny!

        1. Paul says:

          Ah, so you apparently encountered a contractor’s who tried to pick your pocket.

          1. Hettie D. says:

            They all use the same tactic, and even the same vocabulary!

  10. I so identify with you about the new-fangled terminology being used about the weather. Couldn’t help but chuckle. There is an old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. Well, we are. Aren’t we? Cheers.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello and thank you for visiting.

      Before “atmospheric river,” we had the short life of “pineapple express.”

      “There is an old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.”
      I don’t know if a curse it must be, but during the past years, for us here in America the curse has been a daily visitation since 2015.

      All we can do is make the best of it for ourselves and for others.

      Thank you again.

  11. Anne Sandler says:

    Thank you Paul. You have written a humorous account of something we’ve all been through. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Would love to hear from you