COMING AND GOING
In spite of their relatively useless nature, you may have gathered that I was proud of my work on the blueprints for my addition. I had to show them to everyone: my father, the mail-lady, the neighbors and a group of girl scouts who came by the house, selling cookies. They were all duly impressed. "Very nice, very nice," they would say in a cursory fashion, their eyes glazing over. The technical aspects of architectural drawing overwhelmed them, but I had obviously mastered the art. Thus, as I entered the big white building housing the infamous B-B PUD, there may have been a touch of swagger in my step.
The permit office is a large, plush series of cubicles surrounded by scurrying secretaries in nice dresses and intense bureaucrats in expensive suits. There is no doubt where my permit money was going.
With those plans rolled and tucked under my arm as if they were George Patton's riding whip, I strode up to the permit help counter.
"What can I do for you?" asked the well-dressed young woman manning the station.
"I am building an addition on my house," I pronounced boldly. "Here is my application, and here are three sets of blue prints. I think you will find everything in order."
The young woman smiled knowingly, took the plans and entered some information into a computer. Her fingers flew, but the computers demand for information was boundless. Besides consulting the forms I had given her, she asked me a few questions, mostly regarding any history of mental disorders (a series of questions that they ask of anyone doing their own work).
In my impatient way, I drummed my fingers on the countertop.
She ceased her typing and looked at me over the top of a pair of bifocals. I ceased drumming.
A printer behind her suddenly leaped into action. She tore off a sheet and handed it to me. "Take this to the cashier," she said.
I glanced furtively at the permit forms. The permit fee immediately drew my attention. "Yow!" I swallowed hard. It seemed like a lot, but then I supposed that I had to pay my fair share for the permit office and the inspections that were associated with the permit.
The secretary looked at me expectantly as though she expected me to say something. I put a hand up to indicate that I was dawdling mindlessly.
She pointed across the permit center lobby and said, "The cashier is over there." She then promptly went about her business, unrolling my blueprints and folding them into an unsightly polygonal shape. The creases would make it difficult for me to use them as wall paper. To the plans she stapled papers and attached stickers. She tossed them on a stack of other blueprints that had been piling up on something vaguely resembling a janitor's cart.
I moved on to the cashier's desk.
The cashier was an older lady who appeared to be approaching retirement. Her advanced age gave her an air of primness. She looked me up and down speculatively as if she doubted my ability to pay the fee.
A permit does not cost as much as a human limb, but it comes darn close. I could not keep my hand from shaking as I wrote the check. By contrast, the cashier behind the bulletproof glass rubbed her hands together slowly and steadily. When I handed the check to her, she smiled. Then she looked at the computer form that the clerk had handed to me. "I'm surprised you are only getting one permit," she said offhandedly.
"Why? Do I look like I'm building an apartment complex?" I responded politely.
"No, its just that most people get their electrical permit the same time they do their building permit...You do plan to have electricity, don't you?"
"Of course I plan on having electricity. You mean a building permit doesn't cover that?"
The woman looked at me as though I were in need of severe remedial permit training. I showed her my teeth in my best imitation of a grin and tromped back to the permit counter.
The young woman at the counter fluttered her eyes. Her long, fake lashes beat the top of her bifocals. Her grin was as inviting as my own.
"Do I need an electrical permit?" I asked abruptly.
She spun on her barstool and gathered up my plans. She looked them over for a moment. "Oh, I see you do...and a clear and grade permit, too. "I mumbled something profound under my breath. Luckily she did not hear my Shakespearean quotation.
"Let's see." She pulled several forms from a file cabinet. "You will need to fill these out in triplicate."
I moved away from the counter and set to work on the applications for both the electrical and the clear and grade permits. Luckily, the B-B PUD has a table set aside for people like me. Two hours later, I dropped the bundle of papers in front of the counter person. She scrutinized the forms closely, then returned her gaze to me. "Sir, you did not fill in this blank for your electrical permit."
"That's just an estimate of how much the work will cost. I haven't bought the materials yet, so I don't know."
Her skeptical smile returned. "Mr. Rayment, the cost of your permit is based on that amount."
"How can I know until I get the materials? and I'm not going to buy the materials until I get the permit."
The clerk clicked her tongue.
I grabbed the papers and filled in the blank on all three copies, "$500.00". I could not imagine the materials costing more than that.
She looked at the figure and snorted. She sounded like a high-strung horse before a race at the track. When she had gotten control of herself, she put a hand on my arm. "Can you wait here a moment? You need to talk to the plans examiner."
I did not wait long. A tall man with a funereal demeanor approached me from one of the cubicles. "Five-hundred dollars?" he asked gravely.
"Well?" I responded intelligently.
"Five-hundred dollars is about one light socket. This figure is supposed to be based on a licensed professional doing the job."
I squinted at the man. I had no idea how much a professional would charge for the work that I needed to have done. "Look, I am doing this job myself; if I were going to hire a professional, that's all I could afford to pay him. So that's my estimate."
The man's eyes were a pair of daggers. "I see." He tossed the application back in my hands and walked away. When he did not return shortly, I handed the papers over to the clerk. She shrugged and processed my application.
In spite of having to buy two more permits, when I returned to the cashier I was glowing from my victory over the examiner. The cashier was a chatty woman. She also seemed more than content to take another check from me. "It's so nice to see people do work for themselves. So, what are you building?"
I proceeded to tell her about the bedroom with attached bath and walk-in closet. She let me ramble for a few short minutes about the helo-flight deck on the garage.
"You're putting in a bathroom?" she finally interrupted me.
"Sure," I said to assure her that I was fully capable of doing plumbing work.
"But I don't see any paperwork here for a plumbing permit." My fists balled. I felt my blood pressure rise like a turkey thermometer on Thanksgiving Day. I said through clenched teeth, "You mean I need another permit?"
Needless to say, I repeated the process outlined above for the electric permit. However, this time the plans examiner was less disposed to let me have my way. "How can you even imagine that you could plumb an entire bathroom for five-hundred dollars?"
I was forced to explain to him that I knew absolutely nothing about plumbing, but that I figured I would learn it as I went. When I was done, I would add up the cost and make up the difference in the permit fee. He did not seem to be happy to be dealing with a rank amateur, especially one who used his inexperience to his financial advantage and at the expense of B-B PUD revenues. He imagined that I was trying to shirk on my payment, God forbid. (I had only already spent one-tenth of my entire addition budget on permits.) Finally, he stormed out of the office. On his way out, he stopped by the secretary. He whispered and pointed at me. My heart dropped to my stomach when I saw her hand the plans examiner my blueprints and copies of my applications. I knew I was in for a rough time.
When I paid the cashier for the plumbing permit, I was forced to dig the change out of my pockets to make sure that my check did not bounce. "You can't think of any other permits that I might need, can you?" I asked.
She shook her head.
"How long will it take to get approval?" I wondered aloud.
"Between two weeks and a year," the cashier informed me.
I thought it might be quicker; after all, I had succeeded in gaining the personal attention of the plans examiner.