Note: This is part 3 in my ongoing FIRE SAGA.
At the stroke of eight on the morning of the fire, which had started close to 5:30am, I called Farm Bureau Insurance to alert them to the situation. My agent, Jeff Danuloff, arrived at the house before 8:30! That’s what I call customer service. Standing on the lawn chatting with Jeff, I was still in shock as the fire continued to smolder. As is my custom under stress, I prattled on without interruption. As Jeff compassionately listened to my distressed rambling, another man approached the scene. He had a clear-plastic credential holder that dangled from a multi-colored rope around his neck. He looked out of place against the backdrop of firemen and the friends of mine who had started to assemble. I noticed he had pulled up in a shiny red Mustang. He had a thin face, short, black hair and a finely-trimmed moustache. He wore jeans, Nike high tops, and an orange pullover with a beige CarHartt, or workman’s, sort of jacket. Espying his credential holder from across the yard, I made the snap assumption that he was a newspaper reporter coming to get the scoop. I excused myself from Jeff and bee-lined to this man, eager, I suppose, to retell my story, not to mention the fact that I crave media attention.
“I’m the one you’re looking for,” I greeted him. “Are you here to interview me?”
“Are you the homeowner?” he asked.
I fancy myself a good and relatively quick judge of character, and I am pretty sensitive to voice quality. With the first four words out of this man’s mouth, I knew my first impression had been wildly incorrect. He delivered this question with lazy diction, barely getting out the “r” of homeowner. I looked down at his credentials: DAVE GRIBBEL, GOOD NEIGHBOR FIRE RESTORATION. My friendly demeanor switched on a dime: “Why are you here?” I confronted him.
“I gotta call that there was a fire and my job is to help the homeowner,” he spit out the seemingly well-rehearsed line.
“Well, I didn’t call you,” I replied, with a hint of contempt, irritation starting to build.
“This is what I do. People have fires and I show up to help them.”
Not wanting to spend another second with this man, I asked for his card and told him I would call him if I needed him. This was not enough to get him to leave.
“Sir, I know you are stressed out, but if you don’t do the right thing…”
“I think the man said he would call you,” my friend Doug, who had been close by, decisively interrupted. “We’ve got your card and we’ll call you if we need you.”
Gribbel looked down at the ground and I am pretty sure he was trying to concoct a potent retort. He seemed frustrated, almost angry. But he controlled himself, and left my property without incident. There was a desperation about him, and he not only seemed mad when he left but I also detected what I would describe as dejection, which one would think a true professional would be more adept at concealing.
By late morning, I had started to understand the game in which I was an unwitting player: fires means money to people like Gribbel. People like him listen to police scanners and try to arrive first on the scene of catastrophe, hoping to guarantee they are chosen to head up repairs, which can easily reach into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any hint of smoke still takes me back to the devastation of that morning, but to Gribbel, and the numerous others who showed up after him, my devastation had the seductive smell of money.
So powerful was the allure of my devastation that Gribbel showed up again in the early afternoon. “What are you doing back here?” I barked with a menacing scowl.
“I’m not talking to you,” he said with resolve. “I am here to talk to the homeowner.”
“I am the homeowner, as I already told you.”
“You work for Belfor,” he insisted, like a detective who had uncovered a clever ruse. “I’m not going for your B.S. anymore. I need to talk to the homeowner.”
Deep in my entrails I felt a rumbling, like a wild dog who wanted to attack. I kept my cool, though, focusing on my breath and reflecting before reacting.
“Read the number on that mailbox,” I calmly instructed him. “6-9-4-8 Beachside Ct. That’s where I live.” I pulled out my license, and pointed out the address. Gribbel paused to take in this new information. Rather than prudently leaving, he picked up where he had left off after his first visit to my property.
“That Belfor guy was standing right next to you. I thought you were with Belfor. You don’t want to go with those guys. They’ll screw you. They screw everybody.”
My intentional breathing and self-reflection were not enough to overcome this new onslaught. “You get the f*** off my property now,” I exploded. He looked down and I could see that he was close to exploding back at me. I wanted him to. Subconsciously, I wanted the opportunity to focus all the rage and negativity that had built up in me that day. He said nothing, though, and began to walk back to his car. But every few steps, he would stop, look down to his right, with an indignant pensiveness on his face, just dying to give me a piece of his mind. He got back to his car, opened the door, but then just stood there, propping himself up with his left arm on top of the open door.
“You’re making a big mistake,” he said, finally finding the courage to point out my apparent stupidity. “You’re going to regret this.”
Open the floodgates. When I am really mad, a poetic streak often emerges. My friend, Doug, found my reaction hilarious and wrote down what I said. I am grateful he did that.
“You come to my home on a day of destruction and have not one drop of empathy. You’re not here to help me; you’re here because you want to profit off my suffering. And you know what, dipshit, with your pathetic people skills, there is zero chance, no, a negative chance, that I would ever let you on my property, let alone allow you in to restore my home. The next time I see you, or your I’m-a-special-boy red Mustang, I will call the police and have you forcibly removed. Now get the f*** out of here before I get really mad.”
He looked down again and appeared to be gathering his strength for another round with me. I preempted him: “One more word out of your mouth and I lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau!”
This induced him to get in his car, where he seemed to sulk for 2-3 minutes, and then burned rubber as he sped out of my subdivision. I felt as if I had just ended a standoff with a psychopath. Unfortunately, Gribbel was not even the worst of the lot. By day’s end, a cast of seventeen shady contractors, repair charlatans, and unscrupulous “public adjusters” had invaded my misery. Dealing with these vultures was my second baptism by fire that day.