March 26: My project has finally moved from the demolition phase to the assembly stage. The concrete trucks came yesterday, backing up the length of my backyard to pour the foundation walls. During the past month, my backyard has changed from a grassy oasis to a barren wasteland of dirt and mud. Last fall, in anticipation of this back yard metamorphosis, I dug up and transplanted all the plants I wanted to save. The bulbs that I somehow missed are now spouting from the dirt mounds piled high around the new foundation – arena seats for The Big Construction Show of 2008. My much-loved lilac bush, whose location unexpectedly ended up being in the way, has been dug up and now sits, unplanted, in a barely adequate clump of dirt in an inaccessible part of the yard. The reassurances that it will be OK don’t ease my worries. Every year since I planted it five years ago, I anticipate the flowering, and every year it rewards me with a few more blooms. I adore the heady fragrance and the muli-bloomed clumps of deliciousness.
April 21: After losing our original framer (due to a squabble between them and the lumber company we used), we’ve managed to secure a new rough in crew to get the walls up. That done, the weather now refuses to cooperate. The Spring of Much Rain is upon us and every chance to get this mess closed in has been thwarted by incessant rain and/or snow. Ken and I decide to ditch this place and drive 700 miles south to sunny Austin for a long weekend of (and in my case, more) alcohol consumption and frolicking with my BFF Tracy. Amazed to actually see trees with their full set of leaves as well as the novelty of wearing shorts for the first time since last year, we’re reluctant to leave this place after 4 days to head back to the Great White North from whence we came. The only thing driving us back is the promise that the weather has finally held and we’re actually going to have a framing crew at our house when we arrive back home. Miracle of miracles! It’s True! The walls are up!
We do the Happy Dance at last!
May 5: Where We Introduce Ourselves to Norman (not his real name) The Plumber. A couple of weeks ago, Mark my brother and General Contractor informs me that Norman Bates will be doing the plumbing. “Hmmm, having a serial psychopath as my plumber seems right to me!” I reply jauntily as I mentally run through a list all the true crime psycho plumbers I’ve ever heard about (none spring immediately to mind). “Just make sure you don’t talk to him too much and make sure he has a newspaper to read every day. He likes to read the newspaper while he eats his lunch. Hell, his whole lunch area looks like a puppy pee-training area after he’s finished! Newspaper’ll be spread all over the place. Yup, Norman sure does like his newspapers”
After a few more inquiries, I determine that Norman (not his real name) is NOT a psychopath. My extensive knowledge of the DSMIV leads me to the diagnosis of a high functioning autistic or Asperger’s Disorder. A further narrowing down of the symptomology tells me he’s autistic (without the annoying repetitive head-banging and moaning) with an apparent brilliance in his chosen area of study – plumbing. A person with a single-minded dedication to my plumbing is exactly what I need! On Day One, Mark, being the sicko that he is, proceeds to horrify Norman right off the bat by showing him the existing maze of plumbing in my basement – a system so utterly complex and baffling it forces me, an atheist, to utter a prayer every time I turn on a faucet. Each valve down there is so old and cranky that any deviation in its position can cause a slow drip to start. Shutting off water to change a washer at the sink is kind of like playing Go Fish. Is it this one? No? How about this one? No? This can go on for quite some time until (or even if) you find the correct shut-off in the basement. Then there’s the inevitable fine-tuning to stop the valves from leaking. I’ve had a leaky faucet in the second floor bathroom that’s gone on so long, I’m sure I’ll upset every conservation-minded reader when I confess that just paying the damn water overages is actually so much easier than trying to fix the leak. Oh the joys of living in the 1907 house.
Norman is not impressed with the plumbing system – to say the least. In fact, he only completes the supply side of the job during his two-day tenure at my jobsite. However, he’s done a bang-up job of that – everything is very nice and neat and orderly. No maze of pipes in the new addition – no sir! When I finally meet him, I’m careful not to chat him up. He appears to be a middle-aged, hermit-like individual with greasy brown hair. My “nice to meetcha” is met with a simple nod of acknowledgement. Genius or not, I’m reluctant to ask him to tackle my leaky faucet in the main part of the house. I think he’s more of a new construction kind of guy. Later, I’m shocked to learn that he was once married and has a son. One has to wonder what kind of woman Norman would attract. Perhaps, like the Anthony Perkins version of himself, she’s a well-preserved corpse propped up in HIS basement… You never know.
A Word About Trash Removal: The disposal of jobsite trash has been an issue. Being the skinflint that I am, having an onsite dumpster was ruled out immediately (What? Me pay for a trash bin?? No fucking way). We decide to get rid of our trash the old-fashioned way – a cobbled-together system of burning stuff at my parent’s place combined with use of my company’s dumpster and our local home trash service. This process is labor-intensive, but you can’t beat the price. My job is to bag up the leftover lumber scraps, siding pieces, old insulation, and miscellaneous Styrofoam coffee cups and lunch trash into manageable portions. Large pieces of lumber go into the pickup to be hauled off to the parental unit’s burn pile. Bagable bits get put in heavy-duty plastic bags and then divvied up between the dumpster at work or set at the curb. Each week I cross my fingers and hope that my local trash guys won’t balk at picking up construction debris (strictly a no-no, according to city policy). So far so good. Last week I waited until I saw them pick up the trash, then gave them a hearty thumbs-up Thank-You! when they took all 8 of my bags. I try to foster an atmosphere of goodwill wherever I go!
A Word About Neighbors: I have the best neighbors! We live on a pretty nice little block in a decidedly mixed-income neighborhood. The block to the west and the block to the east are pretty run-down, so we hold on to our block’s relative niceness like grim death. Last year, Ken and I were this close to putting our house on the market and buying one of them there new (read, nicer and more expenseive) homes – then the housing market went to shit and we decided to turn our house into the Giant Colossal Home instead. The neighbors are, in a word, ecstatic that we’re not moving and each and every centimeter of progress on this new addition only serves to cement our ties to this block even more. Case in point: “Hey, the framers are going to start at around 6:30am. Is that OK with you?” “Great!” they reply in unison. My brother’s made friends with my conspiracy-theory obsessed next door neighbor and they can spend untold hours talking guns and government. R___’s a great guy in spite of our opposite views on various issues and his down-to-earth approach to stuff is touching. Last weekend I asked him if it was OK for Mark to tear down the 1960’s era chain link fence that separates our front yards and he replied “Hell yeah! That things a ball-shredder!.” (and he wasn’t talking about basketballs). That’s the good old boy I know and love, in spite of his frequent insistence that I must be crazy not to own any guns. He’s convinced the goon squad’s gonna haul my ass off to a government-sponsored reeducation camp someday, and I won’t have any firepower available to retaliate. As my other neighbor, John, likes to say –“ R___, we’re all just thankful that you have enough guns for all of us.” Indeed.
The Last Word – The Drunken Afghan Update: Having consumed uncountable gin & tonics and vodka and cranberry’s whilst crocheting, I am now on square #50 of 63. Home stretch on the square making, folks. I’m sick to death of making squares and am getting anxious to put this thing together now. Its progression seems to be matching the pace of the house building nicely though and the expected finish date for both will be sometime in July. After the sheetrock goes up (no word on when the rocker will be available yet), we’re on our own to do the flooring, the trim work and the painting. Landscaping is only a misty watercolored blip in my imagination at this point and I look longingly at the massive displays of bedding plants and shrubbery that are ubiquitous right now. “Next year” I whisper to myself…