This is going to sound very silly to some of you smart guys, but I’ve never been up in the attic crawl space of this house. Reasons are complicated and I’ll probably go into them in some future BHM article. I knew generally what was up there, but until today I’d never even climbed a ladder, stuck my head through the cobwebby little hatch, and flashlighted around.
I didn’t go walkabout up there; just stayed on the ladder. But where I thought I’d find only unappealing but potentially useful storage space, I found this:
That peak is about nine feet up there, guys! And that’s the original main span of the house, so it’s a looooong room. Vertical sidewalls, too, albeit only about three-feet high (that’s the beginnings of cabinets and countertops). My brain dazzled, then got to work on ideas.
The only great big tricky thing: The stairway would have to come up right out of the living room. And that’s tough. A pull-down ladder won’t do because I’m thinking accessible living space, not seldom-visited storage.
Got some stairway ideas, but who knows yet if they’re good ones? Again I’ll keep the details for another time. Mainly I’m writing to say that I am stoked!
Laughing at myself for taking such an absurd long time to make this discovery. But stoked.
In the olden days, people around here built garages (or perhaps they were originally carriage houses) on steep, otherwise useless, hills. The front of the building faced the street while the rest of the structure stood on posts.
These great old garages had magnificent 4 x 12 treated floors you could have parked a tank on. But the combo of wooden understructures and unstable soils of the hills doomed the buildings. Ninety or a hundred years later, most of them are gone and those that remain look like this:
Until a couple weeks ago, this one was still completely shingled and there was stuff stored inside that nobody had touched in decades. I pass this sad old beauty every day. I tend to think of myself as a decent scrounger. But it never occurred to me to ask the owner if I could take it apart and haul its pieces away. Even if I’d had the thought, I’d probably immediately have concluded, “Too darned dangerous.”
Another neighbor wasn’t so chicken. She asked and it was given. I don’t know her well, but she’s a beautiful woman about 40 with impressive artistic abilities. Oh, the projects she’ll make from this!
She first emptied the contents, and now has begun prying off the shingles. Isn’t it cool how the formerly hidden parts of 100-year-old cedar (there on the mid-left side) remain fresh and red when the exposed parts long ago turned gray and grew layers of moss?
I admire that lady’s chutzpah for taking this on. Never mind that she’s got six kids and has recruited all but the youngest to help her; it’s still a daunting and dangerous task.
I might just have to ask her what it would take to buy that old floor from her when she gets down to it. Those ancient floors make great retaining walls and, cut up and set into a bed of sand, could become unusual and attractive patio blocks.
Yesterday was the first moment after … ohhhh, 40 days and 40 nights … that it wasn’t either raining or threatening to rain. Between that and the end of the year’s big hunting seasons, the dogs and I were finally able to return to long, leash-free walks in the woods instead of annoying, leashed walks around town (annoying because Ava likes to gallop and Robbie barely moseys these days; I end up walking sideways with my arms extended in two directions).
It was glorious. Chilly, but blue and still.
On our afternoon walk, though, we came across a lone crow feasting on an elk ribcage. Ava — she of the killer prey drive — alerted and paused. Figuring the crow would fly off, I gave her permission to run at it.
It didn’t fly off. It hobbled into the weeds, limping and vainly flapping its wings.
Saturday evening just as it was turning dark, a young man came to my gate. He was as clean cut as a Mormon missionary (about the only other people prone to show up hereabouts at such an hour) and traveling on foot as they do. But he was solo. I had the vague feeling I’d seen him somewhere before.
“I was here with Mike the other day,” he said by way of introduction. He gave no name. Mike — meaning Handyman Mike — has gone through a steady stream of minions or minion wannabes, all pretty much interchangable to me. I’m trying to figure out which one this is.
“I see you still have that pile of construction material back there. Would you pay me to clean it up for you?”
Clean-cut though he may be, the whole business of a nameless stranger turning up on my doorstep in the near-dark is creepy. I’m still trying to figure out who he is when he announces, “I’m desperate for money.”
And lights up a cigarette.
Now, I can think of a fair number of ways for a young man to demonstrate that he’s either in dire financial straits or worthy of being hired because he’s good. But lighting up a cigarette (in a state where they cost nearly $10 a pack) isn’t one of them. I can’t afford to smoke. If he can, his “desperation” is manufactured.
I let him hand me his contact information over the closed six-foot gate (after I supplied paper and pen). He scrawled a phone number, but still offered no name. I finally asked who he was.
“Troy,” he said.
Then I remembered. Three weeks ago, he answered Mike’s ad for a construction helper. Mike interviewed him and he was supposed to start assisting on my Great Bathroom Project.
The morning he was to begin minioning he called Mike to say he had a flat tire. And no way of changing or fixing it. He finally made it here at 1:30, driven by a friend, just as Mike was going to lunch. Mike showed him the great heap of construction rubble outside the fenced part of the yard and invited him to work on organizing the stack until Mike’s return. Troy declined and left. After that, he didn’t return Mike’s calls. End of minioning.
Now here he is at the gate, weeks later, in the gathering dark on a weekend, wanting the work he wouldn’t do when he had the chance. But not really wanting work. Wanting money.
I’m not sure what it is lately with people being so eager to claim their desperation. Have they been reading Atlas Shrugged and mistaking the bad guys for the good guys or what? Do they seriously believe desperation gives them a compelling claim, some leg up in the race to earn a living?
All it gave me was the creeps.
I remember my Depression-era relatives talking about hungry men showing up on their doorsteps. In their stories, they always made a clear distinction between “hoboes” and “bums.” Hoboes, they said, would show up, hat in hand, offering to work. They didn’t speak of their need, only of their willingness. They were honest men — down on their luck but not broken. Bums, on the other hand, were no good and had probably never been any good. They might (or might not) offer to work, but really they were just looking for a handout. Or a place that might have something worth stealing.
I’ll leave it to you to decide what kind of person my evening visitor is. I don’t know. He might just be an inexperienced kid, born into the self-esteem era, having never been encouraged to acquire either manners, a work ethic, or common sense.
I do know that after he left I let down all the blinds and made sure all my self-defense tools were in good order and accessible. And I gave the dogs extra pats, recalling he’d been too scared of them to come in the yard the first time he was here.
The most important item in the house is now installed and plumbed and has hot water to fill it. Yum!
The wainscoting behind it is beadboard from the old ceiling of the enclosed porch. The doorway you see on the left will eventually become a wall and the wainscotting will continue around three sides of the tub. (That’s Bathroom: Phase Two after the finances have recovered.)
Scrounging and garage saling worked for everything else in the room, but I was determined to have a fabulous faucet, complete with shower attachment. So I found what I wanted online then searched for a factory second. This one has a chip in the porcelain that can be felt but not seen.
The day the plumber completed his work so early, I took Robbie for a long drive along the river. Robbie can’t walk much any more, but he sure loved sniffing the clear, fragrant October air through the rolled-down windows of the car. Seventy-two degrees; I still can’t get over it.
One of the houses on the river road has a flower stand at the end of its driveway. A bargain at a buck a bunch. I’ve never stopped there. But that day, how could I not?
Not being a flower person, I’m not sure what these are. Dahlias, I’m guessing. But could they be mums? Anyhow, I’m pretty sure they’re not dandelions or daisies. :-) They’re beautiful in my kitchen window.
Now back to painting the bathroom shelves.
P.S. Oh yeah, that bathtub is as comfy-cozy as it looks, you bet. As soon as the water heater had hotness, I made sure to check it out. When I first dragged the tub out of its Dickensian surround, it had no feet. Every brand and model of these old tubs is different and I had no hope of getting the right feet for this one. So I bought four generic, modern cast-iron feet on eBay and epoxied them on with double helpings of JB Weld (which is, um, not the way you’re supposed to attach clawfeet). I put wooden blocks under the tub just in case the legs decided to detach in mid-soak, but so far the footies seem likely to stay in place. Hooray!
P.P.S. Oh heck, here’s the Dickensian surround all over again, just because the contrast between then and now is so awesome. The miracles of Goof-Off, Rustoleum, and elbow grease!
The good news is that the plumber arrived at 8:00, worked straight through to 1:30 without a break (love that work ethic!) and left me with functional plumbing when he departed.
No hot water yet. He moved the water heater and the electricians will reconnect that in its new location soon. But since today was only supposed to be a rough-in day, with actual hookups to come next week, I’m not going to complain! The entire process took just only 5-1/2 hours. And now I have a beeeeautiful clawfoot tub with a beeeeautiful faucet. AND the graywater that’s been emptying under the house for years no longer does. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
But of course there’s the bad. And the ugly. They are one in the same. The sewer line is leaking. Has been for months, he says. Ick. Clogged? Cracked? Who knows what?
But there’s always something, isn’t there? Always the surprises …
Mr. Plumber will return in two weeks with a camera to send down the pipe and a roto-rooter thingie and we shall see how bad the problem really is.
But for now, after nearly two solid weeks of disruption and uproar, I’m going to take a long afternoon’s break, get out in the sunshine, then come back and watch movies with no tasks to do, no deadlines to meet.
Sorry to disappoint my Christian friends who might hope I’ve had a conversion, but by that I mean only that God-the-Plumber has arrived. On the appointed day. At the appointed hour.
He is now (terrifyingly) drilling holes in my brand-new bathroom floor.
Since Handyman Mike wrapped up his part of the work on Friday, I’ve been hustling like crazy: drywalling, mudding, painting, moving shelving, the vanity, and plumbing parts into the room. No way am I finished, but by working late every evening, I got everything plumber-ready. Last night after finishing my to-do list I spent an extra two hours inspecting and asking myself, “What have I forgotten? What do I still need to discuss with the plumber and the electricians? What else is likely to go wrong?” I scribbled notes on the walls for the electricians (due tomorrow). I got up early today to fix a couple of things.
Now I can sit on my arse for a whole day. Well, other than helping to move the tub into place and starting to clean the living room, which is full of ladders, drywall squares, utility knives, levels, measuring tapes, and suchlike.
But now … to catch up with some overdue emails, blogging, TZP polls and whatever else I can think of.
One thing about drywalling and painting: they’re mindless enough to allow random thoughts. Here are a couple of those.
The Big Scary Project drags on. I’ve been Handyman Mike’s Official Minion the last two days and will probably be so until the end of the project. Exhausting!
Mike worked all weekend and tells me he’s been working weekends for a month or so. It shows. He’s never been exactly a fast-moving kinda guy, but between that and his Perpetual Life Crisis, hours have been short, productivity hasn’t been good and “mistakes have been made.”
A day off would be a blessing for him, but the only realistic way to achieve it is to hustle harder for the next three days so he won’t have to work this Sunday.
We did have good news from the plumber, who stopped by for a quick look and gave us a super-favorable reality check on our work (such an appearance is, as Mike puts it, “like getting an audience with God). Now … all we need is to work hard, work smart, and not uncover too many surprises.
The fixed star is the long-arranged plumbing appointment on Tuesday. Three really good days and Monday as a failsafe day will do it.
Now I’m off to start the prep for tearing down the interior wall that contains the sink and shower plumbing. With that, the bathroom will begin to take on its new shape and location. Wish us luck!
Meanwhile, long-time Commentariat member MJR has started his own blog, Situation — Hopeless but Not Serious, which you might enjoy perusing. He says Joel and I are his inspirations. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad one.