Saturday, September 02, 2006

Past Due, Day 2, Friday- Father of the Year

My wife is hard on appliances. It started when we first became an item, and it hasn’t gotten any better since.

When we were the young, childless, dual-income family, we decided to build the ultimate hamster house. So my new bride went to second hand stores and purchased every piece of hamster habitat she could find. I assembled these pieces into a truly ridiculous, completely impractical, and rather massive structure that spanned half of a room.

Seriously, there were tubes and wheels everywhere. We drank a lot in those days.

At any rate, we bought a couple of hamsters and set them loose in this new Malibu dream hamster house. It literally took a week for the hamsters to find each other.

Now, if you know anything about hamsters, you know what happened next. If not, let me summarize: Hamster Thunderdome. Three went in, one came out.

Hamsters, much like IT professionals, are not social creatures.

After a series of hamster burials, we decided to dismantle the hamster structure of doom and have a single cage for the winner (I wanted to name it Mad Max, but noooooo).

Shortly thereafter, the dishwasher broke. Odd. This was the machine that could eat a cake on the commercials. I saw it myself, and that’s why I bought it.

So, with the help of an appliance repairman friend, we tore into the guts of the dishwasher to find:


Ew. Gross. I turned to my wife.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Nothing.” She turned on the cute looks.

“Why is there sawdust in the dishwasher?”

“I don’t know, you’re the wood guy. What did you put in there?”

“Dishes. This sawdust is green.”

“Maybe it is old.” She was smiling and flipping her hair.

“This looks like hamster house shavings.”

“Am I cute?” She asked.

My friend piped up “Yeah, that what this is. Did you wash some kind of animal cage in here?” We both stared at her, slightly in shock.

“Yes, fine, I’m sorry.” She answered. She did the cute stomp and turn thing and marched away in a cloud of long blonde hair.

“Dude, gross. You’ve been eating hamster poop on your dishes.” My friends are so helpful.

“Shut up,” was all I could manage. I was feeling slightly ill.

There it was. My lovely new bride had washed the extra hamster house pieces in the DISHWASHER, clogging and destroying the pump.

It was three months before we got a new dishwasher (I was pissed), and even then, we had “what to and what not to put inside” classes.

She has not killed another dishwasher in almost fifteen years.

Washing machines, however, she goes through like Paris Hilton goes through men. A washer lasts, on average, two years. I don’t even bother to buy them new anymore.

Our last washer had it transmission shredded by a load a queen size comforter, two pairs of jeans, and about half a pound of split-shot fishing washers.

She should have checked my pants pockets.

We were in the process of purchasing the house, so I figured I buy another $150 sacrifice to gods of laundry after we moved in. Used washers do not like to be moved.

That’s when she saw it on the side of the road. A washing machine with a “Free, I work” sign on it. We loaded up the van and headed over.

Sure enough. A free washer. On the side of the road. What the hell, if it doesn’t work, I’ll bring it back under cover of darkness.

So I lug this monster to the side of the van. It wont fit through the side door.

At this point, I did what any father of the year candidate would do. I tossed the kids out on the side of the road.

“Everybody out.” I said.

“But dad, it’s hot out there, and we’re tired. We’ve been at the park all day and it is a long way to…” whined my oldest.

“Rule number two.” I answered. See, we have three rules for life in our family:
  1. Life is not fair.
  2. It is not all about you.
  3. Do the right thing.
Everything can be filed under one of those three rules.

“Fine. Not fair.” She paused, then quietly, “Rule one.”

I folded down the seats and loaded the washing machine in the back of the van and gleefully left my wife and two daughters on the side of the road. Free washer! This thing must be worth like $50!

I drove the quarter mile straight uphill in the 80+ degree heat (in Astoria, that’s sweltering) to the time sink, and had some ice cream while I waited for my wife to arrive.

Just kidding. I drug the machine up into the laundry room, hooked it up, and….

It works. Really well. Ran a hot water / bleach cycle on it and everything is good.

Too bad the poor thing only has a year to live.

Total costs: $2,465

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Past Due, Day 1, Thursday- The Dynamic Duo

After a long day of smashing my fingers with hammers, dragging bathtubs, and futile attempts at ridding myself of the “Hated Safe of Eternal Heft,” I ran out of coffee. The “Thermos of Continued Consciousness” was empty.

This would not do. I’m running on minimal sleep (I fell asleep last night, unable to cash in on my cabinet-building prowess) and am sore from head to toe. The coffee doesn’t really make me feel any more awake, but it does wash down the aspirin.

I did what anyone would do. I went home to make MORE coffee. I walked in, started the coffee pot and said hello to my dear wife. She was busy entertaining the baby by lying on the bed reading a book while a fan blew nice cool air on her.

Before I could commit verbal suicide, however, the door bell went off. Actually, the doorbell is our “Bassett Hound of Perpetual Dim-Wittedness with a Long Pretentious Purebred Name.” We call her Rosebud...

I answered the door, pushing back the fearsome pile of canine cowardice that is Chemo Clem and Rosebud. I found myself face-to-face with Wendy with an “E” (that’s WendE, because a “Y” isn’t “E-ish” enough) through the screen door.

“We’re going to go over and paint! So, we’re going to break into your house! Is that OK?!” Most of her sentences really do end in exclamation marks! Wende is funny that way! She’s actually a clergy type (in the President’s church!) but- and this is a very good thing- doesn’t have that funeral director “so sorry for your loss” slash preacher “listen to me or go to hell” kind of vibe.

Anyway, I was shocked. Not at the whole breaking into the house thing- hell, burn it if you want- but rather that she and her husband were willing- no, on their very way- to help me paint. Wow. Cool. Now I actually feel bad for the whole “shocker” thing, making fun of the way her name is spelled, and poking fun of her general zest for life as I did above.

“I’m making coffee- just give me a minute….” I stammered.

“No, if this is stressing you out, we’ll go…”

“No, no, no, I’m just, er, well, coffee…”

“Don’t worry! We’ll climb in the window!” Off she went!

My coffee finished very shortly thereafter, so I went back to the time sink. She and her husband Jack had, true to her word, climbed in the window. I showed them around. We all went to work, and I was extremely entertained by their banter as they made all of the green paint disappear in the dining room.


Thus, I hereby dub them the Dynamic Duo, for the following reasons:
  1. They can break into houses without alerting the neighbors.
  2. They can turn green paint into white primer in just two hours.
  3. They call their son “Boy Wonder” so I might as well keep the whole “Batman” thing going.
Yeah, all-in-all, that was a pretty cool surprise. I'm pretty lousy at that whole expressing apprecition thing, so I'll just stick to what I know:

Thank you both, a lot.

Total costs: $2,368

Day 33, Wednesday- Religious Studies

This was supposed to be my last day of work. I was supposed to move in to the house tomorrow and get on with my life.

Yeah, that really didn’t really work out.

Rather than dwell on missed deadlines, kvetch about dry rot, and whine about how deteriorating plaster all conspired to keep me from moving in on time, I’m just going to suck it up and keep going. It isn’t like I have a choice.

So, at any rate, today was the day I had to move the bathtub back into place. After all of the work I had to do on the floor, I was a bit nervous about moving this large piece of cast iron onto the delicate porcelain floor my dear wife had selected.

Alright, it isn’t porcelain, it is ceramic. It isn’t really all that delicate either, considering it is floor-grade.

At any rate, I was a bit nervous. I was going to have to shove, lift, tilt, and drag the tub into place. This was to be a trial by fire for my floor. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and I did what came natural.

I stalled.

I scraped paint off of windows. I installed window sash locks. I did a hundred little necessary, but unrelated, things to delay my pending task.

If you’ve never installed floor tile before, you probably don’t understand this. You can make mistakes when you install tile. You can have a thin spot in the thinset; a slight unevenness in the floor, or even a hairline crack in a tile and it will normally be just fine. Fifty years could pass without a problem, until that moment you put a lot of concentrated weight on just the wrong spot. Having a tile crack, or even shatter in the floor, or having a grout line pop is just a horrible feeling.

So, I was nervous. I needed to move the tub, however, and I was burning daylight. I crossed myself, said a scrambled “Hail Mary” and two completely muffed “Our Fathers” (when I finally get the three days required to go to confession, I’ll either get plenty of practice on the rosary, or the event will end up with a bell, book and candle) and grabbed the tub. While I get religion at odd moments, it typically fades quickly.

I got into position. I heaved, and I pulled, and I lifted, and I pushed.

No broken tiles, no popped grout.

I cautiously checked the path the tub had taken across the floor, rubbing each tile gently to feel for fractures. It was all good, so I decided to climb into the tub.

I sat down and laid back- this is a great bathtub- and waited. Nothing. I sighed a big sigh and slid down to get a little more comfortable.


I sat up quickly, and in a panic I scrambled out of the tub and started looking at the floor under the tub. I pulled the tub out and checked the back tiles.


Then I saw it- a stupid tile spacer was in the middle of the floor. It must have been wedged under the tub’s foot. I moved the tub back, and cleaned up the mess made by the metal feet on the white tile.

Stupid spacers.

I checked it again, and everything was fine. I decided to move on to the plumbing. I spent the better part of thirty minutes looking for the Teflon tape that costs $2.00 at the store located five minutes away. I wrapped all of the pipe threads and went to hook everything back up. I connected the drain pipes to the tub and noticed something.

To protect the wall, the tub was now two inches farther away from the wall that it had been originally.

The drain, however, was not moved. I had no way to connect it.

I found new and exciting ways to combine blasphemy and simple swearing. I felt cheated! I had made a slightly better than half-assed attempt at spirituality and look what it got me!

Yeah, ring the bell. Close the book. Quench the candle.

I decided to call a plumber. Let some different guy with an exposed hairy ass crack deal with this mess.

I then turned my attention to the area behind the stub wall. It is two feet across and empty. I sat panting (the tub is heavy) and stared at the space, trying to decide what to put there.

Suddenly, an epiphany!

A urinal! I could totally put a urinal there! A nice manly touch to a bathroom that will otherwise be monopolized by women forever! I searched the Internet at lunch and found a wonderful selection of man-toilets for my choosing. It will be like getting an extra half-bath without having to build anything new!

All of the reasonably priced urinals were of the “bidet on the wall” variety, and that would not do. Real men do not use bidets. Real men get confused and mistake bidets for drinking fountains. Real men are mostly idiots that way.

What I want is a chest-to-floor monument to my penis and my God-given-ability-to pee-standing-up. I want an old-school, hard-core, you-don’t-have-to-aim because everything’s a target style urinal. It will also need one of those big mints at the bottom.

After much searching, I found the urinal that I want. It is over three feet tall, more than a foot-and-a-half-wide, and has that cool automatic flush thing. This is a manly man-toilet. I realized that there would still be room above it to mount a lovely velvet painting.

I was thinking of something tasteful like dogs playing cards, an Elvis portrait (the young sexy Elvis, not fat and bloated Vegas Elvis) or even, dare I dream, this masterpiece.

Or, I could just go with the whole “penis altar” motif. You know, shelves of candles with melted wax like they have at church. They even have candles that smell like Jesus. A nice picture of Saint Dymphna hanging above. That could be cool, too.

Time to get ordering! I checked the price and (holy shit!) found out it was $600 before shipping. That is a little more than our “we didn’t talk about this” price limit, so I went downstairs and described my design ideas to my lovely bride.

“Oh, hell no,” she said, giving me the “have you recently suffered head trauma?” look.

“Yeah, but, it would be cool, and it would save water.”

“You want a urinal? Put it in the basement. Build your freaky little wee-wee shrine down there.”

“I have a urinal in the basement- the sump. Oh, and never put the words ‘little,’ ‘your,’ and ‘wee-wee’ in the same sentence.”

“Whatever. Go remodel.” As she went back to her work, I heard her mutter “freak.”

I sensed the conversation was over.

I went back to the time sink and built a cabinet in my urinal stall. It has three shelves, a tile top, and a door with a little pink flower pull. It is very nice and provides over sixteen cubic feet of storage.

How did I decide to build a cabinet? Simple. When my wife and I first got married, she informed me that “foreplay starts at breakfast.” That is a lot of work, and I usually have to remain scarce to avoid “screwing up.”

I have since learned that if you give a woman either jewelry or storage you can skip that whole “be a good boy all day crap.” I’m spending every dime on the house- but I’ve got materials.

Sixteen cubic feet of storage? In a bathroom previously devoid of storage? Yeah, her skivvies will hit the wall so hard the neighbors will hear it.

Unless I fall asleep first.

Total costs: $2,368

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Day 32, Tuesday- Family Interaction

I simply adore my wife.

Anyone that knows me, or has seen us together realizes how completely inadequate the word “true” is to describe the above sentence. That does not, however, mean that she does not drive me completely insane at times.

You see, my lovely bride is afflicted with a bad case of AADD (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder). With three kids, I can see how it happened to her. Hell, being married to me would cause it.

Case in point- we all went to the house this evening. She is the grout sponge queen, and frankly, I hate that particular job. We put the kids in the back bedroom with some toys and a DVD player, and I started to mix grout.

I came out of the kitchen and found her moving my tools around. “What are you doing?” I asked, trying to be chipper.

“You didn’t tell me what you wanted me to do while I waited for you,” she answered.

“Why don’t you paint the doors, or the trim, or put some primer on the windows like last night?”

“Oh, OK.”

That was when I lost the grout float. So, I guess this is all my fault. Everyone (including the kids) took up the search. After some time, it was found- in the kitchen- on the counter- right were I put it twenty minutes ago- mocking my lack of short term memory.

“Hey, there’s the primer and the sponge brushes,” I offered.

“Yes, I see them.” She started towards them. I put my headphones on and started to grout.

I heard muffled instructions. Yet I continued to grout.

Then I heard broken screaming. Yet I continued to grout.

Then I heard stifled arguing . Yet I continued to grout.

Then I saw my 1 year old son chewing on a screwdriver. Yet I continued to grout.

Then a breaker tripped. Yet I continued to grout.

The lights came back on. Yet I continued to grout.

Then I heard the vacuum. I stopped grouting.

“Uh, yeah, what are you doing?” I tried to sound like I was actually curious. I glanced over her shoulder at the still not being-being-painted-French-doors.

My bride gave me the “don’t be an idiot and you better shut the hell up right now” look of doom number 37. Yeah, she has a lot of those looks. The higher the number, the more my life is in jeopardy. The scale, until today, went as high as 25. (That was the day she forgot to set the parking brake on her car and it rolled down the hill and into a tree. I got the look at the moment she realized that she had been driving, and not me.)

I went back to the grout. Then I saw my oldest moving stuff into the boy’s room. I came out again.

She saw me. “I’m trying to make it safe for your son out here. Also, we’re putting everything in the other room so you can pull the old carpet.”

“You know I’m going to curse you tomorrow, right?”

“Yes. You remember this was your idea, right?”

“Uh, yeah, I was just hoping to get the doors....”


“OK, well then, good job.” I paused, then decided to try another approach. “Why don't you go ahead and get your pail and sponge- I’m ready for you.”

We finished grouting. We worked in shifts, one of us watching the baby while the other worked away.

Total costs: $2,368

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Day 31, Monday- Caucasian Refuse

With just two days left, I only have 30 feet of floor tile to set and one little boy’s room to paint. I might just make it. After days like this, however, I'm not so sure.

After a half-day at the office, I resumed work on the "Bathroom of Perpetual Disrepair". I finished the tile for the bathtub surround, washed my hands and had a late lunch consisting of a delicious piece of leftover pizza from the night before. It tasted a bit off, but I assumed that was just “fridge taste.”

I went back to work and pulled the tile spacers from the wall. I decided to get started on the floor, so I removed the (only) toilet out to give me more workspace as well as let me take care of some additional rot. I was about to get to work on the subfloor, cutting out the rotten boards when there was a rumbling in my stomach.

A bad rumble. A “get to the toilet now” rumble.

In a panic, I dashed for the toilet and slammed it back in place. Sweating, I “assumed the position” and… passed gas.

I was a bit sheepish, sitting there, reflecting on the panic that had struck only a few minutes before. My eyes were watering a bit, so I left the room (with the window open) and allowed the atmosphere to cycle in the room. For the record, had this happened in New York, CNN would still be reporting on it with special team coverage on the “chemical attack.”

I figured it was a good time to let the old stomach settle, so I decided to start spreading paint in the boy’s room. I was running low on the ceiling paint from the Evil Empire (fortified with Unicorn horn!) The fact that the lid wasn’t put on tight last night did not help. So, I mixed it with the $2 can of paint I got at the “Big box store that is not City Lumber and yes I feel dirty for having gone there” and came up with a new shade that I will call….

“What have I done to my son’s room purple?”

This is My Little Pony purple. I tried to lie to myself and pretend that it is something manly like “Battleship Gray” or perhaps “Gunmetal.” No matter how macho the name, the paint stayed purple. It clashed with the sky blue walls in a way that no other shade could.

There is a bright side. I ran out of this monstrosity. Now I can go buy real paint and try again. At least it covered the ceiling of perpetual doom.

I returned to the bathroom and pulled the toilet again. I started laying floor tile when the bad rumble returned.

Oh, shit. Literally.

Figuring it was just gas, I decided to carefully let fly. Bad move. Using my cat-like reflexes, I stopped the explosion with my “butt checks o’ steel.

I was suddenly faced with a rather uncomfortable situation. I really could not go to the neighbor’s house- I’ve only just met them and explosive, foul-smelling, bad-pizza diarrhea is not a good way to make friends.

I considered other options- the bushes out back (too many blackberries), driving home (not gonna make it), and even the kitchen sink (EWWWWWW!)

As such, I chose the only practical option. I reinstalled the toilet, whilst tightly clenched. For the record, walking like a penguin is not conducive to working on plumbing. With the bowl back in place, I finally found relief.

Too bad I forgot to hook the water back up first. I realized this “just a little too late.” There was no way I was messing around under the toilet now- I needed to get water in this thing now.

I found my salvation in a garden hose. I was happily standing in the bathroom holding a garden hose in the toilet tank thinking about how clever I was.

Then it hit me- I am such a freak. Normal people don't have this kind of stuff happen to them, and if they do, they sure as hell don't post it on the Internet.

Yeah. Well, I've never been considered normal, and I am rather pround of that. I think normal people watch too much TV and try too hard to be "safe." I think normal people should try new things, even if some of those things don't work out.

I think normal people should all work together to make normal a little more exciting. Then I'll try and be normal.

Oops, sorry about that. Back to the post.....

So, in closing, if you’ve ever facilitated the flushing of a toilet with a garden hose, you might just be white trash. I, however, prefer to be called Caucasian Refuse.

Total costs: $2,368

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Day 30, Sunday- Everyday Surprises

So, the finger has new colors today, is numb, and has swollen so much that my skin is actually taunt. The whole numb thing, whilst convenient, is a bit alarming. I’m thinking I might need to visit the doctor about this. Maybe in a few days.

I went to work tiling and painting the bathroom, and got about half-way finished. Even getting that much done was tough.

The wife came over to help out. I asked her to paint the ceiling in the boy’s room. She started rolling, then stopped and demanded safety glasses. She is such a sissy.

I stopped tiling and searched for the glasses. I found them hidden in a closet. She went back to work rolling the ceiling. She called again. The roof was peeling off under the roller.


I stopped tiling and started scraping the ceiling. Near as I can tell, dog urine soaked through the ceiling from the floor upstairs. That was a grand job. I scraped a 150 square foot ceiling with a 1 inch spatula (nothing else worked.) While I did this, the wife puttered around, doing miscellaneous chores.

Including vacuuming the carpet. Yeah, the stuff that is getting torn up and thrown away,

Sigh. Beats watching cartoons, and at least there were no surprises.

At that time the girls announced that they were hungry. The wife went and got a ‘take and bake” pizza which we ate on the front porch (I almost had to cut it up with a box opener, but found a real knife at the last minute.)

We spent another couple of hours listening to the baby scream while she spread paint and I laid tile.

Three more days until we move.

Uh oh.

Total costs: $2,368

Day 29, Saturday- Ouch

Got started early with the circular saw and chisels. I cut out the rot and repaired the floor beneath. It was nasty, slow, work.

It was then time to start building. The original plan was to build an approximately 2 foot by 2 foot closet at the foot of the tub- the idea was to put a third tile wall behind the tub and provide a little extra storage.

I picked up a small door in Portland a few weeks ago, and cut down a spare door jam I found upstairs. In about an hour I had a nice re-hung door ready to go into the new closet. It was time for lunch, so I headed home for a bite to eat.

I came back and started framing the walls for the storage closet. I built the first wall and hauled it into the bathroom.

Eight foot studs.

Nine foot ceiling.


I took care of that with some creative framing. A half-hour later, it was time to put the newly hung door in place.

Now, who do you suppose had the smart end of the tape? Why, the guy who should’ve been on the dumb end. The closet did not fit. The door wouldn't close- it was too close to the wall and trim. Making it fit left a tiny, useless space that accomplished nothing, not even the protection of the far wall.

Fantastic. Tore it all apart, patched the holes in the walls, and built a nice 4 foot tall stub wall.

Now, it is important to note that I was using a 32 ounce framing hammer to knock 16-penny nails into the studs. See, I was using that hammer to drive finish nails while reinstalling the medicine cabinet. I missed one nail, but hit another.

A fingernail. The one on my middle finger. The same one I smashed pulling the cabinet out.

It is currently black, blue, red, and purple.

At least I got the prep finished.
Primed, taped, and water resistant. Whoo!

Total costs: $2,368