31 May 2009

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode VIII

Episode VIII: Shiver Me Timbers

Thanks to those who thought to call the authorities. I am not rotting among the worms and beetles in the crawl space. It's been sunny here.

My time in the sun, while incrementally addressing my Vitamin D deficiency, ultimately pulled me into yet another episode of housing woes.

There's a planter box in my front yard, about 8'x8', framed by landscaping timbers. The timbers go on to form a retaining wall that runs the length of my driveway. The previous owner -- you all remember him -- the guy who made $100,000 profit from a scant two years of home ownership? The guy who sold me This Old Motherfucking House about a week before the housing slump was announced? Yeah, well, he let grass completely overtake the planter box. Since moving in, I've been showcasing an 8'x8' square of monster grass. Oh, and a Japanese Maple tree. It's in the box, too. I wonder if my neighbors were ever able to reconcile their envy?

Male Offspring, adjusting his iPod about halfway through the de-grassing.

Male Offspring dug out all the grass for me, on account of my lameass frozen shoulder that can't operate a simple manual shovel. Grass roots run deep, people. Deep. Good thing the boy's got first class tickets to the gun show. We found Hens & Chicks (the plants, not the animals) buried in the grass. I rescued them, and replanted them. Took forever. Anyway, my yard was finally going to look nice! I bought plants. Perennials. Forget that annual shit. Go with the ones that come back every year. I also got mulch and peat moss and gardening gloves. Cute ones. The plants are still babies, but by midsummer that box will be bursting with bloomage.

Yeah baby, time for a little respect from the neighbors. That's right.

Right: rescued, replanted Hens & Chicks, plus other formerly buried plants.
Left: monster grass.

Anyway, everything was going fine, until I noticed the retaining wall was falling out toward the driveway at the point where it's supposed to connect to the planter box. Shit. Also the timbers at the front of the planter box were looking dicey. We took out a few pieces to assess the extent of damage, and found some serious rot going on.

Holy hell. I just wanted to plant some friggin' plants and lay some mulch. But that's not how This Old Motherfucking House rolls.

So I spent about $60 on galvanized steel brackets, a drill bit as long as my forearm, and some bigass galvanized screws. The plan was to remove enough dirt that we could pull the retaining wall back in place, reattach everything with the brackets, and call it a day.

Long story short, it didn't work. Apparently, a wood retaining wall is supposed to have vertical support posts sunk in concrete OR these things called "tie backs" -- pieces of wood attached to the wall's backside, buried in the ground, anchoring the wall in place. My retaining wall, of course, had neither.

Who chooses wood in this never-ending rainhole anyway? CheapAss former owners who make a quick profit and leave you with a fucked up house, that's who.

De-grassed dirt and rotting timbers exposed. See the wall falling out toward the driveway?

So we're going with the interlocking concrete block option. The DIY ones that don't need mortar. Yep. Time all is said and done, probably about another $500 dropped on This Old Motherfucking House. At least they won't rot before I sell this joint.

This shit was not even on my summer project list! Here's what was on my summer project list:

1. Re-tile moldyass shower tiles (this is going to be a bitch of a job).
2. Replace 80s wood vanity, fixtures, and cracked bathroom sink.
3. Replace linoleum floor with tile, and paint bathroom walls.
4. Install window blinds.
5. Replace rotting front deck.

Yes, CheapAss Former Owner used 1/2" thick untreated boards to build the front porch. In the Pacific Northwest. Bastard. New lumber and a nail gun or drill that can handle wood screws is going to be several hundred right there. I did not need another outdoor project, people!

Other possible items for the summer project list included:

6. Refinish wood floors formerly covered by urine-spotted burgundy carpet (another bitch of a job)
7. Replace fucked up, mismatched tiles of fireplace hearth.
8. Paint over uglyass dining room paneling
9. Paint TeenDemon's pink and orange walls. This requires some kind textured paint skills, since her walls were spackled by a blindfolded drunk at some point in TOMFH's history.
10. Install closet organization systems.
11. Replace 1980s ceiling fan in dining room.

None of this even touches my 1950s kitchen with its ancient wood cabinets shellacked in Paint Coats of Many Colors, and its olive green and brown laminate counter.

Seriously, I did not need this retaining wall bullshit. And it's got to be scheduled when Male Offspring is home, but he's working overtime on homework and finals so he can leave school early to go visit his dad in friggin' Oman until sometime in July.

Really, Son? You chose world travel, diving certification, and adventure over building a retaining wall?

For now, the front of my de-grassed, soon-to-be-beautiful planter box is not filled with gorgeous trailing plants. Rather, it is being shored up with big bags of mulch, so as to keep the remaining dirt and new baby plants from being washed into the street. Hello, Tackmeister? Nice yard.

I guess I'll have to wait a while for that respect from the neighbors. At least my new roof looks good.

06 May 2009

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode VII

Episode VII: Where's the Heat

It's been a while between TOMFH posts, in part because I apparently skipped the mother of all disasters. I realized this today, upon trying to figure out what episode I was on. (Had I known this was going to be a friggin' series, I'd have paid more attention to the numbering from the beginning.) Click the home.improvement tag for the big picture of my lovely abode.

Anyway, while cleaning up the series numbering, I realized I'd never even mentioned replacing the gutter that fell down in front of my garage door, let alone replacing the roof.

Yes, the roof.

 Last October I actually had to replace the entire roof. I'm sure you all can imagine the cost. I'm sure you can imagine my reaction to discovering the sound of steady dripping, one rainy night at 2am, as I crawled through the attic portal in my closet, juggling my flashlight, plastic buckets, and the wood planks that served as a makeshift crawlway to prevent me from falling between the rafters and crashing through my living room ceiling. Yes, it would've been one hell of a ranting, railing, TOMFH post, but apparently I was too traumatized to write about it.

So. Moving on.

Today's episode. The water heater stopped working.

Yesterday I was home sick. That's another thing -- looking back over my TOMFH series, I realized these things often happen while I am sick. Just one more way this house sticks it to me.

Anyway, a sick day seemed an opportune time to address my maddeningly slow internet, so I called the cable guy. Then I realized he'd have to get behind the TV cabinet. Seeing as there was enough dog hair back there to build another dog, I got out the vacuum. And promptly blew a fuse.

So when Male Offspring said the water wasn't very hot for his shower, I figured I'd blown the water heater fuse too. No biggie. We flipped the breaker switch, figured we'd be back in hot water by morning.

You know where this is going. It wasn't the fuse. Of course it wasn't.

It won't surprise you to know that my water heater, like my furnace, is located under the house. Of course it is. I crawled into the dark maw this morning, but couldn't actually get to the damn thing, due to to the expert job Teen Demon and I had done wrapping it in its own special "water heater blanket". So the damn brokeass thing is warm and cozy, while I am reduced to scrubbing my goosebumps in a cold shower.

No, I am not yet that desperate. I stink. You all know how I am about the cold.

So I am now "troubleshooting". The son remembered that the water had seemed unusually hot the last couple of days. Best case scenario, it overheated, tripping its auto shutoff dealy thing, and I just need to reset it. Those of you who are longtime TOMFH readers know that this most certainly will not be the case. Mid-level scenario, I will need to replace the thermostats, or possibly the elements. As with the oven, I think I can do this myself, although draining the thing will be a bitch, seeing as how it's in the crawl space, below ground level. Worst case scenario, I will waste my money on replacement elements, and after much aggravation, end up buying a whole new water heater, paying some guy with plumber's crack $5,000 an hour for installation, and crawling back under there to wrap the new heater in a new cozy insulation blanket. It's a given that no one will be available for install for at least three days, and I will freeze my ass off taking cold showers, because that's the way This Old Motherfucking House rolls.

If you don't hear from me, tell the authorities to look under the house.

04 May 2009

Luis Ramirez's Murderers Walk

Last August I wrote about the murder of Luis Ramirez. Today I read that his murderers, local football heroes in the small town of Shenandoah Pennsylvania, have been officially deemed not guilty of murder by an all-white jury. Apparently they are merely guilty of "simple assault".

I am sickened, but not surprised.

My original post was called Hate, Murder, and Small Town Football, because it was as much about the particular dynamic between small rural communities and their football heroes as it was about the brutal murder of Luis Ramirez. When I read the details last summer, my first thought was, these boys are going to walk.

Shenandoah is a small town of 5,000 in Pennsylvania. I went to high school in a town of about 6,000 in southern Ohio. When I read the quotes from local police, the histories of the accused boys, and the comments of some of the townspeople, it was familiar territory. Not the murder, but that certain feel within an insulated community of "born 'n raised" folks and the relationship they have with their football team. It's not something that can be found or understood in cities, or even the suburbs. It's not something easily explained. But it is real. Real enough that I knew - and I bet the people of Shenandoah knew - that in the end, these boys would walk.

What message does this verdict send, as our country becomes more and more polarized, the anti-immigration crowd becomes more strident, and Swine Flu is associated with a nationality, a skin color? What message? Will the next drunken mob of high school heroes, amped up on testosterone and hate, take heed from this verdict, or will they feel righteous and invincible?

Last August I hoped justice would win out in the end. I hoped I would be surprised by the verdict. In the end, those boys walked. And I am not surprised.

Photo: Joe Spring, New York Times, Sep-07