Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dispatches from Here: Random Notes from Away from Home

So much to write about here at work camp. Not that it's camp, exactly, in that I sleep in a bed and, though I do often cook food with fire, it is propane fire, on the gas stovetop and on the barbecue Mom had installed on the patio back in the day. But it's work camp in that I'm here mostly alone, and will be until I get all of this shit done. For those just tuning in, I'm in Florida renovating Mom's condo so I can rent it out for a few years, in the hope that the real estate market will, if not rebound, then at very least liven up a little. People who know tell me it ought to, if I can just hold out for a couple of years. I hope that they are right.

It was difficult, at first. Not only because there was more to do than there is now, but because all of Mom's things were still here, in all of the places she kept them. Mom was a bit of a hoarder, you see. Not like the people on that show Hoarders, who sometimes save their own waste. But Mom just couldn't bring herself to throw away something that was still useful, a trait I find I have inherited somehow. In some ways, it was quite impressive. Mom never lost anything. Every tupperware had the original lid, even the stuff I remember from my childhood, stuff we used in the '70s. Every appliance had the manual, usually immediately to hand, near the thing itself. Every nook and cranny of storage was filled, and treasures abounded. I found a coffee warmer circa 196?, still in the original packaging and clearly never not once used. Where did I find such a wonder, you ask? In the laundry closet, in the downstairs bathroom, on the shelf above the dryer, behind the fabric softener, under a box of sterling silver holiday trays that for all I know date back to my parents' wedding.

But that was ages ago, subjectively speaking, though it was less than a month in chronological time. So much has happened and so much has changed since then that it's almost hard to believe. Funny how time seems to dilate the more you have to do and the more that is happening. Even though the time itself seems to pass all the more quickly as you flail day after day through a to do list like a hydra (every time you get one thing done, two more pop up to take its place). Once it's past, the time stretches out. A week passes, but you feel a month older.

Thanks in no small part to my good friend Heidi, who I've hired to help me get through this monster list of things that need doing, the stuff is gone, carted off to Goodwill and the dump. What remains is all downstairs now. It's as if I live in a spacious studio apartment, downstairs from a construction site. The upstairs is mostly painted, except for the closet in my old room and the high wall in the stairwell, the one I need the sixteen foot ladder to get to all of. Luckily I spent a year and a half on a roofing crew once, so ladders don't scare me. They make me sad and angry sometimes, but they don't scare me.

I'll get around to finishing the painting eventually. Probably when I'm ready to move back upstairs and start painting the downstairs. But before that there is tiling. So much tiling.

Actually, it's only about six hundred square feet. It just feels like much, much more, because I'm a DIY kind of guy, so I'm doing it myself.

On the plus side, I'm starting to get the hang of it, and I think it'll start going faster now. On the minus side, tile is heavy, as is the concrete mortar in which you set it, and every single piece requires effort, concentration, and that little je ne sais quoi that is the difference between a craftsman and somebody with a Home Depot card. Needless to say, I'm trying hard to be or at least become the former and not the latter. I've only fucked up a little so far.

Having so much ground to cover, I was obliged to buy two pallets of tile, which was of sufficient bulk that I had to rent a truck from the Home Depot in order to move it from the store to the condo. I was warned that the tiles were from two different dye lots, which fact engendered some trepidation, but I was told I could just mix and match them and it would look ok, so I wasn't too worried. Turns out that, though you can tell the tiles are slightly different looking, the difference isn't much.

What I didn't expect is that the two lots are different sizes.

It isn't much. I can totally picture the guy at the factory (or quarry, or whatever) setting the machine and getting it just a little bit off (it's less than 1/8 of an inch), so little that probably nobody'd ever pick up on it. But it matters. Cheese on rice does it fucking matter.

At first Heidi and I thought that the thing to do was to go ahead and mix and match, figuring if we split up the lots, then the joint where they met would look funny. So we spent a whole day laying alternating tile, being super-careful to keep the order right and all that, so that the whole thing would look uniform. The problem, as I discovered when I went back up later, was that it makes the seams, which ought to be nice and straight, kind of zig zag back and forth. It's barely noticeable, mostly just one of those things that doesn't seem quite right, but you can't quite put your finger on it, and it makes you confused. But I noticed. And so I decided that I needed to change course, and do the rest of my room in the smaller tile, and save the larger for Mom's old room, the master bedroom. In the end, I think it'll be fine. But it makes doing the rest of my room kind of extra challenging, because some of the seams are set at different widths because of the larger tiles that I've already laid (and no, there is no pulling up tile, not without a jackhammer and a lot of very loud and probably quite nasty swearing), which means that I've got to do some of the spacing by eye, instead of just putting the spacers in, shifting the tile into place, and scraping up the excess mortar. Which is, as you might expect, kind of a pain in the ass. It's doable, and I'm doing it, and there's only one that I messed up badly enough that I might have to bust out the hammer and chisel. But it makes it all go slower, which makes me sad and angry, because even though I like the interruption in my previous lifestyle (because it shakes my head loose of some habits of thinking and living, which is often quite good for a person), I want to get home, so I can get to all the projects waiting for me there. Also my girlfriend is there, which if you've ever had one, you know they like it when you're around, and you like it too, because they let you sleep next to them and tell you nice things like: "I love you" and "You are very smart/sexy/funny/good-looking. Come here and kiss me." And you do, because it's awesome.

But the tiling must be paced. It is difficult, heavy work that makes a man's back hurt and tires him out more quickly than he thinks is right or reasonable. With luck, this will get better, and I have already purchased a back brace to help with the pain and a corded drill to mix the concrete with (the cordless batteries seem to get used up too quickly).

In the end, it will be worth it. If I do rent the place for a few years, it'll save me from having to replace the carpet between renters, and should increase the value of the place when it comes time to sell. People in Florida like tile after all. It's cool, and easy to clean, and it lasts forever, unlike carpet, which lasts for a good long while but absorbs odors and stains and liquids and keeps them forever, no matter how careful you are or how good your vacuum is. But for now, as my grandfather used to say, oh my aching back.

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