Wednesday, November 15, 2006


In Which We Leave the Nest...In Ruins...

Well, as long-time readers may be aware, Her Lovely Self is not to be cheated out of her nesting urge when she is quick with child. But if we are to continue the avian analogy here, I should probably add that HLS does not merely expect me to fly around gathering up choice bits of twine and strong twigs with which to build the nest, oh no. She expects me to chop down the tree (saving it for firewood, natch), rent a backhoe to dig a huge ditch, and then transplant a humongous multi-branch oak on the same site, then bring her nesting materials--blankets, clothesline, fiber-optic cable, a few dozen cinderblocks, a TiVo, that sort of thing.

So forget simply cleaning the house and sorting the closets--that would be like a Caribbean vacation compared to what's been occupying the time I usually reserve for, say, blogging or scratching myself. No, HLS usually finds something major that needs fixing. When she was pregnant with Thomas, she convinced me and my Dad to strip out and rebuild the upstairs bathroom (which my dad ended up doing more or less singlehandedly) because she was worried about the toxic dangers posed by a lead drain pipe in the floor. And of course you know all about my adventure with the back-breaking bush when she was pregnant with the Brownie.

Thus it was that a few weeks ago she decided that the basement needed to be made "more livable," as she so quaintly put it.

"You mean you want me to finish it," I said, imagining a winter spent caked in sheetrock dust and insulation fibers as I sealed concrete walls and wrestled with drop-ceilings and figured out how to install a gas fireplace, not to mention a toilet that could flush upwards.

"No, no," she said, shaking her head. "I just want it more livable."

I just blinked at her for a bit, which is what I do when I'm stalling for time, or am completely nonplussed. More livable? What the hell does that mean?

I finally decided it boiled down to two things:

--A more serious elimination of my collection of CRAP.

--A more sophisticated storage system for the kids' CRAP in their quadrant of the basement.

Obviously, the second thing was the easiest to remedy, so I went out and bought a bunch of those modular storage shelfy thingies and ended up with a 24-foot long wall of cubes, some of which I filled with those cunning storage drawers that you can buy as accessories.


Aside from separating the kids' part of the basement from the furnace and the area where HLS keeps her gardening stuff in the winter, it actually looks kind of nice (not in the above picture, of course, I'm talking in the most general sense here). More importantly, it inspired the kids to keep their part of the basement clean.

Then I set about working on my CRAP, which involved setting aside boxes for donation, boxes for selling on eBay, and boxes for the second annual Giveaway of CRAP (which you thought I had forgotten about, but really I haven't).

While I was doing this, HLS came down and eyed the back wall of my area of the basement. Along this back wall, the previous owners had installed a simple but effective utility shelf, all wood construction, about 20-feet long.

"I could really use that for my winter gardening plans," she said in a strange, dreamy voice. "I could install grow-lights in the tops of the shelves and have lots of plants."

"But...but where will I put these five boxes of my old Mego action figures?" I asked, when what I should have said was. "Are you kidding? That thing weighs 200 pounds and there's no way in hell I'll be able to drag it 40 feet across the basement floor to your side."

But as it turned out, I was able to wedge thick carpet scraps under each end of the thing and thus slide it across the floor, just like the ancient druids did when they built Stonehenge (although they might not have used bits of Stainmaster carpet).

To my surprise, the move created this unusual anomaly: an actual empty space in the basement.


While I was doing this, I began to realize the only way to head this nesting urge off was to go one better, to do something HLS would never expect. I decided the best thing to do was to turn her area of the basement into a gardening center. In addition to the massive wooden shelf (which I finally jockeyed into position after an hour of making noises like a constipated wildebeest), HLS also has, of course, the indoor greenhouse shelfy thing I made for her last year so there would be no shortage of places to put plants. What she lacked, however, was a source of water. We have no sink in the basement and last winter I remembered how she used to cart water--or make me cart water--down the stairs like a one-man bucket brigade. I looked over at the stack pipe leading down from the upstairs bathrooms. We could probably cut in there and install a drain, I thought. How hard would that be?

The answer, surprisingly, was not very, especially when your dad is on hand for a few weeks to direct your efforts. With the help of a utility sink kit from the local home improvement store, and a little bit of rerouting of the plumbing over to the corner, we ended up with a pretty decent looking sink, right in the same neighborhood as the gardening shelves.


And look: See that pipe sticking out of the wall? The one with the green slinky hanging from it? That's actually a hose, see, so HLS can stretch it over to her shelves of plants and just spray away. Neat, huh? Isn't that neat? My idea.

But sometimes home improvement projects can be something of an old blanket: just when you think you're covered, you notice a loose thread, give a tug and suddenly you've got a big gaping hole that needs filling. Or worse, the whole fucking thing falls apart, and then where are you? That's right: you're standing in a pile of yarn (but hey, at least some bird could use it to build a nest, right?).

In our case, as we were installing the sink, Dad and I quickly realized that any water that came splashing up from the sink would soak the small portion of basement wall around the window that is not made of concrete, but actual wood. All the previous owners had done to cover and insulate these walls was to tape thin layers of Styrofoam over them. Most of that Styrofoam had long since broken or flaked away and was a health hazard anyway (can you imagine a newborn being drawn to all those pebbles of foam and stuffing them in her mouth by the fistful? Well, I can.). So we realized that not only would the remaining Styrofoam have to go, but the wood would have to be covered up with proper drywall. And we'd need a backsplash for the sink so the drywall wouldn't become wetwall. And as long as we were putting in proper walls, it was probably a good idea to run some wire from one of the junction boxes and install a few outlets so that HLS wouldn't have to plug all of her grow-lights into one precarious panel dangling from a single outlet.

You wouldn't think that sort of thing would take very long--or maybe you would, I don't know. Ultimately, it only boiled down to about two weekends of work, plus about three nights of extra work, after I demonstrated my ingenious feature of the sink and failed to realize that the pressure in the green slinky hose was more or less equivalent to that used to fight a hi-rise fire. Thus, when I squeezed the hose nozzle, the hose leapt from my hand, smashed me in the nose, then hit the basement floor. The impact, naturally, jammed the nozzle open so that the hose began whipsawing around like a snake on crack, spraying everyone in a 20-foot radius (which would be everyone in the basement), but me most of all.

I'd like to tell you I exhibited great presence of mind by shutting the water off using the handy check-valve I had installed. But in the moment, being soaked to the skin and surrounded by screaming children and pregnant wives and a barking dog an all, I sort of panicked and grabbed at the impromptu sprinkler, finally sitting on it like a rookie fire fighter trying to recover his firehose. That's when the high-power jet of water hit me square in the face, briefly turning my left nostril into a small but lively spillway.

Choking and sputtering, I tugged and tugged on the nozzle switch, but it was hopelessly stuck. Finally, I got a clue and turned the stream towards the sink, but as I did, the water hit a loose panel of sheetrock that was lying at an angle, which briefly deflected the water straight up to the ceiling.

Right into the open electrical junction box I had just finished wiring.

There was an impressive crackling noise like you used to hear on those old Flash Gordon movie serials, just after someone yells, "Activate the Death Ray!!!" And then the entire basement was plunged into a moist and uncomfortable darkness.

And still the water sprayed on, which took me a few seconds to realize, since I was convinced I had just been electrocuted and hadn't quite gotten over that (and still am not. Oh sure, I got zapped a little bit--not hard enough, as Her Lovely Self would later comment--but it was only for a second. What can I say? I'm a lucky guy. Of course, having circuit breakers that trip when I do stupid stuff like this doesn't hurt either).

I'm pleased to report that eventually I found the check valve and shut off the water and we all blindly squelched our way up the darkened stairs, sounding--and pretty much feeling--like extras in a low-budget zombie movie.

But that's all in the past. And once I found a few (dozen) old towels and mopped the floor and replaced a couple of pieces of unpainted sheetrock and threw out the worst of the sodden cardboard boxes and stacked everything in the driest corner of the basement and rewired the junction box and one or two other minor details, the basement ended up looking really nice.

Well, I guess I should say my wife's quadrant of the basement ended up looking really nice.

My section of the basement--being the driest part--still needs a little work.


Guess I better get working on the new CRAP giveaway, huh?

From Somewhere on the Masthead

MM, your story reminded me of my last trip home where I dropped a bottle of beer when getting it out of the fridge, which shattered. In the ensuing cleanup, I decided to pull the refrigerator out to sweep up any glass that may have gotten underneath it...and then the water line connecting to the icemaker decided to break, spewing water everywhere. Such a fun evening of repair, that was. Sounds like your basement project turned out well, in the end, and looking forward to your next giveaway.
Even when you're gone for a couple of days you always come back with the BEST stories. I can't wait for the next C.R.A.P. giveaway!!!
I'm starting to believe that it is physically impossible for you to do anything without a hilarious sit-com following you. It's like you're like a cartoon character with your own personal storm cloud—you know the kind I'm talking about? The ones that don't get anyone else wet but stick around to torture for the amusement of the dry others.

Thanks for the laugh! But how come you didn't post pictures of the completed indoor garden space masterpiece?
Oh, MM--you're a good husband. An occasionally slightly clutzy and unusually prone to injury one, but a good one nonetheless. As always HLS is a vrey lucky woman. I hope the Bean's been going easy on her. :)

I'd like garden shelves and grow lights in *my* basement...

Hmm, where's my husband?
I needed a coffee spewing laugh today!
Thanks. You are a hoot.

From the looks of your corner, you've got the next century of CRAP giveaways covered!
So, um, you and your dad want to come over and remodel my kitchen? Can you at least come over and have a beer with my husband in hopes that your enthousiasm for doing such tasks for your lovely wife will rub off on him??
MM,you're back! I love the hose and the sink, too. HLS is going to enjoy them both I'm sure. More than that, though, I was delighted, yes delighted, by the description of your left nostril as a small but lively spillway. I hope it all happened quickly, at least.
You motherfucker.

You have a tie fighter.
wish i had a basement. that would be awesome!
you never fail to bring a smile to my face with a new post!!!
How hard can it be?

That mantra is stated over and over again in our house. It usually means the project will take quite a bit longer than anticipated and require a few more stops to Home Depot.
Hah! Right up until that last photo I was thinking you had done an amazing job of cleaning up and organizing the basement. Had me fooled, you did.

And whenever I get around to owning a home and need work done on it, can I borrow yourself and your dad. No, wait, just your dad will do :-D
Great story! I'm sure I'm not the only one that missed you this past week.

I've read the archives of your 1st Giveaway of C.R.A.P., and I can't wait for this one! I've already started brainstorming about what I can bid.

Good luck to HLS. Hope things are going well for her.
Hey, send your Dad over here for a bit, will ya? I soooo need our basement finished. I am tired of crawling over the kids toys in the living room.

It's not that my hubby won't do it, it just he's working super long hours these days and we can't find the time.

I need a retired father/grandfather type with building experience to come on over. We'd feed him well and the kids would be thrilled with his stories! :)
WEll I didn't know that my converting my blog to the new beta blogger would make me not be able to comment on non beta blogs... GRRRRRRRRRR... anyway, can't wait to find out what you have in your basement of crap this time around and just what the rules of the game will be...
duh and that last comment was mine,
Well, hose mishap aside, I think the utility sink is pretty darn cool. Good job, MM!
I can't wait for the New Crap giveaway. You totally made my last year with it!! I'll even send you the postage if I am lucky enough to be honored by being selected to receive one of your treasures.
Be glad you and HLS are not wrens.

The male wren builds ten or a dozen nests, then puts on a big singing display. If he is lucky enough to win the approval of a female, she will choose one of his nests, rip it apart, and start building a new one in the same place.

It's hilarious watching a tiny bird trying to fit a 5 inch twig into a birdhouse opening only an inch in diameter.
Holy Crap! That is a bunch of crap.
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