Tag Archives: home

Tool Time

I’m handy.

Correction: I believe I am handy. I have an uncharacteristic can-do attitude when it comes to doing things that I believe I know something about, which includes pretty much everything to do with the house and our garden.

Just to be perfectly up front, this confidence is probably misplaced.

It’s not like I’m some sitcom husband, making disastrous and not very hilarious mistakes in the process of proving my spouse to be correctly exasperated with what an idiot I am for, say, trying to fix the back steps with a watering can and a table saw. I’ve seen most of the stuff I’m trying to do get done. My parents did major construction on all of our houses, much of it themselves, so I’ve witnessed concrete footers being poured, landscapes being leveled, and sheetrock being put up with nail guns. I helped roof my first house when I was eight, which, now that I mention it, was probably not age-appropriate. To be fair to my parents, I don’t think our house or any of the roofing products had any labels like A.’s toys that said, “3+ years,” or, in this case, “16+ years.” Maybe the house’s label was on the bottom. That’s usually where it is. I can see how they missed it.

All this exposure to handiness gave me the impression that a.) all this stuff was possible to do with minimal assistance from professionals, and b.) I was equal to the task.

Both of these impressions are more or less wrong.

Just because my parents didn’t hire professionals didn’t mean the job was getting done right or efficiently, but who was I to judge? I was six and constructing complicated mud pies in the dig area, and then twelve with an impressive backhoe in my backyard, and then fourteen with my dad headed to the emergency room for accidentally cutting the back of his hand open with a chainsaw. That shit is distracting for quality control.

And on that second point, in case you never tried jumping off a tiny platform two stories up to catch a narrow swinging trapeze bar, seeing something isn’t the same as doing it. It wasn’t like I was taking notes when I was eleven and pouring cupfuls of granulated insulation down into the cement block walls of our new basement (which, incidentally, was holy God freezing all the time, so let’s just assess how that all worked out).

What I’m getting at is that not all my This Old House undertakings end with the quick, clean success I came to expect from a childhood foundation of witnessing DIY, mostly unfinished construction jobs. Fancy that.

Most of my projects take considerably longer than I expect, require knowledge that I don’t have, and would be a lot easier with tools that I don’t own. Hence our $800 water bill the first month we lived in our new house: I know how to fix a running toilet! Of course I do! We had an antique one at House #2! Ha ha – you silly house owners without my knowledge, having to call a plumber and pay him all your money! I will fix this myself with only the plumber’s tape that I, the construction-literate genius that I am, just happen to have lying around! It’s as if I were a professional contractor! What’s that you say? $800? For spending the month getting all pruney in my bath of superiority instead of calling a plumber for a fraction of that cost? No one needs to hear from you Mr. Know It All. There’s no need to take a tone with me.

So that happened.

The latest Fix Me! incident was a giant tree branch half snapping off our tree in a storm oh, about two months ago. My noticing and assessment of the situation was like lightning. My subsequent trying to pull it down with brute force and calculated leverage was unsuccessful and could very nearly have led to a head wound. Oh yeah: I forgot to mention in my catalog of misjudgments that I often get hurt. R. usually predicts this and warns against it, but he clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he only has a PhD and no background watching grown-ups do construction work while climbing on a nearby jungle gym.

After a few weeks, I borrowed the right tool to cut down the branch. Great success. Then it lay in the yard for a month because I didn’t have the other right tool to cut it up into pieces that the compost guy would pick up in our bin. I needed a saw. Like the saw I have used every year to hack at the base of our Christmas tree because I refused to invest in a Christmas tree stand big enough for the giant tree I select every year. (What? Christmas is awesome. Back off.)

Our tree to stand ratio is like the older men with half-shaded glasses who work on used car lots: super rotund in the middle, tapering down to skinny little legs and thin shoes on the bottom. The last year I whittled our tree’s stump down to the size of a toothpick, I was six months pregnant, out on our freezing and wet deck and R. was away on a business trip, before which I had 100% totally promised him I would not try to put the tree up by myself. I don’t know why he believed me. I’m a terrible liar.

We got a bigger stand after that. But I needed that Christmas tree saw to deal with this giant tree branch. It was about fourteen feet long with half a dozen sturdy side branches coming off it. I couldn’t find the saw though, probably because my search was hampered by the fact that I didn’t really want to find it. If slimming down a Christmas tree trunk took an hour, all my strength and most of my holiday patience to get the job done, this tree branch + that saw was going to = me sawing off my ankle or something. I needed a new saw.

Two minutes in the saw aisle at Home Depot with Wikipedia up on my iPhone informed me that we had been using a hack saw designed for cutting narrow plastic pipes to take big slabs out of a pine tree trunk. Huh. Well that explains that. Maybe this year we should select a tree with a narrow plastic pipe running up through it. That’s the correct takeaway from the situation, right?

Let’s just say that all’s well that ends well. Instead of replacing our hard-working hack saw, I purchased a hand saw which is what we needed all along. It worked really well. The tree branch is gone. So just shut up about it taking five Christmases worth of blisters and sweat, plus two months of half a tree splayed out in our tiny yard for me to figure out which $14 saw I needed. I got the job done. So yeah, I’m handy.

Ri. Diculous.


I know everyone says they need more space, but we’re different. We really do need more space. Really.

We live in a studio apartment. Two of us. And we’re not twenty-three or impoverished, so we have no excuse. Our studio was about the right size for one of us before the other of us, who shall remain nameless, moved in with the other one of us.

All right, it was me. I moved in and ruined it for everybody. Space-wise, that is. Since we’re engaged and having a baby, I’m going to be free with my assumption that I didn’t ruin everything.

Why do we stay in our too-small place? Because we live in the sunniest neighborhood of this foggy city, and our little flat gets morning light in the bedroom, evening light in the living room and has a big deck with a view of over San Francisco Bay and pots of roses and lavender. It’s a nice little oasis in a town I otherwise find pretty grim.

We’re not complete idiots: we’ve tried to move. But all the other houses, apartments, condos, tracts of land, what have you that we’ve looked at face only east, only west, or neither. The apartments don’t have decks. The houses’ yard/gardens (yardens?) are all enclosed and low-light or tiered down the side of a hill and what the hell do you do with a tiered garden? Grow rice? Display stuff? Display rice? No one can grill or play properly on a slope. Unless you’re into sledding, in which case good luck in San Francisco, you poor winter-loving bastard.

I’m getting off my point though. My point is that if you live in a space that’s about half the size of the space you need, at least twice a year, you face the music and tear the place apart, eliminating a bit of kitchenware here, boxing up a set of psychology books there. Since I’m way too organized, I can’t just toss stuff into boxes until all the clutter has been cleared to storage or Goodwill.

I clear by category. Everything in the kitchen is under review. Have we riced any potatoes lately? (Be grateful it was just Thanksgiving, potato ricer.) Cored any pineapples? (Yes.) Do we really need bowls? (Yes.) Eleven jars of mustard? (No…unless that mustard-only Christmas plan comes through.) All the books get reviewed, as does all the stuff in the bathroom, the closets and so on. Which means the place – the tiny place – is a complete shambles for however long it takes.

I agree: I’m kind of a nightmare. But it’s a really organized nightmare.

I spent this last weekend on just such a nightmare (which dragged on even longer than usual ’cause I’m also busy growing another person, which, it turns out, is tiring), and I’m a little on edge. All right, a lot on edge. I don’t like mess. And then, just as my hand grasped the air beyond the end of my rope, it happened: that perfect moment when everything around you falls into perspective. Flipping through some about-to-be-recycled magazine, I saw it: Hoarders, the new reality series from A&E.

I thought they were kidding, but they weren’t. I thought it was maybe The Onion, but it wasn’t. They’re actually producing a show on people who live in the tunnels among the back issues of National Geographic 1962-1980.

(What the hell has become of A&E, by the way? Doesn’t “A&E” stand for “arts and entertainment” not “ass-bad execution”? Their web site is one scary browsing experience.)

The Hoarders home page encouraged me to “Watch full episodes,” but I just couldn’t do it. I get the gist from the photos, and it is all-over scary: people whose perms and dental work were updated the last time they went vacuum cleaner shopping in 1971. Scanning the before/after section is no more inspiring. The houses the team uncovers under all the garbage are pretty terrible and what’s the incentive in that?

Speaking of which, it’s not technically a “hoard” when you just let the place go to hell. Merriam’s defines a hoard as “a supply or fund stored up and often hidden away.” I’m not sure dead cats qualify as a “supply” and the mountains of crap are definitely not “hidden away.” But I’m quibbling. These guys are definitely hoarding the crazy.

Here’s what I’m getting at: our place is just not that bad and your place probably isn’t either. Sure, I have too many back issues of The Believer (which I don’t even like) and the forthcoming Christmas tree is going to squash up against our DVD collection (which R refuses to watch because it’s not HD enough), but mostly we’re clean livin’. No one’s dentures have gone missing in the trash heap and we haven’t lost track of any pets in the clutter, so we’re good. Relativity to the rescue!

Now if I could just find that National Geographic from April 1969, I’d feel all safe inside.