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home repairs are like zombies
april 1, 2018
It doesn't take us too long in life to realize things go wrong, and when they do, it's best to right them fairly soon, there's this whole other bunch of stuff that's going to go wrong in the near future, and you don't want them to pile up, because that's just plain dispiriting.
Home repairs are like zombies. One's not too bad. All you really need is agility and a long screwdriver. Get four or five though, and it can be a problem. You get surrounded. Fixing a drainage problem in the kitchen sink is shambling towards you, gray jaws opening, but unbeknownst to you, power shorting out in the chandelier on the landing halfway up the stairs is creeping up towards the back of your shoulders.
As a kid you gear up to go to the dentist, you're nervous, fearful, reading magazines too big for your small hands in the silent waiting room of old-fashioned chairs, photographs on the walls of children the dentist snapped while in some impoverished country sometime in the unspecified past, grinning behind the viewfinder, get called back, sit in the big chair padded for your discomfort, eyes wide, that bright circular light swung above your scrunched face, tray of steel instruments on your right, above your teeth the dentist's hairy forearms, white plastic gloves, and even as you endure that like a brave little boy or girl, sneakers shifting, you at some point spitting out, lying back again against the discomfort, realize this isn't a one-and-done deal. You're going to have to endure this misery over and over and over and over again for the rest of your life, the rest of your life, rest of your life, over and over and over again every six months.
And that's what life is. Having to take care of stuff you don't want to, over and over and over and over again, for as long as you're alive.
Your side by side has stopped making ice. So you know you have to make a call to have a repair guy come out (I was going to say repair person, but the truth is, for all the decades we've had to summon someone for repairs, whenever the doorbell has ding-donged, it's always been a male on the door mat.)
But you put off the repair because you don't want to have to swing your tall dark-wood front door open and pretend to be cheerful, go through the hassle of having strangers in your home, leading them through the rooms like a fucking tour guide, "This is the Moore's kitchen where they prepare their meals, and over there is where they used to have a reliable source for ice", you sitting somewhere in the near vicinity of where they're working, pretending to read a book while they're standing in front of your side by side, to make sure they don't steal…I don't know. Some of your spoons? Your recipe for the perfect meatloaf?
You'll just get by making ice cubes the old-fashioned way, in ice cube trays, like your grandmother, and eventually you'll call them out. But then your dishwasher starts flooding soapy water across your kitchen floor near the end of each cycle, so now you have two things you have to correct. And then your Internet service goes out, so now you have to have three sets of repairmen come out.
And that's dispiriting.
On the other hand, there are some problems you can, indeed, put off.
Let me give you an example.
We have three bathrooms in our home.
One bathroom is part of the master bedroom suite at the rear of our first floor, accessed through a short hallway off our kitchen. Near the two-story front hallway of our first floor, there's a powder room. On the second floor, where the guest bedrooms are, although we use them for different purposes, and the large loft space, which I use as my study, there's a third bathroom in the upstairs hallway.
A while ago, the toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom developed a crack. So that it would be uncomfortable sitting on that seat. You'd get pinched. Painfully. Nobody wants that. Life is challenging enough, there's so much injustice in this world already, rape, murder, getting unfriended on Facebook, without you getting bitten by a toilet seat every time you sit down to take a shit.
So we ordered a replacement seat.
It arrived in a brown cardboard shipping box.
Over the decades, I've developed, out of necessity as a home owner, an expertise in fixing bathroom problems. Ball cock assembly not working? Water dribbling into the toilet after a flush? Let me get in there with my magic fingers. That may well wind up being my legacy. Chiseled onto my tombstone. Husband, writer, fixer of toilets. "Livin' the Good Life".
So one morning after replacing the batteries in the upstairs smoke alarm so it didn't keep emitting that irritating high-pitched beep, and dumping all the ice from the ice-maker into large bowls to loosen all the ice welded into one large mass at the bottom of the ice bin, I got down on my knees in front of the toilet, unscrewed the old toilet seat, screwed into place the new seat. And immediately saw the problem.
The new seat was so thick it couldn't be completely screwed down. Which meant you couldn't fully raise the seat and lid combination all the way back, and have it stay in the Up position. Instead, once the lid and seat were raised, they'd immediately start lowering.
Let's explore this. If you had to take a shit, or if a woman had to urinate, you had to raise the lid, then quickly sit your bare ass down on the seat, the lid lowering against your back a moment later, tapping against your spine, as if patting you on the back, which depending on your current mood could be either reassuring, or slightly creepy. It wasn't an ideal solution.
But it was even worse if you were a male and had to pee.
You had to raise both the lid and the seat, then quickly aim and urinate as the seat slowly lowered, desperately trying to finish urinating before the lowering seat entered your stream, spraying urine sideways. That meant trying to push out urine faster than you ever had in your life, and often having to lower your knees again and again while you were pissing, to keep your stream below the lowering seat. I shouldn't have to do that at this point in my saga. It doesn't really spell, You have succeeded in your life's journey.
But I can put up with it. For now. It's not urgent, like the Internet going out.
As long time readers of these Latelys know, we've had a persistent problem with wildlife getting into our attic.
The thing is, although we've lived in cities and suburbs, we now live out in the country. And we provide water and food for the wildlife in our backyard. Every morning, squirrels hop across the tops of the privacy fences at the rear of our neighbors' properties to get to our property, jumping up into our trees to race down the branches to our multiple birdbaths and birdfeeders. Rabbits emerge from our hollyhock and red fontina hedges. We've seen possums out there, turtles the size of dinner plates, road runners, pheasants, raccoons, a bob cat once balanced on top of our privacy fence, snakes, lots of lizards of various sizes, tons of hopping frogs, cardinals, blue jays, robins, sparrows, mockingbirds, hummingbirds, butterflies, hawks, and eagles.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that raccoons eventually found their way up onto our roof, climbing across the large, spreading branches of the crepe myrtle in our backyard, their black and gray furred weight lowering the limb to touch the roof, where their paws step off and gnaw their way through a soffit into our attic.
I can hear their heaviness each early morning crawling and occasionally running above the white ceiling over my head while I'm upstairs lighting the first cigarette of the day, petting Sweet Pea's head, logging onto the Internet. Not a pleasant sound. Raccoons can be vicious. Any day of the week, I'd much rather deal with a six-foot snake than a pissed-off raccoon.
But raccoons were basically a, We'll fix it when we feel like it problem. Like the lowering toilet seat. It wasn't an urgent problem, like the dishwasher flooding, or the Internet service going out.
The past three months, we haven't had to go for doctor appointments or to get prescription drugs, so after a few weeks of not seeing any other human being other than ourselves, and it was glorious, we thought, Okay, this is a good time to take care of the raccoons.
The outer walls of our home are solid brick, classical red brick, rather than wood. Mice can clamber straight up a brick wall, and in fact I've seen two of them doing just that. But we don't care about mice. They're easy to take care of. It's the raccoons we were worried about.
Raccoons can't climb straight up outside walls of a home. They make their way up a tree, find a branch stretching out to the roofline, tightrope across that limb, then drop onto the shingles and waddle their weight to a hole gnawed into the attic.
I went on the Internet and researched different tree trimmers who could cut back all the limbs, hedges, saplings that allowed access to our roof.
Whenever I look for a service on the Internet, I do put some value on customer ratings.
A lot of the trimmers had bad reviews. "Didn't arrive when they said they would. Failed to clean up their mess afterwards." "Quoted one price, but then demanded a much larger payment once they were finished."
I did find one company that received great, five-star reviews. "Professional, customer satisfaction oriented, a joy to work with." I made the call, arranged for them to come out the next day, Friday, between ten and eleven for a free quote.
Hung up the phone, my work here is done, got back in bed with Mary, we started watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the phone rang, and I could see by the onscreen display in the upper left corner of our 4K TV screen that it was our next door neighbor.
It's important to stay on good terms with your neighbors.
It was Peggy. We're blessed to have Jim and Peggy as our neighbors. They're good people, about our age, and we've had a friendship now for close to thirty years, even though we rarely get a chance to talk anymore.
She was calling as a courtesy to let us know she and Jim had hired a tree trimmer to come the next day to trim the thick branches of a large live oak in their side yard. That live oak was one of the trees we were going to have trimmed (on our side of the property line), because over the decades its branches had extended to our roofline, allowing animals an easy highway to our shingles. Over the phone, I offered to have Mary and me pay for trimming that particular limb, since we were going to have it done anyway, but she kindly insisted she and Jim would pay for it, since the tree itself was on their property. The trimmer they had hired was someone they had used several times in the past. He was conscientious about his work, cleaned up afterwards, and charged reasonable rates.
After I hung up and relayed the conversation to Mary, I got to thinking. We didn't know anything about the trimmers we were having come out for an estimate, but here was this trimmer Jim and Peggy were using, who had a proven track record. So I called her back, got his name and number, contacted him to do a quote for our work once he finished our neighbors' work. I saw it as a win-win-win situation. Jim and Peggy would benefit because the trimmer they did repeated business with would have positive feelings towards our neighbors since they had gotten him new business; the trimmer would benefit because he'd have reduced costs for our job, since his crew and equipment were already on site; Mary and I would benefit because since he had reduced operational costs, already being on site, we should get a good rate.
Once he did finish with our neighbors, he knocked on our door, and I led him around to our backyard, showing him all the weed trees we needed to have cut down, well over a dozen; the huge, spreading crepe myrtle thirty feet high we needed drastically trimmed; the weed trees I had previously sawed down; holly hedges that had to be pruned away from the roof, etc.; all the downed limbs hauled off our property. Mary and I had estimated a fee of five hundred to a thousand dollars. He made a lot of calculations with a pen on his clipboard, finally looked up. "I can do all of this for you-"
"-And haul it all off the property."
"-And haul it all off the property, for three hundred and seventy-five dollars."
Surprised, overjoyed, but of course I didn't show that on my face. Took in his quote, looked up at the trees, squinting, bent my head in thought, looked into his eyes. "Okay. Yeah. Okay." We shook hands.
He told me his crew was going to take a break for lunch, then get going. They finished in about two hours. Lots of chainsaw noises, long silences, beyond our pulled-down mini-blinds.
When he was finished, another knock at the front door, and the two of us went around the property to inspect his work for approval and payment.
I have to tell you, I was really impressed with what his crew had done.
They had not only gotten rid of all the weed trees, and severely chopped back the crepe, trimmed the holly hedge, but had also weeded all our flower beds. Our backyard looked twenty years younger. For three hundred and seventy-five dollars!
It made me feel really good. Here was a problem, raccoons having access to our roof we had been aware of for a long lot of years, and after all those many years, we had finally addressed the problem, and solved it. One less chore to accomplish.
I pulled out my checkbook. Wouldn't you?
"Two problems, though?"
"Do you see that large limb hanging over your powerlines at the rear of your property?"
Looking up, following his pointed finger, I did.
"In a strong wind storm, that limb is going to snap off and fall on your powerlines, pulling them out. No more power. You should get that fixed very soon, Sir."
"But even worse." He pointed at the roofline over the rear of our master bedroom. "Do you see that tearing up of the shingles at the ridge?"
I looked where he was pointing, but didn't see anything. Part of the problem was I wasn't sure what he meant by 'ridge'.
And then, finally, I saw it.
At the front of the roofline, at its apex, the shingles were lifted up, ragged.
"The raccoons, or whatever creature, have chewed a large hole down through the roof shingles into your attic." He held both his hands up at waist level, index and thumb on either hand forming a parenthesis separated by about six inches. "Rain will pour down into that hole, wetting the ceiling of the room below, weakening the plaster board until it collapses, growing mold."
So once again, we had resolved one problem, but opening up two new problems.
And in that moment, standing out in our backyard with the polite tree-trimmer, writing a check, scrawling numbers and words across the check's small rectangle, bending the checkbook under the pressure from my pen, it was dispiriting.
Because it never ends.