A mark on the wall…

I signed the contract for my bathroom renovation back in September. A few days before Christmas I got an email from the contractor stating that all supplies are backlogged, half the employees are out with the Great Plague, and every project they have is running way, way behind. Here we are in May, five months hence, and I’ve finally talked to the company’s operations manager and have a tentative start date plugged into the calendar towards the end of the month. At long last, there’s a mark on the wall.

Look, I’ve loathed the master bathroom in this house since the first time I saw the place. I almost took a pass on the house because of it. The giant tub and no shower made it mostly dead space to me. For the last seven years it has been serving as a glorified hallway where I kept the cat’s food and litter box and that I have to walk through to get to the master closet. Aside from the very big windows facing the woods and excellent natural lighting, it has no redeeming qualities at all. The room is cold as blue hell in the winter and for reasons I’ve never managed to figure out, has no particular aesthetic at all. It’s as if the original owners realized three days before they finished construction that they needed a master bathroom and scrounged up whatever parts and pieces they could on short notice.

I’m not saying this new bathroom is going to be particularly beautiful, but it’s damned well going to be functional. I’m cautiously optimistic that the designer (probably) didn’t let me get the overall look and feel too far out of whack. I mean it all looks good enough on the renderings, but there’s no way of telling what it’s really going to look like until it’s all there live and in person… which now looks like it’ll be sooner rather than later.

My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that I haven’t spent tens of thousands of dollars on something I’ll hate once it’s all thrown together… Though the simple fact that I won’t have to schlep down the hall to shit, shower, and shave every morning will go a long way in making it a favorable outcome. Being able to do it all with toasty warm floor tiles will probably seal the deal regardless of appearance… and then I can rack and stack the list again and see what project is next.

Sometimes good things happen…

I went to the office today. That’s rarely the start of a good news story. As often as not, it’s the lead off line to some mind bending bureaucratic asshattery that’s driven my blood pressure up by 20 or 30 points. Plenty of that happened today, of course, but that’s not what I’m choosing to focus on today – lest anyone begin to think that I don’t see a bright side to anything.

The good part of having been in the office today was that I missed all four hours of landscape contractors attacking the front of my house. Instead of watching, obsessively, through the front window, I returned home to sleek edges, four cubic yards of fresh mulch already spread, and bushes trimmed.

In short, I got to miss all of the work and now get to enjoy all of the benefits. There’s the small matter of the $800 dollar check I still need to cut, but I’m choosing not to think about that at the moment. For now I’ll be happy that at least the front side of the house is properly ready for spring and that I didn’t completely destroy my back to make it so.

As it turns out, sometimes good things do happen while you’re at the office.

The closet…

My master bathroom contractor called right before Christmas to let me know they had filed all the paperwork with the county to apply for the necessary permits. I’m glad to see some forward motion on this project. I’ve lived with it for seven years so I’m not really impatient, but now that I’ve started spending real money, I’d just like to get it over with. 

While I had some unallocated free time, before succumbing to whatever crud laid me temporarily low, I decided to start clearing out the linen closet and master closet attached to the master bath. The linen closet is going away completely and my closet is losing a foot to give me enough width in the shower to never worry about banging a shoulder or elbow. It’s a lot of shower, but it feels fitting to replace the enormous bathtub that’s occupied the room, unused, all this time. 

It felt like a real inconvenience at the time, but I’m beginning to see the value of moving every couple of years. It forced me to clear out the proverbial dead wood periodically instead of paying to haul it across the country. Having no such forcing function over the last seven years, things have… accumulated. This place is twice the size of the old Memphis house and even so, storage is beginning to feel constrained. It could be time for a general purge… or hiring another contractor to give me some climate-controlled storage in the basement. 

Last week, the contractor let me know that some of his team tested positive and others were exposed to the Great Plague. The translation of that, I assume, is that all previous schedules are in the wind. I expected this project would be underway in January. Now, perhaps, it’s a dream of spring… though delaying the time when I’ll have complete strangers trapsing through the house on a regular basis doesn’t bother me at all just now.

In any case, mucking everything out of my closet is now feeling very premature. 

Paper check…

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out where my checkbook was this morning. Once upon a time, its assigned spot was laying right in the place where I kept my wallet and keys. It hasn’t lived there in a decade or more. The age of paying for things by check feels like it really ought to be over. In fact, before today, I can’t remember the last time I paid for goods or services by scrawling words on a small slip of pre-printed paper. I know this to be the case, because today I used check #5, drawn on an account that I’ve had since gods know when. 

As of this morning, I’ve handed over a paper check to the nice people from the company who will be renovating the master bathroom. I’m assuming it will have plenty of time to clear since none of us are anticipating a start date any time before the first of the year. The supply chain delays brought on by the Great Plague are apparently a very real thing. My delightfully hermetic life has mostly protected me from them. Seeing the months long lead time for ordering cabinetry and tile, though, yeah, my general mockery of just-in-time inventory when they first taught it to us in logistics school feels a little prescient. It’s the kind of system that seems brilliant in the good times, but is entirely based on the assumption that times will always be good. Personally, I’ll take old fashioned warehouses full of stuff and damn the carrying costs. 

So, the long-deferred bathroom renovation is now one step closer to getting underway. I suppose this means that we’re all about to discover if I know anything at all about design. Given certain physical space and layout limitations, I have to think the final product will end up being better than what I’ve got currently. Now, though, I’ve got to go out and find a nice antique storage cabinet since I just savagely cut the linen closet out of the plan in favor of knocking out a wall to free up more shower space.

All that’s left now is picking out tile and lighting fixtures… and the interminable waiting. I’m sure none of those things will drive me absolutely mad.

Under construction (again)…

It’s springtime here at the homestead and that means the year’s big improvement projects are about to kick off. Fortunately this year’s points of main effort don’t involve the evisceration of the back yard as I’ve opted for two smaller and slightly less invasive projects this year.

Phase 1, getting underway at or around 8AM calls for removing and disposing of three relatively large white pines that are encroaching a bit too far towards the house and front yard. Bringing these guys down should improve some soggy yard issues on that corner of the house, but mostly getting rid of them was an esthetic decision. Opening up that side of the yard will dramatically improve the house’s “presence” as seen from the street. More importantly, perhaps, it will give the front two bedrooms an unobstructed view out to the stand of oaks currently hidden behind the pines. It’s nice to see that not every project on my list has to involve major feats of engineering.

In Phase 2, we move inside to brick over the basement window that has been the source of constant consternation and aggravation since I moved in. A little excavation, a little block cutting, half a dozen new cinder blocks, and a whole lot of exterior waterproofing and backfill should at least get me to the point where there isn’t a readymade pit for the water to build up in. In theory, removing the pooling water should go a long way towards remedying the problem. There are a lot of other ways we could have gone after it, but doing away with a below grade window that served absolutely no purpose felt like a no brainer. Once the basement is closed off and the window well filled in, whatever water falls should follow the new path of least resistance which is out towards the back yard instead of down towards the place where a window use to be. Not being a hydraulic engineer, that’s my operating theory anyway. Once we get the first good rain, we’ll see how well that theory pans out under real world conditions.

So that’s it. I’ll have contractors crawling all over the place tomorrow and then have two of the three big projects for the year finished. After almost a year in residence, it’s starting to feel like I’m putting my own stamp on the place.

The stuff of dreams…

Since before we bothered with something as trifling as writing down our great deeds, human beings have made a point of moving stupefyingly large amounts of earth to build their monuments. There are pyramids in Egypt and Central America. Stone circles dot the European continent. We’ve excavated a highway of water to connect the Atlantic and Pacific – and then sent buildings racing a thousand feet into the sky. Historically speaking, we’re monument builders.

The little project I have getting underway this week isn’t monumental in any way. In fact by the time it’s finished and the grass sprouts telling the difference between before and after would give you trouble if you weren’t intimately familiar with the ground we’re covering. Even so, in my own little way I’ll be cutting into the earth in an effort to make my surroundings more hospitable… and by that I mean I’m writing a ridiculously large check to someone else who will actually do that while I stand in the kitchen drinking coffee and watching the work in progress.

As long as it means I can be a little less twitchy every time the rain falls, I’ll at least be monumentally happy with the result, even if there isn’t much to see for the effort. New hardscape, underground drainage for the back yard, and a slope that means water isn’t naturally inclined to flow directly into the basement and garage… be still my middle aged, suburban heart. It’s the stuff of dreams.

Five years and another $60 or $70,000 and we might just have this old homestead properly beaten into shape. In retrospect it may have been more cost effective to just knock down some trees and build my own henge…

The must haves…

Because I like lists and I’m feeling much more lazy than usual this evening, you’re getting a brief glimpse into the things I’m thinking about while I’m laying out my ideas for the back yard. Since they’re going to be shoving around a respectable amount of dirt I thought it would be helpful to go ahead and spell out exactly what I’m expecting out of this little project – especially since I’m looking for bids from three or four different companies. It’s only fair that I evaluate them using the same basic list of must haves versus wants. It’s certainly helped clarify my own goals… especially since I haven’t started assigning a dollar value to anything yet.

So far, the list looks a little like this:

Must haves:
1. Re-grade yard to drain away from house in the garage/porch area – add piped drainage if sufficient negative slope can’t be achieved
2. Remove mulched bed around a/c condenser – replace with sod/grass. Note this is a future zone for placing a backup generator so finish will need to support eventual placement of poured concrete pad
3. Remove boxwood shrubs at back porch steps, transplant to empty bed in front of house if feasible
4. Remove and dispose of “sticker bush” shrub at rear of house
5. Reinstall/replace sidewalk in existing area – all hardscape to be flush with surrounding ground/crossable with riding mower

Nice to haves:
1. Hardscape patio in current location of step down from porch – approximately same size as existing porch
2. Ramp/shallow steps from porch to ground level
3. Cut and haul away pine tree nearest house in front yard
4. Install privacy screen/surround for a/c condenser unit and similar screen for trash and recycling containers

The must have list is the bare minimum that’s going to have to be done regardless of cost… the rest, well, I’ll stretch the budget to allow for as many of them as possible… if there’s any budget left once the main effort is accounted for that is.

Benign oversight…

I’m sure that watching people build a fence isn’t nearly as tiring as actually building the fence, but after 9 hours of making sure (most of the) posts ended up where I wanted them, I’m just plain worn out. The 300% air-to-pollen ratio and two dogs barking non-stop probably didn’t help with that. I feel guilt even bringing it up, really. After all, I wasn’t the one knocking 30 post holes through tree roots as big around as my forearm. At best, my role today consisted of providing benign oversight, occasionally pointing, and offering access to the bathroom. It wasn’t exactly a backbreaking exercise.

With that said, the project advanced nicely so far. Tomorrow calls for digging about five more holes, hanging the rails, and running wire mesh inside it all. Supposedly it’ll all be wrapped up by closed of business tomorrow. Maybe it is doable, but it feels like something that falls into the category of “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Until then, I’ll just go on about the day trying to remind myself that 4:30 PM isn’t an acceptable adult bed time… Which right about now feels like a real shame.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

It’s been a slow week for petty annoyances… and while that’s technically a good thing because it tends to mean my blood pressure isn’t all over the map, it also doesn’t make for a great weekly spot. Despite being a pretty good week overall, there are a few things that I can’t let pass without mentioning.

1. Support services. Theoretically, office trash is supposed to be picked up three times a week. That happens probably 50% of the time. 40% of the time, someone shows up for it twice a week. Last week was one of those 10% moments when no one came by at all. I tote and haul my own trash at home, so I don’t have any philosophical issues with carrying it to the dumpster here at the office – it’s more so a function of a) not knowing where the trash actually goes once it leaves my cubicle, b) not having any of the baby-sized trash bags to replace the one I need to throw out, and c) we’re paying someone good money on a contract that calls for them to, you know, take the bloody trash out three times a week. It’s a small thing, I know, but I have a creeping suspicion that it’s just the surface-level indication that government writ large doesn’t have a clue what kind of quality service it’s getting for our money.

2. Favors. As a rule I try not to ask for favors. That’s mostly because I don’t want to end up then owing someone a favor down the line. If someone asks, though, and it’s not too off-putting, I’m generally open to helping them out. All I really ask is that you be clear about your request. For instance, if you say something like “Hey, can you pick me up a Coke when you go get your lunch” don’t act surprised when what I bring back is a Coke. You see, the thing is, I can’t read your mind. I have no earthly way of knowing that by “Coke” you mean Diet Coke. Honestly, I just don’t pay that kind of attention to people’s daily beverage choices, so I make the blithe assumption that you’re asking for what you actually want. If I asked someone to pick me up a cup of coffee, I’m not sure I’d be offended if they brought back a cup of regular black coffee instead of a vinti-vanilla-latte-extra-hot-with-a-shot. I would have failed to specify what I really wanted… and I damned sure wouldn’t have stood there expecting the person doing me the favor to cover the cost of what I asked them to bring me because they weren’t able to read my bloody effing mind and know what I asked for wasn’t what I wanted. I would have just said “thanks” and gone on about my day. From here on out, the answer is always “no.” Thanks for playing.

As a side note, this is the 53rd regular installment of What Annoys Jeff this Week. Hard as it is to believe, you’ve been listening to my weekly list of grips for a year now. I won’t say it’s actually been cathartic, but it sure is fun to take a little time once a week to call out stupid for what it is.

Mr. Clean…

I think it’s great that we have a contractor that handles the building’s janitorial services – cleaning restrooms, emptying trash, buffing the hallways. But I don’t understand why all of those things need to happen during normal business hours. Ever tried having a phone conversation when 2 industrial strength vacuum cleaners were running in your 40×40 foot section of cubicle farm? I don’t recommend it.

And while I’m on the topic of office cleanliness I’d happily trade one round of vacuuming a week for the occasional pass of a swiffer over the top of the cubicle walls. As a small test, I’ve had my name written in the dust on top of a file cabinet since Christmas. Seriously. I occasionally have to go back and go over it again it so the new dust doesn’t fill it in. I understand that it’s an office and not an operating room, but some attention to the little things would go a long way.

Editorial Note: This is part of a continuing series of previously unattributed posts appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.