In the Zone VIII: A Prairie Home Commotion

Given that three months have passed since my last post, it would be reasonable for you to have assumed we’ve been hard at work finishing all the projects that had to be postponed due to the foundation issues. Likewise, it would be reasonable for you to expect some stunning photos of a house freshly painted, and replete with new and glorious windows, swank and savvily furnished outdoor spaces, and killer landscaping.

Reasonable, yes. Correct? No.

Turns out that, just as the pandemic taught many of us that a 40-hour work week was not necessarily what had been keeping us from exercising more, having a garden, or getting stuff done around the house, having a huge and expensive project looming over your head is not what was keeping the Jarhead and me from exercising more, having a garden, or getting stuff done around the house. Because three months after the foundation work was finished, here we are with the same old siding and windows, and ho-hum outdoor space and landscaping.

Well, whooda thunk it?

To be fair, there were a few surprises that forced additional delays. Then again, at this point, you’d have been more surprised if there had NOT been any surprises. Amiright?

For example, we were chagrinned though not shocked to discover that the geniuses who put this place together opted not to insulate or install a proper vapor barrier between the studs and the siding. Thus, before the Jarhead could replace the siding (after the moat around the frost wall was filled in) he first had to purchase and install insulation and a proper vapor barrier. As of now the insulation and vapor barrier are in; the siding is currently waiting to have its fling.

We were also chagrinned but not shocked—thankfully—when the wiring to the sunroom was cut a few times in the course of digging down to the foundation. Thus, before the windows can be replaced, the concrete floor can be poured, and the stairs from there to the main floor can be built, the walls have to be opened up, the wiring has to be stripped out and rerun, and the walls have to be patched and/or replaced. Fun, fun, fun.

Meanwhile, we already knew the geniuses who put this place together had failed also to properly support the tub in the master bathroom. We had waited to address this issue until the slope in the floor was corrected because we didn’t know what impact lifting the floor would have on the tub and didn’t want to have to do it twice. Thus, before the Jarhead could close up the crawlspace, he first had to get some concrete, haul out his trusty concrete mixer, and pour a footing to make sure that tub won’t fall through the floor the first time someone tries to use it. To some of you this may not sound all that hard or time consuming, so let me draw you a picture: the man had to mix and pour a concrete footing in a crawlspace that was less than 30 inches from top to bottom.  

Along the way, we were further chagrinned and quite surprised to find evidence that an animal (most likely a small mammal, thank goodness, and not a giant snake or spider) had taken to spending time in that crawlspace. Thus, before the Jarhead could close it up, he had to set up a live trap and his trusty game cam and…wait.

After two days, when nothing appeared on the cam nor in the trap, we decided it was reasonable to conclude that the animal had moved on. And by we, I mean HE. Because I was not convinced.

Because that crawlspace, you see, could still be accessed from the mechanical room. And that mechanical room, you see, is where we keep our meat freezer. Along with our coolers, paint, painting supplies, furnace, water heater, and water softener.

In other words, once the opening at one end of the house was closed up, any critter that might be frequenting the crawlspace at Chez Diersen (be it a small mammal, giant snake or giant spider) would have nowhere to go other than that mechanical room. In other words, never again was I going to be able to set foot in the mechanical room. At least not comfortably.

As it turns out, the Jarhead was perfectly fine with that. He said he would be happy to get meat in and out of the freezer. Said he would be happy to get out and put away the coolers, paint and/or painting supplies whenever I needed. He was already responsible for changing the furnace filter, putting salt in the water softener, and alternately smacking and/or removing the batteries from the carbon monoxide alarm whenever it made annoying sounds. He didn’t mind adding a couple more items to his list of tasks.

The offer, while generous, was also somewhat disturbing. If he was so confident no critter would come running out from the crawlspace, climb my ample physique, scare me to death and consume my ample remains, why would he offer to take over all those tasks? Sure, on its face it sounds like he’s merely trying to accommodate me and my perfectly rational fears; but what if he’s actually afraid some critter WILL come running out of the crawlspace, climb my ample physique, scare me to death, consume my ample remains, and force him to admit he was wrong?

Despite the Jarhead’s generous and confusing offer, I can’t always wait for him to be home/awake to get things out of the mechanical room. And since it takes longer to find and put on steel-toed boots and arm myself to the teeth than it does to open a door, race down three steps, dash the twenty feet or so to the freezer, snatch out something for dinner, dash the twenty feet or so back to the stairs and race back up the stairs and shut the door again—all while holding my bladder and resisting the urge to scream—I usually opt for the latter. Usually.

Plus, the dude is kind of busy, what with his day job and every household project seeming to beget two or three more household projects. Like the 43 trees he had to plant after we had the scrub along the road taken down. And the patio surround he had to rebuild after the new patio was poured. And the rock border he had to put down after I took out the flower bed because I couldn’t lift the paving bricks or the bags of river rock.

With all of that on his plate, it seems the least I can do is not make him thaw the meat for his dinner.

Anyway, so we still have a boat load of work to do—much of it before the snow flies. That is, if we don’t want to have snow heaped inside the sunroom this winter.

And by we, again, I mean he. Because I’m useless at construction.

That said, the garden is doing better than ever this year. The key, apparently, is actually planting it and weeding it. Thanks to this new strategy, we’ve been able to grow something besides cucumbers and tomatoes—including potatoes, zucchini, jalapenos and watermelon. We also started an asparagus nursery, which is going strong, and the winter squash vines look very promising.

And it turns out that the freshly filled in berm around the bedroom foundation was the perfect place for this year’s basil and cilantro. It may make for a strange looking border, but I needed a spot for the herbs, and putting shrubs there would have meant more money and more work for the Jarhead. Plus, I kind of like the idea of edible landscaping.

I know. Basil may not be everyone’s first idea of edible landscaping, but this is Wisconsin, so for now it’s all we got.

In the Zone VII: Under the Gun

You’d be surprised at how time seems to crawl by when you’re trying to find someone to rebuild your foundation when your house is literally sinking under your feet and your door frames, window trim, and walls are visibly splitting at the seams. Even when the cost of your project has the potential to exceed what you paid for the property itself (or 1.5 years of tuition at Harvard or roughly .0002% of what Elon Musk shelled out for Twitter, depending on your frame of reference) there is so much competition for contractors’ time and talent nowadays, you’re lucky to get one to pick up the phone and tell you to piss off, much less listen to your voicemail, return your call or email, or submit a proposal.

Case in point: When I started calling foundation folks at the end of summer 2021 in hopes of setting something up to commence in the spring or summer of 2022, one guy said they’re only doing new construction for the time being, while another said they’re only doing poured foundations. Just our luck we needed a block foundation for an existing home. On the bright side, I thought, if we wait long enough, the house will eventually collapse into a heap, at which point we’ll be looking at new construction with a poured foundation.

Still, one of them was kind enough to refer me to two companies that build block foundations and, of course, I reached out to them both right away. One of them ignored my calls and emails, as well as the note I left on their Facebook page. Now that’s what I call a trifecta. The second called me a week after I left a voice mail and said they’d be out within 2 weeks but didn’t come. Five weeks later, naively hoping they had simply lost my contact information, I called again. To my surprise, they answered on the second ring and told me we were next on their list for an estimate but six months later they still haven’t showed up.

I doubt it’s anything personal. I’m sure it’s just the current market. Though I’m also sure there are some out there who will blame Antifa.

By March of 2022, just as we were on the brink of despair (and, frankly, wondering if we should move all of our household goods to a storage locker and appeal to the goddess Tempestas to send a devastating tornado) the Jarhead came upon a truck owned by a business that specialized in basement and crawlspace repair.

“Check it out,” he said, more or less, as he read the content on their webpage later that day. “These guys will dig a moat around the house, jack up the sagging walls and joists, rip out the old foundation, pour new footings, install some new support beams if we need them, AND build us a nice new block frost wall.”

Ok, but will they return my calls?

Cynical? Maybe.

Because even if I hadn’t already been burned, it sounded a bit too good to be true. Especially when “Joe” returned the Jarhead’s call within 24 hours. I mean, who does that? In 2022 no less?? No one. Literally. NO. ONE.

Was this a scam? Or was it something even more sinister? Like sexism.

Had all those other folks ignored little old me because they assumed a woman wouldn’t have the money to pay for a new foundation? Did they think a woman wouldn’t know a crack from a hole in the ground?

So in addition to being somewhat suspicious I was also hypothetically outraged. But I knew better than to complain. At least out loud. And definitely not in print. At least not until the work was well underway. Even I know better than that.

A-N-Y-W-A-Y within a week we had an appointment. (What?) Within another week we had an estimate. (Are you KIDDING me??) And within two weeks we had a contract and a list of tasks we had get done before the foundation crews could break ground in four weeks (CREWS? As in more than one?? Is this a fairy tale???)

Meanwhile, you’d be surprised at how quickly time speeds by when you have only four weeks in which to get a house ready to have its foundation replaced—especially when those four weeks span the entire month of April, the temperature keep dipping below freezing, and it won’t stop effing snowing. Because it’s Wisconsin.

Despite these challenges, we managed to tear off the decks on the south and west sides of the house. This was a mixed blessing to me since less than a year ago I had power-washed and painted the one to the west. The Jarhead had tried to con me into power-washing and painting the one on the south side back then too, but I somehow managed to have other more pressing chores to do. Thank heaven for small favors.

(Below are two images of the west side of the house. On the left is how it looked when we first bought it. We took out the window in the corner when we had to rebuild that wall due to its bad foundation. The image on the right shows yard with the deck removed so we can replace the rest of the foundation.)

(Below are two images of the south end of the home before (left) and after (right) the deck was removed.)

We also managed to get the windows, doors, stairs, hot tub, decking, and wiring out of the sunroom. The hot tub wasn’t working anyway, and the floor beneath it was plywood over dirt, which tells you there is more concrete in our future.

We also got the front patio slab broken up and hauled away, and the area prepped and framed so the crew could pour us a bigger and properly pitched one. We also got the bottom rows of siding off the house, and the well, septic tank and drain field marked to reduce the likelihood of anyone driving over them with a backhoe, dump truck, or skid steer.

Of course, by ‘we’ I mean the Jarhead, since I have arthritic hands, zero upper body strength, and lack the ability to operate a tractor, a sledge hammer or a cement saw. I did keep him fed and watered, though, and gave him lots of praise, reminders, and opportunities for conversation and headshaking.

Hey, we all need to do our part.

In the Zone Part VI: Pause and Effect

What do you get when you cross a two-bedroom mobile home with a poured slab ranch featuring vaulted ceilings and two fireplaces, and nestle it in front of a stand of stately pines?

As the co-owner of just such a combination, I can clearly and emphatically state, that depends.

If the folks combining said structures have the skills, tools, expertise, and supervision to do it properly, you SHOULD get a gorgeous, unique hybrid home you can enjoy for the rest of your days and then pass on to your children, grandchildren, or a qualified buyer when you’re gone.

If, however, the folks combining said structures are unfamiliar with terms like plumb and frost wall; have never seen, owned, or used a level; and/or like to play it fast and loose with building codes, what you get is a big house that photographs well but which up close has more cracks, gaps, crooked lines, and shady weirdness than a cubist portrait of Tucker Carlson painted on a crumbling sidewalk.

If you’ve been following this column—which isn’t difficult since I tend to post at a pace well below that of a high-speed chase—you know which of the two outcomes we’re dealing with at our place. And in case you haven’t been following this column—feel free to catch yourself up. I’ll wait.

Fortunately, we got the pool put in the ground before the foundation issues came to light, or I may not have been able to spend the past two summers acquiring the mother of all sunburns. Then again, maybe I would have, since the Jarhead likes himself a nice sunburn, too. Preferably with a nice cold beer.

If I had needed to plead my case, I would have politely reminded him that his two hunting properties would still outnumber my swimming pools by one, and that his convertibles already outnumber mine by two, since I have none. At that point he would probably have pointed out that they were both pretty old, at which point I would have pointed out that we were too.

We could have played that game for days. Eventually, I would have been forced to play hardball and remind him that my cooking, cleaning, and bookkeeping skills exceed his by a factor too big to calculate, even for people who don’t suck at math, and that without a pool, I might forget everything I had learned about everything, including how to bake a delicious chocolate zucchini cake. (Aren’t hypothetical arguments fun?)

In any case, the pool was a done deal when the foundation issues came to light, at which time—as luck would have it—all other related work had to be put on hold. You can just sense my disappointment, can’t you? I exude it like sunscreen oozes from an overheated tube in the hot summer sun…

Seriously, though. You don’t want to replace even the oldest and crappiest windows with fancy new energy efficient windows only to have them crack when the foundation experts jack up the walls to lay your fancy new concrete blocks. Likewise for the doors, shower tile, and bathtub. Unfortunately, I’ve already tiled the master bathroom floor, so who knows what will happen in there once the excavators have had their fling. Same goes for the new ceiling in the family room.

Anyway, with the windows, doors, decks, and landscaping all off limits, we could only putter around with things that aren’t situated in or just outside rooms where the walls are sinking.

Like the living room fireplace surround, which was covered in soot the likes of which I had never seen. Having never entered into such a battle before, I figured I was going to lose. Big. Still, I wasn’t going to walk away from the fight. Those rocks couldn’t turn out any worse, I figured. Although I knew there was every chance they could. But, to my surprise, they didn’t.

I started with vinegar and a kitchen brush. And I sprayed and scrubbed, and sprayed and scrubbed, and sprayed and scrubbed. For about four hours. Then I let it dry for a day.

The next day, I mixed some Dawn dish detergent with some backing soda, grabbed an old toothbrush, and scrubbed. And scrubbed. And scrubbed. For four more hours. I won’t say I won the battle, but at least I didn’t lose.

After that, I decided to test out the new color scheme we have planned for the exterior after the walls are fixed. Being at least a bit smarter than I look, I tested it on the shortest wall on the place, which is protected on two sides from the insane winds that tear through our yard. This turned out to be a lucky call since—being also somewhat dumber than I look—I decided to start this project in October…

Meanwhile, as you can see from the wider view of the porch, below, the Jarhead replaced the old split rail fence along the driveway with new cedar-toned split rail fencing. Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Who would replace that nice old rustic looking split rail fence? Why, it was doing its job just fine.”

Now personally, I’ve got nothing against weathered split rail fencing myself. Or the mint green lichens that live on it. Or the skinny PVC tubes that the previous owners had used to mount the exterior lights on top of the old fence posts. It’s just that, well, water-stained cedar siding goes much better with cedar-tone fencing than it does weathered gray fencing. Or mint-green lichens. Or PVC tubes.

More importantly, cedar-tone fencing goes much better with gray siding and white trim. Which is what we’ll have when we finish painting the rest of the house. That is, IF we ever finish painting the rest of the house. We still need to find a contractor to fix the foundation, after all, and it doesn’t make any more sense to paint the exterior walls just to have them scraped by backhoes and shovels than it does to replace windows and tile just to have them crack when you jack up your exterior walls.

Anyway, so we’ll keep plugging along on other things.

Like more fencing. Last fall, the Jarhead put up cedar-tone split rail fencing around the garden plot (because cedar-tone fencing goes better than barbwire fencing with cucumber and squash plants and the deer that like to eat them—obviously.) So, this spring he plans to install a gate, put wire fencing on the inside of the cedar-tone fence, and probably do a fair amount of swearing.

As for the fireplace, there’s still work to be done there as well. The plan is to paint the gold trim around the fireplace opening (seen here without the lovely green throw before I went to work on it.)

You may find this hard to believe, but before I started cleaning it, I had asked—nay, begged—the Jarhead to tear down the rock and start over again, and the answer was a resounding “why?” In the *conversation* that ensued I learned that it would cost more to rebuild that rock surround than the time it would take to clean it was worth in US dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, Bitcoin, and even the lowly Russian ruble (that line would have been far less funny if Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine, so thank you Putin, you effing lunatic.)

Ultimately, I was glad we decided to keep it. And there’s absolutely NO way we’re taking it down now. Not after all the time and effort I put into cleaning it. Nope. Unless it falls apart on its own, that baby is staying right where it is.

But we are converting the fireplace itself from wood to electric. And in a recent *conversation* I learned there are solar panels in our future, which I also learned will make the electric fireplace and other appliances more cost effective and ecofriendly.

I am going to do my best to stay positive here, but since nothing in this place ever goes according to plan, I foresee even more swearing in our future.

In the Zone Part V: If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Rid of the Kitchen

Folks in real estate like to say that kitchens sell houses. Buyers, they’ll inform prospective sellers, want a kitchen with good flow and great vibes. So, if you’re looking to sell your home, you should put your kitchen’s best foot forward because potential buyers are going to picture themselves using that kitchen and how it makes them feel.

Funny they don’t say that about bathrooms.

Don’t get me wrong. There are folks who will take that first sentence a step further and say that kitchens and bathrooms sell houses. But even those who’ll tell you buyers want bathrooms with good flow and great vibes will stop short of saying that buyers will imagine themselves USING the bathroom and how it makes them feel.

Which is funny since most people USE the bathroom at least as often if not more often than they USE the kitchen. Especially if you’re gluten intolerant and still eat a lot of cake. And wash it down with a quart of milk. Or frequent restaurants with the word taco in their name and bel grande on the menu.

I’m just spit-balling here, of course. What business do I have speculating on your eating habits? I don’t know your life.

Perhaps the Jarhead and I are not the best examples here, but in all the years we have been looking at properties, never have once have either of us stood in the bathroom and imagined ourselves USING it.

I take that back. There was one time, when we first looked at the house we’re working on now, and I walked up to the bathroom sink, did a half-turn and thought, What? And then did another half-turn, and wondered, How the? And then did another half-turn and said, Who the? And then, finally, Why?

It bears mention here, that although I was miming the act of washing my hands at an ordinary bathroom sink, technically I wasn’t actually picturing myself using the bathroom because the sink wasn’t actually in the bathroom. In fact, it was standing in the northeast corner of the master bedroom along with a sunken jetted bathtub. Turns out the actual bathroom was several feet behind me. Or at least the toilet was. Along with a nice big walk-in shower stall and a ginormous, mirrored medicine cabinet. Tucked neatly behind a clear glass door.

Yes. You read that correctly. Behind a clear glass door.

In my last post, I shared a picture of what we like to call the open-concept master bathroom. But here it is again for your edification.

As you can see, the sink and bathtub were well and decidedly outside the bathroom door. Which meant you had to leave the bathroom to wash your hands after using the toilet. Which meant you had to touch the knob after using the bathroom before washing your hands. Then again, since the door offered literally nothing in the way of privacy, I guess you could just leave it open so you wouldn’t have to touch the knob before washing your hands. And there was no towel bar, so no towel. And no mirror other than the one above the toilet. So unless you were supremely confident, it was useless in terms of shaving. Or putting on makeup. In other words, better just go use another bathroom.

It was all very baffling. Because it’s not like form had to follow function, like it did back when folks started adding indoor plumbing to Victorian-era homes and the bathrooms had to be located right beside the kitchen because it was easier (and therefore cheaper) than putting them as far from the kitchen and dining room as possible the way nature intended.

No. The folks who designed this particular master suite were starting from scratch with a blank slate and absolutely no limitations on fixture location other than their own imaginations and personal taste (or lack thereof.) Which means that when it came to deciding where to put the toilet, the sink, the shower, the tub, and the ginormous mirrored medicine cabinet, they deliberately chose to put the sink and the tub outside the bathroom door, and the mirror near the toilet and the shower rather than above the sink. In my book, that’s akin to criminally negligent habicide.

It could be worse, I suppose. At least they put the toilet behind the bathroom door and the sink outside, rather than the other way around.

Anyway, as I mentioned in the last post, we tore out the doorway, built a couple walls, and gave the bathroom some desperately needed definition. But since we knew we needed to repair the foundation and we knew the fixtures might be damaged in the process, we opted to just update them a bit now and replace them later, if necessary. Along the way, we also removed the wood from some of the walls and replaced it with drywall to brighten up the room and add dimension. Here are some of the highlights.

To update the appearance of the shower stall, we started by removing the seat.

Then we warmed up the woodwork by painting the beige tile a nice bright white.

We did the same with the tub surround.

But back to the kitchen, which is what this post purports to be about.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m the buyer they’re talking about when they say kitchens sell homes. But not for the reason they say it. No. For me, it’s all about potential. Because almost nothing makes me happier than to walk into a house with a horrible kitchen, imagine what it could look like, and spend hours and vast sums of money making it look the way I think it should.

Which is why, when I saw this place, I started to salivate. It was Dark. Dirty. Dank. Disgusting. And it was just waiting to be brought back to life. I won’t bore you with the details of how it progressed, but I will show you some photographs.

Forgive the lack of before shots. Between the walnut ceiling, floor, and cabinets, the burgundy countertops, and the lack of lighting, not one drop of light was available to take a decent photo, so the post-demo images will have to suffice.

Click on any image for a closer look.

So that’s the kitchen. Thanks for reading.

In the Zone Part IV: Bedroom Knobs and Broomsticks

It didn’t take long after the mudroom floor issues came to light for us to realize we were dealing with something similar in the master bedroom. An addition that was built along the opposite end and other side of the trailer, the master bedroom has two exterior walls that form a corner and span 22 feet and 18 feet, respectively. In that corner sits a portal to hell, I can only surmise, disguised as a fireplace that likely hasn’t worked properly since Elvis Presley paid a surprise visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (It was December 21st, 1970, in case you’re hazy on the date. And Richard Nixon was still president.)

Having spent the better part of five months using that room to prime, paint, and repaint a seemingly endless number of doors, baseboards, and other trim, I was more than a little aware of the slope in that floor well before we discovered the reason behind the mudroom slope. I worried about it a lot and wondered often if we should open it up and have a look at the stringers before we put down carpeting, or if we should at least dig down along on the outside of the walls to see what was going on.

The Jarhead was less familiar with the slope in the master bedroom, having spent the bulk of his time in other parts of the dwelling and performing tasks that didn’t involve brushes and rollers but did require strength, agility and a facility with foul language that I simply hadn’t mastered. But by the time he got around to installing my painstakingly painted doors and trim in that room, even he realized something was off. And since the mudroom issues had come to light by then he, too, was afraid it would be expensive and a major pain in the ass to fix. (I’ve come a long way with my facility with foul language in case you hadn’t noticed.)

Out of respect for our brave men and women who’ve seen actual combat, I won’t equate what we were experiencing with PTSD, but I will go so far as to say we were more than a little gun shy. Having found materials like broom handles and spare siding serving as stringers in the mudroom, we could barely bring ourselves to contemplate what we might encounter next. In fact, after seeing what was holding up (or NOT holding up) the mudroom floor, I would not have been surprised to find tree limbs, discarded shelving, curtain rods, or a bundle of cardboard holding up portions of the floor in that bedroom.

I probably should have pressed the issue before the carpet went in when it was more cost-effective to do so. But I was afraid. How many times, after all, had I thought someone was breaking into the house when in fact the sounds I heard were the furnace starting or the washing machine draining between cycles? How many times had I feared I was having a heart attack or when in fact I merely had to burp? And how many times had I mentally convicted Donald Trump of being a gigantic narcissistic ass only to realize he was actually a gigantic narcissistic ass?

Okay. Bad example.

In any case before I could bring it up, I was forced to ask myself: Am I willing to push the Jarhead to open up the floor simply because it felt wonky? Am I willing to ask him to forego other tasks only to find the walls and floors had been built precisely as they should have been? More importantly, how on earth would I manage to live it down if I was wrong? Did I really want to die on that hill? (Pun fully intended.)

Having read all that, you can probably imagine, what a double-edged sword it was when the Jarhead admitted that the slope of the bedroom floor was probably evidence that the room lacked footings. And how it felt like a guillotine descending above me when he gravely suggested that there was a better than even chance that the same was true with the exterior walls in the den.

Better? Better?? Don’t say better when what you’re saying is much, much worse!

But, with all the other major projects finished and Covid-19 vaccines offering us the chance to reconnect with family and friends we hadn’t seen in over a year, we decided to leave it alone for a while. It’s not as if the room was caving in—at least not as soon as the awning would have, anyway. Plus, with lumber getting scarce and spendy thanks to the ongoing pandemic, it made sense to hold off, stash some cash, and concentrate on finishing the smaller less expensive projects on our list.

Like installing hardware in the exterior door in that very same master bedroom.

Notice I didn’t say ‘replacing’ or ‘fixing.’ This is because there was nothing to fix or replace. For reasons unknown to me at the time, both the knob and deadbolt on the door that led the back deck (which you can clearly see in the before photos above) had been removed at some point after demo began. Which meant that, by the time I started priming, painting, and installing bathroom flooring, cold air had been streaming in through two holes the size of baseball-sized-hailstones for WHO KNOWS how long. And, because the door was binding at the top left and bottom right corners (mostly likely because it was framed without a proper header and was being pulled out of plumb by the wall without proper footings) I could not even pry it open to, say, escape a fire, if that had been my only way out. Which meant I would have to break a window instead, since none of them would open either.

I noticed the doorknob problem when I started working on my painting projects in early December 2019, and found myself wondering how it could be that there had been three to six men onsite (including the Jarhead) on any given day since the end of October and despite being smart and skilled in the building trades, not one of them had devised a way to cover the holes and stop the cold air from coming in. It took little old Liberal Arts Annie to figure out you could stuff a bunch of rags in those holes and put an end to this bloody Dickensian misery.

Between you and me and the bedpost, it was meant to be a temporary solution. But days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and so on. I got so used to seeing those rags, I didn’t even notice when the Jarhead installed an actual knob and deadbolt.

Later, when he asked me how I liked the hardware, I thought he meant the matte black knobs and hinges he had put on the interior doors several weeks before and said with a confused shrug that they were great. But since it wasn’t like him to ask my opinion on projects he’d completed that far in the past (because, honestly, it’s not like him to RECALL projects he’s completed that far in the past) I thought maybe HE was having second thoughts about the black knobs. So I asked how he liked them, and soon we were mired in a version of Who’s on First the likes of which would make Abbot and Costello cringe.

Anyway, at some point as I was cropping a picture I had taken of that area I noticed the new hardware on the door in the background and realized WTF he had been talking about. Of course, it had been so long since we’d bought those knobs that I forgot we even had them, and I was so used to the rags being there that I didn’t even notice when they were finally gone.

Which almost makes me almost want to take back some of the things I was thinking when I shoved those rags into those holes that fall.  

Almost.

In the Zone Part III: If at First You Don’t Succeed, Don’t Bother

In this segment, we discuss how to install faux wood plank flooring on your less than perfect mudroom floor.

First:

Go to your local home improvement center, choose a product, and arrange for an agent to come out, measure the area in need of flooring, and calculate an estimate. Wait 3 weeks for the measurement appointment, then wait 3 days for the estimate to come back.

On the 4th day (or the fifth, if you’re feeling generous) call and leave a message inquiring about the estimate. Wait 3 more days, then call again and leave another message. Repeat as necessary.

If/when you get your estimate, head to the store to sign your contract and make payment so they can order your cool new retro black and white sheet vinyl tile.

Wait 1-3 weeks for a call telling you when your product will arrive at the store. When you think you’ve waited long enough, call the store to inquire as to the status of your order. Repeat as necessary.

Once you have confirmed when your product will arrive at the store, schedule your delivery date, and then contact the installation company to set up your installation. Listen with annoyance as they tell you they will not schedule your installation until the product is actually on site, then grumble privately about the draconian policies of the company in question as you hang up the phone.

Briefly weigh the merits of calling back later to say the product is on site against the odds of being caught lying. Then ask yourself, How much do I value my reputation? What happens if the product doesn’t show up before the installers do? How easy will it be to find someone to install it if they get mad and decide they don’t want the job?

The day before your product is to be delivered, receive a call from the home improvement center confirming your delivery window for the next day. Plan to be on site 2 hours before and 2 hours after your 4-hour delivery window. Also, if it works best for your schedule for them to arrive at the early end of your window, plan for them to arrive near the end of your window, and vice versa. That way you won’t be disappointed.

On the day of delivery, avoid coffee, water, and all other liquids (including sunscreen) to reduce the likelihood of being in the bathroom when the delivery truck arrives. Should you feel the need to use the bathroom, weigh the odds of having to cough or sneeze with a full bladder against the repercussions of missing your delivery and waiting another 3 to 14 days for a new delivery date.

Two hours after your delivery window has closed, visit the restroom (if you dare) then call the store for an update on your delivery. Discover to your chagrin, that the product never arrived at the store, and that Lance thought Chad called to tell you they weren’t coming, and Chad thought Lance called to tell you they weren’t coming, and Chad told Christine that Lance told you they weren’t coming, which is why Christine didn’t call you herself.

Reconsider your stance on the draconian nature of the installer’s scheduling policy as you wait on hold to schedule another delivery appointment. Schedule the new delivery appointment for 3 days after the product is allegedly set to arrive at the store. Repeat as necessary.

Then:

When the product is delivered, contact the installer to schedule installation.

Wait 3 weeks for the installation date, then greet the installers, lead them to the mudroom, then go to another area of the house to work on another project while the installers unwrap the cool new black and white sheet vinyl tile and prepare the floor for installation.

Hearing something close to your last name being called, walk back down the hall to the mudroom where the two installers stand looking baffled and somewhat annoyed. Learn that the store didn’t order enough product for your project because of the distance between where the pattern begins and then begins again is longer than usual.

Reconsider the wisdom of trusting your project to a store that doesn’t seem to have its shit together. Take a deep breath and contact the store to order more product.

Wait 3 days for your additional product to come in, followed by 3 more days for an installer to be available. Repeat as necessary.

Arrive at the worksite to discover that the installers who started your project aren’t available, and that that the guy who came in their place looks 80 years old, can barely bend his knees, and coughs like he has Covid-19, which is a strong possibility since it is June of 2020 and what else could it be?

Resolve to work outside that day, even though its 89 thousand degrees in the shade, to avoid contracting Covid-19. Wait three hours, put on a mask, and go back in the house for a bottle of water, and check on the installer’s progress. Try not to look alarmed or disgusted when you find the installer sitting on the floor talking to a representative from the sheet vinyl manufacturer on his cell phone because he can’t figure out where the tile pattern begins and ends, and thus can’t figure out how or where to cut the tile.

Decide that life is too short to put up with this crap, then fire the installer and call the store to cancel your contract and ask for a refund. Laugh maniacally when informed by a flooring rep that they can cancel the contract and refund your installation fees over the phone, but you’ll have to return the tile to the store yourself to get a refund for the material.

While at the store to return the sheet vinyl, choose a faux wood interlocking plank product. Decide that, while it looks more like pictures of wood planks than actual wood planks, it will make a dandy covering for your funhouse floor. Best of all, you can take it home today. In your very own vehicle. And you can stop to use the restroom any time you please.

Finally:

Arrange for a handsome retired marine to install the faux wood plank floor. It may take him a while to get the hang of it, and you may have to feed him cake and listen to a lot of swearing. But at least he’ll get the job done without giving you Covid-19.

In the Zone Part II: Headers and Footings and Stringers, Oh My

Another unexpected casualty of our seemingly endless battle with the knotty ranch was the front porch. Bounded by a broad concrete slab below and an equally broad awning above, this aspect of the property appeared serviceable. That is, it seemed to perform its primary functions, which were to give folks a solid surface on which to walk—or stand, sit, sleep, or even skateboard, for that matter—and to provide shelter from the elements while walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, skateboarding, falling, sustaining a concussion, and waiting for the paramedics.  

Comprised of hunter green metal and supported by five 8 x 8 faded seafoam green posts, the awning itself seemed sturdy, if a bit overengineered, not to mention ugly. Much like the Golden Girls-era ceramic tile living room floor, I wasn’t wild about it, but it was reassuring to know it would function as is, especially given how many other things did not.

So the Jarhead and I decided to delay addressing its aesthetic shortcomings until after we had replaced the roof, repaired the sagging ceilings, and updated the interior; or until one of us inherited a fortune from a heretofore unknown but incredibly generous long lost relative; or until a tornado sucked up the house and dropped it on an unpleasant woman with a penchant for flashy footwear, at which point a bogus wizard or kindly insurance adjuster would help us build another one—whichever came first.

I know that’s a lot to hope for, but we’ve always been the hopeful sort—as evidenced by the fact that we keep buying houses that most people wouldn’t give a second look—but stay with me. The ride gets even wilder.

It was about the time we made the decision to leave the front porch alone that the guys working on the kitchen ceiling discovered, among other things, that the drains were vented into the attic (for a refresher on that list of revelations, check out the previous post, In the Zone.) In the course of investigating those issues, they also realized that the bay window near the kitchen sink had no header, and that the structure inside the awning was literally a sprawling tower of lumber with no cross ties holding it together laterally and was ever-so-slowly pulling apart and flattening out under its own weight. We also learned that to make room for a proper header, the bay window would have to be replaced with a shorter window, and that—perhaps best of all—the structures above the awning were connected to the structures inside the kitchen ceiling, and thus would cost less to repair if we did it all at the same time.

In other words, the fates REALLY wanted us to update that front porch. A few weeks and several sleepless nights later, we had a new and improved front porch with a cheerful white awning, recessed lighting, three—not five—gorgeous cedar tone posts, two swanky storm doors, and one bright, beautiful kitchen window. It may not look that great yet—since its overall mood is still calico cat meets the patchwork puppy—but once we’ve painted the siding and the trim, it should finally pass muster.

That’s the good news. Now for some not-so-good news.

Among the things we had noticed but were either too busy or too deep in denial to look into at first was a disconcerting slope in the mudroom floor. Now, by disconcerting, I don’t mean a golf or tennis ball would roll away if you set it down. I mean, don’t look now but my glutes are getting quite shapely from walking up and down this hill all day long. To put it another way, if the room was just a few feet longer we could have charged kids to slide down it on gunny sacks to raise money to pay for the repairs.

Okay. That may be a bit of an exaggeration. We probably wouldn’t have raised anywhere near enough money to pay for the repairs.

Anyway…

The mudroom itself was built as part of an addition completed sometime between 1970 when the mobile home at the center of this hybrid dwelling was hauled onto the land and 2019 when we bought it, and also served as the laundry room. The addition connected the mobile home portion to the garage and included a bedroom and a cute but oddly shaped bathroom owing to the fact that the house and the garage did not sit parallel to or even close to perpendicular to one another.

When our contractors finished the kitchen and the awning and finally had a chance to look into the mudroom issues, they found that the outer wall had been built without footings, and the windows had been installed without headers. They also found that the idiots and/or crooks who built the addition had gotten frighteningly creative when it came to choosing material for the stringers that support the floor.

Case in point, the wooden rod that had once been the handle of a broom or mop, and the chunks of studs, 1-inch planks, and bits of siding where there should have been 2 x 10 or 2 x 12 boards. Which made me wonder: had they resorted to the broomstick because they’d run out of spare siding, studs, and planks that would span the distance between the walls? Or had they resorted to spare siding, studs, and planks because they had run out of broomsticks? Who can say?

Now you may be asking yourself, why would someone go to all the trouble and expense to build an addition connecting their house to their garage and not protect that investment by doing it properly and/or according to code.

I don’t blame you. We found ourselves asking that very question, as well as several others. Like:

Why would you go to all the time and expense to tear off the roof of a mobile home, build a spacious addition along the entire east side, vault the dining room and living room ceilings, finish them with beautiful knotty pine, and then not bother to make the seams straight, the corners square, or the floors, walls, or doorways level?

And: Why would you go to all the time and expense to put a bazillion windows and glass doors in every room of your house, and then not frame those doors and windows with proper headers to make sure they remain plumb and continue to open and close?

Maybe they were do-it-yourselfers and didn’t know any better. Or perhaps they hired contractors who didn’t know better. Or maybe they hired carpenters who knew better but took short cuts to increase their profit margin. Either way, we had a wall in our mudroom that was sinking, and a floor that belonged in a funhouse.

So, the wall came down, footings went in, and the wall went back up (minus the windows, since new windows cost money) along with a new subfloor, a second HVAC system (since the one in the mechanical room was inadequate to the task) and a couple white shaker cabinets, plus a row of quaint matte black hooks and space for the for the Jarhead’s many pairs of boots.

In case you’re wondering, he doesn’t have a boot fetish. He just buys a new pair here and there and never throws the old ones away.

But that’s not important right now. What is important is that we got the mudroom and porch structure fixed.

Now about that flooring.

In the Zone

In case no one has told you, there is a difference between living in a construction zone and working in a construction zone. Just like there’s a difference between living in a hospital and working in a hospital. Even if it’s an excellent hospital, it’s a pretty stark contrast. Like the difference between living in a hotel and working in a hotel. Except in reverse. Or so I imagine.

In any case, you tend to hope it’s temporary.

The living in a construction zone part, I mean. And probably the living in a hospital part, too. Okay, some folks might not want to live in a hotel long term either. Or work long term in any of those places for that matter. But for now, let’s all try to stay on topic.

The goal, in any case, is not to let your construction zone become a war zone. It may look like one sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. Especially around demo time. And when you discover that your main sewer drain (or sugar pipe, as the plumbers so delightfully called it) consists of flexible PVC rather than rigid PVC pipe. And when you discover that said pipe was installed at a negative slope. And when you have to cut a 12-inch wide, 40-foot trench through your mint condition 1990s beige ceramic tile living room floor so the plumbers can dig down under the slab foundation and install a new one. Ka-ching!

But if you’re like me and the Jarhead, you try your best not to come to blows with each other. Or your contractors. Especially the ones with solid skills and reasonable rates. And the ones who show up. Because the last thing you need when you’re up to you’re a$$ in concrete dust is for someone with a solid work ethic to decide he/she has better things to do than fix or install your plumbing, wiring, flooring, or foundation in exchange for your hard-earned money.

That can happen even when you haven’t exchanged some choice words. But at least if you haven’t argued with someone a day or three before they disappear, you can reasonably assume the problem is with their character and not your attitude. But lose your cool in front of the wrong person and suddenly you’re a difficult customer. And like the wife and kids Bruce Springsteen left in Baltimore, Jack (when he went out for a ride and he never went back) you won’t know how long to wait before you can lay claim to their tools. Or wait for their invoice, look for their replacement, or have them declared dead.

It isn’t merely fear of someone walking off the job that keeps things civilized. Nor is it just my sweet, accommodating nature. Although fear is a good motivator and my sunny disposition well established, the reason I like to keep things amicable relates to personal safety. It may sound a bit self-interested, but I can see no point to rocking the boat when there are literally dozens of sharp objects and blunt instruments—plus electrical cords, nail guns and other power tools—all within arm’s reach (or a short walk or a flight of stairs) of someone who has only a passing financial interest in my continued existence. And let’s not forget the multitude of tripping hazards, ladders, and other obstacles that the homicidally inclined could use to make manslaughter look like an accident, or the abundance of vacant land, plastic sheeting, shovels, pick, and ready-mix concrete that would help someone cover their tracks if they should opt to take the tampering with a corpse route instead.

Sorry to veer off track again. It’s been a long year.

So, to catch you up, in May of 2019—just as we were knee-deep in our Craftsman renovation—we bought another project house. I mentioned it a few posts ago in Mill Street Blues: Love It or List it, Too but that was two years ago, so you are to be forgiven if you’re lost. Feel free to check it out. I’m happy to wait.

At the time, we still had much to do at Mill Street, but we figured a good deal was a good deal. So we bought it with a view to starting work once the Craftsman was sold. It was a solid plan. But then, we all know what they say about best laid plans.

Anyway, demo was completed by September of 2019, and the furnace was installed in time for the team to work without freezing to death two months later. Everything looked like it was going to come together nicely.

But then the only toilet in the house—in the only bathroom that we hadn’t demolished—wouldn’t flush. And wouldn’t stop running. And there was a strange smell.

That’s when we discovered the bad drain. And that the drains were vented into the attic. And that there was almost no insulation in the attic. And literally none in some of the attic. And that the rafters weren’t actually rafters, and the items that were supposed to be serving as rafters weren’t going to serve us much longer.

Which meant, we had a lot more work to do before we could close up the walls and ceilings and put things back together. But we had to heat the place if we didn’t want our fancy new water lines to freeze. And we had to heat the place if we didn’t want our contractors to freeze.  So, for the entire winter we ran the furnace and held our breath as dollar after dollar wafted into our attic and melted the snow from our fancy new roof.

While the guys worked on that, we worked on getting Mill Street finished so we could put it on the market the minute the new money pit was habitable. (Define habitable, you might be thinking. But we’re not going to go there. At least not today.) Our hope was to list Mill Street by May of 2020. Spoiler alert: We missed that mark by several miles.

On the upside (and there is always an upside if you look hard enough and/or drink plenty of wine, beer, scotch or vodka):

  • We had plenty of time to devote to the work. We were three months into the Covid-19 pandemic when May 2020 came, remember. And working on a seemingly endless list of household projects is a good way to keep busy when you can’t go anywhere or see anyone.
  • I never liked that blasted living room floor anyway. It was in great shape, but the beige ceramic tile didn’t offer enough contrast to the floor-to-ceiling knotty pine walls, or the wall-to-wall knotty pine ceilings to really do them justice. We had only decided to keep it because it was in pristine condition, and it seemed capricious and wasteful to spend money to replace it. So when the news came that we had to cut a trench through the floor and put down another one, I wasn’t the least bit heartbroken. At least not until we got the plumber’s estimate. Thank goodness Wisconsin allows stores to sell alcohol via online pickup.
  • We now have a brand new, dark gray slate-look ceramic tile floor, which contrasts nicely with the knotty pine walls and ceilings and matches the living room furniture and black baseboards.

So all’s well that ends well. Right?

Define, end.

Writer’s Blech

That was some break, huh? I mean, I’ve taken a few vacations in my time—a couple from this blog; many more from reality—but 370+ days is pretty ridiculous.

I feel compelled to offer an explanation, although I suspect I am alone in believing one is absolutely necessary. But since you’re here and apparently have some time and/or braincells to kill, please allow me to take a stab at it.

As difficult as it will be, I shall resist the impulse to make up a bunch of crap to make myself seem glamourous, worldly, or socially conscious—like my high school classmate and former best friend Lisa used to do every fall when we went back to school after summer vacation, and everyone wanted to know what everyone else had been up to for the past three months. I had no problem telling people I’d been reading, babysitting, swimming, visiting my grandparents, and fighting with my brothers, but she was not content to admit she had been involved in anything so pedestrian.

I haven’t spoken to her since 1986 (when she gushed about having been accepted into a sorority and asked me how many kids I had as if expecting me to say nine or ten with number eleven on the way) but if I were to call her up now, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her say she’d spent the past year perfecting her Meridional French while quarantining with Sting and Trudie and a few of their friends in Turks and Caicos (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?) or sequestered in some lush and remote location writing the screenplay for a documentary she hopes to make with (insert obscure indy filmmaker name here.) 

To be honest, at this point I’d give almost anything to be able to say I’d spent the past 12 months reading, babysitting, visiting my grandparents, and fighting with my brothers—or even listening to Lisa brag, lie, name drop, or pretend to be an independent filmmaker. Especially since that would mean I had not spent the year avoiding almost everyone—including my children—while washing my groceries and lurching back and forth from wanting to write something that would make people laugh and realizing there wasn’t much about 2020 that didn’t make me want to cry.

Even the election, which appeared to go my way this time around, could not budge my writer’s block. Because the results were not in for what seemed like decades after the polls closed. And when the votes were finally counted, I couldn’t even celebrate or joke about that because first, I am not one to gloat and second, I very much believe in Murphy’s law and I wasn’t going to do one damn thing that might jinx the final electoral college tally. And then came recounts, the legal challenges, that psycho Sydney Powell, as well as Lin ‘I’ve Completely Lost the Plot’ Wood, and the insurrection and—oh never mind. You know what happened. You were there.

In March of 2020, when the Jarhead and I went into lockdown, I was on the verge of writing about our latest renovation project and excited to make fun, as usual, of all the trials and tribulations associated therewith. We had a whole new team of contractors; an entirely different type of house upon which to test our skills and the strength of our marriage; and a completely new set of issues we had never run across before. In short, it should have made for comedy gold.

But instead, the mine went bust. Somehow joking about unreliable contractors, bail-jumping contractors, nonexistent footings and egregious electrical code violations didn’t seem all that amusing. Especially when Covid-19 was literally killing someone every 33 seconds or so. 

Add to that mix the fact that so many people didn’t seem to give a good goddamn. Instead, they were mocking, complaining about or flat-out ignoring mask mandates and attacking anyone who tried to follow or enforce them. Some even called them violations of their civil rights and likened them to being forced to wear the Star of David or a number on their wrist. Wow. What a bunch of drama queens.

As if they were being singled out and mistreated instead of simply being asked to protect the more vulnerable members of their communities. As if wearing a mask is some giant burden. As if surgeons have been wearing them for fun all these years and not for the safety of their patients. As if they don’t wear them for hours at a time during complicated operations without suffocating, all without whining or crying about it. I know. Let’s not confuse the issue with facts.

While we’re on that topic, here are a few points for folks to ponder: If mask mandates violate your constitutional rights, does it not follow that the DNR rules that require the wearing of blaze orange during deer hunting season do the same? And does it not follow that the city ordinances requiring you to cover your junk in public are, by that same logic, unconstitutional?

Seems to me, your righteous indignation is a bit inconsistent and your sudden interest in our beloved constitution a tad convenient. After all, seeing your junk might make me sick, but it probably won’t kill me. Which makes me wonder: if you don’t like laws requiring you to cover your face, how are you remotely okay with laws requiring you to cover your ass?

Perhaps, in addition to flouting the mask mandates, you should also be flouting these other forms of governmental overreach? Perhaps you fellas should skip the pants and underwear next time you head to Lowe’s and march proudly into the store to pick up your wood—I mean, lumber. And maybe you gals should just go topless to the office or the gym. And if someone challenges your right to do so, you can just look them in the eyes (ahem, they’re up here) and give them a quick lesson on constitutional law. What’s the matter? Are you shy?

Perhaps that’s taking things a bit too far. So how about instead you get up a group of people to protest the laws requiring you to wear blaze orange while deer hunting. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just convince your peeps to grab their guns, throw on some camouflage and some doe urine and say, “Screw that shit, man. I’m an American, and ain’t nobody forcing ME to wear orange.”

Now THAT is a protest I can get behind. I will not only support your cause; I’ll go to your rallies and help you spread the word on social media. I will even drive you to your favorite hunting spot and offer you a hearty ‘good luck!’

Okay. I probably won’t say good luck. But I will say this: If plane crashes were killing as many Americans a week as this virus has, these people would be singing a whole different tune. If their own kids or other loved ones were dying from Covid-19 as fast as all those anonymous sick and old people they’ve never met; if they had to work in hazmat suits caring for patients as they lay dying alone, they would not only wear the damn masks but also urge everyone and their brother to stay TF at home. But they aren’t living that reality, so they have the luxury of not giving a damn.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The people who refuse to cover their faces may dress it up to be a constitutional issue but that’s only because they could never say with a straight face that it’s a hardship or a sacrifice. At best, it’s an inconvenience or a nuisance. And don’t let them kid you either. They may say they oppose government overreach but what they’re fighting for is the right to endanger the lives of as many of their fellow citizens as they like. They can tell themselves it’s bigger than that, but they’re full of crap. Because you don’t see them strapping on their assault rifles and marching to the nearest state capitol to protest laws requiring them to wear seatbelts, drive a certain speed, or carry car insurance.

Just like the parents who demanded that teachers and other educators ‘do their effing jobs’ and work in classrooms without the protection of a vaccine but who couldn’t do that ‘effing job’ if their own lives depended on it (as many of them proved with aplomb) their interest lies not in protecting the teachers who typically have to manage 20 to 30 children per hour for 7 hours a day, but in not having to manage their own 2.4 children 24 hours a day. I’m not even going to address the stunning lack of empathy it takes to accuse teachers of not wanting to do their jobs when in fact what they want is simply to not get exposed to a deadly virus and die.

And let us not forget the state and local officials and school board members who insisted that it was okay for teachers and support staff to be up to their elbows in germy kids all day even though they themselves won’t meet in person because they’re not willing to sit in the same room with other adults. Ah, how I love the smell of a double standard in the morning.

The worst part is, if we had done what needed doing for as long as we needed to do it, we would not have nearly half a million dead in the US alone. And we might have been out of the woods already. 

But alas, for some that was too much work. Or maybe it wasn’t as satisfying as belittling the staff at the grocery store when they offer you a mask because you ‘forgot’ yours, or as entertaining as the news reports about hospitals running out of capacity. Or maybe it just wasn’t as much fun as dressing up like Rambo and brandishing weapons that you only fire at helpless deer, glass bottles, paper targets or clay pigeons.

I know. That was a low blow. How could I possibly know for sure that all those deer, bottles, targets and clay pigeons are helpless? I actually I have it on good authority from Eddie Izzard that clay pigeons are in fact fuckers.

Which perfectly illustrates my point: Apart from making fun of these people and devising creative ways to punish their ignorance and/or selfishness, there has not been one ounce of laughter or pleasure to be gleaned from the situation that isn’t, somehow, also painful AF.

And yet it seemed every other writer and humorist on the planet was able to carry on. SNL was still making episodes—albeit from their own homes and in their own clothes. And the late night talk show hosts were all still cracking jokes. They just weren’t doing it in front of a live audience for a while. But they still did it.

So what was my excuse? I had never had a live audience. Or a team of writers. It had always been me and my computer. In my own home and in my own clothes. Or more accurately, pajamas.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I need to change things up a bit. Maybe tomorrow I’ll dig out some of the Jarhead’s cammies and storm around the house ranting to my cat about the Bill of Rights and see if I can make her laugh.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Soap Opera Digestion

If you’re like me, your favorite soap opera of all time is “As the Stomach Turns.” For the uninitiated, As the Stomach Turns is the title of a series of sketches that aired on The Carol Burnett Show (and later, on Carol Burnett & Company) back in the sixties and seventies, that took the piss out of CBS’s As the World Turns and others of its ilk in a way that only Carol and company could.

Daytime dramas, as they used to be called by people who found the phrase “soap opera” to be demeaning or disparaging to the art form, were nigh as vital to life as water for many of the women in my life when I was a kid. Both my grandmothers were devoted viewers of the “soaps” and would watch them, one after another, for literally three straight hours every single day.

Perhaps it was because Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood weren’t racy enough for them. Or maybe because Phil Donahue was too political for them. Or maybe they just tuned in so they could stay on top of all the processed foods, household cleaners and other consumer goods that were advertised during their viewing hours. Like fans of Playboy magazine who claim to read it just for the articles, they may have been watching the soaps just for the oh-so educational commercials.

As a teenager, I discovered that the soaps were as important, if not more so, to a surprisingly large number of my junior high and high school friends and their sisters, who would race to their living rooms after getting off the bus to switch on General Hospital or Days of Our Lives—often foregoing a snack until the first commercial break. The most dedicated among these would go so far as to take the phone off the hook to keep it from ringing and ruining the moment at which someone confessed to murder, having an affair, having an abortion, or giving birth to the lovechild of one of the Quartermaines. This was before anyone had a TV in their bedroom, of course. And before there was such a thing as DV-R. And before you could binge anything on Netflix. And before—well, you get the picture.

Most of the soaps that aired in my lifetime have gone the way of the dinosaurs, with only a handful still on the air today. I can’t say I’m surprised. Nor can I say I’m sad. Because while my friends, grandmothers, aunts and neighbors were obsessing about Luke and Laura, Bo and Hope, Frisco and Felicia, and who-knows-who and who-knows-who-else, I was thinking about other things. Like writing skits for The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live.

Such as, Nine Lives to Live. Set on a lavish estate called Llanfill in the fictional town of Llanville, this parody of One Life to Live would have centered on the life of the rich and saintly Fluffy and her morally questionable alternate personality, Muffy.

Obviously, that was never going to get off the ground back in the seventies. But today, you need only saunter over YouTube and search for “Nine Lives of Our Days” and see that I was ahead of my time.

Other ideas I came up with while my friends and other folks were watching Marlena become possessed by the devil; get brainwashed into believing she was a serial killer; suffer from amnesia; survive a plane crash; and fall into and recover from a four-year coma, include The Shy and Unassuming and The Old and the Listless.

As far as I know, no one has stolen those ideas and taken them to YouTube, although for the life of me, I can’t imagine why.