The Borg

Posted by Steve on Sat, 09/30/2006 - 10:46am
Shortly after I moved to Brooklyn, one of the largest local independent home improvement centers closed, Mars Lumber. It's now an Outback Steak House. The attitude at Mars was gruff and impatient but there were always professional trades people hanging around to give good advice. Mars fell victim to NYC's first Home Depot store on Hamilton Avenue. Home Depot was bright, clean, well stocked and the people were friendly. Good riddance to Mars.

But then a funny thing happened. The Hamilton Avenue Home Depot took an abrupt nose dive. The quality of the help was the first casualty. The bright, smiling Home Depot associates suddenly disappeared and were replaced by surly illiterates who looked and behaved more like they were doing community service. The aisles and the parking lot were filthy. The shelves looked like a pre-glastnost Soviet supermarket. The lines at the registers were typically fifteen minutes long.

One Friday night, a friend and I went to Hamilton Ave to pick up some copper pipe when a pair of skanky women slithered up and asked, "Want a date?"

The Most Painful Free Drywall In the World

Posted by Steve on Tue, 09/26/2006 - 1:27pm

Yesterday, I got the framing completed in the new closet so it was time to fetch the free drywall my friend, John, around the corner had offered to me.

John is another home renovation tyromaniac. In fact, I wouldn't have found this place if not for him. He was the former NYC City Register so I had a complete history on this place a few hours after its former owner had mentioned to John that he was thinking of selling.

John knew I was looking for a cheap fixer-upper with a garage for my bikes. He called me, I rushed down here from Manhattan on my Triumph, did a quick inspection, negotiated a selling price and snagged a commitment from the owner before he had a chance to contact a real estate agent. Then I waited nine months to close, but that's another story.

John and Joyce did a fantastic renovation job on their old house. He's a woodworker from way back and, like me, he opted for restoration rather than rehab. Joyce has an artistic decorating eye that I lack. Their house always feels like, I dunno... Christmas.

Anyway, John and Joyce are a rare breed: home owners who actually completed their renovation. Just last year, in fact. Then they experienced a homeowner's worst nightmare: FIRE!

This past February, John couldn't sleep and went downstairs around 3am for a glass of milk when he saw smoke. The power went out a few seconds later. He woke his wife, called 911 and they exited the house into the sub-freezing night.

Plague Walls

Posted by Steve on Mon, 09/25/2006 - 10:30am

With great reluctance, I pulled myself out of my sick bed to get back to the master bedroom renovation, which means more demolition. Lovely.

A couple of hours later Karen called to see how her patient was doing. Karen's an anesthesiologist who had to leave medicine because of a severe latex allergy. So she takes things like breathing both personally and professionally. When I told her I was ripping down old woodwork and plaster I thought her hands were going to zoom through the phone and strangle me, Bugs Bunny style.

"Are you <bleeping> nuts, you stupid <bleep>?! Do you want bronchitis or pneumonia? Do you want your lungs full of mold spores while you're still fighting off a fever?"

Message received. I told her I'd stop and hung up promising to go back to bed. I just didn't say when. I went back to work, making a note to look out the window every few minutes to check for her car.

As usual, she was right. Even with a fresh mask I lasted about another hour before I started coughing like a coal miner. I knocked off, showered (I'm glad I installed that steam generator) and had just crawled back into bed when the doorbell rang. It was Karen. Talk about cutting it close.

Anyway, I got this much done.

What you don't see is the mess that was living behind this woodwork. Really fine spooge, like grey talcum powder mixed with sand. To avoid stirring up dust sweeping it I decided instead to use the central vacuum to clean out the cavities as I opened each one of them up. My vac, a VacuFlo, is one of those bagless tornado action units that exhausts the really fine dust outside, under my back deck. After sucking up a pile of this stuff I went into the office to answer an instant message summons when something caught my eye out the window in my back yard.

Omigod, FIRE!! The back yard was full of billowing grey smoke belching from what appeared to be my basement. I ran downstairs in a panic, yelling at the dogs to pack their milkbones. But the basement was fine. It was dust from my central vac's exhaust port. Whoa. I figured that it probably wasn't in the best interests of public health to keep doing this. I managed to completely fill the vac's six-gallon collector bucket too.

Back to the renovation, the idea here is to get rid of that steam radiator on the left by tucking a pair of smaller radiators in soffits under the windows. I have a plumber friend coming by this week to size the units I need to buy. The soffit facades have to be easily removable because steam radiators require periodic replacement of their air valves.


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