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Category Archives: house

a few small repairs

"Broken Toilet" by Siobhan McKeown. Some rights reserved.

“Broken Toilet” by Siobhan McKeown. Some rights reserved.

Last week was the six year anniversary of our buying this house and I still don’t know how to do anything.

Seriously. I still haven’t replaced a single fixture in six years. I’m great at fixing electronics (ask me about that one time I baked our television) and cleaning, but my list of house projects goes something like, “get poster framed and then beg E to hang it for me.”

Meanwhile, E has hung many pictures, replaced fixtures, painted whole rooms, installed complex wall-hanging laundry systems, supervised the replacement of no less than four doors and fourteen windows, and personally sourced and laid a set of slate steps.

Yes, she is a badass.

As for me, I refer to my combination of reticence and inability as “renter’s mentality.” This is the first home I’ve ever owned. My mother and I lived in three different rented homes, including one house for almost fifteen years. The only thing we ever altered – and I mean the only thing – was paying someone to paint-and-popcorn-ceiling a back room for me in a vomitous seafoam green when I became a teenager so I didn’t have to have a tiny shoebox of a bedroom with a connecting door to her room.

The wallpaper was uniquely hideous in every room, as if there was some sort of game of ugly oneupmanship going on when the house was initially decorated. The sole light source in the living room was a dilapidated chandelier missing several of its dangling crystals and bearing the tattered streamer of a long ago party. It had a certain Miss Havisham quality to it. The kitchen … it was the worst kitchen you can possibly imagine. I still have nightmares about it. It was carpeted, and that was the least-bad thing about it. We didn’t have much money, but I’m sure we could have done something about some of it.

Yet, we were paralyzed in the middle of the renter mentality triangle – decision-paralysis about changing something we didn’t own, lack of budget and hesitance to sink money into something we didn’t own, and lack of knowledge of how to do anything because we weren’t the owners who had to deal with it.

Even though E and I owning our house removes all of the “didn’t own” aspects of that vicious triangle, I’m still stuck inside its three walls, held hostage by the tiniest of options. We want a new faucet for our kitchen and the idea that I have to choose a semi-permanent fixture for our home and then see through its installation was paralyzing.

I kind of sort of committed to a style and then stalled. What if the finish didn’t exactly match the rest of the kitchen? How could I pick a new handle I’d be interacting with dozens of times a day without an intense, hands-on study of UI, UX, and ergonomics?

(Are you beginning to understand how hard it is to be married to me?)

This past Sunday, E looked me in the eye and spoke in the kind of calm, measured voice you use when you’re trying to approach a wild animal without spooking it.

“Peter,” she crooned, “we really need to replace the toilet in the master bathroom.” She saw the fear in my eyes. The toilet. That’s permanent porcelain piece of furniture!

“The tank does not fit into space between the bowl and the wall,” she continued, soothingly, “and so it has a bad seal to the floor. The plumber said he couldn’t fix it again with caulk. It’s time.”

I gulped and nodded imperceptibly. It was a perfectly good toilet! How could we throw it away? It would probably cost untold thousands of dollars to replace and could result in the demolition of the entire bathroom – we might have to knock down a wall in the back of the house and get a crane into the back yard to winch it out.

“You just have to talk to the plumber.” This is the part where you have locked eyes with the animal and are slowly backing it towards the cage in which you are trying to capture it, for its own safety and yours. “Just find out what we need to do.”

Today is Friday. I managed to be busy enough with car repairs and writing and hanging out with our little scamp that I avoided the call all week, but this morning I knew I had to bite the bullet and talk to our plumber – not the hardest call, since he is the most patient human being in the universe who once had to respond to my emergency call after I crashed our car into our house.

I made the call. I described the problem and braced for impact. Would we need to move out of the house for a week while he did the repairs?

“Oh, I could stop by with the toilet on Monday if you want,” he responded.

Did he mean, stop by with his team of burly men, fleet of construction equipment, and double-wide trailer for porcelain throne hauling?

“No, just me.”

I was in awe. How much would such a feat cost? Could we afford it and continue to feed EV her diet of copious fresh fruits and vegetables, or would she spend her fourth year of life eating ramen, exclusively.

Let’s just say, replacing a toilet costs less than my typical monthly order of new comic books.

I was so relieved, I followed up with, “Hey, do you replace faucets?”

independence doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help

On a top-secret mission to Sine Studios at 127 S. 22nd Street in Philadelphia, just above Walnut.

Happy Independence Day!

Last night Jake and I conducted a special, top secret Arcati Crisis mission at Sine Studios, my favorite studio in Philly.

I can’t get into the details of our journey just yet, but given the context of today it made me think about what independence and DIY really means to me – and to you.

For a long time I was DIY because I had to be – because no one else wanted to help me make music or publish my writing or code my website. I didn’t have the money or the clout to attract anyone to my projects, so I did them all myself.

I’m sure you’ve found yourself in the same place. Nobody would do it for you, so you did it for yourself!

That do-it-yourself know-how is a wonderful thing to have. I love that I’ve never been to a recording studio and that I’ve coded all my own websites from scratch or with open source. I love being capable and autonomous.

But being independent doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help.

This weekend in my JavaScript coding I got super-stuck more than once. Luckily, I am married to a self-taught JavaScript expert. I was happy to have her help. Last summer E laid down a set of beautiful new slate steps in our back yard, but mixing a new cement panel for our front walk was beyond her. We hired a local contractor, and they took care if it in a matter of hours a few weeks ago.

E and I never stopped being independent and capable. We still did our research and learned new things from the process. We just called in the experts when the time was right.

I have been working on recording projects for both Arcati Crisis and Filmstar over the past year. Recording a full rock band is a tall task. It’s not just about putting up a ton of microphones and rolling tape. You have to deal with noise, separation, splitting signals, phase issues, and tons of other aspects.

I can handle that myself as a recording engineer, but that takes a lot out of me as a performer. Add to that a fiercely played full drum set, and the hamster in my brain will run itself right off of his wheel.

That’s what lead to our top secret trip to Sine. I was asking for help from experts that I trust.

It doesn’t mean we’re not independent. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it myself if I wanted to. It just means that now I know when it’s time to reach out to someone I trust instead of suffering through difficulties on my own.

That’s what independence means to me today.

What does independence mean to you?

Where Dirt Means Dirt

I don’t know if this is a universal experience in Philadelphia, but I spent my whole life up to this point living no more than two doors down from a drug dealer.

Visit Philly! Score some drugs!

No, seriously.

I don’t know if it was something about my choice in row homes or just something about Philadelphia, but there has been evidence of illegal narcotics distribution within a few hundred feet of my door in every place I’ve lived. Southwest, University City, West, South.

Mind you, if you are a drug dealer, or a drug addict – or, hey, even a drug mule! – I am not passing judgment on you. I can’t afford to alienate that (potentially wide) swath of blog readers. But, more to the point, what you do inside your house is totally cool. Me, I have my wife tie me to a chair in a room covered in plastic sheets, so you guys can just keep on keeping on. I’m just saying, it’s not like I’ve always lived within two doors of a police officer, or a gymnast. There’s simply something special about drug dealers.

This is maybe why I maintain a blanket approach of wary kindness to neighbors. I want to know their name in case I have to borrow a cup of sugar or talk to the cops about them, but I typically don’t want to go over for dinner or anything. I mean, you heard about the neighbor who offered teenaged me some crack to smoke, right?

When a neighbor stopped by our house to offer to cart away some of our dirt, perhaps you can understand why I immediately assumed it was code. I mean, the dirt is just dirt, but the offer must have something to do with drugs. He said he needed to fill in his yard before he put in an above ground pool, but “fill in the yard” probably meant “bury the evidence” and “above ground pool” was probably code for “massive bong.”

Right?

In this case, said neighbor showed up with an actual wheelbarrow to transport the literal dirt. I wanted to ask, “are you a drug farmer?,” because who else just shows up at your house with a wheelbarrow? Who even owns a wheelbarrow? Farmers, that’s who.

My neighbor was not a drug dealer, a drug farmer, or a non-drug farmer. He was a friendly guy who wants to put an above-ground pool in for his hilarious five-year-old daughter, who helped us shovel and then volunteered to plant flowers for E.

I realize I’ve now unwittingly befriended everyone within a two-house radius of our new house, and so far none of them have tried to sell us drugs. Which makes me wonder: is this real life?

(Although, to be fair, said neighbor did tell us about a grisly triple-murder that happened just down the block … but I have to think that’s way more common in Philly than even friendly neighborhood drug dealers.)

Next the world is going to try to convince me that if I leave our car unlocked no one is going to come by to pee in it.

It’s not going to work! I know that unlocked cars are the world’s urinal.

We’ve hit claydirt!

Her car slowed to a crawl by the curb as she rolled down the window.

“Hi there!” She exclaimed.

I had no idea who she was.

“Are you having problems with your pipes?” she asked, her voice filled with sympathy.

I looked up from my shoveling, one leg hiked up on the pile of dirt while I wiped the sweat from my brow with the opposite hand, reflecting that I was striking one of the more manly poses from which I’ve ever been interrupted, and replied.

“Sure looks like it, huh!”

As it turns out, we were not having a problem with our pipes, or really any kind of problem at all. Everything was proceeding according to plan. E’s plan.

Mostly.

You see, all home repairs are remanded to the exclusive custody of E due to a combination of my OCD and my having never lived in a house where I was allowed to do anything to anything.

As a result, I can’t even put a screw into a wall without wanting to call in an architect. I’m like, “You want me to do WHAT to the WALL of OUR HOUSE that WE OWN? Are you sure?”

And then E takes the drill from me, sinks a screw into the wall, and hangs a picture. Or installs a laundry system or hooks up a digital thermostat or whatever other crazy MacGyver insanity she does while I’m worriedly reading and re-reading instruction booklets and internet how-tos.

So, when E proposed a plan for regrading our front lawn that began with, “find some free fill dirt from Craigslist,” I just nodded. I mean, first, she’s always right, but also, it’s not like we are going to break the front lawn, right?

Like, what’s the worst that could happen?

Right. That question got a little less rhetorical on Thursday night when a 30-year-old dump truck cracked a panel of our sidewalk and dug its wheels into our lawn in a possibly irretrievable fashion.

For a few minutes I really thought we had acquired a permanent 30-year-old dump truck lawn ornament, which I guess I was okay with. That was before it stood on its rickety pneumatic hind legs to expel what was surely close to a ton of dirt onto our front lawn. Then there was also the chance that the entire thing would tip over backwards and somersault through our front window.

Well, we got rid of the truck, but were left with a pile of dirt that was only slightly smaller than a VW Bug, bristling with hunks of broken concrete. Honestly, it looked to be about 30% dirt, 70% shattered ruins. Between the broken sidewalk, the massive tire rut, and the subsequent pile of rubble it really did look like we were digging up a ruptured sewer pipe.

Which maybe is why three separate people asked about that, even when I was halfway through shoveling said dirt to its final resting place. Because, as it turns out, the rubble was not bristling with concrete – it was clay dirt, and all of the various rock-like bits were clay that easily gave way beneath my shovel.

(Gina was able to discern this immediately when she arrived for rehearsal yesterday, despite my trying to convince her the yard was filled with rubble from a giant robot fight that had occured in our lawn over the weekend. Maybe I should have skipped the giant robot part.)

Three hours of manly labor later and the pile was half-depleted – more of a buttress than a Bug – while our lawn is now graded up almost a foot at the foundation of the house.

What might my solution have been, you ask? I probably would have paid one of the three landscape engineers we are personally acquainted with a large sum of money to find a solution that involved neither a dump truck or me spending a day shoveling dirt.

Of course, E’s solution was free less the cost of the new sidewalk panel, plus I got to look manly for an afternoon, so that’s why she’s in charge of these things.

something like life

I’ve got this elaborate editorial calendar telling me what to write and when to post, but if I just stick to the calendar that sucks a bit of the me out of the blog, eh?

Life continues to be a non-stop whirlwind of communications and music, which is exactly what I’ve always wanted it to be, so yay for the continued status quo! When not in actual rehearals I’m writing songs (for the soundtrack to Eric Smith’s novel), a novel (for NaNoWriMo), and a blog (just because, and for NaBloPoMo).

As it happens,Gina is also writing songs (at the moment, as a soundtrack to Boardwalk Empire), a novel (she’s the one who convinced me to do NaBloPoMo), and a blog (she is not the only one of us who exerts peer pressure).

I think this is pretty much what I imagined our adulthood would be like as a seventeen year-old, except for I’m married to someone way hotter than I imagined and Gina is engaged to a lawyer.

Speaking of: Elise, who has the same hectic rehearsal schedule as me but less of the writing, has starting painting the house in approved non-vomitorious colors. I think it’s very “nice” that she’s painting, which is to say I think painting (and, in general, decorating) is something people with too much money and spare time do to occupy themselves.

The only photographic evidence of us as Lucas and Corey from Empire Records, courtesy of our friend Tina, who was such a perfect Rachel Berry that it was a little disturbing. Note E's gold star, awarded from Rachel.

(Lest you think I am debuting this sideways insult of my wife here on the blog, she’s been hearing it for years. I’d wager she’d be happy if I just blogged about it and stopped whining about it in the house.)

As someone with neither money nor spare time, the whole process is perplexing to me. She had to use special gray primer on our dining room walls, which took an entire day to paint on and when she was done I was like, “Awesome, it’s gray, can we leave it like that?” and she had to explain that it was just the primer.

I’m all about gray. I think grays are totally exempt from every being vomit-inducing. Now the dining room is cranberry. I hear that’s supposed to aid in digestion, so I stood in it while I was eating raviolis before rehearsal last night. I ate them pretty quickly, but I think that’s just because I hadn’t eaten anything for about 22 hours. I’m not sure about the digestion angle.

The one downside to my constant flurry of words and sounds is it doesn’t leave a lot of time to interact with people I’m not writing or rehearsing with (or for taking things out of the dryer, but that’s another story). I think my next availability for a dinner with friends might be in December.

A snapshot of the last ten days of my life: Saw three concerts (one in New York), rehearsed three times, started three new songs for my soundtrack to Eric Smith’s book, tried to find a way to post three times daily here at CK (still working on that), wrote almost 7,000 words for my NaNoWriMo novel, and dressed as Lucas from Empire Records for a Halloween party.

Oh, and occasionally ate, slept, and watched 30 Rock.

If you did more than that in your last ten days then I want to know what else you could have possibly fit in and kind of vitamins you are taking.

Please note: methamphetamines do not count as “vitamins.”

The Mopping Fool

I am not what you would call an active “cleaner.”

I’m a tidier. I’m an organizer. But, it takes a lot to move me into cleaning mode.

In my head I always look this adorable while I am cleaning. I may or may not also always wear that hat.

I have a certain fear of activating that particular urge, possibly because I come from a line of hard-core OCD scrubbers.  Much as Bruce Banner turns from nerd to Hulk, when my inner-cleaner is invoked I go from laid back dude to my grandmother. I become intent on vacuuming the floor every time someone leaves the room to get a drink – vacuuming it until it is safe to eat mashed potatoes right off that rug.

E has learned to let that particular sleeping OCD monster lie on most occasions, because getting me involved in day-to-day cleaning is the nuclear option. The one time I have been entrusted with cleaning a bathroom the result resembled a demolition project.

The one area where E is willing to deploy the nuclear strike that is my genetic heritage of clean-freak-ness is mopping. I like a floor to be so well-mopped, so gleaming with elbow-greased shine, that you dare not mar the surface with your shadow after the mopping is done. I don’t trust other people to mop for me, because they don’t employ the five key phases of mopping required for a truly gleaming floor.

To say that I was invested in our mop purchase for the new house would be an understatement. “Invested” implies a degree of detached evaluation. No, our mop purchase was a matter of life or death – life with gleaming floors, or the relative half-life of dull ones.

At one point I was reduced to near tears in the middle of an aisle in Home Depot, wracked with indecision and guilt. Couldn’t we buy a sampling of four or five mops to do our own comparative test across multiple surfaces?

The Rubbermaid Wavebrake® Dual-Water Combo with Sideward Pressure Wringer. Wavebreak? For real? It's a fucking mop cart, not a jet ski.

A test should not have been required. What I wanted was a rag mop with a solid wooden handle, and a bucket to wring it with and in. None of this Swiffer bullshit or tiny little dish sponges on the end of a flimsy plastic pole with a built-in wringer.

Home Depot has a wide, pleasing selection of wooden handled mops. What they had zero of were wringing buckets. They had one massive $100+ dollar custodian cart that came with its own “Caution: Wet Floors” sign in dual languages. I am a serious mopper, so the concept intrigued me, but I didn’t think the cart cornered well enough to get around the island in our kitchen.

Is it just me, or could this easily double as some sort of implement of torture?

Apparently wringing buckets are a rare item, which puzzles me seeing as non-wringing mops are pretty damned common. How do they get dry? Some Amazon shopping yielded the Behrens 412W Galvanized Mop Wringer Pail, but with shipping it totaled almost $40. Seriously? For a mop bucket?

As a result, I committed the cardinal sin of a committed mopper – I bought a plastic handled mop with a built-in wringer. I figured it could last me through three or four moppings – long enough to find a permanent solution.

This is the Quickie Home-Pro Twist Mop with Spot Scrubber. It is the devil.

I was wrong. Super wrong. I popped the wringer out of its plastic threading on my first wring. I began to wring six or seven times to get it dry during phases two and four, which caused the mop head to age six or seven times as fast, which resulted in a busted mop head on its second outing.

$20 dollars for two moppings. I know MY mopping skills are worth $10 a go (hello – I have FIVE PHASES), but I don’t know if the mop quality was equally as worthy.

This all came to a head on Sunday night. I had avoided mopping our kitchen since the mop gave up the ghost, but I caused a bottle of ginger salad dressing to explode across our entire kitchen. Spot-cleaning was not an option – this required mopping.

I dealt with the frustration of my devil mop for all of five minutes. So do you know what I did? Scrubbed the damn floor on my hands and knees. And dried it that way too.

I know I’m my grandmother’s child when I comes to clean floors, but is scrubbing by hand seriously my best recourse with all of the cleaning products in a Home Depot and across the internet at my disposal?

Should I really be having in-store panic attacks and 1000-word blog posts both on the topic of mops?

Am I missing some incredibly simple explanation about how mops get wrung? Do people wring with their bare hands (eewwwww)?

More importantly, what simple home cleaning or repair task drives you similarly up a wall? Please tell me I’m not alone in my insanity.