Tag Archives: home depot

It Started with Succulents

Image result for huge bulldozer forest black and white

It started with succulents. It ended with a commercial grade rototiller and a crater between citrus trees.

It wasn’t my idea. Thumb pots with tiny cacti do not sing to me. So it was never going to be love at first sight. But things escalated quickly. Emotions ran high. And a year ago today I drove away from a plant nursery with the number of a man who didn’t want to, but was considering, doing some work for me.

He really didn’t want to do the work. It wasn’t about the money. The last time he came back to a customer’s house afterhours and did some unaffiliated work not wearing the emblazoned logo of the nursery, it ended poorly. I told him I didn’t see his planting an avocado tree in my backyard ending in violence. He said, You don’t know that.

In 2017, a man had approached him about some Marathon II sod. He ordered pallets of it from the nursery. His son was turning eight and he wanted a nice grassy backyard for the birthday party. The man from the nursery declined. It’s against the rules. The man buying the Marathon II pressed him, bullied him a bit. The nursery man figured it was just rolling some sod. Shitty, but uneventful work. So he did it.

At the birthday party, they had a flag football tournament on the newly laid sod. Then because he didn’t have sprinklers or the patience to water the grass turned to straw. So the man with dead grass showed up at the nursery, chased the nursery man through agave plants, French lavender and those weird trees that grow lemons, limes and oranges all on the same tree. When he caught him, he beat the shit out of him while landscape architects bought perennials bulbs by the pallet for houses in the Palisades.

Image result for transplanting mature treesHe declined the extra fifty bucks I had in my hand. Besides, the nursery man told me, it’s not that hard to plant a tree. Put it on its side, cut it out of the box and slide it into a hole that’s three times the size of the root ball. He got in his truck and drove off. 

It’s not that hard became the mantra of the afternoon, and then the year. Of course the root ball alone weighed about two hundred pounds so it was actually very fucking hard to slide it into the clay soil. Impenetrable soil that did not want to be dug up three inches, let alone three feet. But eventually the tree stood tall and noticeably crooked.

It was his son’s birthday party that drove a man to speedbag a nursery employee who didn’t want to roll sod for what was probably not enough money after work.

I didn’t remember that until 9 p.m. last Friday night when it was pointed out to me that I wasn’t making the sort of progress that I needed to be making if we were going to have a lawn by my son’s birthday party on the following Saturday. It was also pointed out to me that I had been railing against grass for over a year. She quoted back to me: We live in a desert by the ocean, and lawns in Orange County and golf courses in Palm Springs are draining our reservoirs for people who live in Nevada for six months and one day of the year to avoid residency anyway. Now I was going to put in something that needs to be watered three times a day for the first week and two times daily the next and then semiweekly until the end of time?

Yes, I said, knee-deep in dirt. I cut the engine on the tiller, which I had learned how to use from watching a few videos on youtube.

There were questions that I hadn’t considered. There was mention of needing to haul out “cubic yards” of dirt, leveling the ground, installing a sprinkler system, and maybe buying some sodcutters because our yard is shaped like a kindergartener tried to cut a maple leaf out of cardstock. And what were my qualifications? A membership to the Writer’s Guild West?

I had been inhaling exhaust behind that rototiller for all of the hours of daylight and a few after. My brain was starting to flicker in and out. I saw stars not above me but right in front of me. And then there was the question of my commitment to a sod supplier in Chino.

I’m happy to stop now, I said.

The moon hung crooked and she tried not to laugh. The thing about my ears, which were recently drilled and are still thick with ointment and congealed blood, is I didn’t hear most of what she had said. In fact the only thing I could hear was the same Slauson Boy album that my neighbor has been playing since Nipsey Hustle died.

I don’t know what would’ve happened if the man at the nursery would have agreed to help me shuffle my Hass into the ground. But I don’t think I would be standing in a cavity of pulverized clay and compost that had pipe dreams of being a misshapen, poorly laid and likely short-lived patch of grass.

Anyway, there’s a guy with a truck and a trencher, decomposed granite, drought tolerant plants and native grass coming later. I’ll probably just pay him more than my car cost to make it look like the patio of an Abbot Kinney coffeeshop. That’s what the kid wants for his birthday anyway. Grass is for cattle, baseball fields and Walt Whitman poems.

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Me, a Would-Be Arborist

Image result for cutting down redwoodsIt’s seven a.m. and my neighbor is shirtless. From his porch, he greets the children walking to school. Most of the men in my new neighborhood don’t wear shirts in the morning or the evening. But my next door neighbor is the only one who is committed to going topless all day. I imagine his closet is forty pairs of tan shorts on the bottom, forty pairs of Adidas sandals on the floor and where shirts would be it’s completely bare.

I leave home, wearing a shirt and hoping the other men on my block won’t judge me for it, to meet a novelist. He’s an ex-Angeleno who is also an ex-New Yorker and is now a Texan. From what I can tell he’s living in Texas as a sort of social experiment. He’s interested in America. He enjoys the novelty of eating brisket. The weather is torture but that too seems to be part of the experiment. Sure, he could move back to LA, live in perfect weather and eat Persian food whenever he wants but instead he tells me he might buy a ranch, acres and acres of open land. There he’ll build a recording studio. And as for the rest of the land? Frankly, he doesn’t give a shit. This is the thing we need to understand – he might do it. There’s not a callus on his hands and he might buy a fucking ranch. In Texas no less. You could probably buy a ranch in the valley, but that won’t do. He’s going all the way. He’s committed.

He’s heard rumors of my new way of life, my forays into the world of doing shit I’m completely unqualified for and doing it poorly. He wants to join. I tell him there’s one rule: we don’t wear shirts down here, and I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing. He’s in. Of course he’s in.

We go to Home Depot because that’s how I begin every day now. We’re there for a chainsaw. I ask a twenty-year-old woman in orange if she’s knows anything about stump removal. She laughs it off, which is weird because I’m being sincere. Try aisle 2, she says.

Along the way we flag down two gentlemen in orange.

The easy way to do it is to get some root killer, drill some holes, dump it in and then take it out in 6 weeks. The other way is gonna be a shit ton of work.

Say we want to do it the hard way.

It’s gonna be a pain in the ass. I wouldn’t do it. It’s no joke, back-breaking work.

Tell us more about this hard way.  

We never find the chainsaws. We find some other saws. I won’t even venture a guess at what they’re called. They look terrifying. I’m scared of losing a leg. I don’t want to 127 hours myself. I buy a pick axe and some gloves.

Chainsaw Pack, Black, 1000D Cordura(R)

It’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when we start the work. The sun is blazing but apparently it’s nothing compared to Texas. Luckily we don’t wear shirts. I can’t because I live here and this is the way of life and I want to fit in. My neighbor is likely snoozing through the afternoon but I know he has eyes everywhere. He once saw me putting my surfboard in my car and he said, “you like to surf, eh?” I mean, nothing gets past this guy.

We have two pick axes, a shovel, a crow bar, a hatchet and a drill. Most of this stuff was in the shed when I moved in. Now the backyard looked like shit before we started but two hours and six beers later, the once impenetrable ground is splattered fence to fence. The dirt is made of concrete. Concrete and clay. We dig about six inches deep on all sides and that feels like a miracle. And the roots? They’re as wide as La Cienega.

Let me start at the beginning. This tree, what’s left of it, people are saying it’s the biggest tree that ever grew in Los Angeles. Luckily, a man named Bob cut it down before I moved in. But Bob died of heart attack while playing tennis so he never removed the stump. He tried. God, he tried. There are slashes and chains to prove that he attempted to drag it out but it’s simply too big. From what I’ve been told by acquaintances who haven’t seen the tree but who have heard me describe it, the roots could go down as far as a hundred yards. Maybe even hundred meters depending on which is farther. (Personally, I’m too much of a patriot to fuck with the metric system.)

kevin garnett GIF

We’re about a quarter of the way through a root, one that has been bludgeoned with a pick axe, hacked with a hatchet, speared with a shovel and kicked for good measure, when the man from Texas via NYC via LA concedes that it can’t be done. He’s sustained an injury. My injuries are more of the emasculating variety. Tomorrow he’ll get on a plane with a catastrophic hangover to go see a girl in Arizona who he’s never met but who I gather has fallen in love with him. But tomorrow for me means I wake up and have to watch a guy on the Celtics scream “Anything is possible” just to get out of bed, then go about digging a hole, wrestling a root, jumping on a crow bar only to discover that these roots go well beyond the earth’s crust and maybe even its mantle.

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Update: It’s been a week. The stump is still in my backyard. I’ve hacked through three-quarters of a root the width of a Mini Cooper. This is maybe my greatest accomplishment. All around me my dog is eating dirt and for some reason onions. Or maybe they’re shallots. While I haven’t successfully removed one of the fifty-seven roots, I’ve apparently discovered a graveyard of shallots. Or maybe a bed of shallots. Maybe that’s how they’re grown. How should I know? I’m not a gardener. I’m an arborist.

Two Week Update: The stump is still there. So is the dirt around it. A friend recommended a bulldozer. Tragically all I have is a Mazda 3 hatchback.

Three Week Update: I’ve decided that the tree is part of the land. Would we take the redwoods out of Northern California? Would we take the Joshua Trees out of Joshua Tree? Then why would I even consider taking a tree of unknown origin out of the clay parading as dirt in my backyard?

Four Week Update: I think I’m going to hire a pro but I’ll have to do it while I’m out of town. I can’t face the guys who are going to take this out. Or maybe I’ll lie and say that the last owner left it like this. What an asshole. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.

 

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In which I Do Two Days of Hard Work

I’m thinking about writing a book: My Life as a Moron. The trouble is that I’m too busy living it.

There are many things that I know nothing about and I’m all too willing to accept this and return to the stuff that I do know and enjoy. But not everyone in my life accepts my shortcomings. So this weekend I bought a sander and alternately crouched, lay, sat, squatted and bent to sand baseboards.

This was, at the very least, a stupid thing to do.

I spent the weekend punishing myself because a professional casually recommended to the person in my life who refuses to accept that I know nothing about paint or paint-stripping or paint-scraping that I sand every baseboard in the house. In retrospect I recognize that this idea came from someone who speaks English as a second-language and my information was second-hand yet I took it literally. I bought a sander and boy did I sand.

It did nothing.

For ten hours, I exhausted myself while huffing lead-based paint and accomplished absolutely nothing. As I tirelessly made no discernible progress, I thought about all the times I’ve come home exhausted from a day of sitting in a room on a studio lot talking about how to make and execute episodes of television which would be produced, financed, acted in and directed by other people. And yet I thought I knew exhaustion.

I did not. I thought I knew tedium. I knew nothing of tedium. When people talked about back-breaking work, I thought it was a metaphor, hyperbole. And sure, I’m not so soft that I’ve never had a sore back but that was all done in good fun. Hell, I’ve even gotten a few calluses from deadlifting a couple times a year to remind myself that I’m not just a person who sits in front of a computer all day amusing myself with words. I can also pick up weights and drop them in an air-conditioned space surrounded by other people who spend their days hunched over keyboards alternately drinking coffee and La Croix (and don’t want to look like it).Image result for bad before and after jesus painting

As I lay on my stomach on a skateboard with a paint scraper digging into first 9 layers of paint and then because I’m unskilled: wood, I laughed. Probably from inadvertently snorting paint chips. It was the end of a long day of making a fool of myself in an empty house while my new next-door neighbor sang Drake, Shakira, Outcast then switched to a Spanish language radio station and listened to that for so long and so loudly that I learned the words to a Cal Worthington Ford dealership ad. In Spanish.

At this stage, a smarter person might retreat. They might beg the bank to take the money back – all of it – because really, what was so bad about renting a guest house in Silver Lake where I literally didn’t change my own lightbulbs? But I’m not a smarter person, so I’ll go back. I’ll change into an old t-shirt and strap on a pair of knee pads. I’ll put in ear plugs, don some safety glasses and I’ll run a sander aimlessly while wondering: where did my life go so wrong that I thought I could operate a power tool?

Next door Rampage will bark, my neighbor will blast Cardi B and in between battles with the apron of a window sill, I’ll watch youtube videos where people with tools that I don’t have and knowledge that I certainly don’t possess confirm that what I’m doing is futile and time consuming and should probably be left up to a professional. And yet… and yet.

 

 

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