Tag Archives: home improvement

It Started with Succulents

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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 Caulksmith

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Picasso painted, Pollack painted, guys who hang outside Kelly Moore in white overalls have painted. But me? I do not paint. I prime. I want to paint. I claim to be a man on the verge of painting, but it’s just not that easy.

One cannot simply paint. You can’t just waltz into Dunn Edwards, buy a gallon, a roller and merrily take on a wall. Why? Because what they don’t tell you is walls are flat as a rotten honey comb and as filty as the floor at the Cha Cha lounge on Sunday morning.

For the first time the word caulk rolls off my tongue. I don’t smile or laugh like a twelve-year-old because I’m now a serious person who has a tube full of the stuff that needs to be magnanimously doled out to each of the walls.

Before painting, I must prove myself as a caulksmith. Where there were once curtains, there are now holes and those holes must be caulked. That’s where I come in. Or I will. I can’t right now because I thought I was going to paint so I’ve got this fucking Home Depot one-and-done kit with a roller, a brush, a tray and some other shit, but all of it is useless to me because what these walls need is a good caulking. But I can’t give it to them.

I can do a half-ass job. I am in the business of that. I don’t mind skipping steps. I love it in fact. So today we shall not caulk. Along with my rookie painter’s kit, I’ve got a baking powder looking container of something called TSP. The directions say to mix it with hot water and to not rub it in your eyes, snort it, chug it or let it touch your skin. Most of that isn’t a problem for me. I can resist the urge of doing a line of what probably gets cut up in off the Las Vegas Strip cocaine. What I can’t do is wash the walls without it touching my skin because, you see, I have no fucking gloves. My plan was to paint, not to exfoliate walls with over the counter napalm.

So I skip that step too. I wash the walls with water. Cold water because there is no hot water and you’ve got to be out of your goddamn mind if you think I know where the hot water heater is or how to make it so hot water comes out. And I refuse to watch another youtube how-to video. I’ve watched 15 on painting today. There was much talk of “cutting in”, starting at the top, two thin layers being better than one sloppy thick one. But there was no talk of caulk. No mention of gloves. The walls get a quick cold water rinse.

When they dry – which takes about 15 minutes because even at 11 pm, it’s hot as fuck – I’m ready to get down to the business at hand: painting. Like the old masters used to. With brushes and by candle light because it’s dark outside and there isn’t a light bulb in this room.

But first, we prime. I crack open a plastic vat of the good stuff. Well, not really the good stuff, I think that would be the two-in-one paint and primer which for some reason I didn’t buy. So it’s not the good stuff but it’s stuff I’m slathering on walls and it’s a different color than what’s there.

The second the brush touches the paint and the paint touches the wall all attempts at technique go out the window. It’s just mad rush to catch drips as they stream down the wall toward the floor. I sideswipe them as they come. I’ve never been one for defense but this is the best man-on-paint stream coverage that I’ve ever mustered. I catch almost everything and what I don’t hits the canvas drop cloth that has gone from being perfectly flat to balled up at my feet in a matter of seconds.

The primer takes an hour to dry, but my arms are exhausted and I’m once again delirious from forgetting to put on a mask and not opening enough windows. I’ve primed one small wall. It’s the literal width of a shower. And from the time I opened the door to when I’m sloshing the brushes in a bucket calling it quits three hours have passed. At this rate, I’ll be able to prime the bathroom by the end of the month, prime the house by the end of the year and I can start painting in no more that 7 months.

But that’s a problem for the next seven months. Tonight I go home and bask in the victory of sanding less than I did the day before, of having scraped almost no paint and my crowning achievement: just one trip to Home Depot. Mainly because they were closed by the time I realized I’d forgotten many necessary items, but still, we take the small victories where we can, eh?

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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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