Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Ouch. I have so many cuts on my fingers from working in the basement yesterday, and I use the work “working” in the sense of doing something I like to do, not in the sense of laboring all day for The Man. Fun Stuff. I finished building my desk yesterday (see yesterday’s megaparagraph) which, because it’s smaller than the door I was using as a desk before, frees up some room in my basement lair as well as some room in the work shop where the desk top was loitering while I was disgusted with it. In a frenzy of activity, I finished the desk, moved a lot of lumber around and started cleaning up the basement lair, and whenever there’s that much big, heavy stuff being shifted, hammered on and screwed together, There Will Be Blood. I cut my fingers in at least a half-dozen places, and they’re not going to heal until maybe April because I’ve got some kind of weird old guy disease that makes all my skin dry up and crack during the winter, and if I cut a finger, especially when I skin a knuckle, it just bleeds and bleeds and bleeds and bleeds and bleeds. There aren’t enough Band-Aids in the world to take care of this problem. Several of the cuts are on the tips of my fingers, so just typing this drivel is physically painful. I have to go take my morphine now.

split | 6:21 am CST
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Monday, August 8th, 2011

I spent yesterday fixing a book case. I didn’t plan to. It was just one of those things. I happened to walk past it, looked up at the top and noticed that it had walked about an inch from where I wedged it against the ceiling about a year ago.

This was no ordinary book case. I built it out of two by fours and several slabs of rough-cut three quarter inch plywood. It probably weighs at least a hundred pounds empty, maybe three or four hundred pounds after I load it up with books, record albums and an old Underwood cast-iron typewriter. When a monster like that starts to tip over, no matter how slowly, I feel I pretty much have to drop whatever I’m doing and fix it.

I always meant to fix it in place eventually. I thought I had plenty of time to do it. I really thought it was wedged in so tight between the ceiling and floor that it couldn’t possibly fall over any time soon, but I was wrong. I should have realized that, with us walking across the floor above it month after month, and the natural expansion and contraction of the frame of the house through the seasons, there was no chance it wouldn’t fall over in just a year or two. I was awfully lucky to have caught it before it all went crashing to the floor.

So I spent pretty much all afternoon and part of the evening unloading books from the shelves, taking the frame of the book case apart, measuring and cutting, drilling holes, driving screws, and reloading the books so they wouldn’t be sitting on the floor where the bugs and the cold could get into them and wreck havoc of one kind or another. I tried every way I could think of to make repairs without taking all the books out and piling them on the floor, but in the end I realized that would be a half-assed fix and bowed to the inevitable. Also, if there was any chance the whole thing might tip over on top of me, better it was empty than full of books.

fix | 5:36 pm CST
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Sunday, June 19th, 2011

It’s father’s day, a day I can claim entirely as my own to do with however I please. Just waste it doing nothing, or even less than nothing, if I want to. “Less than nothing doesn’t even make sense,” you say. “How can you do less than nothing?” You know how people say, “That’s a half-hour of my life I’ll never get back?” I spent the last half-hour watching videos of Louis C K on YouTube. The only way I can possibly rationalize that I was being productive in any way is that I was taking in oxygen and cranking out carbon dioxide so the green, leafy organisms around me could have lunch. And if modern science is to be believed, not that many people do, there’s already plenty of carbon dioxide in the air, so I’m really reaching, but give me a break, I was just trying to show you how completely and utterly I can waste my time today.

And here I am blogging. There goes another half-hour of my life.

If I had any kind of conscience at all I’d be putting up the book cases I finally brought home from the outlet store last weekend. About six weeks ago I ordered a pair of book cases from one of those stores that orders unfinished furniture from the manufacturer at a discount, sort of. They were still kind of pricey but I was at the point where I realized I was never going to build them myself. I figured, if I bought them already together, then all I’d have to do is fix them to the wall – Done! It’s a good idea. It could have worked.

But the project suffered from inertia almost from the minute I placed my order. First of all, it turned out that the store was on the point of financial collapse. I didn’t find this out under weeks later, when they sent me a “Going Out Of Business” flier in the mail many weeks later. Not that it made any difference to whether or not I got the book cases, it was just sort of a harbinger of things to come. I strolled in, found the book cases I wanted, found a sales person and asked her if I could order a couple. She took me over to the island in the middle of the store where they kept all the paperwork and the catalogs and had a computer set up. Another sales person was sitting in front of the computer surfing the internet while she ate take-out food from one of several boxes she had laid out around the keyboard. Keeping it classy at the furniture store.

When I placed my order, I asked the sales person if they had a delivery service. She said they did not, but she knew a guy with a truck who would deliver it for sixty bucks. She didn’t even blink when she said that, and I didn’t, either. I figured, what the heck? How could some anonymous guy with a truck be worse than any of the dozens of people who have moved my personal effects from one house to the next over the years? We’ve moved house at least a half-dozen times in the twenty-one years we’ve been married, and several of the teams that I’ve welcomed into my home to move our family’s possessions appeared to have been hired that morning, probably not through any formal system of application and interview. I think it was more like, the guy driving the truck spotted a couple of homeless dudes on a park bench while he was waiting for a light to change, rolled down the window and offered them twenty bucks each for a couple hours’ work. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I even wish the guy who showed up alone and told me I’d have to help if we had to be moved out that day had been as enterprising. We did have to be out that day. We all packed and moved a lot of boxes that day.

Where was I? Oh, that’s right: The sales lady at the unfinished furniture store told me she knew a guy, so I told her to please give him a call to find out when he could deliver the book cases, then let me know so we could arrange a date for delivery. A week passed, no call. As a matter of fact, by the end of the first week I’d completely forgotten I’d ordered a pair of book cases and probably would never have remembered if it hadn’t occurred to B to ask me, in the middle of the next week, when we could expect to have those book cases delivered, and I said something very on-the-ball, like, “Uh, yeah … those book cases … I’d better call and ask about that.” Clueless.

And I wasn’t the only one. Nobody answered the phone when I called, so I left a message, something like, “Hi, I ordered a couple of book cases about a week ago and you said you’d call me back to let me know when you could have them delivered. Please give me a call.” When she called me back later that day, she had no memory of ever talking to me about having them delivered. “But I could give him a call right now if you like.” For whatever reason, though, I didn’t feel like waiting for delivery any longer. “No, never mind. I’ll come pick them up myself this weekend.” She apologized for the oversight, I made sure I knew what her hours were, and that was the last time I spoke to her for MORE THAN A WEEK.

I’m a procrastinator. It’s what I do.

When I finally called her back a week and a half later she was still so very sorry about failing to have the book cases delivered to me that she felt she had to apologize again, so I didn’t feel all that bad about my lazy-ass attitude, even though I should have. I rented a van, got T to ride with me to the store and we loaded the book cases up and drove off with them. They were huge book cases, eight feet high. Made of white pine, they weren’t all that heavy but they were so tall that I would never have been able to manhandle them all by myself without dropping them every couple steps and gouging great gashes in the sides by clunking them against corners and other people. When we finally got them in the house they filled up one end of the room, which was just as I wanted it, only I want them at the other end.

I want towering book cases on either side of the window. I’ll have to build up a pedestal for each of them because there’s some duct work that’ll have to run underneath, and they’re so tall that they’ll have to be fixed to the wall so that, when they’re loaded to the rafters, and I imagine each of them will easily hold two-hundred pounds of books, they won’t tip over one random day and squish somebody I love like a worm. I’m putting these book cases up in a spare bedroom where guests stay overnight. It’d be one hell of a way to start the day. Wake up with the sun shining in your face, open your eyes just in time to see a wall of books free-falling toward you. The end.

I figured out how to build a pedestal and even pieced one together earlier this week but haven’t installed it yet. It would be simple, I just have to get off my butt and do it. Same with installing rails across the back to strengthen each book case and make it possible to fix them to the wall. I woke up yesterday morning with a very clear idea how I can do that, but again, I have to actually lift a finger, and I’m currently using said finger to type. But I could stop, I guess.

father’s day | 2:26 pm CST
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Monday, March 7th, 2011

On my morning break I happened to look down at the palm of my hand while waiting for the microwave to boil water for a cup of tea and I noticed that there was an impressively large chunk of wood sticking out of the side of the pad at the base of my little finger. By “impressively large” I mean big enough to see without squinting, and these days I have to squint to see anything smaller than a housefly.

I take my break at ten o’clock. The last time I handled any splintery wood was in the afternoon the day before. Therefore, I’d had a pointy chunk of wood stuck in the side of my hand for almost eighteen hours, its blunt end up in the air like a cat’s butt, and hadn’t noticed it.

There. Now you know how unconscious a guy can be.

Timber! | 8:42 pm CST
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Sunday, September 26th, 2010


In wine there is wisdom; in beer there is freedom; in water there is bacteria

Here it is, my last day before I start my new day job and how do I spend it? I cut up a bunch of lumber, because that’s what guys do.

Not sure how much is enough to qualify as a bunch. I cut up a few odds and ends to make some doodads and gadgets I’ve had on to-do list for a while: A rotating caddy to hold my growing collection of little bottles of paint, and a two-pronged fork to hang My Darling B’s bicycle from the rafters of the garage.

I don’t collect little bottles of paint, not the way some people collect match books or crazy ladies collect cats. They’re paints made for plastic models and they come in one-ounce bottles. Once you’ve bought enough to paint a model, they kind of clutter up the top of your work bench, making it a lot harder to actually build a model, so sooner or later you have to work out some system of putting them away. I don’t have any drawers in my work bench, so I chopped up some boards and made a little stair-step thing that’ll hold the bottles so I can see them. It also spins on a lazy suzan base.

And that’s how I ended up building it today in the first place: I was cleaning off my work bench so I could start using it again now that the cold weather is setting in, and I found the lazy suzan thing I bought last winter. Hey, I thought, I bet I could knock that out today. So I did.

When we’re not riding our bikes, I hang them from the rafters in the garage. Years ago I worked out a quick and dirty way to do that, and always meant to get back to redesigning the thing that hooks on to the bicycle, but never got around to thinking it through until today. B’s bike now has the new, improved cross brace, with my patent-pending Big Wooden Fork design, that holds her bike up without damaging the seat, which the metal hooks were prone to do.

But it wasn’t all about chopping wood. I also rode into town with My Darling B, where we took a walk up Willy Street to see what was going on at the annual Willy Street Fair. I expected it to be a little rowdier than it was. Mostly it was a string of booths where people sold artsy-craftsy stuff liike tie-die shirts and hand-made jewelry. There were quite a few food carts, too, and I think there were three different music stages, almost all of it much quieter than what you’d hear at any festival on cap square, thank goodness. After walking up and back down the street we returned to Our Humble O’Bode to catch a quick nap before Tim showed up for our Sunday Night Cook-Out.

Lazy Sunday | 3:56 pm CST
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Friday, August 20th, 2010

image of router bit

When I picked her up from work, My Darling B noticed the back seats of the car were folded down. “What were you hauling home today?” she asked. She doesn’t miss a thing.

I made an early-morning visit to the local lumber yard to bring home some plywood to start Phase II of the great big bookcase project going on in our basement, my effort to unpack and organize our insanely huge collection of books. I also managed to navigate my way through the labyrinthine aisles of the warehouse hardware store to the exact spot where I could find a router bit big enough to chew a three-quarter inch divot out of said lumber. That leaves a clean-cut groove almost wide enough to stick your thumb in, the only drawback being that it makes the router about as easy to control as a drag racer. Makes about as much noise, too.

After marking the lumber and making sure everything was lined up the way I wanted it, I chucked the bit and fired up the router to try out my new toy. It barely touched the edge of the wood when BRAAPPP! It chewed a trench almost a half-inch long through good-quality pine. Broke off a nasty sliver from the edge, too. After I took a deep breath and a tighter grip on the router, I tried again. BRAAPPP! It made another half-inch trench that I didn’t see until it was all over. This was going to take a little getting used to. The machine-gun noise was making me a little jumpy, too.

Router bits tend wander across the face of the wood I’m working on if I don’t clamp a stout piece of finished wood in place to use as a guide, and oftentimes they will even if I do. It’ll happen in spite of the fact that I’m anticipating it and think I’ve mustered as tight a grip on the router’s handles as it’s possible for a human being to have. Moving slowly and deliberately, I’ll press the bit into the edge of the wood, concentrating on the router’s path as if willing it to proceed in a straight line, and whoops! There it goes in a crazy curlicue. A router is very headstrong, the adolescent of power tools.

A router with a three-quarter inch bit chucked in the collet, though, transforms a router from a headstrong adolescent into a skinheaded rebel with homicidal tendencies. I had to keep a deathgrip on the handles at all times, press the edge of the router face against the guide fence with all my weight, and move in the tiniest of increments. In response, the bit would grab a handful, so to speak, of pine and pull, and it wasn’t playing this game of tug-of-war to merely win, it wanted to drag me into the mud, jump on my back and roll me around to get me filthy dirty from head to toe. This was not a quiet day of relaxing wood working.

I finally finished up around two o’clock in the afternoon, leaving me just enough time to clean up my mess, shower, and fry a mess of bacon so we could have BLTs when we got back. Actually, they were BLATs: bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomatoes. Bliss!

Digging In | 6:25 am CST
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Saturday, August 7th, 2010

image of book shelves

I don’t know how many books we have. I wouldn’t be able to give you even a ball park figure. Could be hundreds, could be thousands, I have no way of knowing, because most of them are doubled up in the garage-sale book shelves we’ve collected over the years, and a significant number are still crammed into boxes, waiting for the day of liberation when we have enough shelf space to bring them out in the open air. It could happen. Not sure when; I’m a little vague on the details of that, too.

Although I planned to knock together a proper book case to stash some of the books in, I got to thinking, as I was looking over the lumber on sale at the local do-it-yourself store, that I could rig up something more like a multi-media organization and display center than a piddling book case. Besides needing a place to set our books, I also need shelf space for my ever-growing neato typewriter collection, as well as a rack to hold the stereo components I’ve cobbled together and a nearby shelf for the LP phono albums I keep finding at the thrift store. Aaron Copeland’s Grand Canyon Suite for a buck! Nat King Cole’s Greatest hits for a buck and a quarter! I couldn’t leave them there, could I?

Obviously all these considerations called for a shelving system, nay, a structure that would be a bit more suitable to the various needs of each different tenant. Connecting all the wires of the stereo components in a typical book case, for instance, sucks. You can’t get at the back of the components, which are all in the dark, unless you give each component a quarter-turn that leaves half of it hanging over the edge of the shelf, so you have to nervously hang on to it while you’re plugging things in. Then you have to try to quarter-turn it back while simultaneously tucking all those wires in. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to be able to fit all the components into a single shelf. When you have to poke holes through the back of the book case and run wires from one shelf to another, you might as well do a couple shots before you even begin and just keep drinking to dull the pain.

A mere book case, being just eight to ten inches deep, won’t hold a typewriter, either. I’d need a shelf at least sixteen inches deep, and made of wood stout enough to bear the thirty-pound weight of a 1929 Underwood upright. Particle board doesn’t cut it for a job like that.

With all these considerations running through my head, I selected a car load of lumber that might have given the impression I was remodeling a closet rather than building a place to keep our books and record collection: a heap of three-quarter inch plywood and two by four studs that came to a grand total of forty-six bucks, much less than the eighty or so I would have needed to build a proper book case. I was well chuffed about that.

Assembly took all freaking day. It wasn’t hard, it’s just that I wanted to take my time and make sure it got done right the first time. After clamping all the two by fours together I carefully measured out the grooves that would hold the shelves, then cut them out with a router, one-quarter inch on each pass. Took two hours, much longer than I thought it would, but that’s largely because I don’t use a router much so the widest blade I have is a quarter-incher. When I go shopping for more lumber next week I’m going to see if there isn’t a router blade that will hack out a three-quarter inch dado on one pass. There has to be, right? If there isn’t, don’t tell me.

Hacking the plywood into shelf-sized pieces took only twenty minutes or so because I have a table saw and it’s awesome. I’m literally awed by it, and maybe just a little scared yet. I still count my fingers after each pass, for instance, but that doesn’t make any less awesome.

Then came assembly. I hadn’t quite worked out how I was going to do this. Most of it ended up coming together on a wing and a prayer.

The first set of uprights, on the far left, was easy: Using a beam level I made sure they were straight up and down, and then I fixed them in place.

The second set of uprights, in the middle, was a little harder. In theory I knew exactly how far they should have been from the first uprights and should have been able to place them using a tape measure and a plumb bob. I don’t have a plumb bob, so I cobbled it together by sticking the top shelf and the bottom shelf into the slots on the first uprights, slapping the second pair of uprights against them, and screwing things together to see if that would work. For some reason that I’m not completely aware of, it did. The rest of the shelves slid into place deceptively easy and I was inordinately pleased with myself. That was the calm before the storm.

I tried to put the third pair of uprights, on the right-hand side, in place using the same method. The moment I stepped back to it up, everything fell apart. I tried again and got a little further along, but it fell apart again. When I finally got the top and bottom shelf fixed in place between the uprights, I could clearly see they were leaning forward further than a drunk taking a leak at a urinal. I took everything apart, lined it up again and, while I was fitting the bottom shelf into place, the top shelf fell out and tried to give me a concussion.

Eventually I worked out a sequence that would let me put all the shelves in the slots except one. I tried every way I could think of to get that sucker in there, even shaved the edge down a bit with a chisel, and it came really close to sliding into place where it should have gone … right before everything fell apart again.

At that point I should have started drinking vodka from a beer bong, but I had to shower and pick up My Darling B from work.

After supper it all went together rather easily. I don’t know what I did differently. I guess because I’d had that chance to walk away and not think about it for a while, my head was clear enough to get through the sequence without making mistakes. Not that I recall making mistakes before that, I just seemed to be having rotten luck lining everything up. It all went so much more smoothly after supper, though, that it was almost magical.

If I can find the time to put a few more of these together I’ll not only have a place to put all the books, we may also finally know the answer to the question Just how many books do we have in our possession?

Shelf-Improvement | 9:20 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment, music, Our Humble O'Bode, play | Tags: , ,
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Saturday, July 24th, 2010

image of cabinet carcase

This, my friend, is possibly the most overbuilt cabinet carcase on the face of the planet. That’s three-quarter inch plywood you’re looking at. Orson Welles, were he still walking this green, effective earth, could perch on that, after it’s put together of course, and it wouldn’t give a fraction of an inch in any direction. We’ll be able to take shelter from tornadoes in it. This will be an indestructible cabinet.

I’m not an engineer, and I don’t build a lot of cabinets, so I wasn’t sure what to use for the carcase. Half-inch plywood seemed too flimsy, and I certainly didn’t want flimsy, because this is going to be a permanent part of our house, so I went up a notch to three-quarter inch plywood to make sure it would be sturdy enough that anybody could sit on it, or jump on it, or set a life-size statue of the Buddha cast in pure, solid lead on it.

It’s meant to be a window seat, you see, a perch to lure the casual visitor, a place to rest, a corner for quiet repose. It’s fairly small, just over three feet wide and about two feet tall, and I can tell already it’s ridiculously overbuilt. I probably could’ve gotten away with using quarter-inch plywood, tacking it together with cleats to stiffen it just enough to bear the weight of a seat cushion, because I doubt anyone will ever sit on it. All we’ll be storing in it is blankets and quilts for the guest bed. And yet I built a bunker we could easily stick two rabid wombats in and let them fight to the death without a care in the world that they’d ever get free to menace either of us.

Now, for the book cases that’ll flank it on either side … I’m thinking steel plate.

Carcase | 11:05 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: ,
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