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Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2004
I got interrupted on my way to finishing up the rant about Hand Tools with an even more rantable letter in the previous entry. But since Iím more or less unemployed, many entryís ainít quite the problem it used to be.

Just kidding about the unemployment. If I were to be unemployed, Iíd have to fire myself. And you just know I couldnít do that and look myself in the mirror every day. Probably has something to do with all that ethical stuff I was disgorging last time.


I just have to respond to my pal Dichroic about the whole extension cord thesis. Itís just something I feel so strongly about, donít you know. First, there is this Shameless Thing, the newest rage amongst those with soft hands and lots of time. The guy claims that heís ď. . . unraveled my last tangled nest of stiff, heavy-duty extension cords. And Iíve wound my last dirty extension cord around my arm.Ē But Iíll bet the first time he stretches that sucker out reaching for something he shouldnít be, and that plug comes out of the wall and hurtles towards him at warp 2, heíll be wishing he still was.

And then thereís this. A Gem, if I do say so. Never let it be said that you canít learn something here at Chez Outfoxed.

But winding an extension cord around your elbow and arm? Thatís just wrong. That makes kinks, donít you know, and kinks lead to breaks and hurtful 110 volt handshakes. Not fun. Plus, like the man says, they get dirty. And if you own a Labrador, and assuming a certain amount of scattered calling cards by same, and that youíre tired and not watching what youíre doing at the time . . . well, bad things happen to good people everyday.

Actually, the best thing to do with a new cord is to take it out to the driveway or a big parking lot and unroll it as straight as you can, then leave it there for a couple of sunny days. Stretch it out as best you can while itís hot, I mean pull on that sucker. Coil it in the approved way, big loops, and repeat. Do this, keep it away from your spouse and youíll have a cord thatíll fold up like old rope, very sweet. Also, it impresses the hell out of your neighbor, the soiled and unenlightened one.

Stu and I happen to own a 10 gauge 3 wire (a 10/3, in other words) extension cord thatís 100 feet long. If youíre not familiar with the terms, a 10 gauge is one thick hunka cord, closer to a water hose than your typical electrical cord. We bought it for those occasions, and they are many, when we have to run power from a temporary power pole to some house and donít want the resultant voltage drop that a skinny cord would give. After all, when we run power tools, we really run power tools, and a lot of them. But I can tell you this - coiling up 100 feet worth of 10/3 is like pulling a Buick out of a lake with a shoelace. And I donít think itís possible to put a kink in the stuff, itís just too thick. But old habits, you know. Or maybe just stubborn old men. They do tend to die hard.

But enough about cords. I was going on about hand tools and those who use them. Mostly, about those who use them.

Back in the days when Ally and I were living in our pioneering house (you know the one, you buy a cheap house thatís the dog of the neighborhood, you restore it, then sell it and move up) I decided to just go ahead and see what I could do with a weeks vacation.

God this seems so long ago, 17 years or so. I was working in the career building office job and pining for a little carpenter time. The house we were living in had a list of stuff that needed to be done and it was a long and scary list indeed. But with two small kids and another one on the way, a long commute to work 5 or 6 days a week, I was finding it hard to make any progress on home renovations.

So I talked to Ally. ďListen. The only way Iím gonna get anything done on this house is if you take the kids and go visit your dad and I take a weeks vacation. I gotta get some time alone with this beast so I can look it in the eye.Ē

Now it might seem heartless, telling your very pregnant wife to take two little girls and buzz off for a week, but thatís just the way I operate. Besides, I sprang for the plane tickets. And Ally had grandparents and legions of cousins fawning over her for a week. She wasnít suffering all that badly.

ďJust what is it youíre going to try to do?Ē, she wanted to know. She was generating these lists of improvements and Iíd look at them, they were straightforward enough. Fix the laundry room, or the front door, for example. Truth be told, I wasnít quite sure myself, but it involved lots of wood and a box full of tools. Plus, I wanted a little mystery about the week. I wanted to surprise her, and maybe me in the process.

I readied the battle plan on a Thursday. Ordered up a bunch of wood and stuff and reserved the company flatbed truck for Friday. And while I should have been helping Ally pack, I was out on the back stoop with a whetstone and my chisels and scrapers, sharpening my weapons for the fight at hand. Nothing better than sitting outside on a hot night in August with a fistful of dull tools.

Some time mid day Friday, I ran Ally and the girls to the airport, dumped Ďem on a plane, raced back to work and finished up there. Then I loaded my materials on the flatbed with a forklift, tossed paint and nails and hardware in the cab and took off for the house. I drove the 40 mile stretch to the house, unloaded several hacks of lumber and plywood and concrete mix (by hand, natch, no forklift on this end) and then drove the 40 miles back to work so that I could fetch my truck. By the time I got back to the house it was already dark, and I was exhausted. But it was a good and necessary start. A bit of pre-game calisthenics.

In order to understand this whole thing, youíd have to be standing out in front of our house on a hot Saturday morning in August of 1987. Not a terribly big place, two story, maybe 28 wide by 60 deep. Good sized lot in depth, with neighboring houses pretty close on either side. An in-town sort of place on a quiet street of older homes.

It was sided with asphalt shingles. The stuff that folks used to buy as a ďsecond sidingĒ before vinyl or aluminum got popular. Hate to paint? Donít want that hassle every other year? Cover your house in attractive (not) faux brick gray asphalt shingles. Then put screen up in a half-assed way around the otherwise not so shabby Prairie style porch columns. The previous homeowners had inflicted more harm than good on this house. It was a dark and gloomy looking affair. Like I said, the dog of the neighborhood.

Promptly at 7 am, the best tool of all came rumbling up to the driveway. A 40 yard dumpster. One of those big construction sized ones. I love construction dumpsters.

By 7:15, the battle was joined. Stage One, get rid of that god awful siding.

Itís amazing what a good hammer and a flatbar can do. Those shingles came a-flyiní off that house and into that dumpster like so many crows taking flight. Darn satisfying work. Because underneath was perfectly preserved wood siding. Hell, even the paint wasnít all that bad. I had a can of putty stuck in one side of the tool belt, and Iíd yank two or three squares of shingle off, drop back and putty the nail holes, and start the tear-off again. It was 95 degrees outside, there was grit and tar from the shingles and heat coming off the metal roof I was working on. My feet ached when I had to work off the extension ladder. I loved it.

I stripped and puttied that whole house in 12 hours. Nuked a pizza and drank beer. And I donít remember anything after that. That was Day One.

Day Two and Three was mostly about the paint. I donít particularly love to paint, but I was cursed with having to do it for several summers during the school years and unfortunately I got good at it. Good enough to be fast and pick up on some tricks. Painting is all about streamlining. If you know how to load up a brush properly you wonít need a bunch of tarps underneath you. You want to get paint on the house, after all, and as little as possible on you.

Medium tan for the siding, a dark red for the window casing, and white for the windows themselves. Plus a lot of re-glazing on the sash. I had my Dadís old putty knife for that, the blade worn thin and the walnut handle. With one corner ground off for the final swipe on the glazing.

I stood back at the end of Day 3 and honestly, I couldnít quite believe it myself. That dark, ugly looking dog of a house had been transformed. Iíve still to this day never seen one that was a more striking before and after picture. The hideous screen porch was gone, the siding was gone and a nice Southern house had appeared. Even the windows were clean, at least on the outside. It was instant curb appeal.

I dragged an old porch swing out of the garage, painted it in the red color, broke out some new chain and hung it off the porch ceiling. Hung a new front door and a storm door. Painted the front door and put the hardware on it.

A neighbor across the street later remarked that she kept looking for the rest of the work crew because so much was happening so fast. I think it was a speed borne of two things. Part of it was the schedule thing, I had a week to get stuff done and cleaned up for Ally and the brood, but the rest of it was just me relishing being out of an office and back out on the range, where I probably belonged in the first place. After the first day, I dunno, a sort of zen thing took over. It was hotter than hell every day (never did get any rain that I recall), I was working 12 to 16 hour runs and Iíll tell you something, I never stopped. No beer, no lunch. No conversation, no phones, no thinking. I had no one to answer to but myself and that was just fine by me. Iíd work until it was too dark to see anything and then go inside and work some more. A quick dinner and then deep sleep for 6 hours. Funny thing was, I was young enough to do it, my body wasnít complaining too badly, but I was old enough to realize that I was setting a murderous pace for myself. Zen, indeed.

Days 4 thru 6 I built a deck, and not a small one either, with full railing and two sets of steps. I tore up the front porch and replaced the decking. I build a wood fence where chicken wire had been before, with a cunning gate so my nice neighbor lady could trot over with pies and tomatoes, and I could get my lawnmower through to cut her lawn once in a while. I blew out the laundry room, rerouted the dryer duct and hung two new doors on the rear of the house.

The pile of lumber and accessories went down to nothing, the dumpster guy hauled off his bulging charge (somewhere in the midst of all this, I cleaned out every damned thing in the house that even resembled junk and tossed it in there, and when youíve got kids youíve got tons of junk).

And on the seventh day, Outfoxed rested. The local Coors Lite distributor was delighted.

I can remember clearly taking a long shower and putting on presentable clothes so that I could make the long drive to the airport. And waiting for my girls and son to be. I donít think it gets any sweeter than having two small girls squeal and run to you after theyíve been away for a week. Unless itís taking a bigger girl into your arms and telling her just how good she looks.

I pulled up to the house and it was just about twilight, and Ally was reduced to whispers. ďMy God honey, what did you do?Ē She walked around the outside, touching the newly painted siding as if it were a fine tapestry. By the time she cleared the backyard and saw the new deck, with two small girls jumping up and down on it, I think she was a little overwhelmed. ďOh, it all looks so good. So good.Ē

Iíd even cleaned up the kitchen. But she had a helluva lot of laundry to do.

Never let it be said that I wouldnít want her to feel needed.

That wasnít the last of the work that I did on that house, me and my tools. There was still a workshop to be built, a family room to remodel, a staircase to do over. And paint, always and forever paint.

But that was the big one. I donít think I could do that again now, not in that heat, not at that pace, but you never know. Thereís a hidden little synops in my brain that might just overcome the additional years, the extra 40 pounds of good living. I tapped the zen once and found it good, it could happen again.

Sometimes when you have the hand tools and the hands, all kinds of things happen.

ItĎs easier to find the Guestbook right here.

Thanks for reading. Mind that you keep your chisels sharp.

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