An offseason project
November 9, 2007
What possesses a man to strap on a tool belt to take on a household project so daunting that he must consult with Internet experts and beer-drinking friends in order to even begin working on it? My new rule of hammer-smashed thumb is that if you need to borrow more than three tools from your snickering neighbor for a job, you should expect eventually to be swallowing hard and calling him over to help fix your messes.
In truth, there is no philosophical bent in my latest festering desire to create something with my own hands that I can look upon with pride from here forward and say to no one who cares, “I did this.” If that’s what a man whose hands are used to the labor of tapping a keyboard, whose sweat is induced by riding a bicycle for miles with no particular place to get to, “needs,” then God help us. There is no point. I’m talking about life here, not work.
A seminal moment came for me Saturday morning, when I realized that summer took to fall, and there was no prospect for skiing in the long-range forecast. If anyone can come up with an argument under such circumstances not to install bamboo flooring throughout in order to keep up with descriptions in local real estate “for sale” advertisements, I wish I had run into them at the post office prior to crossing the Rubicon flowing with saw dust. Because I didn’t, I found myself in the bowels of Lowe’s Home Improvement store, a “big box” that could use a little improving itself. I was searching for little odds and ends I needed to begin my task.
It was not the first time I had been there. During the previous months leading to this point, my wife and I painstakingly had selected the type of flooring that we wanted throughout, what I believed at the time, was chit-chat over wine about a dream we one day might realize. Despite the fact that we had gone so far as to obtain a product number for our dream, nobody at Lowe’s could find it, either in inventory or on their computer screens. Unwilling to give up easily, we began talking hypothetically with their flooring expert of the day. This was made more challenging as our assigned specialist ended up knowing less about flooring, computers, his fellow employees’ names, or directions to the lavatory than I do about how I got sweet-talked into our home improvement odyssey to begin with. I am sure, however, that he could have told us exactly the impressive starting wage of a rig hand in the gas fields just west of town and the day on which he expected his application for employment there to be approved.
Be that as it may, we played the hand we had been dealt. I began with a simple two-part predicated question: If they could eventually, somehow, locate their product that they presumably wanted to sell and we definitely wanted to buy, how much would it cost for them to install it in our house? No luck. They couldn’t install wood they couldn’t find, and I found that logic impossible to challenge. I altered the parameters of my query: If we find some suitable wood ourselves somewhere else, how much would they charge to put it down? He began to answer when, like an apple tree fooled into budding during a late-March thaw, he suddenly realized there were too many variables involved and reverted back to the script. An estimator needed to come to our house to run some “real numbers.”
He arrived in a van and he was equipped with a pencil, tape measure and a tablet of scratch paper. After walking around tapping his pencil, mumbling and mostly staring at the ceiling of all places, he packed up his modest collection of tools and announced that he would send us the results.
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We got them promptly, and immediately headed back to square one. They wanted $11,000 to do 1,000 square feet of work. We translated that to about $275 an hour. At that rate, we figured we could have hired an attorney, but lawyers are generally not great at installing hardwood floors, and we decided against it.
We tried to break the estimate down. The wood is the wood. The room is the room. The only variable was mathematics, which I have grown to know as reliable and perfectly logical. It had to have been misapplied in this instance! We could have easily straightened out the addition and multiplication, but chose not to. If they couldn’t get this simple calculation right, how were they going to cut planks the correct length to fit around baseboard heaters? And, this brings me to the current state of affairs. We didn’t end up choosing the best carpenter for this job. We selected decent mathematicians to do the work ” my wife and I. I think this thought process is typical of how people end up in things they have never done before. I have done it many times.
Of course, if you tell enough people about your intentions to employ power tools, eventually someone will step forward to help. In this case my sister and brother-in-law decided to save us from ourselves. They recently remodeled their home and have loads of experience with speculative building. Best of all, they have lots of patience with me.
So, now, I’m in the middle of this offseason project. What’s nuts is that there are a million things at the hardware store that you could normally do without if you just were tinkering. But, once you are highly invested in a job, all of these items seem relatively cheap, and you end up buying them. Then, the greater your outlay for do-it-yourself gimcrack becomes, the more expensive the entire project becomes, and the cheaper each additional item looks by comparison ” the more you spend, the more you justify spending! I’m sure this has somehow led to the recent national foreclosure crisis; I just haven’t had the chance to make the connection yet.
There is a lot more to say about this project, and in a future column I may say it. At the very least, I will be wondering what happened to the shoulder season around here. I only hope that I will use one last four-letter word to describe the finished product ” nice.
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