"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Exhaust-ing Weekend

[I’ll get off the lake house updates soon enough – although perhaps not soon enough for you, dear reader.]

This past weekend we made an impromptu trip up to Maine since my wife’s oldest brother Emmett (who, in an amazing coincidence, is also my oldest brother-in-law) and his wife Kathleen had some time off and wanted to come see the new house and help out with any remaining projects. Hmm… yes, we could think of a few small tasks with which they could assist...

We already had plans to attend a concert on Friday night (Todd Rundgren, and if you say “Todd WHO?” then please just stop reading this blog or having anything to do with me at all), so once the show was over we hopped in the car and got on our way. We were on the road starting around 10:30pm and made it to the house around 1:15am. It was a wonderful drive, except for the: a) surprising amount of traffic, b) blinding band of rainstorms, c) exhaustion, d) brightly glowing “LOW TIRE PRESSURE WARNING! BLOWOUT IMMINENT! GET OUT OF THE CAR AND WALK!” warning light that came on about 30 miles into the drive (which, of course, we ignored) and e) heavy fog that descended upon us just as we got off the Maine Turnpike and onto the back roads. We experienced the entire range of foggishness – “light mist”, “slight squint required”, “hazy recollection”, “where the fuck is the road?” Despite the obscured view, we managed to make it to the house unscathed.

Since we didn’t get into bed until close to 2am, I slept in the next morning until nearly 6:30. I then drove to the nearest gas station to check the tire pressure, and the passenger-side front tire was as underinflated as a balloon animal assembled by a clown with emphysema. [If that turn of phrase didn’t amuse you, feel free to insert your choice of breast or penis metaphor here.] The obvious choice would have been to put the spare on, but considering that would have made us (homonym alert!) four-for-four re: different tires on each corner of the car, I decided to have a complete new set installed -- peace of mind for the many trips we’re planning to make up north in the months to come.

One hour and $550 dollars later, I left with a new set of wheels filled with nitrogen. Why nitrogen? Apparently, it’s an inert gas and therefore superior to the normal “air” used to inflate tires. While any experience I’ve had with gas could hardly be labeled as “inert”, I decided it was preferable to the usual inflationary process because, and this is very important, the shop didn’t charge me anything extra for it. The only drawback from this decision was my fault – I’m no chemist, so I confused nitrogen with helium and thought it would be fun to suck some of the gas out from the tire through the valve. However, rather than amusing myself and others by speaking in a high, squeaky voice I instead experienced “the bends”.

Coming back from the tire expedition, I found Emmett and Kathleen at the house. Their six-hour drive from Westchester County had taken a mere nine hours spread over two days due to massive traffic fleeing from New York State on Friday afternoon. They were very complimentary about the new place and despite the exhausting trip still seemed eager to assist with the list of projects for which we sought their help. Before getting underway, I offered coffee and all said yes. Two hours later I had masterfully brewed two out of three cups of java due to my meticulous process and because I kept knocking over one of the mugs. I pride myself on my coffee-brewing technique, using only single-cup pour-over unbleached filters filled with Indonesian coffee beans shit by civet cats, harvested by teenage virgins, roasted by members of the Friar’s Club, crushed by defeat, and transported to this country using technologies not yet invented to maintain freshness. Em and Kathleen were so impressed with my brew that they insisted that I get them coffee from Cumberland Farms for the remainder of their stay.

I forget what we accomplished Saturday afternoon because there was a lot of beer involved.

Sunday morning I slept in until 6:45; it’s nothing but lazy mornings for me at the lake! After returning from Cumberland Farms with inferior coffee for certain fusspots, we decided the first task for the day would be to paint the living/dining room. The existing color was a blue-green that could only be described as “Southwest Algae”; we’d instead selected a color called “Cream Puff” because we were hungry at the time we bought the paint. Emmett took command and assured us with a crew of four we’d knock out the job in an hour. I asked how long it would take with a crew of three since I hate to paint – hate it hate it hate it. I did, however, tape off much of the trim since I wanted to be a “team player”. However, using duct tape was perhaps not my best choice for the task. While those three painted, I cut the grass and reduced the number of rocks I ran over this time to a mere seven.

The painting took a bit longer than estimated, but only by a factor of 6. Once done the rooms looked fantastic. However, the longer-than-expected painting effort meant we hadn’t gotten to the other tasks for which Emmett’s expertise was required. He and Kathleen graciously agreed to stay an extra day to help out. I was more than happy to ditch work on Monday; regrettably, Carol had to return home that night since she had a full patient load the next day. We cleaned up from our respective chores and headed out for dinner at a favorite spot that put Carol close to the highway for her drive back to Boston. After our meal, Carol headed home and the three of us went back to the lake.

I forget what we accomplished Sunday evening because there was a lot of Irish Mist and Maker’s Mark involved.

Monday morning and you already know the routine – off to Cumberland Farms for three big coffees (do the math) and then it was time to install a new bathroom exhaust fan. I’d removed the existing fan for a variety of reasons; foremost among them was that the previous owner had dealt with an annoying rattle by sticking a Q-tip into the inner workings, and also that the fan was a literal vortex, sucking up cigarette smoke -- the entire workings were covered with a layer of nicotine so thick that any further description offered here would be beyond disgusting. After removing the old fan I’d covered up the hole in the ceiling by stapling a piece of cardboard across it. When Emmett pulled down the improvised cover to take a look at the opening, he was quickly covered by a blizzard of insulation that came spilling out from the rafters. He was not amused.

After wrestling with the new fixture, we (meaning Emmett) were “thisclose” to completing the installation, needing only to connect the wiring. While I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering how smoothly all the other house projects have gone, we discovered the cable was about six inches too short to allow it to be connected to the wiring in the fan. Time for a trip to the hardware store (Trip #147 in the two months since we closed on the house). “And bring back more coffee!” Kathleen requested. We jumped in Emmett’s van and zipped over to pick up the additional wire and the coffees. If only we’d remembered to bring our wallets with us. I drove back to the house to retrieve them and returned to the hardware store. I looked for Emmett in the electrical aisle – not there. I realized that the next most logical place to find him would be at the other end of the store – the gun counter. Y’see, in Maine they sell guns and ammo pretty much everywhere. Emmett was deep in conversation with the clerk about the array of guns, shotguns and rifles (to my untrained, pacifist eyes it appeared they carried every model of handgun known to man). Emmett pointed out the sniper’s rifle on display… now, if you were a sniper wouldn’t you be issued a rifle at the time of certification? And if you lost or misplaced yours, would you go to Ace Hardware for a replacement? Emmett bought some ammunition that he said was unavailable to him back home in NY (he is a responsible gun-owner, as much as it pains my pacifist, gun-fearing heart to utter such a phrase) – special bullets that would explode upon impact with their target. In the interest of public safety, I should include Emmett’s address here in case you are a criminal and were thinking of staging a home invasion at his place – I will strongly discourage you from doing so, especially after his most recent purchase. I mentioned to Emmett that, during Trip #103, I’d seen an elderly couple (in their 80s) buying $300 worth of ammo. The husband looked to be the older and more frail of the two; the wife pulled out her credit card to pay for the purchase and when she went to sign the sales slip, her hand shook so much that I wanted to put a maraca in it and sign up for tango lessons. I would also strongly advise that you not plan to invade this couple’s home, since there is no way in HELL to predict where their shots might be aimed. I would in fact just flat out advise against even walking down their street.

We came home with the wire and finished up the installation. Fan and light worked like a charm – success! Estimated time to install: 1 hour. Actual time to install: 6 weeks (from when I’d removed the old fixture) and 3 hours (2:45 to put it up and :15 to buy coffee).

While we were struggling with this task, Kathleen calmly and efficiently managed to: trim a hedge, assemble a table, sort the recycling and knit an afghan – all while texting with her two daughters practically non-stop to thwart their (daughters’) attempt to burn down the house in their parents’ absence.

Final project – put the dock in the water. The house came with a two-piece “roll-a-dock”, only one section of which actually has wheels on it. That was easily placed in the lake. The other section is just a big ol’ slab of aluminum. You know how light aluminum is – think foil, or beer cans. This section of dock must have weighed 300 pounds. Emmett can dead-lift 305 pounds (coincidentally, if I tried to lift 305 pounds I’d also be dead), but it was still quite a struggle to get the section up off the ground and align it with the wheeled section. 90 minutes and 2 fingers (mine) later, we had the dock assembled. Monday was a spectacular day – bright blue skies, temperature in the low 80s, the whole lake spread out in front of us – so of course we loaded up the van and hit the road. I needed to get back to Boston and didn’t want to get caught up in rush-hour traffic, and Emmett and Kathleen planned to continue on to Lake George to meet up with friends and field more frantic texts from their daughters regarding other imminent household disasters.

All in all, a very productive weekend and Carol and I are quite indebted to E & K for all their help. Of course, as tirelessly as we worked, with limited time available, it was inevitable that there would be a little friction among us on occasion. Emmett implemented a very effective way to deal with any vitriol directed his way – he’d shake that box of ammo and immediately the disturbance was quelled. Carol and I had a few tense moments between us but got past them quickly. At times like this, I remember the old adage re: “Count to 10 before you respond to anything in anger.” That’s good advice, although after installing the dock I hope it will be just as effective if I can only count to 8.


  1. I can NOT wait to see your new home. I hope you were able to find your fingers in the lake and had enough duct tape left to reattach...

  2. I would recommend daubing each end of the finger pieces and stubs with super glue or rubber cement, before applying the duct tape. At least that's what they do on 'This Old House'.