Saturday, February 26, 2005

A Whole Lotta Bull

Dammit. This happens all the time. Just when you think you're a toughguy, you read a story about a guy who got crushed by a 1100 pound bull and then got up and had a beer.
"In 1989 or '90, a young bull gets my number. The bull, Rocket, short, fast and meaner than Hell. We come out of the chute into a fast flat spin to the left, all is going good until I lose my right foot..."
Read his tale...

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Man Room: Guy Turf or Prison?

Upon moving into our new house I quickly declared the west bedroom the official Man-Room. Off limits to anyone but me. I could smoke cigars, drink whiskey, dissect things and my girl couldn't say a damn thing about it. I was shocked when she openly supported the idea. Even helped me set up the joint. Soon after my announcement, the truth behind her support became horrifyingly clear when she announced that entire rest of the house would now be the Woman-Lair.
Shanghaied again. Damn, she's good!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Demolition Man

Today I dumped the debris from a kitchen renovation job I'm doing in Weston, MA. 940 pounds of plaster and wood. I love checking the slip to see the poundage. For some reason, making a house weigh less brings me great joy. When I start the demo phase on my house, however, trips with the van aren't going to cut it. Have to get some 30 yard containers in the driveway. If you call local disposal companies from the yellow pages, they will work with you on selecting the size container that best suits your project, and where to place it when it arrives. They charge by the container with a time cap and a weight cap and when you go over either of those then the price goes up.

Code Violation #274

Feast your eyes on our 21 inch wide hallway! Everyone who has visited is jealous.... I think. I call it the "Hall of Romance" because when two people pass at the same time, things get real close. Evidently someone tried to box out around the brick flue (on the right) and squeezed the hallway to it's current cozy proportions. I can't wait to introduce this fine piece of American craftsmanship to Mr. Sledgehammer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Get Pumped

This is what engineered lumber looks like. Thrilling, huh? Yeah, well, I really didn't feel like posting anything but my fiancee told me to "go shit out a post so we can play Silent Hill Two." So here it is. I took this today at the lumber yard. I-joists, they're called, by the way. In case you were wondering.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I Think I Might Be a Secret Agent

Tonight, I'm making my lady a fancy pizza because she's working late. I hit the supermarket to pick up pizza ingredients and other various items. After the check out I start pushing the shopping cart to towards the door but I can't move. I look over and the Spanish girl that bagged my groceries has her hand on the cart. She winks at me real sneaky-like and then says, "have fun with the chicken." I say "Uh... I will" and roll away.... but then I get the funny Mission Impossible doublecross feeling. I feel my eyebrows scrunching towards eachother, and then it hits me: I didn't buy any chicken. I stop and look back toward the Spanish girl and she is looking at me. A quick search of my bags reveals no accidental chicken, and none of the items I bought even resemble chicken or chicken products. This is why I think I might be a secret agent with amnesia.

Lumber Supplier: MegaCo Vs. Local Fellas

Gotta start a relationship with my lumber supplier. Question is: do I go with a Goliath like Lowes or an independent. My gut instinct is always the local family-run places, but I'd be a moron if I didn't check out what everyone has to offer. And since I'm using engineered lumber instead of dimensional lumber for most of the framing, the Building Dept wants to see manufacturers design calculations to prove that these new-fangled products will indeed hold my house up. Lowe's had a couple nice guys at the Prodesk but it had two drawbacks: 1. Lowe's doesn't offer any service that helps you select engineered structural members - "that's the architect's job" and they're right, but some lumber places do offer this as an in-house service (and I want to double-check my choices). 2. They have a cool third party service called that does a blueprint takeoff (exact materials list based on your blueprints), but this is an outside service and their engineered lumber has to be ordered special. Basically Lowe's would be a middleman, farming out services and engineered product knowledge to outside companies. I imagine this will change as the engineered lumber market grows. Tomorrow I'm going to a couple local places.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Ninja-like Reflexes

Once in third grade me and this Italian kid with an afro were messing around with a stapler and he stapled his hand. We started laughing because it was kind of weird and funny and then all of a sudden he screamed and cried like a third grader. Anyway, that was one of those cute tiny office staplers and the whole thing was a gas. Now, construction staple guns are bigger and powered by 120 pounds per square inch of compressed air and the staples are two inches long. Couple years ago I'm on a crew doing big huge additions outside of Boston. One morning I'm putting up red cedar shingles on a fancy garage with a staple gun, and I'm getting in that rythym, you know, where things just flow. Easy peasy Japaneasy -- I throw a shingle up, I staple it to the wall... I throw a shingle up, I staple it to the wall... I throw a shingle up and WHACK.-- I staple my hand to the wall. Right through the bone. How do you spell R-E-T-A-R-D-O. Apparently I was kneeling on the air hose and the gun stopped short. Nice one. In the emergency room the Doc says "what the hell is it with you construction guys, don't you pay attention?" and I say, "No."

I hear this story later from the guys: While I'm at the hospital, one of the other carpenters picks up the staple gun I was using and starts working where I left off. He puts a cedar shingle up on the wall and POW - hits it with the gun. But nothing happens. Must be jammed. He slides the chamber open and calls over the foreman to take a look. Turns out the gun's NOT jammed - it's empty. I shot myself with the last staple.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


OK, so I've already been drawing a set of plans for the addition. I wish they were the cool real life BLUEprints that are all blue with white lines like in The Aviator, but mine are just a bunch of xerox copies of my pencil drawings. Granted, I worked my ass off on these things and they look hot as far as xerox copies go. I'm a lucky bastard, because my proposed project is as big as you can get in this town without being forced to hire an architect to draw up a set of legit "six-years-of-fancy-architect-college-so-up-yours" plans. In place of the architect's stamp I have to make sure that these plans are 100% flawless which is impossible because I'm not an architect so leave me alone.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Use the Fork, Luke

I was pleasantly suprised to discover that our 220 volt stove receptacle has the patented "Pronged Voltage Redirection Unit." What is a PVRU, you ask? It's a nasty dinner fork jammed into the socket. Every home should have one. Makes dazzling sparks when it ignites clusters of cobwebs and melts portions of the fusebox down in the cellar -- fun for the whole family. Our friend Charlie did surgery on it and now everything is cool. We definitely have electrical issues that go beyond flatware. When someone says, "whoa. I've never seen anything like this before," and they're talking about a painting or a piece of jewelry, then it's a good thing. But when it's your home inspector talking about the wiring in your house it's a bad thing.

Monday, February 14, 2005

My Garage Blows

My garage is a dilapidated spider/squirrel/ant infested rotting house of shame. I've never seen a structure in such utter neglect. Think the only thing keeping this thing standing is the weeds surrounding the perimeter. I can't wait to tie a clothesline from one of the studs to my cat's flea collar and watch her tear the whole thing down with a few kitty steps. Definitely going to need a variance for rebuilding that, because that thing is smack on the lot line. Deal with that after the house is done.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Smooth Sailing

Just got the call from the Building Inspector. He said my setbacks look fine and to go ahead and get him a set of plans. That was close. For someone to come and do a thorough survey of the land and set stakes and pin corners is big money. And then after I pay to have that done, the surveyor might only confirm that I'm too close to the street and then I would have to go in front of the board and apply for a variance. Friggin scariance. Ugh. The inspector could have stuck it to me regardless of eyeballing the property, cause these guys can pretty much do whatever the fuck they want, but he didn't, so he's cool in my book. He just saved me hundreds of dollars and months of time. Gotta send him a card or a DVD player or something.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Glimmer of Hope!

Aha! On a hunch I go outside and check the setbacks old school: by eyeballing them in a general fashion. Sure enough looks like my two neighbors are indeed closer to the street than I am which means I am well behind the average of their two setbacks. I distinctly remember the inspector telling me that if it is obvious to the naked eye that I am farther from the street than my neighbors then I'm off the hook with the surveyor. I go inside and give the inspector a call and he tells me he'll swing by later and eyeball it himself. I could be vindicated.

Inspector Foils Master Plan

Just met with the Building Inspector. Bad news. I have to hire a surveyor. He just wasn't convinced after scaling out the maps available that I have enough of a setback in the front to build the second floor flush with the front of the house. I suppose I could set the second floor back four feet and make my house look like a Mayan temple. Gonna have to have a bake sale or something to get that suveryor money.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Setbacks Could Mean Setbacks

Setback requirements are key. Setbacks are how far back from your lot lines your proposed structure needs to be. Varies town to town, state to state, just ask your Buidling Dept. If you don't have your minimum setbacks you may have to apply for a variance or special permit and that takes a minimum of a couple months extra time. In my town it's 15 ft on the sides, 50ft in the back and in the front it's a formula: Have to measure how far my side neighbors are from the street, take the average of the two, and I have to be at or behind that distance. The way to know for sure is hire a surveyor, but I'm short on cash so I'm hoping a meeting with the building inspector will iron things out when he looks at town records.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Why this Blog Exists

I've always been into designing things. As a squirt I made drawings all the time. Blueprints of all types. Office buildings that were huge giant seven-hundred-story upside-down pyramids impossibly balanced on single points, factories and scientific machinery that transformed entire city's human waste into delicious popsicle treats called Billiard Pops. Young kid mind you - like ten years old. I designed boats, flying machines, cars (land, air, and subterranean rock-boring), I charted neighborhoods and patches of woods, I made scale drawings of my family's house and marked every hiding spot (color-coded, of course, according to hiddenness). I invented an alligator clip banana peeler, a new kind of bicycle, and a breakthrough home computer based on etching black crayon off the back of an illuminated screen. Use it once and throw it away! A one-shot computer! Genius! I called it the Scratch-o-Matic.

Eventually around 12 years old I started making actual house plans, figured it was time I guess, and yeah, I slaved over a couple sets of plans for ill-proportioned custom homes but all at once it bored the shit out of me. Snap of the fingers washed over me like food poisoning. All those fucking measurements and straight lines and right angles and height requirements. I remember looking at all of them and thinking that yeah these plans are cool and orderly and all that but what the fuck am I sitting inside doing this in the middle of summer. I'm a kid for chrissakes, Am I semi-retarded or what. Might as well take everything I own and line it up in perfect rows in the driveway. Go kick a ball. Go play some hoops.

Whatever. Didn't work. My obsession with pointless time-sucking scale drawings marched forward with robotic creepiness, acquiring new appendages, growing bigger and stronger like Voltron. Pointless repetition, unwavering and bland. If I had a company it's motto would have been "Providing You with Endless Detail for No Reason." Reams and reams of exact replicas of animals. I recently discovered all of these drawings. Weird stuff. It was like going through some sicko's case file. All the birds from that big fat coffee table bird book. Fish, freshwater and saltwater with and without habitats, reptiles, every dog breed that was ever bred in the history of everything, book jackets, shit from the Encyclopedia Britannica, and then finally, and this has to be my all time favorite: huge sections from the Old Testament copied word for word in handwritten typewriter font. Hundreds upon hundreds of hours of precious youth spent toiling away as the human typewriter. Why you ask? Cause c'mon, why would you go and buy a heavy expensive machine to type a copy of the Bible, when you could hand draw a replica of a typewritten copy of the Bible with a fraction of the money and no unsightly machines to collect dust. Always thinking, see, even at a young age.

So flash forward and I'm seventeen working in a bakery with a bunch of lesbians and some carpenter comes in to get a coffee. He sneezes and I say "bless you," and he says, "I don't need your fucking blessing." We throw some convo back and forth a couple minutes and then he offers me a job laboring for him. I take it instantly and thus begins my career in construction. This guy turns out not only to be an amazing carpenter, but the carpentry is a part of his way of life. He's like a carpenter Buddhist. Teaches me all about the philosophy of it, the respect of the tools and the wood, appreciation of the different architectural styles -- he had you seeing ghosts. Ghosts of all the artisans that built and carved Boston with their bare hands.

So this leads into a job working on a framing crew, and it just keeps going from there. Finish carpentry, drywall, roofing, painting, masonry, hardwood floors, concrete. Big huge fancy additions where the windows alone cost more than it would take to buy all my organs and dismantled body parts on the black market. Ultra high end restorations of carriage houses all the way down to painting the back fences of slumlord tenements with discount paint. Stories. Endless stories along the way. All for another time.

Then I meet this beautiful super talented girl and fall madly in love with her and she strives like hell to funnel my crippling attention to random detail into large labeled bottles. Realistic projects.

We decide to buy an old crusty house and fix it up. We search Mass for a house we find one: a 650 square foot dumpy-ass bungalow twenty minutes south of Boston. Previous owner had a yen for scattering player pianos around his backyard, making walls out of toasters and TVs, flashing people in his bathrobe, but not for cleaning or home improvement. Rough shape, but good bones, so we pick it up for short dough.

For the next few months my girl and I hit the bookstore, slug enough coffee to fill seven space shuttles, and sketch every cool house design that we see in all the fancy books that we can't afford. All styles, all eras. We get a design together, get the permits and before I know it, I'm gutting the house down to the studs. My girl is ultra organized, number one. Number two, I'm good at the work. And number three, the house is teeny tiny so yeah, the project ends up getting done because of those three things, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with my grasp of time management. Aside from some before and after photos I have very little to look back on and learn from and reference back to in the future.

See, here's the catch with me: I'm good with details, designs and doing super creative artisan work with my hands, BUT, as it is fully demonstrated by the aforementioned Bible thing, I have no big picture. No higher meaning for anything. No ability to see the layout of time be it retrospectively or futuremindedly. So my fiancée does as much as she has time for, but I'm an organizational boat anchor that can never be reeled up. She's just gotta set sail and drag my barnacle-encrusted ass along the ocean floor. You can ask me how long the project took and I can probably piece it together like a crime scene but I don't really know.

So the history of my first house starts off well documented and then gets spotty and rapidly trails off into darkness, a screaming shuddering subway train, and all I'm left with is the smell of it having rushed by me. I just pick up my cap off the pavement say "what the fuck was that all about." I am determined to change all that.

My fiancee and I bought our second house, a 954 sq. ft. run down ranch in Boston's Metro West region, and we're doing a massive addition and renovation. This house is different than the last. Bigger house, bigger scope, bigger money and it could be a financial and emotional disaster if I don't keep my documentation razor sharp. That's where this site comes in. At any stage of this project I want to be able to look over my shoulder back down the road where I've been and see every gas station, burger joint and motel in crystal clear detail. This site will be my tool to map, chart, and thus maintain constant control of the timeline of this project. This time I'm logging everything, every step of the way, every detail, down to the last nail.