Chap 3: “Two weeks… Two weeks… you sound like a parakeet, there.”
There is an early Tom Hanks movie called “Money Pit” where the main character (Tom Hanks) and his girlfriend (Shelley Long) buy a “fixer upper”. When the contractor comes to give him the estimates for how long it will take to renovate their house he tells him, “Two weeks.” Tom Hanks’ character says incredulously, “Two weeks? Two weeks?” And the contractor mimics him saying, “Two weeks… two weeks… you sound like a parakeet, there.” That line will live on in infamy in our minds and would become the favorite fallback phrase throughout the next NINE years.
We closed escrow on our house on July 28, 2000, and by the next day, we were in the house pushing up our sleeves to begin demolition. It was just the two of us on that first day—us and a measly collection of tools in a hot and stuffy house.
During the previous weeks in escrow, we had spent a great deal of mental effort figuring out the logistics of how this was all going to work. The house was not livable in its current state so we couldn’t move in yet. And since we couldn’t afford a mortgage payment AND a rental payment, we had to get the house livable by the end of August when all our belongings were being moved from our apartment to the house. Even though we would be sleeping 35 miles away, it was better than trying to rough it amidst demolition and construction. We optimistically and naively determined that we only really needed 2-3 weeks to get the house livable anyway.
Seriously. We really thought that at the time.
Because the house had an upstairs sliver of a half bath (wide enough for a small toilet), we calculated that if we tackled the scary downstairs bathroom first and got it completed with new plumbing, then we could move in. We could live without everything else. We just needed a working toilet and a working shower. That’s all.
We knew we’d have to hire a plumber to replace the corroded supply and waste lines to and from the bathroom, laundry and kitchen, but we figured we could save money by doing all the demolition ourselves before the contractor came. We were on a tight budget. Besides, if everything was all open, it would be easier to determine what needed to be done. Sounded simple.
So on that day, July 29, 2000, we squared our shoulders and started dismantling the bathroom. So many surprises were in store for us as we began to remove the layers.
The first surprise was that what we had thought were ceramic tiles going halfway up the bathroom walls, were actually aluminum tiles that looked like ceramic and were attached with some sort of liquid-nail-adhesive. The tiles would pop right off individually with the flick of a screwdriver.
The second surprise we uncovered was that the shower enclosure walls were really just thin pieces of veneered masonite held together with chrome frames at the seams. It, too, just pulled right off in our hands. As we wrangled the unruly bending masonite off the walls and out the bathroom door, we dubbed ourselves the “Masonite Cowboys”. We had to do something to entertain ourselves. And humor was, and continues to be, our fallback.
When we finally got the weird first layer off the walls, we realized we would be demolishing the actual walls within the shower too. We hadn’t intended to need to do that, but the walls were covered in layers of adhesives from various enclosure installations--one of which being a thick tar-like substance that couldn’t be worked around or over. So the sheet rock started to come out.
The third surprise on the list of “first day surprises” was when we found that our house had been constructed during a transitional time in wall construction when the practice was moving from lathe and plaster to sheet rock. Our walls were a composite of both! A layer of sheet rock called “cracker board” was nailed to the studs and then a thick coat of plaster was applied over the entire surface with the plaster oozing into the “cracker holes”. It was like lathe and plaster, but different. The plaster was thick and very hard to pound through. And it was messy.
The fourth surprise we found that day was that our house had been built with all redwood framing! Back in the 1940s, redwood was still used instead of pine or fir. So all the framing in the original footprint of the house was made of BUG RESISTANT redwood! To this day, we have never uncovered any termite damage in the original construction because of this wonderful lumber choice. It has been a true blessing.
At the end of that first day, we were both covered with plaster dust. Our muscles ached. Our stomachs growled for sustenance. And our hearts were full. We were homeowners, and we were starting on the journey that would transform this home into what we could see in our minds.
As we packed it up to drive the 35 miles back to where we could shower and lay our weary bones for the night, we talked over what lay ahead. Hubby had to work full-time. And I couldn’t do all of the work alone everyday until he got there after work. In addition to the plumbing contractor and electrical contractor, that we still had to locate and hire, we realized that we would have to call in re-enforcements. And those “re-enforcements” went by the names of Josh and Mom.
To be continued…
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