Sunday, November 13, 2005

Lost Weekend

Given that I'm off Fridays and Saturdays when the University is in session, Thursdays are really Fridays for me. My student assistant was 20 minutes late relieving me last Thursday, which made me particularly grumpy. This was her sixth consecutive lateness and now I have to write her up.

I get limited time with my wife on weeknights--I'd rather not spend extra time sitting at the Service Desk. Especially when I've got to be up at 6:30am on Friday to help drop and chop two enormous 90-year-old oaks at my father-in-law's.


BroJ and I teamed up on this project, initiated when two trees, merged at the stump, died and dried out on Arcy's property line. His neighbor is a jackass redneck who loves to give Arcy a hard time because he's Filipino and obsequious to a fault. "Clean out that brush, gawdarnit," the neighber will say, and Arcy will spend hours chopping at sticker bushes and vines. "Get that dead tree off'n the property line afore it falls on somewhat!" was the latest such communique, and Arcy immediately panicked because these were true monsters, each over 70 feet tall, one only two feet in diameter, the other about four-and-a-half. Cha wanted to see if my unemployed brother could do it for cash because Arcy couldn't find anyone, BroJ thought he could do it with my help. The redneck neighbor told me that Arcy "was a dirty little nip bastard but he works when I give 'me hell!" I mentioned that the "dirty little nip bastard" was my father-in-law, and said redneck, under the assumption that BroJ and I were simply hired help, stopped taking us into his cracker confidences after that.

The first tree dropped as planned and was a relatively simple job. We took down part of a fence so it could fall unfettered into the neighbor's yard, and it landed exactly where we wanted after 10 minutes of work with the Stihl.

The fat tree, however, took more than an hour to cut through, and since it was straight up to about 60 feet, with a sharp bend back the rest of the way up the trunk and with three thick long branches extending three different directions at the top, we had some concerns about which way it would fall and how to coax it to fall ideally. Jay worked it down until only an inch of uncut wood was holding the entire thing up, and we'd occasionally stop and plan out notching from different angles. Then we worked at it with an axe and sledge until it fell pretty much where we'd hoped--directly between two other sizeable oaks in the direction of Arcy's back lot.

Except that it didn't fall between those two, but fell against the left one, staying on its stump and leaning there. With a tree of this heft, that's pretty much the Worst Case Scenario. We used car jacks, a steel pole, the sledge, the axe, two chainsaws--and it took an additional two hours of wrestling before we finally got that sucker off the stump. Fortunately if fell quickly enough to get sufficient momentum to spin off its perch on the other tree as it slid off the stump--but it twisted left instead of right and fell directly on Arcy's split-rail fence, pulverizing a good 12-foot section. Half that fence was gone anyway--it's more than 50 years old and hasn't been maintained in recent memory--so no harm done. For the rest of the day we segmented, hauled, and split first the smaller tree on the neighbor's lot and then the big one, which we only managed to whittle down to 12 400 pound bits before it got dark. What a chore. We have to go back next Friday to split, haul, and clear out the second tree. 10 hours was simply not enough. It took forever to cut through that trunk, and we could only cut it down to a few inches above the ground because it was too heavy to lift off the ground to get clearance for the blade. We had to pre-cut one side almost through, then use a variety of iron wedges driven into the cuts with a sledge to prevent the blade from pinching, cut the trunk into smaller segments a few times, then using pry bars and leg muscles roll these segments so we could cut through the remaining few inches of each pre-cut. Fun.

As brutal as that job was, it was pleasant to be in the woods on a crisp fall day. Jay got $500 in cash and I got enough fire wood to keep my oil heating bill down this winter, so I don't regret giving my day off to the father-in-law. Jay wanted to continue working even though it was dark, but Arcy kicked us out. "It was our agreement that I'd have this split and moved over to the house!" Jay complained, so I suggested next Friday we'd clean it up and then he'd be in the clear.

I loaded up my Accord with half a cord of wood and barrelled out onto I-83 thinking I'd get home in time to soak for an hour in a hot bath before heading back up to Yahtzee's. Nope. I-83 was down to one lane from Hereford to Cockeysville. What usually is a 20-minute drive took me an hour and 45 minutes. There's nothing worse for tightening muscles after a hard days' labor than to sit on one's ass. I got home finally, unloaded the wood, ran inside and showered, ate dinner, and was back on the road. Yahtzee and I split two games of Jenga, I whooped up on him at PayDay, then he beat me by one check at backgammon before finally prevailing at of all things Sega football. Bastard.

Many glasses of wine vanished in the making of that story, including a fine Buena Vista.


Cha and I were up at 10 to look at a 3200 square foot piece of a former bottlecap factory downtown. The building is owned by an artist's co-op and I was interested in seeing it because of the possibilities of so much space to make a really special home, and the price was very reasonable. Of course there are difficulties because this isn't a condo, but a limited liability corporation that we'd be buying a 10.7% stake in. The space would be ours to do with as we wished, including part residential, part business, and it could easily become a huge ass condo with a rentable apartment or studio space for income. Try, however, getting a mortgage for a share in an LLC--not easy. And if we sold our house and cashed out the substantial equity built up there, we'd still not have quite enough to front the cash for this space, and it needs EVERYTHING, including 8 12-foot high windows replaced, a kitchen, a bathroom, and, well, walls and furniture. It's basically half an old factory floor with lots of wiring, plumbing, and gas available--and nothing inside but an individually metered heating system. That's part of its appeal--the work I could easily do myself because little demolition is required, and we'd have absolute freedom to do lofts, floating catwalks, partititions at will (some of the other finished units are AMAZING)--but financing such upgrades without the ability to get a mortgage? A slow, piecemeal process. Ideally we'd love to get it and keep the house as a rental, but we'd need either an investor to share one property with us or a signed lease for the house before anyone would front us cash for the LLC space. We'll see. With the Charles Street improvement proceeding like gangbusters, we'd like nothing more than to live in that neck of the woods, and to have so much space and so much freedom to manipulate it would be a lot of fun.

We took a four-hour nap after that excursion. I'd busted my ass Friday and only slept 3 hours, Cha had gone out Friday night until 4am, and having no chilluns we can sleep whenever we like. We spent the evening at Buf and MAs country estate, drinking and playing games with Sluggo and Spoogewhore and The Traveling Joneses and assorted others. A blast.

Thursday night I had yet another run-in with our new neighbors. At 3am my fitful sleep was interrupted by a chorus of "whooooos" and "yeaahhhs" from the frat boys next door. I pulled on some pants and went outside shirtless in the cold air and gave them hell. They're scared to death of me because the last time I asked their party guests to keep it down and some guy told me he'd kick my ass--I took my glasses off and got in his face and said very quietly "Where I come from people don't threaten violence lightly" and he became very uncomfortable and walked away. I like for them to think I'm a bit unhinged.