Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Garages: Never Go In Them

Once I'd had time to sit back on a rock-hard train seat and go over events, I realised that I had entirely forgotten to relate the sprinkler's contribution to the story. I'm adding it in today (9/12/07) so if you've read yesterday's version and need a bit more cheering up, you should re-read this entry.

The past weekend was one so packed with incompetence-induced danger and near death experiences that it has taken me 36 hours to calm down/heal up to the point I can speak of the events that took place during it.

Things began (as they so often do) with Mrs Stevie requesting on Friday evening that I get a bloody move on and clean out a space in the garage loft for the Stevieling's crap like I promised. I pondered a while and finally agreed I would start on Saturday if she released the half-nelson she had me in at once.


Saturday dawned and I began my day as I traditionally do by drinking a huge cup of tea while watching whatever Japanese Samurai movie is showing on the Obscure Movie Network. Then I ran some errands, and finally, around noon(ish) I was ready to start.

The Plan called for me to empty out the right side of the garage, sort out the crap from the good stuff, throw away the crap1, shovel up any crap left by Mr Rat2, disinfect the floor and replace all the good stuff. This would make space for me to get to the ladder to the loft and enable me to continue work in discarding the "valuables" stored there.

There wasn't room on the (four car) drive to accommodate all the stuff at one go so I decided to tackle it in two stages (not the best plan when it came time to disinfect the floor, but needs must when the Devil has it in for you).

I pulled out an amazing amount of cardboard in the form of flattened boxes that had held Christmas lights, bicycles, storm doors and landscape lights, and binned it. A good start to the operation. Then I removed the 24 foot extending ladder from it's slot on the floor, which entailed having to move all the crap that was on top of it first, which allowed me access to a plethora of old garden tools, lengths of timber, storm doors, sheets of plywood, sheets of masonite, two old doors kept to do duty as trestle tables, a trestle table and four ten-foot long by one foot wide planks of that white el-cheapo knockoff Formica clad chipboard that is used to make naff furniture from. This allowed me to clean off the floor with a shovel and broom and I made up a bucket of hi-test bleach and water and scrubbed the floor good and clean.

Once that was dry I was able to replace the wood, doors, planks etc3 and move on to the second stage. This involved removing a barrel we inherited with the house and had decided to turn into planters next year4. I rolled it out of the garage and stood it on end in the driveway. I know it seems a bit of a waste to cut up a perfectly good barrel, but in all honesty this one has seen better days and is only good for Pirate Ambience or planters now. It was used to store some foul-smelling purple liquid I disposed of in a manner likely to have won me a summons had I been spotted at the time. We later got a visit from one of the Genaro kids who claimed it was his dad's homemade wine5. Add to this that the outside of the barrel is coated with a fetching pattern of white paint spatters and blue paint overspray from something. Add to that the fact that wine barrels in a real winery only have a limited lifespan, which is many times less than this one held the dubious Vintage Genaro. It really doesn't have much going for it.

I removed all the stuff piled on top of the barrel, dislodging a bottle of Windex which dropped a few inches onto one of the bottles shoulders. The plastic spray bottle, which had been in the garage since about the time dolphins decided that life on land was a big fat nothing and opted to do all their future evolving in the sea, had become brittle and naturally shattered, spilling Windex all over the barrel and the floor. Clearly the anti-handyman demons were awake and alert.

Once the barrel was gone, I discovered two things: Firstly, that it had been wedged against the wall with two examples of the world's biggest turnbuckles. These things look like they might have been used to lift locomotives off the tracks. Secondly: That Mr Rat had used the space behind it for a latrine, and had attempted to nosh on the various delicacies in the vicinity despite the manifest unsuitability of said delicacies for the purposes of consumption. Mr Rat had attempted to dine on two rolls of 6 mm plastic sheet and a bag of potting soil fortifier (a sawdust like substance with no nutritious value I could discern), washing it all down with Fantastik, a household grease-shifting cleanser. Why a bottle of this was behind the barrel is beyond me, since I'm not impressed with the stuff in general, but it no doubt presented the rat with a refreshing beverage with which to wash down his sawdust aû sheet-plastique. I've seen nor heard no sign of the rat by the way, other than the fewmets and results of attempting to eat fundamentally non-edible things in my garage. I'm pretty sure that it eventually quit the place in disgust and was trapped by Crazy Joe6.

I cleaned up the floor and scrubbed it with bleach, then had to find something to do while the floor dried.

The barrel was filthy, and I thought I might power wash it, just for giggles. I dug out my "Husky" power washer, bought a couple of years ago when my trusty Karcher finally bit the dust7 and a big disappointment to me since. The adjustable nozzle jammed several times and now has adopted an orientation ninety degrees off the best use angle for a start, forcing a painfully unnatural posture when using it to clean a fence or deck. Today, it had been infested with anti-handyman spirits from stem to stern. First I couldn't attach the nozzle no matter how hard I pushed the damned thing into its socket, then the bloody motor wouldn't develop pressure consistently, cutting in and out making for a usable cleaning cycle that was about a second long before the pressure died away and the pump restarted. I tried everything I knew to fix this blasted thing, but it was determined to not be helpful. During one of the attempts to find something obviously not attached properly, the water feed nozzle snapped off and the hose sprayed water all over the place. Luckily I had decided earlier in the day to listen to the excellent "Car Talk" and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR, and had wound the driver-side window down so I could use the car radio for that purpose, so much of the spillage was soaked up by the car's upholstery, instrument cluster and carpeting.

I gave up on the pressure washing, and decided to help matters along vis-à-vis the floor drying (which it wasn't) by installing a fan. This worked quite well, but left me with nothing to do but ponder stuff idly. I know what you're thinking: these are perfect conditions for Mr Brain to pull one of his shenanigans. You are not wrong.

I noticed that the small ex-vegetable garden8 had become a forest of weeds and sumac saplings, with an average height of about five feet. This was a bit much, and I resolved to take Action at once. I retrieved my hand pruner from the kitchen and sallied forth, but the task was a daunting one. If only there were some way of speeding things up.

There was.

I had owned for some time a perfectly good electric hedge trimmer, bought to deal with some bushtrees in our back yard. I had never actually taken it out of the box in all the years I'd had it, for a very good reason: these tools come factory-infested with the most virulent stripe of anti-handyman demons, and fiasco is sure to eventuate when they are deployed for use. Consider: Do you not know at least one person who has cut through their own extension cord while attempting to use one of these things?

I was nine years old the first time I saw one of these deployed by a neighbour as I walked to school. The man finished off his hedge with a little well-deserved flourish and there was an almighty bang as the evil-spirit infested thing cut through his extension cord.

At the time I laughed because, callow youth that I was, I simply assigned the accident to the poor man's incompetence. What did I know of hedge-trimmers? As the years rolled on I began to realise it simply wasn't possible for all those cut cords to be due to the lack of owner-operator brain cells. Something eldritch and not explainable by science9 was clearly going on. Add the demon-infestation to The Mr Brain Issue and you have quite a potential for cock-ups. I know a no-win situation when I see one.

However, I thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion that provided I kept my mind on the job and was actively trying not to cut my own extension cord in two, I should be able to press the hedge-trimmer into service for mass overgrown weed and triffid clearance with little danger.

A sad mistake.

I had to use the cord currently supplying power to the fan, but that was alright since the floor was mostly dry by now. I unpacked the tool and plugged it in. I switched it on and observed the snippy parts work. I checked the extension cord was not near the blade. I began to trim weeds.

It was, at first, a great triumph. The weeds fell like, well, weeds and the tool showed no tendency to generate a fiasco. I walked deeper into the overgrowth at which point the evil anti-handyman spirits caused the cord to pull out of the tool. And again. And again.

In order to thwart this petty behaviour I gathered a loop of cord and re-examined the arrangement with a view to avoiding a cord-cutting debacle. It all looked well and good, and the weeds retreated in disorder in the face on my superior technology.

I finally reached the sumac tree growing in the corner and decided I couldn't expect the hedge-trimmer to cut the main trunk. It was just too thick and there were specific warnings against cutting over-thick stuff with the tool in the instruction booklet. I decided to cut off all the thinner branches, which would be possible if I turned the blade so it was cutting vertically (not recommended in the instructions). It worked rather well, and as I cut off the penultimate branch I gave a little flourish. The tool ground to a halt.

I checked the swimming pool and the filter motor was dead too, indicating that the GFI had tripped. I asked Mrs Stevie to reset it, which she did, but the hedge-trimmer refused to start. I thought I might have somehow damaged the mechanism, though the blade didn't have any obvious damage showing. Then I saw the cord had been neatly cut about eighteen inches from the end, and was hanging by a shred of insulation.


Properly chastened, I returned to the garage and replaced all the stuff that I had on the driveway, then went indoors to lick my wounds. This served two purposes. It gave me some much needed salt, and told me to get a shower in no uncertain terms. The loft-clearance would have to wait until Sunday.


Sunday dawned and it was back to work. I pulled out the mower, the halogen work lights, the sack truck, the antique kid's peddle car, some boxes of crap and finally, Troll the Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness, and positioned them around the driveway, then got to work. I also fished out from the back of the garage a box of broken glass, which I tossed into the garage entrance for dumping into the recycling bin after breaking a couple of big pieces up with a block of wood. It also contained a shirtload of galvanised steel washers. What I had thought to be a mouse, and now believe to be the rat, had attempted to eat these washers and had succeeded only in destroying the box they came in. I had transferred them to a bucket, which had been knocked over into the box o'glass shards. This box was a handy place to dump broken glass as I came upon it some years ago, and I had just forgotten to throw it out at the time. Now I needed a way to get the washers back out without slicing my hands to ribbons.

The answer was one of the magnet stacks I used to create the bewildering super powers when in my Mighty Magnetotron10 persona. I wrapped the magnets in a brown paper bag, then used that to collect the washers from the glass shards. It was a great triumph, if I do say so myself.

While I was at it I moved a couple of short rolls (about twenty feet or so) of the plastic-wrapped fiberglass insulation I found that will do nicely to replace most of that lost (from the bathroom ceiling during Domestic Flood Xena) to the front of the garage. I cannot seem to find it in the stores and its plastic wrapper - which helps prevent fiberglasser's rash - and kraft paper backing is perfect for the job. I also moved some rare, out-of-print games that a friend had given me when he moved to Atlanta a few weeks ago to the same area temporarily.

No sooner had I done this than the sprinkler that waters the garden and the very end of the lawn fired up to remind me I hadn't turned off the valve. It is a heavy-duty "Rainbird" type that turns by means of a percussive swing arm powered by the stream of water. By sheer chance it was facing the garage, the very left-most end of its travel and the trigger point for the reversing mechanism. Also, for maximum fun, the mechanism decided to park for a bit without moving, no matter how many times the swing arm was hit with high-pressure water - a process that not only powers the turning action but also quite incidentaly causes the spray to be momentarily widened in effect11.

I was looking the other way when the Sprinkler of Inconvenient Wetness fired up, and at first Mr Brain could not, or would not believe what the Eyeball Twins were reporting12, so it took a few seconds for me to act. I leapt over to the inline valve and shut it off with a little twist and a big Word of Power. Then I inspected the damage. I dried off the games with a paper towel I had forgotten to leave inside the house, but the insulation had to be left in the sun in the hope the kraft paper would dry before the damp penetrated and got caught in the plastic wrapper (like happened with the original in Domestic Flood Xena). Many and terrible were the incantations at that time, and passing church-goers with small children did flee in horror before them.

I climed into the loft.

The first thing I did after that was make a note about the eight citronella torch inserts sitting in the loft. These are about the size of a tin of baked beans and have a conical cap with a wick in it. they are full of citronella oil, which is like scented kerosene, and fall over and leak really easily. The second thing I did was to knock them over and spill citronella oil all over the newly cleaned floor, forcing me to deploy the cat litter of oil absorbtion and also some swear words of anger channeling.

Then I junked out some boat seat cushions Mrs Stevie had decided she needed when her dad junked out his boat, some wood shelving I had put up there years ago and forgotten and some timber that used to be a swing I built for the Stevieling when she was four.

I was happy to see that one of the timbers was a cedar 2x4 left over from the deck project ten years ago (what you might call a deckade). The back yard cedar fence has a rotten top rail and I needed a replacement for it. I was less pleased to discover that while the fence required a straight piece of timber, this 2x4 was rifled.

In two directions

Well, the day wore on with me transferring art treasures from the loft into the garbage and working up a sweat of classic proportions. It was very hot and humid on Sunday and the environment seemed to trap the air so it could be superheated under the roof of the garage. Dehydration was a constant problem, and I put it down to that that I let down my guard and allowed Mr Brain to try and kill me again.

The ladder I used for accessing the loft was one I inherited with the house. It was all wood, and wracked badly when used. I cut it in half, put one half in storage and deployed the other as a loft ladder. Of course, I had to do something about the wracking. My solution to this vexing problem was to cut two pieces of plywood and nail them, one across the top of the ladder, one across the bottom. The plywood was the width of the ladder and about a foot tall, giving plenty of bracing. The only fly in the ointment was that I had to be careful to use the second rung when ascending or descending and not stand on the edge of the plywood by mistake as it could detach from the ladder with disastrous consequences, since I had used nails and not screws to fasten the plywood sheet to the ladder siderails. I think you can see where I'm going with this.

Without really concentrating I stepped up with my left foot, placed my hands (clad in nice slippery leather work gloves) on the ladder to steady myself and raised my right foot to continue my ascent. Just before my right foot reached the rung, the plywood's nails unlatched from the wood of the ladder and my left foot was carried through the ladder while my center of gravity shifted with no regard for my safety. This happened so fast I was denied the chance to reinforce my grasp on the ladder with my teeth and my leather gloves slipped off it, allowing me to fall in a graceful arc to the concrete floor some three feet below. I yelled out an inspiring cry, a challenge to the forces of evil at work in the universe if you will, then crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust. I might have been seriously injured, but I had the good fortune to land squarely upon the box of broken glass shards, which deformed under me rather like the steel of a car deforms in a crash, the glass inside absorbing the energy of my fall by breaking up into even smaller pieces. It was all very invigorating.

I lay on the ground and pondered the matter of the box of glass under my back. It would be of passing interest, I thought, if I were to stand and find myself resembling Godzilla with a twin row of glass "scales" projecting from my back. Always assuming that I still had command of my various bits. There is, I remembered, an awful lot of important wiring running down the average back, and nature hadn't arranged for resilience in the circuitry in the event of a break.

Well, lying around pondering the whichness of the why wasn't getting the job done, and Mrs Stevie was due home from her church picnic and would take a dim view of any horseplay while on the job. I leapt to my feet over the course of two or three minutes, checked my back for glass then lurched around the garage for a bit to reacquaint my body with the idea of upright ambulation. Then I did what anyone under those circumstances would do: I grabbed the ladder and Mr Tiger Saw and turned it into matchwood before it could do any more damage. During this process I stood on the traitorous plywood sheet and drove a nail through the sole of my shoe, narrowly missing driving it through the underlying sole of my foot. Another customer for Mr Tiger Saw then.

I decided that natural incompetence, Mr Brain's perfidy and the ever-present anti-handyman demons had taken the day and suspended operations in the garage, possibly forever. I informed Mrs Stevie when she returned home that she could finish moving the various bits of crap, mostly the Stevieling’s old rocking horse, around to make room for more crap, and spent the rest of the day cutting up deadfalls so the garden refuse guys would actually take them away. In this I was ably aided and abetted by Messrs Workmate and Tiger Saw, to whom I should like to give my thanks.

Then it was off to Home Despot to buy a DIY socket end to repair my extension cord with, which I did despite the dire predictions of failure, death and destruction from the resident eletrical department Doomsayer and returned home to fit it.

It was, for once, a fairly businesslike thing, as aftermarket plugs in the USA so often aren't. The socket opened up like a clamshell and revealed a straightforward screw terminal arrangement and a two-jaw, reversible cord-grip. It was the work of a few minutes to fit the cable to it, but I felt the cord-grip was too agressive in the best-fit configuration (the other one would let in water, a definite no-no), so I took the jaws down to my basement workshop to see if I could widen the profile a bit.

And lost one of the jaws when it pinged out of the vise and shot across the floor, never to be seen again.

Knowing that once again I had been driven from the field of endeavour by the cruel and sardonic anti-handyman spirits, I hoisted a white flag and retreated to the shower.

It was several hours later that I realised that although I had consumed about three pints of iced tea since my shower, I hadn’t peed once. I was so dehydrated the liquid was being absorbed by the manly Stevieframe before my kidneys could get at it.

Either that, or my kidneys went south in the Loft Ladder of Certain Death Fiasco.

  1. As opposed to the usual scheme of just putting it all back in the garage again when I was finished
  2. Who thankfully hasn't actually been found to be resident but who did grace us (apparently) with a visit in which he enjoyed Chateau Stevie's native French Cuisine Signature Dish: Escargot De La Jardin and used the place to deposit several dozen times his own weight in fecal matter
  3. But not the ladder, which even when collapsed down to 12 feet needs almost the full length of the garage to lay down in. 'tis a mighty thing, with a load-bearing capacity of 250 lbs and a rope loop you can pull to shoot the end up into the sky - which makes it almost impossible to control and on at least one occasion has precipitated a fiasco of the most publicly embarrassing kind as it fell on me. I've used it a couple of times to access dead tree branches and the chimney. Every time I've been absolutely terrified. It is a long drop to the ground for the top of the thing
  4. Mr Stevie doesn't know about the "next year" bit. Mum's the word
  5. Wine made "Genaro Fashion" (ibid). the mind boggles, the stomach churns
  6. Current theory is that the guy at the other end of the side street adjacent to the fabulaous Chateau Stevie who renovates old classic cars in his shop was the source of the rat in question. The guy had a number of wrecks in an overgrown area to the side of his garage. The land was cleared, possibly at the militant request of his new neighbours who put a gazillion bux into renovating their new home. Everyone thinks the rats came from there, moved up the street by way of the nitwit who left out open cans of catfood for the strays in the area, and on to Crazy Joe's other neighbour's land where they established an underground sanctum sanctorum beneath his shed. Joe eventually broke the news to me that he had been catching rats on his land (after things got so bad he called in the professionals) which was the first I had heard of it. I checked the property for burrows, warned everyone to be on the lookout, but no-one ever saw a rat. The rat in the garage was singular and remarkably dimwitted in that it tried to eat a variety of non food-like stuff in there and completely missed a box of microwave popcorn that I had stupidly left in there last year when my Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker game was disbanded.
  7. I wanted another Karcher, which had given me good service even if I had expected a longer service life from it than I got. I needed a replacement in a hurry and found that Home Despot had discontinued their relationship with Karcher and started one with Husky. This, by the way, is fairly typical with DIY centers. No sooner do you develop a liking for a product than they stop selling them
  8. More properly: vegetable ex-garden I suppose
  9. Or by the sorry excuse we have for scientists today, who are far more interested in reclassifying Pluto as a not-planet and Lake Huron as an unlake than actually getting their fingers out and doing science
  10. I would shove a stack of magnets up each sleeve and stand beside colleagues, declaring "I am The Mighty Magnetotron. Bow before my awesome powers, mortal!". Their unruly cries of "Fat Chance" would be silenced as I waved my arms and their computer monitors went all gooey, like a Dali watch or something from a sixties movie about LSD. It was great fun until the bastard bosses replaced the CRTs with non magnetic field sensitive LCD screens
  11. It is this very effect that makes adjusting the things so "refreshing" and that killed my cell-phone's internal charger at the start of the sprinkling season
  12. Vast incoming streams of life-sustaining but insulation- and game-wrecking water

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