30 November 2007

The Trench

Remember Willi? He'd promised me that he would dig the trenches for the electricity and plumbing out to the studio. Willi turned out to be the kind of guy who would say, "I'm on my way", at 7:30 in the morning and at 11:30 would say, after several phone calls assuring me that he was still on his way, "You know, it looks like it's going to rain. We'll have to make it another day." I cannot tell you how many mornings I spent waiting for him, always kicking myself that I'd fallen for his game again. I should have just walked around with a sign on my butt saying, "Kick Me." Anyway, he finally showed up in a brand-new back hoe with an enclosed cab, air conditioning and a CD player. He told me how much it cost but I can't remember now except that it was a lot.

So he dug the trench for the electric, the remnants of which is what you can see running to the front of the studio. Then he dug the trench for the plumbing which ran along the west side of the studio and around back.

I was too busy with whatever I was helping him with and doing on my own to take pictures or stand over him to watch what was happening but suddenly, with a few tasks still unfinished, I saw him pulling out the driveway. I walked over and asked him what was up. "Are you leaving?" He said, "It's 1:30. I've got to go." And he was gone with his new back hoe in a flash.

Later that evening, I was doing the dishes, looking out the window and thought, wait a minute... Do you remember Highlights for Children? My favorite part of that magazine was the puzzle in which you had to look at two similar picture drawings and figure out what from the first drawing was missing in the second. Take a look at the bottom edge of the roof line. Does something look funny? Yes, half of the gutter is missing.

Here's what happened. Willi was probably not used to his new piece of equipment and I'm not exactly sure how, but he took a chunk out of the front corner of the roof and completely tore apart the front end of the gutter. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it. Naturally, rain was on the way. So I went next door for Aubrey who helped me stuff and cover it with plastic. This I should really have taken a picture of but you'll have to use your imagination.

As it turns out, the damage was mostly to the fascia and soffit which were both pretty easily replaced along with one or two roof tiles. Needless to say, I never heard from Willi again. The coward.

29 November 2007


The fellow who Terry Anderson sent over to mud the drywall seams was marvelous. I had such complete faith in his ability and integrity that I only popped in once or twice a day to say hello and see what what going on.

He set up his materials in the morning, turned on his radio and went to work. It took him about four days.

At the end, he helped me unload the flooring materials from my car just as a storm was about to hit. No complaints, no wise cracks.

28 November 2007

Wires and Drywall

I was definitely too busy making decisions during the wiring to take any pictures. I was not prepared with enough information in advance. Where to put the outlets? How many outlets? How about the switches? Where to position the track lights? Don't forget the outside motion sensor lights and the shed light. All you can see from that stage are the little blue plastic boxes. One's up there in the ceiling and another few in the photo below. I would have done a few things differently. Set the track lights away from the wall another six inches, put a main switch for the lights not only inside the front door but also at the back and at least wired for exterior lights on either side of the front door. But none of those issues are critical and I get along fine with the lighting and outlets as is.

See that piece of paper taped to the door? That's the back of the cartoon I posted yesterday.

Home Depot delivered the dry wall but did not put it in the building. Oh, yeah! I remember now. The drywall delivery was scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the drywall installers which happened to fall on the day of the National Immigrant Strike which means it was April 25, 2006. And, there was rain on the way. The drywall was delivered but the installers were Mexican. I forget how many sheets there were. 36? 48? More? I called one of the handymen and he and I together lifted the pieces and moved them inside which was oh, about ten feet or so. They do not call this stuff sheet rock for nothing. Of all the hard labor I did on this place, moving those pieces of drywall was the most difficult physical task. You have to do it to understand it. That's all I can say. Wow. But I did it (although I could not possibly have done it by myself) and lived to tell the tale.

Sheet rock work is DUSTY. It rained. The team of installers showed up the following evening and did a great job.

Terry Anderson was the drywall contractor I hired and he was the shining star of my show who kept me from losing complete faith in the ability and integrity of workers. He made sure that everything was done properly, in a timely manner, by able and friendly people at a fair price. He made me very happy.

Much later, I discovered that one of my little electrician friends drilled holes through the roof in two places when he was preparing the boxes for two of the motion sensor lights. Luckily, the roofer happened discovered both on two trips out for unrelated tasks.

27 November 2007

Rome in a day

One day, I opened The New Yorker and found this Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon. Immediately, I cut it out and unceremoniously taped it to the inside of the studio front door. One day I'll look back on this and laugh, I thought. The cartoon is now taped above the sink in my supply room. I am posting Mr. Kaplan's cartoon without permission. I'm not sure if I need it. You can go hear an NPR interview with him here.

26 November 2007


My award for the most ludicrous entry in the annals of film history must go to Richard Lester for The Bed-Sitting Room. I saw it when I was still a teenager and think that I must have sat squinting through the entire screening with my mouth slightly open. It's (sort of) about England after a nuclear holocaust with a great cast of characters including Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Ralph Richardson transforms into the title character (a bed sitting room) and Marty Feldman runs around in a nurse's uniform. Everything blown up has fallen back to earth into piles of similar objects. For example, I remember a big pile of shoes, another of tires and so forth.

This photo reminds me of that film. I had piles of receipts and piles of work shoes. Piles of bricks and piles of scrap. Piles of dirt and, well, you get the picture. One of my great work outs was moving that pile of bricks onto the truck from the salvage yard then off of the truck to the above location.

25 November 2007


No, this is not a picture of the insulation but I don't have any so this is a little indication of the time frame. Spring was unfolding.

I'd ordered insulation from Home Depot but had not yet had it delivered and was advised by a much wiser individual to go with a pro-installation company. I did and am glad of it. They were very reasonable, sent over a tiny little guy from Mexico who, on a very rainy day stuffed every nook and cranny with good insulation. I was very happy with him and his work. That was a good deal.

24 November 2007


Here's the finished siding and it looks beautiful. I used HardiePlank lap siding with a bit of a wood grain design. Hardie makes a fabulous product for siding. On my main house, I have the old asbestos shingles. I found the Hardie manufactures replacement shingles in their Hardieboard material as an exact match so that homeowners can just replace a few without having to reside the entire house.

If you look under the threshold of the front door, you can see where one of the handymen and I propped up the door with scrap wood. Willie said that he'd come back to make a brick threshold support. He never did so we set a length of 4 x 4 treated post lumber underneath. I'll have to replace that eventually but it should hold fine for a few years at least.

Below is a shot of the back with the siding completed and the back shed door installed. I bought that door for $5 from Habitat and had it cut to fit the shorter frame. Unfortunately, the cut was not sealed properly so it's been damaged by the rain. Have to fix that!

23 November 2007


In order for the siding to begin, all of the windows had to be installed. That was a long wait. It was a wait for the windows I ordered to finally arrive and a wait for someone to install them and to coordinate the two. But it finally happened. Well, what finally happened was that I had someone installing the last of the windows and discovered that the small awning windows were still not the ones I'd ordered. So, Home Depot sent someone over to piece together what I'd originally ordered from the different, incorrect sets the manufacturer had sent. That worked out fine and we all had a good laugh. I could laugh about it because I knew now that Home Depot was graciously eating the cost of those windows.

So, here you see some of the siding work with all of the windows installed. I guess that I should mention that I went with your basic single-pane vinyl windows. Except for the transoms. And I think the door windows are double pane. Aside from the bare bones budget, my reasoning was that even the single frame windows are far superior to the old windows in my main house. I think they work and look just fine for the needs of the building.

Hmmm... and now I can see that the siding guys did not wrap that bit above the door at the back of the shed. They started out all right but became surly and negligent by the end. And charged me more than stated at outset. And left their huge rattle-trap truck with the confederate flags in my driveway throughout. But they did a pretty good job. One of my handymen helped to correct the bits they left for me to fix. They came, they did their thing, they left. A friend of mine (not a native Tennessean) told me, "Tennessee is the 'good enough' state. People here work till it's good enough."

22 November 2007

Notes for survival

Here's how I managed the project. Well worn lists of things to do. Tasks to be tackled. I look at the above list and just laugh to see how much I expected myself to accomplish in a day. However, in thinking that I could, I managed to accomplish an awful lot. Once, the slips of paper with now cryptic numbers and diagrams held some vital meaning. Now, I couldn't tell you what they mean.

21 November 2007


This is Mr. Tenpenny. I met him and Aubrey on this back porch the day I first stopped to look at my house. Mostly, I visited with Mr. Tenpenny on his front porch. Aubrey would sit him out there in good weather and I'd go over and gab with him while Aubrey scraped around in the garden or cleaned up inside. I can't remember what we'd talk about. With Alzheimer's, you don't really talk about anything, you just sort of talk. Then I'd rush off to get back to whatever job was up that day in building. What's your rush?, he'd ask me. Rush? I have to finish that building!

Mr. Tenpenny grew up in that house — his father built it. At the end of that year, last December, Mr. Tenpenny passed away. I really don't know what I would have done without the two of them next door.

20 November 2007

Good Neighbor

I lucked out in the next-door neighbor department. Aubrey was caretaker for old Mr. Tenpenny who was suffering from Alzheimer's. I probably called on him at least once a day. He never said "I can't help you" or "Go away". He always said or did something to help. He saw me cry once and swear a good bit. He laughed a lot. I'm sure that I was an immense source of entertainment.

19 November 2007


As best as I can tell, this is the last photo of the studio for a while. Which is too bad because I missed some things I would like to have documented. The project quit being fun for a while and I really had to hustle to figure out what, exactly, still needed to be done and who was going to do it.

The building inspector was nice enough to come out, go through the building, and tell me what still needed to be done and how it should be done. I'd played a little in-the-round gig at a local club the weekend before and remembered Doug, the songwriter next to me mentioning that he was a reluctant carpenter. I found his number, called him up and, though I had to wait for a while, he carved out some time for me. Because of his intermittent availability, he recommended a second fellow as a sub. A publisher who'd been building and contracting for years came over, gave me his two cents and recommended a third songwriter/carpenter/handyman. Between the three of them and myself, we finished the miscellaneous work for the inspector and the subsequent work beyond. I worked hand in hand with each of them and it worked out pretty well for the most part.

I was really fortunate to be able to pick up and proceed without too long a delay. It just took me a while to get the camera back in my hand.

18 November 2007

Quitting Time!

J. quit on the morning of his last scheduled day. I did something to piss him off but when I was thinking about this post earlier, I realized that he probably would not have quit had he thought there were additional days of immediate work ahead on this job. He pulled the center support beam securing things before bracing. Pulling it out at that stage wreaked some havoc with the front wall but I didn't find out about the consequences till later and it was nothing terribly serious. While it was a pain for things to be left unfinished and his quitting cost me some time and aggravation, when I look back through my journal for that time, I read that I was ultimately relieved to see him go. Naturally, a big storm blew in that afternoon and my very helpful next door neighbor, Aubrey, and one of his sons helped me seal up the gaping twin window hole before the rain fell.

At this point, I should say that blogs are designed for fresh content of the moment for good reason. I am finding it difficult to look back and honestly recreate the building process for a number of reasons. One reason is that for this particular building project, there was a lot of personality, emotion, stress and distress involved. Maybe that's true for all building projects. Or for a lot of them. Another reason is that I don't feel now the way I felt then and am not particularly enjoying reviewing certain aspects of the experience. Specifically the recounting of what various workers did wrong. I don't care about making a list of grievances. Although, things will go wrong in the building process and that's part of the story of making any building.

Nor do I care to list my own shortcomings in the process. For example, I discovered that "It's crooked" is my middle name. Or was my middle name. I finally realized that it's a crooked world or, as Alfred once said, it's all relative. One of the things that made me such a pain for the various contractors was that I would make them explain to me the results of various decisions I would have to make. I wasn't paying them to teach me, I was paying them to labor but, I mean, I had to understand whether one thing or another was going to risk a wall falling down, a pipe exploding or an electrical fire.

It was difficult for me to keep my head on straight about myself as various men, on my own property, who I would hand money to, would berate me or do some damage or make me wait for hours or days and then somehow reason that the berating, damage and delay was my fault.

What saved my shredding psyche was my next door neighbor, Aubrey, who was always kind, available and helpful, the truly great contractors including the roofer and especially the sheet rocker (who gets my gold star), some essays in Dominique Browning's Around the House and in the Garden and Carl Hiaasen's Stormy Weather. I'll go into detail about those and other helpful people and things in future posts but for now, I'll try to wrap this up. Let's see... my point was....

I guess it's that I thought I needed to tell this story but did not realize how complicated for me the telling would be, nor what a time-sink. I don't like pulling punches but I don't like bad-mouthing people either. I learned a lot and I made mistakes (and repeated some). Some of the mistakes I made were in hiring some of the people I did. But we have a happy ending ahead because I'm writing this on my comfy, messy day bed surrounded by my art books, looking out onto the pretty scenery of my yard from my private little room under the loft. And that's another reason I don't like wading through the icky business of the past. I came through that to get here. And I like it here.

Well, I'm into this story now. I may as well proceed.

17 November 2007

The State of Things

The roof tile went up without a glitch, naturally. The roofer's father was a roofer and his son is a roofer. This was easy, pleasant and over with in no time.

I was having some problems with the windows I'd ordered from Home Depot. The small awning windows for the east wall did not come in right. Neither did the transom window. I think that the loft window crank was broken on arrival and J. could not figure out how to install the twin window (for which you see the gaping hole in the above picture). The result of all this was that I had to wait on installing four or five of the windows. I really forget the exact sequence of events but ultimately, when the windows were all properly accounted for and installed, Home Depot credited me for 4, and the window manufacturer refunded my money for 2. So, of 13 windows, 6 were no charge. It was a pain, but funny by the end of it all and how could I complain? What a deal!

J. still had about a day's worth of work to finish. In fact, I think that it would have taken him more than one day. But it was important stuff, like the knee walls in the loft some bracing in the trusses, a ladder for the loft and the back shed door and window. Later, I realized that he had not made any threshold support before (or after) installing the front entry doors. The framing had to be brought to an end point in order to have the building inspector sign off. In my attempt to maintain decent neighborly relations, my excuse for bringing this phase to a close was financial. But I was counting the hours.

16 November 2007

Still singing

Our Mockingbird continued to serenade us which was good because things were getting tense with J. Very tense.

When J. swore at me in no uncertain terms in the middle of Home Depot because I asked him to move his truck to the contractor's entrance, I thought, well, I will have to fire him as soon as this phase is complete because this is definitely not acceptable. It all started falling apart after the drinking on the roof business. Right there, I lost my authority. Then J. invited over a neighbor I didn't recognize to visit while he worked. The visitor parked his large truck in my drive, blocking the termite man and I had to ask him to leave. You would have thought I'd seriously insulted his mother. I was running on way too much caffeine and J. was running on too much alcohol. Tension was building and an explosion was imminent.

15 November 2007

Tar paper

Finally, the sun appeared and while the roofers laid the tar paper, J. constructed the back shed.

Very quickly. Unfortunately, some of the roof plywood warped from the rain. Not the end of the world though it bothered me a lot at the time. Jim Smith, roofer extraordinaire who I was so very fortunate to find, told me horror stories of multi-million dollar homes that were not squared, had roofs that leaked, etc. ad nauseum. I think I forgot to mention that the foundation slab was not squared and that J. corrected that in the south west corner of the framing.

14 November 2007

Closing up

Big storm's a'comin...

The last sky light.

Closing up.

Mounting the fascia. Also, you can see the back of the building without the shed.
The tar paper was supposed to go up on the roof at this stage but J. pulled everyone off the job. Then it rained.

12 November 2007

Under the loft

The beginnings of the back room (now my little fort). Much deliberation on whether to frame opening between main and back rooms for standard door or not.

Roof with a view

I scrambled up to the new loft level to take some shots before the rafters were enclosed. Above is looking North.





and we don't have to look Northwest into the neighbor's yard!

11 November 2007

Over the loft

If you go back and look at my pencil sketch for the cross-section you can see that the ceiling would have to change over the loft area in order for there to be enough head room to stand up at all. This is one of the places where J.'s expertise really helped me plan and execute properly. He worked out the math so that I'd have maximum height on both the ground floor and loft. I should note here that I was working with a maximum overall height allowance of 16' to meet building code regulations for a garage/workshop structure.

The best way to make this work both economically and structurally was to go with pre-fab trusses for the main room and hand-cut trusses for over the loft. That's why, in the next-to-last post, the pre-fab truss work stops where the loft begins.

Here, you can see J. and his lovely assistant finishing off their hand-cut truss work.

One thing I would have done differently is to leave maximum overhang of eaves. J. gave me the option of leaving any length of overhang and suggested a maximum. My roofer recommended a minimum. I went for a happy medium because I was concerned that a big overhang might interfere with light and not be in keeping with the other architecture in the neighborhood. In retrospect, I would have preferred a deeper overhang for more protection from the rain.

This was one of many instances of my own inexperience causing stress and confusion about decisions I had to make on the fly without enough time to really reflect on the consequences. Fortunately, none of these confusions created any structural problems. They just contributed to my own stress and tried the patience (understandably) of the workers. As one of the electricians said (while I was trying to decide on the placement of the track lighting or one of the switches or something), "It's like watching a tennis match."

10 November 2007

My job

At this stage, mine was a small job — sanding, priming and painting the fascia. It was critical for me to participate in whatever manner I could so that I could contribute, learn and keep an eye on things. Before too long, I would not be asking permission to participate.

09 November 2007

Raising the trusses

Here's how the pre-fab trusses were raised:

Click here for a quick technical explanation of this process.

Nowhere in any technical explanation of this process does it say to order 2 six-packs of beer with a pizza lunch for two men with bad backs climbing on scaffolding to affix trusses over concrete slab. When I strongly objected to the liquid portion of the lunch order, I was dismissed and overruled.

But there was the structure at the stage that it was, and it had to be finished, so things proceeded but less happily than before.

08 November 2007

The guest


Here's the thing, if I see the body of an animal that's been hit by a car in the street, I will stop (if I'm not endangering myself or others) and move the body to the side of the road because I think it's barbaric and obscene to leave the remnants of a living thing to be unceremoniously run over again and again as if it's of absolutely no consequence. So... driving home from an errand, I came upon a squirrel in the middle of a side street. When I stopped to move it, I discovered that it was still alive but stunned and limping. There happened to be two large dogs barking and making tracks for us so I put the squirrel in the back seat, drove it home, put it in one of the cat carriers and called the only wildlife rehabilitator in the region who talked me through the basics. A local vet took a look at the injured limb. Between the three of us, the solution seemed to be to let the squirrel rest up and see what might happen.

He (she?) stayed in the guest room for about ten days, rested and ate apples, peanut butter, and some sort of rodent protein pellets. We were both a little frightened of each other. It was a challenge to clean the cage but I used thick work gloves. I did not name him or have even a fleeting thought of keeping him. At a certain point, I took him outside to see his reaction. He immediately directed every shred of energy to getting out of the carrier. So, I popped him back into the car, drove to where I'd originally found him and opened the carrier. Something to tell his grandsquirrels about.

06 November 2007

Not a pretty sight

Here is command central where I made all the calls, kept all the plans, the files, the calculator, the mounting piles of receipts and god knows what else. Me and all of the kitchen chairs for company. In my little house, I had everything that had been stored in the shed, supplies and furniture that was going to be moved into the new studio, and all of those extra things that came with my recent move that I'd not had time to sort through and discard. The office/guest room was packed to the gills — I kept the door to that room closed. Increasingly, I also had fixtures, appliances and materials for the interior of the studio, taking up increasing amounts of space in the living room. The felines were confined to the bedroom. I mention all of this because in order for me to get from any point A in the house to any other point required considerable dexterity and planning.

Just to get in and out the back door (a frequent occurrence)

and to plug in and unplug the extension cord for the power tools out back was an ordeal.