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Things home improvement taught me

Well, it's the morning after our tiling effort, and I've learned many things, which I will share with you all.

  • I don't like doing home improvement things.
  • If you're going to tile more than one bathroom, hire someone to do it for you.
  • If you're going to tile only one bathroom, hire someone to do it for you.
  • No matter how much stuff you buy to tile a bathroom, you will inevitably run out of something you desperately need to finish the job, and this will always happen after the stores are closed--including Home Depot.
  • Home Depot is an evil institution that causes people to believe they can do things like tile their own bathrooms.
  • This Old House is an evil show that causes people to believe they can do things like tile their own bathrooms.
  • "How to Install Ceramic Tile" is an evil book that causes people to believe they can do things like tile their own bathrooms.
  • Men who build houses don't like to have two women going in and out of the construction site, attempting to tile a bathroom.
  • Do not attempt to tile four bathrooms in one night on the day before you have to pack up to move elsewhere. (Mind you, this wasn't our fault, as if the builders were on schedule, we'd have had three weeks to tile the bathrooms.)
  • If you attempt to tile your own bathrooms, your builder will then blame all the delays he already caused on you, in spite of the fact that the house is already three weeks behind schedule when you start trying to tile.
  • Last, but not least: Hire someone else to tile your bathrooms.

That's what we wound up doing after all.--MAY



Is this any way to run a vacation?

Okay, so I expected it to be a different kind of vacation, what with Heidi and family having to move out of their interim house into their second temporary housing until their new house is built. I understood that I'd be helping pack and move, as Heidi quite clearly told me, "I'm going to utilize you to help me pack and move." With all of that, I still thought we'd have time to do some enjoyable things, what with it being Christmas and us having dinner with J.R. and Sheila, like we've done for the past five years, and the Lord of the Rings being in the theaters and all. What I did not expect was that I'd be sitting in the new house, which is still not quite finished, helping Heidi tile four bathrooms. At ten p.m. With the prospect of an all-nighter staring us in the face.

Now, to be fair, Heidi told me I don't have to stay here and I can just go to the temporary house and go to bed. But that's impossible, because then if she didn't finish the bathrooms by morning I'd feel terribly guilty, and besides, she needs me to supervise. Okay, and to help, too, as we did load several hundred pounds of things like Wonderboard and mortar and tiles and grout and additive into and out of my Jeep and her Tracker. I'm definitely getting my exercise here.

So instead of seeing The Lord of the Rings, I'm seeing Christie and Wayne and Jeff at the local Home Depot, and learning more about bathrooms than I'd ever intended to learn, and rather wishing we can call 1-800-TILE-YOU and get someone here to do the tiling for us. Because we have to finish it by morning, which is when the guys doing the trim get back to finish the rest of the house, and I'm told (I have to be told all of this because otherwise I'd just stare blankly and ask "Why don't you just call someone in next week to do it all?") that if it isn't done by morning, it will be that much more difficult because the trim will be in and we'll have to take it out and put it back. Which, obviously, would be even more work and take even more time away from fun pursuits.

But I've decided that I'll be back here the first week in March for the housewarming, and Heidi has promised me that we shall do nothing but fun things that week, and I won't be allowed to cook, except for a corned beef and latkes, which is our personal tradition when I come to Virginia, anyway. (I've been cooking dinner since I got here. But then, Heidi's not the greatest of cooks, and I refuse to let her ruin a good turkey. It's my contention that no one can be a good cook whose philosophy on food is "Is it edible? Well, then.") I'll hold her to it. And next year, we'll all be able to see The Two Towers, which will be in theaters next December, and by which time perhaps her daughter will decide she won't be too frightened by the Black Riders and the orcs.--MAY

Still alive, dammit, but perhaps not for long

Our Buddy Bin is looking mighty ragged these days. Could it be our bunker busters and daisy cutters have been keeping him awake nights and days?

I haven't seen the new video, but I'm looking forward to it.

We don't know if the attempted shoe-bomber was Al-Quaida or not, but as Heidi said--if that's all they've got to throw at us, we don't have much to worry about.

Bet he's wishing he'd used a butane lighter instead of matches, hm?



Happy Boxing Day

I have no idea why they call it Boxing Day, but it is, so happy whatever the reason. Who needs a reason to be happy, anyway? Just be happy and enjoy it.

So I'm going through the constant culture shock I go through here in Southern Virginia--and believe me, the residents make a great distinction between being from Southern and Northern Virginia, so don't ever make the mistake of confusing the two--and I'm sensing one of those interminably long sentences, so let me stop it here.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Culture shock. I've been to Home Depot and various home improvement shops in the past few days, as Heidi is in the midst of having a house built, so I get to meet not just Virginians, but Virginians in the home building crafts. At one specialty tile store, I stood in disbelief as the gentleman selling us a membrane that goes under tiles gave us an extra roll he found in the back for a very small amount of money, instead of charging us an arm and a leg like they'd do back home in New Jersey. Oh, and there were two gentlemen who worked at Home Depot who, at five minutes before closing on Christmas Eve, not only stopped to help us load some extremely heavy and bulky cement board, but one of them actually offered to drive it home for us in his pickup truck instead of us transporting it in a Geo Tracker with the sideboard hanging open. And he meant it, and would have been insulted had we offered him money if we'd accepted.

I like Southern Virginia. Well, except for the drivers, but then, drivers seem to suck no matter where you are. I took the back roads here on Sunday, because the Washington Loop traffic was horrible heading south. But it was worth it, because a number of years ago I discovered a house on one of the back roads that is the kind you generally only see on TV: The owners really like to celebrate Christmas. They had hundreds of plastic Xmas characters on their front lawn (a huge one). The long, winding path to their house was lined with dozens of Nutcracker-style soldiers, and the usual cast of characters were scattered over the rest of the lawn. I may take the back roads home as well, just to see that display again. The truly puzzling thing about it, though, is that if you don't live in or near that town, you wouldn't know about the display. It's not a busy road at all.

It's one of life's mysteries, I suppose.--MAY



The ultimate John Edward test

Heidi's husband came up with the perfect task for John Edward (on these pages known as John Fraudward). He can help the Pentagon find out if Osama bin Laden is dead or alive. Have Fraudward check to see if Our Buddy Bin has "crossed over."

It's the perfect chance for him to prove his skills, is it not? If he senses bin Laden, the man is dead and we can stop looking for him. If not, we keep trying.

Whaddya think? Should I call the FBI and tell them I think Fraudward can help?

Futons: Modern-day torture devices

I don't care what anybody says: Futons suck. They aren't beds, they're floors with sheets disguising themselves as beds. I spent half of last night trying to find a comfortable position on a futon, and finally gave up after realizing that there is no such thing. I am at a complete loss to understand why the benighted futon has so many adherents, two of whom are my hosts, and who I couldn't lie to and say I spent a comfortable night, although that has more to do with the noisiness of the central heating system in this house than with the futon.

I am really looking forward to the completion of their new house, since they promise me the first purchase they're going to make is a real bed for the guestroom. They sold the guestroom waterbed, alas. No more being rocked gently to sleep every time I moved. No more turning the bed's thermostat up to 68 F before bedtime. No more soft, soothing nights' sleep in the guestroom. Okay, well, at least not until they get a comfortable bed.

You want to position those Christmas ornaments carefully, bub

It was a bit of a long drive here, and I started late, so I got to see an awful lot of Christmas decorations. I saw a setup of those lighted deer that made me think perhaps people might want to be a bit more careful in the way they position their lawn ornaments.

I'm sure you've all seen them--twiggish wooden frames, white lights, deer shapes. Well, one particularly clueless celebrant had three deer on his lawn. Two were in the grazing mode. One was rearing up on its hind legs. The thing is, he had the one rearing up on its hind legs positioned last in line. It looked like--well--it looked like it wanted to hump the deer in front of it.

Definitely not the impression that homeowner wanted to give, one would think.

Merry Xmas.--MAY



Time bows to the pressure

Rudy Guiliani was named Time's Person of the Year. This is the individual who, for better or worse, most affected the news in 2001. As much as I admire Hizzoner for the incredible leadership he gave the city and, indeed, the nation immediately following the September 11th attacks, Time caved. Here are the words of Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor, from a transcript of an AOL chat: "The classic definition of Time's Person of the Year is the person who most affected the events of the year, for better or for worse."

The person who most affected the events of 2001 is Osama bin Laden. It's ugly, but it's true. Just because people are too stupid to understand Time's rules doesn't mean that the magazine should dumb itself down and pick someone that the public will be happy with. Everything that Rudy Guiliani achieved was a direct effect of having the Twin Towers taken down by bin Laden. No September 11th, and we still have Rudy struggling with prostate cancer, a bad breakup of his marriage, ending his mayoral term and cheering on the Yankees. We'd notice here in the NY-metro area, but the rest of the world would be blithely going about its business.

And there's another reason, I'm sure: Time-Warner is now the world's largest media conglomerate. They own CNN, TNT, dozens of magazines, a movie studio, television stations, AOL--they want their customers to be happy, not to hate them. And so Time caves, and the ethics of the media are lowered yet again. Sad. And to think, when I was in college, I wanted to be a professional journalist. Investigative. I'm so glad I got sidetracked.--MAY



Boil that dust speck

I don't know, for some reason, that flashed into my mind as I was trying to think of a blog for the day. It's from "Horton Hears a Who," one of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories, the cartoon version. A person's a person, no matter how small.

It's even stranger that that flashed into my head, because I was watching a CNN special on John "Taliban" Walker, the American Taliban fighter, and trying to think of a blog to write about it when the above phrase came to my mind. They're talking about charging him with a capital crime. And I was thinking, well, he fought in an army that was ultimately intending to fight Americans. He fought in an uprising that caused the death of an American CIA agent and former soldier.

So go ahead, charge him with a capital crime. I don't mind. What I do mind are all the conservative commentators trying to pin this one on his commiesimppinko upbringing, because he grew up in Marin County, liberal bastion of America. Give it a rest. Check out this Spinsanity article on how ridiculous they're being.

Perhaps the Horton imagery flashed into my mind because I'm thinking of the conservatives as the monkey brothers trying to destroy the tiny voices of the liberals.

Nah. They'd just call that psychobabble. Unless, of course, I was a conservative using it as a metaphor for liberals trying to crucify a conservative.--MAY