This Old House
Heck, no, this isn’t my house. Just a historic one I took a photo of once. I couldn’t afford the mortgage or the upkeep on one of these babies. Any building that falls under the protection of a historical society, as this does, comes with a lot of special rules that normal people without bottomless checking accounts can’t begin to obey. This one is used as an office, so I guess the upkeep is tax-deductible as a business expense.
However, I do own a home that’s old enough to demonstrate some wear and tear, as does its owner, so I’ve recently been trying to get organized to do a little upkeep. This recent flurry of home improvement motivation started when I refinanced my mortgage a few months back.
Say what you will about the economy — and there are plenty of people saying things about it who, in my opinion, have their crania firmly inserted in their posterior orifices — but it’s been a great year to refinance. Assuming you have a home to refinance. Assuming it has any equity. Assuming you still have a job and a decent credit rating. Luckily, I have somehow managed to hang onto all of these, so I got to refinance my mortgage at an obscenely low fixed rate of interest, got a decade chopped off the term, and lowered my monthly payment. Wowzer!
Almost immediately after this stellar event, the bank started to practically beg me to apply for a home equity line of credit. This is sort of like having a new credit card with a stratospheric limit — well, it is in my case, because I can’t even begin to conceive of charging purchases equal to the amount of money they were willing to let me play with against my home equity. You don’t actually have to use it once you get it. But it’s there, and they give you ten years to pay back what you borrow. And the interest rate at present for one of these is also obscenely low. So, I resisted their weekly invitations for a while, just on general principle. And then I started looking around the house, at the tired if still servicable kitchen sink from when the house was built; at the toilet that requires several flushes to adequately absorb digestive by-products, assisted by frequent judicious applications of the plunger; at the bathroom vanity that is perhaps the perfect height for a five-year-old, but gives me a backache every morning when I bend over it while brushing my teeth; at the dishwasher I bought that’s still in the box because I have not had the wherewithal or funds to hire the plumber, the electrician, and the appliance contractor required to remove an existing cabinet and prepare a space for it to do its thing, because there is currently no dishwasher in this old house, so it’s not a simple matter of sliding the old one out and sliding the new one in. And I assessed the sum total of irritation and inconvenience that all these deficits inflict on my daily life and thought, what the heck?
And then my ten-year-old clothes dryer broke.
I pride myself on being pretty handy, and I even know how to use power tools. And I determined that, in all likelihood, the dryer issue was a broken belt. And maybe I could fix that myself, without dipping into my home equity. I found the right belt online, found a YouTube video that showed me how to replace it, and waited for the belt to arrive in the mail. Which it did yesterday. I know better than to try to do anything more complicated than running the microwave after a full day of work, so I decided not to tackle it last night. Instead, I put it on my To-Do list for today, which is a day off.
Meanwhile, I’d already talked to my plumber and found out where he gets his stuff. I already ordered a way glam new bathroom vanity on eBay, saving several hundred dollars on the same item at Lowe’s. I found a ridiculously beautiful and ludicrously inexpensive Mexican ceramic bathroom sink to put in it, and even designed a complementary wallpaper border to put in the bathroom when all this stuff gets installed eventually. Yes, you can make your own wallpaper borders. But that’s an art lesson for another time. Anyway, today’s To-Do list included a trip to the plumbing supplier to look at kitchen sinks, toilets, faucets and whatever. I’m about ten days into taking Prilosec to heal the gastic ulcer I developed recently — no doubt from the stress of all this extra flushing, plunging, bending and dishwashing I’ve had to do — so I was finally able to drink a cup of real coffee this morning without doubling over in agonizing pain. An auspicious beginning, I thought. Home improvement is serious business, after all, requiring adequate caffeine. I put my second dose in a go-cup and got in the car.
The journey took a somewhat less auspicious turn about halfway down my street, when a squirrel took a flying leap off a tree branch and landed right in the path of my front tires. Must have been high on acorns or something. Maybe acorns are like the Angel Dust or crack cocaine of squirreldom. In any case, immediately following the squirrel’s death spiral, there was a sickening whump, which caused me to cringe and dribble my coffee. I usually manage to avoid turning cute little animals into roadkill. Honestly I do. Not today though. People who have bird feeders say a lot of mean things about what gluttonous rodents squirrels are, but I’ve always rather enjoyed their gymnastic attempts to outwit the squirrel foil on my bird feeder. And I love those fluffy tails. And Rocky and Bullwinkle was one of my favorite cartoon shows. So I felt like a murderer. However, I reminded myself of what one of my friends opined years ago: “Squirrels are just rats with good PR.” It didn’t really make me feel any better, but I didn’t spill any more coffee.
What did make me feel better was a decaf iced cafe mocha at a cafe near the plumbing supply store. I almost got a scone to go with it, but I’m trying to lose a few pounds, or rather, I’m trying not to gain a few pounds since I haven’t been able to eat salad or any raw fruit besides bananas since I’ve had this ulcer. And I really needed a treat by then, because right before I arrived at the cafe, a chipmunk, also apparently high on acorns, ran right under my left front tire on the highway. So, I was feeling like a serial killer by then, and wondered briefly if I needed to install one of those cow fenders on my car like they have on old trains. I felt so bad, I had to stop briefly in the boutique next door to the cafe, just to cheer myself up. I managed to resist several pairs of high heels that spoke to me, kept my wallet safely in my bag, and resumed my journey.
There’s an overriding principle involved in any home renovation project. Whatever you set out to accomplish, it’s going to cost at least three times what you thought it would cost, and take at least five times as long to organize. But I did learn a few things. I learned that good quality, problem-free faucets cost more than the ones they generally sell at Home Cheapo or even Lowe’s, and that the less expensive ones are made of chrome-colored plastic. You can tell they’re plastic if you tap your fingernail on them. Not one to take anybody’s word for anything, I did in fact test this out after I left the plumbing supply store, loaded down with glossy brochures, by swinging into a nearby Home Cheapo. I must have looked like I meant business when I walked in, because about six salespeople in orange aprons asked me if I needed any help. I think it must have been because of the metal tape measure I had clipped to the beltloop on my jeans. If you want to get treated with respect at the home improvement store, you need to accessorize appropriately. Turns out the plumbing supply people were indeed correct. I don’t know what the Home Cheapo people thought of my tapping my way down the faucet aisle, sagely shaking my head and tsk-tsking, but I did pick up some epoxy stripper while I was there, plus a pair of protective gloves and a roll of electrical tape, so they wouldn’t feel totally snubbed.
Afterward, I decided to take myself out to lunch at a local bistro, and had a bowl of homemade vegetable soup, since I can finally eat vegetables now if they’ve been cooked to the mushy stage. I sat at my table and looked at my plumbing brochures. I sighed a lot. Then I went home and reviewed the YouTube video about replacing the dryer belt.
There are many things I hear myself intoning on a regular basis, but I said none of those things today. Instead, I heard myself saying things I have possibly never said in my life, or at least not for several years. Things like, “Where the hell did I put that goddamn socket set?” and “That doesn’t look like the tensioner pulley in the video.” In any event, after adding several new phrases to my repertoire, I managed to fix the dryer, and I gave it a baptismal spin with the bathroom rug, which had been hanging mournfully over a folding clothes rack, insufficiently dry and in need of a good fluffing. I felt terribly competent, and smug about how much money I’d saved fixing the dryer myself, until I went back upstairs to look over the glossy plumbing brochures again.
Fortunately, just yesterday, the bank dispersed the funds from the home equity line of credit into my checking account. I’m going to make every effort not to disperse too many of them elsewhere in the coming weeks. I have already decided not to disperse them on cheap plastic faucets or stainless steel kitchen sinks of inferior gauge, but it’s going to be a challenge if the plumbing supply store has anything to do with it. Perhaps it’s time to troll eBay again…
I better have another cup of coffee. While I can still afford one.
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