Monday, October 20, 2008

Negotiating with Adversity

Cheryl was away this weekend, chaperoning kids at a Model United Nations event, where students get to pretend that they are ambassadors while learning to speak the language of diplomacy (how to obfuscate when necessary to advance an agenda). Cheryl has a much less cynical outlook than I, which is important when students look to you for advice.

I spent the weekend with a more mundane project, replacing the breakfast room window. If I were a diplomat, I would say that the experience was challenging but the house and I are better for it. In reality, I have my doubts.

To start, I removed the trim from around the window. I had suspected a problem on the right side. I poked a hole into the wallboard, and where I expected to see a 2 x 4 piece of lumber I saw a void, not a good sign. So I removed the wall board on all sides to discover that the wood was completely dissolved is some places, and it some places it just turned to dust in my hands. Notice to the right there are two pieces of lumber (upper left corner of picture) that stop about half way down. The bottom portions of these are gone.

Normally replacing some framing like this is no big deal, but we have a stucco house--the outside layer of stucco is attached to the framing. To avoid cracking the outside wall (or worse) I would have to be very careful when nailing or doing anything that might put pressure on the outer wall.

I was not surprised to find that the old window was reluctant to leave its long-time home. I threatened it with my sledge hammer, but the window knew that my threats were empty, that doing so might crack the exterior. But like an aggressor nation in the security council I gestured and spoke with theatrical bluster. Oh yes, I have the big weapons and am not afraid to use them.

Two or three hours later, the window was out. Then the remaining old lumber had to pulled away from the wall, again with all possible gentleness. By this point I was reduced to cajoling and deal-making, expressing my deep understanding of their plight and apologizing for the sins of the former occupiers and for not coming to the rescue sooner, before it was too late. Concessions were made and the wood agreed to be removed.

Putting in the new framing presented the same challenges, so I used screws whenever possible to reduce the shock of driving nails into place. After two full days of work, including 5 or 6 trips to Lowes and Home Depot, I still have a big hole in the wall. My friend Allen is coming over at lunch to help put the window into place (if it will fit). More on this tomorrow.
Diplomacy is the art of patience and compromise. Do or say whatever is necessary, claim victory, then move on.

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