Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Pedicure in Brazil

I got a pedicure once in Brazil. From what I could tell (because I don't understand much Portuguese), the pedicurist was impressed with my feet. She would squeeze my toes and hold them up for the other girls to see, like they were cute little puppies. And because I was in Brazil, this all seemed to be OK.

Of course, I wouldn't dream of getting a pedicure or manicure here, nor would I wear cuff links or cologne, and I try to avoid dressing in a way that distinguishes me from anyone you might meet in WalMart.

So naturally I was surprised when Jam came to inspect the job site today, complete with his new pedicure, buffed charcoal black paw pads, a hint of mascara around the eyes.

And like most bad-boy corporate-climbers and style-setters, he spent most of the day napping, recovering from the crazy night before, or so I suppose.

In the meantime, I've been leveling out the floor and preparing to put down a layer of Ditra, a waffle-like fabric stuff that goes between the old floor and the new tile and that should help keep the crack from returning and causing my new floor to crack.

Because Jam is so very cool, I hoped to impress him with my flooring details. But unlike Willow, who can listen for hours and who cares about the work (mostly), Jam can't even pretend to care. He is shopping for a Lexus now, which I'm told can be very draining.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Toilet Flange Passion

To continue on with the floor tile removal, I purchased some manly chisels and set back to work.

Yes, the new chisels were an improvement. Even so, I calculate that it would take another 12 hours or so of work to do the whole floor, so I've got a plan B (to be discussed later).

My main goal was to remove the tile from around the toilet flange and then assess how the flange intends to torment me. Success.

The toilet flange is what connects the toilet to the floor, and like most things in nature it has a following of devoted fans who have found common purpose on the Internet and who do not tire of arguing over the best ways to respect and care for it, not unlike the two churches that Cheryl and I discovered in a small town in Spain that compete over their respective Madonnas, each Madonna statue with it signature color dress (one was scarlet) and makeup.

Having little else to distract me, I am easily caught up into new avocations, and finding like-minded people on the web, I can be drawn along by the passion of others, even when the subject of this passion is a metal ring that sits under a toilet--a metal (or plastic, remember) ring and the different ways it can be configured because, make no mistake, this subject has caused more than one fist fight among drunken plumbers.

It is not necessary to go into the details here because I had a long discussion about toilet flanges with Willow who, despite her shortcomings as a project leader, is usually a good listener.

But in this case, I have been drawn into a conflict--some competing ways of solving the toilet flange issue--and then pulled along toward the mental anguish of having to commit my loyalty to a particular flange approach.

This morning the matter consumed my interest to the point that I felt compelled to discuss it with Cheryl, complete with a illustrated discussion (using my hands to represent floor, flange, toilet and fecal matter) and a demonstration of how, over time, some unfortunate material from the toilet might slip out and ooze down onto the kitchen ceiling if I have committed myself to the wrong school of toilet thought.

She also is a very good listener.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Zen and Tile Removal

A journey of a thousand miles
Starts with a single step.

As you are well aware, the Tao Te Ching encourages the reader to stay put in the present moment and not worry so much about the past or the future, particularly when working on a project that's taking much too #@$&#!# long. Otherwise, that person's mind is stuck in some far-away future place instead of in the real, present world.

I have to admit that I enjoy working with a hammer and chisel. I like the rhythmic ping, ping, ping. Our little porcelain tiles are deceptively tough, and they have the most determined grip on the slab underneath. Most of them shatter into razor sharp pieces, one of which just cut my lip. I'm wearing the safety goggles for sure.

I know I'm using the wrong chisel--they make special chisels just for this purpose. Of course, I could buy or rent a power tool to finish up quickly.

And there's the rub.

From one perspective, the tile-removal job is coming right along. But from a wider perspective I'm not close to being finished. At my current rate, I probably have another 15 or 20 hours of chiseling. If I buy a good chisel, things would go faster, and I enjoy the ping, ping, ping. A power tool would probably get it down to less than an hour, but no ping.

I don't need to consult with a Zen master about what to do--I already know the answer.

Zen masters really aren't much help anyway. They say things like:
The man who knows, cannot tell
The man who tells, doesn't know

I'm leaning toward a new chisel.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Feng Shui

In 1926 our guest bathroom (the one I have been violating for the past few months) was the master bath. Our bedroom didn't exist yet--our current bathroom was the original bedroom, which explains why it has french doors and a balcony and a clear Feng Shui view of the front sidewalk if I ever care to pee standing up, which has lost its appeal as a result.

During the remodel (probably in the 50s) the workers replaced the original bathroom door with a solid panel. I punched it out last night. This will be a big wall of shelves when I'm done.

Opening a closed doorway has a certain mystery and charm, as if the forces of Feng Shui are restored to the original intent of the house and spirits are allowed to travel as before, and I did feel a sudden rush of cool air hit me as the panel opened up. Then I realized it was the air conditioner.

As I predicted, Willow was reluctant to walk through this opening. It took some repeated reassurance and demonstrations from me, walking back and forth through the opening, until I could not help wonder how she became my supervisor.

The toilet is out again. Time to do the floor, which has a big crack down the center. On close inspection I can see that the crack is about 3/8 inch lower than the rest of the floor, and I believe the crack and dip happened when the kitchen downstairs was remodeled and a wall was taken out.

Willow continues to waffle about the crack and what it means and how to address it. Will the floor continue to dip? More on this to come.

I finished tiling the mirror yesterday. Like the rest of the tile, it still needs to be grouted. Once the door frames and windows frames are in place and the walls are painted, it should look better.

My flunky assistant, Hector, wanted to take a picture so I said OK. What a dork.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rocket Science

It's time for the bottom row of tile around the tub. Each one of these tiles will need to be trimmed a little--some more than others because the tub itself is not level--on the wet saw so that I get an 1/8 inch gap between tile and tub. Because I started out with a nice level row, these cuts will be easy. I'll do the same on the walls next to the toilet and sink but only after I get the new floor down so that the wall tiles overlap the floor.

For the past few weeks I've been waking up at about 4:30am, and I spend the next hour or so in bed planning out the day. I see myself measuring the tiles, cutting the tiles, setting the tiles, almost one at a time. I walk through the order of events: when to remove the toilet, when to set the floor, when to do the grout, when to start on the door frames. I mentally organize things: where to put the toilet while I do the floor, where to move the wet saw because it is now in the way, where to put the plywood. Morning after morning, over and over, these details go through my head.

In the meantime I've started on the mirror frame using the small tiles bordered with the rope tiles, which will snake around the mirror and continue on the wall. I've cut the angles of the rope tiles countless times in my head.

It's not rocket science, is it?

My aunt Helen likes to make mirrors using sea shells. Mine won't be as nice as hers.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tiling the Ceiling: Gravity and Magic

Einstein struggled with the nature of gravity most of his life, and he never was able to fully explain it.

Here's what I think about gravity: Matter expands and continues to expand at a relative rate. What we feel as gravity--something pulling us back to earth--is actually inertia. The earth is like a balloon that is swelling bigger and bigger. We jump up, and the earth swells up and smacks us in the butt. We're swelling, too, but not as fast as the earth because we are much smaller.

When you put tile on a wall, you need to use spacers or gravity will pull the tile down the wall, or rather, the floor will catch up to the tile. This slipperiness persists until the mortar dries. The ceiling is even more slippery.

First, I put a burn coat (a thin layer) of mortar on the ceiling--I did this days ago so that the coat would be very dry by today. Then Cheryl helped me snap some red chalk lines on the ceiling so I could keep the rows in line, which is really important here because the tiles need to line up on all three walls.

But like everything in science, there are exceptions that work because of magic or witchcraft. I needed some magic to make the tiles stick immediately and hold on tight to the ceiling for no reason at all. I found the answer online, at the Floor Elf.

Then finally this morning I was ready for a test. I mixed up some mortar just so--very thick but not too thick. Then I put a heavy layer on the back of a tile so that it completely filled the curve of these weird hand-made tiles. And then I drew a circular pattern into the mortar, careful to get some on my third finger and my thumb (that's the magic part).

I pushed the tile onto the ceiling and gave it a good shove to cause the extra mortar to ooze out the sides. It makes that gritty sound that you get from biting into a sandwich at the beach.

Of course, I was afraid to let go of the first tile . If the magic didn't work I'd have to go to plan B, and there wasn't a plan B. After setting a few I realized that I could let go immediately. And later, when I needed to pull one of the tiles off to replace it, I found that I could not even get it off with my hands, so I had to pry it off with a screwdriver.

Now that I think about it, my ideas about gravity are pretty stupid. I'm rethinking that whole subject.

Using the grid lines made things go pretty quickly. I finished half the ceiling today. More later.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Tea Pot

Cheryl and I found a tea shop in St Pete this weekend, and I picked up some new tea--some Silver Needle and some Oolong--and this purple clay teapot from China, just big enough for one cup of tea.

I didn't really expect to use it because I am addicted to morning coffee and already get more caffeine that I can stand. The tea is easier, though. Just a pinch of tea into the pot and some not-quite-boiling water (around 175 degrees), because boiling water poured directly on the leaves will make tea bitter.

Several years ago I made tea for Cheryl and Gisah, our friend who is a chef and who (I could tell) wanted to stop me from using boiling water but did not, to spare my masculine feelings I suppose, and then later said the tea was very good, even though it was bitter.

Anyway, I haven't had any coffee since Sunday. I thought I would make a record of it here, in case I never drink coffee again.

Yesterday, I took the first step to prepare for the ceiling tiles--putting a burn coat of thinset on the ceiling. I'll do one more coat today, plus get the sink area ready for the mirror.

The burn coat is the key to hanging tile upside down, or at least that's what the Floor Elf says. If things don't go well, I can always blame him.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Debt Crisis

While unfortunate events like the recent debt crisis and the ping to the U.S. credit rating are bad news for our economy as a whole, they tend to rearrange corporate deck chairs so that some individuals profit at the expense of others. In particular it's a time for the hungry young executives to make a move (and for the old timers to hunker down).

When Willow came to see me today, with a bright face and an odd interest in the project and in me, I knew (even though worker bees like me don't hear things first hand) that the shake-ups at the top of our corporate ladder didn't trickle down favorably to her. And I could guess that Jam, who has been absent from the work site for a few days, has fared better.

At a certain point, when a manager reaches a certain age, after climbing and climbing, like a baseball smacked into the outfield until the arc of possibility and trajectory flattens out and starts to descend, and even when the manager is the last person to realize it, at last the truth sinks in. Willow had that look today, hunkered down with me in the bathroom.

So we had a nice talk and I cheered her up. I asked for her advice about the project, about how to prepare the ceiling and so on, and suddenly she was her old self, immersed in a simple project again.

So where is Jam? I didn't ask, but I expect that he is moving up the organization chart.

The side wall if finished now. Sometime during the next few days, I will be trying a technique for putting tiles on the ceiling. It sounds too good to be true, but it must be true because I read about it on some guy's website.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fitting In

Somewhere in Mexico a tile-maker is tossing back a shot of tequila. He is a big guy with big clay-red hands, sitting with a pot of coffee to his left and, even though it's only 10 am, a bottle of Mescal to the right. Like the other tile workers in his group, including the woman who occupies his thoughts, he sits at a wooden bench under a tin roof, looking out onto a stream and a coconut palm forest, while children scamper up and down the hillside to fetch buckets of wet clay.

The tile-maker slaps a handful of clay into the 4-inch square metal mold, pats it flat, then removes the metal, carefully at this point or the tile can become misshapen, and puts the red tile aside, while his partner, the silent woman of his dreams, adds layers of glazing on one side, starting with a milky white, and then several thin layers of green, so that as the tile dries it curves a bit (because the bare side dries faster than the painted side). And when the tile emerges from the kiln, its convex surface has a shimmering depth of color.

These batches are done with 120 tiles at a time and then packed into a box so that each box has a distinctive color and quality, though often very different from other batches of the same tile.

The woman had dreamed of being a great painter some day, and the man, well, he just makes clay tiles and dreams about his partner instead of his work. It is beautiful.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Salvador Dali Tiles

The big boss, Willow, came by to see me today, coincidentally (she says) just after I got my new camera charged up for its initial testing. Cheryl has the same camera, not expensive but takes very nice pictures, and I cannot be outdone by Cheryl on such things.

Willow poses for the camera like she expects every picture will make it to the cover of Business Weekly or Forbes or whatever crap she's reading these days to satisfy her passion for money and power. Then she starts talking in some weird formal voice, like I'm interviewing her for the magazine, and she's humbly taking credit for the project, all made possibly because of her hands-on, dynamic management style that complements a synergistic, etc., etc... On and on she goes because she can't resist the camera lens and that dense forest of corporate ladders in her mind, dangling there just within her reach if only somehow she could grab someone's attention--someone important.

Meanwhile (not that Willow cares), I just finished (except for the edges) the main portion of the faucet wall. To my endless frustration, I discovered that the last unopened box of light green tile (handwritten in Spanish as Liso on the box) was a much lighter green than the others. Lighter, and bigger on the average, and even more misshapen than the other Liso tiles, some apparently designed by Salvador Dali (during the period when he was too drunk to paint).

So now I'm mixing the tiles from the boxes to distribute the shades of green, and the effect is OK. Not bad at all. But now I have to measure and rotate and place each tile because of the weird shapes. Progress is slow.

Anyway, one more wall to go, then to the ceiling. The ceiling will be very cool.