Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Evolving Project

Projects don't end; they evolve and spread from one edge and surface to the next, from wall to door to wall, with new paint next to old and bright surfaces shining on dull. In particular, the bathroom door needs to be stripped and painted because whoever painted it white did not bother to clean it first. I didn't really notice this until I painted the door frames.

Years ago, mom came to see me in my old house. I had just put in a new kitchen counter top, and I can remember that she found something positive to say after I told her my plans to fix up the rest of the kitchen and to then fix up the small dining room that (I can see it now and shudder) had a portion of the ceiling eaten away from moisture damage. The truth was that nothing could be done to salvage that old house in Arkansas--it would benefit only from a bulldozer. Mom always tried to make things brighter.

Though our house now is not beyond repair, work needs to be done in every direction. The walls outside the bathroom are cracked, mostly from the demolition job and my repeated whacks with the sledge hammer. The floors in my office need repair and refinishing. The old attic fan lets daylight into the house (that can't be good). It goes on and on.

But I still linger at the bathroom door and admire the tile--not my tile-laying but the tile itself, at how it shines an emerald green. I'm on break.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Project Complete (So I'm Told)

Two days to go.

I knew something was up when the upper management team, dressed in their Italian designer suits, showed up unannounced with some photographers.
For several days they've been in an undisclosed location, hiding and refusing to visit the project, hiding and strategorizing on how to distance themselves from the project in case it fails to meet the due date. But now, with two days to go, it appears that a decision has been made, though of course no one consulted me.

Jam, the junior assistant manager, was especially well-groomed and sharply dressed, inspecting and posing for the cameras with such a serious eye. He has a bright career ahead in butt-kissery.

Yes, it seems, a decision has been made. The project is complete, with 2 days to spare, and it was a success (according to management).

Complete??? There's much more to do: the bathroom door still needs to be stripped and painted, the hallway walls have cracked to be repaired, and the... But no one is listening to me. I am like a fly buzzing through an empty room.

You're just not management material, Jam seems to say to me with his eyes, shaking his head a little at how dense I can be.

Even the big boss was on hand for pictures.

Yes, the project is done, she says.

How long did it take? We ordered the tile one year and 4 days ago.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Turn On The Water Already

One week to go...

It has become clear to me that a bathroom without plumbing is not much use and that I faced two hurdles in this regard: the drain system and the new faucet. Months ago I connected the water lines to an empty faucet box. I then promptly turned the water lines turned off just in case. So I was not really sure what would happen when it was time to test. Any single problem could be disastrous, meaning that I'd probably have to hire someone to fix it, leaving me with several philosophical conundrums to resolve.

With Cheryl's help I got the new drain piece and the overflow drain in place. And then I discovered that the tub, an older style tub, has a different slope at the front, so I couldn't use a standard pipe fitting to connect the overflow to the drain pipe below. Was this why they never fixed the overflow before? So I took my big box of plumbing stuff (now that it's organized) and fixed it. Cheryl poured in a pitcher of water while I watched with a flashlight from the other side. No leaks!

Then on to the faucet, which has been sitting on my desk for nearly a year. Naturally I lost the documentation for it in the meantime. I wonder what the old-timer plumbers would think about these new faucets, with their pressure correcting valves and other advanced technology?

Once I got it all in place, finally it was time to turn on the water. I could find no excuse for any more delay.

When the Hoover dam went on line there were cheering crowds, politicians, circus clowns and fireworks. But I turned on the water to the shower all alone, facing success or failure in the dark corner of our bathroom closet. Cheryl was downstairs feeding her Facebook so I didn't want to disturb her, and Willow and Jam were hidden as usual, waiting to see if this long-running project would end in disgrace, and if so, preparing to blame everything on me.

Cold water on, then hot.

More later...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Drain

12 days to go.

While waiting for the paint to dry I turned my attention to the hallway and the aftermath of that very unfortunate first day of the project when a pipe burst in an area under the floor behind the sink, in a spot almost impossible to get to, flooding the kitchen below with water and sending a clear message to me that disaster could strike at any time if I would be foolish enough to continue with this project.

I had to tear up the wall and the floor to fix the leak, and it's been torn up ever since, covered with cardboard to keep it out of sight and out of mind until now. Now I have three new floor boards in place--just need to stain and finish them.

Next I turned my attention to the tub drain, which I can access from the master bathroom closet.
But for this I very likely needed help from Cheryl, because no matter how hard my brain considered the situation, I could not devise a strategy for getting the drain piece screwed into the pipe under the tub by myself. Had I attempted this before I put in the shower wall, I could have simply reached through the opening with my right hand and held the pipe with my left.

And even with Cheryl's help, there's a possibility that the drain just won't work and I might need to tear a big hole into the kitchen ceiling (or worse). Predictably, in times like this when the project is at a critical point, Willow and her new assistant manager are absent, covering themselves from responsibility in the event of failure.

So, to punish myself, I struggled to do this by myself, with one hand in the very narrow space under the tub. Then I called Cheryl for help. More later...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What Does Management Do?

What does management do when all the chips are on the table and the big deadline is approaching, like in the last few moments of a big game, with time ticking away and strategy is most important, when the right decision will win or lose the game?

What does management do when everything they've done so far amounts to nothing, when the various supervisors and consultants have come and gone in disgrace, each with a different style to motivate the workers (the people who actually do the work)?

What does management do to validate itself so that it can take credit for the project or, if the project fails, walk away in the end and take no responsibility at all?

What does management do? They send in a ringer.

The ringer is a supernatural creature--pure of heart, kind, sincere, earnest and lovable, the distilled essence of an inner child, a token from management that says please, please, get this job done on time, a sweet baby that must be fed and nurtured for the sake of the company (and don't forget the stockholders).

No more insults from snotty supervisors, no more smart-ass young consultants, no more threats at all. Now we have the ringer.

Yes, our ringer's name is Justice and she is here to make sure that the project ends on time or else, it seems, she may get sacrificed and thrown into a volcano or suffer some other tragedy--it's all in our hands now. We will do the job, because we love her.

Also, I've gathered up the remaining tile to see if I ordered too much. More later...

The Third Tank

Now that the grout sealing is finished (pretty much--I still have some edges to do) and now that I don't have to reach the ceiling any more, I was able to remove the big piece of plywood from the tub. As I suspected, some of the dried mortar and grout had collected underneath. I really need to get the tub refinished but there's no time. I'm in warp drive mode now.

Next I put in the new toilet tank--it's the replacement tank that the company sent because the first tank had a crack, and the crack probably occurred because of my hubris in thinking that fate would not send me a brand new but defective toilet tank. How difficult is it to make a toilet tank?

So this time I turned the tables and actively predicted that things would go wrong. I convinced myself that the tank would leak or decompose or some crazy thing. Then I dared fate to let it happen. Go ahead, I said, and try it.

But this is what a fearful person does--puts on a mock display of courage, contempt and indifference, like some young kid daring a big bully to hit him, while on the inside he's all twisted with that sinking feeling, that sense of impending doom, the certain knowledge that this third tank will also be bad and that I will soak the house with water yet again.

It went in OK. The water slowly filled the cavity, and filled, and filled until it ran into the tank as if I flushed again and again. The water kept coming and would not stop. A broken valve. Really? But this time all I had to do is swap out the valve from the previous tank.

Now I walk by every 15 minutes or so, seriously, to see if the bathroom has filled with water or the tank has exploded for some reason. It's going to be a long night.