Sunday, September 30, 2012

A More Elastic Religion

After being lost for over a week, the tiles finally arrived, and my suspicions were quickly confirmed; most of the tiles are a little bigger than 6 x 6 inches. And on closer inspection I've discovered that the stair risers also are of various dimensions, some taller than others. Any random tile might fit on one riser but not on another. But this size problem is not my immediate concern. I have some philosophical issues to contend with.

It turns out that stairs are the least stable structure in a home. Tiles need stability. They are rigid conformists who believe in the ideals of geometry, not in some relativistic, wishy-washy abstract morality of physical law. If the tile looses the stability of its moral foundation, it will have a breakdown, and it will crack.

Tile professionals love this fact above anything else--no matter what environment they work in, the tile pro will seek to make it more stable, more waterproof, more solid, before the tiles go down. They are like over-protective parents seeing danger around every corner and well into the future.

I communicate with one such professional on the web, the Floor Elf, and he recommended that I put concrete backer board on the risers before tiling. Backer board is rigid, giving the tiles a nice safe foundation, because the stairs are a wild place, creaking and vibrating and moving as we stomp on them.

But here's my problem. Steps have a nose that sticks out over the riser. Why? They are a psychological tool to trick the brain into thinking that your foot has less room to land than it actually has. And so, the heel of your foot is less likely to come down on the riser, and you are less likely to take a fall. Stair noses are good.

Unfortunately my tiles are pretty thick (about 1/2 inch), so my stair nose will be shrinking. And if I put backer board on the riser first, I would loose even more of my nose. So what to do? An alternative (said the Floor Elf) is to use stuff called Ditra, an orange plastic material that's only about 1/8 inch thick. Whereas concrete backer board is rigid (like some old-school religions), Ditra allows for some flexibility while still providing a stable environment for the tile. Vibrations and movement (evil, immorality) on the the riser will be absorbed by the plastic so the the tile can remain rigid.

In an imperfect tile world, Ditra provides for a more elastic religion.

Here I am, applying the Ditra. When it dries, I can move on to the tile size problem. Yes, I will need to cut some of the tiles so that they will fit. In a perfect world, this would not be necessary...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Than a Little Late

I've often wondered how it is that annoyance turns into relief and then into joy, like when a package of tile that I've paid for has gone missing, and when all hope of finding it is lost, after an entire week and the denial phase has passed, and now, like a miracle, the tile has mysteriously been found, and I find myself so happy and grateful. What a wonderful world.

Had the shipping company been only one day late, I would have been only annoyed. Two days late and I would have been rude to them when they arrived. But now it is eight days later and I'm as happy as a little girl with a new pony--I'm sure I will be laughing and shaking hands when the truck driver arrives. Instead of eight-times angry I am eight times happy, happy because the tile has turned up and I don't have to wait another three weeks for new tile to be made in Mexico.

What happened between Sept.17 and Sept. 24? No one knows. The tile apparently arrived in Tampa on the 17th--this according to the tracking log--but the tracking log contains a lie. The shipping company people are happy as well; they do not know how this happened, or why the log contains a lie, and they do not seem at all curious about it. And who cares because I'm not mad about it anymore.

11:25 and still no truck. They were supposed to be here before 11 am...

Friday, September 21, 2012

To Yell or Not To

Apparently the trucking company lost our tile. It was due to be delivered two days ago, but according to the customer service department, the tile was not on the truck that pulled into Tampa, so it could be just about anywhere by now. They said they put out an "all points bulletin" on the tile--I suppose they use the phrase to convey a sense of urgency and calm--it's like a small child has been kidnapped and I, the grieving parent, should just be patient.

But I have no emotional attachment to this shipment of tile. It may be lost and scared and hungry and alone in some dark warehouse. It may be stolen, sitting now in someone's garage in Chicago, waiting to be sold on Ebay. But it is not my tile. I have no tile.

After communicating with the shipping company, I turned next to the tile company. I've paid them for tile and for the task of shipping the tile. And yet I have no tile. They've assured me that a new shipment of tile will be coming to me soon if the existing shipment is not found. How soon? Very, the tile company says.

During the course of my conversation with the tile company guy, I did not yell or scream or use abusive language or even give a hint that I might be upset. It's not his fault, right? He asked when the project was scheduled to begin, and I casually said Saturday, just to imply that I will need to reschedule a contractor. Otherwise, we had a nice talk.

I wonder if my friendly approach will be effective...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stair Project: Kick-off

Right now, somewhere out on the freeway, my shipment of Mexican tile is making its way here in the back of a big truck. It could be here tomorrow, possibly even later today, so the project manager called an early morning meeting.

A kick-off meeting sets the tone for an entire project. Management is there to put on a public face of authority and to inspire the troops to rise up and become something more than the stupid and lazy oafs that we are when left alone and unsupervised.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, I've been corresponding with my friend, the Floor Elf, about how to actually do the work for this project, because it will be much more tricky than it seems, more tricky than the project manager could ever guess (but what else is new?).

Sure, putting tile on the stair risers could be as easy as putting stamps on a letter. But the stairs are possibly the most dynamic structure in a house. They creak and bounce and shift and slide, not much, but more than enough to make tiles wriggle loose over time or crack or cause the grout to turn into dust.

We close the meeting on a positive note, as usual. The project manager hasn't passed around a schedule yet. Ha, she knows that this one is going to take a very long time...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Lighting Up

Years ago I was playing piano in a crappy nightclub, the name of which makes me nauseous to remember, probably because I wish I hadn't wasted so many hours of my young life there.

For some reason yesterday a memory came into my head while at the doctor's office, seeing a my new doctor for the first time, a very young doctor, while I am not so young. My memory was from that pathetic nightclub in Arkansas. I can see it sitting there on the side of a freeway like some huge turd waiting to be flushed. And because of Google, I can see literally see that it is still there.

But to be honest I also had some good times there. I was much younger at the time.

The owner occasionally brought in some has-been musicians (like Sha Na Na and Jan and Dean), and we would be the opening act. On the particular night I'm remembering we had a woman (I can't remember her name) from Nashville who had one big record in the 1950s and then faded away. How old was she? 50? 60? None of us in the band had ever heard of her. Along with her was a man, her husband I think, also a singer but less well-known. And while he was red-faced telling jokes and shaking hands and talking loud, she was the opposite: pale despite all her makeup, a little wrinkled, a little gray, possibly in pain, possibly medicated, and quiet.

These two were alone--no band. So they arrived early to teach us her big song and then practice a few standards. She was clearly weak and shaky, but her partner laughed it away and joked that everything would be OK. Practice couldn't have lasted more than 5 or 10 minutes.

That night we had a packed house--apparently the place was filled with the woman's fans. She sat in a chair near the stage, greeting people quietly in her lacy dress with puffy sleeves. Why do I remember all this?

The man got on stage first, sang a few songs, told some jokes. But all of us in the band were worried when he introduced the woman and she quietly climbed the stage. She seemed like such a nice person.

Then, with the microphone in her hand she just turned on, lit up like a Christmas tree, sparkling with such charisma and singing with such strength that we all were stunned. She was the real pro, and she lasted for almost an hour on stage. Then she returned to her chair and she turned off again. Lights out.

I remember one thing in particular. At the end of the night I went over to her chair to congratulate her. Before I could say a word, she took my hand and pulled me close so that she could whisper into my ear. She lit up again for that instant, and I could imagine the beautiful young face that was once there.

"Thank you for being so kind," she said.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Calculating the Price

All personal shortcomings have their price, or at least I imagine this to be true if only to provide for some justice and meaning.

My fear of heights, for example, prevents me from doing certain projects, like fixing the drip, drip, drip of water that comes from the air conditioner on the roof and that, over time, had strayed from its intended course down the gutter and instead was crawling its way down the wall and onto the big tent awning over the back porch, collecting into a permanent damp spot on the canvas, breeding mold and mildew and turning the pretty green cover to black.

From underneath the awning the effect was not visible--everything is still new and green except that now some threads have given way and some fringe has become unfringed.

All this because I cannot climb a latter very far, certainly not the 20+ feet to the gutter, which is accessible only in this way.

So not only did my fear of heights delay the necessary repair work, it caused the collateral damage to the awning. Or did it?

We had to hire someone to make the repair to this and the other gutter boxes. Here's a photo that I took of him on the ladder. I was standing on the balcony outside my office, very much tempted to vomit at the sight of the ladder extending all the way to the patio floor.

We had to drop the awning in order to place the ladder, and this brought the moldy top into full view and convinced us that the canvas must be replaced.

But was the damage to the awning really my fault? Was this the price for my fear of heights?

We brought in an awning guy for an estimate, and he absolved me of all responsibility. It turns out that all of the older awnings around the house are coming apart and must be replaced. All of them are finally relenting to the Florida weather. The awnings have lived out their expected life span. There's nothing you could have done, he said with a smile.

Yes, I am not to blame. Now it's time to pay.