M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Thursday, November 14, 2002  

So I was going to post some before, during, and after pictures from our basement ceiling replacement, but that would require something in this twice-damned project to actually work properly. And there’s no way that was going to happen. For some reason, our digital camera won’t unload onto my computer. Whatever gremlin cursed our downstairs renovation, it doesn’t appear to have been all that discriminating. I should have known better. Now I’m just going to have to illustrate the project using pictures I found on the Internet.

I’ve already explained that our house was once owned by a man we call “Dr. Jellyfinger.” Even if you picked up on the Fletch reference, I don’t know if I made it clear that I call him that because he is an actual doctor. I don’t know what his specialty was, but given what we’ve seen of his skill at cutting things and put them together, I hope to God it wasn’t surgery. Otherwise there could be any number of people walking around this city breathing with their spleens.

I’m aware that surgery and carpentry are two different skill sets, but come on. How can you trust a guy to tie off an artery or or reattach a nipple or rotate someone’s glands or whatever if he doesn’t know what a right angle is?

You heard me. Now you’re getting an idea of what we had to deal with.

The plan was to just get a bunch of ceiling tiles and hang up the grid following the lines of the wall. It’s a good plan in theory, but once we started slinging the framing squares and tape measures around, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be that simple. Let me show you what I mean:

Like this room, it appears to be a perfectly normal room. It is only when humans attempt to interact with it that it reveals itself as a mind-wringing wormhole of Lovecraftian geometry. Since ceiling tiles are pretty much only available in rectangles, and not trapezoids or parallellograms or rhombuses or tesseracts, getting them hung up straight was like trying to flatten a Pringle™.

“Oh, it couldn’t have been that bad,” you’re thinking. “He couldn’t have altered the structure of the house. I mean, the foundation was still in place, right?”

Sure it was, but Dr. Jellyfinger had done everything he could to make it useless to us. Instead of putting up studs and drywall against the cinderblocks, he simply glued a layer of Styrofoam™ to them, then glued a layer of Masonite to that. This “construction,” after a few years of hanging half a foot from ground that goes through a hundred-and-fifty-degree (Fahrenheit) temperature cycle every year, pulled away from the foundation and bulged inward like the walls of a submarine at crush depth. Attaching ceiling brackets to that would make as much sense as attaching them to window curtains.

What we had to do was pull the cheap layers away from the wall (and we had to blow on them pretty hard to get them to come off), then attach framing studs to the newly exposed bricks. Ever hammered a nail into a cinder block? They don’t like it much.

So Dad went home to get his nail gun. When he said “nail gun,” I was expecting him to come back with one of those Trading Spaces tools that Ty and Amy Wynn wield that allow them to construct wall-sized bookcases in the time between commercial breaks. Instead, he produced a metal tube into which he would load a nail and a shotgun shell. Then he’d tap the shell with a hammer and the gunpowder charge would explode and literally fire the nail through the wood and into the cement. It was scary and loud and I totally want one.

Unfortunately, it was also very time-consuming. Rebuilding the wall took up time that we should have been using to measure every wandering wall edge and less-than-true corner angle. Which we had to do anyway once the wall was rebuilt.

As of this writing, the ceiling is 95% finished. Three of the four new lights are installed, wired up, and giving lots and lots of illumination. We have to level out the ceiling grid some more in a few spots, and there’s one tile that I want to replace because I cut it just a hair too narrow and the jagged edge shows. It still looks better than anything Dr. Jellyfinger did.

I can understand incompetence, being the proud owner of a healthy dollop of my own. What I can’t understand is why somebody went to so much effort to do everything wrong. This guy wasn’t lazy, and he wasn’t cheap (the volume of wood he installed in this house over the years probably cost him more than medical school, which probably explains why he didn't have enough money left over to invest in a square, a level, a chalk line, or a tape measure). But every ten minutes, one of the three of us working on the project would suddenly bellow, “What the hell did that moron do over here?” Answers like “Left the edge of s sheet of Masonite waving in the breeze,” “Built a wall that’s thicker at the top than at the bottom” and “Never met a right angle he liked” stopped surprising us after a while.

Sometimes I’m tempted to just tear the whole mess out and start over. But I don’t have that kind of time or money. And frankly, I’m not sure if I could do a much better job.

Besides, bitching about other people’s foul-ups is a lot more fun than bitching about my own. Why do you think I started this blog in the first place?

* * *

Remember the other day, when I mentioned that my wife’s birthday was November 15? I don’t know why I forgot to include her e-mail address so you could all wish her happy birthday. Don’t know what I was thinking.

posted by M. Giant 4:23 PM 0 comments


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