Monday, January 17, 2011

The Handyman

I have never earned my living with my hands.  We would have starved.  Now I am remodeling the lanai (northerners: that's Florida-speak for "porch").  I have always been able to wield a hammer equally well with either hand - badly, that is - slamming thumbs often but only occasionally striking nails even a glancing blow. I swear a lot.

If you haven't been following this blog with religious ferocity, you may not know that I bought a mobile home that once was owned by Judy's Uncle Bud.  Bud was a true believer in bathtub caulk - a regular vinyl acolyte.  Install enough bathtub caulk and you get 77 virgins when you move on.

Bud laid down thick ropes of vinyl everywhere. Every crack and joint in the place is securely plugged with once-pliable plastic goop.  So I was not terribly surprised when I went to strip the vent covers off the soffits on the lanai to see that each one was carefully sealed into place with caulking compound - so they wouldn't leak.  Uncle Bud, wherever you are now, these are VENTS: they are supposed to leak.  Old caulking is really, really difficult to scrape off.

I roughed out the wiring in preparation for installing a false wall to hold paneling and banged up a bunch of furring strips to hold up the panels.  I planned to lay in a stereo wire to a headphone jack so I could sit out there and listen to music while I napped.  But the Internet advised me that you can't just wire the output from your stereo to a headphone jack.  You need an attenuation circuit or else John Prine or Justin Townes Earle will produce enough raw current to blow your eardrums to hell.

In theory, an attenuation circuit is just a couple of resistors and switches that send excess electrons off to their ethereal reward.  Luckily, I hold an Advanced Class Amateur Radio License, which I earned back in the 1970s by sending Morse Code at 20 words per minute and knowing what resistors do.  I still cling fondly to the illusion that I know what I am doing.   But after 35 years, memory fades, technology moves on, and the guy at Radio Shack never heard of a resistor ("but we have a great sale on 4G cell phones").  Screw it - I'll run headphones from the jack on the amplifier and just string it around the door jamb.  Problem solved.

Today it rained.  Hard.  The freaking lanai roof leaks!  It didn't do that last time it rained.  The leak lines up perfectly with the electrical wiring I am installing behind the paneling.  Crap.  Visions of electrocution swirl through my conscience.

More later.  But this looks kind of grim.



  1. Great story Newt, and I can’t wait to read how it turns out, but first I gotta tell ya what’s really got me jazzed about your lanai remodeling project: I didn’t know what it was, but since the very first Eye of Newt blog entry I read all those months ago I knew there was something I liked about you, something odd that I related to, a strange cosmic kinship of sorts, and today I finally figured it out…

    You listen to John Prine! Well there aren’t too many things worth risking electrocution to listen to, but John’s on that short list. He’s not real well known over here in the Northwest, but to give you an idea of how well known he is in my house …for the first two years after I bought my new 2005 Toyota Tacoma with the fancy 6-CD changer, my favorite Prine CD’s were stuck in all 6 slots till it nearly drove my wife insane (yup, crazy as a loon insane.)

    After she finally complained, I pulled out a couple CD’s and replace ‘em with different Prine CD’s. “Listen to that” I’d say, “that’s his young voice. Hear the difference? …and this one is after his throat cancer. It practically sounds like a whole different guy, don’t cha’ think?” Now she brings her own CD’s whenever we take a trip, but I got Prine and my other favorite folk singers on my ipod, so I can escape back to my own world whenever I want, so the marriage was saved.

    Yeah, as you know, no one writes a lyric, or pronounces the word sssizzlin' quite like ol’ John, and no one writes about life on Florida quite like ol’ Newt. Yes, it all makes sense now. Well, I’ll let you get back to work. You might want to play a little “Nine Pound Hammer” or “Grandpa was a Carpenter” to get those handyman juices flowin’.

    Good luck with the project!

  2. Um - hit a chord, did I? To be honest, I have only recently stumbled upon Prine, along with a bunch of others doing related stuff: Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, etc. It's the magic of Sirius radio.

    Now, ordinarily I would run out and buy some of their albums, but I am currently wallowing around in a musical snake-pit. CD's are dinosaurs, and I have not figured how to store large amounts of music on a computer or hard drive and still make it conveniently accessible to my home stereo and my car, etc. So I sit here in my corner of the lanai in the fetal position, sucking my thumb and listening to the radio. (Funny, as I type this, John Prine is singing, "I Ain't Hurtin' Nobody" in the next room. I think I'll wander out there.


  3. CD’s are dinosaurs? Oh crap, I didn’t get the memo. I got a whole pterodactyl nest full of ‘em here, right next to my album collection, in front of the 45’s, on top of the 78’s, behind the wax cylinders. By the way, you don’t happen to know of a software program that will transfer wax cylinders to my ipod do you? Oh well, no matter …The important thing is that you’ve discovered John Prine, and good for Sirius for playing him, and other such literate song writers, ‘cause mainstream commercial radio sure has no interest in ‘em. Okay, I didn’t mean to interrupt …carry on with your hammerin’

  4. Love the word "lanai". It reminds me of a tropically lush area with a comfortable hammock, a pitcher of margharitas, and a good book.

    I used to sell resistors and capacitors many moons ago when I was a manufacturers rep and have no idea what those electronic components do anymore. My briefcase got traded in for a shovel and a pitchfork. Now I shovel real horse pucky.

    Great post. I'll be following your building adventures.

  5. I drew the line before LP's and still have 100 or so of those particular dinosaurs. But the burden of flipping a record every 20 minutes now seems far worse than it did in 1980.

  6. @Pam: Somehow, "lanai" seems far too luxurious for the leaky front porch of a Florida double-wide.

  7. Newt, it'll be luxurious when your done. Besides, a couple of margharitas and it'll look like the Taj Mahal. All you have to do is add a pot of flowers. I'll send you a gift bag of horse pucky to make sure the flowers grow.