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I had a birthday this week. At my present age, birthdays are not an occasion for excitement and celebration as much as an inevitability that one must endure stoically with a pretense of joy., mainly because getting old truly sucks.
There are a variety of ways to celebrate a birthday; a party, dinner out, a day of just lying about whilst people wait on you hand and foot. Any of these can be a both pleasant and fun way to mark the day of one's birth. I didn't do any of them. I spent the day under a house.
Under a house may seem like a rather unpleasant way to spend one's birthday and hardly a venue likely to inspire celebratory joy, even if the house is Buckingham Palace and it might occur to you that only a very odd person would choose to spend their special day there unless they had no choice and worked under houses for a living, someone was holding a gun to their head, or the house just happened to fall on top of them during their birthday party. There is, however, another option; the birthday person may just be someone who suffers from two fatal conditions – bad timing and bad luck. That would be me.
I didn't choose to be under the house because I thought it would be a fun place to turn even older; I ended up under the house because I wanted to do the right thing, there is a hurricane coming, and I am a tiny person. Allow me to explain.
Our neighbor is a widow with no grown children in the area, a bad knee requiring surgery, and a limited income. We help her out where we can whenever possible. Her house has an addition that was put on without a cellar that has a sloping crawl space beneath it that goes from about 1' to 2 ?' from one end to another. When she and her late husband bought the house he put insulation in, but it wasn't doing the job. He was a former architect from California in his 80's so I assumed that the insulation problems had to do with a complete lack of experience with Maine winters. I was right.
Regardless, she had been given a quote for blown insulation that was extremely expensive and required that everything currently under the house had to be removed and the area thoroughly dried out before the work could be done. Evidently, the foam will only stick if the wood is less than 18% moisture laden. She was not in a position to pay anyone to do it so my son, Chuck, and I volunteered to help her out. How bad could it be we thought? That is always a stupid question. Imagine bad, then multiply it by 100. That's how bad it can be.
The first thing we had to do was clear a bunch of bushes and weeds that were growing around the house and remove the 4 1/ inch thick styrofoam that her husband had decided should be put all around the outside of the foundation. You would think that this would be easy; styrofoam is not exactly the consistency of cement or anything. It wasn't. 4 ? inch styrofoam is remarkably durable, especially when it is sunk 4 to 6 inches into the ground. It was a lot of work requiring a hammer, crowbar, hack saw, a long knife, and many blows from Chuck's steel toed boots. It took us the best part of a day to weed wack, dig up bushes, and remove the foam. We decided to wait a day or two to see what had to be done underneath. Sadly, and here is where the bad timing part comes in, a day or two would have put us smack into the approaching nasty hurricane, so we had to do the rest the next day, which was, you guessed it, my birthday.
Upon examination the next morning we learned the extent of the horrors to come. Bless the dearly departed California architect, he may have been fully capable of designing a building that would not get knocked down by an earthquake, but his idea of insulating under a floor in Maine was pure idiocy. He had decided that the best thing to do was lay down a bunch of plastic on the dirt and then put down insulation over that. There was no insulation directly under the floor at all, which went a long way toward explaining why the place was as cold as a tomb in winter. The insulation was all soaking wet, full of mold, and nasty beyond description. Our little act of Christian charity suddenly turned into a horror show of heavy, waterlogged insulation, disgusting mud, and hideous Hollywood spider webs complete with the thousands of spiders that wove them. It was miserable. We realized that the only thing to be done was that one of us had to crawl inside. Since Chuck is a big guy with broad shoulders, guess who was elected? That's right – the birthday girl. I had to crawl, squirm, yank on wet insulation and heavy plastic and try to ignore the spiders and webs taking up residence on my person while wearing a protective mask and a headlamp. It was a delightful birthday experience. But, I am nothing if not intrepid, and I had promised to help, so I did it. On the one hand, it was a birthday nightmare. On the other hand, as Chuck pointed out, it should make me happy to realize that at my advanced age I could do it at all. Happy birthday me.
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