Sunday, July 31, 2005

Home Repair Book Roundup

First off, I am a very anxious person. Like a lot of very anxious people, I've gotten good at working with my quirk--I sublimate a lot of energy into work, cleaning, physical activity, and a monstrous amount of planning. The thing that causes me the most amount of anxiety? My house.

I own an old house, a fixer upper I got a great deal on because it had been a rental for 10 years and had had a list of unfortunately lazy owners. It's still a fixer upper. It's a cute little house, but I feel bad about it because it just seems to decay. I am not a handy person, despite my Slovak heritage. All that lends is a good hand with noodles and a love of bright paint. I grew up in new houses. My parents? Ingenious, but not handy. My ex thought he was handy, but--no.

Which all lends to this story.

I got a call yesterday to take an emergency foster of a cat. She's pregnant, has bad ear mites, but so sweet. She was almost certainly someone's pet who got turned out. And if you don't spay your cats, guess what? They wind up with a belly full of kittens. I agree, because I've got the space and a soft heart. So I ready up the red room because it is mostly clear of crap. I put in a litter pan, a quilt on the floor, open the windows and turn on the fan. We get her settled, and she seems happy. She immediately climbs into the window to spy on the street.

We have some trouble opening the door to let ourselves out, but finally the latch catches and we manage to get it open. Uh oh.

I come back to the room a little while later to check on her, and I can't get the door open. It is stuck. Crap.

So I work on the outside taking it apart. I've done this before, all you have to do is loosen the little screw.......

And within 2 hours I have made it worse. Not only can I not see what the deal is with the latch, and I've taken apart the outside lock's hardware, I've also in a fit of boneheadedness locked the deadbolt, which is also now refusing to move. The hinges are on the other side, so I can't take it off the hinges and get to the kitty that way. The only bright thing I've done is remove the lock on my bedroom door to see how it works, because it's the same.

I've managed to pass her food and water under the door and kitty is taking the whole situation quite well.

I hit the books. I have quite a selection, mostly bought used and published in the 1970's. With an old house, things are not as tidy as they are written of in newer publications. I had a furnace that was the same age as my mom. My washer drains into a sink and then a big hole in the basement floor. My windows are wood, the kind the historical preservation folks are always begging you to not replace with vinyl--"just reglaze, and they'll be like new!" The newer books have short memories.

Fortunately, locks are simple. If you can't take it apart, and you can't get it to catch using liquid graphite, you have to call a locksmith. Shit.

I go to bed, ready to try again in the am.

I'm psyching myself to try again when Bill the Dog Walker calls. He's going to take care of my cats later this week. I've never met him before, so he's going to stop by to meet me and Mencken and Cain. He arrives and he's very nice. I explain that I have another cat, but he can't meet her because she is locked up. He offers to take a look at the problem.

Now it would be really great if Bill had been a locksmith who gave it all up to wrangle dogs and cats, right?

No such luck. But he agrees with my assessment of the situation, which is that we have to see the other side of the door. Which means

1) going to the Tuscan Nightmare Room, which is full of clutter,
2) propping open a window,
3) climbing across the lower roof
4) tearing open the screen to the red room
5) climbing in.

Bill is quite the second story man.

Preggers is glad to see us, and pretty affectionate considering the lunatic circumstances. Once again, my suburban hi-life is quite the modern Wodehouse tale.

We look at the lock, and try the key from that side, but it's hopeless. Even if his references don't check out, I'd still give Bill my business for being so helpful and game.

We crawl back, this time with the cat.

Bill bops off to his other clients, and I get her settled. I go to work on the door. It takes me an hour to get the faceplate off. I can't move the hinges. It's hopeless. I'm going to have to hit Ingersoll's tomorrow and chat up the locksmith on the way home.

I turn around, and little kitty has joined me in the red room. It takes spunk for little Preggers to crawl across the roof, and you've got to admire her for that. I take her back across and shut the window this time.

Ay yi yi.

I've decided the cat's name is Gimlet. I really needed a drink after this fiasco.

As for the home repair books, I recommend:
  • The Home Problem Solver by Don Vandervort. This book really breaks down the home systems simply and tells you what the problem likely is, what you might be able to fix yourself and when to call in a professional. Like a locksmith.
  • The Time Life Book of Repair and Restoration. I like that each chaper starts with a list of the projects detailed rated by skill level, and tells you how long it should take and what equipment you'll need.
  • Time Life Books: Your Old House. This one has good pictures. I found the lock diagram really helpful.


dingusgirl said...

Bless your heart... it's always something, isn't it? And somehow, I suspect that Gimlet is there to stay...

Kerry said...

Nope. One girl, 2 cats is the right ratio. I can't handle any more!

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Arthur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arthur said...

Very interesting article. Thanks for recommendation about books, I will try to find them.
I lose my keys very often and I'm thinking maybe become a locksmith? There are several skills that are prerequisites to becoming a professional locksmith; excellent manual dexterity, an interest in mechanical and electronic gadgetry, good communications/public relations, maths and possibly some carpentry skills are all assets.