Fixing the House, Again

(Painting by Ludwig Meidner, c.1913)

The exterior had so many troubles I hardly knew where to begin. In my previous time on the scaffolding I had heat-stripped and scraped the worst areas within reach. Any areas with loose paint were prodded, and where the paint was firmly stuck was left alone. There was a learning curve with the lift in that learning to operate it myself plus heights induced raw terror for the first 15 minutes or so, with residual waves of fear that came and went throughout the day.

When the lift was delivered, I had the guy take me right to the top. If I wasn’t going to be able to deal with this I wanted to know RIGHT AWAY. I would pay the rental fee and he could take it right back ! I did okay – I didn’t scream or cry or faint – but it felt SCARY. What was I THINKING ?

Seeing the terrible condition of the remaining paint and sad wood up close made me feel somehow humiliated. No wonder my neighbors hated me ! It was all I could do on the first trip to the top to NOT poke the log pieces that looked like they were getting ready to suicide.

I had already spent several years frowning at the front from the ground, so I had a good idea of what the gravest areas of concern were. The lift’s versatility left no room for excuses.

I started near where I had left off, a couple of years before. I gradually worked my way upwards. I scraped paint, often peeling off layers with my fingers alone. As I crept upwards, I tested each wood section to see how loose it was. The lift had a handy feature where power tools could be plugged in. I drilled pilot holes and pounded nails to stabilize the wood. There was no point in scraping wood that was going to fall off the house ( probably on my head) as I worked.

Gradually I got more comfortable in manouvering the thing. There are speeds to control the movement (indicated by a button with a rabbit at one end and a tortoise at the other), and I got better with not smashing into the front of the house. I discovered that if I (gently) butted up against the front of the house, the cage area was quite stable. Without this, it moved around a little with motion, like surfing.

I had saved the pieces of wood that had fallen off. The small cross bars were usually so rotted that they weren’t worth repairing, but the larger log pieces were all I had. The nails had rusted through, usually with substantial rot around the nailhead. There were long cracks running along the grain. Painting company # 2 dude had dismissed this as “driftwood”. I sanded, patched and filled in voids using Quikwood from Lee Valley. This is a two part epoxy putty that has to get kneaded together to activate. It stunk like old fashioned home perm solutions. I had used it before, so I felt reasonably secure about its performance and longevity. If I could make the wood repairs look invisible enough from ground level, this was all I was hoping for. I did all this patching on the no-lift days, so the wood was primed and ready to go up on the lift days.

Oddly, I discovered that the wood in the three small closets – that probably had coat hooks mounted onto it – was EXACTLY the same profile of the log pieces, and an identical size. I saved what I removed from a closet upgrade and felt relieved by this discovery. As the exterior has an unusual amount of embellishment and decorative what-nots, the inclusion of plain log-type boards was…odd ? And even odder that it was closet wood ? Though houses all over London have what appear to be interior trim corner blocks as an exterior gable detail – so why NOT closet wood ? Two of the longer logs had fallen off since I moved in, and one near the top was gone from before my residency. Luckily the closet wood was more than long enough to replace this piece.

By the end of the first rental weekend I hadn’t actually made it to the very top of the peak…yet…but I had gotten a lot of stabilizing, scraping and patching done. I also had not fallen off the lift or died, so that was something. I had written emergency instructions with phone numbers, and stuck this under a brick on my front steps, just in case. If I died by my own misadventure, there would be nothing I could do about that, but I needed someone to take care of my cats.

By sundown on Saturday of the next rental weekend I had patched in another board and was ready to prime it all. I had gotten to the top of the peak, and felt like sobbing from fear. The wood got worse and worse the higher I got. I discovered that 1/3 of the sun detail block was completely missing at the very top, which I had never noticed before. Oh well…

By the end of Sunday, I had gotten everything primed, almost:

It had been a very hot and humid weekend – 28C plus humidity made it feel like 36C. Heat radiated off the front of the house. I had no choice but to work in the direct sun. I worked in loose ugly pyjama pants and a Dollarama sun hat. I hated every minute in the sun.

Because of the raw wood, I had to use that stinky oil primer again. It does the job but it is unpleasant to use. At least the very hot temperatures made it thin and less draggy to apply.

Late in the afternoon I noticed some young dude strolling down the sidewalk with a brash gait. I had never seen him before, but he looked like a standard issue rowdy type dude, up to no good. He stopped, looked around, then took the knapsack he was carrying and stashed it in the tall clump of ornamental grass in the front of my yard, then confidently walked away.

I thought “that’s not right”. It had all the features of something stolen – which was becoming a BIG problem in the immediate vicinity. I worked for awhile – the dude never came back, so I lowered the lift and went over and fished out the knapsack. The zippers were open – also another sketchy sign. I didn’t look too closely but there was brand new looking bank card and some neatly folded clothes. I took it over to the front step and pondered for a moment about what to do ? The meter was running on the lift and it would get picked up within two hours. But I was SICK of these creeps, creeping. As I stood there, brash young dude came back to look in my grass. I thought “ohoh !” and ducked inside with the bag. Except he SAW me.

Then young dude (somewhere between 20-30 years old I guess) came into my yard with two male friends, shouting. They started banging on my door, shouting about the bag. Then young dude hopped my fence and started banging on all my windows and doors, shouting, circling the house. Fuck ! I had no choice but to call 911.

911 arrived within 3 minutes. I knew some neighbours had observed this interaction but also knew that they would do NOTHING. I spoke to the police privately, and they had JUST dealt with this same dude 20 minutes before, also about that knapsack ! Dude claimed that he had “dropped” the knapsack when he was walking (but why wouldn’t you pick it up ?). This was certainly not what I saw two stories above – with the furtive looking all around before the dropping. I didn’t look through the bag except for a brief glance but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something more important in there like a gun and/or drugs. The police did NOT make the young dude prove the bank card was his – ie withdraw $ 20 from the gas station ATM – and let him go with his pals. This seemed insane to me. If I had important stuff in my bag I wouldn’t let it out of my sight. A phone and bank card ? Dude….

After the creeps were gone, and the police left, I felt too wigged out to go back up to prime the small section I hadn’t reached. I never underestimate the level of vindictiveness of jerks. The lift can be controlled from the ground as well as from the cage section. Any dude who had a small spell working construction would probably know this – and I really didn’t want to get taught some sort of bullshit “lesson”.

(The very next morning I was walking to the grocery store. Right next door in the parking area – where the night before I had picked up a dead squirrel and buried it – a bunch of papers were strewn. They were not there at sundown. One looked like a cheque in an envelope, the other was a license to be a motor vehicle dealer – with the same name – with a bank card. I took them home, then made a police report when I returned from grocery shopping. The police showed up a few hours later. It turned out that guy had just moved to London – had his truck stolen the night before – with the contents dumped all over the city. The police said he was the most worried about getting his bank card back. I hadn’t contacted the bank yet as the other times I found a stashed or stolen card, I had to wait on hold for at least 30 minutes before I could speak to live person to deal with this. I doubt this had anything to do with the young brash knapsack dude – but there is a pattern of a particular kind of troubles in the area…)

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