Saturday, September 17, 2011


A friend for Apajala, perhaps:

Alexander Not-Culvert II was the middle child and only son of Dorothea Not and Alexander Culvert I. Although his parents had always addressed him as Alexander, he was known to his friends and classmates variously as Alex, Lex, Xander, Axle, or sometimes simply Al.

He was raised in the northern provinces of Hordovan One and Two, where for generations his family had been engaged in the profitable venture of legume farming. Prominent among their crops were the ankle nut, the redstone nut, the northern wood-leaf nut, the tea nut, the finger nut, and the two-horned pea.

It was anticipated that Alexander would carry on the Culvert tradition, even though he had no particular interest in—nor any recognizable aptitude for—any aspect of legume farming. After completing his mandatory education, he moved to the village of Milton by the Lake and enrolled in college, choosing to dedicate his academic career to the study of pseudo-science and revisionist history.

Plagued by scandal throughout his undergraduate years, Alexander was encouraged by college administrators and counselors to withdraw from the university and forge a path better suited to his needs.

As a young man with no certificate or diploma, Alexander went from one job to another, trying his hand at various trades and occupations. He eventually discovered his gift for the culinary arts, and diligently pursued a level-three degree in High-Temperature Cookery, the studies and lab work for which he completed in record time.

He quickly found work as an outdoor barbecuist, and sometime later discovered he had a natural talent for performing emergency appendectomies, tracheotomies, and other minor life-saving procedures, making him invaluable and highly sought after during times of neighborhood calamity. He found the work rewarding, and continued it as a hobby throughout his cooking career, but as a man who relished his privacy, he was markedly unenthusiastic about the attention it sometimes brought him.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Summer House in my Backyard

Obsessive readers of this blog may remember that back in 2005, I had a new garage built in my front yard, because the old garage, which was in my backyard, was too difficult to get to. It had a long narrow driveway with a slight curve around the house, and it seemed like it would be impossible to back out of the garage without bumping into something. So I never even tried.

Six years later, I'm still very happy with the new garage. In all the time I've used it, I've never bumped into anything. But there is, of course, a problem.

Actually, let's not call it a problem. Let's call it a puzzle instead. The puzzle can be posed as a question, like, "Now that I have a garage in front of my house, what should I do with the garage in back of my house?" It's an easy question to ask, but it can be answered many different ways. For the past six years, I didn't answer it at all. I just continued to use the old garage as I've always used it: as a storage area and workshop. But in the back of my mind I always knew I would eventually turn it into living space.

It seems like most things in the back of my mind just end up dying there, but every now and then, one of them makes it to the front of my mind. And that's how I decided to finally turn the garage into living space. But as far as the answer to the puzzle goes, I still haven't settled on an answer.

I told you all that as sort of an introduction to the current state of the project and all the setbacks and delays I've experienced so far. That part of the story is longer and more interesting than the introduction, but to be honest, I've told it so many times that I don't feel like going over it all again. Suffice it to say that what started out to be a simple (and relatively inexpensive) project has just about quadrupled in price. So what started out as an inexpensive way to add 400 square feet of living space turned into a reasonably priced way to add 400 square feet of living space. But it didn't stop there because at this point, it seems like a sort of expensive way to add 400 feet of living space. I should also mention that the project was originally scheduled to take about five weeks to complete, but it's been a couple of months so far and there's no scheduled end in sight.

It's actually not a big deal, because I've done enough work on the house in the past to expect it to always cost more and take longer than I estimated. Even when I used to do a lot of the work myself, it ended up taking more time, and sometimes more money.

But the funny thing is that I have no need for more living space. Absolutely none. And it's not like I'm that desperate to spend a ton of money either. So sometimes I get a little embarrassed when people ask me how I'm going to use that space and I have to tell them I don't know. Sometimes it even seems pathetic. I can imagine some people getting really excited about a project like this and they can't wait until it's finished so they can start using it. That's not me at all.

For some reason, the architect decided to call it a game room, so that's what it says on the plans (as well as on the permits and the county tax records), but I have no plans of playing any games there. I was going to call it a study, but I'm not planning on studying anything there either, so for a while I decided to call it a studio. It would actually be a pretty great studio, and if I still had any artistic inclinations like I did in my 20s and 30s, it would be a great space to use. I might even be a tiny bit excited about using it.

But those were different times. Now I half-jokingly call it my summer house, and there are a couple of good reasons for that. One reason is that I think of a summer house as a metaphor for something expensive and unnecessary. The other reason is that it'll be better-insulated than the rest of the house since I had to bring it up to 2011 building codes, I bought an efficient air conditioner for it, and since it's only one room, it will get good ventilation. Besides, as far as I know (and admittedly, this isn't very far), there's no law saying your summer house can't be in your backyard, less than 10 feet away from your real house.

The only problem is there's no plumbing. I'm not saying there won't be some day, but at this point, plumbing isn't in the plans. The city has a lot restrictions determining what you can put into a detached structure, and I didn't want to have to deal with them about their plumbing rules. The other thing is, I figure it'll cost me another ton of money, bringing the cost of the project to two tons, and I can't afford that at the moment. (As a side note, I'm keeping the old slab floor -- even though it has a crack in it -- until I put in some plumbing. There's no point in pouring a new slab just to break it up later.)

But even if I could afford to add plumbing, two tons is a lot to spend on a structure I don't even need. Even one ton is pretty hard to justify, since it already feels like I'm flushing money down the toilet (figuratively speaking, of course, since there will be no actual toilet unless and until I decide to put in some plumbing).

Oh by the way, please don't tell me I could put in some plumbing, then rent the place and offset the construction costs with the rental income. It's a great idea, but I've already thought of it. I'm not saying I've considered the idea and rejected it -- I'm just saying don't suggest it to me. If you do, you'll be forcing me to post another blog entry listing all the pros and cons. And that's not something I want to do.

So that's it. I'm spending a lot of money to build something I don't really need. The only way I can justify it is by arguing that even though I don't need it, the house needs it. If that doesn't make any sense to you, it's probably because you never wanted to be an architect when you were a kid, and even though you thought that dream died a long time ago, traces of it still force you to pick up a pencil every now and then so you can sketch out an idea for a floor plan or roof line or something like that.

And if you're wondering why I'm only "half-jokingly" calling it a summer house, there are a few reasons for that, but the most important one is probably that it's not funny enough to be a full joke.