So, my Special Friend Tom and I bought a house a year ago. We’ve redecorated a few rooms, but nothing major. Nothing intentionally major, that is…
Awhile back I decided to re-do the office, because it would be quick and easy and cheap. Now, our second floor had an office, two bedrooms, and a hallway, all carpeted maroon. I don’t know why. When we had the bedroom carpeting replaced with white Berber, I peeked at the floors underneath and they were fine—needed a couple touch-ups here and there but perfectly respectable. So when I began orchestrating the office project, I figured I’d pull up that carpet and throw down an area rug, and voilà! Wood.
Alas, after ordering everything for the office and letting it reside in the living room, and emptying out all the old stuff and letting it reside in the guest room, it came time to pull up the carpet. As an aside, isn’t it curious how messing with just one room affects the entire rest of the house? Anyway, what do you suppose was underneath the carpet? Tile! The ugliest, pukiest tile in the world was glued to the wood floor. It looked like somebody chewed a bunch of Juicy Fruit, and after it lost its flavor they smashed it onto a piece of rubber, and repeated for several packs. U-G-L-Y. Ew. So we quickly hammered the maroon carpet back down and rushed outside, quietly retching.
Well, now this was a pickle. The whole office was envisioned quite clearly without maroon carpeting. It had a British colonial jungle theme, or something like that, which obviously and absolutely requires fundamentally a non-maroon-carpeted floor. And yet the tile would clearly not do either, since it induced vomiting, which is surprisingly counterproductive to office-oriented activities. What to do? Well, as it happened, that weekend Tom went out of town. And so I went after that floor, figuring I could always blame it on the cats if it didn’t turn out according to the plan.
I suppose I should mention that I had not so much any sort of “defined” plan as a vague, driving aversion and a lot of tenacity, a combination which has led me to strong, um, impactful actions in the past, oftentimes with surprise endings. Still, there was no point resisting, and so I got started. I hauled up the carpet, the pad, the evil naily strips that are incidentally involved in one of my earliest memories of adversity, which occurred when I was about four and we got new carpet and for some reason I was left unsupervised (I’d always presumed because my mother was out shopping and wearing makeup and carrying a purse and had gotten sucked into an escalator, otherwise I’d clearly never have had free reign in such a perilous home), whereupon I climbed the incomplete stairs, puncturing my knees and weeping the tears of first betrayal, alone.
But I digress. Finally, after the carpet and the pad and the evil naily strips of adversity, there, lolling about like an enormous slug in a bathing suit, was The Tile. Bolstering myself with various Hollywood images involving resolute eyes, determined jaws, and cowboy hats, I began. I used this wonder tool thing Tom had shown me that allegedly can be used to take down a porch, and I started prying up tile. It was tough work, and within half an hour I was up three Band-Aids and down a toenail. At one point I ran a good chunk of tile directly into my palm. Yowza. I continued to work, gleefully spilling blood every couple of lunges and whacks, and saying things like, “Ha! Take that, slug tile! I care not a fig!”
Finally, about halfway through, per tradition, my brain arrived on the scene, panting and waving a fan and trying to say lawsy, there simply had to be an easier way or bring me ova the vapors! I used to think my troubles were on account of my brain being slow and thinking it was Canadian, but it turns out it’s Southern Belle and has a real affinity for seersucker suits. Anywho, I went downstairs and consulted the Home Projects book that Tom and I had purchased so we could see how we were supposed to have done something we already did. Tile, tile, tile. Ah, “Tile, Removing.” I flipped to that page…and there was a huge warning saying, “Don’t do this!
! Asbestos! You fool!”
Doh! Asbestos! I knew there was something wrong with just grabbing a wonder tool and ripping up the floor! I knew there was a reason more people didn’t just up and do this stuff! It had nothing to do with pansies at all!
So I sat down to think about what I should do, now that I was contaminated with asbestos. Should I call someone? Should I go somewhere? Was it worse to have plunged asbestos directly into my bloodstream, or was it a strictly pulmonary problem? I came increasingly to the realization that asbestos was like a broken toe, in that there weren’t nothing that can be done about it; and I came increasingly to the realization that asbestos was like a wild animal that attacks when you mess with it; and then I came increasingly to the realization that all of the people I could call would fester with worry far more than exercise any hidden ability to alter the past. And so I arrived at my usual John Wayne conclusion: Since I already had a half room’s worth of asbestos ingested, why not finish it off, pilgrim? That would also keep others (aka “Tom”) from being contaminated. It would be the Right Thing To Do.
And so I finished the job the same way I’d been working it, except I tried not to breathe, which resulted mostly in less oxygen to my brain, which had wandered off to Atlanta anyway in search of a julep or a sarsaparilla. But by and by I got beyond the evil tile, where there was formerly decent wood, which was no longer decent on account of the glue and the asbestos leavings and the places where my enthusiasm had carried me through the floor a little bit. But it was done.
I believe it was the next day when Tom came home and found me still in bed recuperating. I began to weakly pantomime the saga of how I triumphed over the floor and lo the conquering hero, but naturally he focused rather unappreciatingly on the asbestos aspect and began festering with worry, exactly as I had prophesied. But the contractor guy who was working on our windows was very impressed. When I told him that I’d done it, and that Tom had been out of town, he said, “You can’t find anything better to do when Tom is out of town than tear up the floor?” and he didn’t insinuate anything—probably because he feared Asbestos Girl the Destructor. Indeed, I carried myself with a more confident gait, as though I’d been exposed to extreme radioactivity and understood my inner menace and how to wield it judiciously. And when I showed my impaled palm to an older lady at work and proclaimed, “Look! I freebased asbestos and yet I still live!”, her response was, “You mean you mainlined it?” And, humbled, I thought, “I think I do mean that. How did you know that, older work lady?”
But then it all came crashing down. Tom talked to his company’s asbestos guy, who said that if the tile was 9", that’s trouble, but if not, it was OK. And yea the tile was 12", and so it was OK, and like the mighty I fell, down to Regular Careless Homeowner Girl, which is a title without a lot of swagger to it.
But then, after an unnecessarily long lecture about the importance of not wearing open-toed shoes whilst smashing up floors, and a discussion of the importance of togetherness and the benefits of character-building, contrasted briefly with nation-building, Tom and I installed a floating engineered floor in light maple…four times. It took four times because every time we did it, we had to jack up a very heavy radiator, which is hard to do when you need the floor for torque but you’re also trying to install the floor that you’re using for torque. Then, by the time we got the radiator jacked up, installed a bit of floor, and got it back down again, we’d discover that when we weren’t looking, someone had flipped the freshly installed pieces upside down or backwards or just clearly not right, and so we had to do it all over again.
But we got it done, and in hindsight floating engineered light maple turns out to be my number-one flooring choice, far better than maroon carpeting or formerly decent wood. And now the canvas for the British colonial jungle theme office, or whatever, is prepared, and my pride in homeownership has risen to a new level. Swagger.
Next time, tune in to read “Assembled Too Soon: The Story of How I Put Together the 75-Billion-Piece Desk in a Room with No Overhead Light Because Old Houses Have Crappy Old Wiring and Not Even the Fucking Electrical Outlets are the Right Size for Their Covers”.
Copyright 2005, Denise Pace
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