Pigeon Feathers and Plaster Dust

Posted by on Apr 7, 2006 in Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments


It’s hard to pick out the stupidest thing I’ve ever done from among my many escapades over the years, but I do have a few adventures that stand out in my mind. I wish they involved jumping out of airplanes, or struggling through the rainforest with only a machete and my wits, but even my idiocy is mundane, like the time my husband and I decided we could insulate the attic of our 100-year-old fan house ourselves. The windows rattled in the slightest breeze, but we misguidedly believed that the fuel bills might go down if we could get some bolts of pink stuff in the three-foot high space over our heads.

We spent one long weekend crawling about on our bellies, frightening all the vermin who were either living there, or visiting at the gravesides of their departed friends. After we started stuffing those big fiberglass bolts up into the narrow space, both of us realized we were doing something really dim-witted. We took turns in the crawl space, but with only about one fourth of the area done, we began to see the absurdity. Sunday night when we were both blowing pigeon feathers, fiberglass, and god knows what else out of our noses, and we had to concede defeat. In fact, that project became the gold standard by which we judged all other foolish things we attempted. “Well,” one of us would say, “it’s not as dumb as that time we tried to insulate the attic of the house on Floyd,” followed by laughter at the recollection.

I have a sudden tumble of memories from that same house that revolve around our DIY projects. Lots of people were renovating houses in the up and coming fan neighborhood, and I decided we should hop on the bandwagon. I have labored through life with the optimistic notion that I can do anything I set my mind to, so I decided to tackle the myriad problems of that ancient house with only a thin home repair book and faith. After the attic fiasco I decided to confine my efforts to smaller projects, like fixing a one-inch gouge in the plaster wall of the living room.

The repair book said to cut a V shaped notch so the spackle would have a good foothold. Evidently the man who wrote the book had never dealt with 100 year old plaster, because my tiny tap with the screwdriver and hammer resulted in a piece of dusty rock the size of my hand dropping on my foot. I rushed back to the book and read that I should remove anything loose around the hole, so with some misgivings I headed back to the wall with my screwdriver. By the time my husband returned home at 5:30, I was standing in front of a spot large enough to hold a horse, with a still unopened pint of spackle sitting inadequately on the floor. He was horrified, but at that point we decided that it would be best to just remove a section large enough so we could nail up a piece of drywall (per the same helpful book). The plaster was indeed a crumbling mess, and by grasping it in your hand, chunks the size of your head would come loose. By 7:00 we had filled all the garbage cans with the boulders, and a fine layer of plaster had settled over the entire contents of the room, including our hair, faces, and clothing.

Hours later, when the giddiness of demolition that had infected us both wore off, we realized the enormity of the task we had created for ourselves. I had seen sheet rock, and I knew that it was not nearly as thick as the 3-inch layer of plaster we had dislodged. The next day I headed, less than confidently, to the home repair store hoping that some helpful employee would take pity on me and give me a simple answer. As I stepped inside and started looking through the aisles, I spied a solution all on my own. I came home with a roll of reed fencing that I cut in sections and stapled to the wall, cleverly disguising the whole mess.

It worked quite nicely, and for the remainder of our stay in the house we silently agreed between us to ignore the wall. It was amazingly easy to do until fall came, and we had an invasion of crickets. Evidently they considered the wall a playground created just for them, and made an inordinant amount of noise for such tiny little beasts. I remember being awakened by such a loud scurry and chirping one night that I woke my husband, believing we had intruders. He turned on the light, but the noise diminished only slightly. I began to imagine mice, or even rats were racing about back there on the lathing. “What are we going to do?” I said, and turned to him with that look that women have using since time began; the look that said since he was the man it was his responsibility to take care of household vermin. “I’ll get my shotgun”, he replied. The horror of his suggestion played across my face as I began to speak. “You can’t shoot a gun…” It was then he smiled, and we both started laughing. I thought how great it was that I had a partner that not only did not blame me for the mess I created, but had the grace to make me laugh at myself.

We lived in the house together for less than two years, then sold it along with it’s half insulated attic, crumbling plaster walls, and tilting floors, to someone with a lot more renovation know how. I had nightmares for many months after we moved out that the new owner was chasing me through the house, screaming things like, “Why didn’t you tell me about the water pressure?” or “I can’t plug in the toaster and the blender without blowing fuses!” In reality we had made full disclosure and allowed him to inspect freely, but my experiences had left me fraught with guilt at the amount of work he was going to have to do. I pass by the house often when I go into the city, and it’s certainly completely changed from the outside. I have never had the nerve to knock on his door in all those years to see what miracles he performed. I was told that he considered the house a great bargain, but that his fiancée walked out on him at some point during the refurbishment process. I suppose neither of them realized that in order to get through a renovation project as a couple, they would need more than technical skills. Equally essential is the wonderful gift of laughter, not to mention an unfailing sense of the absurd.

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