Manly Construction Project

Being a perfectionist is exhausting. I don’t know how Martha Stewart does it everyday all day long. Actually, I do, because the two of us are basically the same person–I just don’t have the connections Martha has. If I did, I’d probably equal her or put her to shame, but I’d rather just have cocktails with her at her Hampton house and then try to get an invitation for a weekend trip to Skylands to go horseback riding through Acadia National Park with her and Alexis and Kevin and maybe a random socialite. We’d make our way to some lovely grassy plain where we would eat egg salad sandwiches on expensive bread, guzzle champagne, and nibble on homemade butter cookies. We’d revel in our opulence and then head back home where we’d go yachting about the harbor in Skylands II, Martha’s boat. I’d then be, of course, a frequent guest on her show and become a beloved regular and the audience would rapturously applaud as I came out of the studio kitchen doors. But, I see that I’ve lost my train of thought.

Anyway, being a perfectionist is exhausting. You work and work on making one little thing the epitome of all that is holy and then you turn your gaze four inches to the left and all you see is a cacophony of trash. It’s probably some kind of mental disease that I should take medication before, but I don’t believe in taking medication, so I never will. Holistic healing all the way, bitches!

My family is not social. We don’t host dinner parties or invite people over. We glare out our windows when a stranger pulls into the driveway. My sister literally throws herself under the kitchen table when the UPS truck pulls in. She’s convinced that all delivery people are out to kill her. Because we rarely have anybody in our home, I shouldn’t be so concerned about how our home appears to the outsider, but for some reason, I live in fear that somebody Martha will show up in one of her SUVs with Sharkey, Francesca, GK, and hopefully, Princess Peony. I love that cat. So, all day every day, I look around me with my Martha Stewart tinted glasses and critically exam everything. I HATE IT ALL. The whole kit and caboodle needs fixed.

I’m going to take a detour from the narrative and give you a little history lesson and a lesson on my family’s psychology. I don’t think that I’m really one of them. I just can’t be. They’re messy and cluttered and don’t really care about it. I’m painfully neat, put tremendous effort in appearances, and messes make me anxious. I’m constantly fighting a battle against clutter and years of neglect. It turns out that this family trait is not new, but one that has long plagued my clan. I recently saw a few pictures that were taken years and years and years ago. They are charming, but absolutely horrifying.

This is my home, many, many years ago, before it was expanded in certain places and shrunk in others. Immediately, I’m charmed by the windows and gorgeous fence, but then the horror of the image sinks in. LOOK AT THE MESS! There are bricks and twigs and pails and God-only-knows-what inside the fence. Why does only one window have shutters? What is that horrible bush? Why are they walking on plywood? What is that ridiculous hat? Where can I get one?!?

Why can’t they pick up the mess? Take pride in your home! (Does the knife grinder really need to sit in the middle of the yard? But I love that fence!)

Again, the bricks and pails and what appears to be random farming tools. I’m not going to question the women dressed up as men and shooting something. I’m assuming that they are just dressed up and I sadly did not descend from fabulous lesbians. A boy can dream.

So, for centuries, these people in my gene pool have been cross dressing (I would like to be a drag queen, so obviously that trait has carried. I can’t decide if my signature look will be an impersonation of Joan Crawford or Dolly Parton. I love those women with a passion. I wonder if I’m the only one still carrying on this great family tradition–even if it is only in my head.) and being absolutely filthy. I can’t take it anymore! I get so agitated sometimes when I go outside that I can’t breathe and my skin breaks out in imagined hives. It’s horrible to see weeds dancing in the wind, cracked tiles, buildings that should be condemned, and beautiful little things lost in piles of a century of farming junk.

For two years now, I have been doing my best to beautify the estate. I’ve installed a vineyard, cleared away all the fallen trees, created a grassland area for the bees and butterflies, and developed a really rather spectacular garden. But, sadly, I’m only one handsome boy and I need at least three of me to keep up and move forward with my plans. Though, if there were three of me, I’m assuming one of us would drive and we’d go suit shopping often and tell each other how good we look in blue. Anyway, the pool is not going to dig itself, the greenhouse isn’t going up all by its lonesome, and I’m too scared of chainsaws to remove the stump in the fence line that is driving me insane. I also have no funds whatsoever, so anything I do, I have to save for or scrap together from whatever I can find around the farm.

My latest project is the perfect example of this. It didn’t cost me a penny and it was all done with recycled wood and nails. I’m super green.

Maybe you understand what I mean. The siding needs scrubbed and painted Bedford Grey, the accent wood needs stripped and painted Cement Grey, the tiles need repaired and the hideous wires need to be put in shape. Then the bricks need weeded and the sidewalk needs to be redone, the weeds need pulled in the raised bed, the picnic table needs a coat of paint, the Summer Kitchen needs remodeled and the basement door needs to be scrapped and rebuilt.

As I said, I’m only one painfully handsome young man, so I have to go slow and do what I can when I can. A few days ago, I looked at this scene and felt so violently angry that I couldn’t be tolerant anymore. I recalled my mental inventory of wood that I knew about on the property and began developing a plan. I’ve had a vision of an elevated deck for a while now. There isn’t one place on our house that a porch would look appropriate, so an elevated deck would be the best idea, at least I think it would be, so it shall be. I decided this little plot of land filled with weeds, cat feces, and an angry cactus would be the perfect place to do some experimenting.

Now, I have a confession. I know nothing about carpentry or construction. I walk around Home Depot like I do, but I really make up all my projects as I go along, and I think that helps me learn. There isn’t one thing that I don’t want to know how to do, so I set to this task happily. I wondered how Martha would do it. She would probably call one of her staff and say, “Deck!” and it would be. She wouldn’t have to do it. But the wonderful thing about Martha is that she could do it and she has done it already. We’re so alike that it’s frightening. (Be prepared to squeal with fear: we’re both Leos and we were both born in the Year of the Snake. I know. I wet myself, too.) I’m just starting my empire, though, so I have to develop my construction skills myself with help from nobody. I don’t like being helped.

I grabbed a shovel and a wheelbarrow and began digging. Shovel after shovelful of rock and dirt and weeds and bones (yes, bones) and finally the cactus. I carefully put that in a separate area and then worked on leveling my little piece of land. I couldn’t do it perfectly, as I had no level, but I did my best with my eyeball like any good pioneer would have.
I hauled out some newer pieces of wood that I had come across in the garage–who knows where they came from? Things just seem to appear in there magically–and some rusty nails that had once held together our barn that was sadly torn down. All the lovely buildings have been torn down for some reason. Only crap remains.

I took a cautious look at my tools. A hammer, a pen, a yardstick, a ruler, and a cheap rusty hacksaw. This did not look promising. But, I forged on anyway. “If you don’t do it, you won’t have done it,” as Patsy said so wisely on Absolutely Fabulous. I have based my life on that quote, by the way. I took my yardstick and I measured how much wood I needed to cut. I took that measurement and drew it on the first piece of wood. Then I took the hacksaw and made a terribly messy cut. The saw had seen better days (and it is the best one we own, which is saying something) and did not cut straight or well, but it did cut, so I laboriously cut out all the pieces. Some idiot in the past had done a messy job of casting concrete, so I had to work around that crap too, but I did it.

Then I took one of the rusty nails and began pounding it through the wood. (That sentence sounded terribly dirty.) The nail did not want to go through, so I yelled a lot, and finally, two of the pieces were connected. It was no easy feat. Sadly, there was only one easy connection in the entire thing. The rest had to be cut on an angle, and with my primitive tools, there was no way that was going to go well, but I did my best and everything roughly fit together. I was a bit disheartened, but I don’t give up. Hours later, two liters of sweat later, and three times through Dolly Parton’s, Eagle When She Flies, later. I had the shape finished. It was taking much longer than I had planned.

Now, I had to add support beams to the outline, so I found some smaller wood in the garage. Again, who knows what their purpose was–they have Ethan Allen logos all over them, so I’m assuming they were used in shipping. This part of the project was much easier now that the deck was beginning to take shape. By this time, I had moved on to singing Southern gospel music and slave songs. I love me a good sad song. So, I was warbling Down to the River to Pray as I installed the support beams. When I had put the last one in, I stood back and admired what I had made. Having never done anything of the sort before in my life, I was rightly proud of it.

Now, it was time to bury a few inches of it in the ground so that it would have support. This was pretty easy, but it was impossible to level as the land seems to be on a slope and my carpentry isn’t perfect, but it works, and that’s all that matters.

I could finally start putting on the floor, so I hurried out to the Machine Shed to inspect some wood I had noticed a few days earlier. It was weathered and old and absolutely gorgeous. It was originally the siding on a hog barn that had been torn down years ago. Many pieces were fragile or split or warped, so I had to do a bit of rummaging before I found suitable pieces. But I did find them and hauled them to the house. Most were covered in cobwebs and raccoon dung, but a sweep of the broom cleaned them up.

I used a pen and sketched the angle I thought would be needed at the end of each piece of wood to make a straight line along the sidewalk. This didn’t go terribly well, as I told you before, the saw is crap, but it worked. I nailed the first piece on and about wept with pride. It was gorgeous. (I was now listening to Dolly Parton’s album Live From London! and weeping a little bit as I listened to Little Sparrow–it’s gorgeous, but maybe I was just crying from exhaustion. Swinging a hammer is tiring when you have sapling arms.) I moved on and on and on and on and then the damn boards were too short! I admit to shouting a rather vulgar expletive, then sitting down for a good think.

There wasn’t enough room to nail two separate boards onto one support beam, so I decided to angle the ends and then there would be ample room to nail. So, I did this, but the angles weren’t pretty, so I only did it once. It worked, but it hurt me aesthetically. I wasn’t happy just forcing two blunt ends together because it made the structure weaker, but it was my only real option, and it worked out fine.

And then, I was nailing the very last nail in and it was done! It wasn’t perfect, but it was gorgeous! And look at that lovely patina! You can’t buy that.

It looks so much better than the mass of weeds that used to live in that little spot. I’m as proud of it as if it were my child. I plan on building another one soon on the foundation you can see in the picture to the right of the basement door. (It makes me gag violently.), but with proper tools.

So, I have added a piece of beauty to my estate. It elevates its little spot to something aspiring of majesty, even if in my mind it only increases the ugliness of what surrounds it, but I’m still happier. And, I think with each project I complete, I’m less mortified at the prospect of Martha’s imminent arrival. Maybe she should be my drag persona?

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