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FLASHBACK 1993: Cursed Hassle

September 5, 2007

Hearst Castle commands a lofty bluff above San Simeon; Cursed Hassle squats atop South Tacoma’s Pacific Hill. Each in its own way stands as a monument to a couple’s strength, tenacity, American know-how, and willingness to put way too much time and money into their dwelling.

Our modest cottage, dubbed Cursed Hassle early in the remodeling era, led us in a few adventures. One early emprise was the reclamation of the bathroom floor, which had the consistency of chipped beef.

“The bathroom floor doesn’t look very level,” I remarked to Stella when we came to look at the house she was selling for her son, Steven. Over the chipped beef floor, Stella had laid some smart new cherry blossom-printed vinyl. I don’t think she intended to be deceitful; the chipped beef floor just wasn’t pretty, and the vinyl was.

The floor’s contour was the giveaway. The toilet leaned forward at such an angle that a normally oriented person would not feel securely seated without ski poles.

“The house is as straight as it was the day Steven bought it,” Stella assured us. Cool, we thought. So Steve was a little vertiginous. The price was right.

It turned out the roof had the same consistency as the bathroom subfloor. I hauled so many loads of roofing debris to the dump that people wanted to know who the lady contractor was who worked weekends.

The carpet adventure quickly followed. Stella had thoughtfully laid pretty new pale-beige carpet before we moved in. It was the phone man who blew her cover.

Our phone shorted out two weeks after we moved in. The hefty phone man pulled back a corner of the carpet. “Here’s your problem, ma’am. Your carpet’s stapled too tight over the phone wires. See? You can’t lay new carpet over old carpet!”

Happily, we had a neighborhood scavenger who coveted the pale-beige carpet. He lived in his garage in the alley while he fixed up his house, bit by scavenged bit. We made a deal: he could have the new carpet if he would take up both layers.

That left me with only the urine-saturated, glued-down rubber carpet backing to scrape up. It’s the sort of thing that keeps us young. My husband left town for ten days.

On Day Five of the scraping, I began hallucinating. I thought I was a prisoner of war, captured by a nation that honored the Geneva Accords. I would not have to scrape urine-saturated glued-down rubber carpet backing. Wherever I was, I asked if I could sign a lease.

But I removed every trace of urine-saturated glued-down rubber carpet backing. After two professional enzyme treatments and a fresh coat of lacquer sealant, we were ready for new carpet.

We were ready for new carpet for two weeks. Our carpet was promised for Tuesday. No one really said which Tuesday. A remodeler’s year has so many Tuesdays.

Two weeks isn’t really very long when you consider how many snafus can intervene when a major home improvement chain asks its Kent warehouse to send 60 yards of carpet to its Tacoma store. That’s close to 15 miles!

While we awaited the arrival of our carpet from Kent, the kitchen faucet sprang a robust leak. My husband was out of town, taking the Bar exam. Adept at Delta faucet washers, I tried to shut off the water.

The real leak was well into the wall; the shut-off valve was broken. I called friends at the locally owned hardware store. We knew them better than anyone else in town. Scott told me how to shut off the water outside at the main.

I enjoyed a few restaurants over the next day and a half until my husband arrived home. The sink base, of course, had to be pulled in order to access the shut-off valve in the wall. The sink base, of course, was nailed into the wall. The sink base, of course, did not leave the wall as a sink base, but as splinters.

And so, Cursed Hassle informed us that it required a new sink to fit a new sink base, and new cabinets to fit the new sink base, and a new countertop to fit the new sink and sink base.

Home Depot had just opened that season. I still call it Home Planet Megastore. We bought Mills Pride cabinets and assembled and installed them. Because of various misunderstandings at the factory, such as basic conceptual logic, left/right patterning, and the logistics of counting pieces of hardware and sealing the right numbers of all the little pieces in little bags, this took four days.

To be fair, the schematic diagrams were helpful, but only when viewing the set-up from inside the cupboard.

The value of experience increases with sharing. For the next year, we stalked the aisles featuring easy-to-assemble cabinets at Home Planet Megastore. We wanted to help other couples prepare for a life they never contemplated together. “Can your marriage survive misdrilled doors, missing hardware, poorly machined screws, and directions written only in Portuguese and Suomi?” we would query casually.

The trips to Home Planet brought out the worst in me. How I begrudged those inane pedicured homeowners wheeling out their little towel racks and petunias, while I clomped around in utility boots as we bought lumber, sheet rock, maybe a bathtub or a door, and dozens of joist hangers. “Prisses,” I muttered ruefully under my breath.

But remodeling has its consolations. I always liked hanging out at the dump, clearing my life of obsolescence and making room for renewal and dignity. Once I locked myself out of the truck on a dump run, and the scalehouse crew were terrific. They got in through the back window with a slim Jim and said, “Hey, you’ve paid your dues here.”

Another consolation of remodeling is that we learned to pose an active, united front against entropy. Somehow that becomes important in mid-life.

Yet another consolation is that we could say, for three years on end, “Pardon the mess, we’re remodeling.”

That was fourteen years and three houses ago. Right now, my husband is laying a bathroom sub-floor.

I admit it: I still look forward to leaving Home Planet someday with nothing but a couple of petunias.


  1. September 6, 2007 7:00 am

    I hope the cupboards came with some illumination, so you could see the schematic diagrams when you crawled inside them.

  2. September 6, 2007 7:28 am

    No, that was the trouble! Fortunately those “Euro-hinges” are fairly intuitive.

    I didn’t go into the bathtub phase, and it would interest you. The fact that Vic built a new tub, because the bathroom was sized for a Pullman; the fact that in the meantime we used a plywood tub in the garage…you’d have been right at home. But alas, the roof was void of weeds.

  3. kamelda permalink
    September 6, 2007 8:20 am

    Well it makes for very enjoyable reading. You ought to send this to some home improvement magazine, really: it’s hysterical. I love the part where you stalk the aisles of Home Planet grilling other couples about the strength of their marriage. & I think you’re right that the Geneva Convention ought to apply to scraping up carpet.

  4. September 6, 2007 8:28 am

    This is actually an updated version of an article I wrote for a little local weekly, The Tacoma Express in July 2005. I own the copyright of course.

  5. September 6, 2007 8:44 am

    I was immersed in a plywood tub once –lined with a sheet of green plastic, and bowing ominously in the middle, and full of rather cold water. The kids in the front row had one of the happiest days of their lives that day –the look on my face when I stepped in.

  6. September 6, 2007 8:47 am

    That had to be worth the price of admission!

  7. scribbles2day permalink
    September 8, 2007 5:04 am

    Makes you want to think twice about owning a home. I won’t be able to sleep now.

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