Thursday, July 31, 2008

Deconstruction Chronicles

With the brief rain overnight, I became more acutely aware that I was losing the dry season time to make exterior changes to the house. So I decided it was a good day for tearing out more things. In this instance, the two rickety wood-frame awnings over the twin back doors (this house has five entrances, which is a bit much for 945 sq ft!). They had been built from scraps such as a steel strut, a slice of metal gutter, several L-brackets and old wood lattice - and covered with plastic tarp that had disintegrated in the sun. I have plans to re-install them with some nice blue duckcloth awnings, and maybe even proper supports. But for now I wanted them off so the back of the place doesn’t look like it’s on welfare.

They were just a bit too high for me to reach, and a bit too low for the extension ladder (which had no place to lean except against the awnings, anyway). So I brought out what I had: the 3-step wooden stepladder and my electric screwdriver. Of course, there was no flat ground for the stepladder, so I did the usual dance: plunk it down, step up gingerly, leap back as one leg sinks - repeat. Mole holes, chunks of concrete and large pulpy weeds made the ground as flat as a compost heap. Finally I was able to step up without being jettisoned by the stepladder, and I started to unscrew the fastenings, very aware that -- as someone whose feet were not on the ground -- I might have some difficulty if the awning suddenly fell on top of me. I had cleverly positioned myself under the large rip in the plastic, so if the awning fell straight down (a 10 million to 1 chance) it would drop around me to the ground. Other than that, I hadn’t much planned. We don’t need no stinking precautions… But I did remove the secondary screws first, and left the corner ones for last, thinking I could swing it down on one corner and then let it drop. What I hadn’t seen -- until I had all the other screws out; the frame was sagging and partly leaning on the open screen door and partly on my hand -- was the very small paperwasp nest in the left corner, right by the last screw. I suddenly realized I’d be fighting four wasps for the privilege of undoing that last screw.

Gingerly I set the awning on the screen door top (listening to the door creak as the hinges stretched), slowly eased down the step ladder and went inside for the Raid. I’m not a vicious person, but I knew my chances against a quartet of wasps. But of course, the Raid was nowhere to be found…. I spent an annoying ten minutes looking everywhere. First the logical places, and then under the bathroom sink, even in the food cupboards and in the coat closet (when I’m not paying attention, all bets are off!) I know I’d used it just recently, but it had vanished. Murphy‘s law strikes again. I looked at all the other spray bottles, but fertilizer and blackspot spray would probably just make them mad. And of course there was no way I could leave the awning as it was! The groans from the screen door were getting urgent.

I decided to put on some protective gear and see if I could move fast enough…. the photo shows the long jeans shirt, nylon gardening gloves and glitter vinyl baseball cap -- okay, I didn’t have a bee helmet, and this was the best second choice - made from the vinyl used in 50’s kitchen chairs -- nothing could sting me through that! I was glad none of the neighbors had cameras though. .. I looked like I’d been sniffing Raid and wandering through a Goodwill.

I was a bit more awkward, also, in this get-up, but I carefully eased under the cockeyed awning, moved the stepladder under the corner with the wasp nest, grabbed the power screwdriver firmly in my non-dominant hand (needing my more clever hand to keep the awning from collapsing on me) and slowly climbed up. Almost face to wing with the fiercesome foursome, I waved them aside with the metal tool, knocked the paper nest down and quickly slotted into the rusty (of course) screw. To my great relief, it turned - mostly. But the wasps weren’t happy with their eviction - they came back and circled where the nest had been. Luckily they were laughing too hard at the glitter hat to make any serious forays. Okay then - time to get down! I dropped the powertool, jumped back off the stepladder and grabbed the far end of the awning in both hands -- and wrenched. For a moment, it hung on by the rust and cobwebs, but then crashed down, taking two sunflowers with it, but scattering the wasps. Before they had a chance to regroup, I grabbed the powertool and scooted inside. Mission Accomplished!

The second awning was not nearly as interesting a job, and I could hang up my glitter hat within the half hour. And after I’d put all the tools away, and shifted a nearby tarp to recover some shingles.. there was the Raid, not a foot away from where I needed it. I grabbed it and started stalking every wasp I could find.

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