July 27, 2010

Labor of Love

Race into the Nothingness!

With walls and trim up in the bedroom, it was safe to move the cat in, and safe enough for us, so we packed up the Motel 6 and headed for the house that would become a home of sorts for the next five years.

Once there, the bathroom was more than a necessity because running to Wendy’s every time we had to pee became a liability in fatty food after a while. We got some sheets of mock-tile wall board up over the studs, caulked around the tub, installed the fixtures, laid the cheapest vinyl squares we could find and called it a day.

With our Master Plumber, Matt, hard at work we finally were able to shower on day three in the house. And nothing, before or since, had ever felt so good.

While stripping plaster downstairs we happened upon a covered up doorway which led from the kitchen to the small room that we intended to designate as the dining room. Matt had opened the doorway even wider into a pass through and framed it out to match the opening on the other side, which led to what we intended to make the living room. Jerry installed our working outlet on the front wall of the house in the living room.

Since the dining room was the smallest space with the least number of surfaces to cover and would also be the least utilized, it could be finished last. So we turned it into a makeshift pantry and by running an extension cord from the living room outlet, the dining room suddenly turned into our kitchenette.

We took a piece of unfinished plywood and placed it flat across two saw horses then we loaded it up with everything we could cook without a stove and store that did not require refrigeration.

It occurred to me that perhaps the original owners were onto something with their six thousand outlets per room, they were certainly never going to run out of places to plug in the many devices required to live in the modern day. We needed a coffee maker, refrigerator, toaster and microwave just to get by. And that was only downstairs.

At one point in our early days I remarked that perhaps I should write “The Least Expensive, Quickest, but Highest Sodium Known to Man, Microwave Cookbook”. Matt said it would never sell but I knew there must be other people out there doing kitchen renovations who would drool for Matt’s Ghetto Mac, made from a box of shells and cheese and a can of chili. We drained pasta and washed our plastic plates and cutlery in the bathroom sink.

Tuna melts were a staple of our diet because the ingredients were cheap, and as long as we unplugged the coffee maker we could make them in the toaster. We ate a whole lot of Wendy’s and McDonalds salads and dollar menu items, and we became frequent shoppers at the Big Y grocery store chain.

Things were moving slow but at least they were moving.

About this time we had all but run out of money and we both decided it would be Matt who should go back to a day job as I could continue plastering, sanding and painting out the house before we listed it, sold it and made our capital to go and do it again.

For a while he worked with my dad, doing similar work on an income property he and my step mother had purchased in Fitchburg, but when that project came to a close Matt knew it was time to settle back into a desk job.  He set out to find one in the mortgage business and came to land at a company where the rigid structure of the workday was so bad the employees had to ask to go to the bathroom. Seriously.

Matt was in the Processing department and every area of the building had a camera pointed at the cubicles so employees performance could be continuously monitored. You know, like a sweatshop in some foreign land. Guess I never realized before but apparently Connecticut was a third world country at the time.

He was only allowed a half hour lunch and two, fifteen minute breaks everyday. And they were scheduled. If he had to use the bathroom at any other time he actually had to ask a supervisor if it was alright to leave his desk.


That job lasted until he came back a literal 2 minutes late from lunch and was written up. At the time I was about halfway done with mudding and sanding the drywall so I told him to just get out.

So he did. In grand fashion. One day after requesting a bathroom break of the Warden, er, his boss, and denied, Matt went back to his desk, packed up the couple things on it that were his and wrote ‘I Quit’ on a post it note which he proudly displayed in the center of his monitor as he walked out the door with a smile.

Two days later when the Human Resources Manager called him I heard him say something to the effect of ‘What do you mean where am I? Didn’t my note get the point across?’

We were back to no income but with two of us to mud and sand, the pace of construction picked up some. He knew he had to find something though and landed at a Broker in CT doing Processing work.

We had decided that the ceilings should be popcorn texture as it would hide a multitude of sins but after spraying out the living and dining rooms and seeing not only how much of a mess it created but how much product it took to create, we decided to throw caution to the wind and install all manner of different treatments.

Hey, why not right? It wasn’t like we wanted to ever sell the house or anything so why not toss on a little extra work for ourselves!

The first floor bathroom and second bedroom were going to be flat, kitchen would get staple tiles, second floor bath would be a rolled sand texture, our bedroom would be a swirl treatment that Matt picked up while working with my dad, and the third bedroom was going to be pine wainscoting.

We got down to installation just as Matt’s boss was starting to show his true colors. Those being his violent streak. In the space of two days he punched a hole in one of the hallway walls and threw a file right at Matt’s head. We chalked it up to another W2 for our Accountant and he got out of there, quick.

Matt was looking for another job and had his resume out to a number of mortgage companies and head hunters so I knew it was time to find something of my own. I landed a Receptionist position through a temp agency. The job would be answering phones and greeting clients for the premiere construction company in western Massachusetts, Kent Pecoy.

It wasn’t much but the commute was only about fifteen minutes and they let me start out part time which allowed me the flexibility to continue with the house. On top of that I was studying with a correspondence school for a certificate in Interior Decorating as the entire d├ęcor side of home construction truly fascinated me.

It was then that Matt finally landed a job. It wasn’t in mortgages. But we really didn’t have a choice as our bills were not getting any smaller. He started working the night shift at Roncari, a Valet parking service located at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. Those were some of the longest nights of my life as I knew we lived in one of the sketchiest areas of the state.  And we didn’t own a firearm.

Each night I would lock the front door, lock our bedroom door and push my bureau across it just so I would feel safe enough to sleep alone. More than twice we had seen the scooter store across the parking lot from us, robbed in the middle of the night.

I sprinkled some lavender in a ring around my home and Matt went off to work. He would come home at about seven o’clock in the morning, just as I was getting up for work. With our financial position precarious at best, we shared a car so Matt would drop me off and then go home to sleep.  He would pick me up, we'd have dinner together, and then he was off to work again.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The two of us were running on almost nothing, both financially and physically, and every free minute of our time was spent dong work around the house. But as with the bad comes the good and so when Matt landed a well paying, excellent titled position with GMAC Mortgage, and I was hired on full time at KPC, our financial concerns were finally put to rest. At least for a while.

With most of the walls and ceilings done, and our necessary shift in priorities, the work on the house didn’t just slow down, it stopped. Completely.