Day 45, the case for the prosecution

Tuesday, 1/15/2019

Rainy day. Drove to the Y, walked briskly on a treadmill for 20 minutes, did my strength exercises. It’s “Suli day”, that is, the day I expect our housecleaner to make her biweekly visit, so as customary I wrote her check, and stripped the bed and put the sheets to wash. On return from the Y, I made up the bed, then sat down to talk to myself about

Three AM thoughts

That’s what this blog that has almost no readers is: me talking things out to myself. Partly, I’m keeping a diary, so the days don’t dissolve into a blur. For instance I know what day I went to the City to visit the deYoung museum because it’s in here; without this record I’d have no clue. Partly, I’m writing for an imaginary audience; maybe someday there will be a real audience and I hope my experience will help somebody. But a key function is working out what I actually think about things, and as it were, fact-checking myself. That’s important, as I don’t have a sensible partner to call BS on my wilder ideas.

So at 3am I woke because the garden sprinkler system had kicked in. Water flow in the old cast-iron plumbing makes a quiet noise which is ample to keep one awake in a silent house, even if you pull the duvet over your ears. Lying there I began to recall all the things I don’t like about this house. Yes, Marian loved it. Yes, it looks adorable from the street. Yes the interior is tidy, comfortable and well-maintained. But there’s a dark side, or actually two: top and bottom. At 3am I began going over all the things that made me coin ISMISEP back on Day 4: “in six months it’s someone else’s problem”.

The bill of indictment starts with that watering system that was part of an expensive, complete overhaul of the landscaping in 2012. Well, the drip piping is ok, it’s the controller I dislike. Horrible user interface. I’ve asked Richard, our gardener, to suggest an alternative but he hasn’t found one. Besides the controller, some of the plants that went in then have died, or are struggling, as well as some that Marian ordered and planted since. There is a line of trumpet vines along the fence, plants that flourish in tropical luxuriance four doors down the street, that are barely clinging to life here. I don’t have any interest in diving into the Sunset Garden Book to try to figure out replacements, or in trudging through nurseries picking out plants. It pleases me to think that ISM the whole landscape will be SEP.

The garage! When the house was built in 1925 it was OK to put a detached garage up against the property line in the corner of the lot. This building is heavily eaten by termites, but its most striking feature is the floor. It’s a 6-inch cement slab that was laid directly on adobe clay. Adobe moves, it swells in winter and shrinks in summer. The garage floor has broken into tectonic plates that lift and tilt to make enormous cracks with one- to two-inch breaks in level. There’s no practical repair; if I tried to take out a permit for any work on it, the city would make me demolish it and build one properly set back from the line. So it’s a storage space for now, but come the earthquake (or if the termites ever stop holding hands) it will collapse in a heap.

That’s outside; then there’s underneath. This nearly-100-year-old building is on a low cement foundation. Under the floors is a pitch-black space with barely 18″ between the joists and the damp adobe. That’s where the cast-iron drains and plumbing run, that make interesting water-hammer noises while the sprinklers are on. I last poked my head under there last year, reaching in to set a rat-trap, smelling the dampness. Decades back I crawled the whole length, running speaker wires to the corners of the living room so I could have surround-sound. Not again! I hate that space.

Topside is no better. Above the middle third of the house is an attic space that can be reached with difficulty by bringing a ladder into a closet. It’s hot in summer, cold in winter, and in the past has been invaded by roof rats, attested by fossilized droppings. A long time ago the City of Palo Alto subsidized anyone who’d get insulation blown into their attic space, and we did, so the space has what looks like a six-inch fall of gray snow. It’s quite effective as insulation, but it makes me nervous because it drifted over several runs of the original knob-and-tube electrical wiring. Just the antique wiring makes me nervous (and would cost a ton to replace), but having it covered in processed newsprint is not an improvement.

The stuff also makes cozy nesting for rats. I was last up there early last year, because we were hearing in the night the telltale chomping and scuttling sounds of rats settling in above us. I set out a bunch of traps, and renewed the steel wool chinking in the couple of holes in the foundation through which I think they gain entry. And it worked; I’ve not heard any rodent noises in months. But I hate that attic space. If I hear rats again, I’d have to go up there and retrieve the traps with (probably) mummified rat corpses in them, and clean and bait them and set them out again.

It pleases me to think that ISM the crawl space, the attic, the ancient wiring, and the rats could be SEP. Or more likely, bulldozed to make way for a new house. I’ve mentioned the appliances: the refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher, and the A/C are all approaching the end of their expected life-spans. ISM they too can be SEP.

In years past, I gave serious thought to replacing this house myself: moving out to a rental and hiring an architect and a contractor to demolish the building and put up a new one that would recall the modest charm of the original but with modern construction and a bit more space. OK, that is not going to happen now. I have no interest in embarking on an 18- to 24-month home building project, let alone spending half or more of the old Nest Egg on it.

At the end of day 43 I asked myself, “Is it worth $25K a year for a fresh start?” or, what if I just stayed put and spent that much money here?

The answer is, no amount of piecemeal spending could relieve my 3am worries about the fabric of this place; and frankly I am not up for any amount of remodeling, which in my experience is always a vast amount of trouble and frustration.

So, yeah, if a fresh start in a pleasant place where I have zero worries about building maintenance, appliance repair, or landscaping — if that costs $25K extra a year, it’s probably worth it.



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