a world carved from soap
Tuesday, May 27 2003
I spent most of the day working on the front stoop project, wherein I attempted to reverse the slope of a concrete slab in front of the front door. It's an ugly grey thing that slopes slightly towards the house. My mission today was to turn it into a charming artifact of concrete-mortared native stone sloping slightly away from the house.
I'd just like to spend a paragraph here mentioning two things that have, in the luxury of my idle richness, troubled me about this house. The first is the readily-apparent lapses on the part of its builders in such details as the wiring of light switches and the laying of slabs. If these measurable things are so off-kilter, just think of all the things we can't see! Just by way of example: how exactly were those hydronic heating pipes sealed away in the foundation slab? The other issue, also being incrementally-addressed by the front stoop project, is the relatively poor integration between the house and the surrounding landscape. Seen from the outside, the house itself is like some sort of cookie-cutter McMansion destined to be crammed amid concrete sidewalks and antiseptic lawns shoulder to shoulder with clonefellows as far as the eye can see in some horrible new upscale development in Haymarket, Virginia. The landscape, meanwhile, is the shoulder of a stony plateau in the Catskill foothills, surrounded by beautiful stratified bluestone outcrops, tall pines, hemlocks, hickories, and oaks. The adjacent grounds have been replaced with a Catskill take on its suburban antithesis, but fingers and fragments of the original remain. Unfortunately, even after nine years of recovery, these still resemble the ragged edges of a wound. My new mission is to integrate the house with the landscape, at least wherever it's easy. Applying the eighty-twenty rule, I know I can achieve 80 percent of the results by doing only the most essential 20 percent of the improvements. But eighty-twenty is so 1999. Perhaps now there's a more helpful 95-5 rule.
With the help of public radio for entertainment, I was able to achieve about half of my goal today. Occasionally those little gnat-like flies would land on me and bite me, but they were nowhere near as bad as they'd been earlier in the month. My major mistake was not wearing gloves. I found myself working the wet concrete with my bare hands, something I've done before with mildly unpleasant results. Today, though, the surface of my hands seemed to change into an entirely new material. The surface skin separated from the fleshy substrate in a vast archipelago of tiny lighter-colored islands, and everything I touched felt vaguely as if it had been carved out of soap. I think this was because the fats in my hand had actually been converted to a soaplike substance by the harsh alkaline chemistry of the concrete. There were also a number of tiny injuries in my hands, and these all felt as if microscopic splinters of iron were lodged in them. A little hand lotion did much to restore my hands to their former state, although they still looked as if they'd been grafted onto my wrists from a generous corpse.
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