foundation trench project
Tuesday, August 31 2004
I expanded the basement leak fixing project today when I started digging a trench along the foundation on the south side of the house. From the surface, this wall here is shaped like a right triangle whose hypotenuse is resting on the slope of the hill. The other half of the rectangle is buried beneath the ground, and it was this other half I was trying to expose with my trench. The goal was actually to dig up to the southwest corner of the house (where the wall is almost completely buried) and proceed around to the west side of the house's foundation for nearly a foot, and dig deep enough to expose the origins of all the known leaks. The fill I removed consisted mostly of clay mixed with a variety of rocks, some of which weighed more than a hundred pounds, though none were too big to dig around and extract. I made good progress, but digging by hand is always an arduous job best done in brief, punctuated spurts.
Later our downhill neighbors invited us over for plum dumplings, some sort of Austrian specialty. The story was that they'd invited their adult children (actually a subset of the former occupants of our house) who now supposedly weren't coming. But when we showed up they were there.
It was all an elaborate trap; once we were lured in we were made to watch a DVD of a classical performance in Dublin by an orchestra led by
Andre Rieu. Jesus Christ, did our neighbors love this guy!
Rieu's orchestra broke many of the conventions of classical performance, straying from the time-tested conservative formality of the spectacle occasionally into the land of sexy and even the land of cheese. The sound of his stripped-down orchestra was electronically amplified so it could fill a huge concert hall. The performers were arrayed in such a way that they could all be seen clearly, and they were dressed in unusual angelic outfits, making the stage resemble Monty Python's idea of heaven. Rieu himself played violin and conducted at the same time, a combination that made him look like the sort of self-impressing bore one secretly wishes to punch in the face. When female soloists took the stage they were always young and attractive, and interacted with Rieu in a way not usually seen in classical performances. But if the inter-song banter could be ignored, the music was actually rather good. It was all very poppy stuff: familiar Waltzes, something by Beethoven, an excerpt from a famous aria which Gretchen knew by heart, and concluding with a couple orchestrated Irish folk tunes (remember, this was in Dublin). Cheeseball as it was, everybody except Gretchen and me seemed to be loving it without the slightest reservation or wry observation (indeed, I had to reign in my own tendency for wryness).
After we'd seen the whole DVD and our dogs had settled down (we actually had three with us because we're dogsitting Carlos again), we finally got around to shooting the shit, which is always the best part of hanging out with the downhill neighbors. A big recent news item was the presence of a rattle snake that turned up under somebody's car out in the driveway. Our neighbors had called the authorities hoping it might be trapped and released, but the guy who normally does that sort of thing couldn't be raised so animal control killed the snake instead. I thought that was a real tragedy because rattlesnakes are rare and/or endangered. (In my entire life I've never seen one in the wild.) This led to me tell a story about a troublesome black snake I helped relocate as a teenager. I told of how it had been trying to suffocate a chicken in the chickenhouse and that I'd somehow managed to get it into a burlap sack. Then I told about how it struggled powerfully to push up through my fist as I held the bag in the backseat of the car that my mother was driving to a remote section of woods. It's a great story suitable for mixed G-rated company and I should tell it more often.
One of the kids who had lived in our house was there, and since she'd lived there from infancy until fifth grade, she would be the one with the strongest residual attachment to the place. She told us about the blackberry bushes, the stuffed monkey down by trampoline, and about how daddy longlegs can kill spiders simply by touching them. Gretchen was doing her best to demonstrate that we weren't ogres for stealing her house and told her she could come and pick berries any time she wanted to.
We detected a slight strain of resentment when her parents asked us about our house's new barn red color scheme. Nobody has expressed an opinion that the house painting was anything less than a drastic improvement, and if anything they were probably just a little embarrassed that we had so publicly showcased one of the house's most egregious æsthetic flaws. There's always a little tension between a house's former owners and those who have to live in the shambles they deserted, particularly when there's, you know, an ongoing foundation trench project. But we made no mention of the house's flaws; after all, every house has them. We accentuated the positive, talking, for example, about the exciting new laboratory deck and its spectacular view.
I forgot to mention that there is a gallery of pictures of the new laboratory deck online.
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