Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Better Homes and Garbage

There was this one time that I tried to cut down a tree in my front yard in a wind and rain storm. Approximately ten years before that day, some jackass landscaper had decided to plant a little cedar sapling five feet away from the corner of my house. I guess it looked cute there. Ten years later it was towering over my house and rubbing on the roof. Not cool, landscaper guy. Not cool.

It needed to go, not only because eventually it would swallow my house, but also because it was blocking access for tractors to get into my backyard and dig a pool. Pool good. House-swallowing tree bad. Tree loses.

I asked a tree service guy how much they would charge me to remove the beast, and he gave me a number that made me actually choke a little and accidentally spit on him, so I decided to remove it myself. What could possibly go wrong?

Ever since we had our first child, I’ve never done anything at the optimum time or weather conditions for that activity. I simply do everything when I actually have time to do it, which is almost never, since kids somehow manage to suck nearly every productive minute out of each day. So there I was, on a windy, rainy Sunday, cutting down a really tall tree.

The tree was tall enough that I didn’t want to cut it down in one shot, since it would reach the street and possibly damage the street light in my front yard. I was up on a ladder that was swaying with the tree like a drunk wino trying to stand still, cutting through the middle of the tree trunk with a hand saw, since there was a very good chance that the chain saw would have removed my arm before anything else. When I was more than halfway through the trunk, I tied a rope above the cut and tied the other end to the front of my Ford Expedition. One good pull and I would have the top off the tree and then I could chain saw the bottom half to the ground. Simple.

Apparently the middle parts of healthy cedar trees are really tough. One good pull with my Expedition failed to pull the top half of the tree down. Instead it pulled the whole tree down, yanking the roots halfway out of the wet ground. It came down to the ground in slow motion, the top of the tree missing the street light by six inches. Well, that wasn’t what I was planning, but it worked out great! Let’s cut this baby up.

By this time, my sons and most of the neighborhood kids were braving the wind and rain for the free show. Above the cheering, a voice could be heard.

“Dad, the hole is filling up with water!”
“Because of the rain?” I asked, falsely hopeful.
“It’s filling up really fast.”

Hmm... Let me shut off the main line for the sprinklers. The roots probably broke the sprinkler line. False hopefully...

Nope, still filling up.

Oh, good. I just broke the water main to the house.

Ten hours and one gigantic hole later, in rain that was now blowing completely sideways, covered literally from head to toe in mud, by the light of a halogen work lamp, I finally reconnected the broken water line, and I was able to take a shower. More importantly for my health and well-being, my wife was able to shower the next morning.

Why did I tell you that story? First, to illustrate how much of an idiot I am, so you can appreciate the rest of this story. Secondly, to put into perspective how much I have emotionally and physically invested in my front yard. Now let’s talk financial investment.

Fast forward through the pool building process and the entire front yard looks like a bad day in Afghanistan. Multiple truckloads of soil and sod later, combined with many, many one hundred-degree days of backbreaking labor over the summer, and the once destroyed front yard is transformed into a magical emerald-green paradise of lush grass and happiness.

Why did we expend all that time and significant amount of money and sweat to transform our front yard? Apparently it was to make way for a refugee camp.

Son Number Two, our resident builder of forts, has claimed squatter’s rights on the spot where the cedar tree used to be. Up against my fence he has conjumbled together some scrap 2x4’s, reclaimed plywood, and other construction site trash. It’s all being loosely held together with rusty nails, duct tape, and hope to form what resembles a small shed if you squint from a distance. If you open your eyes it looks like something a desperate homeless person would still take a pass on.

To add to the curb appeal, he spent his own money at Lowe’s to purchase two five-gallon buckets and some PVC pipe. One of the buckets sits high above his shanty town for all the world to see, on top of my actual shed, which resides on the other side of the fence in the back yard, where sheds actually belong. That bucket is the water tank that feeds his “sink” inside the plywood hovel. The sink consists of the second bucket and a leaky drain that is meant to transport the wastewater to one of our landscaping drains, but mostly just leaks through the hot glue gun caulking around the PVC fitting and makes mud inside the fort.

What is the purpose of having a sink made out of a bucket inside your mud-floored fort? So that you can cook, obviously. The neighborhood kids have all pitched in their Melissa & Doug cookware and probably some of their parents’ silverware to outfit the refugee kitchenette. After school they heat up beans in our actual kitchen, then take them outside and eat them in the fort, on chairs made from the log rounds of the cedar tree that used to grace the very same spot. Then they “clean” the dishes in the sink. Afterward, they go off to fight dragons or have Nerf gun wars or what have you - and presumably fart a lot.

My wife and I are torn. As parents, we are all for this kind of creative, outdoor, non-video game type of play time. As homeowners who just spent a crap-ton of money to make the front and back yards look presentable, however, we cannot condone ugly squat houses in our otherwise lovely new front yard. We’re in a quandary.

So far, I have not set fire to the offending structure, but time will tell how much we can take. If only some anonymous person – perhaps a person who enjoys popular online humor columns such as this one – would call the city’s code enforcement office and alert them, the decision would be out of our hands. (Hint, hint.)

In the meantime, I’m just glad none of my neighbors are trying to sell their homes right now. I’d surely have a realtor at our door asking if they could put up some camouflage netting.

Wait a second... camouflage netting! Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Do they sell that at Lowes?

See you soon,


Copyright © 2017 Marc Schmatjen

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