Sippican Cottage

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Running on Empty

We’re fixing our bathroom, remember? We’ve made a trade. We eschewed somewhat expensive, shabby plastic everything for a relatively inexpensive but potentially more elegant and durable tile installation in our shower. We’ve traded time for money. We’re forced to do this a lot. However, we also do it deliberately a lot. Here’s why.

A man gets a crappy job and trades his time for money. He needs that money to buy things he doesn’t have time for anymore, because job. Let’s say he wants a thing. He really only wants that thing, but the thing comes with all sorts of strings attached. The person he has to hire to make the thing or sell the thing has to obey all sorts of rules and pay all kinds of middlemen that have nothing to do with delivering the goods. And everyone’s taxed prodigiously coming and going. Pretty soon that simple thing, whatever it is, isn’t so simple anymore. The Orange Place told me I wanted a $30,000 bathroom, remember? No I don’t. I want a $2,000 bathroom, not a $2,000 bathroom with $28,000 of someone else’s overhead dragging along behind it like Marley’s ghostly chains.

We’re not cooperating in regular commerce and its byzantine processes very often. There’s more to it than simply starve the beast, too, but I certainly do that at every opportunity. Who would I get to do something — anything — if I didn’t do it myself? This is beginning to apply in every walk of life. Pretty soon, I’ll be doing my own thoracic surgery if things continue the way they are. No one seems to know how to do what’s written on their business card anymore.

Every once in a while, I get twenty pesos burning a hole in my pocket and figure it might be nice to have someone do something for me. I like to give my money to my neighbors whenever possible, too. Here’s a recent example. Our car needed a repair. Still does, though we already paid for one. We diagnosed the problem ourselves, and painstakingly described the repair to the shop. It included removing the left rear wheel to get at the part, disassembling the faulty part from the frame next to the gas tank, and putting the new part, which we named in the manufacturer’s exact lingo, back in its place. We waited two weeks for an appointment. Fine. They have a lift, and pneumatic tools at the ready. I figured they could do the job in twenty minutes. I would be saved from lying under a jacked up car while not doing something else just as important. The part wasn’t expensive, either, we looked this all up. I watched a fellow on YouTube make the repair. I could have done it. I wanted to live like other folks for ten minutes and get someone to do something for us.

Although the job was postponed for two weeks, they didn’t finish the job on the appointed day. You’d have to start it to finish it, after all, and they didn’t. The fellow said, “I promise I’ll come in on Saturday morning and do it.” He seemed to think he was doing us a favor. OK. We say fine. My wife calls on Saturday. No answer. She walks down to the place. It’s a hike. The fellow is in there alone, except for his three small children, who are running around the place trying to hurt themselves while he yells at them, and treating my wife to their hacking coughs.

My wife is confused, because the man is working under the hood of the car. He says he’s almost done and hands her a bill for $250. My wife wants to pay with her debit card, like the last time we went there to buy tires. No dice. We only accept cash and checks now, he says. She walks all the way home, and all the way back with our checkbook, and pays. When she gets the car home, we discover that he’s changed a solenoid switch instead of the part we asked for. The bill also has a $60 line item to buy a device to turn off the dashboard warning light. We own one of those, and used it to diagnose the problem in the first place. The trouble light was back on by the time the car made it home, anyway, and he kept the device.

Now I could go down there today and painstakingly explain the problem to whoever will listen to me while they nod and wait to say: tough luck. I could probably get them to fix the correct thing, with enough explanation, and some more money. I won’t, because it’s not worth the trouble to me. I’ll fix it myself. Ricardo’s Law of Comparative advantage doesn’t apply when everyone sucks at everything. I won’t be screaming on Yelp or threatening to sue or any other daft thing, either. All that does is make you conspicuous in a very small mind, which is a bad idea in today’s world. We just won’t go there anymore, and they’ll never know why. Or care, I imagine. They can work for everyone once, until they retire, or retire to prison, whichever comes first. I wanted to pay for a car repair, but paid tuition for an education instead. Still valuable.

Whew! So we’re back and working on our shower stall. the walls are waterproofed, and the floor is level. Now you lay in this foam tray with waterproofing fabric on it:

I can’t say whether this item is over-engineered or under-engineered, exactly. It’s both, if that’s possible. It’s certainly not one percent stronger than it needs to be. It’s basically a styrofoam cooler lid with rubbery shelf paper on it. But I think it’s not one percent less strong than it needs to be, too. It’s actually hinged in the middle, to allow it to be shipped in a box that UPS won’t sniff at. Good enough is good enough, I always say. We laid it flat in the stall, and tested the supplied drain doohickey to align the plumbing below. We’re working on the curb, too. It comes in two pieces. It’s a U-shaped foam affair, turned upside down. I’m checking it for level, because I leveled the floor, and I don’t trust that guy, either.

Once you’re sure everything is copacetic, you remove the tray, lay down some mortar, and put it back in place. Then you bed the drain flange, the flanges around the faucet handle and the stub for the shower head in mortar, too. I packed the seam on the left with mortar. Probably overkill, it was within their specs, but there’s no sense taking any sort of chance with a shower floor. The curb is bedded in mortar, too.

There’s a fussy little procedure that happens now. Sorry, I don’t have pictures. There are a series of corner pieces and seam-covering strips that seal the joins between the walls and the floor, and the curb and the floor, and the seams in the curb. It looks like this:

I gather from reading online reviews that everyone hires the best tilesetter in the history of porcelain, and they get this part wrong, and the shower leaks forevermore. I have relatives who suffer from this, although they have the blue version of this orange stuff. The best tilesetter in the history of porcelain, the only fellow that everyone seems to hire, appears to be related to our mechanic, more times than not. Read the directions: it’s not that hard.

The floor in the shower is sloped in four directions to reach the drain. That calls for mosaic tile. We bought the cheapest version we could find. We’re sticking with a dark gray (black) and white color scheme. You can spend a lot on this kind of tile. People use marble mosaic tile a lot, but marble costs a fortune, is slippery, and stains easily, so I don’t get the allure. There’s some sort of shared madness that makes Pinteresters put pebbles in there. Yes, uneven footing in an enclosed space with sheets of glass handy. What could go wrong? I haven’t washed the local seashore lately, but I imagine it’s hard to clean rocks with a scrub brush, too. The tile we got looks fine, and the pattern is simple and interesting enough. The flexible nature of hexes on a rubber backing made it adapt to the slopes fairly readily. And lots of grout lines make it grippy instead of slippy under your feet.

Tomorrow, we tile the walls.

[To be continued, as soon as I fix the car]

[Update: Many thanks go out to Hank for his generous, ongoing support for this site via our tip jar. It is much appreciated]

Day: October 2, 2023

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