The Colonel’s Plan – Plumbing the House’s Guts

April 11th, 2018

Dear Daddy –

I resolved one bathroom ago that I was never going to use all the tile you bought. You had planned what are now called “vintage” bathrooms, in many of which the soap dishes, toothbrush holders, toilet paper dispensers and towel racks were permanently mounted with, and made of the same color porcelain as, all the other fixtures. The pink bathroom will go in as you planned it. It’s a pink bathroom. It can’t be anything but what it is.

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The Colonel’s Plan – “Do Not Hit or SET On”

April 4th, 2018

Dear Daddy – 

A year ago today, you came home from your last visit to the hospital. You came in an ambulance, because you were too weak to even get in and out of a car. You had a foley catheter, because you couldn’t tend to your own needs in that area any longer. Gilchrist Hospice Services had brought you a hospital bed and a portable toilet. You refused to use that. You also refused to use a wheelchair, even though your doctor had told you it was shortening your life to walk unassisted. You liked the hospital bed—for a few days. Then you got bored with it and wanted your old, broken couch back. Susan and I had carried that out to the garage the day before you came home. 

As we began staying nights with you, I began working on the house in earnest. A lot of cleanup had happened before you were confined to a bed in the family room, and it continued. But I put up the dining room door facings that you had been “working on” for about three years. I straightened the French doors that you have never been able to level, because you could no longer concentrate on a problem for more than ten or fifteen minutes. I started finishing Charles’s old bedroom. From your bed, you gave me tips on hanging the closet doors—how to cut hinge seats was something the YouTube videos claimed was easy, but it was not, until you told me the easy way to do it. 

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The Colonel’s Plan – Close One Wall, Open… the Same Wall

March 27th, 2018

Dear Daddy – 

Aside from doing the joints and painting the walls, the blue bathroom is finished. All the plumbing and electrical are in place and working. I had a little snag this weekend, as I finished the electrical work. I once again had it rubbed in my face to check line voltage before putting in drywall. I think I get it now. Hopefully I won’t have to be reminded a third time. 

You had left two wires dangling down from the attic, inside the wall on which the sinks were to be installed. I knew one was for the light fixture which you had already purchased way back in the day. What was the other? I assumed it was for an outlet.

Of course, as I think I’ve mentioned before, there was no room for an outlet over the sinks. You had purchased a mirror that literally took up the entire wall over the counter, from just below the 16” allowance for the light fixture, all the way down to the 32” standard height of the countertop. I guessed that you had been planning to shift the outlet either into the shower wall (sounds dangerous!) or over the toilet (not much better.)

I should have known you better. In fact, I do know you better. 

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The Colonel’s Plan – The Thing Outside the Library Window – Part Two of Two

Sometime while I was in college, I believe, the dreaded metal cabinets arrived. These were, of course, surplus. They’re a blue-gray in color, with light gray doors and dusty orange shelves. Only they’re not shelves, they’re cross-bars designed so that wire brackets could be fastened into them, sitting upright. The cabinets were designed to hold reels of magnetic tape and were used for data storage in IBM Mainframe computers in days gone by. We have a few dozen of them, and I’m pretty sure we also have every. single. roll. of magnetic tape. that ever went in them. Well, we did. I’ve sent a lot of them to recycling now. But there are still hundreds in the basement.

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The Colonel’s Plan – The Thing Outside the Library Window – Part One of Two

March 7, 2018

Dear Daddy —

Two weeks ago, I wrote about The Thing out in the yard by the basement door. Last week I actually had hazmat experts come out and test it. I had asked a couple of people—our eCyclers, my friend Bob who runs a computer museum, the CEO of the National Electronics Musuem—what The Thing might be. They didn’t believe Phillips’s claim that it was a condenser that only held water. They were pretty sure it contained PCBs. Some of us also vaguely remembered that the reason you kept The Thing outside, sitting on its own special pallet which you had constructed, was that you feared it contained PCBs. 

Turns out it’s a 50-gallon energy drink. Seriously. The lab results came back, and the fluid within is composed of saccharine, caffeine, lactose and water. So, basically, it’s a giant steel Starbuck’s beverage. Why the fluid is bright green when it freezes and oozes out is anybody’s guess. But I’ve been told I can cart it to the landfill and tell them it’s not a hazardous material. 

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The Colonel’s Plan – The Old Door

February 28, 2018

Dear Daddy —

Christian works to reveal o9ne of many wrecks buried under fallen trees and overgrowth–the 1971 Malibu.

It’s going to take years to reclaim the property around this house! Unless I come into a huge, lump sum of money all of a sudden. The back property has as many fallen and broken trees as it has healthy ones. The property around the house is littered with clumps of briars and honeysuckle, with tree stumps or metal debris at their core, making them tricky to take down. You started it years ago, by placing outside the few pieces of equipment too big, too heavy, or in too-bad shape to go inside. 

For years, you at least kept the briars and vines trimmed away from these. You gave up sometime after your 70th birthday. Then you “hired” some person who said he would take down trees and haul away brush. He cut dozens of trees off at 30 inches, left their stumps, and dumped the trimmings all over the yard—fostering the growth of more brambles. And you had an absolute allergy to ever cutting down any tree, even if it was growing up amidst the branches of another one. We have a lot of work to do. 

This week I had the door put back up between the kitchen and the family room. Yes, the same door, doorjambs and hinges you had used all those years ago. I used a new doorknob from the shelf of door hardware in the metal building. You bought a lot of door hardware! The old doorknob, one with a keyed lock, is here in a box. Probably its original box, if I know you. But it’s in such bad shape that I didn’t want to try and use it. Plus, “it’s here,” only means that I’ve seen it in the last three years. It would probably take me hours to find it. I’m still going through the contents of the living room and the metal building to find tools and building supplies. 

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The Colonel’s Plan – Working Outside

February 21st, 2018

Dear Daddy —

Trees. Not spectacular, but we have a lot of them.

This morning I walked the back property. This house sits on 13 acres of mostly wooded land. When you bought the land, it was just a field with maybe a dozen trees. The Simpson family had used it for farming, and it had presumably been kept clear for decades. Since then, trees have grown up everywhere. I was reading up on tree growth after my walk. In 40 – 45 years, 192 trees in excess of 85 feet can be found per acre of wooded land. I wonder how many we have? None of them look that tall. 

A few years before you died, I arranged to have the trees harvested on your land in North Carolina. That’s a forest that’s been a forest a long time—probably your whole life. Our land there used to house a sawmill. The logging trails are still there. We were paid about $2200 per acre for the harvested wood. This lot may not be worth harvesting, to a lumber company, but I think I’ll find out. The money is less of a goal than having a more manageable woods back there. As it is, we have an okay walking trail all around the perimeter, but I’d love to be able to have a nature trail, and perhaps have the clearance sufficient to allow horseback riding. Right now, a walker has to dodge a few vines and low-hanging branches. 

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The Colonel’s Plan – The Avocado Dishwasher LIVES!

The dishwasher that waited 50 years to run. Note the disposal that was mounted to the sink all those years ago, only to die a stupid death.

February 14th, 2018

Dear Daddy —

It’s been two weeks since I’ve written. This past weekend, we held Farpoint, a science fiction convention that Renee and I founded 25 years ago. You attended it once, when it was held on your 74th birthday in 1996. Michael Ansara joined us for your birthday dinner, and was eager to meet you. As I recall, you spent most of the evening discussing either physics or politics with Yoji Kondo. 

Farpoint always dominates a lot of my time, even though I no longer own it, am no longer in charge of it, and this year declined to accept a job on its committee. People still expect me to be a part of it, and people come to me with their problems to be solved. I’ve learned to accept that, but to try and help on my terms. I feel myself slowing down, after nearly forty years of working at a whirlwind pace. With all that’s left to do in front of me, I have no desire to burn out. I want to be here for my children and be here to see my grandchildren.

Speaking of grandchildren, the ones I gave you are amazing. Ethan is working two jobs and running his website, with a new blog (in your day it was called a “column”) being published every day. He was in charge of hospitality this past weekend, and even some of our hardest-to-please attendees complimented him. He’s hard-working, literate, and, above all, kind. Christian made the Dean’s List at Towson his first semester, also on top of a job, and is carrying 19 credits this Spring. He’s also rehearsing Othello 20 hours a week. He’s determined to complete his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting, somehow also get a degree in Astrophysics, and minor in Deaf Studies. I joke that he’ll be the deaf community’s Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Last night I completed a significant task in the house—at long last, Mother has a working dishwasher and a working garbage disposal!

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The Colonel’s Plan – Next Steps

I’m off schedule this week–too much going on. I had planned to have this entry posted Monday, and to be doing my FIAWOL piece tonight. But the FIAWOL piece isn’t edited yet. It can go up tomorrow. Hope to get back on track next week. 

January 30, 2018

Dear Daddy –

Well, overall the meeting with the attorney went very well. Turns out he was from Cape Henlopen, Delaware. He commented on Mother’s Henlopen Lighthouse bag, in which she’d placed all the property deeds and our written plan for the split. She hadn’t wanted to take it—she thought it looked unprofessional. Turns out it established a little bit of a bond. 

When we initially told Mr. King that Mother wanted to give away all of her real estate, he said he advised against it. For one thing, the capital gains taxes, if we ever sold any of the properties, would be outlandish. Of course, we never do intend to sell, but it was something to think about. He also said that, if Mother went into a nursing home any time in the next five years and ran out of money, the State would demand that we surrender the deeds to pay for her care.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Legalities

January 24th, 2018

Dear Daddy —

I won’t lie to you, it’s been a pretty awful week. 

My father’s desk. Hasn’t changed much in the last 40 or so years, other than having some junk moved off of it.

I’ve felt angry, depressed, and pretty damn well worthless, and it’s largely because I’ve been forced to absorb other people’s pain. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s enough pain in the world that we could all be situationally depressed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, every year, if we chose to be. And that’s the problem—so many of us choose to be.

Now, when people eventually read this, someone will no doubt say that I’m dismissing the depth of pain caused by depression as an illness. I’m not, really. I’m just saying that, unless someone is suffering from clinical depression, ongoing sadness is a choice, and too many people choose it. Being sad, angry or feeling stupid is something we all have to do sometimes. But some of us choose to do it for longer than we need to. 

I can’t do it anymore. I’m angered out, depressed out, embarrassed out. I can’t find room in my life to maintain the bad feelings. It takes too much energy, and I just don’t want to. I’d rather move past it and do something productive. So, even though I confess I have felt this week that perhaps this whole project is doomed, that soon I may be forced to, for my own good, turn on my heel and walk away… even though I’ve felt that, well, here I am. Still pushing forward. 

Dammit, I don’t know what else to do. 

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