The Colonel’s Plan – The Blue Bathroom – Part 2

September 15, 2017 (Continued)

Dear Daddy –

Let’s talk about the shower…

I hired Mike the plumber (and his son Gary, and his grandson Cody) on the recommendation of a friend. I knew that finishing the plumbing for three bathrooms and the kitchen was going to be too much for me. It turned out to be the biggest expense associated with the house so far, but it was worth it.

So the first thing Mike the plumber told me about the shower cubicle was that it had to go. It was designed for the plumbing codes of decades ago, and he really recommended I use a pre-fab, fiberglass cubicle. That would be fastened right to the studs, not to the plywood. Now I didn’t see any reason the plywood couldn’t be there in between. But once I had measured the available cubicle base and walls, I realized that I needed the combined inch of width that removing the plywood would provide. So out it was going to come, and it needed to go before Mike and his crew could even do the rough-in plumbing.

“That’s going to be a lot of work,” Mike said with a skeptical look.

Well, if I were afraid of work, I wouldn’t have taken on this project, now would I? He was right, though. It was a lot of work. You had nailed those sheets of plywood within an inch of their lives—something like 75 nails per sheet. I started off using a couple of your old pry bars, vise grip pliers, and a hammer. Some of the nails came out, but few enough that I got frustrated and finally Googled “How to remove flush nails.”

You distrusted the Internet. You said there was nothing worth reading out there. Of course, you would call me and ask me to look things up for you. That was some progress, but that was more about you leaning on your recovering librarian son than it was about you having faith in the World Wide Web. I recall especially the night you called me—after 11 PM, as was your custom—to ask if I could find an article from Popular Science on a Japanese wind-up car—a real car, not a toy. It had been in an issue your father had brought home back in the 30s. I found no such citation, but I did find 30,000 references for wind-up cars. “Print them out,” you had said. Thirty thousand references. I resolved that, someday, I would buy you a leather-bound encyclopedia and have “The Internet—Unabridged” lettered on the spine.

I think, had YouTube caught on before your mind failed you, that you might have really enjoyed the amount of information that’s available in a convenient, video format now. I think this especially when I come across the many thin books you bought from Sears and other places that sold home goods, with titles like “The complete guide to wall-to-wall carpet installation,” or “Home heating installation made simple.” Of course, you tackled both of those tasks in this house—to a point.

I learned that the tool you use for removing nails that are flush with the surface of the wood is popularly called a “cat’s paw,” a “bear claw” or just a “claw pry bar.” The guy on the video showed how easily this thing scooped nails out. Of all the tools you left me, that was not one I’d come across, or ever seen you use. I have a sneaking suspicion that, if I’d shown you one, you would have just said, “No!”

I ran immediately to Kendall’s Hardware and grabbed one. It worked as well as advertised, but it did gouge the dickens out of those poor sheets of plywood. When Mike’s son, Gary, showed up to start work in the bathroom, he shook his head and said, “Damn, and that’s not chip board either. Your Dad bought the real stuff.”

You usually did buy the real stuff.

Despite my best measuring efforts, the joists were so close together that I had to finally cut an iPhone-sized hole in the ceiling so I could take photos of the area under the shower floor and find out where the hell that drain pipe was!

Gary had to move the shower drain. You were going to assemble the stall by hand out of tile, so the positioning didn’t matter for you. But, for the prefab cube, the drain had to go where the opening was. You would have confronted the same issue, eventually. You had decided, about 20 years back, that you were going to install a prefab cube. Of course, moving the drain meant accessing the bottom of the shower, which meant opening up the ceiling on the floor beneath it. That was your bedroom, specifically inside Mother’s closet. You had left an access panel for the bathtub drain in the bathroom next door, but not for the shower.

And, for some reason I cannot fathom, you had finished that ceiling, paint and all. None of the rest of your bedroom was painted. The joint work wasn’t even done. But you had painted that ceiling. I had to saw out a panel with a modified hacksaw blade (the end broken to make it pointed—your trick, which you shared with me from your deathbed). I’ll replace it with some kind of plastic sheet that’s easily removable. Plumbing behind drywall is a stupid idea. Of course, I’m the one who thinks every screw head in a car should be visible, too. Access is an important thing. The guys who designed spaceships for 1950s science fiction movies understood that. Why don’t we?

Love, Steven

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