7/20/14 Whatever Happened to Graceful?

Things just aren’t what they used to be…not by a long shot.

It doesn’t seem like so long ago when I could just grab the edge of my pickup truck and simply and gracefully swing over up and into the back, and just as gracefully place the same hand on the edge and simply hop out onto the ground, landing lightly, gently, as if I were a dove alighting on a tree limb. Nope. Not any more. I swear it’s much further up into the back of that truck, and way, way further from the back of that truck, any truck, to the ground. I wonder who moved the ground to so far away?

I had a water line freeze and burst down at my studio during the big global-warming induced freeze this past winter when Mississippi experienced single digits at night and only teens in the daytime for about a four-day spell. Nothing here is really set up for that kind of weather. I had had some heat on, but the heat could not quite get to the external shady eastern side of the studio, which has a sink outside next to the walk in cooler, which serves as the fish cleaning spot. Nothing would serve that the pipes outside would freeze and burst, for that would be too simple and they proved hardy and robust, unintimidated by any polar vortexed Arctic blast. No…the copper pipe inside the wall burst and repairing that was going to be quite a bit more difficult. The big freeze occurred in February and knowing that it was going to be difficult, one might say that I procrastinated. I’d go ahead and admit that February to July is a pretty good procrastinatory period, but by no means it is any kind of record. I have a few things that I have procrastinated over for decades now, and I don’t think I’m getting much closer. If one practices procrastination, like everything else, one gets better at it. Eventually the very desire for the thing you are procrastinating over will be gone, then your procrastination will have produced the desired effect.

“Well, I really didn’t need it anyway,” I said to myself about something I had planned to do but not done for a number of years which now did not need to be done at all. “Of course, that roof needed a new barn, but the hay spontaneously combusted and burned the barn down. Now wouldn’t I have been foolish to have gone to the trouble and expense of putting a new roof on a now burned down barn?”

“Do you think the hay might have spontaneously combusted because of the heat of anaerobic fermentation caused by the decay induced by the moisture from leaky roof?” I asked myself, quite sure of the answer, but not willing to let me get the best of myself without an argument.

“That is one way of looking at it, but it is merely an academic point. A bad roof on a non-existent barn is a non-issue!” I stated, puffing my chest out. Check and mate on this debate.

“But now, you don’t just need a roof…you need a whole barn,” I said back to myself. I was crushed. I had hoped that I wouldn’t bring that up. When I thought I had me in checkmate, it turned out that I had merely worked myself into a corner I could not get out of. I resigned the chess match, cognizant of the fact that the only chess matches I have ever won were those against myself. I am no good at chess…worse than no good…bad, actually. Perhaps it is because in chess I am reckless. Maybe I don’t procrastinate enough before I move a piece to a bad spot on the board.

One of the factors exacerbating the studio water pipe repair was the big thunderstorms and tornadoes that struck Mississippi in April. The building that serves as my studio also serves as our game processing shed where we skin deer, hogs, and turkeys. There is a large roll up door. It is a fairly large building with my studio occupying about a third of it on the north side. Another third is the game processing area in the middle, and the final third is a room originally purposed as an exercise room which has various exercise equipment and a pool table. The only part of that room I used was for some extensive workouts on the pool table. Billiards can be quite exhausting.

Having left the overhead door open, as I normally do…when the fearsome thunderstorms rolled in with howling winds, lightning, and thunder, and winds more than howling, but deadly to some not so far away…my dogs, filled with terror and panic, looked for a place to hide. They found it in the studio building, entering into the game processing area, which would have been fine. But they didn’t stop there. They went up the stairs to the loft we use for storage, found a way to get behind some shelves and enter into the area over my studio that serves no purpose but to hold up the insulation and suspended acoustic tile ceiling. Predictably, to you and me, but completely unknown to the dogs, the acoustic tile suspended ceiling was not quite designed to hold the weight of the canine vandals as they ran across it. The more the ceiling gave way under them. The more they panicked and the faster they ran hunting for solid ground. They finally found it nine feet beneath them when the tiles gave way completely, and they, crashing through the tiles, fell through the ceiling, landing abruptly on the floor in my studio nine feet below. What tiles they didn’t break completely they damaged thoroughly. We all wondered for a couple of days where they had gotten off to, the dogs. Staying in hiding for a day or two after a particularly violent storm is not all that unusual, but I did begin to wonder about them. It is Ruby that is so fearful of the storms. She is so afraid of thunder and lightning that she influences the other dogs, Relay and Babalu. The storm referred to was particularly bad because just a few miles from here the town of Louisville, Mississippi, suffered death and widespread destruction. My only destruction was the damage caused by my dogs, but it could have gone either way. I think Ruby knew the danger better than I did and persuaded the other dogs to hunt for shelter. Too bad that Ruby didn’t know to tell them that an acoustic tile ceiling was not the best safe haven during a tornado.

I didn’t even know the dogs were in there, though, until I went down to the waterless studio to retrieve something; I don’t remember what. As I approached the door, I heard the whine of the dogs. There they were, locked in my studio, hungry, thirsty, and underneath their feet there lay what once was the ceiling. They were overjoyed at being released from their prison but I was not too happy about what I found. It was all such a mess that I was crestfallen. I knew I had to soon get about the difficult task of repairing the burst water pipe in the wall, but now I was going to have to do a major overhaul of my studio, which not only consisted of replacing the insulation and ceiling tile, but cleaning up behind my dogs, who, though food-less and waterless, had left behind plenty of evidence of processed food and water. I was beside myself. I suppose that is why I procrastinated from February to July.

I’ll admit that that is not an unheard of procrastinatory period for me. There are some things I have procrastinated over for years, but there is actually some work I want to do down in my studio, and sometimes, with a houseful, I had sorely missed my retreating place, my man-cave, my studio, and it being completely out of order had left me with no retreat…no domain of which I was the absolute master…no place that no one dared enter without my permission. I missed it terribly, but the work required to restore it would be not only considerable, but formidable: thus, the procrastination. Alas, it wasn’t going to fix itself, and my desire for it finally outweighed my lack of desire of restoring it. I must get busy.

My first starting place was to repair the burst the water pipe so I could turn the water back on in the building since I would need water not only for the bathroom, but for cleaning in general. I asked Canaan to help me, and not only did he agree, he did so willingly. There have been many times he has done so in the past and shown up at the appointed time only to have me tell him that I had changed my mind about doing it (procrastinated). He never seemed to mind that, either, other than when he had gotten up early at my request. Today, when he arrived, we got busy. It was good we started when we did as the job was much harder than it should have been, which returns me to my original point of the unknown whereabouts of graceful. I mourn for the loss of graceful. I can’t be certain whether I have misplaced it, or it has chosen to abandon me, but it is not to be found. Maybe I neglected it to the point that it moved away to where it would get more respect. If that is the case, then graceful, your absence is duly noted, for graceful has turned in to the worst sort of awkward…a hodgepodge of mashed and cut fingers, rusty bolts that will not turn loose, tools that no longer work as they are supposed to, unexpected insects and bugs of varieties not even known to exist in North America, and snakes. SNAKES for goodness sakes.

Fortunately, I was down at the studio doing something when the thaw from the great freeze came. Suddenly, I heard the sound of water running when there was no water turned on. I went in search of the errant water and found it coming out from under the gas range, the puddle forming and slowly working its way towards the door in the back of my studio. Had I not been there, the water would likely have run several days, flooding my studio. If that had happened, added to the dog/ceiling fiasco, It could have been that the studio was no longer tenable. When I spotted the water trickling out from under the wall, I muttered a couple of unmentionables under my breath and went outside and shut off the water supply. Thus, no water since February and a powerful procrastinative tendency. Those days were over. Time for the ungraceful repair.

I had spoken to my brother, telling him that I would have to remove part of the wall on the inside and he wisely instructed me that it would be far easier to remove some of the steel siding on the outside to access the pipe for repair. So I hauled my tools down there and sent Canaan in search of the extension ladder which we would need because it was about twelve feet to the top of the steel siding at that point, or the point it seemed to be, for things are not always what they seem. After some difficulty, he located the ladder and returned. I had him turn on the water. The shut off valve was on the opposite side of the building. When he turned it on, I could see where the water was flowing out. Now let me tell you that where the water seems to be flowing out and where the actual burst part of the water line is are not necessarily the same place. I took my cordless drill and removed as many screws from the steel siding as I could and sent Canaan up the ladder to remove the rest. That is what they make young people for, to go up ladders we more mature, wiser people have learned are not the best places for us. He climbed up with the drill set on forward instead of reverse and stripped out several screws before I hollered up at him, “How many of those are you going to ruin before putting the drill in reverse?”

He looked at the drill. He pressed the trigger. He watched the way it was turning and declared, “It is in reverse!”

“It would be in reverse if those were left-handed threads, but those are common, right-handed threads. That is why you are stripping them out without out them coming loose. Put it in reverse.” He did, tried again, and they all came out. Then we tried to remove the piece of steel siding. There was too much dirt in the way, and the water pipe that fed the outside faucet at the fish-cleaning sink had to be removed, or the steel siding cut. I opted to cut the steel siding since removing the piping would require even more digging than removing the soil around the base of the steel. I sent Canaan to fetch my grinder with the cut-off wheel. As he was gone to fetch it, I began to remove the soil from the base of the steel and encountered at least a half-million or so millipedes. I hate millipedes, and the wetness of this year has caused us to have an outbreak of millipedes so that they are everywhere. I have yet to understand why there can be millions of millipedes, all the same small size, and the occasional millipede that is six inches long. If you believe that I hate millipedes, then you can really believe that I hate six-inch long ones. I hit it with the flat of the shovel. I hit it again. That didn’t faze it. This time, I hit it with the shovel’s edge. Like Hydra, I now had two angry three-inch millipedes. The cyanide smell they emit is awful to me. This is why millipedes are ubiquitous…nothing will eat them. The cyanide makes them a fatal dinner for anything so bold or foolish as to eat one.

I scooped the millipedes away. Just about the time I thought the coast was clear, from a small hole leading underneath the concrete foundation emerged a small water moccasin. Now a small water moccasin at close range looks every bit as large as an Amazonian Anaconda. Try it for yourself sometime. I screamed, sounding much like one of my granddaughters and Canaan came running round the bend to see what was the matter just as the edge of the shovel, whose handle was plenty long for millipede disposal but a mite short for dealing with a water moccasin, struck the snake right behind the neck, leaving its writhing body, now harmless, severed from its fatal head.

“Gee, dad, what’s the matter?” asked Canaan.

“Water Moccasin!” I said, pointing down at the dead but still moving snake.

“That’s a garter snake,” he said in a manner as if to evoke some shame in me.

I looked closely at it. Yep, a common garter snake. I know the difference between a common garter snake and a pit viper, but let me assure the reader that when the snake is at close range, particularly at the range where one’s bifocals are likely to mislead them, and the forked tongue flips out so close to your face that you smell snake-breath, they are all water moccasins, or at least they are all water-moccasin enough that it results in furious, unrepentant murder. I did repent a bit, afterward, but at the time there was nothing but murder on my mind. Too bad for the snake, who made an unfortunate appearance at a most unfortunate time.

I got the grinder and cut the steel around the water pipe and with the greatest of effort, we got the appropriate sheet of steel siding off. I had Canaan go back and turn the water on so I could see exactly where the burst was. I was looking carefully at the now exposed copper pipe when the water came flowing out. I could see that we had removed an inappropriate sheet of steel. It was going to be the next sheet over that had to come off. I hollered for Canaan to cut the water off as there was no need to work in the mud. He didn’t hear me. I hollered again. He still didn’t hear me. I shouted as loudly as I could. He heard me this time, but by the time he got it shut off, a fair amount of water had blown out of the ruptured pipe and now I would be on my hands and knees removing a water pipe that was low to the ground in a puddle of mud, millipedes, and snake remnants. I did not like this. The only thing worse would be to stir up an unseen wasp nest. I looked around carefully, knowing that no doubt this would be next, was bound to be next, and nearly impossible that it would not be next. I breathed a sigh of relief when after careful examination no wasp nest was found. It never occurred to me that a yellow jacket nest in the ground was as close as it was since I was too busy searching for wasp nests above the ground. Remember, folks, things are not always what they seem, and whatever you go to do, no matter how seemingly simple, it can be a lot harder than you intended, and things were getting harder by the minute.

As luck, or bad luck, would have it, the sheet of steel siding that needed to come off was the one on which the power panel was located. This caused me to use some slightly more than mild bad language. What started out as a difficult repair was getting more difficult with every breath. The last thing I wanted to do was remove the building power panel and meter base, as this was an exponential increase in difficulty. I muttered several things I would not want my mother or my wife to hear me say. I muttered them again and sat down amongst the millipedes to decide how I was going to approach this. Just for spite, I killed about two thousand millipedes. That made me feel much better.

There was nothing to do but see if I could remove the screws below the power panel and pull the steel siding out far enough to see if I could get to the pipe. I could not, so I went turned off the main breaker, just in case I were to cut into some power wires, then took my grinder with the cut-off wheel and cut the steel, removing the piece below the power panel. Now my burst pipe was exposed. I had Canaan turn the water back on, whereupon it sprayed right in my face, then had him turn it off again. I wiped off my glasses, wet from the sprayed water and from the sweat dripping from my forehead. I took the grinder and cut the pipe behind the split from the freeze since the split itself was too near a wall stud. It was a split about a quarter of an inch long, which is not too long, but will allow water to spurt freely. Any hole in a water pipe was too big.

I sat down among the millipedes not noticing the infernal yellow jacket hole I had placed my hand over to prop myself up. Rousing to this insult, they stung me about five times before I got clear of them. This provoked some serious bad language. Now I don’t know if you have any experience with yellow jackets, but they are ground nesting wasps. While no wasp sting is pleasant, yellow jackets are particularly unpleasant, exceeded only by hornets. I waited for them to calm down. Wasp spray would not do to fix this. Something heavier was required. I went for the gas can, for nothing will kill a nest of yellow jackets more effectively than gasoline. I know all about the environmental aspects of pouring gasoline on the ground, but some dead grass was nothing compared to having no water in the studio and angry yellow jackets preventing me from fixing the burst pipe. I poured about a pint of the gasoline down the hole. Not a single yellow jacket emerged. It killed them all instantly. Too bad for the grass, but that’ll just be one patch that won’t need mowing, and no one will ever see it behind the studio, other than anyone who goes back there to clean some fish, and that will likely be me who will look upon the dead spot with great satisfaction as I recall the five stings, all five of them still smarting from the poison they injected. They have their version of poison, the millipedes have their version of poison, and I have mine., I had the last laugh, but it was a feeble one.

Canaan stood back the whole time. He never got stung once. But isn’t that a parent’s job…to protect his children? I did my job well. I had protected him from giant millipedes, pit-viperous anacondas, and stinging wasps. He laughed every time he thought of it, but it was a gentle laugh with smirk turned to a scowl of concern every time I looked his way. The vituperation I had reserved for the insects and reptiles could easily be redirected towards him. He is a clever boy and knows how to avoid this, having learned from previous repair efforts. I had lost my temper several times so far, but had not lost it at him. He was aware of his father’s fickle and fractious nature when things weren’t going well, and so far they had gone particularly unwell, though I had proceeded somewhat methodically so far, taking it in stride as far as I am able, which will be seen differently by different observers. He was keeping a cautious distance, though. I can’t say as I blame him.

Now that the millipedes were removed to a safe distance, the pit-viperous-anacondas were killed, the yellow jackets annihilated, the right piece of steel cut and removed, and the burst pipe segment was in my hand, it was time to look around the various places where plumbing items were stashed to see just what I had on hand that I might use to repair the burst pipe. I searched, searched, and re-searched. As it turns out, I had nothing, which is really what I expected to have but was hoping against hope just the same. It was all for naught.

Copper pipe and tubing can be very confusing to the layman, and I am a layman when it comes to it. Unlike galvanized or black iron pipe, or PVC, or CPVC, typically used in houses, which are always measured by their inside diameter, copper can come in varying thicknesses, none of which affect their inside diameter but dramatically affect their outside diameter. The different thicknesses of copper are used for different purposes, and the copper pipe in my wall was of the refrigerant variety, meaning that it was designed to take high pressure, thus had a much thicker wall. Even though it was 1/2” pipe, not a single 1/2” copper plumbing fitting I had on had was large enough to fit over the pipe. This would necessitate a trip to town to get the proper materials. It is 30 miles to town, but I was ready for a break and to be free from diplopodic/insective/reptilian attacks, at least for a while. I made a list of materials and off to Lowe’s we went.

While Lowe’s had Copper tubing of the same diameter, they had no fittings that would fit it, and I needed a sweat-on coupling and female adapter if I was to get this fixed, and I was determined to get it fixed. I had had the forethought to take the burst piece of copper with me to make sure the fittings would work, and was able to confirm that they indeed did not have a single fitting on their shelf that would suit my purpose. The kind of copper pipe (tubing) I had was mostly used with custom made flare fittings. I had a flaring tool at home, somewhere, but I was not sure I could find it. Not willing to risk it, I decided to McGuyver this repair out of what was available.

I located a 1/2” PVC Dresser Coupling, which is used to repair PVC pipe, or to join PVC pipe in a manner that would allow you to take it apart without having to cut it. A plumbing job with no union is a bad plumbing job since you can’t take it apart. The PVC Dresser coupling would not fit over the copper pipe in my hand, but only by the narrowest. I could fix that at home. I bought some lead-free solder and flux, having rather had silver solder, but they had none. Silver solder is much harder than regular solder, but I would make do with this. I knew I had some regular solder at home, but there again, I was not sure I could find it. If you really wanted to get me stirred up, let me get all the way back home and discover that I have to go back to town again. No one wants to be my travel companion when that happens.

Canaan drove there and back. I mostly slept, being unable to keep my eyes open. On our return, I got out my Dremel Moto-tool, put in a smooth grind rock that would not remove too much material, and ground out the threaded compression nut ends of the dresser coupling so that they would fit over the copper pipe. Then, I sanded the copper pipe with the split, tapped the split back as close to closed as I could, painted the split area with flux, and fired up the propane torch. This takes more skill than you would think, for you must get the split closed and soldered, but the slightest too much bit of heat will make your solder run off, opening the split right back up. It took several tries, but eventually I got it soldered shut. I filed it down to look at it to make sure there were no holes in it and decided it looked good to me. Canaan had just been observing, but then we both went back outside and put everything together.

I had also bought a boiler tap, which is a faucet that is less likely to freeze than a regular hose bib, and put it on. I then had Canaan turn the water on. No leaks! Perfect. Well, perfect except for one thing. When we tried to put the steel siding back on, I realized that it would not go. I looked at the hole previously cut in the steel for the original pipe that exited the wall. I looked at the new boiler tap. I would have to cut a slot in the steel to get it to fit. No problem…we took the steel loose and I sent Canaan to turn the water back off so I could take the boiler tap loose. Then I proceeded to cut a slot in the steel. AS I did so, I must have gotten the cut-off wheel on the grinder in a bind and it broke in half, sending a full half of it right into my patella, my poor, poor, now sore patella. I rolled on the ground in agony, picking up random millipedes by the thousands. As I cried out, again Canaan came running around the corner to see just what mischief had befallen me. I was curled up in a fetal position, holding my knee, unable to use any bad language because it was as if my breath had left me. Canaan grabbed the broom and began to sweep millipedes off me and I lay on the gasoline soaked spot where the yellow jackets used to be. I’m glad the yellow jackets were all dead, for if this had been the moment of their discovery, I could not have possibly made a successful exit, rolling around on the ground as I was, moaning in near mortal agony.

When the blinding pain subsided a bit, I pulled up my pants leg, swept aside the millipedes and looked at the gash on my kneecap. Though only the slightest hole was in my pants leg, the two inch long, deep gash on my kneecap was bleeding profusely. It looked like about six stitches worth to me. Canaan said nine. We made a bet with me knowing I would win because I would put the stitches in myself, putting only six, and if my nerve failed me and I went to the doctor’s office, I would instruct him to put only six stitches, promising him half my winnings. Since we had bet a dollar, I had no doubt the doctor would go along with me for the fifty cents that would be his share. As it later turned out, the whole dollar would be mine, but meanwhile, a little blood, well, more than a little, would not delay this project. Though my knee night say otherwise, I am glad the broken grinding wheel hit me there rather than in my face. I doubt I would have stitched up my face myself.

We replaced the steel siding, modified the slot for the boiler tap a bit more, but this time without the grinder. We reattached all the screws, applied sealer to the piece of steel I had to cut below the power panel, at which point I looked down and saw that I had left out the insulation. We took the panel loose again, put in the insulation, buttoned everything up, and then began to clean up, because the job is not finished until you clean up and put away all your tools.

Canaan had other duties with his grandfather, so I sent him on his way and I put all the tools away. I then wen up the hill to the house and got in the shower, enjoying the hot water on the yellow jacket stings and letting the water run on my knee. As the water and blood mixed and the blood ran freely, I hoped that any debris inside the cut would be washed out. I inspected it closely, purged it with hydrogen peroxide, washed it thoroughly with betadine, and got out my suture kit which I had received from a physician friend who had once admired the results of a previous self-stitch effort, congratulating me on just how well I had done it.

“Just one thing,’ he had said, “You might have pulled the stitches a little tighter.”

Having learned this and been instructed to do so, I was determined to pull these tight. In former times, I had used ice to chill the area to be stitched cold enough so that it did not hurt when I put the needle through the skin. I had learned better, and out came the can of cigarette lighter butane. It’d chill it quickly and thoroughly. In short order, I had six stitches and a tightly closed wound. In a few days, I’ll cut the stitches and take them out, or I’ll be going to the doctor begging for some antibiotics to hopefully rid me of the raging infection. If I get no infection, my doctor will look at my handiwork and admire it. If I get an infection he’ll chastise me for being so foolhardy as to have done this to myself. If he puts the stitches in and I still get an infection, he’ll say nothing other than to order the antibiotics. I just hope I didn’t sew up a millipede in there. The very thought of that gives me the chills.

My next project at the studio was to replace the lavatory faucet in the bathroom. I was planning on doing that yesterday, too, but was absolutely exhausted. It’ll have to wait for another day, and though it sounds deceptively simple, let me assure you it can be as difficult as crossing the wintertime North Atlantic in a dinghy.

While all of this is going on, and as I sit here and write this, I am reminded that my earlier posts about renal miscalculations are not a thing of the past. I still have an ugly remnant of the stone that lithotripsy was supposed to have cleared out. Apparently it was larger than the radiologist thought since the remnant I have stuck in my ureter is as large as they said the entire stone was. I saw the portions of the stone I passed and captured them. If the radiologist that read my CT scan was to be the physician to put the stitches in my knee, I think I’d say, “No, thanks. I’ll do it myself.”

So I had another CT scan this past Thursday and will go and see Uroman next week who will perform some different but equally unpleasant procedure besides a lithotripsy to get rid of this stone, stuck now since late April, causing some back-pressure on my right kidney which they say is not a good thing. Oy!

In the meantime, I have six stitches in my right knee, working water at the studio, still a big mess left by the dogs in there that has to be cleaned up, and Canaan owes me a dollar.

I’ll get that dollar first thing in the morning just as soon as I let him count the stitches.

Graceful? None of this was done gracefully. Had it been done gracefully, I doubt I’d have needed a stitch more than three. I am at that age where I have as much grace in movement as a boar hog in a mud wallow.

©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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