scenes from a home reno

Somewhere out there is a Tumblr called People of Home Depot, and one of the grainy, blurry cell phone pics is of me, empty-eyed, wandering the aisles with plaster dust in my hair and wearing a swimsuit top for a bra.

Actually, this is me pretty much everywhere, now. I have a uniform and it goes: short palazzo pants, tank top, swimsuit top bra. Remember in the middle aughts when palazzo pants were all the rage? I still have them. I haven’t worn them in public for years. Well, until now. 

Another thing I wear is an outline of goggles imprinted in my face. I’m pretty sure it’s permanent. There are two deep lines cutting right through my forehead and skirting my cheekbones. At least it gives me an idea of how I’ll look when I’m older, right? A little Neanderthal-ish, from what I can gather.


All we have done for the last threeish weeks is destroy things. This is simultaneously exhilarating and discouraging. Exhilarating because DESTRUCTION, discouraging because everything we destroy reveals a new problem. We had okay wiring, for example, until we uncovered a wooden junction box in the wall that contained knob and tube wiring. Wooden, yeah, because that’s not flammable or anything, and it was also totally buried under plaster and lath — no access point. There were scorch marks on some of the lath pieces from sparks, which is a fun thing to think about happening inside your walls.

The most insulting part is that someone, at some point, had spliced updated electrical into the knob and tube and then covered the whole thing back over again, instead of actually taking the time to update correctly. The whole system is jerry-rigged and now we have to address the mess — local code is that if you touch K&T, it must be replaced. I’d rather do it right, but that’s not really something we had budgeted for, dig?


Our neighbors to the south are named Stephen and Virginia, and they have lived in their house since before I was born. “I’m sure glad you guys are real people and not some fix-and-flip folks,” Stephen said as we shook hands over the fence. They have two dogs — one of them is named Guinness and I forget the other’s name — and I can hear them talking to their pups through the open windows. “That’s a good shake! Such a good shake!” Virginia exclaims. I plan on baking them cookies the first weekend we’re good and moved in.

Our neighbors to the north are renters, kids in their 20s. Their porch is all mismatched mottled rattan furniture and abandoned dishware. A rainbow-colored mug has remained perched atop the arm of a chair since we first took possession of the house. We haven’t really talked to any of them yet, but one day this week as I was waiting for an appliance delivery I saw a girl out front tending an expansive garden as a cross-eyed chihuahua, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, nervously looked on. I practically stared at her for 30 minutes straight, anxiously trying to catch her eye for introductions, but she had her headphones in and never looked up. I wanted to ask her if she was the one responsible for the faint strains of Modest Mouse’s Building Nothing out of Something album I’d heard wafting over the fenceposts as I cleaned tools in the backyard the weekend before. I wanted to ask her for garden tips. I wanted to ask the chihuahua what exactly he holds against the mailman.

Do you think they would like cookies too? God, I am nervous. I really want to be a good neighbor, here, when it counts the most.


My mom went all It’s a Wonderful Life on us. Remember that scene where George and Mary pile some kids and a goat in the car and help move a family to Bailey Park? At the doorstep Mary presents them with bread, so that they may never know hunger; salt, so that life may always have flavor; and wine, so that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Well, that’s exactly what my mom did, minus the showing up on the doorstep part. She tied little tags with those sayings on a loaf of sourdough from Wegman’s in Fairfax, a package of salt, and a bottle of Chianti, and put them all in a box and shipped them to us… at our old apartment. So I guess we have to take them to the new house in order for the benedictions to work. 

But like my grandfather would say, it’s better than a poke in the eye. I drew a strange and sometimes problematic mother from the parental straw pile, but at least she’s a kind and thoughtful one.


While I’m looking forward to escaping the suburbs, there’s something to be said for always having your choice of 17 major home improvement stores within five easy minutes of your place. The closest home improvement store to the new house is 20 minutes away, provided the traffic is light and it’s not construction season. OMG, I’D FORGOTTEN ABOUT CONSTRUCTION SEASON. I’m at the point now where the sight of an orange barrel on the horizon can reduce me to tears. The other weekend I spent an hour circling a Home Depot, unable to access it due to road closures. I never did figure out how to get there, either. My best guess is levitation? I was about to park on a side street, scale a fence, and dart across a set of railroad tracks when I figuratively ran smack bam into an Ace hardware store. Well hallelujah and pass the Pabst Blue Ribbon. The acne-riddled teen working the cash register was friendly enough but I did catch him throwing sidelong glances at the goggle marks gauged in my face.


For nearly all of July our minds were singularly focused on wrecking the home for which we had just been given keys. Every weeknight, every weekend. The constant hum of tires wearing grooves between the old apartment and the new house, the schlepping of tools and supplies, the heavy tread of tired feet through the air-conditioned doors of Home Depot, the ache of hands and arms and the bruises tracked up legs. We didn’t speak to each other so much as hold one long broken thread of conversation about The House. “Maybe we could just sand and paint the stairs now and replace them later,” I’d blurt in bed the dead of night when we were meant to be sleeping. “We really need to get the ceiling torn out,” the beau would remark mid-chew during dinner.

Now August is here, and we are switching gears. We’re trading the hammers and crowbars for cardboard boxes and moving tape. We have to be out of our old place by Sunday at noon.

It’s times like these, during the home demolition and the move, when you miss having close friends the most. The kind of group you can lean on; call them up and they’ll gladly come over to help tear out a wall or move your dumb heavy couch from point Y to point Z. You can pay them in booze and a free meal, and you all get a few laughs and comfortable companionship to boot. Instead, we are paying some maintenance guy Beau knows from work to help us load and unload things. As my other grandfather would say, welp, that’s the way it goes.

Next thing on my to-do list, after we get this house thing straightened out, is to go to the Friend Store and pick out a couple good ones. THIS I SWEAR.

Don't hire me to tear apart your home because I will frown so hard about it under my respirator mask

7 Responses to “scenes from a home reno”

  1. Aw, I wish I could help you move. And bake you some cookies too. Hang in there…

  2. You will be an excellent neighbour. Cookies! Modest Mouse!

    Wish I could help.

  3. I think you are a badass with your demolition.

  4. I am in awe of your home reno getup!! You are such a badass.

  5. People of Home Depot!! YES.

    I had a nose zit for a month and a half from a stupid dust mask from sanding the floors. It’s ridiculous.

  6. Man, if I lived closer I’d be there for every crowbar wedge and box taping. I’ll be sending good friend-finding thoughts into the universe for you!

  7. You give me a house-buying itch, miss.

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