Sunday, January 31, 2010

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (11th Increment)

What Dean had already gotten done was impressive. First, he had to figure out a drainage system to deal with the water that seeped into the rear foundation wall whenever it rained. He ingeniously developed a French drain-type system but it eventually required removing age-old linoleum tile, and jackhammering the cement floor underneath. First, though, Dean had lots of planning—and by planning I mean standing for hours in Home Depot staring at the various items on the shelf to figure out how they all worked. And if he didn't, well, then, he would jury-rig what he needed. That's how Dean rolls. In fact, he wants to start his own HGTV show called HALF-ASS IT, but that's another story for another time.

Then he set about replacing all of the insulation (I helped with that; I'm not a total laze-about), designing the wall configurations and framing them, replacing all of the doors and windows, and finally laying a special subfloor that allowed water to drain underneath, should the drainage system fail. Fortuitously, our next-door neighbor, Lou (he bought the house next door from Steve—goodbye Steve! Don't forget your catamaran!), is a retired contractor. He helped install the French doors in the front and informed us that the wall had absolutely no support, held up by nothing but prayer and a bit of luck. This tidbit I learned whilst I was cheerfully coming over, Starbucks coffee for them in hand, to see the progress. As I was about to enter through the enlarged opening, Lou shouted at me, DON'T COME IN!!! It was too dangerous! All those other times that I walked in—not to mention all those drunken bar patrons over five decades—not knowing that the whole front of the building could come crashing on my head . . . well, what's done is done. But now Lou could prevent a tragedy. He helped Dean shore up the wall and correctly install the frame to accommodate the new doors.

The list of our accomplishments was growing long, and it did bring a deep sense of satisfaction to see the old building transform from what my sister called Depression-era chic to a really pretty little structure. In addition to renovating the entire apartment, we had had the septic redone, replaced the roof, and had a wooden porch built under the newly revamped overhang (after we got the variance). As I already mentioned, we replaced all of the windows and doors on the ground floor (the windows in the upstairs apartment were decent, if not great). We put standard Andersen windows and builder-grade doors on the sides of the building but in the front we put beautiful divided-light coffee colored windows (the trim was coffee colored that is) and matching French doors. We painted the exterior a sort of soft buttery beige on the upper story and a dark café au lait on the ground level (Noticing a coffee pattern here?). We installed cedar shutters and painted them a dark red. The shutter dogs were black wrought iron. I wanted to put Smith and Hawken window boxes up but the overhang prevented any flower boxes on the upper level, at least in front. All of these projects sucked up our entire budget of a hundred Gs.

Now what? Well, now was the time for the housing market to completely tank. Not that we didn't see it coming. Apparently Dean and I, right brainers and money-stupid all the way, were able to see what seasoned Wall Streeters and bankers could not—that housing prices could not go up forever (what goes up must come down, etc.). Also, most Americans would probably figure—if they knew what these numbskulls were up to—that something as retarded as selling mortgage-backed securities and at the same time betting that they would fail (credit default swaps) might be a tad illegal. BUT IT WASN'T! Wall Street should be renamed Greedy Boneheads with Ill-Gotten Money Street. So the market tanked the second week we put dear old Dad's Florida house up for sale. Did I mention that the Florida market crapped out so badly that properties were difficult to even give away? Alas, we were stuck with Dad's shitty little house instead of the bucks we needed to finish our renovations. We could, however, take some solace that our New York properties pretty much held most of their value as long as we didn't try to sell them during this lifetime. So much for trying to get back to Los Angeles.