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Friday, October 5, 2007

Moe, Larry, and Curly Built Our House

Twelve years and counting.

That's how long we have been working on this house. We bought this builder foreclosed house in the spring of 1995 knowing that it needed a lot of work and that we had a very small remodeling budget. What we didn't know was that it would take almost fifteen years to complete the work. There were many problems that had been cleverly hidden or just missed at inspection. Since beginning this project, we have come to the conclusion that Larry, Moe, and Curly designed, contracted, and built this house. Although Moe never gave us the full history of the house, over the years we have lived here, I have an idea what happened. Grab a soda and let me tell you the story.

Once upon a time, in the late 1970's, there was a young man named Larry. Larry graduated from college with a degree in architecture but was just a so-so architect without much imagination and he was unable to find a job. One day he was at a bar eating his lunch of free pretzels and drinking a soup made from catsup and relish packets while searching the classifieds and circling every architect job listed. A man wearing a trench coat, in summer no less, and sunglasses, with a cap pulled low over his eyes sidled up to Larry, and while looking the other direction, he whispered: "Psst!"

Larry looked around and then at the man. "Are you talking to me?"

"Don't look at me!" the man hissed. "You wanna job in architecture?"

Larry looked at the pretzels and catsup soup, which after five days had lost any appeal it ever had, as well as failing to quench his growing hunger. "Yes!" he whispered.

"Wait two minutes, and then follow me out the door," the man whispered, and then pulled his cap even lower, knocked off his drink and casually walked out the door.

Larry, waited the allotted two minutes and rushed out the door, leaving a pile of catsup and relish packages behind. Soon he was working in a dingy office filled with skinny young architects hunched over row after row of drafting tables. He was paid a whopping dollar per plan and soon learned how to turn out twenty to thirty house plans per day with the required number of rooms, regardless of appearance or flow of rooms.

At the same time, there was another young man named Moe who had also graduated from college with a degree in business. He worked at a dead-end job at a construction company and dreamed of owning his own business one day. After a few years, with some savings and a girl friend in the loan department of the bank, he was ready to do just that. He had heard of a guy who knew a guy who sold house plans for the bargain basement price of twenty-five dollars each. So late one hot summer night, he met the man who was wearing sun glasses, and a cap pulled low over his eyes. The man reached into his trench coat, pulled out a roll of newly printed house plans, and Moe bought as many as he could afford.

Through his girl friend, Moe learned of a small farm that would soon be foreclosed for taxes, and rushed out to buy it. Then, using the rest of his savings, he developed the land into a secluded residential neighborhood with two or three streets. He stuck his signs on every lot in the neighborhood and waited for the phone to ring. It didn't. A model home would draw people to him, he thought, so he chose the smallest lot, and the smallest floor plan, and began construction.

The neighborhood was on a slope that had been re-terraced into home sites, with the dirt from the high end filling the void at the low end. He hired a concrete contractor, plumber, and electrician. Then, as general manager, he hired Curly, a framer who had worked with him at his former company. Curly hired a few men who had worked with him before and they found friends and family to round out the construction crew.

Moe's limited budget didn't allow for soil testing or piers where the land had been filled. But he drove over it with his car a few times and assured the concrete contractor that it was solid. He knew it would look fine for several years. He told the concrete contractor to pour a foundation with shallow footings. And so he did. No one ever knew - until the foundation cracked when the fill dirt finally compacted.

When they were framing the roof, they ran short on blocking pieces for the rafters. They sent someone to Curly so he could order more. Curly pointed to four scraps on the floor and said: "Four, get them, and I'll get more later." The boy climbed back on the roof and said: "Boss said forget them, he'll get more later." And so they did. The central heating system was installed, covering the missing rafter blocks, and no one ever thought about them again - until many years later when the roof sagged.

When framing, the crew followed the line of the concrete slab rather than using their own measurements, because it saved time and therefore money. Someone else had already marked that once, right? Later, late one Friday, the bricklayers noticed the wall curved out in one spot. They sent someone to ask Curly what to do and they opened their ice chest while they waited. Curly told them to fill it in. And so they did. They laid their brick following the curve of the brick ledge and framing, and filled in the opening between the studs with their beer cans.

It may have also been a Friday afternoon when the siding was put on next to the roof. With no flashing. No one ever knew - until the next heavy rain when water poured down the wall.

When framing a bathroom, the framers set the walls without measuring the plumbing in the slab foundation. After the one piece fiberglass tub was in place, they began putting up sheetrock, first the ceiling and then the walls. When they got to the last wall, they finally noticed that the plumbing and walls didn't line up. The plumbing was hanging outside the edge of the two by fours making it impossible to put the sheetrock against the stud. They sent someone to ask Curly what to do while they took a break. Curly was in the garage where the table saw was being used. The boy explained the situation and this is what Curly heard: "The men said .. BUZZZZZZZ .. hanging over .. BUZZZZZZZZ .. so they took a break and sent me to tell you." Curly's reply: "I don't care if it is Monday and they have hangovers, tell them to cut it out and get back to work." And so they did. They cut the sheetrock, and nailed it above the plumbing, and left the part below it unsheetrocked.

When the house was near completion, Moe and Curly walked through the house with the wallpaper contractor while he prepared an estimate. When they got to this bathroom, the contractor pointed out the unsheetrocked area and asked when it would be repaired. Moe told him it was too late to do anything about it now. Repairing it would mean taking the wall out, which would mean taking the shower and the cabinets out. Simply not in the budget. Just wallpaper over it as if the sheetrock is there, Moe told him. Attach it to the baseboard at the bottom and no one will ever know. And so he did. No one ever knew - until years later when the wallpaper was removed.

The living room has a vaulted ceiling with eight foot walls on two side and fourteen foot walls on the other two sides. Moe chose to put paneling in the room, eight foot high on all four sides. When Moe and Curly walked through the house with the drywall contractor, they decided use blown acoustic (popcorn) on the ceilings because it was cheaper than skip trowel texturing. The drywall contractor asked about the walls above the paneling.

"Oh crap," said Moe, "I forgot about those." It's too late to panel it, and too expensive to skip trowel such a small area. You'll already have a scaffold in that room, just blow acoustic on them too."

"On the walls?" the contractor asked.

"Sure, no one ever looks up anyway," said Moe.

So he did. And no one ever knew - until the drooping cobwebs became coated with layers of dust.

The lesson to be learned from this story, if there is one, is never trust a builder who has clean fingernails and doesn't drive a truck.

So now you know the rest of the story.

Until next time, may you have blessings and happy endings,

Next is our first look inside the house.


  1. This is positively too funny - what a talent you have for writing ! Sounds like the same people "remodeled" our home. We haven't found out everything - I'm sure - but not too long ago the kids fell through a hole in the back yard, not 10 feet from the back door, and not 2 feet from my Weber grill - it had been partially filled in with broken cement cinders ... which of course had shifted over time - and when the top layer finally gave in - wham - a hole that could swallow Adam ... amazing the lengths people will go to in order to save a few bucks !

    I always enjoy your writing - thanks !

  2. Oh no! We haven't found any holes in the backyard, well, except the septic tank with the cracked lid we had to replace. I was afraid it would break and I would fall in while mowing one day. Hubby would be really ticked about having the mower in there. About the holes filled with concrete... um, I've done that. Oops.


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