I had my first breakdown. We had been moving steadily forward on the demo and, as of day 34, we thought we had finished tearing down and were ready to build up again. I was in the house on a Sunday doing what I had dreamed would one day be necessary: the Little Stuff (pulling nails and screws from the studs, knocking down the remaining ends of lath boards). Ben calls it “fine demo.” The Horseman calls it “nitpicking.”
Ben from across the street poked his head in and bobbed it up and down for a while. “Wow,” he smiled. He had seen the progress from the beginning and is a carpenter himself. I took his “wow” as a compliment and put down my crowbar long enough to bob my own head and scan the now fully-open downstairs, shifting my safety glasses to my forehead and smiling as well with some pride at having finished the hard part.
Ben’s head stopped bobbing and started to shake at the same slow speed as his eyes fixed on the kitchen floor. “Too bad about that floor. That’s gonna suck to take out. You have a lot of demo ahead of you.”
I knew the floor was crooked, wavy even. But I had no intention of taking it out! I sort of scoffed and agreed that the floor was bad but hinted that it wasn’t on the list of things to go. The list was OVER! There was no more list, except for nit-picking. He said that was too bad because if we had a level floor, we could lay hardwood. Oh, I guess I thought we could lay hardwood over a crappy floor. No. Plus taking it out would bring it to the level of the old porch/new dining room. I had assumed that would be the case anyway. No.
Later that week, last week, the other Ben, our builder, declared that the floor needed to go. Part of the back of the kitchen wall had been rebuilt and he was suspicious as to why, fearing some sort of rot below or sinking of foundation. Plus the floor did need to be opened up somewhat for pipes to be run and cement to be poured for the header above the wall that will be removed.
Okay. Alright. So let’s take the floor up then. I got the horseman over to do the job for $500. He had it done in a few days. I went over to check it out and, upon swinging the front door open, I was confronted with floor joists and bare dirt below, stretching the depth of the house. I knew it would be something like this, but the reality was brutal and my heart sank. Not only was the building-up supposed to have started by now, but the house now looked profoundly unbuilt.
I scanned the dirt floor. There was no foundation under either room as both were add-ons and build on brick pillars and wooden “piers.” A crude and shallow crawl space had been scratched in the earth under the kitchen, only big enough for a small man to shimmy under the floor and fix a pipe. Under the old porch, bright daylight poured in from under the walls where animals had scratched their way in. Near the center of the porch floor was the twin to the mummified rat I’d found in the old dining room ceiling. Then I saw a little way along from the rat was a larginsh pelvis and rib bone. Large dog? Large child? Either way I was falling into a deep depression. This was what the bottom felt like. The only time the house had looked worse was when we toured it for the first time.
I picked up the nearest hammer and began pulling nails from the floor joists. I came across a small jelly-jar type drinking glass in the dirt somewhere between the rat and the mystery corpse and set it aside. My eye had started to twitch and I felt defeated; it was hot and humid. The Horseman ambled over to help and sheared off nails by the dozen with his Sawzall as I plucked with the hammer. I picked up the jelly-jar glass and my drill and drove home, shellshocked.
At home, I washed the glass with the hottest water and gobs of dish soap. Afterward it sparkled and I drank from it to prove to myself that things weren’t so bad.