My house was built by hicks. Nothing wrong with that. It is inhabited by one.
Maintenance and repair of that which hicks have built is neither science nor art. It is a no-rules death match against catastrophic failure, creeping decay, and bankruptcy. Hicks build without things civilization expects; like blueprints, rulers, squares, and levels.
Thus, a mundane task (insulating my attic) became… memorable.
I entered the attic through a plywood door that was exactly short enough to make me hunch like a caveman…but only after I’d conked my noggin on the sill first. The main attic was rectangular and logically laid out. I could add insulation while standing erect and feeling cool. It was a textbook “easy job” like the background for those DIY poster ads with unbelievably clean cut male models.
You know the ads I’m talking about and you know what the men in them look like. According to Home Depot ads, DIY homeowners look like Brad Pit. I call bullshit! Men that look like that would shit purple twinkies if they had to hang out with scruffy unwashed goons like me. I hate those male models! You never see them getting bitched out for sliming grease on the doorknob or leaving a carburetor on the kitchen table. I’ve never seen an ad with one of those pinheads shoved into a crawlspace at 2:00 am looking for a water shutoff valve. I’ve never seen an ad with a guy explaining to his wife that something slipped while installing a crappy air conditioner and now it’s time to get a new window and didn’t we want a new window anyway? As soon as I see an ad with a “Brad Pitt look alike” hobbling around his day job and popping Advil like TicTacks after a weekend of putting up drywall I’ll show some respect. Until then I just get infuriated and mumble expletives in the checkout line.
I don’t have one attic but many (didn’t I say that hicks don’t plan things out?). The easy and obvious attic was not today’s quarry.
I ventured further into the unknown by inching up a steep unreinforced slope with a low roof studded with nails. I wasn’t in a stairway mind you but stumbling around the dark netherworld above a stairway’s ceiling like a fat wheezing bearded squirrel. The only thing that kept me from falling through was 1/2″ drywall and hope.
Then I crawled infantry style another twelve feet in level but even more cramped quarters. By then I was covered with cobwebs, my flashlight was crammed against my chin, and I was too busy spitting dust out of my mouth to swear adequately. Eventually I encountered, not unexpectedly, an old and partially obscured roof. It’s the external edge of the small “core” of our house. That’s the part of the house that was built first, in an innocent time before electric lights and indoor plumbing. It is now engulfed on several sides by additions. Most of our living space is really just additions to the original hovel. (An aside…hicks know how to build houses on the installment plan. Need more house = install more rooms. I presume they added rooms whenever the turnip crop paid particularly well or farm kids started overflowing the available space. Whenever one section of the house meets another there is a rift in the time space continuum where joists sag, pipes freeze, wiring suddenly changes direction and purpose, and all hell breaks loose structurally. The original builders covered it up with ad-hock walls and hoped for the best. The lucky bastards are all dead now.)
This particular piece of roof, which hadn’t seen the sun since Eisenhower, had a small hole in it. About 18″ of one board had been jaggedly hacked out. This led to the oldest attic of them all…dating to the Bronze Age .
Since nothing larger than a Smurf could get through that hole I assume the meager insulation there was laid down generations ago. It wasn’t even enough insulation to be inadequate. The new reality of keeping heat in the house is going to be a bright new future for me and my family!
Slithering on my belly I fired up “The Problem Solver” (a reciprocal saw) and manfully ripped my way in. When there was enough space to drag (literally) my ass (literally) through; I went for it. I landed on my face on the other side. By now I was fifty feet of misery from the normal world where I could stand up and walk around. I’m not claustrophobic but this was a bit much. I tried not to think about it.
I had a blow in insulation tube and dragged it in behind me. Helpers loaded the blower (actually I was so isolated by then that I have no idea how it got loaded…for all I know the insulation faeries waved a magic wand). All I know was that I flipped the switch and all hell broke loose. Giant clouds of airy pink fiberglass ejaculated all over the cramped space. I made a manly effort to inch myself to the back of the cramped space to fill it evenly but I mostly flopped around like a gut shot walrus in a growing pile of itchy pink fluff.
Things immediately went from mildly unmanageable to total chaos. As drifts of insulation grew, the space between the nail studded roof and the visible horizon shrunk. The feeling of being hemmed in grew oppressive. When your horizon is 2′ high, the ceiling is studded with the sharp business ends of nails, and drifts on the floor are rising like a pink Hello Kitty flood of doom, you start thinking about cutting a hole in the roof and heading for the bar.
My flashlight somehow got buried. The limited light shifted from harsh white glare to pink haze to pitch black. I dug around for it, dropped it twice, then finally emerged with it upside down and casting weird pink backwards shadows. Where exactly was the hole I’d hacked to get into this mess?
Meanwhile I’d rolled on my back, bent one leg at an angle not recommended by the Surgeon General, gotten my elbow wrapped around a support truss, and bounced my head off the brick chimney. The hose, still spewing insulation(!), was wrapped around me like a corrugated Anaconda and if I shifted in the wrong direction I was about to get a TSA style wedgie.
This is the second time in my life I’ve had no idea where “up” was. (The first time was during a mishap while skydiving…short version of that story: I lived.) Cramped space had turned a simple home improvement job into something like drowning in an exploding pink pillow while jammed in Satan’s sphincter!
Did I write that last sentence? Trust me…you had to be there.
At my wits’ end I flipped off the blower and sat still for a few minutes. Eventually I managed to unearth the flashlight. Then I identified where the coils of hose entered the little cavern. “Up” was the pointy metal shards above my shoulder. “Down” was one hand and my left knee, both cramped and jammed into a solid joist buried somewhere under a mountain of shredded fiberglass. The moment had passed. Whew!
Once I got my shit together things could only get better. Besides, what else could I do? I finished the job and started back. After I’d crawled, oozed, inched, shimmied, slithered, and wriggled my way back to the outside world my wife asked. “So how was it up there?”
“Trippy” was all that I could say.
She didn’t know what to make of that. I was too distracted pulling fiberglass out of my ear to explain. Let’s see them put a picture of that on their damn advertisements!