Home Projects

“Honey, the tires on the casita are still flat!”

“They’re not flat!” I replied. “I looked at them this morning, and they were still round.”

“You haven’t been outside the house since you got out of bed.”

“Fine, I looked at them recently.”

“They’re soft, and it’s going to ruin the tires, and then we’ll have to buy new tires. Just put some air in them.”

“Fine. Later. After I’ve had my coffee.”

“Your first cup, or your seventh? It’s already getting hot outside. Just go put some air in the tires.”

I hate home projects. Virulently. Meaning — literally — like a virus. My dislike is actually contagious. If someone even mentions a home project in my presence, my aversion reaches out through the psychic aether and affects everyone nearby. The person talking about his home project starts wanting to hire it out. People who do that kind of project for a living start thinking about changing careers.

I especially hate little home projects. Because there is no such thing. Only puny expectations.

Put some air in the casita’s tires. Fine.

Our casita is a little 8′ pop-up camper that has lived in our driveway since we moved into the house last December. As I inspect it, it seems that the tires have, indeed, gone a little soft.

The first thing is to get rid of the spider webs. We have spiders, here, and those little bastards can web over a doorway faster than Spiderman. They’d had a couple of generations to craft the little spider Manhattan in, on, and around the tires of the casita. I don’t want to reach in and have my hand look like lunch to a city full of eight-legged New Yorkers.

I need to get into the garage to get the spider-brush. I don’t have my keys. I search in three places before I find them. I unlock the garage. I find the spider-brush, which was (of course) right where I’d left it, but not right where I looked.

After evicting the eight million residents of Spidopolis, I need to get low enough to read the tire. My knees don’t work like they used to, so I end up sitting on the ground. My hand sticks briefly to the cement as I lift it: there’s a 100-foot pine tree shading the casita, and little drops of pine sap are everywhere. I wonder if I’ve ruined another pair of shorts.

Tires always have a big logo on them, telling you who takes credit for making it, but the PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) rating is, if present at all, in the middle of a long paragraph of specifications involving load distribution on a single axle mount under lateral shear from winds up to 30 MPH, provided you aren’t at the North or South Pole, where gravity is slightly stronger. All of this is written in raised black-on-black, so if the light isn’t exactly right, you can’t read it at all.

And then, there’s bifocals. Not only does the light need to be exactly right, you can’t tilt your head to the side, or your glasses go wonky, and then you can’t read the E on an eye chart at three feet.

I finally puzzle out enough of this black rubber vowelless Ogham to think it’s calling for 80 PSI. Which is — for a tire — kind of high. I don’t believe what I’m seeing, so I have to go check the other tire. First, evict Los Spidangeles. Then back down on the ground on the other side.

More pine sap.

It would be normal at this point to find out that I have two entirely different tires, with two different pressure ratings. But it appears they are both the same, which gives me pause: this looks entirely too easy.

It turns out, that would have been entirely too easy.

I have to hunt down the tire gauge, and find it exactly where it belongs in the car, giving me another twinge of foreboding. The tires are at 40 PSI, so they are soft — no escape in that quarter.

All I have is a bicycle tire pump. It should do the job, I think, since 80 PSI for a bicycle tire is pretty normal. I dig out the tire pump, which is also right where it should be, another bad sign.

This is when I get reintroduced to Boyle’s Law, up close and sweaty. Bicycle tires are kind of, like, really, really thin. You know? They may have 80 PSI in them, but there isn’t a whole lot of actual air. So I pump until I am sweating pretty hard, and check the tire pressure again. 45 PSI. I remember Boyle’s Law. I do a quick calculation: if 20 vigorous pumps will top off a bicycle tire to 80 PSI, a tire with this volume, will, conservatively speaking, take about 20,000 vigorous pumps. Or maybe it’s 200,000 vigorous pumps. I invoke Themon’s Law of Large Numbers, which states that any two large numbers which apply to sweaty, physical labor, are equivalent.

“I’m off to the hardware store!”

Every home project, no matter how small, ends up at the hardware store, usually multiple times. I actually had a second, also-stalled, home project I needed something for, and thought it would be just grand if I could take care of that and get an electric tire pump, or at least one of the old foot-pumps like my father had in his car: those things have a big, fat air cylinder on them that can move a lot of air.

Three stores later, I come back empty-handed. No tire pumps of any sort. And the other project — well, I think it is going to be a custom design that requires a hand-crafted alloy of osmium, beryllium, and transparent aluminum. That’s for next weekend.

It’s lunchtime, now. So after lunch, I decide it’s time to just get smart and take the stupid thing to the gas station and fill the tires. The tires are still round, after all. It can be towed.

But the lock on the ball-and-socket has been out in the rain since December. Oops. It opens, but I’m concerned it won’t open if I close it again. So out comes the WD-40, the 3-in-1 oil, and a million paper towels. Now the lock works.

My wife helps me hitch the thing up. The hitch itself is where it belongs, the lights work once connected, and we’re off. Just down the street a quarter mile or so.

“Stop!” my wife yells at me. “You need a license!”

Sure enough, the trailer doesn’t have a license plate. That was a whole different story, from last June through December, dealing with the California DMV, and we actually got the plate a week after we’d already parked the casita against the fence. The plate is in my wife’s office.

I look at the spot where the license goes, and there are no screws. There are no screws with the license plate, either.

So what kind of idiot takes the old license plate off the back of a trailer, and doesn’t put the screws back in the holes?

Oh, right. I guess that would be an idiot like me.

This would, of course, have been the perfect opportunity for the second trip to the hardware store. It would have been, if my wife hadn’t been involved.

We spend five minutes searching through the “screw box” containing every screw I’ve ever collected over the last fifty years, for something close to the right size. My wife pulls out two candidates. From traces of rubber and glue on the head, I realize they are actually the original screws from the old license. In the box with every other screw from the last fifty years.

I finally get on the road, and when I arrive at the gas station, I discover that the the air pump needs quarters. Guess where my wallet is. No, don’t guess, it’s obvious.

I drive back home, pick up my wallet, and return. I go inside to get quarters, and the clerk tells me I don’t need quarters, the air is free. I give him a strange look, and ask how I turn it on. He tells me that I don’t: he turns it on.

I go back out into the rising afternoon heat — it’s well after noon, now — and the air machine is chugging away as advertised. So I finally — finally — put air in the tires.

Up to 60 PSI. The pump is for car tires. It doesn’t even go to 80 PSI.

I return home, the job half-done with no real prospect of completion in sight, and wrestle the casita back into its spot, which involves a ninety degree turn at the end of the driveway. By this point, piece of cake.

A reasonably successful home project. Hey, the tires are up to 60 PSI.

The sad thing is that I’ll have a work meeting tomorrow, and before it starts, people will compare what they did over the weekend.

“Oh, I put in a deck in the back yard.”

“That’s nice! I rebuilt the engine on my 1966 Mustang.”

“Some buddies and I went hang-gliding.”

“So Themon, what did you do this weekend?”

As God is my witness, I have no idea what to tell them.

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