The Day of the Crooked Toilet

Day Eight was kind of stressful. My brother, Mike, was on his way up from Virginia to help for the next few days. The toilet was set to be installed at around 4, so I had to tile and grout the wall behind the toilet before then (so I wouldn't have to take the toilet back out to work on the wall behind it). I was anxious to get going on the tile, and then I noticed I was short one bucket of tile adhesive. I'd also resigned to chipping out the marble threshold so I could reinstall it with a 1/4" eave to then sit flush with glass tiles on the face of the slab. This meant more grout needed of the same color, and I'd used it all already, so I needed to drive back to Bensonhurst to get a small bag of the same stuff. I get pretty antsy when I'm ready to go on something but I have to do another task first. I got back a little frazzled from driving in a self-imposed rush, tried to relax and then threw the tile up on the wall. Mike arrived when I was about 3/4 done, he watched me saw a few pieces to size and then it was finished. Ready for the toilet. We took the dogs for a walk to Taqueria and picked up some burritos so we'd have some motivation to test said-toilet once installed. Joe's guys were unloading their van just as we got back, and they came up and put in the toilet. They made a high-craft job of it, using plaster to seal the edges. What I didn't notice until they were gone, is that it was crooked. Twisted so it's not facing straight ahead. It kind of lolls to the left like a distracted dog who won't look you in the eye. After an hour of—is it crooked—enough to complain—it's crooked, right?— I called Joe and left a message that I was sorry to be so picky, but the damn thing isn't on correctly. The bright side is that it has an amazing flush. I told Bec I was thinking of stepping-up my coffee consumption just to spend more time with our new toilet. Fran came over to give Mike and me a lesson in applying the joint compound to corners, as we'd never done it and Fran has spent countless hours learning from his mistakes on his house, so he could help us avoid doing the same. We spend the last couple hours of the night finishing the first pass in the room with the plaster, and felt like we got much better as we went along. It was relaxing and I went to bet feeling much better than I had earlier in the day. Joe called this morning and assured me he'd straighten out the toilet when he comes to do all the final installs.



One Week - Floor is Done (well, almost)

It's been a week since the first destructive hole was struck in the wall, beginning this project. I'm not too far off the schedule I originally planned out, but as expected, there's always the unexpected. I grouted the floor last night and it looks classy. I thought I was done but this morning I realized I set the threshold back about a 1/4" inch too far in the room. It looks fine, but I need a little bit of an overhang off the concrete slab on the hall-side of the threshold, to put glass tile flush on the face of the concrete bed. It's not terribly noticeable, but it will bug me if it's not done correctly, so I think I'm going to chisel out the threshold and first row of hex that sits against it, and do it again right. Kind of a pain, but at least it won't affect the toilet's installation this afternoon - woohoo! IN-MY-HOUSE! IN-MY-HOUSE!


Days Five & Six - The Floor

The thing about working on the floor, is the working on the floor. After the last two days I can say that if I were granted a wish to be a Major League ballplayer, it most definitely would not be as a catcher. My knees and back are stiff and sore as hell after yesterday's 12 hour marathon. The good news though, is that the tile is down, and down pretty. Before doing any of that though, I had to fill the divots and missing chunks in the cement bed.

The bed itself was in pretty solid shape so I elected to keep it there and patch, instead of removing it in chunks and replacing it with new cement backerboard. Less carrying of concrete chunks is almost always a good thing, I think. So by Monday evening the floor was patched, level and ready to go for putting down the tile on Tuesday. I must say, I was feeling cocky and capable when I woke up yesterday. I didn't think it would take too long to put down the tile, especially since this would be the first time I'd have a wetsaw at my disposal. The day ahead seemed spacious and I thought I'd be done by dinner. I laid all tile in its place, dry at first, and determined the amount and spacing of the black hex flower details. Bec and I exchanged some pics and opinions of the arrangement and decided it was set to go.

I drew a map on the wall assigning each sheet of tile a number, including the small pieces for weird areas at corners and around the toilet flange, and this was probably the smartest thing I've done to this point— definitely of the project, possibly of my life.

I would've been lost when things got messy and tired. Next, I wanted to make all the cuts on the saw that I'd need to put down the tile so I wouldn't have to stop and waste valuable workable-thinset(mortar)time, and so I wouldn't disturb my neighbors (power saw cutting rock: loud and shrill). It was 8 o'clock or so at this point, and even though it took longer than I expected, I thought the rest would be cake. HA! wrong. I spent the next 6 hours crouched on the hard floor, meticulously fixing the tiles to the ground according to the drawn map, and my goodness were the black hex flowers a pain in the ass— mostly because they weren't as thick as the rest of the tile, so I had to apply extra thinset to them and then carefully place them in place, tamp them down with a flat board and mallet, then use a tiny screwdriver to remove the squeezed-out thinset. The first couple of these I had only the loosest grip on non-panic, but by 1/2 way across the floor I'd got in a rhythm and did a better job. I can actually see them improve in their application from the starting point at the toilet, to the end at the doorway. I had a small charge when the bucket of thinset I used made it all the way to the end, with barely enough to put down one more tile had I needed. Whew. I made a lot of crunching and groaning noises as I stood up, had a beer and a slice of cold pizza, walked the dogs and went to bed. When I woke up this morning, the apartment was a disaster, but the floor looks great and the tile is all where it should be!

Next up: grout!


Day Four - Walls without Toilets

Will had to leave in the evening for Providence and Fran has a job, so with Sunday we wanted to get all the walls up, since it would be no fun at all for me to try it by myself. The room now looks like a room again - all the walls in place, *including* a new niche in the shower for shampoo and soap.

We framed an opening for a concealed plunger cabinet in the small wall next to the toilet but now I'm faced with two problems. First, that cabinet is now where the toilet paper roll used to be. I need to find another spot for the tp that's within easy reach, but not directly under where the hand towels go, since nobody wants to use pre-moistened toilet paper (well, possibly they do, but that is the subject for a future entry on bidets and their conspicuous absence from the American bathroom). Second, I had to remove the toilet to put in the wall behind it, and it's not worth putting it back in, only to take it out again for putting tile down. So - I made a trip to the gym this morning immediately on wake-up to take care of some business. I will be thrilled to have my toilet back.

All-in-all I'd say it was the best day of progress yet— deeply gratifying to put up walls and have it all take solid form. We couldn't get our hands on a fake skeleton on such short notice, so we put a drawing on the wall behind the medicine cabinet.


Day Three - Starting the Walls

This morning I went to Classic Tile and Marble in Bensonhurst to pick up the subway tile and its various trim elements. The picture there is what I think the arrangement will be, the manila yellow on top being the manila folder I placed the tiles on for the picture. We'll probably paint the walls above the tile a bright blue or pale green. We took care of the final details inside what will be the walls— framing for the medicine cabinet, moved some electrical doodads around, and planted a fake skeleton for future mystery-making discovery. By the end of the night Will and I got a couple of pieces of sheet rock on one wall, and are ready to do the rest of the room tomorrow. The dogs I think, have already had enough of all this. The apartment is just about as messy as it's been since the days after I moved in. Does Rhoomba make a Shop-Vac? I could use it.

Day Two - Electrical and Plumbing

I suppose it's good to know your limits and when to turn to the pros, especially when the result of not doing so could be very bad things happening inside your apartment's walls. So this morning I had Beckford, a really nice guy, come over to add wiring for a recessed light above the shower. Shortly before Beckford finished up, Frank and Joe(also very nice guys) came to overhaul the plumbing leading to the shower and sink. Midday when the apartment was buzzing with people, dogs and progress, it felt really really cool. Fran and Will came over, the pros finished, and Becky left for Lexington after completing her second semester of school with possibly the first actual 'A+' I've ever seen on paper— way to go, babe! Fran and I picked up all the materials we'll need to start the walls tomorrow, we ordered a couple pizzas, brought all the goods upstairs with Will, then we ate those pizzas. They were delicious and there are leftovers.


Day One - Demolition

It begins!

First day with gloves and hammers and with the help of my buddies Fran and Will, we took all the sheetrock down, and all the old tile up. As Will said, "the non-exacting part of the process is very much fun."


Toilets and Coloquialisms

Almost all of the materials and fixtures for our bathroom have been picked out, including the toilet. I've got to plead ignorance: until I had to pick out a new toilet, I'd never given them thought from a design standpoint let alone split hairs over the myriad choices I have for sending my shit hurtling to the sea. A good hour reading online reviews of models and features allowed me to make an informed decision, but left me with this: when does the word 'shit' get promoted to non-swear status? I can't honestly recommend that you spend your free time reading reviews of toilets, but if you wind up having to and are dreading it, know this — euphemisms for shit are many and awkward. Aren't we beating around the bush here? Why am I reading things like: BM, fecal deposits, solid waste, number two, and the always comical poop. How about Corn Kernel Delivery Cylinder? It's perfectly clear that toilet bowl X is unsatisfactory because the water level is low and one has to clean the shit off the inside too often. Toilet bowl Y takes too many flushes to get rid of the shit. As far as I can tell, all the other names for shit just call *more* attention to it, and stop you in your tracks like you've just read a word in Swedish in the middle of a perfectly good English sentence. Haven't 'damn' and 'ass' nearly completed their ascendancy into non-eyebrow-raising usage? I think so. Shit needs to follow close behind[!].

We wound up ordering a Toto Promenade. It's got a round front, wide flush valve, and a nice trim that will compliment our other design choices in the room. Also, it will zip my shit away in a quiet whirlpool of environmentally-efficient bliss.


Renovation Neurosis

When we first set upon choosing materials for this bathroom renovation, we wanted to achieve a kind of classic New York bathroom look, though slightly updated. Hexagon tile with black tiles in little floral shapes for the floor; white subway tile for the walls with tile chair rail and floral detail band running underneath. Y'know...classic. Then we went away from that idea, culminating in an entire day spent traipsing about the tile district in Manhattan. We came home with a changed tune - glass mosaic on the walls, big marble tile on the floor. We were exhausted and lost in our pile of options, not sure if we were choosing what really felt like 'us'. Then we turned on the tv and This Old House was on— this season covering a Brownstone renovation just a few blocks away from us. The episode showed them choosing tile at a supplier in Bensonhurst, blocks from where we got our tile for the kitchen renovation. What did the homeowners choose? Nearly the *exact* selection we'd planned at the onset. This gave us a good shaking and now we're back to the original plan, with the addition of modern mosaic glass detailing the shower. I'm now trying to work out a decorative mosaic border for the floor. I found this company in my search for ideas and their stuff is drool worthy. More to come as I try to order my materials by the end of the week...


Gods and Chili

This past weekend I hosted my fourth Super Bowl Chili Hoohah. It went over pretty well, and I think the chili was my most successful yet, with a marked improvement in the texture of the veggie version. But let me just cut to the chase here: I want to be Larry Fitzgerald, just briefly. When asked what the greatest day of their life has been, most people say the birth of my first child. Caveat to Larry's first: don't be surprised if you get nudged out the top spot, because your dad made an immortal play in the Super Bowl, and unless you emerge singing complete Verdi arias, that play is his best day. Maybe it was the camera angle, maybe it was the crowd's roar - I don't think I've ever seen a person run that fast. When you're a kid playing football with friends, I think the standard for imitating a cool touchdown catch is the Santonio Holmes tiptoe-dragging layout, but now I know that's because when you're 12, you can't say "watch this!" and then accelerate to residential speed limits with your legs! I — lanky, slow and timid — am not good at sports. I've created a nice life for myself wherein senses of confidence and accomplishment are derived from other sources, but my goodness: I want to know what it feels like to make that play. I've watched it about twenty times now, and I think the appeal is how simple it looks. A quick post, hit in stride and he runs untouched. He's momentarily transcendent. And when he pulls up in the endzone and raises his arms, it looks like no piece of the moment escaped him - he knows what just happened - he's man again.