We own a home in a nice, quiet suburb in the midwest.
It is more than just the American dream, it was always a dream of mine. All my life as a child, my family never owned property. Even after my parents divorced, neither side owned a home, a place to call their own while I lived with them.
One thing that holds true; no matter how nice the place you are living, if you’re just renting space there, then you know any month could see you looking for a new place to call home.
Emotionally, they are less a home than what George Carlin called them; a place for your stuff. The bigger the place, the more stuff you can stick in them. If you move from a larger place to a smaller, you gotta get rid of some stuff… or find an extra place for a bit of your stuff.
I internalized that message at an early age. I remember, several months into living in one rental apartment, showing my stepmother how I’d arranged my room, and proudly showing her how I’d managed to unpack just enough stuff to do schoolwork and move around while leaving the remainder neatly packed and ready to go.
I was proud, without any irony at all, to be able to show her that I was prepared to leave at a moments notice with a minimum of effort if that was what the family had to do.
Life in the Marines didn’t exactly require a lot of preparation when it came to traveling light and living out of a seabag. I even kept all of my comic books in a nice, reinforced steamer trunk so it could be moved as one piece of furniture. Ah, the old steamer trunk o’ comics. I miss that trunk.
But I’m an adult now, and one thing I always wanted for the family that I would someday have was that sense of permanence, of community, of being of fixed address that home ownership would surely bring.
Yeah, so I was delusional.
In hindsight, of course you can be a part of a stable and vital community with friends and good relationships with your neighbors while renting a house or apartment.
And home ownership doesn’t magically transport you to a land of block parties and sharing cups of sugar, and lazy Sunday grilling and beer with the neighbors while a bonfire roars into the sky.
In fact, you can be isolated as hell owning a home, especially when your neighbors are dicks that like to let their dogs out to snarl and bark and chase your kids along the fenceline every time you go outside in your own yard to play. In fact, it can be ever so much worse because if you’re renting and your neighbors are selfish dicks, you can always move. When you own a house? Ah, that’s when your thoughts turn to homicide. I mean, so I suppose. I’d imagine. I really wouldn’t know.
But I wanted a house. My wife wanted a house. We both had visions of the perfect house, and the perfect yard, and the perfect kids, all in the perfect quiet little suburban community the perfect distance from work and the perfect distance from the inlaws.
Be careful what you wish for.
Well, we got a house, and it’s got a yard.
That means I’ve got yard work. FUCK.
Being in the midwest, we get snow, we get rain, we get heavy leaves falling in a blanket of gorgeous colors in the fall.
What these translate to is we get a driveway covered in snow and ice for me to shovel, a driveway that the snowplow truck buries in hardened mounds of snow, ice and rocks at 4 AM in the fucking morning AFTER I’ve cleared the driveway, rains that flood the yard a foot deep and come pouring through the basement windows like leaky portholes in a submarine, and leaves that choke the gutters so that if I don’t get up there and clear the gutters by hand a couple times of year I get gutters filled with rotting vegetable matter that stinks to high heaven.
Oh yeah, and in the spring, that much lauded and delightful time of year when the birds sing, the flowers bloom, and the air is fresh and warm?
Yeah, that time of year is when shit starts growing like plants versus zombies on crack, and you need a machete to beat your lawn into submission.
My personal favorite time of year is the first bloom of summer, when the lawn has been beaten until it’s quietly moaning and is afraid to grow too fast because I’ve got power tools motherfucker, and the pollen hasn’t exploded just yet because I’ve got poison to dump on the lawn and kill the weeds, eat hot death cottonwoods, and the torrential rains have eased up so I can stop bailing the basement like our house is an ark and we’re trying to take the cats to the first new dry land.
This story? This is about all of that. The joys of home ownership, yard work, and my favorite time of year.
The hot mad sex of spring was finally over, and everything that was going to grow had worn itself out. The weeds got poisoned early on, and the Sun was getting a tad hot so the lawn only needed to be slaughtered a few times a week. Memorial Day weekend was upon us.
During this lull in the eternal battle of the great outdoors, I needed to take advantage of my opponent’s momentary weakness.
One of my targets of opportunity were the trees that like to grow along the fenceline.
One of the many miracles of spring is that a single sprout, invisible to the naked eye in the fall, can somehow grow in ONE SPRING into a ten foot sapling with a two inch diameter tree trunk and deep, branching roots that somehow grow into, around and through the chain links of the fence as if to say, ” You can take my leaves, but you will never take my ROOT SYSTEM.”
Those trees only think they’ve won.
As I said. I’ve got power tools.
This, by the way, is how a religion gets founded. It takes the inspiration of a great leader, a charismatic voice that people will truly believe in.
Like Tim Allen. I believe in Tim Allen, and I follow his commandments. Well, commandment. there’s really just the one.
The religion of Tim Allen can basically be boiled down to this; There is no problem, however large, that cannot be solved by the application of a powerful enough tool.
If the tool you are using isn’t working, it’s simply not powerful enough. Step it up, heretic.
Also a mark of faith among the believers of the Church of Tim Allen is the knowledge that explosives are, in fact, tools, and fire is a legitimate power source. If you light a fuse or activate an electrical detonator on explosives you are using power tools. Accepting that fact makes a lot of other things in your life simpler and happier.
So I’ve got trees that grew over the course of one fucking season from a two inch tall sprout lost among the grass to towering pieces of green and brown shit over ten feet high, thinking just because they’re part of my steel fence there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it.
See, I’ve got a Sawzall, which is the tool version of Kleenex. Sawzall is really the brand name for a reciprocating saw like a jigsaw but bigger, stronger, beefier. Much more powerful. They’re generally called a sawzall but mine is in fact a Tiger Saw.
Depending on what blade you put on this thing, you can cut through trees, ceramic pipe, steel struts, sheetrock, you name it. If it’s less than three inches thick, you can probably cut through it.
If you can’t, well, there’s always the cutting torch.
On this particular day in early summer, battle was joined as man and tree faced off. The tree had a strong defense in place, being in de fence as it were, but I was armed with my Tiger Saw and a nice wood cutting blade that would slice through those branches like they were warm butter.
One of the nice things about a sawzall is that you can use that sucker to go after the roots of small trees even when they’re deep in the ground. You just start at the base of the tree and take that thing down and the reciprocating blade will churn into the soil and throw dirt like crazy, letting you chop up bits of roots and stringy grasping vines with ease.
I made my way around the fenceline, and you could see where I had been by the wreckage I left behind. Dead limbs torn from the trunks lay scattered around the lawn, leaves torn from branches, the clean lines of exposed chain link gleaming in the sunshine.
The scent of the sap flowing sluggishly down the torn bark smelled like… victory.
I cleared the field of battle, and looked over the work that I had done, and I saw that it was good.
The yard was returned once more to a state that could be easily maintained by frequent use of the deadly torture device known as the lawn mower, and it’s smaller kin the fence patrolling weed whacker.
I turned from the fence and examined the foundations of the house itself, where weeds and such liked to grow where the mower lacked reach to grab and slice.
As I surveyed the foundation, I found that I had missed a tree.
This one was tall and strong, and the son of a bitch hadn’t been there the year before. And it had chosen a particularly cunning location to make it’s stand.
It had grown in the center of, and directly underneath, my outside gas meter, where the city natural gas line runs from the street and under my lawn to the side of my house, up to an explosed meter so the city can see how wasteful I am of my natural resources and fine me accordingly, and then the solid metal gas line descends once more into the earth, to head deep underground and be routed into my house to provide warmth to the air, hot water for our baths, and heat to cook bacon, all vital functions to survival. Especially that cooking bacon part.
I approached the tree, standing tall and defiant, it’s roots clearly grown so large in one spring that the damn thing was about ready to start moving my underground gas pipes. Yeah, that’s ALL that I needed. A fucking tree breaking a gas line.
The more I thought about it, the more I had to admire the revenge. I had cut down it’s arborial brothers and sisters, and it would exact revenge by tearing my gas line asunder and blowing my whole damn house down. And what could I do about it? It was already too big to simply grab and pull out by the roots, it wasn’t a weed, it was a damn tree.
Well, I wasn’t going to try and pull it out, I can recognize an exercise in utter futility when I see one. I’ve played a warlock for years.
So instead, I took a quick look over the gas meter and the pipes heading into the ground, checked to make sure everything looked nice and solid, and without engaging any actual sense at all to THINK about what I was about to do, I went after that tree with the sawzall, chopping it down and getting good and deep into the roots in the soil.
It was about right then that the blade encountered resistance. A fierce knot held firm against the assault and deflected the blade, right over against one of the gas pipes.
Surprisingly, once you get under the actual ground, what I found out was the gas line wasn’t steel pipe any more. It was, in fact, a rather small, thin gauge of rubber sheathing over very thin copper tubing. The whole underground pipe was not much more than three quarters of an inch in diameter.
Now, you may be curious just how much protection a thin rubber wall provides for a copper tube when attacked by a determined sawzall.
Let me assure you that it does not in fact provide any protection whatsoever.
You may also wonder just what, exactly, you do when you’ve just cut the main gas line running from the city street to your house in half.
Well, it turns out that there isn’t actually a cutoff to shut that gas off when you cut that main line.
In fact, that’s kind of the point of the gas meter. The gas line goes to the meter, and you can shut it off FROM the meter TO your house.
If you somehow manage to cut that line BEFORE it reaches the meter, why, it’s quite impressive. But then what fucking idiot would do something so incredibly stupid?
So, my saw took a bad hop, it’s advances rebuffed by a determined knot. Sliced RIGHT through the main gas line to the house.
I had one moment where I looked at that cut line down in the churned up soil, and I said to myself, “You’ve just gone and completely fucked that up, haven’t you?”
And a little voice in the back of my head channeled from the movie Spaced Invaders replied, quite clearly, “Ain’t life a bitch?”
I have to admit, I never really appreciated before just how MUCH pressure that natural gas has behind it when it reaches your gas meter with it’s built in regulator. It doesn’t just ease through that pipe, it doesn’t simply hiss a bit, it explodes out of that hose like a fire fighter working a four alarm.
Speaking of fire fighters….
I stopped running the sawzall, took it to the outlet I had it plugged into, unplugged it and set it down. There, no source of spark immediately available outside.
Then I ran inside and explained to the lovely and talented Mrs Bear that yes dear, I have in fact managed to arrange for some excitement in an otherwise dull day by causing a situation that could lead to our house, you know, kind of exploding. Could we all please go outside, maybe?
Yes, in fact I do mean now, and perhaps we should bring a cell phone with us because there may not be a house to go back into later.
Do I know the number for the city public works department off the top of my head? Unfortunately I do not.
However, 911 comes trippingly to the tongue. Why don’t I give those rascals a call and let them know that yes, why thank you dispatcher yes it is a fine day, and could you please let those nice fire fighters know that we have a severed gas main at my house that cannot be shut off and is JUST waiting for any spark or source of fire anywhere to ignite the stream of pressurized gas that is flooding the entire neighborhood at a stunning rate of many hundreds of cubic meters per second?
Thanks, I’ll hold.
Oh, did I happen to realize that today was not only Sunday, but was in fact the Sunday of a three day holiday memorial day weekend?
Yes, yes I did happen to notice this, it is in fact why I was out doing lawn work.
Yes, I am aware that it’s quite inconvenient to have done this on the Sunday of a holiday weekend when city public works, union workers all, are at home drinking beers and grilling. And of course yes I do understand that the fire and police departments are mostly out and about at community parks doing meet and greets and letting young kids like mine bounce on the seats of their squad cars and fire trucks.
I am so sorry, I truly am, you have no idea how sorry I am that I didn’t schedule this particular emergency for normal working hours during the Monday – Friday work week. I promise the next time I have an emergency I’ll do my best to be more considerate.
Just this once though, since I am rather new at this whole ‘accidentally blowing up a house’ thing, do you think you could try to send someone over that knows how to shut the main off at the street? Thanks, you’re the best.
As we stood out at the street watching our home and clearly hearing the roaring of the natural gas pouring out of the pipe even from forty feet away, the lovely and talented Mrs Bear says, “You need to go warn the neighbors that their houses might blow up.”
Oh shit, do I really have to? I hate those fuckers and their damn dog.
Okay, okay, you don’t have to give me the look, shit, I’m going.
There are few things in this life that are quite as distinctive to the memory as that moment when you have to knock on your neighbor’s door, the neighbor that has the angry vicious dog that they let out every single time your son tries to use the swing set in your yard that you built with your own two hands (and power tools), that neighbor that you think of as a true piece of shit, and tell them that you fucked up on such a grand scale that their house might very well blow up.
That right there, that moment’s a keeper. That’s one you just have to look forward to recalling when you’re old and fading away in the nursing home, wondering where your life went wrong, because you were going to live forever and getting old only happens to other people.
Of course, a few more moves like that one and I’ll certainly not have to worry about making it to the nursing home.
Such a lovely sight it was on the fine Sunday afternoon, as the fire trucks came roaring around the corner to stop in front of our home, and the police came to see if they could blame anyone for anything and write a ticket or two, and then a truck from the public works department came by, and then two more trucks from public works came by, and there before you knew it was a block party!
What followed of course were over a dozen police and fire crew standing around watching the public works guys dig a hole.
In only a few hours, a massive hole was dug, a hole big enough for two men to stand in, and the entire gas meter was ripped out and replaced with a new one, along with the gas lines, which they replaced with some nice stout looking pipes. Why, they even filled in the hole!
And shortly thereafter we received the bill.
I’d have to ask Cassie, but I want to say that after I negotiated with the city, and then begged with the city, and then tried a little crawling and sniveling, that it only took, what, two years to pay off that lovely little memorial day mishap?
Let the record show, the score stands at Tree: 1, Bear: 0.
Well played, tree. Well played.
I know what went wrong.
I brought what I thought was a big enough tool for the job.
But the tree? The tree brought the gas main. And thus the one with the bigger tool won.
Although, if you were to ask Cassie, I imagine she’d say I was the biggest tool she ever saw.