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On remodeling a bedroom and a funny noise

Uncle Al has lived in his present house for almost 19 years. The day he moved in noticed a major flaw in the large upstairs bedroom, and he resolved to take care of it as soon as he had finished unpacking his many boxes.

He hasn’t yet, of course, unpacked all the boxes, so he has every reason not yet to have fixed the major flaw either. Nonetheless, he decided recently to get ahead of the game and do that renovation before he finishes unpacking.

Bear with Uncle Al for the following tedious description of the layout of his house; he assures you it will be worth your time. (If you continue reading and ultimately disagree with that assurance, please let him know and he will happily return your %#$@& two minutes.)

The room in question is in the upstairs expansion of one of those south Minneapolis prewar bungalows built with an unfinished second floor. In most such conversions, the upstairs becomes a humongous bowling-alley bedroom running the entire length of the house.

Not so when some previous inmate did the expansion of the house that was to come to be Uncle Al’s. He or she had the foresight to turn that space into several rooms. The stairway at one end opens into a hall with, on the left, a door into a very small bedroom; on the right, a door into a fairly large unheated storage space, and, at the end of the hall, a door into the still-quite-large bedroom.

On the left, immediately inside the bedroom, the aforementioned resident had installed a bathroom. That involved raising a chunk of the bungalow’s roof, but an upstairs bathroom, Uncle Al would attest, is a sound idea indeed.

The especially perceptive reader might have noticed two things:

An occupant of that little bedroom who wants to use the bathroom has to enter the main bedroom to do so. As Uncle Al lives alone, that hasn’t been a problem. It was the second thing that the perceptive reader noticed that also occurred to Uncle Al:

The spacious bedroom has no closet.

For the first week or so, Uncle Al used the large unheated storage room as a closet. Indeed, that storage room even had a rod with some hangers on it for that purpose. But it was winter when Uncle Al moved in, and it wasn’t long before he tired of beginning his day by climbing into cold pants.

So it was that he turned to draping newly-laundered clothes over a large chair in the bedroom, using the storage space only for the less-frequently-worn or unusually splendid items of his habiliment.

Eventually, of course, everything he ever wore wound up draped over the chair — the recent items on top — and two or three times a year Uncle Al would flip the whole pile over, just for variety.

As noted, Uncle Al recognized the problem on Day 1, and by Day 1000 or so he had a rough sketch of where walls would have to go to turn a space across from the bathroom into a closet:

The closet would have a door looking into the bedroom; the side wall of the closet would be an extension of the hall, and a new door would go at the front of that extension, putting the bathroom out in the hall. Two birds with one project.

Along about Day 3650, Uncle Al converted that rough sketch into detailed plans, which he periodically revised, usually in the winter, when his very occasional forays into the storage room reminded him of the problem.

Several months ago, around Day 6800, he got serious (he doesn’t know why) and started pricing materials. He was, of course, planning to do the job himself. For discussions of Uncle Al’s star-crossed need to do things himself, see many of his painful columns — or “Geezer Salad,” his painful book.

He was aware that one new wall’s junction with the bungalow’s sloping ceiling would present some challenges to his fully untested ability to hang and tape drywall, but you only go around once, right? (Uncle Al hopes that remark has not offended believers in reincarnation.)

No, although it was vaguely troubling, it wasn’t that problem that stopped Uncle Al in his tracks. What did it was finding out what drywall weighs. Uncle Al is in his 70th winter, and the notion of trying to schlep 50-pound 4-by 8-foot sheets of drywall up the stairs finally convinced him that this was a job worth hiring out. To salve his peculiar ego, he would still install the doors and the molding and do the painting, but he would hire out the framing and the drywall.

A handyman carpenter (recommended by a contractor for whom the job was too small) was amused to see Uncle Al’s detailed drawings, but he seemed satisfied when Uncle Al explained that the project had been in the works since 1992.

The handyman and his helper were soon hard at it (and they cut the drywall into smaller pieces downstairs, which Uncle Al might have thought of after recovering from his heart attack from getting it into the house in the first place).

Maybe because he wants to do things himself, Uncle Al doesn’t like to be in the way when he does have to have someone do something for him. So although he of course looked things over every day after the guys went home, it wasn’t until they came back from lunch on their last day that he went upstairs with them to check it out. It looked fine, and he said so.

You must understand: Uncle Al was fully aware that what had been quite a large bedroom would become considerably smaller, but surely it would not be actually small. And he knew, too, that the combination ceiling fan and light fixture, which had been in the middle of the ceiling, would now be off center, but that, too, he assumed would not be a problem.

So Uncle Al was just a little nonplussed when one of the guys, looking around with him, volunteered out of the blue, “Well, it’s still a fairly good-sized room.”

Uncle Al said he thought so too. Then he added that he didn’t think the off-center fan was a problem either.

That’s when the two guys looked up (one said afterward “I never noticed that”) — and both of them made the same noise. Uncle Al has spent quite a bit of time trying to decide how to transcribe that sound, with absolutely no success. Every version, no matter how it is spelled, misses the precise inflection. “Ehhh” seems to suggest indifference, “oooh” a surprised pleasure, “eeew” a strong revulsion, and so on. Others weren’t even that close.

It was only when he concluded that he was unable to spell the sound that he realized that, because MinnPost is online, he could include an active link to an audio file. So here, thanks to the magic of the Internet, is Uncle Al recreating the sound made by the two handymen glancing up at his newly off-center ceiling fan.

Uncle Al must point out that he couldn’t have given you a link like that in a cellulose-based newspaper — which is where he would have written this entire thing had he foolishly gone ahead and hired somebody to build his closet back in 1992.

You’re welcome.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Bob Newman on 03/05/2011 - 06:12 am.

    I knew I had heard that haunting audio file sound before, and as I played it over and over to try to identify it I became increasingly uneasy. After the tenth or eleventh time I realized it was the sound my doctor made when he was giving me me a complete head-to-toe physical on my 50th birthday. He made the sound when he as about at the half-way mark. Or maybe I made the sound. I know one of us made it.

  2. Submitted by Robin Rainford on 03/05/2011 - 11:25 am.

    So glad to have another round of Uncle Al’s projects and pleased to know he has the courage to acknowledge hiring out the heavy parts as we all age with him. A request: will you write again and (for the spacially-challenged) share your detailed plan image? As I read your description I mentally called up every bungalow in Minnesota I’ve seen (a huge task) and discarded it as a match.

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