Help wanted: Miller & Miller Inc. about to go under

Sunday, April 30, 2006

HE SAID: I didn't know what shims were until about a month ago.

They're small pieces of wood used to fix carpentry mistakes. They're wedged between wall frames and floors, between studs, anywhere where one piece of wood might not be plumb with another.

We've needed a lot of shims lately.

Callie and I are trying to transform an attic into a master suite, and after hours of demolition and insulation installation into the roof rafters, we're now building walls with 2-by-4 studs, some of which are straight, some of which are not.

We have no idea what we're doing. Well, that's not true. We have a book. And the book explains how to build a wall, hammering the studs 16 inches apart and all that. But the book doesn't explain, at least not very well, how to build angled walls that are supposed to follow the roof line of this house.

Callie sees this whole project as an adventure, as if chasing a rainbow for the treasure that lies beyond. I see it as an adventure, too, one where Jack gets stomped by the giant and never makes it back down the bean stalk.

We spent hours Saturday and Sunday building a wall that may have to be ripped down again. Of the two of us, I possess the more common sense in terms of basic mechanical principles. That's because I have rudimentary knowledge of basic geometry. Callie knows as much about parallel lines and right angles as I do about fashion. She has no idea how to handle a level or a T-square. So I suppose it was a mistake to give her the duties of measuring and planning. But I have no idea what I'm doing. And I admit as much. And I don't want to be held responsible for screwing things up.

She seemed to have a pretty good idea of how this particular wall was supposed to go up, how the double studs at the end of the wall were supposed to line up with the other wall, with the door jamb to fit nicely in between. My cute and talented wife knew all this by reading the book, of course. Somewhere in there, I know the book must also give instructions on how to find leprechauns, how to obtain Midas' touch and the precise instructions on how to defeat the troll who hides under the bridge.

I can't even tell you what we did wrong. The wall wouldn't line up correctly and no amount of shims seemed to fix things. Neither did my temper.

Finally, we got a wall up that looks reasonably plumb with the ceiling joists. Problem is that now it doesn't match up with the perpendicular wall that we already erected. (For those like Callie who may not know, perpendicular means that two lines form a 90-degree angle.)

Callie and I haven't been "plumb" on the project from the beginning.

When we erect a crooked wall, I see the bottom of a giant's shoe. When she sees the same thing, she sees only a learning experience that will help us slay the dragon at the end of the story.

Whatever the case, I sure do miss Sundays on the couch watching baseball games. Slaying Giants is a lot less risky when you've got Albert Pujols on your side.

SHE SAID: I thought working on a remodeling project together would make Bob and I closer.

It's worked, sort of. Every time we trudge up the stairs for another weekend's work, the end of my hammer gets closer and closer to hitting him in the head.

While I may not be blessed by the geometry gods, I am -- ironically -- the patient side of this construction partnership.

If we build a wall, then have to take it down and rebuild it, then take it down again and rebuild it again, I stay calm.

I can literally hear Bob's frustration grow with each mistake we make. It starts with a heavy sigh in response to a small flub. Then a "darn it" escapes with the next mistake. Then "oh crap!" Then … well, you get the idea. In fact, by the time we've made four or five mistakes, the whole neighborhood gets the idea.

We're nearly to the part where the city inspectors come to look over our work, and I just know they will get the best laugh of their life at our house. Is there a limit on how many shims one project can have before it's structurally unsound? If so, I bet we've exceeded the limit. And how about those studs? I keep telling Bob I don't think all of them have to be exactly 16 inches apart. We may have one that's 18, then one that's 14 to sort of make up the difference.

I can only hope the inspector forgets his glasses and his tape measure.

But just in case, are city inspectors susceptible to bribes? A big plate of cookies may be in order here.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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