The path to hell is often paved with good intentions.
|My name is Andrew Fellows and I'm composing this on the way to an operating room in St. Francis Hospital. While the orderlies are wheeling me through the halls, I'm trying to reconstruct the events that brought me here.
Frankly, I'm more surprised than anyone. I never intended to return to this fine facility. Especially after my last fiasco, when my wife made me swear I'd never try to repair anything again!
But here I am, guilty of lying, just because I wanted to make my family proud.
I am a city boy who never had an interest in Shop Class. Who needed it? I grew up in a high-rise that employed excellent maintenance men and landscapers. I graduated from college and landed a good job that paid enough to allow me to marry my college sweetheart, Jennifer. We moved into another high-rise with equally skilled men to do the work.
After three glorious years, my beautiful wife became pregnant with our first child. And with her pregnancy came cravings: sour cream, banana ice cream and dirt! I kid you not; she hoarded a bag of soil. I would hear her sneak out of bed and tiptoe down the hall. Open the linen closet and stand on a box to get her "stash" off the top shelf. Then I'd find her nibbling on the stuff.
Now, I'm a patient man, but after potting soil became a priority item on our shopping list, I had to put my foot down. Standing in the kitchen, I told Jennifer that this craving had to stop. I braced for her objections, but she surprised me. She only nodded with a sweet, hungry smile.
'Wow!' I thought, 'Shoulda done this ages ago.' It was 10:30 am. My idling engine immediately shifted into overdrive as I eagerly returned the compliment, and upped the ante with a lascivious grin. Then I noticed that her attention was focused on the dirt in the planter behind me. There is no word to describe my disappointment.
"Darling," I said, as sweetly as I could, "We have to talk." I put my arm around her shoulder and forcibly led her away from her mid-morning snack. We walked into the bathroom - the only room in the apartment without a living plant.
"What can I do to help you overcome this craving?"
"Buy a house?"
My body leaned forward all on its own. But I remember letting my jaw drop.
"A house?" My words came out in a strangled squeak. "What does buying a house have to do with curing your craving?"
She thought about that for a moment. Shrugged her shoulders and smiled sweetly. Then I watched my quiet, conservative wife transform into a whirling dervish of broad, animated hand and arm movements, as she launched into a description of her dream house.
"I want a big house with a huge yard, four bedrooms, a study for you, a sewing room for me, and a workroom for your tools..."
"Hold it!" Dizzy and slightly nauseous, I pushed myself off the doorjamb and said, "You don't sew. I don't own tools; and, just how many kids are you having, my dear?"
After exhausting every logical and reasonable argument, Jennie and I were on our way to the suburbs to look for her dream house. Three weeks later, we found it. A month after that, we moved.
Eight years and three children later, my new neighbor, my nemesis, the devil incarnate, Howard Atkins moved into the neighborhood . He is the epitome of every do-it-yourself guru that anyone has ever seen on TV.
Damn his router and circular-saw soul!
Until i met Howard, the extent of my tool vocabulary was: Goddamn it! and Screwdriver (the O.J. and vodka variety).
I was minding my own business, shoveling dirt for Jennie's morning snack. With our fourth son due in six months, I'm a pro with the shovel. My timing must have been off that day, or, maybe Jennie's was, I'll never be sure. But, I was visible when Howard left his tool shed.
("Shed" -- a ranch house-sized structure with its own generator, refrigerator, and bathroom.)
"Hey, Handy!" Howard yelled over the fence.
God, I hated that! It was his cute little joke: 'Handy Andy.'
"Hi, Howard," I replied civilly. Venting my angst with a powerful stab of shovel into the loose soil.
"Glad I ran into you. I'm just itching to do a new project. So, what do you say if I talk to your boys about building them a cool tree house? You know, just my little gift to them. Figured we could put it in that tree," pointing to the large oak centered against the back of my yard. "Wouldn't cost you a cent, and it's bandage-free, Handy."
I watched Howard's slanted smile grow until the sun sparkled against bright white dentures.
'It would be my gift to your great kids, and I'll even tell them that you designed it!"
I stepped on the shovel's lip and buried it into the ground . "Yeah, well, let me talk it over with Jennie, and we'll let you know, Howard. It's nice of you to offer." Then a frightening thought occurred to me. "Did the boys tell you they wanted one?" I held my breath until he answered.
"Hell, no! They'd never think of doing that; wouldn't want to embarrass you."
I tightened the grip on the shovel, imagining Howard's neck under my hand.
"I just thought it might be nice to do before summertime, so they'd have some place new to play. I could start on it by the second Saturday in May, when Susie and I get back from her brother's. I figure it wouldn't take more than a weekend to finish."
My grip loosened and my ears perked. "Really? That fast?"
"Hell, yes! There's nothing to it. Just cement in the posts, put down the floor, frame it and then add the roof and sides. Put up a ladder, maybe add a climbing rope, and it’s done. I can't see how it would take more than a weekend from start to finish."
"Cool. I'll talk it over with Jennie and we'll let you know. When did you say you were leaving?"
"Ah, OK, we'll try to get back to you before you leave."
Before Howard reached his back door, I was in my basement office, sitting at the computer, and searching for tree house plans.
I love the internet. Everything is possible!
I found a set of plans, looked them over and was amazed. It was going to be as easy as Good Ole Howard said it would be. I can do this.
With this one simple, but stunning piece of work, I could erase all my previous failures by building a spectacular tree house. It would last forever! My grandchildren would see it, point to it, and tell their little friends, "My grandfather built that by himself!"
They were going to be so proud! And Good Ole Howard was gonna choke on "Handy Andy."
Within two hours I ordered everything I needed. I bought wood in all the right sizes, gravel, quick drying cement, levels, pulleys, saws, drills, a post-hole digger, clamps, an electric nail gun, and anything else that sounded important. It would be arriving the following Saturday.
Now, all I had to do was get Jennie out of the house for the weekend. I was positive she'd be pissed. Especially after she made me swear, and give her a blood oath, that I would never touch a tool, other than a shovel, as long as I lived. That was after my last project: repairing the garage door opener.
Blood for the oath wasn't hard to come by; it was all over me, following my swift - albeit totally unplanned - trip across our two-car garage. The large jolt of electricity reduced my travel time immensely! I would have been fine if we hadn't chosen the far wall (my landing zone) to hang all the gardening tools.
Yep, she'd be pissed. But once I completed my masterpiece, she'd have to forgive me.
Every evening that week, I snuck down to the basement and sat in front of the computer. On the screen were the tree house plans with their easy, step-by-step pictures. I memorized every detail and I knew I could do this.
My manipulation of Jennie was masterful. She would visit her sister for the weekend, a girls only event. Perfect! The boys and I could bond during the weekend. They would be my helpers.
I was on a roll!
At 8:30 am on Saturday, I kissed Jennie good-bye. By 10:30, the trucks began delivering everything I needed. The boys were thrilled when I finally told them what was going to happen over the weekend. The only one who showed the least bit of apprehension was my oldest, Kevin. I guess he had good reason to be concerned. He was the first to find me hanging like a trophy on the garage wall.
After they delivered the wood, I found Kevin in the kitchen - coding 911 into the speed-dial on his cell phone.
By lunch we had set and leveled the posts, and started framing and laying the floor. I was so damn proud! The only 'down side' to the project would be the constant ladder climbing for the supplies I needed. But, I had a solution. Once we finished building the floor, I would rig a pulley, fill a large wooden box that I had in the basement with my supplies, and hoist it up. Voila! No more tedious trips up and down the ladder; I was a genius.
We finished the floor after lunch. I decided to wait until the next day to trim the protruding floorboards, figuring the box could sit on that area today - giving me more work space.
Using a heavy nylon rope I attached the pulley to a main tree limb. I put the pulley far enough to the side to allow the rising box to comfortably clear the tree house platform. Then dragged the box upstairs from the basement, attached it to the rope and did a dry-run. It worked perfectly.
Then I pounded a cleat into the trunk of the Oak and wrapped the rope holding the box around it. I was trying to take every safety precaution. I didn't want anything to go wrong on this project.
Following some preliminary tests: loading the box with some of the lighter items and pulling them up to the tree house floor; I gave my youngest a ride in the box. Kevin and Brian rode in it next. It worked like a charm.
'This is so cool!' I thought. 'I could even leave this elevator as part of the tree house,' and applauded my ingenuity.
After the box-rides, the boys were bored and went off to play with their friends.
Left alone, I looked at the wood on the ground, and then the box. 'It could all fit inside.' What a convenience to have everything I needed at my fingertips. I'd finish the project in half the time. It took twenty minutes to load the box with all the wood, tools and other paraphernalia I needed to complete the job. Then I began to pull on the rope.
Not a chance!
I stepped back to re-evaluate the situation. I could probably lift it with half the load. Nodding, I stepped forward. Then Manna from Heaven -- Roger, my neighbor on the other side, was revving up his tractor to mow his two acres of lawn.
Yes! I waved to Roger. He drove over on his tractor. I explained what I needed and he willingly obliged. We attached the rope to the back of the tractor.
I felt like a kid in a candy store, giggling with excitement as the heavy wooden box slowly rose on the pulley. I climbed the ladder, grabbed the box, and swung it toward the platform. When it was just where I wanted it: above the protruding planks along the leading edge of the tree house platform, I gave Roger a signal. He reversed the tractor until the box settled comfortably in place.
I climbed down the ladder, then untied the rope. Roger and I talked for a few moments before he drove back to his yard.
Walking toward the tree to tie the rope around the cleat, I heard a low groan above me, followed by a series of high-pitched, yawning screeches.
Glancing up to the tree house floor, I saw the box. It was starting to slide sideways. Three planks had sprung loose and were quickly rising, tipping the box forward.
"Don't you dare!" I yelled. Immediately leaning backwards, with a strangle hold on the taut rope, I dug my heels into the ground, and frantically tried to stop the box's slide off the planks. Deep brown ruts in the grass marked my losing battle.
I was in this man-versus-sliding-box pose when I heard Kevin.
"Hey, Dad, whatcha doing?"
I looked at my son. I opened my mouth to yell something. The word, 'Help!' occurred to me. Then the box fell. My sudden shriek was not the response I had planned!
I was traveling at the speed of light.
My landing zone was the trunk of the massive oak. At this velocity, I was going to look like a bug on a windshield - holding a rope. Comparatively speaking, the garage wall had been a pillow.
I was toast! Jennie was going to be so pissed.
A deafening crash came next, as the heavy box slammed to the ground. My imminent collision with the tree was suddenly avoided; my flight plan immediately changed.
Abruptly freed of its bottom, along with its load of wood and all the sharp, pointy things that I had so happily dumped into the make-shift elevator, the bottomless box rocketed past me ... I was going down!
I crash-landed on my back ... on top of the strewn debris left by the box. My fists were stacked on top of each other in the center of my chest, holding the rope like a lily. My grip broken, I felt the rope run through my stunned fingers. Opening my eyes I saw multiple, swirling images of the free-falling box, neatly framing snatches of blue sky within it.
"Dad?" Kevin asked softly.
I looked at my son.
Eyes as round as blue saucers stared back at me. Only his hand holding the cell phone moved, lifting it to his ear - just before the bottomless box landed on me.
I'm now surrounded by a team of stern-faced surgeons and kind-eyed nurses. I'm immediately reminded of a line from a nursery rhyme, '... All the King's horses, and all the King's men ....'
The anesthesiologist told me to count backwards. I slowly shook my head.
But before I lose consciousness, I want to complete my analysis. Good Ole Howard tempted me with the hellish idea of building a tree house, but the person I blame for all of this is my wife!
If Jennie hadn't craved dirt, she wouldn't have wanted a yard. If she hadn't wanted a yard, we wouldn't have bought a house. Without a house, I wouldn't have needed tools; and without those damn tools, I sure as hell wouldn't be feeling like Humpty Dumpty ... trying to count backwards.
"... 99."...sell the house. "...86." ... buy potting soil.
(Pica is an eating disorder where the person develops an appetite for non-nutritive substances (e.g., coal, soil, chalk, paper etc.)