The Joy of Parsimony

I don’t know when this peach-colored brick was born, but for decades it was pressed into service as a stone in a backyard grill in Santa Monica.  After the Northridge earthquake, it collapsed into a pile of bricks, where it sat for two decades.  Then the daughter of the man who built the grill heard of my Untitled Mosaic Brick Project and brought it to me in a box with a bunch of other nicely aged pieces.   The gnarled dark colored bricks were part of a geometrically impaired flower bed I wanted to put a sledgehammer to the minute we bought the house. It took a decade, but I got around to it.

Almost everything in this tableau is recycled. The bamboo came from a yard down the block.  They were in the process of poisoning it all, who knows why. I dug it up in clumps and wheelbarrowed it over.  The succulents were pullings from another neighbor.

Some of these concrete pieces came from a condemned gas station on Roscoe Blvd. Others from various buildings sites around the Valley.  All with the irresistible price point.

The wood in the gate and the trellising was plucked from a dumpster behind a granite yard on Raymer Street.

Dumpsters, really? Why? Cause Mr. UpintheValley was broke AF not so long ago.  These hardwoods, from Brazil and India, were once part of the crating for granite slabs. They had non-conforming sizing and a wonderful texture and cost nothing.  Even the latch on the other side of the door was made from leftover copper piping from when I re-plumbed the house.  Also the hinges, on closer observation, were once part of something else.

Perhaps the distance between myself and the Favela can be measured in a smack habit and a mortgage.   We cover a lot of the same ground.  We salvage and repurpose things.

Methinks the joy of saving money, no longer a necessity, is eclipsed by something more primal. Hunting and gathering. Squatting on my haunches in the sun, breaking and re-shaping things with hand tools. Creating something from spare parts that will be unique and has no other author.

A Thin Line Between Jackass and Hero

What could go wrong?
What could go wrong?
Well, this...
Well, this…

The UpintheValley Theoretical School of Home Renovation operates on the following principle:  a) get a book; b) read that book; c) do what the book says.  Voila! New copper plumbing. Honey, look at all the money we saved.

In practice, there is a learning curve: a) first time wrong, b) second time better, c) third time proficient.  ABC.  Always Be Climbing the curve.

This works, more or less, with tile setting, hanging windows, sweat-fitting pipes underneath the house. Piecework…things of that nature…offer margins for error.

Felling a tree is a different animal.

If the tree is 38 inches in diameter, and your saw is 2o inches in length, your margin of error is two inches.  If the tree is 12 feet from the house, but 18 feet in height, your margin is…let’s just say in a contest between two tons of hardwood,  dropping on a hinge, and stucco… stucco doesn’t win.

The Battle Plan
The Battle Plan

So I spray painted some cut lines in the bark, measured out a fall. I made the notch cut.  I stopped several times to check the face of the notch to see it was smiling directly toward the narrow window of space between my tangerine and grapefruit trees.  As a first time tree faller, I was confident hopeful I could drop it without damage to them. If you look carefully at the upper photo, you will see a scratch work of saw lines.  In homicide investigations, these are known as hesitation wounds.

So having done my “homework”, in this case not a library book, but a cursory web search, with illustrations, how did my rented chainsaw end up stuck in a tree that was 90 percent cut through? Why was it not leaning in the direction I wanted it to go? How was it I managed to overlook the use of shims?  If I stopped right there, and called 311, how much would the City charge me to remove this public safety hazard I created with my Van Nuys Can-Do spirit?  How would I explain to my neighbor why she couldn’t park in her driveway ever again, or at least until I got things sorted?

No longer fully in control of matters, I did what jackasses have always done. I improvised.  I grabbed a crowbar, the only plausible shim I could think of, jammed it in the cut, and told Mrs. U to pull very hard on the polyurethane rope I had attached, in my now alarmingly glib pre-planning, to the upper branches.   In the event of a stiff gust of wind in the wrong direction, about as useful as dental floss. Fortune favors the brave they say, and between her pulling on the rope and me pushing on the bar we were able to rock the trunk just enough to yank the saw out.  At that point, the tree felt a little wobbly in my hands. It was definitely going down now, but about 30 degrees off line.  Away from the house, praise Jesus.


I pushed, she pulled, and over it went, straight through the trellis over the front of the walkway, which imploded like a house of toothpicks. Not a pretty landing, but never have I been so grateful for a fix-it project.

In my head I could hear the voice of Howard Cosell exulting: Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!

IMG_4829 (1)

It’s a thin line between jackass and hero. If it goes your way, your wife looks at you like this. Glad I’m not living with the alternative.