Most of the month of July was spent executing the most massive household renovation/ waste management/ de-stenching operation to date on Panache House while Chi was away on a musical research trip. This installment details the process of sealing the walls.  

Listen while you read to “Overture”, a piece that dates back to the earliest days in Tokyo, and candidate for the upcoming “Victory Speech” album.

Early July 2011

When a room still looks this God-awful even when it’s (relatively) clean and organized, it means that you have a major design problem.  When it reeks to the rafters of cat piss, then it means that you have a major litter box management problem too.

Living room, pre demolition

After dropping Chi off at the airport bright and early for a three-week musical research trip to Cuba on Monday, July 4th (a public holiday in America), I pre-emptively took Tuesday, July 5th off from the day job so that I could make sure to get a running start on this massive household demolition operation and hopefully avoid having all my motivation dissipate throughout the week due to post-day job fatigue.

Since there were several phases of this demolition/renovation project that I wanted to execute while Chi was gone, I decided to take advantage of the relatively reasonable temperature in the early part of the day and commence the garden demolition operation.

Totally out-of-control front garden

3.5 hot, sweaty, back-breaking hours later, I had recovered about 15% of the overall area from massive weeds (the asparagus plot and one more small adjacent area) , and although that amounted to barely making a dent in this sub-project, I decided to pack it and move on to the indoor work.

Asparagus plot recovered from weeds

TPO HQ, pre demolition

At the very top of my list of target areas for this demolition project were the office room (TPO Headquarters – a perpetual disaster area) and the living room, which was doubling as the Panache Cats’ toilet, so after executing a desperately overdue solid waste management operation and dispatching the worst of the surface mess, i.e., ridding the fridge of rotten food, taking out the severely ant-infested trash, and deep-cleaning all the litter boxes, all in suffocating heat, I sat down to have a think about how to eat this elephant.

Another incredible delay was caused while I pondered the order of the demolition/restoration phase(s) of this series of renovation projects that was starting to take on a life of its own.  I had to very carefully think everything through from preparation to completion, as well as sequencing in order to avoid boxing myself into an intractable situation, or worse still, causing a calamitous chemical reaction, setting myself on fire, or asphyxiating myself with toxic fumes.  One cardinal rule is to “make the mess first” (i.e., primer/paint walls/ceiling, etc.) before stripping the floors.  That meant that I needed to do the living room walls before even getting started on the floor.  That would involve moving a lot of stuff around, a particular set of tools and chemicals, and a fair bit of drying/re-coating time.  I wondered what I would be able to accomplish during the drying time, and realized that there would be precious little space left to work on anything else due to all the displaced furniture and stuff from the living room, plus whatever other space I decided to work on while the living room was drying.

Since de-stenching/sealing the walls and de-stenching/restoring/sealing the floor in the living room required the most extensive treatments and accordingly the most drying time (specifically related to the de-stenching/future piss-proofing aspect), it made the most sense to start there.  That decision lead to 90 exasperating minutes of having to first clear Chi’s bullshit out of the living room and pile it into his bedroom so I could then get the furniture out of the way.

trillions of DCs and videotapes Chi dumps on the piano

More of Chi’s mess he encrapicates every available surface with

So now with the living room voided of surface clutter, it was a matter of moving the big pieces away from the walls toward the center of the room.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to single- handedly move the grand piano, but thankfully it is on casters, which greatly helped.  I had similar misgivings about the ginormous TV in the humongous armoire that Chi had bought, but through an intense effort of will and whatever brute strength I still have left, given my present  sorry-ass, out-of-shape state of un-fitness, I was able to muscle that whole assembly across the floor a few inches at a time.  I moved the smaller big stuff into the kitchen, like the cat tree, the bass amp stack, side table, and a couple other things.  Now I could at long last get started with the actual work!

Massive armoire & TV

living room stuff moved into the kitchen

I also unloaded the truck of all the stuff I had bought for this operation the day before and arranged it neatly in the center of the living room.

demolition stuff from massive shopping expedition

However, by that point I was starving and took a break to feed the Panache Cats and make/eat a quick dinner, awkwardly navigating around the stuff from the living room that I had moved into the kitchen.  Before getting back to the living room wall operation, I had another look at the diversity of stuff I would be working with and given the number of decades since I had last taken a chemistry class, decided to do a little more research since I didn’t want to inadvertently set off some crazy reaction and find myself in the middle of an out-of-control experiment.  It turned out to be a good thing I did, because I found this (this is about  floor treatment rather than walls, but to illustrate my point):

Zounds!!!   If I hadn’t randomly run across that particular article complete with that amount of detail, this might easily have turned into an epic-scale train wreck of multiple catastrophes, a.k.a. a grand-slam cluster-fuck! While imagining myself trying to explain (in Japanese) to Chi how I managed to totally destroy our brand-new outlandishly expensive HEPA-filtered Miele vacuum cleaner by setting off a nuclear reaction in the dust bag that partially burned the house down, I saw the profound intuitive wisdom of his parting admonishment to me at the airport to not get too carried away with this and end up in trouble.  How in the hell could he have foreseen that?!!!

This ended up consuming the rest of the evening, so I didn’t get the walls done.  At all.  Another thing I didn’t get done that evening that I had planned on doing was deep-cleaning the absolutely pestilential refrigerator.

At any rate, I decided to ghetto-down the floor project based on this most recent research.  That’s kinda like dumbing something down, only smarter.  Rationale: even if Chi were going to be gone for three months instead of the three weeks which will fly by in the blink of an eye, in reality, this is a little ghetto duplex that we do not own, so it makes precious little sense to spend an enormous amount of money I do not have and infinitely more costly time I have even less of still (money is a renewable resource and time is not), to do this properly, i.e., spend several days sanding down the original wood floors to get them perfectly smooth and even (including possibly having to hire someone to help me lift the rental floor sander out of our truck and up the stairs into the house, and then back down again when it’s done so I don’t injure myself and damage the sander trying to), and several more days to let the varnish harden so I can scuff-sand it between coats (minimum of three for the bloody expensive water-based oil-modified polyurethane that I am using).

Given that Chi will be coming back home and how hard he is on floors (and everything else), it makes no sense whatsoever to try to achieve a beautiful, new-like end result that he will no doubt completely trash within a countable number of hours of his arrival.  I also learned that it is possible to hot coat the varnish, which will eliminate the potential fire hazard from the polyurethane sanding dust spontaneously combusting. This will also greatly reduce the latency time with having to completely dry multiple coats of varnish prior to sanding.

I also realized that I would have to put up some sort of barrier to keep the cats out of the living room to stop them from continuing with their own counter-demolition operation  and establish a “no fly zone”, so I took a length of 2’ plastic fencing we had bought for the garden and placed it across the entryway between the kitchen and living room, and closed the door between Chi’s room and the living room.  I had a feeling the cats would make short work of that admittedly notional barrier, and sure enough, there was evidence that Pink had breached the blockade and violated the no fly zone sometime during the night when I got up the next morning.

no-fly zone

Back to the walls.  I had to work the next day, and annoyingly enough, had to attend a meeting on Friday, and another one the following Monday, so wouldn’t be able to stretch out the coming weekend to accommodate this project as I had hoped, but here’s how it went after work the next day:

Wipe down all the surfaces to be treated with Krud Kutter.  I had bought a gallon of Krud Kutter, and decided that I should use it full-strength given the crud on the walls under the piano (cat piss and residue from the burnt oil-laden smoke from the adjacent kitchen since we do a lot of Asian-style high-heat sauteing).  I donned a respirator and put on the new chemical-handling rubber gloves I had just bought, opened a roll of shop towels, and started pouring Krud Kutter onto the towels to swab down the walls.  I eventually worked my way around the room and then left them to dry, which didn’t take long given the temperature in the house.

Next, I carefully thought through the primer/paint procedure and assembled the array of tools and stuff I would need: paint pan, rollers, brushes, shop towels, same respirator & gloves, plus knee pads.  I got one coat of Kilz brand stain/ odor-sealing primer on the walls and then had to leave to go pick up some video clips Chi and I had shot at a friend’s studio the previous week, and then put on a second coat after I got home.  That paint roller sure got heavy during lap 2!

Two coats of stain/stink-sealing primer on the walls

After putting on the primer I made a horrendous mess of the utility sink when I tried to clean the paint pan and roller with mineral spirits.  For some dumb reason I didn’t buy an extra paint pan (I have no idea why – they’re dirt-cheap, and I’d bought extra rollers and brushes!), which would have obviated this whole absurdity by making it possible for me to just chuck out the oil-based primer-covered pan and roller and start over with a fresh set to put on the water-based paint.  It took upwards of an hour to get that sorted out, and the pan and roller (and sink) were still far from clean!  I also learned from a friend of mine who has more experience with this sort of work that it doesn’t even matter anyway since the two types of stuff won’t mix once the first one has dried!  I also have a feeling that none of the stuff I was disposing of down the utility sink is even sewerable!  I hope I haven’t just created some god-awful ticking time bomb of a plumbing debacle.  Live and learn…..

utility sink mess

After dispatching the utility sink mess, by which point the primer had dried sufficiently to start painting, I rolled a coat of paint over the primer, beginning (and ending) with the corner of the room that used to be occupied by the grand piano that the Panache Cats had turned into a giant toilet.  Thankfully the landlord had left a container of touch-up paint in the basement, so I didn’t have to try and figure out a close match for the wall color and buy it!  By this point it was some ridiculous time in the middle of the night, but I was absolutely determined to get this project to the point where I could begin the serious floor demolition by Saturday morning.  That meant that I  had to pull up the tiles in the cat piss zone  so I could soak the underlying wood with bleach to disinfect it and kill the stench that had permeated the floor.

Given the amount of cat piss that had inundated Stink Corner over the past year or so, the linoleum tiles were already starting to lift, so that would make removing them fairly easy.  I picked up the long-handled floor scraper I had bought (a “floor bully”), and began prying them loose before the fresh paint on the walls had even dried to the touch.  As expected, the tiles came up without undue resistance.  It only took a few minutes to clear both layers of linoleum from the piss zone, and lo and behold, what to my wondering eyes did appear?  Drum roll……. EXTENSIVE CAT PISS DAMAGE!!  And one totally rotten floor board.  Well, at least the rotten board wasn’t our fault.

oak flooring with major cat piss damage

one rotten, termite-eaten oak floorboard

I next put the chemical fume-ready gas mask back on, and a pair of nitrile gloves (which I later learned are the wrong type for alkali substances), and liberally doused the newly-exposed wood with about half a gallon of super- hardcore industrial-strength germicidal bleach I had bought for that purpose to disinfect it from the cat piss.  That would have to sit for quite a few hours, and ideally according to my research, a few days in order to dry completely, which it would quite quickly given the temperature – probably around 110 degrees inside the house during the daytime, before using any other chemical on the floor.  Just to be sure, I had researched the combination of bleach + paint stripper, which creates a lead oxide – not good!

So the next problem was figuring out how to completely block access to the living room in order to stop the Panache Cats from going in and getting poisoned by the bleach, or worse, peeing on the floor/walls again and ruining the progress so far.  Since Pink had infiltrated the “no-fly zone” I had cordoned off earlier, I pondered this dilemma and realized that there was no practical alternative but to lock them down for the night (i.e., restrict their access to only the back bedroom and interior hallway, and Chi’s room, where they were already contained as I was doing the painting tonight) and hope enough of the bleach will have dried by the time I had to leave for work the next day to let them out since they would have no access to the litter box while in lock-down mode.

By the time I finished drenching Stink Corner with bleach, removing my chemical handling gear and getting ready for bed, it was going on 03:00 a.m., but fortunately the next day was Friday, so I could at least survive whatever I had to at the day job, and FINALLY, at long last, I could begin serious demolition of the floors!

– To Be Continued –

chemical-ready personal protection equipment (PPE)