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 sanding and varnishing the beautiful vintage oak flooring in the living room that had been buried under two layers of nasty linoleum tiles and crappy wall-to-wall carpet.  

Listen while you read to “Selemat Jalan!” from TPO’s “Neo” EP that we recorded in Tokyo in 1998 when we first began our collaboration.  The title of this spirited Latin fusion piece means approximately “Bon Voyage!” in Bahasa Indonesia.  This is in honor of Chi’s musical research trip to Cuba that gave me the opportunity to demolish and remodel the house while he was gone ;)Mid-July 2011

After being up late Monday night after the day job stripping linoleum adhesive off the newly-exposed vintage oak flooring from which I had just removed two layers of nasty-ass linoleum tiles, Tuesday was garbage day, so after getting home from the day job, running through the routine of changing into my demolition clothes, feeding the cats, wolfing down a quick, simple dinner cobbled together from whatever scraps were left in the now nearly depleted and disastrously dysfunctional kitchen that was full of displaced stuff from the living room, it was time to face the dreaded dilemma of figuring out how to get the garbage bin that was stuffed full of heavy linoleum tiles from its place in the parking area behind the house down the fairly steep, narrow driveway, across the street, and up onto the sidewalk on the other side for pickup the next morning.  A cluster-fuck was not unanticipated.  The only uncertainty was the manner in which it would unfold.

With the same intense effort of will through which I pushed the massive TV/armoire inch by inch across the living room floor, I similarly maneuvered the way-overloaded trash bin across the flat part of the parking area towards the driveway and paused at the top.  The bin had wheels on the back side, so I tipped it back, balanced my own weight carefully while stepping on the axle, and rode it down the driveway to the sidewalk.  Well, that would have worked out spendidly, had I remembered the track for the gate at the end of the drive and stopped before I hit it.  Fortunately I jumped clear and avoided totally eating it, but the bin went over and discharged at least half of its contents all over the sidewalk.  Thankfully the big bags of cat shit that came tumbling out didn’t burst all over the place.  Fuuuuck……

The silver lining (in addition to the cat shit bags remaining intact) was that now the bin was light enough to easily move to the other side of the street instead of having to expend all the energy I had left after working all day to wrangle the thing inch by inch across the street and up onto the sidewalk while people were driving home from their jobs and looking for places to park.  So I trudged back upstairs to get the key to the crawl space under the house, got out our floor dolly, piled on a load of tiles and cat shit, and then made several trips back and forth schlepping stuff to the bin.  A crowd of neighbors had gathered and was looking on in amusement and discussing the garbage incident in a language I do not understand, but the only person who offered to help was a very elderly Chinese woman who looked so frail that I worried stooping down to pick up and lift the heavy tiles would give her a spinal fracture, so I politely declined and thanked her, and finished cleaning up the mess, including all the little broken tile chips that had spilled out.

SOOOOO….after that debacle, I went to Home Depot to avail myself of a pee-wee floor sander that I would stand at least a fighting chance of being able to lift by myself.  I was somewhat annoyed to learn that the newly-discovered, close-to-home Home Depot did not rent tools, but located another one in Cypress Park in the far outback of Chinatown that did, so I went there and came home with a good-sized but still-portable random orbital sander and a bunch of sanding discs of varying grits to sand the rest of the fossilized linoleum adhesive off the floor and generally even out the whole surface.  After wrangling the unwieldy machine out of its case, figuring out how to attach the vacuum bag, fit it with a sandpaper disc (I started with 36-grit), and plugging it in, I lifted it off the floor and trepidaciously threw the switch, fervently hoping that it would not upon making contact with the floor fling me right out the window and proceed to demolish the entire house unmanned while I walked up the street to the landlord’s place to ask for the key to let myself back in, and have to explain the reason why.

random orbital sander that I rented from Home Depot

After awkwardly maneuvering the machine randomly around over an approximately 6’ x 6’ area of the newly exposed oak flooring, I turned off the sander and stepped back to have a look.  HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT!  The remaining adhesive had indeed come off the part of the floor that the sand paper actually made contact with, but rather than the whole disc making contact, it looked like only the bit around the edge actually had, so the sight that met my horrified gaze was a scribbly maze of squiggly, white-ish lines an inch or two wide. Another problem was that 36 grit was apparently way too coarse for this job, and had left a very rough, scratched-looking surface.  I should have started with a 50 grit disc.

Holy shit! I don’t think there’s an easy fix for this….

I stood back and contemplated my options.  I decided that the first step would be to change to a 50 grit disc and go over that spot again to try to even out the squiggly lines and very scratchy surface, but it looked like I would then be left with an area of the floor that was a substantially different color than the rest of it, which was a nice shade of reddish golden tan.  The natural color of the wood under the existing finish was very light, as apparently white oak was commonly used for floors in the era when this building was constructed.  I could sand the entire floor down to the raw wood and then go get some stain and refinish it and then varnish it over, but that would be way too time consuming and costly.  I decided to just try to even out the squiggles, perhaps finishing with the belt sander, and attempt to blend the edges into the surrounding wood, and then hope the varnish would darken up the bare-stripped spot enough so that the contrast wouldn’t be too extreme.

By this point it was becoming increasingly clear to me that time was marching faster than my progress, and that even if I used the right grit of sand paper and did the whole thing with my new second-hand belt sander, which I was able to control much better than the rented orbital one, I just didn’t have enough time left to sand between coats of varnish, so I was going to have to hot coat after all, footprints and lap marks be damned!  The only thing that would majorly suck is if the varnish started peeling off, but I guess I could just sand it and spot-touch it up as needed if that happens.  Hopefully the whole floor wouldn’t suddenly start looking all at once as if it got a serious sunburn!  Bottom line: however bad this ended up turning out, it would still be miles better than that wretched linoleum.  I noted that it was going on 9:00 PM, so too late to return the rental sander that evening and get most of the $30 cost refunded, so I would have to get up early and run it back before work in order to avoid getting charged for a second day.  Bollox…..

Still pretty terrible….

Well, I soldiered on for a couple more hours with both sanders trying to even out the squiggly maze, and was non-plussed by another issue: I realized that the belt sander I had bought at the pawn shop was missing a dust bag.  It blew massive amounts of dust all over the place and made an epic-scale mess!  And it wasn’t mere wood dust.  It was very fine textured, tacky and likely toxic resin/adhesive dust that got all over the room and the stuff hanging on the walls (artwork, instruments, light fixtures, CD racks/CD’s, etc.), all over me, my clothing, in my hair, etc.  Fucking hell!  I can’t remember the last time I felt so totally disgusting as when I collapsed exhausted into bed that night, as I couldn’t be bothered to take a shower first and have to deal with drying my hair.  The bed was already in desperate need of laundering, so more dirt and crap wouldn’t make much of a difference at that point, and I couldn’t see much sense in spending time dealing with laundering the bedding when I was planning on demolishing the bedroom anyway.

Good enough for jazz. Time to varnish!

The next day after the day job, I still had a bit more sanding and a lot of vacuuming to do before I could start putting on the varnish.  After wiping down the whole room to clean up the last of the sanding dust, I was finally ready to switch gears and commence the varnishing phase.  I carefully surveyed the room, cleared all the extraneous stuff (tools, etc.) out of the way, re-read the instructions on the container of varnish, locked down the Panache Cats so we wouldn’t end up with fur and kitty paw prints forever memorialized in the living room floor, and laid out the stuff I would need for varnishing: the beautiful, silky-soft $10 lambswool applicator, the pole to attach it to, a clean paint pan, chemical handling gloves and respirator, eye protection, and a roll of shop towels to mop up spills.  Oh, yeah, and a key to open the varnish can, and a stick to stir the varnish.

I planned my route, starting with the end of the room by the front door, screwed the pole into the applicator, opened the can of varnish, poured some in the paint pan, took off my slippers, and cautiously dipped the applicator into the varnish, and brushed it across the floor.  It felt really smooth and satiny — not like paint at all.  I tried to work quickly in order to maintain a “wet edge” that was supposed to minimize the probability of leaving obvious lap marks.  I only had to refill the paint pan once, and then varnished myself out of the living room, retreating back towards the kitchen.  I paused for a moment and contemplated the beautiful, shiny, glowing oak, freshly stripped, and sporting its first coat of varnish.  The nitrile gloves practically slid off my sweat-drenched hands by themselves, and I expected that the varnish would dry in less than the two hours recommended before applying a second coat (If you wait any longer than that, it will cure too completely to put the next coat on without scuff-sanding it first), given the temperature in the room, which even at 11:15 PM was still quite hot even with the windows wide open.

The first coat.  The squiggly spot evened up ok after all.

Unfortunately I hadn’t thought through this operation far enough to figure out where I was going to put the varnish applicator with pole attached between coats, and mindlessly laid it across the utility sink with the paint pan sitting in the sink.  Big mistake!  Unbeknownst to me, it dripped quite a puddle of varnish onto the floor during that interval, which by the next morning had hardened and glued the 40-lb bag of kitty litter that was sitting below the sink to the floor!  Shit…..

Well, I swabbed on the next coat of varnish around 1:00 a.m. and discovered a couple varnish lakes that I hadn’t realized I’d made when putting on the first coat by walking in them, so now I had varnish all over my bare feet — EEEWWW!  I made and ate dinner while waiting for the second coat to dry, noting that that was the first time I’d sat down since about 7:00 that evening.

Trader Joe’s and lovely veggies from the Panache Garden to the rescue!

The final coat went on around 03:00 a.m., and then I had to clean the pan and applicator so I could re-use it for the next area to be demolished.  I just put the whole business in the utility sink to soak in water since the varnish I was using was water-based, and collapsed into bed with varnish still on my feet and covered from head to foot with dried sweat and resin-y sanding dust.

– To Be Continued –