Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dirt flumes aren’t as much fun as they sound

Last week, I stuck a shovel under one of the large flagstones in our walkway and cracked it in half as I tried to pry it up. Our dog Memphis jumped back, looking up at me as if to say, “Dude, what’d you do that for?”

In truth, I did it to force Future Me to fix our walkway. The walk from our front door to our driveway was treacherous enough that it lacked only a few spandex-clad steroid enthusiasts swinging medicine balls at your head to make an attempted traverse indistinguishable from the final round in “American Gladiators.” If you stepped in the wrong place, the flagstone steps would flip up like garden hoes in a “Three Stooges” routine, ejecting any immediate perambulators into the rhododendrons.

The previous owners of our house recognized the problem as well, and I continue to admire the simplicity of their solution: a tiny “Watch Your Step” sign stuck into the mulch, which hasn’t done anything to help since we’ve lived here except for perhaps breaking a fall or two.

After my previous half-hearted attempts to fix the walkway failed, I realized that the only real solution was to replace the whole thing. While I always hesitate to begin such a large project, it’s much easier to get started if I think of Future Me as some other sucker who’s going to do all the work. If Future Me ever gets his hands on a DeLorean, Past Me better find a good hiding place.

Looking at the broken flagstone, I realized that the point of no return was in the rearview mirror. I almost turned to Memphis and said, “Well, it looks like we’ve crossed the Rubicon now,” but then I remembered that I don’t know what that saying means.

I’ve spent the last few days dragging the flagstones out of the way and trenching out the area underneath, creating a dirt flume where the walkway used to be. Incidentally, if you can describe your recent activity using the word “trench” as a verb, you probably haven’t been having very much fun lately. Turns out, there are a lot of good reasons why you never hear kids talking about going into the field of ditch digging anymore. I can count those reasons on my blistered, aching fingers.

“Hey, Babe, if you need me, I’ll be outside doing some backbreaking manual labor,” I’ll say to my wife Kara. You have to be careful when complaining to a pregnant lady; it’s a delicate art to extract pity from a person who tries her best not to wake you up during her bi-hourly trips to the bathroom every night. But what’s the point in doing work around the house if you’re not going to milk it for everything it’s worth? Nobody in their right mind cleans the kitchen without clanging the dishes together to make sure that credit is being appropriately applied.

My real motivation for tackling this project now, replacing the dangerous flagstones with brick, is that we’re expecting a baby and a corresponding influx of visitors in the coming months, and we’d prefer to minimize the amount of time we spend picking mulch out of our visitors’ hair. Also, I want to be able to lean back, hook my thumbs into my pants pockets and say to them, “You see this new walkway? A real man built that.”

“How much did you pay him?” they will ask.

But that won’t hurt my feelings, because completing a project of this magnitude automatically gives me enough man credits to coast by for at least a few years. The way I figure it, I’ll have to cry at every wedding for the next decade just to break even. At least that will be my excuse.

You can break Mike Todd’s fall at


  1. The Rubicon was the river that Julius Cesar crossed on his way to take Rome. It was marked as the point of no return because as soon as he crossed it he was subject to execution. Wow you know after typing that I realized I am relying to heavly on what you said to not be satirical. Meh I'll post it either way.

  2. Allen -- I knew it had something to do with Caesar, but I figured it was related somehow to his invention of a delicious salad.

  3. I have been bested sir.

  4. - Hey, Caesar, what are you doing over there?
    - Just crossing the Rubicon with a little parmesan cheese and romaine lettuce. I don't know what to call this dressing, though.

  5. Please don't forget to take plenty of photographs. That way your you'll be able to say to your Future You, "What do you mean you can't build ________? Why, I built that walkway back in 09 during a (insert weather phenomena of choice) and never complained!". Just a thought.

    P.S. Please be careful.

  6. Loon -- I've been taking photos out the wazoo. Will post them all when I'm doing something other than building a damn walkway all the time. And thanks for the note on being careful - haven't lost any digits yet. But I'm not done yet, either.

  7. So I am going to be in trouble whenever Anna gets pregnant. I have been working with a woman who is due June 25th. She has been working non-stop. And I'm not talking sitting at a computer or answering the phone. We went out in the field yesterday and tromped though the woods and 2 feet of mud in a marsh. This is really all the experience I have with a pregnant woman on a daily basis and I think I am in serious trouble. So please, when the time does come, years down the road, please let me know the rules.