Appetite for construction

Posted: Wednesday, September 09, 2009

They say Juneau has two seasons: Winter and Construction. While this joke seems innocuous enough - on the level of, say, "Juneau: Quaint Little Drinking Town with a Fishing Problem" - it ignores a very real, very distinct third season that begins in August and continues all the way through October.

And I'm not talking about Rainy Season, because obviously, that's every season here. You've got to love a town where you can come down with Seasonal Affective Disorder in the middle of July. No, in Juneau, there are in fact three seasons: Winter, Construction, and "Holy-[bleep]-I-Better-Finish-the-Construction-I-Started-During-Construction-Season" season.

Seriously. Have you looked around as you've been driving through town lately? I mean, have you put down your iPhone, stopped texting for a second, and really looked? Seems like there are ladders and Tyler Rental gear in every other yard, and not just porta-johns, either - like backhoes and mini bulldozers and stuff.

Shhh. Hear that? It's the bang of a thousand air-nailers, the whine of a thousand skill saws, the "yep" of a thousand lazy onlookers standing there with their arms crossed like they think they're helping, and, of course, the pop of a thousand Rainier tops (mostly by these same onlookers).

I swear it's biological, and specific to time and place, like a stronger version of what compels me to buy a 50-pack of AA batteries every time I go to Costco. Laugh if you want - at least I can rest easy knowing that when the apocalypse comes, I'll still have use of my remote controls.

During the current season, the desire is not simply to fix or mend, but to draw out some needlessly complicated, increasingly expensive project that involves the use of more and more elaborate equipment. And because you're racing to finish before the snow flies, that means spending every waking minute working on and/or talking about it with anyone who'll listen. Like the readers of your column, for instance.

It happens to even the most extreme novices: guys like me, who, up until very recently, never even bothered to find wall studs (this explains all the trouble I've had with shelving my whole life).

You have to understand. I grew up in the suburbs of New York, where nobody builds their own anything, except maybe a sundae, and the only things people fix for themselves are parking tickets or trouble with the IRS. My dad replaces light bulbs with a hammer. I once repaired a toilet flusher with dental floss. Worked great, by the way. The patch lasted several years, although the mint flavoring wore off sooner than that.

As such, this pervasive Do-It-Yourself-ism ranks high on both lists of what I love and hate about Juneau. Not only does it engage me in a pursuit that, much like senior prom, manages to make me feel masculine yet emasculated at the same time, it also forces me to learn things a lot of other people around here already seem to know. Things like the wisdom of wearing work gloves, for example, and that the grippy rubber palms on those work gloves aren't flame resistant. Good lesson.

The problem isn't necessarily my child-caliber skills; it's my adult-sized aspirations. And so what started innocently enough as trimming some brush on the side of our house last week - mostly to test out the loppers I found in the garage - has since mushroomed into a total cluster involving pallets, posts, wood rounds and a giant pile of old deck pieces I picked up for some reason during last year's Holy-[bleep]-I-Better-Finish-the-Construction-I-Started-During-Construction-Season season.

Ask me what I'm building, and I'll call it a complex: a nature trail with a raised walkway abutting a gravel path to a firewood storage facility. But really, it's turning out more like a really crappy Ewok village in my yard. And it grows more elaborate with each passing day: I've added uneven bridges, slanting handrails, and I'm even thinking about trying my hand at carving benches with a chainsaw. This despite a friend's recent observation that the sight of me starting up said chainsaw was "terrifying." Whatever, the Bartlett Hospital ER is as good a way as any to pass some time on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Still, when it's all finished, no matter how it turns out, I'll be proud to add it to my list of accomplishments from Holy-[bleep] seasons past. So far, this includes a not-quite-box-shaped sandbox for my daughter and a mirrored medicine chest I stupidly installed right over the toilet, so that every time I pee I wind up standing there trying not to make eye contact with myself. I'd take it down, but my wife's all moved in there and everything.

• Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau resident. His column appears every other Wednesday.

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