So we bought it. We bought a big-assed house that stank of sewage, reeked of old carpet, and, as we later discovered, leaked like a sieve (though thankfully only in one room, through a badly, badly repaired flat roof). Oddly enough, not one person ever said, "You fools!" to our faces, though I recall a lot of raised eyebrows, and many people requested dust masks during their tours. Actually, one neighbor's precocious young daughter named me "pigeon man," as she evidently was, err, impressed by those birds in the attic. Thought I was encouraging them, since I hadn't evicted them immediately upon taking possession of the place, or something.
Since we only lived a mile away, it was a good opportunity to get work done on the house without actually living in it. The sewage needed to dry out, after all. On the appropriately-named Labor Day of 1996, then, we put a choke hold on the beast. With the promise of coffee and donuts (which were never eaten), a handful of strong-willed neighborhood friends showed up to work. We tore that stinky carpet out, scraped up the pads that crumbled beneath them, yanked staples and nails from the oak boards, tossed the few remaining scraps of broken furniture out the bedroom windows (beats lugging them down steps...), and basically bulk-cleaned for hours. Followed by a throwing of hot dogs on the barbeque, naturally. (I wish to thank Suzy Allen, Todd Sanford, Tom Ball, Carl Angot, Joe Maxwell, Harry Swanson... and I think that's it, though Mark Reynolds (not yet of Detroit, then) may well have stopped by.)
For many nights, I came to the house, dressed way down, and went over the floors, pulling every last stinking staple from the floor. Every last nail. All the damned tackless strips from the edges. Scraped up bits of carpet padding that had ingrained themselves into the wood. It sucked, and yet when I went back over it all with a broom, seeing the floor clean of debris and pointy metal was a fair reward. And then we hired someone to cut the downstairs floors, because they were uneven and I just knew I'd pause a half-second to sneeze while running that drum sander, and wind up looking at the drum sander 9 feet below me in the basement. And I just couldn't live with myself if I sanded a giant hole in one of those old floors.
Later work involved peeling the linoleum from the kitchen floor, then soaking it in "friendly" paint stripper, then scraping like hell to get down to the original, badly water-stained pine floor. Pieter Foster helped out with this, despite that he was supposed to be on vacation. I think he may just have liked the fumes or something, but I love him for it. That's a tough job. (Err, scraping the floors, i mean.) The kitchen later got most of a vinyl tile floor. It never got truly finished, but there is a first sign of why the next house we bought was very much more finished than Burns was.
Throw in some professional waste stack unclogging and some semi-professional drain work by a supposedly professional plumber (sorry, no, this drain should not slip out of the trap under the sink, you slime...), and that may well cover all the real work done to the place before we could move in. We also had the living room fireplace redone inside -- the refractory cement keeping the stuff behind the chimney from getting hot and burning was in sad shape -- and a damper and some screens added up there. Oh, plus I tore the roof off the sleeping porch, since the 8 layers of roll-roofing still won't keep water out when you do the joint with the pitched roof badly. I was smart enough to hire out the replacement of the roof, but the demo work was all me. Oh yeah, and since the dumpster was there, Chris Jackson and I tore out the basement's crumbly plaster ceiling. Would you believe he specifically enjoyed that? If I recall, he liked it so much he actually came and worked on it one night while we were gone! A sign of a true psychotic. But as with Piet, I love him for it.
And so little things got done, here and there, but for the most part, it's unlikely we spent any more than about $4,000 for the work. Add maybe $200 for fixtures and switches and so on.
updated: 28 January 1997