17 July 2006

Scope-creep happens

After Jon and George and Russ and the guys finished my kitchen, way back in the fall of 2004, George tore out the rotten, ugly, hideous, cheap-ass deck-facsimile that had been his route for supply-hauling and so on for the five months he'd been slaving on my kitchen, and he built me a beautiful redwood and copper deck.

This would be the ultimate scope creep. We'd gone from redoing a kitchen, widening an opening, and redoing dining room, music studio, and entry floors, to doing all that plus tearing out, upgrading, and lighting a deck and major outdoor staircase.

The deck was awful. It was beyond awful; it was scary and hateful. When I bought the house, it was one of the declared "preexisting conditions." There was already a bounty on its everhating head: $6K. Yeah, right, $6K. I started talking to contractors and heard numbers more like $30K, and I decided I could ignore the rotting, hideous deck for a while. But five years had gone by, and Jon and George and Russ and the guys had been tromping up and down on my deck and cursing at my deck and cutting tiles on my deck and stacking old appliances on my deck and heaping debris on my deck for five months more, and it had become apparent that this deck was not only ugly and hideous but a potential liability.

George and I had shared morning coffee nearly every morning for five years, and afternoon beers and whatnot for many of those days, so by now we were family. Since the kitchen was finished and he was ready for a new project, George offered to redo my deck, showed me some sketches, and offered a reasonable estimate of materials, times, rates, and so on. We reached agreement over martinis one night (or rather, I was drinking a martini, and he was having a vodka-vermouth-olive concoction). I took care of the boring legal details, he took my deck books and sketches home to think about, and we were off.

George decided to view this holistically as a project not only of construction but of art, of mind and body, and of moral struggle, so he decided not to involve any cut-rate (not to mention illegal) day laborers. He decided to do all the work himself, including digging out the hillside as needed to have a single door-level deck and remove the steps and level change; including digging holes for piers and mixing and hauling concrete for piers; including constructing a whole new, higher, stronger retaining wall running a larger portion of the perimeter. We decided to take Before and After George pictures to go with the Before and After deck pictures, since he planned to improve his own physique along with my deck. The Before pictures are in the photo collection, but we forgot to take the Afters, unfortunately.

I helped with a bit of the shovelwork, but nothing significant, and the design process was collaborative, involving many sessions of us staring at what was done so far and discussing how next to proceed, but on the whole, this deck was a work of George Lawson art.

Did I mention that George is an artist?

Google him, and you will find a long (electronic) paper trail of his ongoing career as an artist. Eventually you'll land at his site and see his newest paintings, which were inspired by the enthusiastic reception that a painting of his received at my kitchen-warming (Smørgåsbord V: Norway and Sweden) in January 2005. I've hung two of his works, tangram dancers and turtles, in my music studio, and you'll see these in my Before:After, Jr: The Deck photo collection.

His new work is exciting. I want the Japanese firemen.

It was also a remarkable act of friendship. We grew closer, as his work grew depressing as the weather grew colder, and my software job grew depressing (because we were going through a rough spell at work). Many is the time we slurped nasty protein shakes for lunch together, dug holes together, and commiserated over our miserables states of employ. Our conversational arch over the four months (or so) that it took to redo the deck covered the nature and purpose of art, daily politics, the disastrous 2004 elections, food, life, love, and everything else that mattered then and still matters now.

We watched the series of presidential and vice-presidential debates together, always over the requisite food and drink. One dark night, George W. Bush the Despicable won reelection. As Ohio's electoral votes stood between us and doomsday, George even persuaded me to give him a haircut, and I can at least say for myself that his head looked better for the next six weeks or so than my nation did.

Back to art, my house has a George Lawson original on the west side. It's still waiting for its crowning glory, a promised redwood sculpture, perhaps of a napping cat, to be perched on the curiously unfinished-looking post at the bottom of the staircase. It's also waiting for a signature. When these are installed, we'll mix martinis and vodka concoctions and dedicate not just a beautiful work of construction and art but another wonderful branch of my family. I'll always have an extra chop on the grill for George.

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