Saturday morning I cooked breakfast for a band from Israel–pancakes and beans and curry fired potatoes and peas and garlic bread spread. Once they took off for their next show Rabbit and I sat in the garden drinking coffee, and we got to talking about wagon repair and I asked him a hundred questions about how he fixed various parts of his wagon, actually listening and absorbing information about building for the first time in my life.
The weather was pleasantly cool and sunny, so I decided that today I’d start taking things apart and went to Bean to ask her if I could borrow an electric screwdriver. “Sure,” she said, “But Rabbit has it right now. Oh and I have something to show you.” She pulled out a book titled Wood. “Maybe one of these is the fungus you found growing underneath that bench you ripped out on the wall.”
There were two that looked like the orange building-foam reminiscent fungi. It looked a little bit like two of the funguses pictured, and a little bit like none of them. “I think it must be that once,” I said, pointing to the first on the list.” According to the book I needed to call the “building police” (what the?) immediately. According to the book this was an aggressive, wood eating zombie monster. It could send little invisible arms meters off to gather the moisture it needs to survive. It could survive for years without eating, lying in wait like a tick for its moment to spring on its food (water) and start showing its orange sores again.
“Your wagon belongs to the fungus,” Bean said, “Better figure out how to make friends with it.”
I ran back to the wagon, grabbed a crowbar, and started ripping off all the boards carrying the orange splotches. With a borrowed circle saw Rabbit showed me how to make a cut in the board that would make them crow bar off in a straight line. He was convinced it was the less dangerous fungus pictured, and so was Bean. But I burned everything anyway, just to be sure.
Then I got paranoid, and started prying off various pieces of wood to check the innards for more spots. I found one bad beam, but no more fungus. I hope that it is gone, that it has been sent to feast on the table legs of my enemies, that it doesn’t come back and I don’t have to torch my entire wagon.
I have zero building experience. I feel the same way about building that I do about sewing. In theory, I’d really like to be an expert. But in reality I stick to the simple things like sewing on little patches and hanging shelves. I don’t have the patience needed for the more complex variations of either. But now the day has come where I either learn how to fix shit up, or I go back to working a 9-5 so I can pay someone else to be an expert for me.
I think you already know what I’ve chosen. If there is one thing I’ve learned from uncomfortable situations, it’s that I always come out of them knowing a lot of neat things I never knew before. I’ve not become an expert with a crowbar and three kinds of power saws. I’ve been ripping and cutting things out for two days now, and everyday I am left exhausted, my mind racing to process all of the new things I learned that day, imagining my wagon as it will be once I’m finally finished.
After ripping out the wall on the first day I had been pretty frustrated. Maybe I should have just bought something that wasn’t a fixer upper, I thought, imagining myself already moved into a pre-renovated circus wagon, imagining what happens to the couple in the movie The Money Pit. Then I shook the thought off, and the voice of reason entered on cue to remind me that things that were free always came in exchange for a little sweat, that learning how to build parts of my own house was an invaluable skill that I probably would have avoided forever if it hadn’t been for this wagon. I didn’t want to have to spend a lot of money on replacing all the wood I was ripping out, but getting supplies for free means waiting until they show up in the trash, and the exterior and the insulation are two things that can’t wait; they need to be finished by winter.
I decided to return some cans to Pfand Grocery, get some dinner, and sleep on it. I traded in three bags of cans for 7 euros, noodles, and canned artichoke hearts, corn, and white beans. On the way home I noticed an enormous Sperrmull pile and my heart jumped in my chest. It looked good, so good I had to look around to really be sure this wasn’t somebody’s move. Nope. No truck, no people anywhere, piles of stuff thrown haphazardly around in a way that normal people will only throw around trash. I dug in.
Two huge hiking backpacks, long rectangular window planters, a mosquito net for over the bed, mosquito nets made for sticking into windows, an enormous wooden cutting board, clothes pins, cloth bags, and holy shit a sturdy wooden bed frame! I must have looked like a mad man, running circles around the pile, trying to fit everything in the two hiking backpacks all at once, and greedily eyeing the wooden bed frame.
I carried what I could and convinced Bathrobe to drive Rabbit and I to the pile with his enormous old fire truck. I brought the electric screwdriver and took the bed apart so we could fit it into one of the truck’s compartments. Rabbit took a still-in-the-box work table/tool organizer, 40 euro price tag still on it, a speaker, and a massive built-into-a-nifty-wooden box drill thing. I took the bed and some other sturdy pieces of wood for building,—at least if I had to buy more wood for the outside of the wagon than I had expected, I had gotten the wood I’ll need to build the bed for free—a large bowl for washing dishes in, potting soil, a pair of sandals (just my size, something I’d almost considered buying in town a few days prior), a bag full of new bicycle parts (some things that will be very helpful at the tallbike workshop I’m giving in Koln in August), a bicycle helmet (fits my head perfectly), several cloth shopping bags (which I will use to screen print band merch), small wooden shelves (something that I’d also been picturing putting up just over my bed to lean pictures on), a door bolt, a glass pot lid (I had a pretty set of red soup pots and no lids, this lid fits them both), a wicker table, a mini grill, and a metal tin full of screws.
This is why I always have the feeling that the dumpster gods are watching out for me. The dumpster gods or the universe, something. Even if the fact is that so much trash is tossed every week that within a matter of time there is statistically nothing that won’t get thrown away, it still gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
I made dinner and ate it in my wagon, imagining paint onto the walls and a bed into the corner. And it occurred to me, since the wagon is so dark anyway, I could simply put a big-ish window on one of the walls and use the wood I’ll need to cut out to put it in to fill in the holes I made getting destroying herpes-fungus, eliminating the whole problem of needing to buy more wood. Then I turned my attention to the problem of the bed. I needed to build the frame low enough so that the window can still open, which means losing the space beneath it.
Bookshelves would look nice filling up the space between the floor and the bed, I thought, but then the space will be completely inaccessible for storage. I thought about attached a hinged flap on the outside to make the back part of the bed accessible from the outside. But flaps and claps are a bitch to keep water-tight, and I don’t want to keep things under my bed in the swampy state that herpes-fungus must love so much. Then I thought of the artists who recently built benches on wheels and placed them all over Mainz. That’s the answer, I thought, I can put the shelves on little wheels, use the door bolt I found today to secure them, and roll them out of my way when I want to get at the stuff under there.
Living in small spaces, living in a wagon, it’s been a much more spatially interesting decorating/furnishing situation. There isn’t a lot of room, so you have to figure out how to deal with balancing storage and living space without those bulky Swedish solutions for modern living. Things end up hanging from the ceiling, shelves become gods, and wheels are a hundred times better than sliced bread (which tastes just as good when eaten like an apple). There’s actually a lot of space to work with in a wagon, if you don’t try to decorate it like a room in a house. And if you decide to move, you don’t have to bother packing, you can just duct tape all the cabinets shut, hook your house up to a truck, and off you go.