Like many working parents, when I get an unexpected phone call from home I grit my teeth. I have learned to dread the telephone calls that begin, "Dad, how has your day been, so far?" This greeting usually is followed by a report of crisis on the home front.
Not long ago, for instance, that question was followed by a report that one of the kids had, well, accidentally knocked a hole in the kitchen wall.
How big a hole? I asked. About as big as your 10-year-old son, came the reply.
It seems as though the kid was either leaning on the kitchen wall or wrestling near the wall when his body "accidentally" landed on it. The kid was not hurt. The wall was.
These kinds of phone calls inspire me to work late at the office. In this case, I eventually summoned the courage to go home, and view the damage. I marveled at the destruction.
First of all, the size of the hole was impressive. It looked like an alcove, about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. I could put a statue on display in there. Or a kid. The 10-year-old fit perfectly, as he gleefully demonstrated to me while re-enacting the hole-in-the-wall incident.
Secondly, I marveled at my bad luck. An old house like ours has its weaknesses, but its walls, made with plaster and horsehair, are like Gibraltar. If a person collides with one of these old walls, the person goes down and the wall remains upright.
But in this case the kid had collided with one of the few walls in the house made with sheets of drywall. These are sheets of a plasterlike material, also called wallboard, covered on both sides with heavy paper. It is a more kid-vulnerable method of wall construction than old-fashioned plaster.
This particular wall was a "false wall" that previous owners had built to cover an ugly brick wall and some radiators. Sheets of the drywall had been nailed to studs, or vertical pieces of wood. The kid had made the alcove by crashing through the half-inch-thick drywall at a hollow spot between two of these pieces of wood.
I knew fixing a hole of this size required some familiarity with the world of drywall, some carpentry skills and some really cool tools, such as a power screw gun. I had none of these. So I coaxed Randy Johnson into trying to teach me how to deal with drywall. Randy runs a construction company and, along with Sun reporter Karol Menzie, writes "Home Work," a column for home renovators with serious aspirations and serious tools.
He arrived at my house with a big sheet of drywall. He showed me how to cut a replacement patch. He showed me how to fit the replacement patch over the "alcove." He let me use his screw gun and fire screws through the wallboard and into the studs. He showed me how to mix joint compound, the gooey paste, which was applied in three successive and ever-widening coats over the patch.
For a few hours there, I felt like a demon of drywall. However, I forgot most of what Randy taught me about 24 hours after he left.
But the wall looks pretty good. I painted it. When the paint dried, I put the coats back on the rack that was fastened in the wall, just above the patch.
Now it is hard to tell that the wall has been patched, especially when the light is dim and coats are hanging on the coatrack.
Since the hole-in-the-wall incident, there have been a few more "crisis calls."
One recent evening, my wife called me from a pay phone. I had a difficult time hearing her. In the background, I could hear the sound of someone's wailing car alarm. It was ours.
Something had gone wrong, she said. The remote control device that was supposed to turn off the car alarm was not working. When she tried to start the car, the engine would not turn over, and the alarm would wail. She was stuck in a parking lot with a noisy car and a hungry kid.
I, too, had one of those remote control devices. When I arrived in the parking lot, I used my device to turn off my wife's car alarm.
When we all got back home, I opened up my wife's faulty remote control device, and put in a fresh battery. Since then the device has been working fine.
This week, a phone call from the homestead brought more shocking news. The household's two "male" gerbils had given birth.
Once there were two. Now there are 10. This is one problem I haven't got a clue how to fix.