The Fix Is In

When I first came to Maine and started writing the Home Repair is Homicide mysteries, my husband and I also began fixing up a Very Old House here in Eastport. The writing/house fixup combination worked well because the house reminded me every day of how home repair tasks can lead to….well, you know.

The house also provided plot help. The fact that the shower-curtain rod in the bathroom was held up by a couple of paper clips and a rubber band, for instance, caused me to realize that a story involving a faked suicide in there would not be realistic. Nor was the shower head itself very sturdy; anyone who tried suspending themselves from it risked embarrassment but not much more.

The tragic state of the windows in the third floor’s storage rooms, however, provided a possible exit for my victim that was believable and that, if I wasn’t careful, would also be true to life. Ditto for the cellar stairs, steep and twisty and – usefully for the mystery writer – only partly furnished with a rail. In the cellar itself the massive overhead beams promised head-bumps, and once assaulted me with such a solid one that I saw stars and tweety-birds circling my noggin just like in the cartoons; perfect for knocking out the fleeing perp.

Then there was the old knob-and-tube wiring, its raggedy strands festooned gaily across the cellar ceiling. The house’s entire electrical system had been recently updated so I didn’t worry about those frazzled antique wires until one day I absent-mindedly plugged a lamp into one of the old outlets. And the lamp worked, which was when I realized that when the house’s previous owners turned the new system on, they didn’t turn the old one off. I have yet to sizzle a murder-victim by the forgotten-live-wire method, but I’m working on it.

Lately I’ve been updating that bathroom once more, because an old house is like a wooden boat; you never get done, you just start over again. The first step of course was to take all the removable objects out – oh, hahahahaha –  which is why I’m writing this blog post in an office accessorized with shampoo bottles, a bar of pine tar soap, an electric toothbrush, that shower rod (taken down from where it had been solidly rehung), and two years’ worth of Consumer Reports. Next, the ceiling and walls got skim-coated with plaster, which is like trying to frost a cake without leaving even one teeny, tiny bump or ripple in the frosting.

Although you don’t get to sand the cake once the frosting dries, so that’s something; I think I’ve now gotten most of the plaster dust out of my ears. Paint came next, on the trim and the woodwork and the door and the wainscoting, and did I mention the window? Both sashes got removed, reglazed, primed, and painted, and after that came the biggest job: wallpaper.

Pretty wallpaper: pale blue, faint vertical stripe. And now that it’s nearly done, I’m glad I chose it. But may I simply say right here that the very idea of putting a vertically-striped wallpaper in a room with one exterior and five interior corners, a door, a window, a built-in medicine chest, and a radiator behind which it is impossible to get (thank you, Winston Churchill) but with not a single reliable 90-degree angle or truly level surface was…

Yeah, well. You know that, too. Anyway, fixing up an old house inspires plenty of thoughts about writing and murder, a fact that has actually turned out to be very handy for me, and if I ever get this &%!!*?! bathroom fix-up completed I plan to write down a few of them.

That is of course if I don’t accidentally hang, defenestrate, bludgeon, suffocate, or electrocute myself while re-installing that shower curtain rod.

 

 

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2 Responses to The Fix Is In

  1. John Clark says:

    We had deadly fun in our first house back in Chelsea (Maine). There were walls that weren’t on center when we ripped them out to the exterior boards, the incredible trampoline living room floor (how many nights did I lie awake waiting to hear it fall into the cellar) and the night a kitten in heat climbed up and got lost between ceilings.
    Fortunately our Victorian in Hartland was much further along the rehab road and is a thousand times more comfortable. I can certainly identify with the never ending process of dealing with home improvements.

  2. Barb Ross says:

    The knob and tube wiring in our old Maine house was also live. It had been replaced in the eighties when the house was first refitted as a B&B and we thought that was the end of it. In fact, my mother-in-law hung clothes on the old wires that cris-crossed the basement. Until a workman putting in a first floor dryer in 2006 put a hand on it and discovered, well. Needless to say, it made for a few days of excitement.

    The heat is similarly mysterious. It’s mostly oil, but with some electric in places. This year we thought we’d turned everything off for the winter just like we always do, but then in January we got a bill from the electric company that led to a hunt for one more thermostat.

    Old houses are never dull.

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