Wednesday, August 27, 2008

VI. Tree House, "Higher and Higher"

The second section of stairway, now that’s when the real gymnastics and high wire work began. Watching these guys wearing flimsy flip-flops, no hard hats and even worse for my peace of mind, no safety harnesses, makes me nervous to no end. Having spent decades on Air Force flight lines where every work scenario is governed by strict safety considerations, I could barely watch without squirming.

Eddy confessed that one of his boys had actually fallen not all that long ago at another work site. The kid had hit the ground from about 15 feet up, landing on his back, luckily on soft ground with no apparent lasting injury other than having the wind knocked out of him.

“Okay, so you’re with me if I ask you guys to start tying off?” I practically pleaded.

As always, when I bring up the subject of safety, he just smiled and found something else that needed to be done at that moment.

Admittedly, mostly based on hearsay, falling is not exactly an unusual way for construction workers to get hurt and even die around here. From what I hear, many building projects involving more than a couple floors run up a death and injury toll. Last year I watched the Korean Hotel go up across the street from my gym and I was regularly horrified (anyway, I regularly cringed a lot) to watch the blatant flouting of what I consider basic safety precautions. In fact, one or two deaths took place on that site before it was finally finished. I asked one of the fitness center assistants, a talkative good-natured fellow who regularly gives me the low down on what’s happening in the neighborhood, what kind of compensation the family got for the death of their loved one. He shrugged saying only a few thousand pesos, perhaps just a couple hundred dollars.

I hate the idea that any worker might get hurt or even die while working on the tree tower. Thing is, I know that even if I go ahead and buy harnesses, which are available here, that mostly out of pride and because they can be cumbersome to use, none of the boys would wear them. I’d be wasting my money. I even told Eddy that I was willing to buy everyone a hardhat, a harness, and safety goggles; but again, he just smiled politely. You can lead a horse to water…

Even though it reached upward towards 20 feet, the second flight of stairs was still fairly easy to put up and weld into place since someone on the ground with a long sturdy board could help support the steel step casing while the welder reached out from where he stood on a makeshift platform of wired on one-by-one boards and tacked into place the casing’s underlying supports.

By the time I came home that afternoon I was ecstatic to see the second flight mostly complete. Eddy stood with me below answering my chatty questions as I craned my head back peering excitedly at the wonder that he and his boys had wrought.

“So, what’s next?” I asked enthusiastically.

“We start putting up the next level of vertical supports,” Eddy responded.

“Are you sure it will be high enough? Will that take us up so that when we’re standing on the platform we will be able to see above the top of the tallest tree?”

“Yes, it should. We’ll know soon.”

“If not, can we extend it on up so that it does?”

Nodding his head with arms folded high on his chest he answered quietly, “Yes, we can do that.” And he said so in his typical staid confident manner.

If anybody can, it’s Eddy. At this point I’m convinced that he can build just about anything…

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It’s not WHO, it’s IF.

(Let's take a break from the tree house today...)

I’ve had it up to here (pointing over my head) with the drone of TV talking heads pontificating on who is “pulling ahead or falling behind” in the polls.

Think about it. Are there actually people out there, serious voters mind you, who have NOT made their minds up yet?

At this point, are there really citizens still sitting on the proverbial fence waiting to be swayed on which way they will fall? I think not. At this point, NO ONE could possibly be THAT wishy-washy, and if they are then chances are they are not going to vote anyway.

Voters who think Obama is the way to go, a politician who will certainly take us sharply to the left, are going to pull the lever for him no matter what more the McCain people “find” on him in the way of “negatives.”

Folks like me, who believe that John McCain and his barely right of center platform is best, will vote for him no matter how many homes he owns. (He’s married to a multi-millionaire heiress—and they ONLY have eight houses? Enough on that Bob Beckel!)

It's always amazed me how few of us actually vote. Over the years, going back to the mid-70s, I’ve had animated discussions on who should be president with dozens of people. Then, when the time came to vote, it turns out that I was the only one to actually do it. It makes me wonder how many of these all-mouth-and-no-vote folks are the ones being polled. I do know that I've never been polled.

One pundit spouted a stat from recent past election cycles when polls actually showed a 15 point “bounce” for candidates after their convention. What? So, that means 15 out of 100 people polled actually switched their intention over to “the other guy” merely due to the excitement of THAT guy’s convention? Excuse my skepticism, but “No way!”

No, polls are BS. The people answering them are frauds. They have to be. More so this year since the difference between the candidates is as stark as any I’ve ever seen.

There is no one waiting to be convinced anymore since there are so few nuances between the two contenders. I mean Obama is so far left that he makes “Maverick McCain”—a senior senator not known in the past for being a dyed in the wool conservative—suddenly looking like an amalgamation of Ronald Reagan and Curtis Lemay.

Hence, there should be only two questions on any current poll:
1) McCain or Obama?

And …
2) (On pain of DEATH!) Are you REALLY going to vote?

And the emphasis SHOULD be on latter. If the pollsters could get THAT right then they would immediately be out of a job and they know it. Still, if we COULD get that one thing truly and honestly answered then we could stop all this ridiculous nonsensical polling, and better yet, end all the mind numbing TV discussions on the so-called “latest poll results.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

V. Tree House, "Stairway to Heaven"

When I first imagined my tree house tower I saw it in my mind’s eye with a spiral staircase going up through the center and entering the top platform through a trapdoor. I mentioned this scheme to Eddy and he just smiled politely. Once he knew I was serious about constructing it he “suggested” instead a series of stairs winding around the outside of the structure. Immediately I saw his way was best and also realized that his visions would always be better than mine. It got so I would tell him what I was looking for and then he would tell me what I wanted.

Work on what could be done on the bottom tiers of the first 20 foot section soon reached a point that the boys could no longer safely continue to go higher. Thus, it was time to start construction of the stairway. According to Eddy, as the stairs went up so also would the rest of the tower.

The easiest ramp of stairs was of course that first one. It was also one of the most exciting to watch go in since it signified that it wasn’t just a run of the mill tower structure like the ones seen everywhere around here that hold up household water tanks. Eddy has built dozens of them so in many ways this particular tower is not much different than the others he has built in the past. He did tell me though that this is the first tree house tower he’s ever built. Cool. I like being the first.

With all the pieces already available having come straight from “the factory” it took very little time for them to finish that first casing. “Kid Welder” is a wiz with that fizzling yellow metal box of his. Still, I was a bit surprised that afternoon when Eddy told me to go ahead and walk to the top the first landing. Carefully, I did exactly that. I didn’t need to be careful at all. It wasn’t finished, but even so it was sturdily unyielding. Standing there, ten feet above the yard, and still only on the first landing, I was very encouraged and looking forward to getting even higher.

This height thing is like a drug. The higher you go, the higher you want to go. So be it…

IV. Tree House, "Step by Step"

I’ve been away, at least from blogging anyway. For over a month now I haven’t read anyone’s blog or written anything into mine. My dad’s health woes, which appear to be stabilized now, sort of took the stuffings out of me there for a while. That, the stresses of my current “life transition” as well as my volunteer duties as a veteran’s service officer all seems to have affected me more than I realized. The thought of writing and reading blogs just soured. Well, I hate leaving anything undone, so I’ll give this another shot… I’ll continue…

I was away when they did it. The next day after the very next day, after waiting for the four foundation blocks of cement to cure, Eddy’s eldest boy, a compactly sturdy “lad” over 30 years old and the one most adept at arc welding, welded each of the four legs to their respective foundation plates.

To sum up, at this point, we have a robust multi-tiered tower base more than 20 feet in height, firmly planted, not to the ground, but into the ground, with plenty of concrete and steel.

Just to confirm what I already knew, I would go up to “my baby,” grab her with all my strength, such as it is these days, and try mightily to get some movement out of it. I could not get so much as a vibration. After doing that a time or two, I was convinced of its sturdiness. As high as I planned to go up with it I wanted to make completely sure, especially before I let my little girls clamber up and all over it. I was building it as much for my kids as I was for me.

Before we could go any higher with the tower structure, Eddy put his entire gang, all four of them, into establishing what I have come to refer to as “the factory.”

These fellows fascinate me the way they can take simple straight pieces of raw steel—whether it be round and flat bar, as well as angle iron and thick lengths of pipe—measure out what they need just once without ever writing anything down, cut it up using nothing but muscle and hacksaws, before welding all the myriad pieces into a finely finished product. For me, it’s amazing to see it happen, mainly because I know they make it look much easier than it actually is.

We were going to require lots of steps. In no time at all Eddy’s gang had a batch of them, maybe a dozen or so, plenty enough to begin the first stairway. Each step is a minor work of art. I can’t imagine trying to make one of them much less the 50 plus we would eventually need to take us all the way to tippy top of our glorious mangoes. Two boys would cut the angle iron to form the rectangular frame while another sawed and sawed the hundreds of pieces of round bar that formed the actual stepping surface.