THIS WEEK I got around to reinstalling the household chin-up bar. The chin-up bar had been taken down a couple of months ago. Its temporary removal was among the first changes in household order brought on by the swirl of plaster dust known as "the renovation."
Before the renovation, or "BR" in household time, the bar was wedged in the doorway of an upstairs storage room. There it performed two functions. For our sons, it served as an exercise device, something they employed in their quest to strengthen their muscles.
As for me, the chin-up bar made my head harder. The bar was located just above my eye level, and almost every time I walked through the storage room doorway, I ended up getting clobbered by it. The kids got thicker arms, I got a thicker head.
Basically what happened during the renovation was that our two ancient bathrooms were gutted and were adorned with new fixtures. In this process, an adjoining storage room, former home of the chin-up bar and about 6,000 boxes of junk, became the laundry room.
In the abstract, such home-improvement projects appear to be simple under-takings, neatly summarized by lines on graph paper. But in reality they are complex experiences, laden with emotions.
For me, there seemed to be distinct stages to the experience. First, there is the filled-with-wonder stage. I felt giddy as I reviewed plans and eyed pictures of the sparkling new sinks that would soon be in our home. I patted myself on the back for taking the steps necessary to lead to a better tomorrow, at least in the bathroom.
Next is the under-siege stage. The workmen take over your house, sawing, hammering, welding, while you scamper around in the basement, in your robe, trying to find your clothes, and wondering when you will get your house back. The answer turns out to be a month or two longer than you ever expected.
Finally, when the workmen leave -- you know they are gone for good when their tools and machinery disappear from the hallway -- you begin to restore order.
Slowly, uncertainly, you begin to go through your routines in your recently renovated house. You take long showers under a new shower head. You carry the familiar heaps of dirty laundry to the new, gleaming laundry room. And you install the chin-up bar.
For days, the 13-year-old had been pestering me to put the bar up. I had stalled the kid, telling him that a suitable new location had to be found. Since the old storage room had become the laundry room, one of the busiest spaces in the house, the low-hanging bar could no longer reside in that doorway.
I told the kid to search the house for possible chin-up-bar sites and report back to me. Much to my surprise, the kid did what he was told. We settled on a doorway in the basement as the spot. The doorway led to the room that before the renovation, "BR," had served as the laundry room. After the renovation, "AR," it had become the storage room.
So the other night after supper, the kid and I went to work. We screwed two metal cups into the doorway. Then we fitted the chin-up bar into these cups, making sure the bar was level. After we put the tools away, the kid immediately started doing chin-ups. The kid was happy with the installation, and so was I.
This time I was able to put the chin-up bar higher in the doorway. The kid was now tall enough to grasp a higher bar. Moreover, I could pass underneath of the higher bar without getting smacked in the head. This was a definite home improvement.
Having gone through the filled-with-wonder, the under-siege and the return-to-routine stages of home renovation, I was tempted to begin the look-for-trouble stage. I considered eavesdropping on the new pipes, listening for leaks, probing into dark spaces looking for anything suspicious. But I stopped and, thinking of the current commotion in Washington, reminded myself that if you look long enough and hard enough into the dark parts of domestic life, you will find some trouble, somewhere.
Moreover, such a probe runs counter to my belief that a house, like a government, runs on tolerance.
Pub Date: 9/12/98