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Cast of Characters:

Randy, the electrician

Will, the electrician’s assistant

Wallace, the building inspector

Kermit, the unreliable contractor

Kevin, the well guy

Scottie, the well guy’s assistant

The wildflowers

The wildflowers put on a pretty show last week, but I was focused on other things.

On Monday, at the end of a busy and productive day, Will, my electrician’s assistant, and I stood in the kitchen as he identified, again, the places where new outlets and wiring were needed. This used, portable classroom is receiving a simple make-over, and long pieces of plastic-coated strands of metal and lots of gray electrical boxes are critical to making it my home. (Please see my previous posts for background.)

“You’ve got to have an outlet for every two feet of counter space,” Will (pictured above) had explained earlier in the day. “You’ve got to know exactly where your sink, counter, and appliances will be.”

So, I’d spent time with my measuring tape, imagined opening the refrigerator door (Boy, that’ll be a tight fit.), standing at the invisible sink washing dishes (Won’t it be nice when there’s a window right there?), and reaching into an imaginary pantry (Darn, it won’t be as big as I’d like, but it’ll have to do.). So, here Will and I were at quitting time on Monday, identifying all of the electrical components they’d add the next day.

Or, so I thought.

As the list of necessary and desired electrical elements grew beyond what my electrician, Randy, had originally cost-estimated for me, I explained to Will that I needed for Randy to let me know what additional charges would be involved.

And, then, I made the critical mistake.

I expressed anxiety about what Wallace, the building inspector, would say when he came to inspect the electrical work. The plans I’d submitted included a bathroom that was part of the original construction. As you can see, however, I picked out a classroom with no bathroom at all.

Kermit the contractor had worked on Saturday, and when he finished, the skeletons of my walls were standing.

But, Kermit failed to show up on Sunday to hang sheet rock, so the studs were still exposed, all but shouting “new construction”. I worried that the building inspector would fine me or, in general, make things difficult when he saw my project wasn’t going according to the plans I had submitted.

To Will I said, “I’m not sure what Wallace is going to hit me with.” But, I wasn’t going to slow down the project. It was time to get on with this show.

Will missed that part of the script.

Maybe he didn’t want me to get “hit”. Or, maybe it was a Mars and Venus thing. Warring planets, crossed stars, minds in alternate universes. What registered in Will’s brain was: “STOP. DO NOT PROCEED.”

And, that’s what he told his boss, Randy, after he left my property Monday evening.

Meanwhile, tired and exhilarated, I coasted home in my universe that evening, Venus as my guide.

Tuesday morning came. Bleary-eyed, but determined, I drove to my property. It was as if I’d walked into a darkened theatre, the curtain drawn. What had happened to the actors in my play? I tromped around my property and looked at long trenches…

…and white pipes tucked neatly into the ground.

By midday, I headed home, called Randy, got the story, and nearly cried. Could he come on Friday? No, he said, that wasn’t a good day. We left things hanging.

Next I called Kevin, the well guy. “Hey, Kevin, I thought Scottie was going to be back today to finish the work.”

“Ellen, he’s on his way. His mother’s been in the hospital and she might need more surgery. That’s where he’s been this morning. But, he’ll be there.”

Then I called Kermit. Told him I was angry (my words were a little more crass than that) when he didn’t show up on Sunday. And he said, “Aw, Sweetie, I didn’t mean to rile you. You shoulda called me.”

Biting my tongue, too close to lashing out, I told him I’d talk with him later.

Meanwhile, my dears, this building comes along slowly. Kermit will likely be fired. Randy and Kevin and their assistants, Will and Scottie, will come through for me.

And, always, despite the drama going on in my schoolhouse project, the weather is cool and the wildflowers are blooming, putting on their very best show.

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Two weeks ago:

Still wading through the red tape required to establish a dwelling on my new property, I walk into the Health Department carrying my packet of papers. I am here to make an application for a septic tank. Once the paperwork is accepted and my soil is tested and it passes muster, the seas shall part and I will be granted a building permit. Then I am “legal” to move to my land the portable schoolroom I picked out some days ago. (See my prior post.)

Mike, the Environmental Administrator, comes out of his office and we sit in the lobby. He sifts through my stack of papers. Mike’s a big guy who sports a large, rectangular ring on his left hand. It is studded with gleaming, clear-white stones and stands out like a billboard in this small, bureaucratic setting. I watch his jewelry as he sifts through my papers. When he gets to the copy of my deed and legal description for the property, he pauses. Too long, he pauses. “This is not a good legal description,” he says. The description is decades old and is not written with the same precision and detail required today. Specifically, the exact dimensions at the southeast corner of the property are not provided. I hold my breath. I’m no longer fixed on his ring. What I wonder is: will I have to get a survey?

My mind is wrangling with that possibility. I didn’t have a survey done when I bought the property because I was avoiding the expense. This land acquisition and building project are not a big budget production, not a Disney movie. We’re talking low budget here, a student film. Not only would a survey cost at least a few thousand dollars, but procuring one at this point would delay the delivery and setting up of my building for another couple of weeks, at least.

Mike continues to study, then underlines a portion of the writing on the legal description. He gets up out of his chair, moves to another part of the lobby. I sit quietly, coaching myself to be calm. A person could drown in all this red tape! “You’ll have to get a survey,” he says, “or you can go to the property appraiser’s office and have them blow up the aerial view of the property and figure out the exact measurements of the boundary lines. And, someone over there needs to initial it.” He said it kindly, but what he meant was: “Don’t you be thinking you can do this yourself.”

I vacate his office with a sigh of relief tempered with disappointment that, instead of mowing and sweating and taking in the great outdoors this afternoon, I’ll be sitting in air-conditioned offices. Rikki, in the property appraiser’s office is friendly and helpful, as are the folks at the courthouse who copy a document that Rikki needs. Back to Rikki’s office while she meticulously completes the evidence that’s required to be sure that I won’t be putting a septic tank on someone else’s property. She puts her signature on the paper. Three hours later, I return to the Health Department, where I pay 400 dollars for a septic tank permit.

Two days later:

I am standing on my property with Mark, the young guy who works for “Big Ring Mike.” Mark is boring a deep hole into the ground to see how porous it is—whether it can adequately handle the moisture from a septic tank and drain field. I breathe another sigh of relief when he tells me my soil passes his “perc” (for percolation) test.

The next day Mark calls and says his report is ready. I pick up the prized paper and present it now to Danielle in the planning, zoning, and building department. I write a check for 168 dollars. So far, permits have cost me 1,400 dollars—more expense than I’d counted on for this adventure in setting up a minimalist dwelling on my small homestead. Finally, I am presented with a canary yellow sheet of paper, my very own building permit, that allows me, legally, to set up a modular building on my property.

We’re on the move! Within days I will be staring at a metal building, gray with mildew, but shining in my imagination!

Two days later:

In the meantime, anxious to hear from Ron, the schoolhouse guy, to confirm the delivery date for the building, I cart some things to the property. It’s hot today, but I’ve brought more bricks and stack them with the others. Though it seemed a little silly and very premature, I was also compelled to bring the birdbath. I struggle to get it from the bed of the truck, dig a little hole in the ground, and do my best to level it. I fill the shallow bowl with a couple of bottles of water brought from my house. (There’s no electricity and, therefore, no water yet on the property!) Then I step back and smile. It’s amazing—how one small touch can make a place feel like home.

One day later:

The confirmation call comes. The building will be delivered tomorrow. The little schoolhouse comes to the Pixie Plantation!

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