Thursday, August 13, 2020

My Jello Fence and Upside-Down Shed (and the Steaming Piles of Dog Shit)

Well, grasshoppers, we meet again for a semiannual blog post! 
 
This is a long one, with 12 months' worth of pictures picked out, cropped, collaged, and organized. I should probably break these into smaller posts as I go, but sitting at a computer too often makes me feel lethargic and depressed. Get up! Let's get that blood flowing! Let's fix broken things so they work again! Let's get sweat streaming down our backs! Let's haul some lumber and keep our calluses thick! Let's use an angle grinder just to watch the sparks fly! Let's go to the hardware store and fantasize about all the cool things we can build with the neat stuff we find in there!  

[wipes hands]

Alright. So we've discussed my trailer's beginnings, the trailer park it's situated in, the exterior makeover, and the bathroom makeover, and now we'll discuss securing the little plot of land it sits on as well as creating some storage. Recall that I own this structure free and clear but rent the land it sits on, which is a typical trailer park arrangement. Much like a campsite, except this "RV" is 63 years old and can't move anymore. Also recall that for decades before I bought this place, it served as the trailer park office and there was nothing but a little pony wall separating this trailer from the street. In Arizona this is somewhat rare because many trailer parks here are gated communities, some with 24/7 security guards.



Go home, lawn ornaments. You're drunk.

 
Below is how it looked mere minutes after I bought it in February 2018:


Which was also precisely when the Google Street View cam ambled down the street:
 
 
That tan-colored brick pony wall wouldn't have been an issue except that my trailer is located in a part of town rife with drugs, criminals, prostitutes, mentally ill homeless people, abandoned shopping carts, and mean and matted feral cats missing teeth and eyeballs.
 
In my first few months here, I saw people jumping the pony wall and cutting across my driveway or through the drainage ditch ("the wash") that borders my back yard, tweakers throwing themselves against my house in their delusional stupor, opportunistic thieves jiggling the (fortunately locked) door handles on my car, and one day I came home to fast food trash all over my front steps because apparently people had thought it appropriate to sit there and eat and leave their mess for me to clean up. Scary-looking strangers have knocked on my door asking to use my bathroom, I called the cops on someone sitting outside my door yelling gibberish at no one in particular, and I filed a nuisance complaint when someone dumped a broken RV on the shoulder of the road in front of my house and homeless addicts started building a fort with it. Aside from the suspected meth lab fire I wrote about, there was a shooting between police and a homeless man on the other side of my block, there was a (non-fatal) revenge shooting inside this park, and most recently someone on drugs was running around the park charging at people and had to be tased twelve times before police were able to subdue him. 
 
But hey, my rent is only 1/6 of my income! In my 2.5 years here, I've paid off two student loans and three credit cards, raised my credit score by 100 points, taken care of a long-standing and expensive medical issue, bought my first structurally sound car and am paying 22% more than the minimum, and am perfectly on track in my savings goal for a new kitchen. I'm in the best financial shape of my life thanks to living well below my means, which I was never able to do as a renter in more respectable neighborhoods. On top of all that, having a trailer as a starter home has allowed me to learn the wonderful world of power tools and the joy of being handy, and I'm obsessed. Not only is it a great life skill to have, but I just think it's a blast. I'm pretty much always consumed by some home improvement puzzle.  

So, until this place is ready to sell and I can move somewhere safer, I realize this is a sketchy area and I have to stay alert and protect myself. Several people have asked if I've read The Gift of Fear, and yes I have. Soon after moving in, I invested in two Arlo motion-detecting security cameras with an app that notifies me of movement on my property. This was the typical view during quiet hours when I was home. Notice my driveway and the pony wall and public road in the background:


As soon as I would leave for my second-shift job, these cameras recorded all kinds of weird and rude things, like neighbors I recognized but didn't know inviting themselves onto my patio area to sit on my bench (then fortunately stopping and turning around to avoid the ear-splitting cat lights I installed to keep the feral cats from marking everywhere, haha):



...or the gang of prepubescent boys on bikes who made deep gouges in my driveway after a hard rain, and then the mud dried like that:
 

Or random strangers wandering around my driveway, casually smoking cigarettes and tossing the butts everywhere:


I can't find the video of the fully armed cops who came pounding on my door at 3:30am demanding I hand over someone named "Candy." I think my confused and terrified face finally convinced them they had the wrong house, but the funny part was that the security cam vids showed they were very suspicious of the cat lights and fully inspected them! Bwahaha.

I didn't put a camera facing my belligerent north side neighbors in the trailer next to me because it would've been too obvious. Their children were constantly stomping on my utility hookups, tearing up my side yard, playing on my back porch uninvited, and dropping trou right in the open to take a piss. When they misbehaved, I just took pics manually.

Go ahead, buddy. Right out in the open. The world is your urinal.

The grown man of that house screamed and swore at me a few times for throwing away trash they left in my yard, later asked me for money, sold the beat-up family vehicle with a sign taped to the window saying, "$500.00 OBO. Macanic Special," and gave me his unintentionally funny business card:



And he will be forever known as Nate Odd. He doesn't live here anymore because he "borrowed" a total of $6000 from the other park residents then ran off to Florida, and no one has seen hide nor hair of him since. His lady immediately replaced him with another man who drives a fancy pickup and whose family stole all the 8-balls from the pool tables in the park's rec room during their 60-person birthday party.

The lesson here is that SO MUCH HAPPENS WHEN YOU'RE NOT LOOKING OMG, and I've since become a devout security camera enthusiast. After my car was egged and I saw a woman get run over, I installed a dash cam. Then I was run off the road by a pickup driver under the influence, and another time I was at work and teenagers popped wheelies onto my hood and doused it with ranch dressing:

This happened in a very tony part of town, too. Probably some rich entitled little assholes.
 
Here's a sequence of videos captured while I was sleeping, showing an Amazon person leaving a package on my steps, then reading my delivery instructions to put it inside the storage bench, which he did before leaving. Then 40 minutes later one of the tween neighborhood punks who made the mud ruts in my driveway knocked on my door to ask for money, which he has done before. I'm certain he would've taken that package if it had been sitting on the steps.


 
Based on what I was seeing firsthand plus all the security cam footage, I was sorely wanting a fence around my plot of land. However, the trailer itself was in such bad shape that major construction to get the place minimally habitable took priority. Finally, by the summer of 2019, a fence was in the budget. I submitted fencing plans to park management, who approved them in writing. Park rules permit only chain link fence, which was/is a bummer, but my yard and driveway were under siege and I badly needed a barrier of some kind. ANY kind.

The diagram of my written proposal.

I considered extending the fence to completely encircle the property, but that would've required a complicated and ugly setup around my front walkway as well as huge and expensive driveway gates in a very cramped entry where other cars are constantly coming in and out and stopping in front of the office across from me. The extra fencing and gates also would've doubled the price on an already expensive project. I don't know why people say chain link fencing is cheap unless they're comparing it to a marble wall or something. Including all hardware and prep, chain link isn't cheap at all!

So I left the front entry open with my utility hookups protected by a locked gate. Wandering down my driveway would lead to a dead end, so random neighborhood children would no longer be able to run in circles around my house, which was indeed happening.

Below was how the electric, internet, fresh water, waste water, and former gas lines looked when I bought the place. Unsightly, exposed, and apparently irresistible to kids. After converting the trailer to electric, I cleaned up this area as much as possible:


I called the city to get approval for digging, priced out and collected my supplies, and measured where my posts would go:



My neighbor across from me, a single guy my age we'll call "JJ," had just finished building a fence around his yard for his dog (the one that barks all day at clouds and light breezes). Since I was still finishing renovations on the exterior, I paid him to dig the holes and set the posts for me with the supplies I provided. I wish I had saved the security cam videos of him digging and chugging water, all tanned and sweaty and shirtless. Very nice footage. And he had it all done in two days.

After studying diagrams of chain link fences and learning how they're installed, I decided to leave off the top rail and instead use tension wire in any spots that needed leveling or support, because I wanted the fence to be impossible to climb. With a top rail, one can jump a chain link fence fairly easily, but with no top rail, it would wobble so much, like a wall of Jello, that a perp would almost certainly fall flat on their back. Ha! That'll learn 'em.


After the posts were up and the cement was cured, I attached the chain link "fabric." I don't know why it's called fabric--I'm not the one who named it that. Just roll with it.






Then the finishing touches--post caps and brown privacy slats to coordinate with the house colors. Not that the slats give much privacy, but they make the fence slightly less hideous, prevent instant footing for climbing, and give a strong visual that this little piece of land is not public property to be trampled on, but someone's private yard. You know, that they're paying for each month.


Take that, you little fuckers.

The plan was to create a private little outdoor eating/napping space by enclosing the back yard with a shed, so to prepare for that, I hung these rolls of fake ivy:


The back corner was tricky, with the utility pole, mesquite tree, and telephone pedestal, but my lot looks much neater and more clearly defined.

Check out my fence separating my yard from the weedy ditch!



Shortly after the fence was completed, the park manager (who formally signed off on my fencing plans TWICE before I even started digging) asked me to dig up the concrete and posts and move the entire fence over (!) so she could put a bench on the other side of it (!!). "If you reduce my rent, sure," I smiled sweetly, "because I'm paying for this space that's now fenced, right? This area that we agreed on in writing?" She smiled back, "You know what, don't worry about it! It's no big deal." 
 
WTF, lady?? Like a fence can be moved as easily as a folding chair or something? Uh, no. The posts are each set in two feet of concrete underground, and you visually inspected the post locations and signed off on the plan beforehand. Twice!
 

My new fence also got a physical test from the gang of preteen boys. I was home one afternoon and, upon hearing their whooping and hollering, looked out my window to see them bicycling down the road. One straggler on foot, however, was taking a shortcut through my driveway to jump my fence and join them. He ran full speed at it, probably expecting to vault over it, but when his foot hit the chain link, the fence forcefully threw him backwards onto the ground. He got up and ran to the park's normal entrance, and I went outside and yelled after him, "Stay out of this driveway!" Then I closed the door and laughed uncontrollably for 15 minutes. That fence bucked him off like a bronco! HA! Exactly as I designed it to.
 
That was completed by late July 2019, and in August, as I was preparing to buy the materials for the shed foundation, my car's oil leak had grown to the point of my mechanic refusing to work on it anymore, even for basic maintenance, saying the car was no longer safe to drive (it had 282,500 miles on it, but I'd hoped to squeeze out another 10,000). A few days later I found a nicer car and the old one actually died as I was pulling into the sales lot to sign the paperwork for the new one. Which is a whole other tragic and funny story, but the point is, my shed money had to go towards a functioning vehicle.

Then work was really slow with very few deliveries and paltry tips until November, and then it was the holidays, then I had a large medical bill, then I got a huge speeding ticket, then COVID exploded and I didn't know what was going to happen with my job, so building the shed was delayed until April 2020.
 
The good news is that my Kia Soul fits a lot more construction supplies in it than my Ford Taurus did! It's a zippy little car and I'm happy with it.
 
 
My trailer was in desperate need of basic storage because it came with no spare space at all--no basement, no attic, no garage, no closets, no shed, no nothing. Nowhere to stash luggage or camping gear or holiday stuff or dead bodies or evidence. In this trailer park, people hide other people in sheds when they're on the lam, or simply not on the lease, so I think building a fugitive hiding spot will greatly increase the appeal when I try to sell.
 
If you've ever built a shed, you'll know that there are dozens of combinations of ways to set and anchor one, depending on the landscape, climate, and shed design. My shed would be near a ditch that floods an inch or two during summer rains, so the foundation needed to be somewhat tall with rot-resistant materials. It also needed to be anchored really well because those same monsoon storms can bring ferocious gale force winds. Some people assume that the weight of a lawnmower or snowblower will hold down a shed in a storm, but a YouTube search of "shed rolling down the street" will quickly dispel that myth.
 
While my uncle wanted me to build a wooden shed from scratch, I wanted a metal shed that wouldn't be prone to rot or termites, and I myself am prone to measuring mistakes, so I wanted a prefab one with pieces already measured for me. I decided on this popular 8x6 Arrow Newport model from Home Depot:


I had decided on these GeoGrid permeable pavers as the foundation because they were easy to install, not subject to rot, allowed for good drainage, and would not make a permanent mark on the land I was renting. Meaning, the shed could be moved if ever necessary:
 
 
At first I had positioned the shed in a different spot, but that area was difficult to get level plus it made the usable yard too small, so I ended up moving the foundation more towards the driveway. This area of the lot was already perfectly level, so I didn't have to do any grading. I just used a hoe to scrape the gravel out of the way, then secured the weed barrier with some rusty old nails:


Then I laid down the pavers, filled them with pea gravel, and topped them off with decomposed granite:
 
 
I really didn't want any wood parts in my shed foundation since it's so near a ditch, but the metal flooring I wanted was waaaaaay too expensive, plus once the pavers were settled, they weren't as high off the ground as I'd hoped, so I ended up building this wood base and coating it with 515,624,037 coats of Helmsman spar urethane. Then propping it up on bricks, crawling under it, and coating every nook and cranny with more and more spar urethane over the course of several days, then dragging this huge, heavy thing to the shed's new location. In 100-degree heat. 


Then I screwed down the frame and, with a lot of huffing and puffing, twisted the anchors into the ground. These anchors were intended to be set into the interior corners of the shed, but I soon realized they weren't long enough for that nor would they penetrate the pavers without damaging them. So I decided to set them into the ground and strap down the shed with cables.


Man, this desert soil is extremely compacted sand and clay, and when it gets wet, it dries like cement. Don't bother trying to plant anything--it's like digging through a solid layer of rock. On the plus side, these anchors are there for all eternity. You'd have to chop off their heads to level the land because there's NO WAY they're coming out. 

Next I laid out the shed pieces. You'll notice in this picture that the new park managers had installed a janky homemade gate on top of the pony wall at a reported cost of $10,000, so technically I now live in a gated community. They gave us clickers and passcodes for a gate that is always, always, always open. Not sure what the point of that was, but the running joke among us tenants is that a closed gate would keep the crazies contained within the trailer park and protect the surrounding neighborhood.

The hell was I even talking about? Oh yeah, laying out the shed pieces:


Since I was doing this entirely myself, I used rope, paint cans, and a ladder to hold up the panels while I screwed them together. They went up surprisingly quickly, which led me to falsely believe this shed would be done within a few hours...


I normally work nights and sleep days, so I started putting this together at 2pm. I went nonstop for 13 hours and finished at 3am, using a hanging lantern plus a head lamp. I would have stopped sooner and finished the next day, but there was a 30pt font warning in the instructions that a partially-finished shed was at great risk of damage from even slight breezes. I sure as hell didn't want the hassle of buying a replacement shed, so I powered through to git 'r done. 

There were just so...many...screws...


Then I had to attach the cables to the anchors before going to bed. But when I woke up the next afternoon, it looked great! To my pleasant surprise, the doors opened and closed very smoothly, though I added lithium grease to the slides just in case.


Here are the anchors with the tie-downs. I did put two u-bolts on each cable, not just one. The shed has one front cable and one rear cable, and each are threaded into the natural venting gaps between the roof and walls, then run over the rafters and tightened just to the point of wrinkling the spot where they touch the wall panels. They're not pretty, but they add one more level of trespassing inconvenience to my yard and, more importantly, this is the recommended anchoring method for sheds in high-wind regions.

 
Next I weatherproofed the roof. The shed kit came with a laughably skinny strip of Reflectix, which maybe I'll keep for a bird feeder project or something, but I wasn't about to store anything in here without a seriously watertight roof. I applied layers of butyl tape to all the seams, covered that plus all screws with Henry roofing sealant, then coated the entire roof with Henry reflective elastomeric paint to help keep it cool. These were all leftover materials from when I sealed my home's roof last year, and they've held up really well.


Next up was priming and painting the shed to match the house. By this time it was early June and we were having an unusual heat wave, and I was reminded (like last year when I painted my siding) that in 112-degree heat and 17% humidity, anything liquid dries literally within seconds of applying it. This results in a goopy and blobby paint finish unless you keep a jug of water and a stir stick nearby to add water to the can every 10-15 minutes. Seriously, you have to nurse the paint like a dehydrated hospital patient.
 
 
Only after I applied the tan color did I notice I had one of the back wall panels screwed on upside down! The ridges aren't centered with the peak of the roof. When I saw that, my shoulders slumped big time. Of course the ridge spacing is decorative, not structural, but still, it looks stupid. God dammit! I can't believe I did that to my beautiful new shed.



The next day I noticed another neighbor with this same shed (painted blue) had made the exact same mistake and his back panel was upside down too. Ha! Maybe I'll cover it up with a trellis. 
 
Then that same red paint (Sherwin Williams "Fireweed") that looks so great on my skinny little house doors doesn't look so great as a giant swath of blasting red in the unshaded driveway. Holy moly...

Yes, don't worry, I painted that little blemish on the left corner of the foundation after the Bondo dried.


Standing back and looking at the bigger picture, our dear Fireweed is having some problems. My house doors still look lovely but the front awning is either really faded or really dusty, and then the shed doors are screaming bloody murder.
 
 
I tried adding dark adhesive strips to break up the huge block of screaming red as well as prevent chipping along the door edges, but that kinda made it worse:

Also check out my new full-length shade screen.

I got a sample of Sherwin Williams "Burnt Auburn," which is a nice respectable brownish red, and eventually I'll take those doors off, remove the strips, and repaint the red darker so it's not so loud. Then probably repaint the house doors and front awning to match. I'm also replacing the plastic locking handles with a more secure hasp and staple.

So the shed needs color correction, but it functions great. We had a good windstorm a few weeks after I built it and it didn't move one millimeter. I poured four gallons of water on the roof to test for leaks and everything stayed dry. Then I bought these shelves that fit perfectly. I wanted black shelves but the white ones were on clearance for half price! I guess no one wanted those. Really, I'm just happy all this construction crap is out of my living room. 

Just as I planned, the fence and shed together enclose the back yard really well, with room enough for two cars in the driveway. Before and after:

 

As you may know from my previous posts, I keep careful track of all my expenses. The fence, including the fencing itself plus concrete, hardware, gates, hinges, posts, slats, labor, and everything came to $1334. The shed itself plus the pavers, gravel, lumber, sealant, cables, hardware, shelves, and everything came to $866. These costs were spread out over 12 months, so an average of $183/month. Combined with my lot rent, it's still cheaper than any apartment in the area, plus I'm learning skills that I wouldn't if I were renting a finished place. 

Now that both of these big projects are done, here's a typical view from my back door: a bicycle piled high with cardboard and tarps and trash, parked across from the drug house (behind that solid white wall) where there's often shouting and fighting and police out front. The difference is that now I'm not worried they'll jump the wall and come throw trash on my patio and yell that Jesus is coming.

Is the grass greener on the other side of the fence, or is the tarp just more blue?
 

And I was even MORE grateful for that Jello fence when, right after I finished the shed, a nearby business upgraded their drainage lines that ran under the empty plot of land that borders the trailer park. That empty lot was previously full of weeds and trash, but also trees that shaded my back yard. Workers ripped all that out, including the chain link fence that separated the trailer park from the empty lot:

The view from my back window.
 

I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I would benefit from better drainage and less flooding during monsoon storms, and tearing down those trees evicted the numerous birds that routinely bombed my house and car in pterodactyl-sized droppings. On the other hand, now my yard is totally exposed, with no shade or privacy, and the Western idea of bulldozing trees shows a "dominion" attitude towards nature I don't like. The Phoenix metro area, being surrounded by mountains, also has an air quality problem and I think we need all the trees we can get. 

Before and after:

 

 

Thank goodness for my little fence, because otherwise people could walk straight from the road right into my back yard! All my unfenced neighbors are 100% exposed now. The entire west side of the trailer park is completely open for who knows how long. Man oh man, thank goodness for the Jello fence.

Before the trees were bulldozed, I had been toying with creative ways to add even more privacy to my yard with trellises, shade screens, and a mini cabana, but the other thing that happened is the new park managers, in a fit of myopia, tore down the park's sign and piggybacked a rickety, too-large gate onto my fence post to close off the triangular area to make a so-called "dog park":

To be clear, it's not big enough for a dog to fully run around in, it's plain hard dirt instead of grass, and apparently there was no plan to stock it with poop bags, to make sure people were picking up their dogs' poop, or to clean and maintain this area at all. 

 

It's absolutely fucking disgusting. There are about 5 or 6 dogs that live in this park, and all throughout the day, people quite seriously stop by for 30 seconds, let their dog shit, and leave without picking up the mess. The dogs are conditioned to recognize that this is their litter box and poop on demand whenever they stop by, because they are brought there for no other purpose. Like Pavlov's dogs, but instead of salivating when they hear a bell, they poop when they enter the triangular area.

This has been a problem for about 3-4 months. I've complained to the park manager numerous times, asked her what the cleaning schedule is, offered to clean it myself for reduced rent, and loaded a Super Soaker with white vinegar and sprayed the freshest piles to neutralize the smell. I've considered reporting it to the city health department and the park owners in Beverly Hills. I've tried to not get so mad by telling myself these dog-owners have learning disabilities and don't understand responsible dog ownership and read online that picking up dog poop is a relatively new thing in American culture and only one or two generations ago everyone let dogs poop wherever they pleased and just accepted it as "natural."

The manager's response has been to clean it for a few weeks, let it build up until I complain again, clean it for a few weeks, let it build up until I complain again, repeat and repeat. I'm sure she thinks she's adding "amenities," but no halfway decent park would have such a thing right next to someone's trailer and directly across from the office at the front entrance of the park--the first thing visitors see when they come in.

The good news is that I'm on the home stretch with renovations. I just refinished the walls, am collecting materials for two closets, then I'll assemble the kitchen and that's it. The bad news is no matter what I do, this place will be a tough sell. No matter how adorable it is, who would want to live in a ghetto next to a fresh feces collection that's replenished daily?

Well, lazy dog owners probably wouldn't mind, I thought bitterly.

 

 

Aha! I'll market my place as "Dog owner's paradise! Never pick up dog poop ever again! Management picks it up for you!" 

In addition to dirt-cheap rent, what dog owner wouldn't LOVE that??

I'll turn this bug into a prized feature.

Stay tuned!