Archive for February, 2009



It’s been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. It could also be said that the belly flop off a high dive begins the same way, and that’s why today’s tool is the pipe cutter. 

When I was a little snot, and indeed we all were at some point, one of the bathrooms in my family’s house began to lose hot water pressure. Upon investigation, my father deemed that the issue was a small, but terminal (for the pipe anyway) patch of corrosion around the joints in the pipes from the hot water heater. The entire line would need to be replaced soon due to the corrosion.
Now, there may be folks who would call a plumber to take care of this sort of thing, and for some that might be well advised. We weren’t that family though. My folks were the kind to buy a house, turn it into a home, and then move on when the time came.  If my father really needed the help, which he rarely did, he had the option of turning to my mom or my older siblings. This time however, my sibs had moved on to their own houses so he turned to me, the youngest.
On the next available Saturday, with ample time to work after declining his weekly 2 PM tennis game, my father enlisted my help. After breakfast dad began assessing the situation to me and going over the tools involved. (Sort of a precursor to the MANVIL cards) The first forty minutes of the project included learning the requirements to complete the task, and a quick lesson on soldering and pipe cutting. With the wheels set in motion, and the water system turned off, he handed me a tape measure. Grabbing a small notebook and a pencil, he prepared to ask me for dimensions. 
As we both looked into the dark, dirt covered crawlspace underneath the house that held the workings of the plumbing from the hot water heater to separate parts of the house, I paused. My father had once been hospitalized by an enormous centipede bite, so we were both kind of cautious about diving into the dark.  My dad looked at the dark passage, looked at me, and nodded. “You should be good, centipedes like warm places, it’s kinda cold a barren in there.” Just then, my mom chimed in that there was a call for my father. With a quick shrug and a roll of his eyes he wandered upstairs to get the call. “I’ll be right back” he said.
I decided not to wait. I crawled through the basement access door under the house with a flashlight, the measuring tape on my belt and a small notebook stuffed into the pocket of my old “Hang Ten” tee. Wriggling on my back over the dirt, between the cold dark dirt and the 60 year old redwood floor joists I was able to shimmy out to the rotting ell joint that turned the pipes up into the bathroom. The place was confined, and a bit chilly for Hawaiian standards, but not too bad to get a round in. 
As my eyes adjusted to the unusual combination of refracted sunlight and flashlight glow I began measuring the length of the pipes. I marked lengths and measured, made notes and slowly crabbed my way back to the light of the basement. When I got back through the access door to the crawlspace I dusted myself off a bit, grabbed the pipe-cutters and crawled back in to get the old pipes out. 
With little real effort, but a lot of awkward maneuvering in tight spaces, I was able to get the old steel pipes separated and ready for removal. They were badly rusted at the joints, and in fact the ell that had elbowed the pipe up into the bathroom failed completely when I applied pressure to it. We had evidently chosen the right weekend to do the job. The pipes and their pieces were corralled and eventually dragged to the basement. As I cut the pipes down to be thrown away for scrap my father returned from his phone call. It had been work related, and he wasn’t excited about the intrusion on his spare time. (It should be noted that ‘mobile phones‘ at the time were only owned by the government, hotel magnates and the cartels)
“You’re done measuring?” he asked, with some concern in his eyes.
“Yeah, I think so.” I replied, not sure what I possibly could have missed. I offered up my notes in order for him to verify that I’d covered my bases. 
He studied my numbers for a bit, scratching his chin and furrowing his brow in attention. His focused eyes arose with a kind of bemusement.”Well, alright. Let’s go to the store and get what we need, and maybe we can wrap this up before dinner.” It was about 10:30 AM.
After the quick trip for copper pipe, welding material, a series of pipe fittings and more gas for the torch we were back in the basement in an hour.  As we unpacked and I organized the material, my dad re-approached my notes and did a bit of mental math in his head. He shrugged, smiled and shook his head while smiling in a sign of agreement. He then excused himself and wandered out to help my mom with gardening as I set to work placing and soldering pipes before their installation. 
Within an hour, with the pipes soldered and installed, I was ready to subject my project to a pressure test. My dad was as anxious for success as I was, partially for the fix, but I also suspected he would be able to make his tennis game if there was success with the plumbing. As I watched for leaks from under the house, dad cautiously turned the water back on and yelled for my mom to turn on the sink. I could hear the water in the pipes as it first passed over me in towards the bathroom. 
As we tried putting stress on the system, none of us saw any signs of failure. I reviewed every joint under pressure, and without pressure. The entire system worked without a hitch, and every joint was dry. It was 1:30 PM. If he’d hustled, my dad could have made his tennis game. Instead, the three of us went to lunch at the beach, which was pretty cool, but not as cool as hearing my dad say I’d done a good job. I got lucky on the start of my journey.

A few years back, I received an emergency phone call from a friend’s wife late on a Thursday night. Apparently my friend, Tony, had managed to slip down and destroy the small rear steps from his mud room to his driveway, and in doing so suffered some damage to his knee and lower back. In order to enter his house Tony could only use the front door, and that door had a series of steps to it that were playing havoc with his back and knees. Tony’s wife, Anne, asked that I join another buddy of ours, Greg, to venture up-state to help replace the four by four landing to the mud room. Without much consideration I cancelled my weekend plans and loaded an overnight bag to go help. How hard could it be? A small landing coming out of the back door with some steps down to the driveway, it’d be a breeze. We’d be doing for a four hour job, and spending the rest of the weekend drinking beer and shooting the breeze with Tony, Anne and their neighbors. No big deal.

Greg loaded his tools in my rig and we set forth late Friday afternoon. Now Greg’s never been one to slack on tool ownership, but after talking with him about the weekend’s plans and comparing the plans to the number of tools he was bringing, I figured I might have missed something. We loaded three hundred pounds of tools into the back of my Land Cruiser, and for a small job, that seemed like a lot. I gave Greg the benefit of being over-prepared, and we got on the road. Three hours later we were standing in Tony’s driveway looking at the project, and as the light was fading for the evening, I noticed the large stack of untreated decking wood hidden under a tarp near the garage. Uh, oh. 
As I was reconnecting with Anne, Greg and Tony were talking amongst themselves in somewhat hushed tones. The way their hands were scoping out the hand drawn plan seemed to show a more vast footprint than a four by four step. They looked like a pair of architects from a Bechtel ad pointing dutifully into the future, with clear vision and chest pockets full of protractors. Something was afoot, and I could see the gears turning in Tony’s head as he bobbed and weaved about the job site. Greg continued to survey the site and measurements as I approached Tony.
“You’re pretty flexible for a man with a bad back and wounded knees” I said. 
“Ooh , ahh, yeah. I used a batch of tiger balm this morning. It stunk like crazy, but I feel better.” Tony blurted
“I’ve been shanghi’d, haven’t I?” I replied, smiling wryly and accepting an ‘on cue’ beer from Anne.
“Well, the plans have expanded some since last night. But nothing too drastic.” He impishly looked to the heavens and threw his hands apart as he said that. As long as we had been friends, which was quite a while, I’ve always enjoyed Tony’s willingness to begrudgingly accept responsibility for under-estimating his plans. It was going to be a long weekend spent with good friends working on a big plan.
Up at 6AM on that Saturday, the remnants of the old landing came out easily enough, although dragging the cement bases out required tying them to the Cruiser with tow straps. The twin pergola came out the same way, torn from the earth in low gear. Before 10 AM Tony and Greg were off to any of the five DIY stores within forty miles as Anne and I set up an assembly line to stain the decking wood. We were 3/4 way through the ordeal before Tony and Greg returned with more wood, concrete and decking hardware. We worked as a team pretty well once we were all on board with the plan, and by 7PM Saturday we had the foundation in place and had finished staining all 200 deck pieces. We wrapped up work for the evening with great food, a few cold ones and catching up with old friends. The plans had indeed changed, enormously, but the new plans made for a great deck experience for the future visits.
Bright and early Sunday morning Greg brought out the finish nailer in order to get us started framing the deck. As we all set out and began to work, progress was occasionally set back by visits from neighbors and other friends, (some of them really could have used the MANVIL cards) but we kept on working through the day until it was time for Greg and I to decide to return to our homes down state. We loaded up our bags, but left the tools with Tony and Anne in case they wanted to work through the week.
The deck project itself took two more weekends to finish. Greg and I made it back up to Tony and Anne’s with smiles on our faces and pride in the eventual solution to Tony’s deck needs. We were fed like kings, worked like dogs and have subsequently enjoyed many a fine meal on that twenty foot by twenty foot deck. Our friendship grew exponentially, just as the deck did, and that makes light work of any of the effort.

After seven consecutive years on the oceans between Oahu and every other island in the Hawaiian chain, a shipping barge begins to show a little age. In order to ensure that this barge doesn’t give up the ghost mid-journey, thereby sullying the Hawaiian seas with an assortment of used up rental cars, garbage, next week’s milk, and a dizzying array of folding beach chairs, the barge is taken out of the water, and inspected. 

In order to inspect the barge, a hole is cut in the bottom of each 40 foot section of the four section vessel. The cavernous interior of each section is fully sand blasted and further inspected for any metal fatigue. This hole, in order to keep structural integrity of the section, is small. It is a pill shaped opening about two and a half feet by one and a half feet. It is big enough to allow access for one person at a time, with room for a few sand blast hoses and maybe an extra extension cord for lights and good keeping. Once the roughly 15 tons of sand blast grit is blown into the bowels of the barge to get a good look at the interior hull, that blast grit needs to be removed. 
When I arrived at my new assignment at the Kapolei shipyard, I didn’t know what to expect. After four weeks on the job, I had been reassigned from the small and enjoyable assignment at the ‘in-town’ shipyard, where I’d been learning the practical uses of the forklifts, to the out of town yard. Little did I know that the out of town yard was the busy one, with all the refitting work.
I climbed out of my car on that beautiful cloudless day, and began to trek across the arid crushed coral of the parking lot. The white coral lot and the clear blue Hawaiian sky almost required sunglasses, and it was only 7AM. As I entered the yard and began looking for my new supervisor he saw me from across the yard, and yelled my name. I must have been the only haole under 250 lbs. who was not wearing an Aloha shirt and khaki pants, so it couldn’t have been too hard to spot me. 
I try not to pre-judge anybody before I’ve actually met them, but this guy was perhaps the most muscular, no BS, bald, ‘not thrilled to see a haole college boy on my jobsite’ fellow, I’ve ever met. To make matters worse for me, his name was Melvin, and he could not have looked more unlike a man named Melvin. Mel, I could have seen. Vin, I could have seen. If he’d have said his name was Thud I could have accepted that too, but he said Melvin with such conviction I nearly bit my tongue in half trying to keep a straight face. Melvin handed me a respirator and something papery and white in a bag. He pointed to another new guy he also knew by name and gave him the same equipment. Then we started walking.
When we got to where we needed to be I was looking up at a not very big hole on the bottom of a very big barge. I put my white suit over my jeans and tee quietly, and tested the fit of my respirator. With little fanfare Melvin handed me a single 40 watt bulb attached to single incandescent work light, a flathead shovel and pointed me towards the ladder that half filled the hole. As I walked towards the ladder I heard him say to my co-worker, “Make sure this is done by four.” With that, I started climbing  the ladder, and recognized I was climbing into a black hole. 
Once inside, I managed to find the lone electrical outlet by following the cord from the entry hole. I plugged in the work light. It was the visual antithesis of dropping a black coffee from a ski lift in a blizzard. You can see there is something, something different there, but it just doesn’t matter, because it is so inconsequential. Even the entry hole in the hull provided more light, and it was on the bottom of the hull, forty feet away. My co-worker entered the hole quietly in his whitesuit and we began to dig 15 tons of black sand through a hole smaller than the opening of a Coleman cooler
After 3 hours we took a break. It was 10:30, and we climbed out into the bright, bright world. It had gotten a bit hotter since 7AM and we could both tell there was a possibility of some serious heat inside the hull of  black giant as the afternoon progressed. We had about 4 tons of black sand spilled through the hole on the ground, so I said I thought things looked pretty good. I got a grunt from my fellow digger, and as I finished my water and turned to re-enter the dark zone,  I heard my co-horts white suit swooshing. I turned and watched in mild amusement as he bolted for the parking lot. “Fudge” said I, and I climbed back up into the darkness. 
I kept digging the grit throughout the morning, and finally broke for lunch late. I ate under the massive hull to keep from the sun, which to my mind had gone from hot to scorching. The stagnant air in the enclosed hull section didn’t move at all, it just got hotter and more dense with dust. And the white suit I wore was a deep grey, with obvious wet spots where my sweat was amking its way through the fabric. I must have eventually gotten some sort of rhythm going, because by four I was brooming the last pile of grit out the hole. Sopping wet, grit colored grey and exhausted, when I finished I threw my shovel, the light and the cord through the aperture to the lit world. I followed the tools onto the enormous pile of sand that almost reached the bottom of the hull, and was blinded by the brilliance of the light reflecting off the white coral. As my eyes tried to adapt I could tell somebody was approaching me, some one large.
“Where’s the other guy?” asked Melvin, sounding a little peeved, and looking kinda puffed up.
I confessed, “Uh, he left at 10:30, or something like that.” 
As my eyes were still adjusting, I saw this huge guy looking at me, he was considering what to do. 
“Are you finished?” he asked. 
“Yeah, it’s all clear in there. You can check if you like; I’m heading home.” I replied, feigning to exit, but knowing Melvin was going to check. I waited for him to climb the mound of sand to look through the hull portal. 
He turned to me and it surprised me enormously when he smiled. For a huge and scary guy, he had the happiest, most easy going smile. He looked at me in a completely changed face and said “Listen, just walk into the ocean, you look beat. Just walk into the ocean and drive home in a towel or something. Nice work. See you tomorrow.”  Flabbergasted, that just what I did, and the water was as nice as anything I’ve ever been in.
I saw the kid that I’d started that dig out with weeks later, but I saw him from the cab of a 40 ton forklift that Melvin taught me to operate. That guy should have learned his tools with MANVIL cards and stuck with it. C’mon in, the water’s great.

When I was a kid I used to go to my calabash aunt and uncle’s house and borrow their sunfish sailboat. This assumed family of mine were relatively old-time Hawaiian residents, (for Navy haoles) having arrived in the late 50′s. In the mid-60′s they purchased a beach house on an ‘out of the way’ beach, and if you’ve been to Hawaii in the last 30 years, you know, there is no longer any ‘out of the way’ Hawaii… unless it’s on another island. 
My calabash family’s beach house had a single walled construction the likes of which might have sheltered plantation workers if it had been more inland and surrounded by the red dirt of the pineapple fields, yet their house was right on the beach, and you know what they say in realty… location, location, location. It had a small driveway, a small sailboat that could be dragged into the ocean by the string bean of a kid that I was, and a view that allowed you to see the curvature of the earth. That’s about it for their house, excepting the fact that it had wonderful inhabitants and a talking mynah bird that said, “Alooohaaaaaaa!”
When I would visit with a friend to go sailing, my calabash uncle, would sit and paint like an impressionist at their outdoor bar and barbecue shed all weekend long after working his can off for the state transportation department. His wife was dutifully active in many social pursuits on the island, and had a fondness for hula that, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand. She loved to dance hula, and as their Hi-Fi belted out the treble-heavy wailing of old school, notably high-pitched Hawaiian music, she would gracefully sway and bob to the music while practicing. When we arrived to go sailing, she’d simply waive at us, blow a kiss and point us towards the boat. To this very kind couple, my buddy and I were the crew of their battered plexiglas navy. 
Kendall and I would awkwardly drag the forlorn sunfish to the beach with him trying to lift the front with the built in handle and me straining to hold up the aft end. Once the ordeal of getting the boat to water was accomplished, we’d set to work getting the sail rigged while wading chest deep in the warm Pacific. In our pre-take off check list to ensure a safe sail, one of us would always set the cotter pin in the dagger board to make sure it never got away from us.
Once the safety list was was finished, we were off to the races with Kendall minding the sheet and me manning the tiller. If the winds were favorable the boat would pick up speed and plane out as Kendall and I leaned far backwards to counterbalance the effects of the wind in the sail. If we played our cards well, and balanced our weight enough, we would simply skim above the water screaming along as fast as the wind would take us. We’d spend hours battering that boat in the wind and the surf, and being that we were on the windward side of the island, that little craft would pick up pace and roar off wherever we pointed it. Skimming the top of the water at a break-neck pace with our backs inches off the clear, light blue sea allowed us to imagine that that tiny, worn sunfish was a real race boat. Such was the life, and we knew it was good.
After sailing for hours in surf, calm, flat or storm, we’d return to shore, dash the sails, pluck the dagger board, wash the boat, and join my calabash aunt and uncle for a coke and some sandwiches. We’d ‘talk story’ about what was going on at our individual high-schools, and how my aunt and uncle were doing, occasionally striking on political matters. My ‘uncle’ was very involved in the politics and policy of the 50th State, which is why my leaving Hawaii to go to college on the mainland would be bittersweet for me. 
Many years later, when I returned from college, I continued to visit my uncles’ house in order to enjoy that aged, yet still fun to sail, sunfish. I received the same warm greeting from my aunt and uncle, but now I no longer needed help getting the boat to the water, and could actually lug it down to the beach over the plants by myself. It seemed that little had changed, and sailing the old craft was delightful. I eventually called Kendall to see if he wanted to get back into sailing, and he figured he’d give it a whirl again, for old times sake. When we both loaded onto the craft and got underway, we found it decidedly slower than we both remembered it.
As we moped along we tried to go over the reasons for the slowness of the boat. We’d rigged the boat the same way. The sail looked to be in good shape. The dagger board looked to be in good shape, if in need of a new coat of lacquer. Only the daggerboard locking cotter pin, which was kind of corroded, needed a bit of coercion to seat in position, but that was taken care of by a pair of needle nosed pliers that we chose to leave on the deck of the house.
Kendall and I kept wondering about the problem. Why were we going so slowly? As we pondered the issue a really great gust of wind picked up, and we began to pick up speed going down the beach. The only tell-tale sign that this was truly an awesome burst of wind was that out of the corner of my eye I could see that almost every chair, towel, blanket and purse on the beach was beginning to fly directly into the brush further inland. As the gust blew down the beach people began to cover their eyes, grab their sand blasted shins and watch in vain as sundry items blew by them. I’d have chuckled at the time, but I soon had bigger fish to fry.
As the breeze picked up to a harried pace Kendall and I stopped trying to figure out what was slowing us and began to fight for control of the boat as the bow began plowing whitewash over the tiny deck. The mast began to distort a bit as the sail strained taught from corner to corner and the tiller began to lose it’s desired effect as we began to nose forward, churning water over the deck and splashing wildly against incoming swells. We tore off leaving a wake of roughly churned water behind us and I began to lean far back off the aft end of the little boat to try to bring the nose up. We powered on, laughing about the great gust that we’d come onto, and the rather voluminous amount of water we were constantly taking on, wiping off, spitting out and having to bail. 
At that sudden breakneck pace, in a howling wind and with water splashing over the deck we instinctively followed courses that we had always taken as kids. Our mentally charted route coincided with dark coral heads that appeared somehow more ominous in the azure, now white capped water. Through the salt spray we yelled at each other that the coral heads looked dark enough to seem nearer to the surface than they had been years before. Surely, they couldn’t be that much nearer the surface.
In fact, they were. The coral was bigger, because coral grows. Duh! And our dagger board was lower, because, apparently, we too had grown. In a split second reaction to this desperate realization of nature’s growth and our girth, Kendall quickly reached for the corroded cotter pin with his free hand and attempted, in vain, to pull it out in order to raise the dangerously low center board. Without any purchase on the corroded and jammed pin, his water soaked fingers slipped off. In the midst of another large spray he grabbed at the pin again, and as he did, the boat shuddered severely. Then all went remarkably calm.
We began to blow sideways to shore, quietly. No more violent splashing over the bow. No more heaving at the lines. Not even much compression from the tiller. Now we were just blowing straight to shore in abject silence. In the smoothing foam of our once proud and frothy wake I could see parts of the dagger board and a large portion of the tiller. With what rudder there was, I aimed us for the beach, and the wind was much more helpful getting us there. 
We sat and regrouped for a moment, a little crestfallen, watching the chaos of the people on the shore trying to pull their beach wares from the fauna and rubbing sand from their eyes. That’s when we started laughing, and we didn’t stop until we got to shore.
Eventually, we got the boat back to my calabash family’s home by walking it through the waist deep water near the shore. With the breeze down, and the beach suddenly devoid of other visitors, it was quick business. On our way we were even able to find some of the larger pieces of the shattered centerboard, which was slightly more disappointing due to the fact that these shards of wood had found a way to beat us to shore. 
Back at the house, we washed and packed up the boat, checking for any serious damage along the way. When the boat checked out, we got set to have a drink with my aunt and uncle. My calabash aunt, dressed in a full length muu-muu with puffy shoulders and a laced collar, met us on the back porch with two Primos and some snacks. Eventually, my uncle joined us as well and we sat a laughed at the loss of the dagger board and the tiller. He and his wife sat and listened to our pretty innocuous story with rapt attention and enjoyed a their own drinks, a mint julep for him and a white wine for her. As the afternoon waned we made a deal to replace the boat parts and waved goodbye for the week. My calabash aunt and uncle both yelled “Aloohaaaa!” from the yard as we waived our thanks. As we loaded up for our ride back into town with the broken remains of the daggerboard we could still hear their bird from its cage, “Alooohaaaaa!”
Lucky you live Hawaii, to know Aloha.

I have never been a resolute fan of any particular NFL football team. I simply wasn’t raised in a place where there was an NFL franchise to lay claim to. My family had no set NFL team favorite, and when you can bodysurf all day long, year round, there are other thing to focus one’s attention on. 

When I moved to the mainland, my perceptions changed. My friends who were raised on the mainland all had favorite home teams. The weather in the northern climates could often be despicably cold and rainy for every Sunday in the fall and early winter. I found that I enjoyed hanging around with my buddy’s having a beer and watching the game, but I still wasn’t pledging allegience to a team. What made Sunday football special was not the game, although I did delight in watching the competitions, rather, it was the comradery and the food. (OK, the beer was a treat too, but that’s because nobody wants to get dehydrated.)
There are a lot of folks who enjoy the Sunday ritual. The game, the hang-out, the food, the beer, and the horseing around. In the midst of that impromptu line-up of activities the food takes center stage, and for food to take that regal post, the grill has to be standing on stage with it. There is no grill without fire, subsequently, this is where the barbeque grill starter, or charcoal chimney, comes in. This is where MANVIL considers the barbecue grill starter an awesome weekend tool.
The chimney keeps the focus on the fire, not on the size of the plume. Any half-baked monkey with box of matches and a deathwish can pour lighter fluid on a bed of coals until the resultant flame-up looks like restricted test at Bikini. The idea is to have the grilled food taste like grilled food, not a grisly morsel left to cook on the overheated exhaust port of a long haul Freightliner. The good folks I have had the chance to befriend are not nationally esteemed chefs, but they aren’t burger torchers either. 
My friends have, for many, many Sundays, provided excellently grilled rib-eyes, lamb shoulders, chicken portions, salmon steaks and even aparagus salads. As long as I can remember, that tin tube of grill starting goodness has a been a part of the campaign for fire, and for it’s introduction I am grateful. Barbecued salmon drenched in a mustard, soy and brown sugar sauce is one thing, fuel flavored fish loses dignity in presentation. That, and I’m finally beginning to grow my eyelashes back. Enjoy!
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Portland, OR United States
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