Summer's winding down--the sort of comment that prompted the Child to tell me yesterday that I was being Strindberg to her Helium. In my own defense, I am wallowing in mere seasonal wistfulness, not black despair. Strindberg would never have managed to keep alive some of my more outlandish Big Dreams for the vast unrenovated badlands of the CrazyStable for the past 21 years. Here's the third in my trio of perennial favorites in "Extreme Makeover: Strange Home Edition": the ground-floor space we call "the Tool Room," which is in mint boarding-house shape. Keep in mind as you tour: When we bought this 3,000-square-foot house, this was basically the condition of every room (the rewiring holes in the ceilings were added shortly afterward by our first electricians, Moe, Larry, and Curly).
Step through this door from the center hall (the fainthearted are welcome to bless themselves from the holy water font) and step down two steps painted their original Chang-floor red. (Why is this room sunken? We have absolutely no idea.)
The room is a spacious rectangle flooded with north light from two big windows. (It was, like all the other rooms except the kitchens, somebody's sorrowful bedroom in its last incarnation, with a sink and towel bar since removed.) We keep, guess what, tools in here...along with leftover Sheetrock and lumber from projects, bicycles, and assorted stoop-sale finds awaiting refinishing in my copious free time. Note the inspired layout of Door #1, Door #2, and Door #3.
Door #3, on the right, leads via the "Tandoori Pit" (please, don't ask) to the brick-extension mud room and the back garden. Behind Door #2 is a closet; ditto for Door #1, but this one used to be a kitchenette, judging from its crude cabinets, tiny window, and capped pipes. It must also have suffered a helluva lot of moisture over the years; dig those plaster chips. (I also like how they painted the ceiling fixture to match the walls.) Collapsing ceilings are the Tool Room's special charm; here's an even bigger mess thanks to our erstwhle contractor, Mr. Stupid, whose guy drove a nail through a pipe beneath the newly laid plywood subfloor upstairs when they were framing in the second-floor bathroom. Apparently you are supposed to mark the location of the pipes so you don't nail holes through them, you freaking moron, but instead we got a dam bursting down onto every tool we owned, all of which were laid out underneath. We were Mr. Stupid's last job in the New York metro area; I like to think my warm responsiveness to his craftsmanship had something to do with his relocation to the West Coast shortly afterward. Now look down: Here's an intriguing "detail," a very old (probably original) "linoleum rug" (moccasin shown for scale), about 4x8 feet.
Now, [sung to the tune of "How do you solve a problem like Maria?"] how do you use a sinkhole like the Tool Room? It hunkers behind its hallway door with no purposeful flow to our living space upstairs; we don't even need to pass through it to go out the back door (there's a back staircase to the Mud Room for that. Don't worry, at this point everyone gets lost as to the floorplan.) Opposite it lies the rental apartment, a floor-through "double studio" that occupies the only two grandly proportioned parlor rooms in the house; the remaining room on this floor, in front, is used as a sewing room and auxiliary guest room. [N.B.: Yes, and every goddam one of them has to be heated all winter.--Strindberg] The cats are forbidden entry to the Tool Rooom, because they hide in the wall-holes behind the surplus Sheetrock, and besides, who wants to look at this supersized Fibber McGee's closet?
But I have a plan for the room's redemption. Someday, when I have mastered my little platen handpress and moved up to a bigger model--say, a Vandercook--this will be my press room. Cleanly resurfaced, with the addition of versatile track lighting and a big work sink, it will hold big flat cabinets of lead type, and cans of ink, and all the marvelous things that go along with it, like "reglets" and "furniture" and composing sticks and big crisp sheets of Arches paper, and I will come downstairs after breakfast to put on my printer's apron and set type and turn out beautiful broadsheets with poems of Chesterton, say, plus some wedding invitations to pay the bills. Hey, it could happen. Here's a master printer named Peter Kruty right here in Brooklyn who does just this on an 1878 Hoe Washington handpress.
Presses are heavy, very heavy. In my tool-room dream, I have a mental note to tell the contractor--Mr. Very-Smart, who we will be able to afford because our ship will of course have come in--to reinforce the floor. And maybe put an old-fashioned frosted-glass window in the door, with the name of my press--Tenth Leper--stenciled on it. Would that not be cool?