March 6, 2000



Hit The Bricks


We have our own little version of the Promised Land just around the corner from here. It's a little asphalt patch filled with the various and sundry items that make a man go weak at the knees and start dreaming of bigger and better things. I've been there many times, and it's always a satisfying thing. I usually end the day dirty and drenched with sweat and lit from within with the afterglow of a job well done and powerful toys well played with.

It's an equipment rental yard, and oh, the toys they have! Boom lifts and forklifts and backhoes, oh my! I haven't actually rented any of these big-ticket type items yet, but I have hopes. It could happen. What I have rented are rototillers and wallpaper steamers and hand trucks and, today, a pressure washer -- the Water Shotgun. Cool.


We've got this brick patio, see, and while it looks nice, it doesn't drain particularly well. Water tends to stand after Beth's plant watering raids, and you know how standing goes -- stand somewhere long enough and eventually someone will join you, figuring you're onto something and not wanting to miss out. Once you've got two there you've got the makings of a crowd, and pretty soon you've got pools of standing water all over the place, attracting leaves and bugs and algae and all manner of backyard layabouts. Before long you've got yourself a slippery, slimy mess and there's no turning back.

With Zoe's birthday party coming up next weekend and a whole slew of hyperactive kids and hypersensitive parents coming over in the midst of hyperlitigious times, the last thing we wanted was a slippery, slimy brick backyard patio. It was such fertile ground for slip and fall injuries, we would have had 'em lining up out front. Something had to be done. By me, according to Beth.

Well, I'd been down this road last summer and I knew it was paved with sweat and muriatic acid and strenuous exertion and noxious fumes and lung damage and toxic runoff and dead greenery and that this dismal road ended at a slippery, slimy, brick patio of failure. Do it again? After that gunk had had several months to build up its defenses? No way, not gonna happen. This was going to take more than I could bring to the party.

The Water Shotgun was the perfect guest. Oh, sure, it weighed about a ton and I had to jury-rig a ramp out of scrap 2x4s and a bale of hay I had lying around to get it out of the truck and it almost took my toe off when the starter pull-cord yanked back when I first fired it up... Okay, it wasn't the perfect guest. But a hired gun never quite fits in anyway, does it? Nobody loved Gary Cooper in High Noon, remember.

Perfect guest or no, it made shorter work of that algae than I ever did. I spent several hours slaving over these same bricks back in August, grinding away at them with acid and a pushbroom and elbow grease, and I gave up with hardly a dent to show for it. This Water Shotgun cut through that stuff like a hot knife through butter.

Like a knife through butter

It was so easy, I wondered why I hadn't done it this way before. It was so easy that, before long, I wasn't doing it at all -- Beth was. That's one of the things I love about my girl: she's not all girly. Beth can primp and pluck with the best of 'em, but she's equally as likely to throw on the chambray and get down and dirty. In fact, included in that list of items I've borrowed from the rental yard is one of her rentals -- the wallpaper steamer, from the time she rolled up her sleeves and put a serious styling on Zoe's bathroom while I was off at The Booth one day.

Port armsI got to put in some pretty good time with my new toy -- at first. Beth went inside where it was warm and safe and dry and algae-free and surfed the net to order more unicorn shit for Zoe's party while I wielded the Water Shotgun outdoors in the inclement weather, and I got to slay me some mighty piles of brick critters. They put up a good fight but they were no match for 3.6 gallons of water per minute delivered at 2,500 psi.

I mean, let's face it, algae may stand up pretty well to elbow grease and a pushbroom, but it folds in the face of a performance-proven OHV engine with low-oil protection, Triplex ceramic plunger pump with forged-brass manifold, thermal relief valve, stainless-steel and brass unloader, large-capacity bowl-type water strainer and 50-ft. steel wire-braided pressure hose with swivel, bend restrictors, and quick-connect couplers. Buh-bye, slime.

But nothing good lasts forever. I enjoyed my mayhem while I could, but before long Beth started hanging around, watching quietly, looking wistful, looking ready to rock in her gardening gloves and barn coat. The message was clear: she wanted to play. What was I going to do, have all the fun myself? I handed it over and Beth went to town.

...the stormThe calm before...

It's startling how quickly things can go wrong.

In retrospect, maybe I should have instituted a 3-day waiting period or something. Beth got her mitts on that Water Shotgun and went freakin' nuts with it. She may look cool, calm, collected, and in control in the pictures above, but it was a much different picture five minutes later when water was flying everywhere and me and the dogs were diving for cover. There's no pictures of that because I was cowering under a table and hoping a ricochet didn't get me.

It was the old story of familiarity breeds contempt, in action. You hold a high pressure water hose long enough, you start to take it for granted. You forget that those lovely jets of water can be destructive, even though they're scouring every living thing from the face of the bricks in front of you. You start getting careless, maybe you start waving it around... And maybe there are consequences.

Storm surgeWater emitted under a pressure of 2,500 psi, through a pinhole jet attachment, comes out with such force that it can cut right through some materials. Bricks can hold up to it, stucco cannot. Beth decided to rinse some dirt off the wall, forgot she was holding something a bit more powerful than a garden hose, and in the blink of an eye she was blasting a stream of water not at the wall, but through the wall. That gash there is about 18 inches long, fyi.

Not one to learn from her mistakes, she then went on to "rinse" the dirt from the door of the alcove holding our forced-air heater, a flimsy door that is really just a set of louvers set in a frame, and proceeded to drown the heater. It wasn't until nearly six hours later that I managed to get it working again.

We decided to call it a day at that point. We may be a bit slow on the uptake, but when you're cutting holes in stucco and drowning gas heaters with pounding jets of water, well, that's a pretty good clue that something's going wrong and maybe it's time to pack it in.

A wash

We quit while we were behind: up one clean brick patio, down one heater and damaged stucco wall. But that hole in the wall is really a plus when you look at it the right way -- it'll need patching, and maybe we'll get to rent something else when we fix it!

We'll call it a... (Ahem) A wash.