We had this big old Chinese elm tree by our patio taken out last year. Now a two hundred square foot area next to the patio is nothing but dirt, which my two ninety-mile-per-hour Australian shepherds are constantly tracking onto the patio. So my wife wants me to lay flagstones over the whole area to keep the patio clean. It will take about a ton of stone, which runs around twenty cents a pound, for a total cost of about four hundred dollars. I figure I’m getting off cheap; she could have insisted on extending the concrete patio slab, which would cost a couple of grand.

So Sunday morning I start leveling out the dirt by the patio, and I immediately hit the stump of the Chinese elm, which the guys we paid to take the tree out the year before only ground down to about an inch below ground level. This is too high to lay flagstones over and too low to do anything decorative with, so I get out my ax and start chopping, figuring to lower the level of the stump just enough so I can lay the stones over it. But I hit a live PVC water pipe, which is charged with about 60 lbs of water pressure, but has no shut off valve. What kind of an idiot lays a live plastic water pipe with no shut-off valve, four inches below the surface, for the next idiot to come along and chop through?

Instant geyser.

So the yard is now mud and the patio is flooded, which seriously ticks my wife off. I shut down the main water valve, which interrupts her laundry and ticks her off even more. I dig up the pipe and find three more pipes, all tangled around the roots where the Chinese elm gradually screwed them up over its 25-year life span. Now I have to dig a trench a couple of feet over, paralleling the original pipes, in order to re-route them away from the stump. I break two more pipes in the process. There are huge piles of dirt all over the lawn.

I go to Orchard Supply Hardware and buy the various pipes and fittings and cans of PVC glue and stuff that I need to repair the pipes but that I naturally don’t have in the huge collection of pipe and sprinkler fittings that I have accumulated over twenty years of repairing my lawn sprinklers.

I manage to cap off the live pipe (the other pipes are connected to the sprinklers and have proper valves and timers at their seminal ends, so they don’t have water perpetually flowing through them with no way to cut them off if by chance they get dinged by a shovel-wielding ignoramus) and I turn the water back on. Now my wife can finish washing my clothes and my daughter can take one of her frequent and interminable showers, but not before I have to make another trip to Orchard to buy another 14-cent fitting that I didn’t realize I didn’t have, but which is absolutely essential to the undertaking.

Now it’s nightfall, so I say to hell with it and I quit for the night, leaving great piles of mud, shovels, pickaxes, pliers, wrenches, broken bits of pipe, debris, and miscellaneous PVC fittings all over the lawn for the dogs to run off with and hide. I track mud into the house and all over the kitchen floor, and get dirt all over my wife’s new throw rug, which ticks her off all over again.

So Monday night, I get off work and go back out there, leaving the wife to go to the daughter’s open-house at school without me, which ticks them BOTH off. I finish re-routing the pipes, cover them up with the dirt from the piles on the lawn, get all the roots, broken pipe pieces, and trash picked up and tossed, get all the tools put away, and now it’s o-dark-hundred hours again. So I quit for the night. And now I’m right back where I was when I first started the project.

Today I’m going to see if I can rent a stump grinder to finish the job that the tree people got paid $1600 a year ago to not finish.

My wife says she doesn’t understand how I can make things so complicated. All she wanted was a few flagstones to keep the dogs from dragging dirt onto the patio.

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