Good fences make good marriages

November 14, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

I'm convinced that the first lunar landing came to pass because Neil Armstrong's wife woke up one morning and said, "This weekend I want you to build a rocketship and fly it to the moon" and he, knowing it would be quicker than arguing, said "Yes, dear."

Which was pretty much the same situation I found myself in when the General Contractor in High Heels (as a matter of fairness, she says she resents this characterization because she "really doesn't wear high heels all that often") informed me last week that I would be spending my weekend putting up a 50-foot stockade fence.

Maybe it was my journalistic training, but I immediately reeled off five brief questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and got five brief answers: You. Fence. Yard. Weekend. Privacy.

Based on the testimony I didn't see a way out, so I dropped the most important question: How?


Her smile brightened and her eyes widened softly and she said those six little words that should get every woman who ever used them cast in irons: "I have faith in your ability."

Nothing checkmates a man like that and women know it.

Thusly challenged by the woman I would do anything for, I leaped to the bait and drew up plans for the grandest stockade privacy fence that ever was. I penciled in watchtowers on either end, holes for the cannon and even went so far as to draw the heads of the brigands, impaled on spikes, set every 30 feet.

But when I got to the store and evaluated the inventory, it seemed that more modest architecture might be called for. Everything I knew about stockade fences I had learned watching "F Troop," which I guess was in the days before prefabricated 8-foot panels and pressure treated lumber.

I listened numbly as the clerk filled out my list. "What you need first, pally, is a diggin' bar." I didn't like the sounds of that. "Don't they make pre-fabricated holes?" I asked weakly.

As it turned out, though, digging the holes was a snap compared to filling the holes back up, for which you need this product that's known vernacularly in construction circles as "concrete."

I asked how much of the product I would require, and the clerk said, "Depends. How many cubic feet are you looking at?" He may as well have asked me my grandmother's opinion of stem-cell research.

I don't know whether you have ever had the occasion to read the instructions on a bag of concrete mix, but you should - it is such an esoteric patchwork of vagaries and witchcraft that you marvel that modern America ever got built.

It is the Goldilocks of construction materials. It can't be too dusty, it can't be too moist, it can't be too hot, it can't be too cold, you have to give it time to "set up," but not so much time that it becomes "unworkable." To dry it you have to keep it wet.

The instructions say to work it "to the consistency of plastic." You know what would be a more helpful description than "the consistency of plastic?"

Anything. Play-Doh, oatmeal, lava lamps, Anna Nicole Smith's thighs - ANYTHING would have been more descriptive than "plastic," which in my experience is always hard as a rock.

At this point, the general contractor popped by and pointed out the instructions also said you are supposed to put gravel in the hole before inserting the post. "Oh, Andrea," I said impatiently, "That's only if you want to do it right."

She shimmered off and I poured the concrete, dutifully etching "Metallica Rules!" in the plastic-like mortar. Next day I grabbed the first 6-by-8 fencing panel out of Old Copper, scraped off the rust and started to carry it across the yard.

Just then a stiff wind picked up. If Mary Poppins had trafficked in building supplies instead of umbrellas, I imagine that would have been pretty much what it looked like, as the sail/panel rushed me to the northwest, while the fence was due south.

After all was said and done, I am proud to say I learned that installing a fence can indeed be a one-man job - as long as that one man pulls out his checkbook, enters the words "Acme Fence Co." and leaves town for a week. Next time, I'll know.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or you may e-mail him at

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