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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, November 23, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 38-A "The Demand of Supply"

hMost homes are designed first and then the materials are purchased to meet the specifications. This was generally true of our house, but Dad had gathered many of his materials well before he was able to begin building the house. This delay allowed him to tweak some of his plans to meet the dimensions of his materials. It was a variation on the "Law of Supply and Demand."

And here I’ll share an explanation for a noticeable feature in the design of the house: the bedroom hallway. By the standards of the late 20th Century, the bedrooms of our house are smaller than many homes built during those years. There are three reasons for this: First, bedrooms had been this size for centuries, and they were no smaller than the bedrooms of our Roseville house; second, Dad considered a bedroom to be simply that—a room with a bed in it. He did not see a need for family members isolating themselves in little “apartments” of their own. He and Mom wanted a cozy, inviting home with more emphasis on the common areas of the house where life was shared rather than the bedrooms where everyone separated at night; the third reason is perhaps the most amusing, but it is also very telling of how my father’s mind worked: the supply of materials demanded it.

Several chapters back, I mentioned that Dad had agreed to haul off all the scrap materials from behind our church after the construction of the new sanctuary. Among those materials were two steel I-beams about twenty feet long. The placement of the brick wall in the basement was determined in part to accommodate the exact length of those beams without cutting them. Those beams from the church along with the length of the floor joists from the school dictated the placement of “support” walls, which in turn dictated the placement of the bedroom walls on the main floor. In this way, our home, when it was finished, reflected both the coziness Mom valued and the “no waste” mindset of my father.

It did not occur to me until writing this chapter that Dad's unique "supply" of materials helped form the character of our house. Some of the house was built from a school, and three of the five children became teachers. Some of it was built from a church, and all of us have remained active in the church through the decades. And some of it was built of materials supplied from another source I have not yet mentioned, and this source represents the city where Dad worked most of his life.

In 1972, four and a half years after the race riots that left parts of the Detroit in ruin, a revitalization project was begun in the “Mariners' District” north of the Ambassador Bridge in downtown Detroit. The 33 acre tract of land along the water this photograph would soon be cleared of every building except the historic Mariners' Church whose bell tower would soon be dwarfed by the towers of a modern architectural marvel that would be called The Renaissance Center ["Mariners' Landing" was another name under consideration.]

The RenCen, as it is called, was several years in the making, but the first phase was tearing down everything on those 33 acres, including an old red-brick building. Mom used to say it was the Mariners’ Hotel (or some such building, but I’ve not been able to confirm that in my on-line research. I do know it was a building from before the turn of century that stood on that tract of land.)

In the summer of '73, well before Dad had the cement block delivered for the basement walls. He was doing some field work for Bell along the Detroit River and saw these buildings being razed, he talked to one of the demolition contractors about purchasing some used brick and having it hauled to our property near 23 Mile Road.

"How far is that?" the man asked.

"Well, from the center of town here, it's about 23 miles plus a couple more once you get to 23 Mile Road."

"Makes sense," the man smiled, “Tell you what: I'll sell 'em to you the same way we do the companies that buy and sell used brick. We sell 'em 'as is' mortar and all. You gotta clean 'em. Three cents a brick plus a set fee for hauling the whole order to the address. Just tell me how many you need.”

"I'm not sure right now. I'll need to do some math tonight. Can I take one of the bricks?" Dad asked.

"Here's one on the house," he laughed. "I've got more than one company ready to take the whole lot of 'em, and once them other guys get 'em, the price'll be up to them, so don't take too long to decide. I'll hold what's here 'til tomorrow,"

Dad knew how these things worked. The brick was broken free from the building before the rest of the building came down in a pile of rubble. Front loaders scooped up the tons of brick to sort it for resale, and the companies that bought brick paid a lump sum for the whole mess. Only after brick was cleaned and sorted was it sold at a per-brick price, but Dad had no way of loading and hauling tons of brick, and he knew this was a very good deal.
From the dimensions of that sample brick, Dad calculated how many it would take make the wall in the basement and the main level as well as the chimney that went up the wall and through the attic. He then calculated the area and bricks needed for the entire exterior of the house. The next day, he told the man how many bricks he needed. The man told Dad he'd throw in some extra to allow for breakage, and the next day five loads of brick were delivered to the site of our house. For a few hundred dollars, Dad would have all the brick his sons would ever want to clean.

Dad had grown up in a house made of used brick, and our house on Atkins Road was made with nearly identical used brick. Today used brick is a "green idea," but Dad simply liked the look of it. He liked that it had absorbed the air of decades and taken on the tones of the seasons. In this case, the brick patinia also held the sooty hues of smoke from passing ships, the Bob-Lo Boats, city busses, and when the wind was right, the Ford River Rouge Plant. Some of the brick bore layers of paint from huge display advertisements that had covered the marketable walls through the decades. A lot of history clings to the surface of old brick. It's beauty is enhanced by the imperfections of its fall to earth with the strength to serve in another wall for another hundred years.

If you study this close up of a picture from Chapter 37, you'll see one pile of brick in the foreground. That is one truckload. In the background, you can see a cube of bricks 4x4x4. The afternoon the bricks were delivered, Dad and Dave and I began working on one pile, knocking the mortar off when needed, tossing the broken bricks and clumps of mortar into a "brickbat" pile, and putting the good brick into cubes. The sound of hammers chipping mortor from brick is a sort of gritty, chalky ring, but there is a knack and rhythm to tapping that is quite rewarding as grunt labor goes. It took two evenings to clean and cube and count one of the five loads, but it was an accurate way to know how many bricks were in each load.

It is a very good thing we counted one load right away, because the deal Dad struck with the seller was for a certain number of bricks, and it turned out that each load had about 20% fewer bricks than the seller had promised. This was a problem, because Dad was very sure about how many brick we needed. The next day after work, Dad stopped by the site and explained the situation. As you can imagine, at first the man doubted that Dad had really taken the time to count bricks (he didn't know my dad), but having heard of our fast cleaning and cubing of the first load, he had no doubt we were correct and explained that the bricks were a half inch taller than standard bricks and that the amount he delivered should suffice. But Dad reminded him that he knew the bricks were larger and had calculated the number accordingly. The job could not be done with 20% fewer bricks. He also reminded him that the total he paid was a per-brick price. With no hard feelings on either side, the man simply agreed to deliver another load the next day.

It's a bit too early to say this, because the house will not be finished for a few remaining chapters, but Dad's count was accuratet indeed. By the time all the masonry was done, he had just enough brick left to keep a few as tarp-weights after finishing the hearth in the upstairs living room.
Chapter 38-B "The Penny in the Wall" after Thursday.
Have a great week of giving thanks!


Blogger the walking man said...

i think that in the generation of our parents and certainly that of our grandparents there was much wisdom in re0using the once used. We have lost that when we became a consumerist society blinded by the polished chrome and disposable "convenience."

Yes the bricks needed be cleaned bu dad knew the worth of them, no so much the cost but the time they had already endured and how they would hold for another century yet at least.

Your Pops was a grand man Tom who taught a well learned son!

Hope you get your fair portion of the day.

Be Well


26/11/09 7:37 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I'm over on your side of the state for Thanksgiving at my brother's with all the siblings but one. We have been talking about this chapter and those to come. They helped me remember the fact that--other than that first load of bricks--we were cleaning brick over the span of a year because the exterior brick on the house did not come for another year after the interior walls were done.
As always thanks for the feedback. It is very motivating.
The smell of roast turkey is already filling the house.
Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving, too.

26/11/09 12:14 PM  

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