The Armstrong Wood Floor Prepping Disaster

For the next four days Jon and I are living once again in my mother’s basement as the wood floors in our kitchen are being refinished. When we walked into her house last night the smell of defeat and fatigue and doom enveloped us like an old toxic friend; it was exactly a year ago that we arrived at her doorstep broke and homeless, fearful that what we hoped would only be a few months stay would turn into years and decades and that we would eventually become as permanent a fixture as the collection of ceramic pigs and religious roosters lining the shelves in her kitchen.

We have to keep reminding each other that we’re only going to be here for a few days, and not until the economy turns around. These next few days should actually prove rather restful considering what we’ve been through in the last week with the nightmare otherwise known as The Armstrong Kitchen Remodeling Disaster. While I had prepared myself for life without a kitchen sink or stove or oven, I had no idea the actual physical toll this project would take on my already ravaged and swollen body, or that I would become so desperate as to end up on my sliver-infested knees promising the Mormon God that if he would just make it end already I would stop telling my sister’s children that sacrament bread is laced with arsenic.

After the successful Thanksgiving weekend demolition of the kitchen we were faced with a decision between tiling the kitchen floor or prepping the wood for refinishing, and because choosing the easy way out would be too logical or easy, we opted for prepping the wood floor for refinishing, a decision on par with deciding to remodel the kitchen when I’m almost eight months pregnant:


I’d like to remind you of what the wood floors looked like after we had torn up three layers of linoleum and a particle board subfloor:

What you see there isn’t wood. It’s wood covered in a quarter-inch crust of an asphalt-like adhesive and the cardboard underside of the last removed layer of linoleum. In order to remove that quarter-inch crust we had to spread a toxic chemical adhesive remover in small squares across the floor and then scrape, inch-by-inch, centimeter-by-centimeter, over and over again. The first night of The Armstrong Wood Floor Prepping Disaster yielded a whopping one square foot area of successfully scraped wood flooring. By the end of that night — after almost five hours of scraping and scraping, after my arms and fingers could scrape no more, after I had tried to will the scraper across the floor with the sheer power of my mind alone — I sat huddled in a lumpy, pregnant mass in the corner of the kitchen, lead-paint respirator pulled up around my forehead, tears pouring down my dusty cheeks, sobbing incoherently: I hate you, wood floors. I hate you, wood floors.

My husband, bless his heart, not only had to deal with his own set of scraping, but also the inconsolable idiot in the corner wearing his Carhartt pants, the waistline of which hit me in the armpits, because I wasn’t willing to sacrifice any of my pregnant pants to the toxic jaws of this project. Scraping and sobbing continued in this manner into the second night, after which a whole three feet of flooring was uncovered. It was on this second night that both of our hands started to bleed and the dog, high on chemical fumes, started barking in Russian. In a delirious moment before we fell into bed that second night I half-heartedly suggested that we leave a small square of solvent on the floor overnight, just to see what would happen, even though the directions on the side of the can say DO NOT LEAVE OVERNIGHT. When we woke the next morning we found that the solvent had turned the asphalt adhesive crust into butter, and that instead of five more days of scraping we were only going to have to do a couple hours of half-assed wiping, and then we both started crying: I love you, wood floors. I love you, wood floors.

Our love/hate relationship with the wood floors continued yesterday as I waited over eight hours for the floor refinisher to show up, a small Greek man who knows about three words of English: yes, no, and Tuesday, which he thinks means Thursday. I’m happy to be done with this portion of the project and to spend the next few days concentrating on ways in which to dislodge tiny little feet from my ribcage. By the time we return to our house this weekend I should have had plenty of time to discover a way in which to drink a glass of water without getting heartburn, but then the next phase of the Disaster begins: The Armstrong Electrical Re-Wiring Fiasco, which in the scheme of things will pale in comparison to the final stage of the remodel, The Armstrong Bringing of Life Into This World Catastrophe 2004.