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Planet Janet: The hard truth

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Janet Combs

Some people know how to trowel concrete into a smooth, glass-like surface that elegantly meets the edges of a previously poured concrete surface. And other people, evidently, should stick to writing their weekly humor column.

Many of you readers have wondered if the home-improvement origins of this column would ever be revisited, as recently I have strayed onto topics of either much greater importance (racial inequities) or trivial significance (the Nathan’s hot-dog eating contest). I believe this is, in essence, how life works: sometimes we are consumed with the dire direction our country appears to be going in; other times we are stuck on why our vacuum is unable to suck up pine needles.

While you ponder that truism, let me move on to explain why, last week, we contracted to have our concrete driveway finished. It stopped abruptly ¾ of the way behind our home. This seemed strange and was especially inconvenient when my husband wanted to use his table saw and had to drag it into the sand behind the car and prop it up with random boards to stabilize it.

The sandy outdoor shop has performed remarkably well throughout a number of our projects, but it has resulted in my husband having large, recurring patches of itchy red skin on his lower legs. I am sure he will be pleased to read this reveal in this week’s column.

This is because some hidden bugs (Genus: Barely Perceptibleos; Species: Annoyingus) thrive in the South Carolina sand and come out to bite the bejabbers out of your lower extremities. They could be sand fleas, they could be ants, they could be microscopic mosquitoes, but it really doesn’t matter, because nothing gets rid of irritating insects like a blanket of wet concrete!

The crew came to pour the concrete to complete our driveway and we were excited, looking forward to the expansion of our workspace as well as a reduction in the amount of funds spent on over-the-counter cortisone creams. I watched while the guys were forming, pouring, and troweling the driveway extension, and my husband explained to me what they were doing, step-by-step. This is not because I had any, um, concrete interest in their process, but because we had asked if we could use some of their leftover material to fill a small hole in the floor of our shop, and I was going to try my hand at it.

“This could be a column,” my husband said, encouragingly. Or ominously.

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After about a half-hour of observing the professionals, I felt confident I was up to the task. Mistakenly, I thought years of experience in cake-frosting would come in handy.

I knelt on the ground and slopped some concrete from a bucket into the hole. And then I slopped in some more. This was fun! I remember thinking to myself, “How hard can this be?”

Plenty hard, actually. Concrete sets up and you have to work with it efficiently, not overworking it, not applying a lot of force with your trowel, because then you get a “dip” in the middle of the hole you are filling and you have to add more concrete. And then trowel it off. And then add more, and so on, until you can’t really see where the edges of the hole are anymore. Which, of course, makes it very difficult to level off.

While I was doing an exceptionally poor job of filling a simple hole, I had a few thoughts on how maybe I never truly appreciated the professionals who installed my toilets, fixed my drywall, or wired my outlets.

Perhaps a monument to the true craftsman is in order? Now I know just the spot. There is a nice, raised concrete platform on the floor of my husband’s shop—it may be more of a trip-hazard than the original hole was—perfect for the words, “I’m sorry.”

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at https://janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.

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