Maggie Kirn,

       I sat outside for 20 minutes this morning, waiting in the chilly autumn fog for our carpenter to finish his business. Rick, who’s putting up trim today with Walt, had to use the bathroom and suggested I not only leave the immediate vicinity but leave the house altogether. I knew it was coming when he rolled in just after 8 a.m. smoking a cigar and drinking McDonald’s coffee. Such are the joys of a remodeling project.
       Walt and I knew the house would have to be gutted when we bought the place in January. The exterior was sided in two colors of remnant asbestos. The wood stove, our only source of heat, was homemade and seemed ready to ignite the living room. The upstairs was sealed off and had stayed untouched since the late 1960s–we crawled in through a window and saw the main room was still furnished, with a beanbag chair and a poster of a chimp smoking a cigarette on the john. What we didn’t know was that the nausea I felt on moving day in March was something more serious than the flu. Suddenly we had just nine months to make a home out of a hundred-year-old structure that showed the wear and tear of its many incarnations–a homestead, a dance hall, a shelter for transient laborers.
       Most contractors who come to take a look at the job suggest demolition, not renovation. They’re used to building from scratch, not spiffing up an existing structure. In the past few years almost all the local working ranches have been subdivided and built on into oblivion. The 20 acre parcels are usually sold to Easterners who talk endlessly about the destruction of wildlife. They can’t imagine that their 4,000 square foot dream home did more damage by destroying habitat than a cattle rancher with a rifle who shot a coyote 10 years ago.
       Because of the boom in our part of the country, builders can afford to be picky. The one guy willing to take on the project failed to show up after his marriage fell apart. Out of desperation, Walt enlisted the help of Rick, a vacationer from Buffalo, N.Y., and together they began drywalling, skim coating, and sanding in hopes of getting things livable before the baby comes. Rick arrives early each morning. At 10 he turns off my NPR and turns on Rush Limbaugh–which I secretly enjoy. Together we listen to the opening monologue, berate callers for their misunderstanding of the word “impeach” (some seem to think impeach means run out of town by a posse), and admire the force of my pregnancy-induced burps.
       Today is one of Rick’s last before he heads back East. He’s outside working on the circular saw, counting down to the release of the Starr report. Despite his long sojourns in our only bathroom, I’ll miss him when he’s gone.