Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Entry Door Saga

Since moving into the house we live in now, I have been bugged by the garage entry door. It had no door knob, but just a lock. If the door were unlocked, the key stayed in the lock. On the bottom 1/4 of the door the veneer was peeling, and there were general scuff marks everywhere. When I took it off about a month ago, I saw it was beyond repair.
I ordered from Lowe's a similar door, and when I went to pick it up, it came to the will call desk with some of the veneer pulling away from the slab on one of the narrow edges. I took the door home when they knocked $25 off the price. It was a smooth slab, with no hand holds, a heavy thing to load on my truck. The first thing I did when I got it home was to glue and clamp the split in the veneer, and then to prime and paint it. The closer I looked, the worse it looked.
As I expected, underneath the veneer, it consisted of 1 1/2" fiberboard piped with 1 by 2 pine. The veneer, though, was something I did not expect. It was not a layer of veneer glued to the fiber board, but a layer of Masonite onto which the thinnest veneer I had ever seen was glued. Paper thin, a film of wood if that's possible. That means that any bump on the surface will poke through the veneer, and disturb the Masonite, turning it to fuzz. To patch it, both the veneer and the Masonite needs to be removed and then a patch of wood glued on, and then filled and sanded.
Almost every time I moved it, there would be a separation of the veneer from the slab underneath. Just walking it on its corners across the floor would cause it to splinter on the bottom, making me take time to do more gluing and clamping.
My neighbor came over on a Sunday to help me hang it. He also thought the veneer was inherently unstable. And even with 2 of us, the door's weight made working with it difficult. There would be slips and bumps that would lead to spits, nicks, and contusions.
Later, when I drilled through the door for the lock set, I found another problem. The fiber board separated. I used a hole saw, and all the other times I have done this, the saw goes all the way through the door, and getting the billet of wood out of the saw is a problem. This time, after about 3/4 of an inch, the fiber board crumbled, and the billet came out in 2 pieces with lots of sawdust in between. That was it for me.
I put the core of the lock set into a bag, and took it to Lowe's. When you order a custom door, the clerk makes it clear that it is a non-returnable item. But this seemed like a defect, and I went back to the door department with a chip on my shoulder, and showed them the crumbling fiber board, and also complained about how easily the door got scuffs, and Lowes made no effort to knock the chip off. The clerk agreed that I should get my money back. Good for her, and good for Lowe's.
This story will continue. I have another door ordered, a steel one, the one I probably should have ordered in the first place. I'll post about that one when my neighbor and I get it installed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Interview Story

My first college teaching job was in West Virginia. I wanted out (and maybe my dean wanted me gone too) when one of the many applications I sent out struck fire. I had an interview in North Dakota. It was already late summer, and the school was 1,200 miles away. But there was no question that we would go to the interview. We made arrangements to drop our son and dog off at my wife's sister's where she lived near Chicago, about a 12 hour drive to North Dakota.

The drive north and west was neat. It had been our dream to live in the north, albeit the woodsy north, and it became clear as we drove west and north of Minneapolis, we were moving away from the woods. But, with some differences, it reminded us of Illinois when we were very young. The land was flat, and between the little, clean towns, there were prosperous looking farms with big red barns. We made good time, and instead of registering at the Holiday Inn, we decided to drive the 30 miles to the town the school was in. There was plenty of daylight left to check it out.

It was immediately clear that we did not need to go back. We found a motel that would lodge us for $8 instead of the $20 or $25 that the Holiday Inn would have charged, and a good, inexpensive place to eat for the evening, and a diner for the morning that baked its own sweet rolls. We were impressed.

I was really impressed with the school. It was a residential campus, with many buildings from different eras, with lawns and mature trees—it looked like a college. The interview itself was, well, another thing.

The dean was a small man, apparently totally dedicated to the school. He lived nearby and, for after hours and weekends, had a school phone extension that rang in his home office. When the tour stopped and the interview started, he invited my wife into his inner office with us, and included her in the conversation. Odd, I thought. What he had to say was typical for the day. Two year schools had a special mission, a failure of a student is like a failure of the school itself. I was of course nervous, and I can't remember my responses, but things seemed to be going well. Then the phone rang, and the dean, a little short, reminded his clerk that he was not supposed to get calls, and...and then he said “Oh,” and excused himself with apologies. It was a very important call.

He did not, however, punch the hold button on his phone and hang up. Rather, he placed the receiver right on his desk and went to the outer office to talk. With a little straining, we could hear both sides of the conversation, and we learned that there was only one other candidate for the job I was applying for, and that the fellow on the line was he. Oh, man. I have no exact memory of the dialogue between the two, except that we could hear it all fairly clearly. If the exact words are wrong, they reflect what I think I heard:

“University of Colorado at Boulder? I undergraded there. “

“I thought maybe that was true. When I told Professor Gould that there was an opening there, and gave your name, he said maybe he knew you...”

“George Gould? He was my mentor. I don't know if I'd have made it through...”

And my heart sinks. Let's see, we've already driven 24 hours out of the last 48, and by 1 PM, we'll be on the road again for the 12 hours back to Chicago...

“As long as we are dealing with coincidences, your last name is Aldrich...”

“You know my dad? He thought maybe it was you when he saw your name in the announcement.”

“Well, small world. You'll be here tomorrow, then...”

And I stopped listening. Maybe the part about being the son of a long lost friend is a trick of my memory, but it could have been, judging by how I felt. He came back into the office with a smile, and got back to his business at hand. Did he notice that we were a little down? I don't know what happened next except that, finally, we shook hands, and the head of the English department met up with me for a chat, and told me to ignore the stuff about not failing students. I remember nothing more. Even the drive home was glum. First to Chicago, then to West Virginia.

And in West Virginia, I heard nothing. A week passed, and I called North Dakota. It seemed like no one had heard of the dean, until I finally got a hold of the English Department head. “No,” he said, “you're the guy. Both Vernon and I wanted you. I don't know what the problem is.”

I couldn't quit a job and pack up and go to North Dakota on that slim hope, and I stayed another 2 years where I was. I found out that I had won the job, but that the dean got ill, was rushed to the Mayo Clinic, and in the meantime, the college president put a hold on hiring.