Sparky's Garage 3

I’ve really taken too long between entries. Things were looking so good about 48 hours ago!

I went looking for clean fill dirt to level the area on the concrete slab where the above-ground pool is going in our back yard. Turns out there’s this website, freedirt dot com, that serves as a clearinghouse. If you have, like, a construction site where you’re digging a basement, and you have a few tons of dirt to get hauled away, you can put an ad there. If you’re looking for fill dirt, as I was, you can search the local listings. Decent idea in concept, but the one guy I tried to reach through there didn’t get back to me. For the hell of it, I checked Craigslist instead, and found a new ad from just a couple days ago from a guy with about six cubic yards of dirt in Toluca Lake. By my best guess, I needed only 2 cubic yards, so I reached out, and he said, “Come and get it.”

So I walked to the U-Haul down the block from my house and rented a pickup. Grabbed me my short-handled spade, and headed off to the Valley. I was in luck: the pile of dirt was easily accessible, quite loose and fine with almost no rocks, and happily situated in the shade. So I started shoveling.

Depending on the makeup of the soil and its moisture content, a cubic yard of fill dirt weighs between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds if it’s reasonably dry. I figured I needed just over two yards of dirt, and I guesstimated that each shovelful I hoisted weighed in the neighborhood of five pounds, so I decided I’d load 420 shovelfuls into the truck. It seemed to be about the right amount, but now that I look it up, I believe it was too much weight for the bed by about a half ton. The shocks weren’t quite bottomed out or anything, but the bed was riding fairly low. It did handle a wee bit squirrelly on the freeway home, so I took it slow and cautious. I got home safely, took the tarp I’d covered the load with off the truck and laid it down on the driveway, and started shoveling the dirt out of the truck into a heap. This took a while. Eventually I was able to rinse out the bed pretty thoroughly, return the truck to U-Haul using the after-hours key drop box and the check-in app, then took a shower and went to bed.

Next day, the job was to move that big-ass pile of dirt from the driveway to the slab in the back yard. I don’t own a wheelbarrow.

So! This week’s Brand New Thing for Donald is an experience you all have probably done in one form or another for all your adult lives, but I don’t remember ever having gotten around to myself, much to my shame and sorrow.

I asked my neighbors for help, and borrowed a wheelbarrow.

Now, that’s not a very brave or revolutionary thing to do, but in my meager defense, I turn out to be a pretty shy guy. I think I mentioned in an earlier entry that my parents didn’t seem to have many friends. And it wasn’t because they were assholes, or unfriendly, but rather because they were pretty shy people themselves. Same thing with me. Sam and I lived in our old house for ten years, and in those ten years we only ever spoke with our next-door neighbors to the west of us, and the guy across the street to the south of us. (I once introduced myself to my neighbor to the north so I could access a drainage issue in our rear wall, but that was the only time we met.) We never got around to meeting any of our other neighbors. And now we’ve lived in our new house for four years, and up until fairly recently, we’d only met neighbors from three households of the couple dozen that surround us.

That changed due to a tragic circumstance a few months ago. While I was working in the garage with the big door open one day, I heard a few gunshots. I looked up in time to see an older Mitsubishi Montero stagger up, bounce slightly off the driver’s side mirror of my neighbor’s Honda, and come to a stop opposite my driveway. A guy jumped out in obvious distress, ran over to my neighbor’s gate, tried to open it, then collapsed. He’d been shot through his car’s back window, and he died on the spot. The cops and ambulance took an appallingly long time to come, even though the fire station is literally under a half-mile away.

The events of that day are a story for another time (and mostly for another narrator, since I was little more than bystander who tried to help), but the street our driveway opens onto is a cul-de-sac, and it was closed for all that day and night and most of the next day for the sheriff’s investigation. Since none of us could get out, some of the neighbors decided to pool resources and have a spaghetti dinner at the far end of the block, in order to occupy our kids and distract them from the tragedy at the mouth of the street. And thus I finally met my neighbors. Turns out they’re lovely people, and I am ashamed that we didn’t get to know them for four full years until a murder compelled us to get together.

So since then, my wife Sam has been part of a texting chain with several of the neighbors, kinda like a single-street seven-household NextDoor, but without the racism and dog-poop drama. She asked our neighbors if anyone had a wheelbarrow we could borrow. Within the hour, three were brought to our house! My son and I utilized two of them (though he only managed three smallish loads before he tapped out), and in about 24 hours (and I don’t remember how many wheelbarrow loads), the dirt was moved, the wheelbarrows were cleaned and returned, and I took me another shower. I had drained and disassembled the pool and moved it out of the way onto the lawn, so the next day was spent spreading and leveling the dirt within the frame I’d built on the slab. Things were looking up!

Before draining the pool I had measured the high and low spots around the circumference, finding a 5" differential between them, which was at least 4" too much. After draining it, I ensured all the legs were perfectly plumb and equidistant from heach other, and carefully marked on the concrete where each leg’s foot needed to go. Then I disassembled and moved the pool. I made careful measurements and cut sections of 2"x4" lumber to affix to the feet of the supporting legs around the edge of the pool, numbering them to make sure each one went in the correct place. Having placed those feet in their spots, I surrounded them with the fill dirt, and spread and leveled the dirt as carefully as I could. We walked on top of the dirt to compress it as well as we could in the absence of a roller, and I even used my 48" level to do a final spread, ensuring the dirt base was level in all directions. Then all four of us lifted up the empty pool liner and frame and placed it atop the ground cover on the dirt. Then I carefully erected the legs, spent a while cleaning the inside of the pool liner, then started filling it with water.

Things were really looking up! And I was so grateful for the help of my neighbors. They’re all enduring the corona quarantine as well as we are, but they’re still happy to help a neighbor in need, which didn’t really surprise me as such, since I knew I would have done the same for any of them. Indeed, the big new thing for me was seeking help from these neighbors I barely know, and seeing how readily they sprang to offer it. I really hope our world develops a vaccine and we return to a world we can share in closer quarters again, because I really want to host a cul-de-sac barbecue.

It’s truly excellent to have friends as neighbors, isn’t it?

Ahh… but then… then the wheels fell off a bit. Not with the neighbors, though. I will continue this thread in the next day or so, and relate how things went as I began filling the pool.

There’s a wee bit of drama.

Sparky says Hi, and is grateful for the flea medication,



the neighbors in my apartments (3 small buildings, 18 total apartments) are pretty great. a few I barely know and even the guy I don’t really like is mostly OK. but generally we all say hi and talk a bit here and there. we’re in our run-down cheap buildings on some very prime real estate surrounded by rich old boomers and the nouveau-rich yuppies that can afford to pay for prime property nowadays. so we band together a bit in the face of that, I think. but I don’t think that’s the only reason. many is the time we help each other out. I dug in a garden and help with that some while the lady who knows about gardening takes the lead on deciding what and when to plant. but it’s really a million little things. very nice situation.


The neighbors to the North and us have never got on. Made me very glad I had contractor put in the fence. No outward animosity, just cold shoulder.

My neighbors to the south (and sharers of our shared driveway) are great folks, but sadly I think they are moving.

And that’s the most i know about the people where I have lived for 7 years.


Well. This was a long “day or so.”

Anyway, thanks to my neighbors I was able to move my 2-ton pile o’ dirt from the driveway to the slab in the back yard. I had built a frame to contain the dirt, and to help me shape and level it, I made the frame 5" deep at the lowest end, narrowing to 1" deep at the end nearest the high point of the slab (intending the fill dirt to extend beyond that point several inches until it thinned down to nothing). And then spent an afternoon leveling the dirt heap into a level pad, compressing it with my feet since I don’t have a weighted roller. This was remarkably clean fill dirt with almost zero rocks, and I compressed what clods I could find into oblivion, hoping the pressure of the pool water would do the rest of the flattening for me.

But anyway, I started filling the pool, and by the time the water was eight or ten inches deep, we could tell that though it was more level than before, it wasn’t quite level enough. On the low end, where the dirt was thickest, the weight of the water was compressing the dirt far better than my feet could. Sam was annoyed and frustrated; she’d said that she thought I needed more dirt. So I drained the pool again, and rather than disassembling and moving the whole pool again, this time I just lifted the liner on the low end and shoved more dirt there and half-ass leveled it as I went, accepting that getting the floor of the pool within an inch or two of the level I’d established for the legs would be good enough. And as it happened, it was. I refilled the pool, and it was fine. Within an inch all the way around. The floor of the pool felt slightly lumpy on the formerly low end, but fuck it. Now we have a pool.

Once I finished that, we had several cool, drizzly days. It’s beginning to warm up now, so maybe we can start enjoying it. After I filled it this last time, the kids happily went in, shivered for a bit, then came out and haven’t gone in since.

@#$%&* lightweights.