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Home & Garden

Todd Johnson On Patio Daze

Dreams of the perfect patio lead to a little hard work and a lesson learned.
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Patio Daze
Nirvana comes with a price. Just ask my lower back.

9 a.m., June 25, 2005: This is it. P-day. Patio day. The day that I carve out my own little slice of backyard heaven. I’ve plotted and planned and designed and “surprise”even started to accessorize. Finally, the moment has arrived. I stand ready, armed with my new gleaming shovel, a wheelbarrow, and heady dreams of dewy mornings, a pot of Ethiopian Sumatra decaf, and The New York Times, all amid a chorus of songbirds who chirp only for me. Yes, nature shall be my sweet mistress. Peace will finally be mine. Just as soon as I start digging.

Noon, June 25: It’s hot.

1:30 p.m., June 25: How long does it take to build a patio? A good solid weekend. Maybe two, right? Yes, two should do it.

2:45 p.m., June 25: Funny thing about digging. You have to do something with all the dirt. I hadn’t thought about that. The growing mound of soil mocks me. I wrap myself in a warm, downy blanket of denial and keep digging.

3 p.m., June 25: My partner in crime, Tom, is making good headway. I’m still stuck in the same corner I’ve been in all day. This isn’t a reflection on my digging skills, I decide. Nor do the 23 water breaks have anything to do with it. No, Tom must have a magic shovel. The Golden Shovel.

I stop digging. Give me your shovel.

Why? he replies. (Please note: Tom continues to shovel.)

Because my shovel doesn’t work. Yours is better. See? It’s pointier than mine. And look at how much more you’ve dug up. It must be the surface area of the Golden Shovel versus the pliability of the earth. Or maybe it’s the fulcrum. Yes, that’s it. Your shovel has a proper fulcrum. And mine doesn’t. So let me use it for awhile.

The golden what? Tom asks.

Nevermind, I growl as I head off to a local home improvement store.

3:30 p.m., June 25: Have you ever noticed how cool and inviting it is in a home improvement store?

5 p.m., June 25: I arrive, giddy, with my own Golden Shovel. A sweaty, grimy, and irritated Tom asks where I have been. I explain that you don’t choose the Golden Shovel. It chooses you. I hand him a soft drink. Tom uses salty language. I begin to dig like I have never dug before.

6 p.m., June 25: The growing mound of soil has now become a foothill. Clouds seem to be forming at its summit. We conclude that the dirt has to go somewhere. The city dump is the only logical place. So the dirt that we have dug up all day now must be shoveled into the back of my truck, which we will drive to the dump and then shovel out yet again. And the patio’s hole is only halfway dug. Did I mention how hot it is?

10 a.m.- 4 p.m., June 26: The second day is a whirlwind of activity. Golden Shovels are flying. Dirt is dug, hauled, and shoveled out. Repeatedly. Tom doesn’t speak. My vision of Sumatra decaf and the Times has now devolved into Folgers crystals and Us Weekly. But we finally finish the hole. We stand back and admire the hole. The hole is deep. The hole is wide. The hole is good.

So, I guess we should start laying the flagstone, right? I ask.

Have I mentioned the flagstone? We chose Pennsylvania flagstone. It’s beautiful: a grayish green color that compliments not only our St. Augustine grass and towering cedar trees but my eyes as well. (It was fate.) One piece of this lovely flagstone is also the size of a small South Pacific island and takes three people to easily manipulate. Did I mention there are only two of us?

6:45 p.m., June 26: We have finally placed the first piece of flagstone. I get excited. This is the cornerstone to all my dreams. This makes the digging and hauling and emptying worthwhile. This is why my lower back throbs. I step aside to admire our handiwork.

It’s crooked, I say.

And wobbly, Tom agrees.

I need a cocktail, I conclude.

10 a.m., December 3: Tom and I finished the patio last night. Yes, we took a little time off. Okay. Seven months off. (Did I mention it was hot?)

The yawning hole mocked me long into autumn. I even thought about hiring out the completion of my dream patio. But a friend who is a landscape architect surveyed the damage and surmised, It’s not so bad. And you’re more than halfway there. Don’t you want to finish it yourself?

Well, no, not really. But he also mentioned it would cost another $3,000 dollars for the labor. So, Tom and I girded our loins, trussed our backs, and said a little prayer to the DIY gods. And, praise Bob Vila, we finished. The patio of my dreams.

So, this morning I carry a tray of yes Ethiopian Sumatra decaf and the Times to my new urban oasis. Halfway across the patio, I trip. I lose the newspaper but save the Sumatra, nearly spilling my perfect Sunday morning onto the flagstone. I curse. I roll my eyes. And after a well-executed huff, I grin. Sure, my patio is craggy, lumpy, and careens wildly to one side. Perfectly imperfect, much like its maker. But at least I finished it. And I learned an important lesson: Perseverance pays off even if the final results can’t live up to one’s lofty dreams.

That, and you can’t beat a good Golden Shovel.

E-mail Todd Johnson with your comments at [email protected].