Mayor McCheese and the Pet Cemetary

March 22, 2009

Got out to the car on Thursday morning, looked up into our postage stamp yard, and there was the retaining wall, in pieces in the yard. Extremely minor personal tragedy, or opportunity for growth and development? Both.

Retaining wall in summer of 2008
The retaining wall in summer of 2008
Retaining wall yesterday
The retaining wall yesterday

We've been expecting this ever since we bought the house. The wall as seen in 2008 is as it was in 2005. Of course we were hoping it would fall to the next homeowner to fix it (pun not originally intended), as do all homeowners who are not expecting to spend more than a handful of years in a place. I suppose the freeze and thaw cycle finally did it in. What made it so bad? Terrible construction. Concrete blocks with no drainage equals high water pressure. Some of the worst damage was also caused by a tree that previous owners let grow up, which took me several years to kill.

The wall stretches about 40 feet, and was 3 feet at its highest point. There are a few tiers as the slope behind us evens out with the neighbors to the east, who have alley access. Only 17 feet fell over; the portion behind the garage is thankfully safe.

The shoddiness of the construction job was reinforced (pun intended) at every step of the clean up process. We got all the blocks moved away and started cleaning up the dirt. T. remarked that this felt like an archeological dig; as she pulled up the crushed solar light, I observed that this society must have worshipped light, and that we should look for evidence of an animal sacrifice (2 years ago there was a mouse skeleton near that light). Literally within minutes we realized that there was indeed a bone sticking out of the embankment. On further inspection, we found an entire skeleton, starting with a femur and a pelvis. Someone's pet.


The concrete blocks were ineptly reinforced, some with concrete, some with stones and mud, and a few with newspapers. Yes, newspapers. Keeping in the archeological mindset, I realized that I now had a tool for dating. Expecting something from the 50's, imagine my surprise when I saw a movie add for Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in A Star is Born: the wall is only 31 years old. Much of Hadrian's Wall is still standing more than 1,800 years later. Countless English peasant walls continue to keep sheep in the right pasture hundreds of years after they were built from stone pillaged from collapsed churches. Wall-building is not a new artform; how could this one be so terrible?

Well, the new bricks have just arrived, so time to wrap up this post with the coup de grâce: a partial burger wrapper with the words and visage of Mayor McCheese (camera was not outside at that point).

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