Goods & Services: Slacker’s list

Summer is a time for growing things, building things and blowing things up, DIY style

“Where the hell are you? Did you fix the fence yet?” “Oh yeah, I’m fixing it right now, honey. No need to come out here.”

“Where the hell are you? Did you fix the fence yet?” “Oh yeah, I’m fixing it right now, honey. No need to come out here.”

Photo illustration By don button

It’s summer and I am finally going to get some stuff done.

As kids, we experienced summer as long formless days and nights ready to be shaped into whatever we desired. Summer was a time given over to exploring and creating, to riding things, constructing things, reading things and destroying things.

Even now some part of me, just a tinge of muscle memory now, still feels like summer is an endless expanse of possibility. School is out, the sun is still up. I can do anything.

Of course, nowadays what I want to do and what I ought to do are all mixed up. The impulse to create and explore has been replaced by the do-it-yourself project list—or just the “The List.” Here’s the abridged version:

• Finish painting inside the house.
• Ride bikes.
• Build a deck and garden box.
• Destroy all Bermuda grass.
• Write a book.
• Build a rocket.

While the roaming 9-year-old in me is ready to light out for the woods and build a fort, the grown-up has to stick closer to The List.

And it’s tricky, because there’s no more real summer vacation, not for grown-ups. There aren’t really any extra hours in the day. And grand experiments have a way of withering in the summer heat.

That’s why at my house, you can’t run the microwave and the toaster at the same time without throwing a circuit breaker. It’s why the planting beds are lousy with Bermuda grass, nutsedge and spurge. And why my kitchen is orange and blue and peeling all over.

Still, I’m convinced I can get The List done. Even the rocket. Especially the rocket.

If worse comes to worst, I’ll just head up Folsom Boulevard to Riverside Hobbies (5141 Folsom Boulevard) and buy an Estes hydrogen-powered beauty—with a converter that splits tap water into pure oxygen and hydrogen rocket fuel. Hope the neighbors won’t mind.

(In fact, I can’t believe they still make rockets for kids. I would have thought the things went away with paper-cap guns and chemistry sets with real chemicals and alcohol Bunsen burners. Thanks to you meth heads and terrorists for ruining the American childhood.)

But some of the other projects may be tougher. As my wife once explained to a friend, “He’s not very handy.” Seriously. Out of the blue. Knowing me, you’d think I’d have a hard time letting a crack like that go. That I’d remember it for years and bring it up constantly just to give her a hard time.

But I don’t. Because she’s right. And also because it’s sort of liberating. Embrace your suckiness, and anything is an accomplishment.

I just put up a tree swing for the kids. All the gear came from Hollywood Hardware (5303 Freeport Boulevard), one-stop shopping for all manner of domestic mayhem. And the swing is, to me, a thing of great beauty of which I am inordinately proud. Same with the garden gate I rebuilt. It took me all damn day (using a handsaw, hammer, nails), and parts of it are obviously, visibly crooked. But damn if it’s not perfectly level and perfectly functional. Dr. Seuss would be proud. Sure, around the corner the fence is falling down. But don’t worry, it’s going on The List.

I’m sure the garden box will be equally magnificent—if a bit cattywampus. But as I write this, our first 100-degree day is already starting to simmer outside. If only there was some way to garden without getting hammered by the sun. Hmm.

Even though you can grow things a lot faster indoors with hydroponics (you know, tomatoes, zucchini and, uh, herbs), nothing makes your partner happier than a good old-fashioned box garden.

Photo By don button

I’ll confess that I always thought that hydroponic gardening was all about growing, you know, the weed. But Stephanie Labbit, proprietor of Constantly Growing at 1918 16th Street, told me a funny story the other day. She didn’t even know people used hydroponics for that. Amazing.

She does know that you can grow tomatoes, herbs, you name it, three to five times faster than you can in an outdoor garden. And you can grow year-round. You can get started indoor gardening for as little as $150.

Oh, and you can grow the weed in it, but don’t tell Stephanie that.

The trick to a productive do-it-yourself-summer is to make sure to take a little time for yourself. It’s OK to eat a big lunch, grab that book and hit the couch for an hour. You’ll be so much more effective with a little nap.

It’s also good to mix up the ought-to-dos with something you really enjoy. Playing guitar and drinking beer, watching the nutsedge creep along, watching the bugs fly around.

That’s it. Maybe beekeeping could provide a low-key, meditative hobby for summer. Local rules allow you to keep two bee hives (but still no chickens) in your backyard. The nice folks at Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies (2110 X Street) can get you started for around $300. But one of the proprietors, Fred Stewart, told me that beekeeping has gotten more complicated in recent years—especially with the arrival of the dreaded colony collapse disorder. Would-be keepers have to be extra vigilant about mites and other potential bee killers. “No one can be just a bee-haver anymore. You’ve really got to be a beekeeper.”

At the end of the day, I know I’d really just be a bee-haver. But perhaps you’ll do better. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got weed, er, weeds to grow.