»  The Straggler, No. 84

November 16, 2009

   Driveway Drama

So many things to know; so many points of view; so many disagreements, so many mishaps. Compared with home ownership, politics is a breeze.

We are waiting for the driveway people to show up — the firm, I mean, that seals the surface of the driveway with a black rubberizing liquid. This is a 40-yard driveway, running alongside the house, street to detached garage out back. We've been waiting several days for the work crew. The job is weather-dependent, and the weather's been erratic. The firm is juggling schedules and weather forecasts — we understand. The crew actually did show up one day, but the sky was overcast and threatening. "We'll do it, boss, if you tell us to; but the rain's gonna splash it up on that nice white siding of yours …"

That remark about siding cut close to the bone. The first time our driveway needed sealing I did the job myself. It didn't seem there could be much of a skill factor. You get some five-gallon drums of sealant from Home Depot and a couple of disposable stiff-bristle spreading brushes, don your most expendable pairs of jeans and sneakers, and slosh the stuff on. Driveway sealant, however, belongs to that category of substances that get everywhere, and into everything, like the paraffin in Three Men in a Boat. Somehow I splashed the stuff on my house's pristine white siding. It's still there, 16 years later — under several coats of white paint; but vinyl siding is not hospitable to paint, and you can see those black splashes when the light's right, and I know they're there.

We looked at the sky. I looked at my siding. We sent the crew away. Not, however, before neighbors had seen the truck. Neighbors had also seen me assiduously blowing and sweeping the driveway in preparation for the several appointments that hadn't happened, so it was common knowledge in the street that the Stragglers were having their driveway done. People were free with opinions.

Neighbor A pooh-poohed the whole idea of an asphalt driveway. "More trouble than it's worth. Dirt, that's all you need. Dirt, and a layer of gravel. Go check out the big houses up in [naming our town's high-professional district]. They all have gravel. They're rich and smart, and they have gravel." This is useful information, but not timely. Our driveway's not in bad shape. In another ten years, when it's breaking up, we may have it dug up and graveled. (Although … how do you shovel snow off a gravel driveway?)

Neighbor B was okay with asphalt, but thought sealing ours was a waste of time. "How long you been here now? Seventeen years? And this is the original driveway, right? It's nearing the end of its natural life. Look, it's getting uneven, lotta cracks. Let it break up. Five years, get a new one." Five years? No, this is a counsel of despair.

Neighbor C was fine with asphalt and sealant both, but said we should fill the driveway's numerous cracks before the sealing crew shows up again, assuming they ever do. "That stuff they use isn't thick enough, it won't seal those cracks you got. Get some crack filler from Home Depot. Do it before they seal, then the filler won't stand out so much, it'll be sealed over."

Off to Home Depot for a couple of large plastic bottles of crack filler. It's evil stuff from Satan's workshop, black and viscous, close kin to the sealant itself, and with the same knack of escaping from its assigned place in the cosmic scheme of things. In no time at all, it did just that. I had filled a crack running across the driveway next to the house. Then I worked with my leaf blower to clear dust and leaves from an adjacent stretch. A stray blast from the blower hit the filled crack. The evil black filler leapt up in a spray, mottling two strakes of my white siding! Half an hour's frantic work with rags and paint thinner followed, but those strakes will never again be white.

As I was working down near the street end of the driveway, neighbor D strolled by. Neighbor D works in construction. There is nothing he does not know about building materials and tools. He stood watching me filling cracks. His silence was eloquent. If I had been doing something right and necessary, he would have passed by with a cheery word of encouragement. Aware of him standing there silently smoking a cigarette, I knew my crack-filling fell short in some way.

"Talk to me, Ed. What am I doing wrong?"

"You can't just lay it down in a bead like that. Gotta force it into the cracks."

"Won't gravity do it? Gravity's always been my friend up to now."

"Nah. You'll get air bubbles. And you gotta flatten down the bead, or it'll set proud and the sealer guys won't get good spread."

There is no gainsaying Ed. On matters of construction he is infallible, whether or not speaking ex cathedra. He found precisely the right trowel from his vast basement trove, and I worked my way back up the driveway, troweling the filthy stuff into cracks and smearing it down level. I was nearing the garage end when Mrs. Straggler pulled in from the street. She had been visiting, and for some reason had taken the family dog with her. The next chapter of the story unfolds like a movie calamity scene, like Michael Corleone just failing to stop his wife from blowing herself up.

Car pulls into driveway. Mrs. Straggler turns off ignition, opens car door. I realize what's about to happen, and wave arms frantically from up at the garage end. "No! Stop! No-o-o …" Too late. The dog has jumped out, and is scampering about on the driveway, crisscrossed as it now is with patches of sticky black smeared-out crack filler. I grab the dumb mutt and pick him up. Crack filler transfers itself from pooch paws to Dad's shirt, pants, face, hands, watch.

How to get driveway crack filler off dog paws? I flirt with the idea of looking this up on one of those the internet ask-any-question sites, but consult omniscient Ed instead. "White spirit? No, it'll hurt the pads. Use sand." We rub pooch paws with sand.

When the kids have left home, we'll rent a nice little apartment somewhere.