In the Doghouse

The first do-it-yourself carpentry project I remember attempting, when I was too young to know any better, was a stick horse. To start out with, I had a wooden head. (That would have been the horse's head—and aren't you ashamed of that unkind thought you just had?) It was cut out of plywood, and I think it may have been something I painted in school.

Anyway, my self-assigned task was to attach the head to a broomstick to make a complete horse. I remember working away, one eighth of a turn of a screwdriver at a time, to screw the two pieces of wood together, until I simply couldn't turn the screws any further. I had no idea that a real carpenter would have drilled holes first.

Another time I started to build a doghouse. I had the idea that you needed to start with a frame and then put boards on the sides, but that was about the extent of my architectural skills. I got four scrap two-by-fours nailed together into a crooked rectangle for the base, and then got stuck when I couldn't figure out how to attach the uprights at the corners. I had maxed out my skills. Since I was scrounging scraps of wood, I ran out of material about the same time, and abandoning the whole project seemed like the only good idea left. You might say the doghouse never got off the ground.

Quite a few years later, as a beginning adult with a toolbox of my very own and a college degree (including a major in art which, unfortunately, didn't encompass anything useful like "Introduction to Doghouse Design"), I set out to build a house for our outdoor cat.

The style was Early Grocery Box. It consisted of one cardboard box inside another with insulating material stuffed in between. I cut a nice round (well, almost round) door into one side and put a couple of towels inside for flooring. I even gave the whole thing a coat of blue paint for waterproofing before I put it in the coziest corner of the front porch. It was kind of cute, in its own lopsided way.

As far as I know, the cat never spent a single night—heck, not a single minute—inside the house. Maybe he didn't like the color.

Or maybe he was too embarrassed to be seen going into the uneven little door. Being a smart cat, maybe he had noticed the difference in connotation the English language gives to "doghouse" and "cathouse." As in, "He was in the doghouse for a long time after his wife found out about his visit to the cathouse."

Wondering about the peculiarities of language may not be any more satisfying than trying to build doghouses or cathouses, but it certainly is easier. I'm a lot less likely to stab myself with a screwdriver, for one thing. And any half-finished constructions that don't work out? All I have to do is hit "delete" on my computer, and all the evidence of my false starts and miscalculations magically disappears.

If only I could do the same with the half-started creations on my sewing machine and my workbench. Somebody really needs to invent a universal "delete" button, something like a television remote. It would be the perfect tool for wannabe crafters like me who persist in imagining they can create vast projects with half-vast skills.

Categories: Remembering When, Words for Nerds | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “In the Doghouse

  1. Frank

    When we were farming, my soft hearted wife would always take in a stray cat, no matter that they would come swaying into the yard, swollen with bellys full of kittens. We had an unused brooder house and since we no longer used it for the baby chicks, Ginny decided that was a nice building for the many cats. We called it our cat house, much to the amusement of those unfortunates that didn’t know what we were talking about. I am no carpenter. I built a milk stool once, which fell down the first time I used it and I fell into a fresh cow pie. Found out it was easier just to nail a two foot board across a section of wooden post. Ginny made a lot of our kitchen cabinets from wooden orange crates. Yes, oranges used to come in wooden crates. She bought little hinges to hang the doors with and the little cabinets worked and they worked well until we could afford store boughten ones.

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