When we first bought this house, we thought it might be nice to use part of the deck to build one of those elaborate, four-season sun rooms. For the winter, it would have a heater and insulated glass windows which would be removable so we could have a breezy screen room the rest of the year. We would be protected from rain and snow and sun and flying insects and the tulip tree that sheds thousands of sticky pink blossoms in the spring.
It would be just like sitting outside, without all that annoying, you know, outside stuff. Plus I could host my poker game and the guys could smoke their cigars without stinking up the house. As an added bonus, the stink might possibly kill the squirrels that keep poaching the seed in our bird feeders.
But as the kitchen renovation sucked more and more money from our bank account, we thought it might be nice to have one of those retractable awnings over the deck instead. True, we’d freeze our butts off in the winter, and spend a lot of time swatting flying insects the rest of the year, but at the first sign of sun or rain or tulip tree blossoms, we could just crank out our awning and be protected. Also, if we ever got short on cash, we could open a fruit stand on our deck.
Then we realized that the low overhang of the roof over the deck, combined with the downward slant of retractable awnings, would mean that even our Shetland Sheepdog Toby might have trouble walking upright if we ever dared to actually crank the awning open. So we thought an umbrella on the deck might be nice. It would be just like sitting by the pool in a resort, only without the pool. And the drink girls. And the guys to open and close the umbrellas.
Now, you might have an image in your mind of a large, colorful umbrella, with my wife Barbara and I sitting on either side of the pole. Maybe there’d be a small table between us to hold the frozen piña coladas Barb would make for us in lieu of having drink girls.
Hah! Shows what you know. That kind of umbrella is so last century.
The umbrella to have now, my friends, is a cantilevered, or offset, umbrella. In this configuration, the actual pole is off to the side and the actual umbrella leans out over the joyful relaxing people, of which there are many, because there is so much more room under the canopy since the pole is off to the side. Think of a doorman holding a huge umbrella over some rich people while hailing them a cab. He keeps them dry while getting soaked himself. Now picture the doorman as a pole.
So we ordered such an umbrella from an outfit called Par Pool & Spa in upstate Connecticut. About a week later, two large boxes arrived from an outfit called Southern Patio in Atlanta, Georgia. There were two boxes because cantilevered umbrellas require a 200-hundred-pound weight to act as a counterbalance for the umbrella because the umbrella is off to the side instead of centered over the pole, and because it would be impractical to have a 200-pound doorman to hold it. The Christmas tip alone would drive us to bankruptcy.
Most cantilevered umbrellas need four 50-pound paving stones (sold separately). But not ours. Ours came with a base to be filled with sand or water to provide the necessary ballast, at least in theory. But while this base might be heavy enough to prevent the umbrella from toppling over onto all the joyful relaxing people, it might not be heavy enough to prevent a strong gust of wind from carrying the umbrella away and possibly cantilevering it into our neighbor’s upstairs bedroom window.
That’s why there were two boxes; the second one contained a bigger base that could be filled with more sand or water to provide more ballast.
Did you follow all that? Have you been a regular reader of The Upsizers long enough to know that this whole thing was going to be a problem for me? Are you sitting there thinking, “Oh, poor Mark, he should have just blown his retirement money on the elaborate, four-season sun room that would have required no assembly?”
Ah, you know me so well.
Anyway, Barb and I got the boxes out to the deck, and opened them, and unpacked everything. Barb read through the lengthy instructions, much of which involved the assembly of the base that came with the umbrella and which we didn’t need to bother with because we had the other base which was a good thing because the base that came with the umbrella was missing four parts.
And so we turned our attention to the other base, which had cost $79 extra, and was essentially a large piece of molded plastic with some wheels on the bottom and a hole on top. Now we had to fill the thing. Since we didn’t happen to have a few hundred pounds of sand handy and we’re a half hour from the nearest beach, we thought we’d try filling it with water. We got our backyard garden hose up to the deck and Barbara held it to the hole in the base, while I stood down below to turn the water on. The next twenty minutes or so consisting of a constant repetition of the following exchange:
Me: Is it full yet?
Meanwhile, in what was, perhaps, a defining moment in the history of irony, it had started to rain.
When the base was finally full, we rolled it to where we wanted it, and set it atop the cross legs of the umbrella pole and we were all set to start assembling the actual umbrella when I noticed that the base was leaking through one of the seams in the plastic.
In other words, we couldn’t use either of the two bases. This meant two things:
- I had to get on the phone with either Par Pool & Spa in upstate Connecticut or Southern Patio in Atlanta, Georgia.
- We had to figure out how to dump about 200 pounds of water.
And I realized something truly incredible: the simple process of putting up a patio umbrella was going to take more than one blog post.
To be continued…