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As a sort of second step in the binary floor project, I spend the late morning going through about ten boxes of the wood tiles. The first couple hours involved some “weeding out”, if you will: picking the best ones, tossing the rejects. Since I already knew my math, 5 x 32, I picked the best 160 or so and set ’em aside. By the time noon rolled around, I ate a sandwich, and moved on to step three: cleaning.

Most of the 160 tiles were coated with about sixty years of cat shit, baby vomit, and the black tarrish glue that had they’d been set in originally since the fifties. While I could’ve used up plenty of elbow grease taking the stuff off with mineral spirits, I instead decided to break out the rotary sander and do a semi-quick sanding of my chosen 160, with the intention of laying them down for a final sanding, staining, and finishing. I got myself all set up by way of extension cord out in the front yard.

Here’s the underside of one of the tiles showing the Bruce U.S.A. stamp:

wood tiles

I started getting my system down within an hour. Here’s the thing: while many of the tiles were fairly clean, a ton of them were coated with heaving drops of tar/glue. Since my chosen method of cleaning was the sander, I ended up needing to budget my sandpaper. The trick was to make two piles of tiles: 1) tiles ready for the final sanding, and 2) tiles with heavy glue stains. To conserve paper, I found a method where I took all the heavy stained pieces, gave ’em a quick sand to loosen the glue, and set ’em aside for a final sanding. After the final sanding, I’d wipe off the dust. A random moment:

sanding tiles

The process became a combination of utter mechanical boredom and Zen, with A Perfect Circle rolling in the background and the sun beating down on my back. The drill was, loosely, working in about groups of twenty tiles, sand, wipe off, let dry in the sun, sand some more, pick up the dry tiles, box ’em and take ’em to the house, box the now dry tiles, take ’em to the house, take more tiles outside, sand, wipe off, repeat. And then repeat again. Indefinitely.

It wasn’t long until a guy came walking slowly up on the sidewalk. I’ve seen him in the neighborhood before. Many times. He lives around the block, and when I drive by in the morning with the dogs he’ll be sitting out on the sidewalk in front of his house, waving to me.

He comes walking up, struggling, with the aid of a contraption you might call a walker. Donned in a Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey and matching hat, he utters words that I don’t understand at first.

“What’d you say?” I ask.

He replies, slowly. Paying close attention, I can understand him. “What are you doing?” he asks.

“Just doing work around the house,” I tell him, not particularly interested in small talk. “Fixing my floor.”

“Can I help?” he offers.

I’m thinking, this has got to be the sweetest thing anybody has ever said to me in weeks. Hell, why not.

“Sure,” I say. “Have a seat.”

My new friend plops himself down there in my yard amongst the stacks of tiles that comprise my unfinished work. I’m thinking, what timing. He’d be a great guy to take care of the wiping down part. Right?

“What’s your name?” I ask.

He answers, slowly and carefully, “Derek.”

“How do you spell that, Derek?” I ask. Because, you know. I need to know that stuff.

“D-E-R-E…” he struggles.

“D-E-R-E-K?” I conclude.

“Yeah,” he smiles.

“Cool, Derek. I tell you what. Don’t move.”

I walk into the open front door of the house, through the living room towards the kitchen. I grab one of my biggest pots, another rag, and a beer. Filling up the pot with water, I return to the front yard. Derek’s still sitting there.

“You can wipe the tiles after I sand ’em,” I explain, setting the pot of water next to him.

“Okay,” he gleams. As if I just told him he’s won the lottery.

And so we worked. For a good couple ours or so. I’d sand, Derek would wipe. I’d sand, Derek would wipe. And he’d get it all, too. I’ve never seen anybody wipe wood tiles so thoroughly, and with such enthusiasm. Every twenty minutes or so Derek’s pile of clean tiles would be a few feet tall. I’d consider this a sign to take a break, and would stand up, stretch my legs, move the tiles to the house, and maybe grab another brew. Derek would just sit there, waiting for more instructions.

We continued this for about a hundred tiles. In the sun, in our own worlds, yet sharing this one special world of sanding tiles, wiping the dust off of them, and putting them in a pile.

Derek lives with his mother, and claims to be a computer operator for the Port of Los Angeles. His birthday is October 26th, and will be twenty-one this year. He also loves the Lakers, and is convinced that Kobe will be MVP.

Thanks for your help, Derek!





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