The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Meet the Zombies, Part 1

Now that certain things have come to pass, certain insurance policies (in fact companies too) have been eliminated, and a mortgage has been signed and dated in blood, I may speak freely about our dread horde of zombies.

Not that it was too much of a secret but we didn’t paint the Devil Queen’s whole exterior ourselves. We hired it out to two different guys, Zombie 1, Danny, and Zombie 2, Larry, and neither of them really worked out too well. In the final weeks before the appraisal, we fell back on our family, friends, and our own hands to “finish” the exterior paint.

We hired Zombie 1, Danny, in October 2006. He wasn’t our first choice. Our first choices were excellent painters on all counts, but we couldn’t afford them and they were booked for the foreseeable future. We asked Kenny if he could recommend anyone. At that point, he’d steered us to some top-notch folks for our tile, wiring, and drywall. We called Danny and he came out to look at the house. Danny definitely knew what he was talking about. He knew how to do the prep, priming, and painting correctly on all counts. His bid was reasonable and he gave us a definite timeline. We hired him.

Things started off well enough. He came to work everyday with “his woman,” and they scraped paint. After the first week or two, his attendance became sporadic. They’d leave early, show up late, or not show up at all. Then, he vanished for a couple weeks. Normally, we’d have fired him then, but we gave him another chance since Kenny recommended him. We probably shouldn’t have. Actually, I should say that I probably shouldn’t have. At this point, I was starting to take over all our contracting duties since Scarlet was burned-out by this point.

One of the big warning signs that you have a shit contractor on your hands is when you start getting lame excuses for their time MIA. You start getting stories about how they lost their wallet with $700 cash in it while deer hunting (who the fuck needs $700 to go deer hunting?), their pissed off ex-wife is after them, and what not. Now, it is possible that what they are telling you is actually true, but they key the story in such a way that you can hear this undercurrent of please-feel-sorry-for-me-you-stupid-chump-so-I-can-continue-to-dick-you-around. And, unlike someone like Kenny who calls when a disaster befalls him and tells you that he won’t be at work, they never call and only give you their sob stories after the fact. Anyhow, you probably get the idea.

Another thing that he started doing was trying to get us to buy expensive equipment like pressure washers, scaffolds, and ladders for him to use. Every couple of days I’d get the same line of bull-shit, “I’m still trying to find a pressure washer to borrow, but, if you could get one, I could be ready to paint much sooner.” The first time or two, I didn’t think too much of it and just dismissed it. After that it really started irritating me a lot. What kind of building professional shows up to work and then tells you to buy him the tools of the trade?

Eventually scaffolding and pressure washer show up. Progress crawled. Fall was preparing to change into a rainy winter. The time for exterior painting was rapidly coming to an end.

Finally, I had to have a chat with Danny. Since I’m passive aggressive to a fault and hate overt conflict, I said, “Look, the Bank is not happy with the progress on the house, and they want me to hire someone else so we can finish and close out the construction loan. I need to see some primer up on the house by Friday.” Really, this was basically true, but, at this point, it didn’t really matter to me whether it was or not. I get assurances from Danny that there will primer on such-and-such section of the house and I can see a wormy-fear in his eyes. Oddly, he seems genuinely worried about loosing the job. Weird. I certainly couldn’t tell from his work ethic.

I mention this to Scarlet later, and she says that she thinks he may have a problem: drugs, alcohol, or something that is interfering with his ability to work. “I don’t know what it is, but he’s not quite right. I’ll be glad when he’s gone, he makes me nervous.”

Friday comes and there is primer on the Devil Queen when I get home from work. Four pieces of siding have been primed. Four. No fucking way, you have to be shitting me. Four boards?!

So, I call Danny and get his voice mail. “Danny, this isn’t going to work, let me know what you final bill is and come get your stuff.”

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Navigating the Dangerous Confluence of Two Addictions

I’m trying to get into a routine with posting to the Devil Queen. Along with all the major life changes we’ve had lately, I’ve bought a Mac Book and started hanging out at businesses with free WiFi. Yes, even rural Arkansas is getting WiFi, but we desperately need more. Now, in theory, I can write posts anywhere, and I no longer have to dick around with dial-up, et cetera.

Of course, most of the businesses I frequent are coffee shops, so I’ve been buying lots of coffee. I figure it’s a fair trade. The cost of coffee over a month is less than the cheapest satellite Internet in our area. The problem is the combination of coffee and WiFi is incredibly addictive. If I’m not careful, I might stop going home after work altogether.

Anyhow, rest assured that I have at least three posts in the works. They should start showing up by Sunday. Enjoy your weekend.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Knob, a Hole, and a Door but No Answers

Here is one of the many unfinished Devil Queen projects.

This is our closet door in the master bedroom, and, aside from the coat of white paint, it is pretty much exactly as we found it. Note the hole where a tragically 1980’s doorknob resided. While I can’t say that I miss the cheap knob any, the hole does pose a problem.

I figure our possible solutions are as follows:

1) I go online and find a modern reproduction knob that will nicely fill the hole.
2) I try to ignore the hole and mount a rim lock over it.
3) I patch the hole, paint the patch, and install a rim lock over it.
4) I patch the hole and install a different sort of lock & knob like a mortis lock, etc.

I’d considered installing this lock, but the door is 1 ¼ thick and the knob can only fit a ¾ thick door. Actually, I have to wonder to what kind of door this would go. I haven’t seen too many ¾ doors. Maybe it goes to a cabinet?

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The Final Approach

I started this during our run-up to the appraisal. I ran out of time (surprise, surprise), so it is as yet unfinished. I thought I'd share it anyhow before I forgot.

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The Way I See It

Over the years, I’ve made a lot of drawings, Christmas Cards, and whatnot featuring these yellow-headed bastards. Invariability, someone asks, “But what are these, what does this mean?” And, I’ve never had a good answer until now. Think of this as a snapshot of my worldview, and these are some of the most prominent denizens of it. I’m not sure how good the fidelity is, but I think it’s close. Now, I suppose some might want a more detailed explanation of it all, but this is my sole contribution for now. The rest is up to you.

And, thanks again for the book Lara.

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Exorcism By Travel and International Stardom

Sorry for yet another long absence, but it was utterly unavoidable. I spent a long weekend in Boston for my little sister’s wedding. Aside from the 21 hour trip to Boston (bad weather, cancelled flights, and a night spent at Gate 36A at the Detroit Airport), it was a very good trip. Really, with the exception of the 21 hour cluster-fuck, there was no shortage of good things about this trip. At this point, you must be thinking, “Holy hell, he doesn’t even seem all that pissed about that flight up to Beantown. Alien abduction or NSA brainwashing must be at work.” But, you’d be wrong, sort of. Somehow, being completely removed from my day-to-day life was like having a whole slobbering, horde of pernicious demons exorcised. Sleep deprived and all, I still feel pretty good about everything. Okay, maybe not that good, but definitely better. Well enough that once I get a get a good night of sleep in that I’m seriously considering taking up a few projects at the Devil Queen. At this point, that is nearly as miraculous as Immaculate Conception or the Second Coming.

You patient, long-suffering readers are probably thinking, “Okay, we get the exorcism thing, but what in the seven hells are you talking about ‘international stardom’ for, again?” Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that it may have been two bottles of Champagne talking, but everyone at the wedding knew me. Even complete strangers. At least half a dozen people stopped me and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jenny’s brother? You are? I love your blog! How is the house coming? Oh, you have to meet my wife [or significant other].” It was just like being a real, bonafide celebrity. You know, maybe not as cool as Kefier Sutherland, but definitely better that Cory Feldman. I mean you don’t see me on one of those have-been celebrity reality shows like 101 Ways to Eat Monkey Sphincter, unless my blog counts as a cheap reality show. I suppose the argument could be made for that. If it does, so be it. I still maintain that DIY home improvement is far cooler that racing midgets, eating grubs, or mud-wrestling senior citizens. Maybe not by much, but I’ll take what I can get.

Anyhow, it was a beautiful weekend in Boston. I spent a good bit of my Saturday making love to the paintings of John Singer Sargent and others at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, having coffee with folks at an nice Italian café in the North End, walking down the waterfront wishing I could go to sea on one of those huge sail boats, and watching the svelte, young ladies in sun dresses taking in the lovely weather. Call me old fashioned, but I didn’t see any woman’s but cheeks or thong in Boston and I didn’t miss it. Sometimes, less really is more.

I know this is probably of limited interested, but, damn it, whatever magic this trip worked, I’m feeling good. It’s a disease I have to share.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No, You Grab Your Ankles

Sorry, the laptop's battery is dying and I have more to do before I sleep, so this wil be short.

Just spent all my "free time" drafting a Contract for Deed for Mr. Blue, our rent house, (actually liberally copying one that went to court and won) because the escrow company want us to do a series of assinine things which amounted to us grabbing our ankles and paying someone rape our asshole. For instance, we wanted a Hold Harmless Clause to cover our ass and they act like they have no idea what we're talking about. However, if you read their generic escrow agreement et cetera they have TWO protecting themselves. Nice, nervous my dears?

Times like these make me wish I'd gone to law school. If I keep having to do shit like this, I may yet do it.

Maybe I'm just getting older and more mature, but, at this point, if there is going to be any fiscal ass-rape happening, I want to do the dicking.

Believe me, once all this shit is settled, there may be a few more posts on the topic. You know, something like a non-lawyers guide to owner financing.

Bloody hell.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

No More Whining

Well, I hope there won’t be any more. Last night I was up too late staring up at the ceiling thinking about my woe, and I decided that I complain and whine too much. Unfortunately, it is one of my distinguishing characteristics and an annoying one at that. It must be pretty bad when I even annoy myself. It’ll take a lot of work to break myself of it. Please forgive me if I lapse.

Recently, I had a chance to talk with an architect who does a lot of historic preservation/restoration projects. He told me something interesting about old baseboards. According to him, many old homes and buildings no longer have their original baseboards even if they have old ones. Back 100 years ago or so, when the original finish wore off them, instead of stripping them down to the wood and refinishing them they’d just tear them out and replace them with new ones. The idea was that it was easier to just replace them and put on a new finish than to resurrect the old ones. Wow, talk about taking what you’ve got for granted. It is pretty amazing to think about old growth trim as a disposable commodity.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007


When I say I’ve been extremely busy, I’m not lying. However, it did occur to me that it isn’t the only reason why I haven’t been rushing to get on with working on the Devil Queen. I am sick of working on this bloody whore. Really. I apparently burned up lot of energy and motivation during those few months leading up to the appraisal. And, I know that I’ve whined about motivation et cetera before, but, at this point, I don’t care. If this doesn’t change soon, it will become a problem.

Today we spent six hours hauling lumber we salvaged from the Devil Queen’s roof and porches three years ago. It has been in storage at Scarlet’s grandparents house since then, and they asked us to come and get it since they are trying to sell their house now. We hauled it all to Liz’s as payment for all the painting she did on the Queen this year. She’s scavenging building materials for a small cabin she’d like to build on her property up in the hills north of Atkins. Pretty land.

We have impeccable timing. Today was the first day in weeks that it didn’t rain. It was also the hottest day of the year to date. I think it was nearly 100 degrees out. Good timing, no?

You'd think that after hauling off four huge truckloads of lumber that we’d be finished, but we are not. We still have one truckload of rocks and three or four loads of bricks; this is going to the Devil Queen for the retaining wall, patios, and walks. I don’t know when we’ll get around to that.

And, my camera has been in Bentonville for the last two weeks, so no photos for you all. I have couple interesting bits I’d like to share, but I guess that will have to wait too. Bugger.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Prophet of God or The Adventures of a Rural Slumlord

Not much was done at the Devil Queen last weekend. Scarlet and I began sifting through the mountain of crap from the storage room and cleaning house. A good bit of Sunday was devoted to this, and, while I think we made good progress, we barely put a dent in our mountain of detritus.

We went out to eat Sunday night. When we made it back home we had a message on our answering machine from our renter.

"Hey guys, this J----. Our oven just exploded. Call us."

Great. So, Ms. Scarlet called a local repairman and arranged for him to go over Monday morning to fix the oven. Then she called J----- back. After they'd talked about the oven she mentioned that we were planning to sell the house and that we'd already listed it.

"Really? You're selling it? I want to buy it. How much do you want for it?"

Now, we were surprised. He'd told us that he was planning to move this summer to be closer to the college he's attending. We figured that the commute was an issue for him, so he probably would not be interested in it. We were wrong.

Scarlet told him that we'd talk about it and give him a call the next day.

Monday, I'm on my way home from work when Scarlet calls me. "J----- just called. He's very excited about the house and wants to talk to you about it. And the repairman didn't show either."

Great. I told her that I'd just swing by his house when I got to Atkins to look at the stove and talk about selling the house.

I arrive at Mr. Blue, grab my black Moleskin notebook, and walk up to the front door. The screen door opens as I approach and J----- says, "Come on in - Oh, you're not who I was expecting." He gives me an odd look. "Jehovah Witnesses are not welcome in my home."

J----- is a bit odd by Arkansas standards, heavily pierced, tattooed, and Californian. I look at him. I decide that maybe he is joking. "I can understand that."

He stares at me. "You still haven't answered my question, are you a Jehovah Witness? Because, if you are, you need to leave."

Okay, not joking. "J-----, I'm here because Scarlet said that the repairman didn't come today. May I look at the oven?"

His eyes go wide, his jaw drops a little and then snaps shut. "John?! Shit, I didn't recognize you in the suit - and the black book - I'm so sorry."

In the kitchen, his girl friend is feeding a infant in a high chair. The corner of her mouth curls up in smirk of a grin. I smile and say, "It's okay. Most people don't recognize me in a suit. Usually they think I'm a lawyer. Don't worry though, this is far from the strangest thing that has ever happened to me."

Anyhow, I look and at the stove (probably just a burned out element) and we talk about the house. If everything goes as planned, we'll probably be selling it to him. Until then, it is all about the details. Wish us luck.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Quote of the Day

Last night I was talking to Scarlet about the interview questions we received for an article in Victorian Homes magazine. I asked her what she though the worst project on the Devil Queen was, and she said, "The whole project is a nightmare. The house is like the Somme. Just when you think you're winning, they bring out the machine guns and you hit the razor wire."

God, I love that woman.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

High Energy Physics

Really, this has nothing to do with the Devil Queen except that like all things in the physical world it has mass. My uncle, Steve Ahlen - the guy with the glasses and the goatee - at Boston University, is one of the physicists featured in this week's episode of NOVA. Follow the link here and click "watch the segment" if you have any interest in the world's largest particle accelerator, CERN. Apparently, I'm not the only member of my family with predilection for large projects.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Phase II Officially Begins, Maybe.

My wife and I went into hiding for a long weekend in honor of our wedding anniversary. While we were ostensibly celebrating, we couldn't help but talk about the Devil Queen. I mean, what fun is an anniversary if you can speak candidly about your mistress with your wife. This brings to mind the memorable Christmas when Scarlet's grandfather brought his mistress home for the family's holiday celebration, but I digress.

While I may have already mentioned this before, we officially declared Phase I of our project complete. And, it only took 3+ years. How long did we think it would take? For those of you who are drinking something or feeling the need to visit the restroom, you might want to finish what you're doing before you continue. I'd hate for anything at your computer to get wet. We though Phase I would take one year.

Anyhow, keeping that in mind, we've begun planning Phase II. Basically, we made a list. I'm not sure if that really counts as beginning, but, as you may have guessed, we are quite at home with our delusions. And, since we are such seasoned Home Improvement Experts, what is our projected time frame? Six months.

So, what is on the list?

1) Clean out the shit. Specifically all the junk squatting in the bay window room. Bonfire or Goodwill, it must go.
2) Build a carport (required by our neighborhood covenants). We plan to hire Kenny.
3) Order glass shower door and have it installed.
4) Order and install a trash compactor.
5) Finish installing all quarter-round and miscellaneous trim.
6) Clean up yard, haul off trash, etc.
7) Work out all the bugs in our plumbing system.
8) Finish refinishing all the floors.
9) Paint the skirt and all window trim.
10) Fix, repair, and clean up all the door knobs, locks, etc slapped on 15 minutes before the appraisal.
11) Order and install a custom storm door.
12) Reinstall all the storm windows.
13) Install gutters and down spouts.
14) Paint all the ceilings that only got a good priming before the appraisal (living room, dining room, and the master bedroom).
15) Widen and expand the drive and parking area.
16) Miscellaneous details.

Really, it doesn't sound too bad except that I really haven't had the time, interest, or energy to start any of it. That, and it will probably cost around $5000 to do all this too. In case you are wondering, we don't have that on hand either.

Any, how let the games begin. Maybe. How about next week?

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Fiscal Olymipcs or Sodomy by Another Name

I have to say that I’ve missed you all. Sure, I’ve been lurking around Houseblogs for the last couple of weeks, but I haven’t been spending a lot of quality time with you.

Things have been chaotic and complicated of late. The last week and a half has been hell.

We closed on the Devil Queen’s mortgage. It is a nice feeling, but it certainly hasn’t been the cure-all that I hoped it would be. In addition to all the drama that went along with this particular transaction, we’ve had some other problems too.

For one, all three of our cars are broken and in the shop. The Dodge’s motor is burned away. The coolant line was nicked and the radiator drained before we knew what happened. I’m not sure what is wrong with the Saturn. Two weeks ago it started burning a lot of oil. Now it sounds like a lawn mower and doesn’t have as much power. I think it lost a cylinder. I suppose that could happen after 286,300 miles, right? And, the VW Beetle still has some issue. Little things like the missing rear windshield and possible damage to the cooling system.

With me working in Little Rock and the wife up in NW Arkansas, this just wasn’t going to work for us. Charlie loaned Scarlet his car for three weeks while we tried to work out this mess. He was willing to loan the car more or less indefinitely, but neither Scarlet nor I felt comfortable with this. There is something innately sad about being this dependent on parents and grandparents as your 31st birthday lurks just over the horizon. None of our cars are going to be out of the shop anytime soon, so we did the one thing we sworn we’d never do in our lifetime. On the same day we closed on the Devil Queen, we bought a brand new car.

You may wonder how we could afford a new car. On the surface, it doesn’t look like we should be able to make this purchase. I mean, I thought it was a long shot, but what the hell.

It took some determined juggling. First, the dealer offered a $1000 rebate you could use as a down payment. That helped a lot. We are also the beneficiaries of a strange paradox: we have really good credit even though our finances are in shambles. This meant we could finance the car for a long enough time to work the payment into our budget. And, to sweeten the deal, my genius wife found us a new insurance company. She saved enough money on our premium to nearly pay for the car's monthly payment.

Now, we’re trying to sell off some of the houses we’ve been accumulating over the years. We’re hoping to meet with a real estate agent tomorrow to list Mr. Blue, our first house. Our renter is moving out this summer and we’d just like to be rid of the damn thing. Once this is accomplished, we’re going to be doing some more financial olympics until we get everything to fall into place. This includes paying off credit cards, refinancing loans, and making sure that we make more than we spend on a consistent basis. Not working on the Devil Queen day and night has really helped with this. I was looking over our books for the last couple of years, and we were consistently spending no less than $1000 a month of the Devil Queen. During a couple of peak months, we were spending an averaging $5000-$6000 per month. Nice.

In addition to all of this, we had to clean out our storage room. I think I may have mentioned this already. July 1st was our deadline. I tried to clean it out myself, but it just wasn’t going to happen for me. Even if I had gotten all the bloody boxes out myself, I can’t move the wardrobe, the dresser, and rest of my furniture. So, as has been my penchant of late, I hired a couple of professional movers to finish this project for me. I’m glad it’s over with but there is a downside. All the crap we had in storage filled the bay-window room and spilled out into the hallway. I honestly have no idea what 75% of this stuff is and looking at it just pisses me off. I see a bonfire in my future.

I’m not sure what else has been going on lately. Taking sick cats to the vet, dealing with appraisers, bankers, lawyers, real estate agents, and others. It’ll certainly wear you out.

Anyhow, I hope that explains my long absence.

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