It was almost 2 months from the day of the fire, but the demolition finally began on Tuesday, July 21st. It’s taken me this long to post about it because … well, it’s a lot to process. This is going to be a bit of a long post with a bunch of photos, so if you just want to hear how you can help, jump down to the bottom (and thank you).
We hoped for some notice, but in the end, we received only half an hour’s notice that the demolition was about to begin. We’re lucky (in many ways) that we’re now living about a half-hour’s walk from our old home. I got there as quickly as I could on my new bike (as I’d long since given up getting my old one back), but I still missed the first “chomp” of the excavator claw.
We had been told that they’d be moving back-to-front, which gave us hope as many of the things we wanted to save were toward the front. But in fact, they went right-to-left, demolishing the three levels above our unit first. As they got down to our level, we watched them use the claw like a fist, punching through our ceiling and dumping debris into our unit. I understand why — they had to keep the debris largely within the footprint of the building, and (as was soon clear) they needed a platform for the excavator to roll around on so they could reach the front.
We began to be less optimistic about our prospects for recovering anything. Friends stopped by with camp chairs, snacks, and drinks. We called it “the worst beach party ever”. Aside from the smell of burnt debris, they also had to demolish three kitchens to get this far (with 5 more to go before the end). The stench of a month and a half of rotting refrigerator contents was almost enough to keep us out of the worksite.
But I was committed. Not only to getting what I could from my unit, but to watching for salvageable items that might be important to the other residents. Almost nobody from the building was there that first day — just us and Roselene. One of the renters showed up later in the day and was able to rescue a few things from his unit. But we watched for anything that looked valuable, got the excavator operator (his name was Matt) to toss things like that toward the back where we were waiting. We tried to connect items to owners but in the end we got precious little.
I stayed for four days. I missed some early mornings and I regret that I was not there when they began excavating my unit. But I got there before they got to the back wall of the living room, where my knitting library lived. This was destroyed, of course — but underneath it, on the bottom shelf of the bookcase, was my computer. The excavator, unfortunately, is not a subtle tool, and Matt was able to retrieve the bookcase and computer — but it was badly crushed. Still, I picked apart my knitting library, taking photos of books I had not already added to my list, and I got the crushed computer, from which I was eventually able to retrieve the hard drives and SSD. The drives are too badly damaged but I am only short about 2 months of backed-up data, so it may or may not be worthwhile to send them for data recovery. The SSD, in a testament to the resiliency of such things, not only still works but was able to boot my newly-built computer. I backed up the last bits from that, cloned it to the new drive, and saved it in case I need it later.
But the real question (and the one you are most likely eager to hear about) was in the next room: our bedroom. I told Matt about what we were looking for — a set of weathertight plastic bins underneath a bed. So when he got down to the floor and didn’t find a bed, let alone a set of bins, we were dismayed. But then my wife called from the front that she saw my samples, and I rushed to the side of the pit and looked as hard as I could. I saw the edge of Waterford Crossing in a bag under some rubble and called to Matt, who obligingly used the claw to push a bunch of bricks to the side so I could clamber down and start digging. I found the wreckage of the bins, and underneath them, the dozens of Ziploc bags of knitted samples (and even some yarn). I began pitching them up onto the ground outside the foundation.
In the end, I was able to rescue about 60% of my samples in fair to good condition. Another 25% were recovered but too badly damaged to repair — soaked, moldy, leaking dye, etc. The other 15% were simply not recovered.
I think that the damaged ones had their bin compromised early on — the seal was not good enough or perhaps there was a crack in the plastic. They sat in water for a month and a half, and if their bags were not also watertight, they took on water themselves. The ones that were a little damp I think took on water during the demolition process itself — only a couple of days rather than weeks. Those ones I spread out on the lawn at the Meeting House and let the sun do its best to disinfect and dry them out. Some will still need a washing but their ailment is more dirt than smoke or mold.
I’ve packed them all into fresh bags and gotten them new Iris bins (<–affiliate link) similar to their previous ones. I’m overall happy with the performance of the bins, even though they were packed this way to stave off moths, not water. I also managed to recover two bags of cloth project bags, which were fine after a run through the laundry.
In addition to the knitted objects, I managed to save a few other small items and all four boxes of my CD collection — a total of over 1700 discs, housed in ProSleeves. Unfortunately most of them are damaged beyond recovery; I will be evaluating that collection soon (it’s moldering, literally, in a storage unit) but I fully expect that it’s mostly heading to the trash.
So what didn’t we recover? It’s almost too much to even contemplate. Aside from countless books, clothes, kitchen stuff, etc, my wife and I both lost precious family heirlooms. I lost all of the art I ever produced in college, high school, and earlier. We both lost childhood photos which we never properly digitized. I rescued a pile of them, but since I just had them in a shoebox, most of their colors had run off (who knew that could happen?). We lost birth certificates, social security cards, passports (although what am I going to do with a passport these days?). We lost two aquariums full of freshwater fish and shrimp. I lost all of my knitting library, all of my yarn stash, and all of my works-in-progress. And more. But more to the point, we lost our stable life. We had everything lined up, all set to weather the pandemic in safety and comfort. We’d just paid off our condo in March. I’d just taught the first of a series of (hopefully) successful online workshops. Life was looking up. Now we’re facing an unknown amount of time in uncertainty, unable to properly isolate, and I’m about to have to head back to work.
So, what can you do to help?
If you’ve been following this saga for the past two months, you’ll know that we haven’t asked for much. We managed to find a good place to live thanks to our Quaker community. We got some basic furniture and kitchenware from local f/Friends, but we have been slowly replacing things with non-temporary replacements. We haven’t asked for money except for our neighbor Roselene, who was in a much worse situation than we were. We appreciate the help from my coworkers who did set up a GoFundMe on our behalf. Largely, we were waiting to see what we could recover. Now that we know, it’s time for us to ask for some help.
First, if you are able and willing to sample-knit for me, I will need very good double-knitters to help me replace some of the samples which were lost. In addition, I will be reaching out for support from the companies/dyers whose yarn I used, but if you have any clout with the relevant companies, please help out if you want. Also, three pieces will need new yarn since the yarn used is no longer in production; if you have suggestions for what I might use instead, please let me know. In general, if you want to be of any help with this, please contact me.
The pieces I need replaced are:
- Hesperos (Plucky Knitter Primo Sport)
- Kontinuum (Yarn Carnival Goat Roper — out of production, I think)
- Rustle of Leaves (Miss Babs Yowza)
- Hexworth (Bijou Basin Ranch Tibetan Dream — out of production, definitely)
- Ferronnerie (Quince & Co. Finch)
- Atyria II (Seven Sisters Arts Helix)
- Heartbound Again (hat) (Jaggerspun Green Line)
- Heartbound Again (headband) (Jaggerspun Maine Line)
- Spring Willow (Anzula Squishy)
- Parallax v0.1 (Mirasol Ushya)
- Duvino (Classic Elite Woodland — out of production, definitely)
I also lost one set of Footsies, the original Sierpinski baby blanket, the original Four Winds hat, the original Atyria hat, almost all of the cards from the 52 Pickup kClub edition (if someone feels led to do a scarf version of that for me, I would be ecstatic, but it’s not necessary), the Moosalamoo hat, the Fir-cone sachet, and one “double-knit beanie #28”. However, I am not planning on replacing any of these at the moment.
Not up for knitting at the professional level just yet? I’m also looking to replace a number of things that were central to my business — books, tools, etc. I’ve set up an Amazon wish list for these things (I’ll add to it as I think of others that might apply). I want to be clear: mostly, I’m not asking people to buy stuff for Fallingblox Designs unless you’ve been itching to support me in that way. What I want is to see if you’ve got a spare copy of this, that, or the other book that I need/want, or a set of Hiya Hiya bamboo interchangeables or Sony E-mount camera lenses that you don’t use. Eventually, insurance will likely take care of all of this but I guarantee we won’t get everything we’re hoping for from that. If I can help you by taking something off your hands that you’re not using, and you can help me by replacing something I lost, then we both win and I can save the insurance money for something else.
Another way you can help: when I do finally start teaching my online workshops again, tickets will be “pay what you want” above a certain amount. You can always pitch in more than you normally would, or “toss a coin to your stitcher” in my Tip Jar.
Finally, the most abstract method of helping me: keep working for positive change for your community/state/province/country/world. I feel like a lot of things have been happening and I’ve had opportunities to step up and make a statement or make a difference in some other way, but I’ve been absorbed in my own relatively small problems while the world burns around us. I feel like making posts on these matters now is too little too late, but that won’t stop me — it’s just that this post has gone on long enough as it is. It’s heartening, however, to see so many other people actively working to help. Keep doing it, whatever it is: protesting, getting out the vote, helping in the battle against the Coronavirus, etc — I’ll step in as soon as I can.
Thank you for all the offers of help, condolences, etc, even if I haven’t been willing or able to accept. The offer is received in the spirit in which it is given, and appreciated regardless. I feel blessed to be part of such a loving community.
Alasdair Post-Quinn, Fallingblox Designs