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Styro-City Chapter 2: Paul & Konrad

February 9, 2016

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“Well, why wouldn’t it work?” I asked Konrad, reeling in my line and casting once more towards the floating trash. I missed again.

“It’s just silly, Paul. Someone would have done it already.”

“Not necessarily, people have great new ideas all the time. Remember that idea I had about the beanie with an ipod built in? No one has done that yet, or the bearded dragon farm. Or the pants with built in chairs.” That was one of my favorites, pants with telescopic poles that come out of the belt line to create a sort of chair, ideal for people who are required to look like they are standing at work.

 

“Well then there is probably a problem with the idea that you haven’t thought of yet. You still haven’t figured out how to make the pants with chair thing work. Maybe there is a reason a floating Styrofoam house couldn’t work.”

“OK, like I said then, why wouldn’t it work? Styrofoam floats, always. Even when it breaks down, in pellet form, Styrofoam still floats.” To punctuate my point I threw a pebble at the floating brick, but missed it by four or five feet and totally failed to punctuate anything.

“First of all, styrofoam pellets won’t hold you or me up, it’s all about displacement.  Plus, it’s not heavy enough. A little wind could flip it like… a Styrofoam cup.” His bobber bobbed, and he reeled in to find his bait gone. Another happy customer at café worm.

This I had to think about for a minute. Konrad was a bright guy; I suspected he had been a bright kid too. Lucky bastard. He’s probably good at math as well. He was relentlessly logical, and his cynicism regularly put mine to shame. Oh, how I hate him. I was still a sucker for a fantasy, and would happily dive head first into a mental game of ‘let’s make this thing happen’. I considered his point. Wind would be a problem.

 

“With a big enough piece, or a maybe a few large foam blocks hooked together,” I started, “weighted down by anchors of some sort,” I trailed off. I hadn’t really thought this through all that well, but something was telling me it could work. Think man, think! “I don’t know. I don’t think wind would be that big of a problem, at least as far as flipping it over goes. You don’t see much Styrofoam flying through the air. An anchor, or some kind of weight, hanging below, should keep it stable.” I concluded.  

 

He was quiet, and at first I thought I had already lost him.

 

“Maybe you’re right.” he said softly.

 

I was about to give up. I recast my line again towards the floating brick, and watched Konrad as he did the same. I also noticed he had forgotten to use bait.

 

I had set his mind going. Konrad was logical, like I said, and for a person of that predilection the only thing more fun than picking apart a problem was solving one. I could see his mind shift directions by the way the way his body shifted position, his posture straightened and his legs began to swing slightly over the water. He opened another Rainier tall can and turned to me. “If they were connected loosely to compensate for wave motion, I suppose you could build a floating platform out of Styrofoam large enough to hold a small group of people.” He smiled slightly as he said this, acknowledging his participation.

 

I smiled back. Now we were playing the same game. “The bigger the platform is, the more stable it will be. It would have to be wide too, I wouldn’t want to be on a piece of Styrofoam shaped like this long, narrow pier, one good wave from the wrong direction and it’d tumble like a weed.”

“Good point. It’d have to be built more or less equally wide as it is long. But, with many individual blocks, put together right, the whole platform would roll with the wave! Just like a bunch of floating trash does. Ha ha! I love it!”

At this point we reeled our lines in, we had fed enough fish and now were too engrossed with our shiny new idea to care about not catching any more fish. As was our ritual, we dumped the rest of the bait into the lake and watched the night crawlers sink slowly down, pouring a splash of beer out for all the fish we didn’t catch. We gathered our gear and made our way to the nearest park bench, about fifty feet down the dock. It was a slow night on Lake Union, few people had passed by us in the last hour. We both took pulls of the Jack Daniels pint and got comfortable.

“But if we build it like that, we’ll never be able to move it. Surely you couldn’t sail.” Konrad said. The wind had picked up a little bit but we were both feeling pretty comfortable. But he had a point. Sailing? No, that wasn’t something I had planned on. This was a dream about drifting, a hobo island, too ungainly to make any real headway though wind driven motion, too nonsymmetrical to make effective use of a single rudder. Propulsion ideas were there though. We discussed a few options, multiple sails, inboard motors, using kites, but in the end individual and independent electric propellers were the number one most feasible concept.  Something we could run off of solar panels we mount to the platform. Simply being towed was the most simple and cost efficient option we could come up with. Luckily, Styrofoam is very, very light. A small fishing boat could easily tug a hunk of Styrofoam around. But we didn’t have a boat.

“Well, whatever, we’re building an island, not a ship. Ships are for going somewhere, I want an island I can stay on,” I said, tiring quickly of the propulsion debate. I know nothing about that stuff… I walk everywhere I go.

“What’s all this about an island? I thought we were talking about a house boat.”

Nostalgia overcame me as I attempted to explain my childhood fantasy, and I had to admire his patience. What should have been a short simple explanation turned into a half hour of storytelling, book summaries, reminiscing over failed attempts at running away to Australia, all the while Konrad listened and nodded, adding the occasional chuckle or grunt. He let me run out of steam and beer before he turned to me with a significantly more serious and sober face than he had a half hour before.

“I’m in. Let’s do it.” His tone was even more sober and serious than his face. His comment threw me off, I was still in the mindset of the game, one of brainstorming, where you come up with ideas but don’t take them too seriously. I believed in the concept, I did, it sounded like fun. I also knew how much work it would take and initially balked at the idea.

“Do what? Build it? Actually make an island?”

“Well, why not? Why wouldn’t it work?” The bastard had turned the table on me; he had embraced my dumb idea and called me on it. I wasn’t used to this, usually no one takes any of my ideas seriously. It’s the main reason I don’t offer them unless I’ve had a drink or two to cushion my feelings. Now it was my turn to play the devil's advocate. Damn him.

“Oh. I see how it is. Ok dick. Saltwater erosion.” That one bugged me. I had hoped he didn’t bust me on that one earlier.

“Salt water erosion? Yeah, that could be an issue. Polyurethane doesn’t ever decompose, but it does breakdown. But docks are made out of Styrofoam, so there must be ways to water treat it. Salt water sealant, maybe. Fiberglass siding. There must be a whole line of established products on the market.” Arrgh! Konrad Curtis strikes again. I thought for a moment, and came up with a better one.

“Fresh water.” I was similarly stumped on this one.

This one didn’t even take him time, apparently my half hour of blah blah blahing had afforded him time to come up with his arguments. “Remember that Colbert Report rerun we saw a few weeks ago? The one with the water purifier guy?”

It took me a minute, but I soon remembered. It was kinda unforgettable, Colbert poured a whole bag of Doritos in it and it still made clean water. “Wow. Good one. But that would require power.”

“Wind power, solar power, there are ways. Solar cells are pretty effective these days and also pretty cheap. And wind turbines can be built in a home garage.  Hell they sell these things for blue water vessels as it is.” Logical bastard. It was like debating with a Vulcan.

“Blue water?” I asked.

 

“You know, long haul, long passages, from here to Hawaii and more.  Open ocean.  ‘Blue Water’.”  

 

“Oh.  What about food?”

“Really Paul? It’s the fucking ocean.”

“Well so is Puget Sound, technically, and we didn’t catch shit.” I felt bitter. He had won. It took me a few minutes to realize he had won my side. He had convinced me that I was right.It felt weird, a Mofo idea vindicated. And with a supporter. And we had already overcome most of the technical problems, or so I had thought. But the foundation was there.

It was a blueprint for my dream island, a movable oasis, a tree fort boat.

Once we started talking about our plan, it was hard to stop. The whole bus ride home we went over the issues, and into that night during ping-pong. The next day he presented me with the first design concept. I replied with mine. The battle had begun, two experienced, wisened guys duking it out over a ridiculous idea. The ideas got crazy and larger, it went from a small concept to a huge outlandish one; we were doing sketches and designs on septic systems, solar sails, pod design and plumbing schematics. We debated over whether to carve out blocks and live inside or simply live on top, whether or not each block could be integrated to the next with various piping, garden design, power supplies.

Over the next few weeks we continued the brainstorming. Konrad did some snooping into the surplus polyurethane supplies that continued to clog up the docks at his job. I did a little research into dock space, which is actually fairly reasonable compared to parking a car downtown for a month. By late August, We had purchased our first pair of 8’ x 8’ x 8’ polyurethane blocks, for roughly two hundred and fifty dollars.

The first few times we gathered in our garage, all we could do was stare at the giant blocks that took up all the room in the tiny, ancient garage except for a narrow walkway along the perimeter . Where to begin? It was understood that these first two blocks were for practice. The supply was there, and the cost was manageable. It was important to do it right, eventually, so we figured we’d tinker with these two, and then get more. There was a lot to test; we wanted to find the stress limits, the best ways to carve them, waterproofing and other things like that. We needed space. The ping-pong table was moved. I cried a little that day.

It was mostly an after work and weekend thing. We went through the first two blocks in two weeks, and ended up purchasing six more total. But what marvelous things we made. Honestly, Konrad did the most of the work. Like I said, he’s a talented guy. I was there to help, and we had a lot of fun while we were working. We got better and better at carving out the blocks, and had finished two cabins by mid-October. Work continued to progress, though I slowed my pace a little. The same girl I had been having problems with during the summer was once again making me itchy for a change, which drove me to distraction.

 

Towards the end of November, just after my twenty-eighth birthday, Konrad started spending a lot more time on the project. He seemed anxious to get it ready, to get it on water. His enthusiasm inspired me, and final preparations were given full attention. Within a week, the final pod was completed, and less than a week later the cabins were furnished and the galley stocked. We ended up finding a private, out of the way dock on Union Bay.  It was a calm area for working on the craft, and having it at a friend's house saved us money.   So, once we rented a twelve-foot U-Haul to transport the pods and equipment, we set to work. we went all through the night packing and driving, then unpacking and assembling. Repeat. But by the crisp morning of December 14, 2010, we had our Styro-Village on water.

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