In Which Problem-Solving and Experimentation Skills I Learned in College Come Into Dubious Use

The Funky Rooster by James Simon So I have this big concrete rooster sitting on my kitchen floor. It has been there for nearly a year.

It was made especially for me by James Simon, an amazing and creative local sculptor. It’s quite cool and big — three feet tall and two feet wide. Technically it is not all concrete — the rooster himself is made of stained glass and some other stuff. Click the little picture to see a larger version — even the big picture doesn’t come close to showing how cool he is, with his irridescent and multi-colored feathers and sassy look. The rooster is looking or poking at what seems to be an egg, which also is somehow funky/sassy. The egg I mean. And the background material is this special concrete that is quite strong even when it’s thin, so it can be used for wall hangings and other things you wouldn’t ordinarily see in concrete.

The thing is, it’s still concrete, and even thin concrete is quite heavy — 80 lbs heavy, to be exact. Which comes back to the issue of the rooster’s still being on the floor after these many months, despite its sheer coolness and my deep desire to display it. I’m very worried about hanging it properly so as to avoid destroying either the rooster or my house.

Finally this week I recruited my brother Anthony to help. Anthony went to architecture school. He is therefore my go-to guy for all subjects related to houses, interior design, landscaping, whatever. Together we located the studs in the wall, pounded in some heavyweight picture hooks, and hung the thing up. And it looked very, very good.

But here’s the thing: I was still worried about it crashing down, breaking the rooster and ripping a gaping hole in my wall, most likely in the middle of the night and also right on top of one of my cats. Or both of them. The more I thought about it, the more clearly I could envision the horribly fractured rooster, the gaping black hole, the dead cats.

So, we took the rooster back down and set him on the floor again.

At this point I started looking around my house for places to display the rooster on a stand, something solid and unmoving. But my house is already chock full of things that I like exactly where they are, and I wanted the rooster in the kitchen to catch the morning sun. The wall I’d chosen was the very best place by far, and there was no room for stands there. The rooster would have to be hung.

Anthony proposed various other fastening schemes, like running a piece of wood across several of the studs, or running one down the studs with bolts attaching at several points, or a piece of metal spanning the wall behind the rooster…. It was all wild and heady, and too much for my simple 50s-retro kitchen. (Which, as Anthony pointed out, is already straining its envelope trying to contain a concrete-and-glass rooster.)

Finally he suggested simply testing the picture hooks. “What if we loaded them? Put all your weight on the hooks and test them.”

This seemed like not the kind of test I wanted — I didn’t want to actually destroy my wall — but loading the hooks with something the same weight as the rooster yet less irreplaceably breakable seemed like a good idea. If the hooks could bear real weight for a couple of days, then I’d be confident enough to hang the rooster for real.

wallstrengthtest-tn.jpgAnd now we come to this picture, which is the testing rig. Click the photo for a larger view.

Yes, that’s a dog leash. No, I don’t have a dog. I did have a dog, for eight days about five years ago. It’s a long story, but the point is I’ve had this dog leash in the garage for ages and now it’s being put to valuable use.

And yes, those are two 20-lb dumbbells tied to the leash. With a broken-down box from to keep them from scraping the wall. The plan is to leave the 40-lb load on the first hook for a couple of days, or however long it takes for me to overcome my fears, and then we’ll test the other hook.

(Actually: I added a five pound weight after the picture was taken. Don’t want to cut things too close, you know.)

If I were a real geek, maybe I would have worked out some equations and figured out the maximum load for the studs behind a plaster wall built in 1957, how long the nails needed to be and whether screws or some other attachment mechanism would be better suited to the task. Back in college I might even have known how to solve such a beast of an equation. More likely, I’d have known which more-capable classmate to ask for the answer.

But in the end, do I care to know the actual tensile strength (or whatever) of my wall? Within just a few days that super funky rooster will be strutting his stuff in my kitchen, some way or other. That’s what I care about.