I must confess, for years I have defied a government inspector's order to correct an unsafe condition in my home. After six years as a scofflaw — almost as long as the state bridge inspectors had been posting warnings in reports that were ignored — I received notice from the city inspections department that my building permit had not been "finaled."
I was risking a misdemeanor and further action by the department by continuing to neglect the problem.
Naturally, I wondered how I could get out of doing anything.
The house had undergone major, expensive, top-to-bottom renovation and redesign. The one thing the inspector didn't approve was a handrail.
Said rail leads up a booklined staircase to a little tower reading room we thought about naming "The Snuggery." (However, anyone reading up there quickly fell asleep, and it has since been rechristened "The Snoring Escape Hatch.") It is a cul de sac, a folly, with nowhere else to go and almost nothing else anyone can do up there, save read or sleep.
It is not, to say the least, a high traffic area.
But stair railings are required and they must meet code. So far, so good.
You may be able to see that this railing is fabricated steel pipe of the sort you will find around a light rail station to keep gramma from falling onto the tracks. It was designed, bent and painted by a sculptor for this space. (By now you are thinking, why didn't you just go to the hardware store and put up a dowel, you ninny.)
However... The safety of the public requires that the railing be returned to wall or terminate in a newel post. As you, and the inspector, can see, the lower portion of the handrail does neither.
Several inches of the pipe extend beyond the bracket, constituting a hazard. Never mind that a similar hazard exists on most stairways in America. This is new construction, and it is supposed to be Better Than That.
The risk, the nice inspector explained, was that someone could catch a sleeve on that four-inch, downward-pointing, hip-high protuberance and pitch forward onto the stairs.
I realize that stairway accidents are to be avoided. But once you factor out the alibis of boyfriends and stepfathers who are incapable of babysitting, how many people really tumble up the stairs — especially by catching their sleeves on the handrail?
Okay, maybe if you were having a Lawrence of Arabia costume party, and the hashish pipe was upstairs. Those flowing caftan sleeves can be such a bother. But otherwise? Hard to imagine. Much more likely, in my estimation, a kid comes flying down the stairs, leaning on the railing, his hand slips off into the gap where the code-compliant rail returns to the wall, and his momentum causes him to snap his wrist.
God help you if you're babysitting.
I contemplated hosting a party in which guests would be challenged to develop a scenario-cum-mode of dress that would result in the aforementioned sleeve disaster. We would videotape the attempts and forward the failures to the inspections department in support of doing nothing.
But I could see none of these examples were going to sway my by-the-book inspector one iota.
This was shop-fabricated, powder-coated, custom-bent steel. You don't simply saw it off or weld on an extension. It is all one piece, all the way to the properly terminated (where the risk really is) top. We are talking big bucks to further pimp my stairway here.
It would be far cheaper to plead the misdemeanor, spend time in jail even. But what if the unthinkable happens and someone does trip? How will that look? A blogger cared more about art and his wallet than about human life. A liberal willfully ignored an unsafe condition brought to his attention not once, but twice by the authorities.
He not only flauted the inspector's finding. He made light of it in a blog post!
I sense a Meshbesher in my future at the very least. A resignation, likely. The vice presidency, a dashed dream.