Monday, March 15, 2010

What It Is

Okay, it's bean spillin' time.

On my last several posts I've asked what this strange object could possibly be:

I gave the following hints, in the posts and in the comments:
  • It is not my four-year-old's latest carpentry project.
  • It looks exactly what it's supposed to look like.
  • It is functional-face-down in this picture.
  • It is not a kluge.
  • It is 'secured.'
  • All the bent nails were hammered into pre-drilled holes.
  • It is not hollow.
  • Once properly installed (which it now is) it disappeared.
  • The black rubber ring around the nail in the center of the image is not essential to its function, nor does it interfere.
  • The object does not sit on the ground as shown in the photo above.
  • It could be described as a 'hanger.'
I received the following guesses as to its function:
  • A boot scraper
  • A person-repeller (so they can't sit on my doorstep)
  • My four-year-old's carpentry project
  • A mailbox
  • A 'hanger for something'
  • A key hanger
  • Something fixed up to handle gatos (a 'gato' in this sense is a way of stealing electricity, not a kitty-cat)
I posted the photo on my Facebook page to see if I'd get any additional guesses, and this is what all my 257 brilliant friends came up with:
  • A petrified porcupine
  • A Medieval coat rack
  • Wood with bent nails
  • I am getting tired of this game, Mark! How long will it take till we know what it is??
And this final response, which receives a special place: not because he guessed it, but because it's very amusing. This from Chris in Brattleboro:
It's a musical instrument called a Kalurmba. Every one of those nails on the side is hammered in and bent to sound each note of the scale. Two of the nails on top change the octave of the scale. The nail with the black (rubber?) collar on it is the "whammy" nail.
Great find!
So what is it?

Let me tell you.

Aside from the technically accurate 'wood with nails' response, the best guess was from Fabio, who thought it was 'a hanger for something,' which it is, although probably not in the way he intended. As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words, so here's a picture of it properly installed:

Where is it? you are asking. Remember my hint that it would disappear once installed? It's embedded in the wall, and the black bracket is bolted to it.

Let me tell you a little story about something that happened shortly after we moved into our house. We had but one television, and it was downstairs in the living room. My wife, who watches a LOT of television, really wanted a TV in the bedroom, so being the indulgent fool that I sometimes am, I got her one. For a while, months I believe, it sat upon the cardboard box it was shipped in, with a couple boards separating the two so the box wouldn't collapse under the considerable weight of the TV. Finally I bought a wall bracket and asked a pedreiro who was working at the house to install it. It had shipped with some lag bolts and some big plastic masonry anchors, so he drilled some holes and screwed it to the wall some six feet off the floor. It seemed pretty strong. We put the TV, which probably weighs between 30 and 40 pounds, on the thing and it looked okay. I was nervous about it however, so I left the cardboard shipping box underneath it, flipped over so the taped bottom side was facing up, and I removed the boards that had previously supported it.

Several hours later, we were downstairs and we heard a whumph or a crumph or something to that effect, fairly loud, but we didn't think much of it. We live in Bahia, we're used to loud noises we can't identify! It wasn't until I went back upstairs a while later that I discovered the television had fallen off the wall, right onto the cardboard box. The masonry anchors had been ripped right out of the wall. There was no shattered glass on the ground, so I picked it up, plugged it back in, and lo and behold- it still worked!

I would like to take credit for my brilliant foresight in placing the box just so under the TV, but the truth is, I have to thank David Blane and his Vertigo stunt for that, an event that happened in New York while I was living there. I didn't go check him out on his teeny tiny platform, 100 feet above the ground, but I did read that he was going to jump off said platform into a pile of cardboard boxes, which he did, and he survived. It made an impression on me- I love stuff like that. Not people standing on tall pillars for days on end, but stuff like using an absolutely pedestrian object in a novel and innovative way. I've stuffed my head full of almost useless things like that, which is probably why I can't remember other, more important things like birthdays and doctor's appointments.

So enter the Mystery Block. As I've mentioned previously on this blog, I'm not much of a builder but I am fascinated by building and how things are built and all that builder stuff. One thing I've learned about how they build things here is that there are ways to wed concrete with other materials, some of which are better than others. I watched my brother-in-law install a door-frame once, and he took a whole bunch of nails and banged them around the edges, about a half inch in, intentionally bending them over in the middle. It looked crazy.

Do you see where this is headed?

Those nails are the perfect thing to embed in wet concrete, and once that concrete dries, the wooden object ain't going anywhere. It's much much stronger than trying to secure something with masonry anchors, especially if the wall in question is old and crumbly like mine are.

So after the TV fell off the wall, the pedreiro carved a hole in the wall, prepared a block very similar to the one in the photo above, and cemented it into the wall. After it was dry and the wall was all fixed up again, he drilled some holes in the face of the block and bolted the TV bracket to it. The TV never fell again, but I never entirely trusted it either- I always kept a dresser or other item of furniture underneath it so no children or other humans would happen to be under it in case it decided to come loose again.

When we moved to our new room, I had to repeat the whole operation with a new block of wood, and that's what the mystery object is. Despite its clumsy appearance, I spent some time preparing it- figuring out where to put the nails so they wouldn't interfere with the lag bolts, and pre-drilling holes for all the nails. This kind of wood is called massaranduba; it's super strong and dense and termites don't like it, but it will split if you nail into it willy nilly.

So Fabio, you were right, it is a kind of hanger, it's for hanging a TV support from so the TV won't fall on the floor.

I hope, dear readers, that that was worth the wait.


Fabio Bossard said...

I would say it's a support for tv support..hehehehe

Anonymous said...

Wow! Who would have thunk it!!!

Have to admit I NEVER would have guessed that - but I do love the baroque "Making of" back story behind the invention.

Got any other interesting mysteries for us to solve???

markuza said...

Yes, perhaps 'support for support' makes more sense... I'll try to think of some more mysteries to post!