Thursday, July 26, 2012

Take This Job and Love It

I received a comment just now from a post I wrote called Shakespeare was a MonkeysUncle.

Tim Joe,

I've enjoyed your blog from the beginning, but whenever you go this long without a post I start to worry. Either you are too busy (which is both good and bad). Or some crazed lunatic drove you off the rode while you were out riding, which has caused injury to your typing fingers. Either way, keep 'em coming and I'll keep reading. Hopefully you can find the inspiration to blog more often because you write great stuff!

Jason from Colorado

Saddle Up and Let's Go For A Ride
Jason, first of all let me thank you for your generosity and kind words. It means a lot to me and therein lies a tale. (As it usually does once I get started...)

Don't Ask "Y"
Three weeks ago the 'Y” key popped off the keyboard of my laptop computer where I am wont to tap merrily away, gleefully spreading my wisdom and fertilizer. I fiddled with it and toyed with it and finally, after great effort and frustration, I was able to break the “U” key also. This set in place a series of events that culminated in a dramatic climax one hour ago when I walked off the first real job I have had in close to three years.

Pondering my crippled computer, I worriedly considered my options: do I take it to the computer guy for what will no doubt be a costly repair? Do I try fixing it myself, until the only key left undamaged is the question mark? The hinge on the screen broke a couple months ago also so now I can't close the lid. This little 17” HP Pavilion has been a true friend and loyal soldier for over five years now, serving as my home entertainment center, my surf board and also, of course, my word processor. But I can see that the end is near and as always, I am eternally broke. Then the phone rang.

Here We Go Again
It was Bear Dye, my old protege and nemesis asking if I wanted to do some trim work on a series of condos just down the street from the Whispering Pines. He asked this question by way of voice mail, for I long ago stopped taking his calls at first ring, due to the fact that I too often regret taking his calls at all. But just when that phone call came in, I was gazing in wonder and desire at a beautiful new Mac Book Pro, carved by skilled robotic artisans from a single block of aluminum that was mined in a lonely mountain retreat somewhere in Tibet or Indiana.

                                                         To Beer Or Not To Beer
“I may have to give up beer for awhile, to save the money,” I was thinking to myself when the phone rang. But after listening to Bear's offer of work, I said a silent “Hurrah,” and started planning what wise and enigmatic words I would soon be typing to the joy and delight of all three of my readers. Imagine how great I might become if I only had a “Y” and a “U” key again!

Hi Ho And Here We Go!
So I rang up Bear Dye and agreed to meet with him on the morrow to discuss my new good fortune and what I would have to do to get it. I spent a long weekend digging my truckload of carpenter gear out of the storeroom, oiling and polishing and tuning and whistling while I worked. The Blonde, grateful that I might be taking my first baby steps towards getting out of the Park and back to my former role as a Titan of Construction made arrangements for me to have the old Dodge Caravan as a work vehicle. I loaded all my gear the old way: neatly and loaded in a presentational manner, for in the old days when a Journeyman like myself pulled up at a job site seeking work, the wise Contractor would look at your tool kit and the condition of your tools to make an initial judgment of what manner of Craftsman you might be. Nowadays they only want to see your insurance and licensing paperwork, thus explaining the quality and sadness of so much new construction: it is being done by clerks and forgers.

Blame It On Monday
And thus Monday came and I showed up and right away the trouble started. The owner of the company, an affable Italian by way of Chicago, apparently did not believe in drawings or blueprints but instead used the time honored method of verbally describing what he wanted while waving his hands in the air by way of illustration. When I indicated some lack of understanding, he became frustrated.

“Sheesh, you young guys and your dope, it ain't like the old days. OK, I'm going to show you one more time. Come over here and I'll walk you through it.” I kept my mouth shut, refraining from commenting or saying that I was probably older than him and it has been many years since I was a doper. He proceeded to grab various pieces of scrap lumber and arranging them in a fashion that would clearly work only with prayer and Divine Intervention. It was nine o'clock and all I had done thus far was walk around with a very fast talking and wealthy man who was very happy to have a lot of guys to berate and cajole and compliment and insult. This job was his sandbox and he was the big kid. I started thinking maybe I would get that beautiful new Mac Book Pro some other time. What's so hard about typing without a couple of keys? How important is a “Y” and a “U” anyway? I called Bear, who was busy at a different site.

“You're setting me up, aren't you?” I said in my best accusatory tone.

“What do you mean?” he asked. I've known this damnable miscreant since he was a young guy roaring around in a little Japanese car with loud mufflers and a tool pouch in his trunk. He helped me build a lot of houses in the early eighties and now that I think of it, we smoked a lot of dope. Weird.

“Bear, this guy is a nut and you know damned well that whatever I do he ain't gonna like it.  I've been down this lonesome road too many times. You are dumping it on me so you can make a couple bucks and I can take the heat and ultimately fail.”

“No, man, I'm just swamped with work and I need you to cover for me until I get caught up and can get down there with my crew.”

This was a lie. His crew spends their days ripping shingles off old roofs and prepping them for the roofers. His crew spends their days setting trusses and slinging hundreds of sheets of plywood in the ninety degree Florida sun. They are an intrepid and hard-working bunch upon whom the intricacies of trim and stairs and careful, detailed work are of as arcane a concept as how a computer works or what makes the tide flow. But I am always a loyal soldier.

“OK, look, let me get through the day and I'll call you tonight.”

A Week Goes By Like Nothing
That was twelve days ago and I have slaved pretty hard my ownself, fending off the crazy Italian's harassment and vague instructions. I am forty years a carpenter, and I have seen much. I have worked as a General Contractor, I have built tree houses. I spent twenty years away from home, installing commercial restaurants filled with fine woodwork and I have been a constant student of my trade, a proud craftsman and generous employer and a friend of my co-workers. I have never expected gratitude or recognition for these things; for I believe that those are the traits of of a craftsman and a gentleman and in the professional world, the traits of success.

If you work for me or with me I know your wife's name. I know if you have kids and how they are doing. This ain't bragging, it is just how I believe the world is supposed to be and I have met others who practice these policies and I am always glad to meet them. I have many readers who I share mail with and who I have never met but each of you are important to me and I want to thank you, Jason, for speaking out and inspiring this post.

Get To the Point
So, as visions of my shiny new computer evaporated from my dreamscape, to say nothing of the shiny new Surly Long Haul Trucker (the new one with the disc brakes that I covet and was going buy after the new computer) evaporated also, amidst all this mist and condensate I reached my fill. Angelo, the crazy Italian Contractor, couldn't say goodbye or fuck you properly because, after nine working days of constant contact, he still did not know my name. (unless I was secretly named at some time “Buddy” or “Skippy” or “Sonny” and I did not get the memo.) His wife, Donna, is in Chicago tending to the funeral arrangements for his father Angelo Senior. He passed away after a long bout with emphysema.

He didn't know my name and I am OK with that. I didn't quit because of Angelo. He was just the fuel for the fire. It was Bear, and his pitiable personal greed that forced my retreat to the Trailer Park. He hit Angelo with a sizable invoice today, the day before Angelo was to fly to Chicago to bury his Dad. Bear could not help it, he has payroll to make and mouths to feed, mine included. Angelo is missing the pinky finger from his right hand and has a twenty year old daughter who dropped out of school last year and seems to quite likely be on drugs.

And there was I, Buddy Skippy Sonny, there I was standing in front of a guy with a lot of grief and pain and a big unexpected invoice who suddenly realized that I was incompetent, dishonest, lazy and in need of a good stern lecture and probably was a thief and why should he pay for work he was unhappy with?  I called Bear and his comment was that if he doesn't get paid how will he pay me?  

A Gentle Caress
At times like these I always seem to feel the breeze on my face. This was one of those times and I was sad for these guys and grateful for the breeze and sad for all the confusion and anger and fear and I am sometimes filled with remorse for my life;  this is the last act of the play and I am trying to do it right.  I was a Full Speed Ahead guy myself, in my day,  torpedoes be damned but now I am slower and I thank bicycles and the road and gentle breezes.

Bear was on hard drugs when I met him and he came to work for me as a twenty-something wise-ass with pretty good cut and fit skills but he will never be a trim carpenter. I would sometimes take Bear's share of the draw check to his house and give it to his wife Kathy because Bear was nowhere to be found while out on a binge. I remember his kid Little Bear, the Wild Injun who is the spitting image of his dad, except he is taller now, taller than his father and even taller than me and he graduates this year as a young engineer from Sante Fe University.

All of life ebbs and flows. Angelo's father is gone, having just recently left. I'm here and all of you are here, but not forever. I once believed that money was the score card of success, but I was wrong. It is people that is the score, they are all here and here we are. My little computer is dying here under my uncaring fingers and I need a bottom bracket for my bicycle. No long rides for me until I get the new part and the new tool. It is somehow taking me a long time to get this all figured out but I'm working on it, man, I'm working on it.

And learning to type without a "Y" or "U".

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and House of Pain