Monday, August 09, 2004

Gaze Deep into My Bowels

Today I knocked holes in the wall of the garage with a hammer. It was a money-saving moment in a life-saving epoch; that is, we are slowly making the house stronger -- stiffer? I think that's the magic word -- so that when the next big quake goes rhumba rhumba rhumba we will have increased the probability that we will have something left amid the rubble.

Tie-downs, which are L-shaped pieces of metal connecting the foundation and the wooden frame of the house, are the expense du jour. If I knock the holes in the wall at the correct places and clear out working space next to the holes and help Sergio (who is the neighbor's construction au pair and isn't that a job George Bush can be proud of?), we will save money.

I hated knocking holes in the wall. My old daddy taught me many things, mostly through his bad example, but he did not teach me to look inside things, either cars, walls or the dirt in the backyard. My father did not fix, repair or plant. He worked at what he wanted to work at, though if you spend a great deal of time at something and lose money, I think we are describing a hobby, not work. He was a teenager during the Depression, and my impression of the Depression is that every man was a handy man because most people didn't have enough money to hire things done -- and if they did, it was the handy man who earned that money and thus the people survived.

Yet if my dad was handy, he disguised it brilliantly, and, since I was going to be a college boy, I took physics and trigonometry, not shop or auto repair. Our house was crumbling around us, and I think we were almost proud of it. In America you are either moving up or moving down, and from one point of view (I thought) a ramshackle home showed we were focused on better things, like Warren Buffet with a hole in his shoe.

As a result, I don't know how things work, and I have little faith in my ability to learn through exploratory surgery. Without trying, I have already knocked holes in our water pipes twice, once when trying to hang something on the basement wall, once during my first tentative attempt at gardening. (I have many weeds in my garden. I am proud of my weeds because who knew I could grow anything?)

My wife is either confident or cruel. You want me to knock what in what? I say. My wife gives me encouragement and she gives me advice, and the advice isn't very encouraging: Wear goggles so things don't jump up and put your eye out. Wear a face mask because asbestos is everywhere everywhere. Wear shoes with rubber soles in case you cut into the electrical wiring. That, by the way, is the reason I am knocking holes rather than sawing: less danger of death by electrocution if/when I smash into things.

But here I am alive and anxious. I have knocked the holes in the wall without incurring flood, excessive debris or a shower of sparks. I look at the holes. Everything seems all right. Look, there's the foundation! But I'm still anxious because I have learned one thing about home repair, and that is because I don't think it's wrong doesn't mean it's right. My wife will point this out to me when she gets home from work.

It's my fault for being a teacher and having the summer off. My father's secret was not that he ever got anywhere but that he was always passing through, needed on the other side of town, the quintessential moving target in white shoes and a short sleeve shirt from J.C. Penney's Mogul Collection.

I'll try it tonight when my wife gets home: Look at the time! Someplace, anyplace, somewhere out there I am reasonably certain I am expected.

Update: My wife came home and said, "You knocked good holes in the wall," so I decided I didn't have an appointment elsewhere. I felt so good, I asked, "What's for dinner?"

"What did you fix?" she said ....

1 comment:

G Pabst said...

I, myself, am the product of a mixed marriage.

My mother's people were Handy. Mostly recent farmers who embraced technology (installing signal systems in freight yards, understanding telegraphy and the like). Carpenters. Cabinet makers. The salt of the earth.

My father's people were petite bourgeois... Tradesmen. Seem to have been merchants the day they stepped off the boat from Bavaria (a land-locked state in the German orbit, so how did they GET TO the boat? Must have been clever mothers).

The first, a butcher whose son became a grocer who threw off a supermarket concept of a family store - one son each became a merchant of: groceries, produce, meat, baked-goods, and beer/wine/liquor (my Dad). The plan waiting when “the boys” returned from “the service” as “the military” was then known post WW II. (A linguistic meditation for another time.)

The result was an uncomfortable choice to be made.

I - the eldest son - chose the academy, and may have been expected to do so. I became the second BA in family memory (my aunt, the nun, Dad’s youngest sister and a Montessori Teacher, beat me by only a dozen years or so).

My sister, the-eldest-daughter, finished Art School in her late 30s and became another academic anomaly, as well as a gifted designer.

My five brothers are/were all (while either foremen by now or entrepreneurs) salt of the earth/work with their hands sorts. And my three younger sisters have all married the same (an electronic tech at Motorola qualifies).

At the same time I always found the part of my jobs, sitting alone writing copt - or even more, sitting with a team, maybe just me and my partner/art director - and throwing around concepts - the most satisfying part of my job.

Management? Yeah, that came, too, and I was as surprised as anyone that I was good at it. Though my family was proud, and I suspect, also surprised.

But I’m regularly reminded of the gulf between my brothers and me.

On Friday I needed to buy and install a new under-cabinet microwave oven.

I was up for the challenge; PUMPED as students say!

I bought it just fine (less than $50, like bringing back a valuable pelt from my trek in 21st century urban culture!).

And did my best at installation. Drilled holes that didn’t match the template. Drilled again. And when the oven was finally there, fit snugly beneath the proper cabinet, the damn door wouldn’t open.

So, it now sits on the counter.

My wife pretends it’s OK.

I wish I could choose the proper heritage as each challenge comes along.

I wish I could be Handy and Petite Bourgeois at the same time. It’d make life SO much easier.