The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Breaking the Shell

Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Entry doors have personalities ranging from friendly to frightened, cheap to opulent, artsy to severe.  Today my job is to remove a pair of double doors that convey neglect and indifference.  In their place I'll install windowed doors, warm and tasteful. 

The building is a rather ordinary 1940's-era house that was converted to an office.  It's located in downtown Menlo Park, just across the street from a popular gourmet grocery called Draeger's Market.

It's a sunny day, pleasant.  People are strolling on the sidewalk carrying grocery bags with french bread and lacy green carrot tops sticking out. 

Normally I would order pre-hung doors.  Then I can simply pop out the old casing and pop in the new.  With pre-hung double doors, I could avoid all the fussing and fitting required to line up two oversize, very heavy entry doors.  This time, however, the building inspector warned that if I remove the old door casing, I will be "breaking the shell" of the exterior.  Once broken, he can require that the entire old building be brought up to code including all the new handicap-access rules.  The inspector almost drools, imagining all the violations he could cite.

So naturally - as instructed by the landlord - I'm not going to break the shell. 

I'm in public view of the street, working alone though not unobserved.  Sidewalk superintendents stop, watch, move on.  Construction work is entertaining; it has a basic story arc: destructive beginning, hard-working middle, satisfying end.  It's visual and easy to understand.  You don't get that by watching somebody work at a desk.

I like to set a rhythm, working alone.  There's an intensity, a kind of hypnosis of routing, chiseling, drilling, screwing, lifting.  

As I begin painting the newly-installed door, I hear "Hooray!" accompanied by hands clapping.  Four passers-by, standing on the sidewalk, are applauding! 

Maybe it's the paint, a dramatic cobalt blue.  Maybe it's the satisfaction of a familiar plot, freshly presented.  Or maybe they simply hated those old weather-beaten doors.

Whatever the cause, they've broken my shell.  I'll take it, the one and only time I've been applauded as a carpenter.  Thank you, Menlo Park.

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