Tuesday, November 29, 1983
As the final task of a 10 hour day, I install a cheapo lock on a sliding glass door which requires drilling a ¼" hole. I have to guess how far the glass is set into the metal frame because of course I don't want the drill bit to hit the embedded —
Did you know that if a drill bit nicks the corner of a 3'x6' sheet of tempered glass, the entire pane shatters into tiny pieces and falls at your feet like a mound of crushed ice?
Mrs. Klein, the homeowner and a very nice lady, tells me that they had to replace another sliding glass window, and it cost $250. She seems truly distressed that I'll have to pay. She already feels guilty that I'm spending my time working for her instead of writing the Great American Novel, which she assumes I could do. But of course the broken pane is entirely my fault and my responsibility.
I'm angry. With no one to blame. My total earnings for 10 hours of work was to be $250.
Back home I have two ways to deal with anger. First, I decide that this would be the perfect evening to refinish the kitchen floor on my knees with a belt-sander while the stereo is blasting loud rock and roll. The music is essential as it becomes embedded in the oak floorboards along with the finish oil to create special thumping patterns of grain.
Secondly, I write a poem. Don't underestimate poetry as a way to cope with anger — especially nonprofessional, nonacademic, sadly not-up-to-critical-standards poetry which of course is my specialty. I compose poems the way most people sing karaoke: as an amateur, with gusto.
OopsThe next morning as I report for work in my tool belt, Mrs. Klein greets me at her front door: "I talked it over with my husband, and we agreed not to charge you for the broken window. He says the house insurance will probably cover it."
In one second a calm pool of glass freezes
crackling under my feet
a day's pay
in one second the slip of a drill bit
shocked like a duck I stare
what became of my pretty pond?
My feathers ruffle
I wish I could fly south
anywhere but here with Makita drill in hand
decoys in a line bobbing
in my hair, my shoes, down my neck
I wish I could shake like water off my back.
What evil hunter
do I blame
in this ambush?
"Probably," she said. I love that. Every homeowner's insurance policy has a deductible, and it is surely higher than $250. Bless you, Mr. and Mrs. Klein.
What I get out of the whole incident are a long day's pay, a refinished kitchen floor and, for better or worse, a poem. And one thing more: the kiss of human kindness.