(This is Part Five of a series. Part One is here. Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Part Four is here.)
Diary of a Small Contractor: Quail Eggs and Pomegranates
Saturday, December 20, 1986
Daylight: 9 hours, 33 minutes, 43 seconds
I light a pilot light for my neighbors Jake and Mindy. They've just returned after investing every last penny for plane tickets to New York accompanied by a crate full of hand-sewn sheepskin jackets. "How'd it go?" I ask them.
"I'm in the wrong state," Mindy says. She's been selling her handcrafted sheepskin jackets at California craft fairs for years. "In New York they don't just admire what I make, they can justify it. The weather's cold and there's a ton of rich people."
I tell them there's no charge for lighting the pilot, but Jake stuffs a twenty into my hand. These folks have been poor, scuffling, just getting by. Today they feel good.
At Peter's house, I wire a wall heater. Almost finished there.
We pile into the family van — Rose, 3 kids, me — drive to a tree ranch near San Gregorio and cut down a 12-foot pine, paying with the crinkled twenty dollar bill. Back home, setting up, the entire house smells of sweet sap.
Sunday, December 21, 1986
Daylight: 9 hours, 33 minutes, 38 seconds
From friends, we have a puppy. Got him earlier this week. The kids have named him Oak — or Oakie, still under debate — because his color matches our hardwood floor. I would name him Chew or Chewie because he attacks shoes and ankles and whisk brooms.
Late in the day, alone, I walk a couple miles from my house into the La Honda watershed. There's a ridge up there with a view I love. The fog flows into the valleys while I stand above it all in the red glow of sunset. Sounds rise to my ears. A half mile downhill, children are playing, shouting from houses just at the edge of the fog. From the opposite side of the ridge I hear the rush of Mindego Creek in a deep canyon. From shadows in the weeds nearby, coyotes are yapping like clowns.
It's fully dark — and foggy — by the time I return to my house. There on the landing outside the kitchen door are two dark-haired puppies. Seeing me, they run up and bounce against my legs.
La Honda is a dumping ground for abandoned pets, and they always seem to end up at my door. I think it's posted on fire hydrants, spreading the rumor that I'm a soft touch.
Well, I'm not. In fact I'm so hard-hearted that I won't even allow them into the house. Instead, I set out a bowl of kibble and a bucket of water, then find a cardboard box and line it with a blanket so they can curl up together and keep warm on the porch.
Monday, December 22, 1986
Daylight: 9 hours, 33 minutes, 37 seconds
The puppies are still on the porch, which also serves as a mudroom. They've eviscerated a pair of my boots.
Before breakfast I run along Pescadero Road in the rain with my wife Rose. When we return, the roof is leaking. Our beanbag chair is soaking up water. In a downpour I go up the ladder and jam metal flashing under broken shingles. Fixed — until I can do better. Now breakfast, and let's light the logs in the fireplace.
Oakie the indoor puppy chews on a rawhide bone. The two porch puppies chase each other in circles and overturn their bucket of water. The kids prepare and put on a puppet show. Rose bakes cookies and her incredible homemade granola — every year, we pass out holiday food baskets to neighbors and friends. Jesse, my older son, age 10, helps me build a shelf for my growing collection of poetry and computer books.
It's your basic rainy day at home. The solstice passes, unseen behind clouds.
Tuesday, December 23, 1986
Daylight: 9 hours, 33 minutes, 40 seconds
At Peter's house I clean up some final details, replace a faulty 4-way switch. I'm done! Already finished are the carpenters Oshay and Junior, the tile setters Greg and his father Jerry — each worker a subplot, gone but a part of this dwelling where we have embedded our sweat, blood, and pencil marks. Our stories. Our spirits, too.
Sheba is housecleaning today. She's like a serialized saga, new episode every Tuesday. In the past month she's gotten married — not to Greg — and visibly has become a lower case "b," not necessarily by the groom. It's a credit to the effectiveness of birth control that she wasn't knocked up any earlier in the last 6 years. In late-December she's wearing a halter and soccer shorts. Oddly, she never had a super body. Something about her, though, has always exuded sexiness. In 3 years she'll be old enough to buy alcohol. She says her dad is out of prison and is repairing cars instead of stealing them.
There's a Christmas tree surrounded by brightly-wrapped packages. Judy is a Catholic but mostly she's a Christmas junkie. "When it comes to the holidays, I believe in wretched excess," she says as she hands 3 gifts to Sheba, one to me.
I write an invoice for Peter.
Peter writes a big fat check.
Last nail driven,The pagan festival of light. It must be the passing of the solstice that makes me so happy. That, and a fat check. Tomorrow I'll buy pomegranates — and maybe quail eggs if I can find them.
In each house,
our cluttered lives.