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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I'm giving away 9 copies of 99 Jobs

Goodreads Book Giveaway

99 Jobs by Joe Cottonwood

99 Jobs

by Joe Cottonwood

Giveaway ends December 26, 2013.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On the air

I'm on the radio today, KQED San Francisco, the Perspective show. It will be repeated on Sunday. If you're out of radio range, as most of you are, you can hear me at:
http://www.kqed.org/a/perspectives/R201311270735

It's a two-minute reading of "The Secret Value of Junk," one of the stories in 99 Jobs.

They snapped this photo of me, looking like I just stepped off a construction site.

Oh well. We can't all be glamorous.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bookmarks, bookmarks, bookmarks...

Maybe all that sawdust from the Kesey lumber went to my brain. I underestimated how much work the bookmarks would require. If you're a carpenter, you're probably familiar with that sinking sensation when you've put in a whole day and accomplished one-fifth of what you expected.

About those Kesey bookmarks: I invited Terry Adams to join me and James Adams (no relation) in the production. Terry is a natural for the job. Terry is the man who rescued Ken Kesey's house from collapse and rebuilt it after a flood. Terry donated the floorboards and water tank lumber. Here's Terry routing "99 Jobs" into some bookmarks:

Terry could only work for a short while because it was his 70th birthday and he was about to spend the day motorcycling, which is more important than anything.

About that routing. It's hard. You're holding a five-pound, vibrating router in one hand while trying to write on a thin piece of wood. Wood grain and worm holes try to redirect the router. And handwriting was always my worst skill in grade school. Here are some that I had to reject:
 
The top bookmark, which seems to say "99 Jabs," is a fir floorboard from the Kesey house. As you can see, worms found those floors to be quite tasty. Maybe it was the chemicals spilled in the kitchen. The bottom bookmark is redwood from the Kesey water tank. My hand simply wandered on that one. I blame the sawdust fumes.

Anyway, we're having fun. I'm sorry about the delay, but hey, that's construction. I should have everything out in the mail by next Monday.

And here's a comment from somebody who saw the wormy bookmarks:
Joe, your wormy floorboards reminded me of an Ogden Nash poem (which I may accidentally misquote):

The Termite
-------------------
Some primal termite knocked on wood,
And tasted it, and found it good.
And that is why your cousin May
Fell through the parlor floor today.




Monday, November 4, 2013

(Quickly) Opinions, please

In less than 24 hours I need to make a final decision on the book cover. Here are two versions:


Which do you prefer? Or a combo of the two?

Here's the back cover. I think it's pretty well nailed down, but if you have comments, please let me know. Time's a-wastin'!

Later today I'll join James Adams at his workshop to make more bookmarks. Over the weekend I saw him sharpening knives on a whetstone, and I can testify that he has no fear of cutting edges. To demonstrate how his thumb was healing, he whacked on the bandage with the back of a knife, apparently feeling no pain. At least, no blood spurted out. James is a character. A good one. A pleasure to work with.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cutting bookmarks...

Today we began cutting bookmarks. On a table saw James Adams ripped slivers from a redwood 2x6 that used to be part of Ken Kesey's water tank. The wood is clear heart, vertical grain with mineralization stains (of heaven knows what chemicals). I took some photos as he began.



After cutting the long slivers into 8" pieces, I sanded their edges and then commenced engraving "99 Jobs" into the individual bookmarks. James, meanwhile, began cutting slivers from other pieces of lumber. I was hunched over the trim router, engraving "99 Jobs" freehand over and over, when James suddenly cursed and put his thumb into his mouth. Guiding a piece of wood, he'd run the pad of his thumb over the saw blade. The blade was set to protrude about 1/4" above the top of the piece he was cutting, so he sliced a 1/4" gash into his thumb.

Immediately I helped wrap it in gauze and tape. His wife drove him to the Palo Alto Clinic, where he is right now as I write this (the accident happened about an hour ago).

James is one of the best woodworkers I know. He says this is the worst accident he's ever had in his shop. He's careful, and he has a lifetime of experience. Yet it happened.

There are spatters of blood on the table saw. Red stains in the partially sawed wood. No, I won't be including that lumber among the bookmarks—to which we will return in a few days, I hope.

Be careful out there.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Progress Report

The editing is nearly complete. We're down to the teeny-weeny style issues such as discussing whether "a blond woman" or "a blonde woman" is better usage (both are allowed). (And if you're wondering, we're going with "blonde.")

I'm aiming for an official publication date of November 15 but hope to be sending out Kickstarter reward copies earlier than that.

Meanwhile, I obsess over the book cover. Thank you everybody for all the feedback. What became apparent is that nobody liked the white background. Many people liked the black background because, as they say, it makes the tool belt "pop out," and people seem to have a fondness for old tool belts. It reminds them of their boyfriend or their grandfather or of their own hardscrabble days. The great thing about the black background is that it still works as a thumbnail, which is important when you're selling books on the internet. As a full size 6x9" book, though, the solid black is not so good – it needs texture.

The most votes, however, went for the siding as background. I've been struggling with that. The siding tends to diminish the impact of the tool belt. Then today it occurred to me that instead of lightening the siding, I'd try darkening it. Wow! Now I've got siding, plus the tool belt pops out. Here's how it looks at this stage:

And as a thumbnail:

I'm on the radio again. Mostly it's about one of the biggest and saddest jobs in my life (which will be in the book), taking care of my older brother as his health and his house are collapsing around him – and as I am investigated for elder abuse. For the rest of this week, you can hear it here:
http://www.neighborhoodradio.info/shows/porch-talk

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My 28 minutes of fame

The editing is nearly complete. My editor, Susan Walker, combines a sympathetic attitude with a persnickety eye for detail. We have the same goal: we want every word in 99 Jobs to be absolutely right.

I was interviewed by a radio show called Porch Talk about 99 Jobs and other topics including a few of my songs.  It's a 28 minute show: http://www.neighborhoodradio.info/archived-broadcasts?af=porchtalk130915.mp3

Meanwhile I've been working on the cover design. Any opinions?  Let me know.





Friday, September 6, 2013

Kickstarter: the Grand Finale

Wow. Kickstarter is more than funds. It's a community.

From the messages I've received, and the pledges that have followed, I feel a community gathering around this book — from all over the planet. It's a community that cares about physical work in all its human aspects, from touching a life to nailing your thumb: what's funny, what's hard, what's uplifting, what's sad.

A warm and hearty thank you to everybody who pledged. Beyond giving me the funds, you've given me the spirit to create 99 Jobs. Now I must dive into the final bookmaking process: the assembly, the last edits, the design, the printing and distribution.

My bookmark-making partner, James Adams, just got married on September 4 and will be away for a few days of well-deserved play. When he returns, we will create several hundred bookmarks to give out as rewards. We just might create a few extra bookmarks, if anybody missed the deadline.

It looks like the special edition of More Jobs will be limited to 21 copies unless another order mysteriously appears in my inbox — sometimes my email takes a slow and circuitous route.

As for 99 Jobs, I hope to print hundreds of copies for the first run.  And if the gods keep smiling, I'll print more.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Kickstarter, Week Four: Labor Day

Happy Labor Day, folks. My Kickstarter fundraiser has reached its minimum goal of $3999 and is still climbing, with four more days to run.  I wanted the project to wrap around Labor Day for obvious reasons. 99 Jobs is about labor.

You all are wonderful. You've given me the backing — and the confidence — to launch 99 Jobs. I'm gratified that many of you remember my previous books and are eager for a new one. I'm delighted that some of you are discovering me for the first time. I'm thrilled at your world-wide distribution. You have pledged from Romania, China, Italy, England, Netherlands, Canada, Maine, New Jersey, Georgia, Montana, Kansas, Arizona, Hawaii, and of course from La Honda, the center of my world.

I'll continue to take pre-orders for 99 Jobs via Kickstarter through September 5. Each pre-ordered book will be personally signed by me — and inscribed any way that you wish. Your name (or a name of your choice — spouse, grandparent, lover) will be included on the Construction Crew List at the end of the book, if you have chosen that reward level. And each pre-ordered book will include one or more bookmarks made of vintage lumber, if you have chosen that reward level.

So far (morning, Sept 2), twenty people have reached the More Jobs reward level (besides the seventeen shown on the web page, three more have pledged at that level but couldn't make the reward button work — some kind of Kickstarter glitch). In the next five days, perhaps a few more will arrive. It will be a very limited, very special edition. An edition I'll be proud of.

But there's a problem. I was planning the More Jobs reward to be a small supplement of about a dozen stories. Now I find that there are simply too many I'd like to include — like, about a hundred. In addition to the ones I've already mentioned in the previous update, I could choose:
  • The drug dealer in condo #2.
  • A boy who was never born, now almost eighteen years old.
  • Hillbillies in a mansion.
  • An angel of death.
  • Delivering babies … and a stove.
  • A psychologist who tries to psyche me out of a payment.
  • A decorator who has radioactive sex.
  • More, more, more.
I don't know how many will make the final cut. With the help you've provided I can hire my crackerjack editor, who won't allow any substandard material, to help winnow the list to maybe twenty of the highest quality. The rest will have to wait for a sequel.

As for the 99 Jobs, they are already the very best. I'm buffing and polishing, nearly ready to launch. It's a product of labor. And love.

Thanks, everybody, for your warm and enthusiastic support.

Note: about the photo.  Why does it look like I'll be hammering screws?  Well, it happens sometimes.  It's in the book...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kickstarter, Week Three: More Jobs

Nine days to go, and I'm at 85%. Thank you, everybody.  We just might make it.  If you haven't already pledged, you can help here.  Please?

Of the 89 backers (so far) of this project, 46 are first-timers on Kickstarter. I'm delighted to have brought so many newcomers. I hope you stick around and find more undertakings to support. I'm a newbie myself, but in the first month I've already made donations (mostly very small) to eight other kickstarts. The web site is dangerously addictive.

When Kickstarter suggested that I should include a premium reward, I decided to include one at the $99 level: a special limited edition to be called MORE JOBS which will include about a dozen additional adventures. I have about 300 stories to choose from—and more that I will write. Right now I'm trying to decide among:
  • A Superior Court judge who lives outside the law.  
  • Falling through the ceiling into a woman's shower—while she is showering.
  • A bandit who steals a fortune, lives in squalor, and is betrayed by a cat.
  • "The Mongrel" — a dog who could outwit a Nobel prizewinner.
  • The poet whose hand was (perhaps) eaten by a tiger.
  • A Stanford Hospital surgeon smoking marijuana while conducting a family meeting with his missionary wife and teenage son—all undressed in a hot tub—while I'm installing lights.
  • Working for a toxic couple—young woman, older man—shortly before the young woman is murdered.
  • An illegal immigrant from China who wins the heart of a town—but not quite everybody in town.
  • Selling shovels to miners in the second great California Gold Rush.
  • The libidinous woman—a client offering benefits—who happens to own a mortuary.
  • The policemen who hold me at gunpoint and slam me against my truck—for burglary.
  • The skinny-dipping Congressman and his skinny-dipping wife. 
  • The rabbi whose new, improved lighting reveals erotic figures in his furniture.
  • Desperately trying to maintain my demented, dying brother in his dilapidated house—and being investigated for Elder Abuse. 
Or I could include the tale of the incompetent blue jay who needs the help of a carpenter (me) to build his nest—or the time I was hosed by a less-than-satisfied client—or the sugar daddy who uses shopping as foreplay… So many jobs, so little time.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kickstarter, Week Two: Birthday Edition

Today is my 66th birthday.  I'm aiming for 99 years on this planet, so I've got a ways to go.

Today also marks two weeks of Kickstarter campaigning.  I've raised 63% of my goal, so there's a ways to go on that project, too.

I'm adding a new reward level.  What the heck, it might be fun.  For a pledge of $499 I will give a one hour reading to you and assembled guests at your house — or restaurant, bar, church, library, football arena…  I've been giving monthly readings, mostly at the bar of our local restaurant, for the last three years.  We call it Lit Night.  The beer and wine make for an appreciative, relaxed audience.  Let me bring the experience to you and your friends.  (You must be within a reasonable distance of La Honda — that is, the San Francisco Bay area or Santa Cruz or a boat on the Pacific Ocean within a half mile of shore.  There are limits to how far I can drive.  Or swim.)

Musicians give house concerts.  Why not writers?   A house reading.

Here's the audience at a recent Lit Night:


Click here for the link to my Kickstarter campaign.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Kickstarter: First Week -- Blue Collar Writing

After one week, the 99 Jobs kickstart has reached 34% of the goal.  Thank you for pledging.  If you haven't, please do.  Every little pledge helps.  By pledging, you can pre-order a copy of the book -- and give me the advance funds to pay for the book production.

I'm tickled pink that the Kickstarter web site has highlighted 99 Jobs as a "Staff Pick," which gives it prominent placement on the display page (and means they personally like it.)

I'm getting wonderful emails from folks who've seen the 99 Jobs campaign and are attracted to the idea of "blue collar writing," a term several people have used.  I'd be proud to bear that name.  One colorful woman in Ohio whose father runs a tow truck company sent me a long email detailing the strange clients she's met, sometimes at the point of a 12 gauge shotgun.  I suggested she write a book.  She says she will.

I've got 3 weeks to raise the remaining $2611 -- or I get nothing.  Those are the Kickstarter rules: you make your fundraising goal, or else all the pledge money goes back to the donors.

I've received pledges from Shanghai, Great Britain, and the Netherlands.  Fans of blue collar writing from all over the planet...

Monday, August 5, 2013

99 Jobs: the Kickstarter campaign

And here we go!
Please, friends, help me out: spread the word to your circle of friends and companions and co-workers and even to your worst enemies (I can use their donations, too). The Kickstarter web page is here.

The goal is to raise $3999 so that I can publish a paperback book called 99 Jobs.  Production costs (editor, designer, printer) will be $8000, so I'm asking for half that. The other half will come out of my retirement savings.  Heck, I never really expected to retire anyway.  If enough people pre-order the book through Kickstarter, I'll know it's worth the investment.

You can pre-order an e-book for a $5 donation or a paperback for $20.  For a little extra donation, there are extra rewards: your name on the Construction Crew list, handmade wooden bookmarks. For a $99 donation, you'll get a special limited edition of More Jobs, of which only 99 copies will be printed—ever.  Or for $999, I'll come to your home and repair your toilet—and deliver the book face-to-face wearing my tool belt.

99 Jobs will be 99 "tool belt stories" about living in the construction zone.  Repairing homes, I meet people—the zany and the sober, the poor and the insanely rich. You can meet them, too, from professional clowns to Nobel prize winners, from con men to software zillionaires.  I’d like to share my own story as well.

The jobs range from changing light bulbs to rebuilding entire houses, with stops along the way as plumber, electrician, and remover of romantic woodpeckers. I’ve been showered by sewage, smoked by exploding gas, impaled like a vampire by a wooden stake. Some clients flirt—or something beyond flirtation.  Once I tried to kill a man. I’ve been cheated. I’ve had embarrassingly intimate relations with tools. I like good hard work though I’ve done some bad work, too. Along the way I’ve built a family—my own—and seen how a construction crew is like another temporary family, happy or Tolstoyan, loving or dysfunctional.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wooden Bookmarks: the Ken Kesey edition

I make my home in La Honda, California.  My friend, the poet Terry Adams, also makes his home in La Honda. Terry's home is the cabin where Ken Kesey hung out with the Merry Pranksters and the Hells Angels, where Kesey conceived of the Acid Tests, and from which Kesey launched the bus "Further."  Terry bought the cabin directly from Kesey after the place had been neglected, abandoned, vandalized, and—the final insult—flooded by the rampaging La Honda Creek, which knocked the cabin off its foundation and filled it with mud.

With a respect bordering on reverence, Terry rebuilt the cabin, maintaining as much of the original structure (and psychedelic interior paint) as possible. 

Some of the original boards had lost their structural integrity and couldn't be re-used in the cabin. Sliced, though, they make a great bookmark.  With the help of James Adams (no relation to Terry), here are some  samples.

I've got lumber from Ken Kesey's original floor and from his old water tank.  Who knows what kinds of Kool-Aid splashed onto the floorboards to be absorbed into the wood fibers?  And as for what was in that water tank, I can only speculate.

Warning: if you receive one of these bookmarks, DO NOT CUT IT INTO TABS AND INGEST.  I am not responsible if you feel a sudden urge to rip off your clothes and paint your body with paisley designs.

The tabs—er, bookmarks—will be offered as incentive rewards in my upcoming 99 Jobs  Kickstarter campaign.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wooden Bookmarks

For my upcoming Kickstarter campaign, I was brainstorming with James Adams, La Honda's master wood craftsman, about incentive rewards that I could offer to people who make Kickstarter donations.  We were talking in his woodshop, setting our beer bottles on top of his table saw, when I had the idea: "How thin can you cut a piece of wood on that table saw?  Could we make a bookmark?" 

James cut some samples.  A bit of sanding, a bit of finish, an experiment with freehand writing using a router, and — wow:

James has salvaged all kinds of local La Honda timber.  When a tree falls, James is there.  He has black acacia, dark walnut, fir, maple, redwood (of course).  Maybe that redwood came from Ken Kesey's old cabin.  James even has a cypress tree from Neil Young's ranch. 

So I'll be offering bookmarks as incentive rewards on Kickstarter, starting next week.  Put a little lumber between your pages.  Own a piece of legendary La Honda timber.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Progress Report July 23 2013

The book is nearly written.  I've winnowed the jobs down to about 113, so I still need to winnow some more.  99 Jobs is a good title; 113 Jobs is not.  I'm rewriting and adding material—some of those original posts were badly written, or omitted details, or simply missed the point. 

After extended agonizing I'm getting comfortable with the title 99 Jobs: Blood Sweat and Houses.  Then immediately in the jacket copy I hope people will read this:
I repair homes. With each job I enter somebody’s life. Here are 99 "tool belt tales” about good hard work and the people I’ve met.
Many people are telling me they prefer printed books to ebooks.  I do, too, but they cost money to set up.  I'll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in August.  The campaign will end on Labor Day, which seems an appropriate date.  It's basically a way to ask people to pre-order the book.  They'll receive advance copies, and I'll have some advance funding. 

My goals are modest.  At a minimum, I hope to fund the cost of hiring a professional editor and a good book designer.  If I can raise more than the minimum, it can pay for a tiny publicity campaign and maybe even a low-budget book tour.

I'll keep you updated.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Progress Report

Sorry for the silence.  I've been writing like mad to create a book based on the themes of this blog.  The tentative title: 99 Jobs: Good Hard Work.

The final product will be an e-book (containing approximately 99 of the blog stories, rewritten).  If enough people buy the e-book, a print publisher might pick it up as well.  That's how business is done these days among non-blockbuster writers such as myself.

I want to thank everybody who has been reading the 365 Jobs stories and providing feedback.  With your help, I have a pretty good idea of what people would like to read and what sort of stories I want to tell.

I may try a Kickstarter campaign so I can pay for some professional help in launching this book — and so I can run off some print copies as well.  Stay tuned for news on that.

What do you think of the title?  And how about this model for a book cover? (That's my dear old leather tool belt, which I've written about here and here.)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My House Was Always Wet

Sunday, November 8, 1981

My House Was Always Wet

Faucets dripped.
Gutters overflowed.
The old roof, Vermont slate, leaked.
The two toilets, mysterious machines,
ran, whistled, gurgled, clunked in the night.
Drains backed up with smelly gray suds.
Cellar walls weeped.
Pipes shrieked.

If I took a shower upstairs,
downstairs a water stain
grew on Granma's ceiling.
Once after an extra long shower
("What were you doing  in that shower, boy?")
Granma's ceiling
collapsed.

My father was no plumber.
Once he broke a china sink.
Ripped a hole in a bedroom wall,
then didn't come home at all, at all.

Doors grew mildew, ceilings grew mold.
Floor joists quietly rotted.
My own sprouting body grew fungus
in places I didn't dare mention.

Sister moved across the sea;
Brother, to the coast;
Granma, to the hospital
and gave up the ghost.

I, too, traveled far
though moisture haunted
my every move:
sweating palms,
saliva of lips,
teardrops and their salty tracks,
juice of genitals, flood of birth,
milk of breast…  The house
was leaking love, my friend,
and no pipe ever
brought it back.



Now Grown

Now grown,
in a dripping house of my own,
being plumber and father combined,
why don’t we have love
most all of the time?

Friday, May 10, 2013

An Embarrassing Moment

October 4, 1984
 

An Embarrassing Moment

Mild stomach flu but a full day’s labor:
pipes soldered, drywall patched.  Done.
Motoring home in my pickup
among the mansions of Atherton
after dark, without warning I
suddenly need to — immediately —
must absolutely at this moment
take an extreme

crap.
Stop the truck.  Out.
In front of a vast estate I squat behind a
RONALD REAGAN FOR PRESIDENT
lawn sign and let fly
among some pumpkins.
As I rebuckle beside
the steaming puddle,
lights come on flooding
the garden while an alarm
starts blatting and a dark dog is
running.  A man is shouting
through the glare but I’m gone
and accelerating while the dog chases
my left rear wheel so I never hear
the words but maybe the man is thanking me
for the fertilizer or exhorting me to vote for Ron.
I regret missing his
statement having already
made mine.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Playing With Dolls

August 1986

Playing With Dolls

Lisa is a realtor.  She's dark, intense.  When I meet Lisa at the house, the new owners have changed the locks.  Wearing a tight skirt, Lisa wiggles through the dog door and lets me in.  "It's a job skill," she says, sucking deeply on a Marlboro, filling her pretty little chest with carcinogens.

I don't usually think of women as dolls, but Lisa is petite.  With makeup her flesh is flawless, like plastic.  There's a distance in her eyes, an untouchable quality about her, off-limits.  Grown men shouldn't play with dolls.

Lisa's clients — two women named Judy and Janice buying their first home — want me to convert a wine cellar to a walk-in closet before they take possession.  In addition, Judy and Janice want me to move a wall to accommodate a humongous bed.  The floorspace will come at the expense of the other bedroom, which I will convert to another walk-in closet.  Judy and Janice must have killer wardrobes.  And an active, um, bed-life. 

I've never met this couple, but I picture them in my mind as very young.  Only the most active people with the most youthful knees would buy a house that should never have been built, a house on a steep hillside where you enter at street level and then descend two long flights of stairs to the living space.  Nice view, though.

Some stoned painters arrive and start to spread drop cloths.  I hear them talking about Lisa after she leaves.  They, too, have noted her dolly quality.  One says, "You think she's anatomically correct?"

The other painter chuckles.  "She's cute," he says, "though she acts like she wouldn’t ever even kiss a guy.  But I have to believe she’s lost, uh, you know, lost control of herself some time." 

"She'd have to be on top," the first painter says, "or she'd suffocate."

"I'd never fuck a client," the second says.  "It's unethical.  At least, not until after she pays the bill."

Don the window washer arrives in the afternoon.  I know Don from a previous job.  He has a fresh scar on his forehead, a criminal record in his past, and when Lisa is gone he speculates in graphic and colorful detail about Lisa's body parts with particular attention to the scent and substance of body hair.  "Short women taste different — like sauerkraut," he says.  "And they have thicker hair."  He claims to be an expert. 

Then Don starts explaining his new scar, which involves a drunken bar fight: "He cut me, but I cut him worse.  I needed fifteen stitches.  Fifteen.  I don't know how many he needed." 

Don isn't the sort of person you'd want to leave alone in your house.  Actually, come to think of it, maybe none of us are.  And as it turns out, none of us pick up the clues about Lisa.  We all made up our own little stories.

I install an aluminum threshold and stupidly bring my unguarded face close to the scroll saw so I can see the lines.  A metal chip flies into my eye.  Fucking shit.  It hurts.  I get it out but cry all evening, not sad, just making tears.

Lisa brings three telephone installers who do the work of one man.  The senior of the three supervises while talking about the house he's building in Emerald Hills: "I'm making the kitchen twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet because I'm Italian, and Italians always gather in the kitchen."  Then one of the installers staples his own finger to a baseboard, and the other installer pulls with needle-nose pliers while the supervisor swears in Italian.  After they leave, Don the window washer in an uncharacteristic act of kindness wipes up the blood.

The wine cellar is of course at the bottom of the structure, down three flights of stairs.  I calculate I've climbed those 60 steps at least 100 times, which is like climbing a 3000 foot mountain, and I've carried 500 pounds of drywall and dripped enough perspiration — plus a few tears, still flowing — to fill a 5-gallon bucket.  I'm sure of that because in 3 days I drank over 5 gallons of water.  I feel victorious — and dehydrated. 

Lisa tells me that Janice wants me to repair a leaking shower and that one of the closet rods fell down.  Suddenly it's just Janice.  I'm embarrassed about the closet rod and curious about Judy. 

"Don't worry," Lisa says, "Janice is the one with the money.  It's her house.  You'll still get paid."

"I wasn't thinking about money.  I was wondering —"

"About lesbian love affairs?  None of your business, Buster."

But it's not that.  Not exactly.  I'm simply curious.  There's been drama, unknown: fights, a broken heart.  I want the story.

On my final day of work, the moving company — Schmoover Movers — brings in a gigantic bed for which I've moved the wall.  The bed frame they move in sections; the mattress they fold like a burrito to fit through the double doors.

I send a bill to Lisa.  A few days later I receive a check in the mail signed by Janice, whom I've never met, who will be sleeping alone on a half-acre mattress in a house prepared by men — yes, in this case they're all male — who have bled their blood and dripped their sweat and echoed their voices within the bare walls — each with his own little comedies and tragedies — whom she's never met.   It seems sad.  Or maybe it's just the tears in my eyes.

A month later, I get a call from Lisa:  "Remember that wine cellar you converted?"

"Oh no.  Did another closet rod fall down?"

"Not that.  More work.  Janice wants to be sure I hire the same people because you left the house feeling so clean and pure.  I didn't disillusion her.  I know how you guys talk.  I know what you probably said about her."

"Actually, honestly, I don't think anybody said anything about Janice.  What does she need now?"

"We want you to convert half of that closet back into a wine cellar."

"We?"

"Can you hear me blushing?  I know it's sort of unethical to poach a client."

"Poaching?  Is that what you call it?"

So now I know what happened to Judy. 

"I'm a small person with a small wardrobe," Lisa says, "and I'm sort of a wine snob." 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

First Birthday

Monday, October 10, 1977

First Birthday

Today is October 10, 1977.  Exactly one year ago at 9 a.m., my son was born.  Today at 9 a.m. I meet a bosomy woman named Nina at a fixer-upper in Palo Alto.  She wants me to relocate a sink and replace a toilet.  First thing I do, exploring, is wiggle a hot water pipe, which breaks off in my hand, flooding the kitchen and bathroom before I find the shutoff.  Luke, the old carpenter working there, says, "An inauspicious beginning."  He has a Canadian accent: in-ow-spicious. 

Luke is a chatty old nut who looks like a professor wearing a tool belt.  As it turns out, I'm not far off. 

Luke tells dirty jokes and has a poor boys' view of authority.  He got married in Tahoe just last Saturday — to Nina.  He grew up poor in Saskatoon.  He worked in the Royal Canadian Mounted motor pool but decided he could better himself, so he took an RCMP test whose results indicated that he should stay in the motor pool.  Instead, he went to college, and nine years later he had a Ph.D. in genetics.  "Tests are crap," he says.

Luke worked under Dr. Norman Shumway, the pioneering heart transplant surgeon at Stanford.  "I'm a handy scientist," Luke says, "which is a useful and rare commodity."  He takes off from time to time to fix up houses, which is how he met the top-heavy Nina.  "It's a match made in heaven," Luke says.  "My brains, her obvious and abundant fertility — we'll conquer the world."  Luke does not lack in self-esteem.  Nor in breast-worship.

With the profits they'll make from this fixer-upper, they'll move to British Columbia where Luke will work in the Immunology Department at UBC — in the Lung Unit, he says, coughing (he chain-smokes) — while Nina starts having his babies.  "I don't want my DNA to disappear," Luke says.  "I want to replicate."

I wish his genetic material the best of luck.  I go home to my first son's first birthday.  At one year old, he walks, climbs, barks, and babbles.  He likes scrambled eggs, PB&J, beer (it was an accident, one-time), and Cheerios.  He likes dogs, sticks, tennis balls, his red fire engine, telephones (he eats them), and wastebaskets (he ransacks them).  It's a lot like having a puppy in the house.  He’s healthy and strong and cute as a button with big brown eyes and soft brown hair.  He likes to sit in his easy chair and kick his feet up just like the old man.  Replication.

Miranda, our midwife, is supposed to join us for dinner.  At last she shows up after we call to remind her.  My son by this time is asleep.  "Sorry," Miranda says, and she explains why she's distracted.  It's complicated:  She has a boyfriend named Theo.  Theo is married to a woman named Sunflower.  Theo and Sunflower have a child with Down syndrome. 

Sunflower flipped out after the birth.  She went in and out of hospitals while Theo cared for the baby.  Sunflower started seeing a shrink who gave her "the acid treatment" (LSD), which changed her from mildly freaked to totally psychotic — hiding in corners, babbling.  So this same shrink sent Sunflower back east for months of electroshock treatments.  You have to wonder if he slept with her, too, since he did everything else wrong.  Then Sunflower disappeared.  For months. 

At last Sunflower showed up at her parents' house in Florida.  Sunflower's parents have a good deal of money.  With a court order they removed their granddaughter from Theo's care in California and took her to Florida.  Theo without funds was powerless to fight them. 

One thing revealed in Sunflower’s flipping out was that her father had sexually molested her as a child.  Now this man was caring for Ami, the sweet-natured girl with Down syndrome.  Theo tried to visit Ami in Florida.  The parents wouldn’t let him see the child. 

A year passed.  Miranda met Theo, and they fell in love.  Sunflower became a fundamentalist Christian and converted her parents.  Theo and Miranda went to Florida together and tried to get the fundamentalist minister to arrange a meeting with the grandparents.  They got nowhere.  So they spied on Sunflower’s folks and learned their routines.  By this time Sunflower had split for months, no one knew where. 

They decided to kidnap Ami.  The first plan was for a Sunday when the folks went to church.  It didn’t work — they never had an opening.  Kidnapping isn't so easy.  The next plan was for a school day.  Theo walked to the elementary school.  Miranda waited two blocks away with a rental car at a phone booth.  She waited.  And waited.  Then she panicked.  She went to the school and said she was from Missouri and wanted to observe how they did it here.  She walked around blabbering nonsense but couldn’t find Theo or Ami.  Finally Miranda saw them walking along the sidewalk outside.  Miranda made excuses and ran.  She followed Theo until they got to the car where they changed clothes and drove to Palm Beach and caught a plane, Miranda keeping Ami while Theo flew separately on the theory they’d look for Theo.  They changed planes in Saint Louis, calling the folks  to tell them they've got Ami.  The grandmother says, "It’s God’s will."  The grandmother then apologized — she never wanted Ami but Sunflower talked her into it. 

As far as Miranda can tell, there's no evidence that the grandfather molested Ami, but now the girl cries whenever she has to go to bathroom, which she never did before.

"I'm sorry," Miranda says, "you didn't need to hear all this."

"It's okay," I say.  "I think you needed to say all this.  I'm kind of amazed you showed up at all.  When did all this happen?"

"We just got back yesterday."  She looks in on my son, who is curled up in the crib with his froggy blanket.  There is adoration in Miranda's eyes.  She helped bring my son into the world.  It's her vocation.  Her passion.  "We just keep creating these amazing children," she says.  "What else can we do?"

Friday, April 19, 2013

Back Yard, Seven Months

Friday, April, 2013

Back Yard, Seven Months
 

You clutch grass.
Dandelion seeds stick in the slick of your face.
A ladybug, so bright, crosses a leaf, so busy.
From apple blossoms, the buzz of bees.
Little fingers rake tiny green
leaves: baby’s tears, inaptly named.
A geranium enters, somehow, a nostril.
Drool mixes with crumbs of dirt.
A breeze blows your hair,
sun blushes your skin.
To all the world
you smile.



Note:
Sometimes a poem is a way of taking a snapshot.  I snapped this one when I had the job of taking care of my newest grandson for a day. 
He's one happy fellow. 

And why does this poem appear in a blog about jobs?  Because I work with my hands.  These are my trades: plumber, carpenter, electrician, grandfather.  My tools: wrench, hammer, pliers, blanket.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Milestone: 365 Posts!

A Milestone: 365 Posts!

My greetings and blessings to everybody who is reading this blog.  With the previous entry, I now have 365 posts! 

Tonight I'll celebrate under the redwoods with a soak in the hot tub and a couple of beers: Fat Tire, if you please.  Should be a lovely night.  My two dogs will join me — and maybe another companion.

When I started the blog 836 days ago, it was intended as a one-year project.  I had no idea it would be so much work.  Or so much fun.  Or that I'd make so many friends.

It's time to begin gathering, culling, creating a book that consolidates the best of what I've written here.  I'm going to start work on that.

Also, I've just created a Facebook page where I'll post updates on the progress of the book (as well as posting them here).  Come on over and "like" me if you want to receive updates, or if you're just a likable person.  The Facebook page is here.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I'll go on posting — maybe we should rename it: "More Than 365 Jobs."  I'm not done yet.

Pretty Polly

July, 2003

Pretty Polly

Polly is a sweet lady who seems to prefer the companionship of birds.  Deeply beautiful in that freckly earth-mother way, she always wears colorful beads.  Dozens of cages contain hundreds of bright busy birds: budgies, cockatiels, a macaw.  Some of them will perch on her finger, singing.  She's tamed them.  Others, though, will never accept her.  "It's a survival instinct," she says.

The house smells like a chicken coop. 

Other than avians, Polly lives alone.  She has a number of deeply-held beliefs, such as that daylight savings time is a conspiracy against poor people.  And she believes that all the problems with George W. Bush can be explained by a botched circumcision. 

Polly is not unpleasant, but she can be strident.

For her fortieth birthday Polly bought a computer and a fancy surge protector which, when plugged into the outlet, flashes a red error light indicating a broken ground.

It's a three-prong outlet, but when I open it, there's no ground wire.  Just some old two-wire ungrounded Romex.  I explain to Polly that somebody replaced the original two-prong outlet with a three-prong, though they never added an actual ground wire.

"You mean, they made it look like a grounded outlet even though they knew it wasn't grounded?"

"Exactly."

Polly frowns.  "Now that is an evil act."

She's right.  Sort of.  It's petty evil.  It was also, probably, simply an act of convenience. 

On Polly's terms, there's a lot of evil in construction.  There's evil everywhere, constant menace.  Polly is ever on guard.  You get the sense that she'll never be your friend.  Or anybody's friend.

Some birds will never perch on fingers.  




Note: photo by Jerry Tillery (from Wikipedia).  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Class System

Wednesday, April 16, 1986

The Class System

Mrs. E speaks with a British accent and carries herself with a royal air.  Her lavishly landscaped yard has a swimming pool fed by a waterfall that splashes from stacked rocks and ferns.  She has a view of the entire Silicon Valley.

I’m repairing a leak under her sink.  Her husband had worked on it.  Why oh why is this billionaire doing his own plumbing? 

Mrs. E asks, "Did my husband totally botch it?"

"Um, it's just, I think it would be better to replace the entire drain assembly."

"You're very tactful."  She laughs.  "Where do you live?"
   
“La Honda," I say, which is like saying I live on the poor side of the mountain.

“I like La Honda," she says kindly.  "It has such pretty views.”

“You’re not doing too bad, either,” I say.  It sounds wrong and immediately there's a chill, like I’m envying her obvious financial success.  "Your views," I say too late.  "You have pretty views, too."

"Yes," says Mrs. E.  And that's the end of chatting.

Her husband can't do plumbing, and I can't make small talk with a billionairess.  We both have limits to our expertise.  But I like it that he tries.  I'll keep trying, too.

The waterfall, I decide, is too tidy.  Too obviously placed there.  Lacking nature’s artlessness.  But then, I'm no expert.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Moment After

Monday, November 21, 1994

The Moment After

Numb from the crawl space,
the weight of wrenches, the suck of mud,
the cruel finger-scrape of crusty gas pipe,
I open the cock, dimly aware of
a hoo-oo-ooting sound as wearily, stupidly
to relight the pilot I strike a match and
WHOOSH
a roaring comet of fire shoots across the garage
knocking me back like a high inside fastball.
Fast as flame the body moves
before the mind reacts:
I shut the cock.

The moment after
in stillness
my right arm is smoking.
The moment after
from my sizzled beard
the scent of singed hair.
The moment after
from my lip
the taste of ash.
The moment after
like a wild river
blood throbs through my heart.
Lungs expand with the rush of air.
Before pain can muster,
in the moment after
I have senses, spirit

the soul burns,
my love, blessed
to the quick
with life.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Happiness, Last Chance

December, 1986

Happiness, Last Chance

After the divorce, I helped Cory move a 900-pound piano from the big old house to a funky little cottage that he'd rented nearby.  There I met a shy, skinny woman.  "This is my lover, Melissa," Cory said by way of introduction. 

Cory was in his sixties.  An engineer who'd survived cancer.  Retired.

Melissa, lover, looked a little younger, fifty-something.

When we'd wheeled the piano into place, Melissa said, "That's it?"

Other than the piano, Cory had brought one suitcase.  "That's it," he said.  He'd given everything to his ex-wife: house, furniture, all earthly possessions.  He would start anew.

Melissa, apparently, was starting over as well.  In the living room there was weight-lifting equipment and nothing more.  In the bedroom I could see a mattress on the floor.  The walls were all bare.

Cory limped into the kitchen.  He'd injured his leg in a bicycle accident as a child.  Opening cabinet doors, finding nothing but nutritional drinks, he asked, "Don't you have a single pot?"

"You know I don't eat," Melissa said.

They kissed.  Taped to the refrigerator was their only decoration, a calendar featuring photos of muscular body-building women.

They had equipped the house with their passions, nothing more.   

For a couple years thereafter until Cory's cancer came back, evenings when I was walking my dog by the cottage, I could hear the piano and see the thin shadow of Melissa on the curtains, lifting weights, not eating.  He loved that boogie-woogie.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vigilante, Kelly Moore Paint, San Carlos, California

Friday, April 11, 1986
 

Vigilante, Kelly Moore Paint, San Carlos, California
   
As I turn to enter the parking lot, a man is standing in the middle of the lane, a blockade. 

I stop the truck.

He says, “You son of a bitch.  I could sue you.”

Leaning my head out the window, I say, "Huh?"

A couple of painters are walking by.  One says, “Come on, Frank.  Let him in.”

Frank doesn’t budge.  “It’s an exit,” Frank says.  “He’s trying to enter an exit.  See the arrow?”

“So what are you, a cop?” says the painter.

Meanwhile, I'm backing up.

Frank is muttering to himself.

He's sick.  Anybody can see.

I salute.  With respect.  Honest, no sarcasm.  With or without pay, every man needs a job.  Such as: Parking Lot Vigilante.

Every man needs a purpose.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I Got Lost

Thursday, April 10, 1980

I Got Lost
 

In the laundry soap aisle at Payless my daughter, age two, gets separated from me and my shopping cart.  I hear screams: "DADDY!  WHERE ARE YOU?"  I rush to pick her up and hold her in my arms.

She seems baffled by what happened.  We were separated for about fifteen seconds.

"You got lost," I say.  "You couldn't find me."

In her face she goes from bafflement to surrounding the idea: "I got lost."  She's a quick learner.

She's growing so fast.  Already I sense: In a blink, she'll be a teen.  Another blink, she'll be gone.  I tell her so, at dinner, and she tells me she doesn't want to grow up.  She wants to grow down and be a hummingbird.

After dinner I go to a nearby house and hook up a stove.  Low margin for me, but I promised the landlord.  Some new tenants are moving in.  First thing the two men do is carry in a television and attach it to cable.  While I finish the job, they sit on the bare floor, drink beer, smoke ciggies, have a farting contest, and make jeering comments about some show they're watching called That's Incredible!

I want to scream. 

For a few bucks, I've missed an evening with my daughter and spent it with a couple of louts.

I got lost.  I couldn't find her.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Betsy's Door

Tuesday, October 24, 1989

Betsy's Door
 

Betsy is a grandmotherly sort.  Gray hair, sweet face.  You can tell immediately that money is tight.  She lives alone in a one-room apartment over a garage. 

Somebody kicked in her front entry.  She's hired me to replace it with a crummy used door that she found leaning against a dumpster.  I'll have to swap out the hinges and locks, then adjust the weatherstripping before she leaves for her job at three o'clock.

"Shouldn't the landlord pay for this?" I ask.

"No," Betsy says.

She watches me work.  Occasionally she glances at something called The Daily Word, which is a Bible quote with a little sermon.  She moves her lips as she's reading.  Otherwise, she's silent.  A simple, lonely woman, I'm thinking.  To make conversation, I ask an easy question: "Where do you work?"

"Oh, you know," she says as if I might.  Then it comes in a gush: "I used to run the Bar Association but it got too crazy so now I work at Stanford because they have good benefits and I do some extra bookkeeping on the side.  I thought I'd be retired by now.  I was planning to travel around in the motor home but now I can't afford to and I need to sell it.  You interested?"

"No.  Sorry."  There's a boxy Fleetwood, dented and dirty, parked in the driveway. 

We're quiet for a while.  She watches me work and glances at The Daily Word.

I don't know why, but for some reason I remark: "I see a lot of motor homes with a bumper sticker that says WE ARE SPENDING OUR CHILDREN'S INHERITANCE."

"You don't like that?" she asks.

"It seems sad."

"Why not spend it?  My son's an addict.  I used to have a lot of fine antiques.  Now look." 

"Is that who kicked in the front door?  Your son?"

"He's broken," she says.  "Like an egg on a sidewalk."

A grandmotherly sort.  Gray hair, sweet face.  She has one room and The Daily Word.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fifty-Pound Chandelier

Friday, October 16, 1987
 

Fifty-Pound Chandelier

I'm installing a fifty-pound chandelier in Atherton.  To place my ladder, I have to move a massive walnut table. 

Mrs. W is watching me closely.  "Don't hurt that table," she says.  "It's the reason we bought the house."

"It came with the house?" I ask.

"No.  I bought the dining room set for our old house, but it didn't fit, so we bought a new house."

Atherton is a different world.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fuzzies

Adirondack Sketches: September, 2000

Fuzzies

Alone she cleans the cabin, packs her bag,
takes a last dip and shampoo in the lake.
A soapy cloud dissipates in the water.
A week of voluntary solitude is at end,
a week to wash her heart.
Email, voicemail await.

The wind is from the east — bad sign.
In the car a green caterpillar starts crawling up her leg.
At a stop sign, she tries to catch him, to set him free, outside,
but he panics and squirms out of her fingers to drop
to shadowy spots unseen.  Him.  He.
So she drives, reflecting upon, smiling at
her now-conscious assumption:
All caterpillars are male; that's why
they're so stupid and single-minded.
All butterflies are female; that's why
they're so nice.
The solitude healed.  She can almost laugh.

Again he wiggles up her leg, the same leg, to her thigh.
Again she tries to grab him but he leaps —
how does a caterpillar leap?
— to the floor.
Either he will be crushed by her feet,
sucked up a Hertz vacuum cleaner,
or he will starve in this sterile Mazda.
She's rushing to catch a boat.
She cannot save him
if he won't be saved.

A hurricane is coming, dark sky.
The ride across Lake Champlain is wild.
Waves slam the shuddering ferry.
Water sprays the windshield.
Wind whips the puddles on the deck
while she searches the car from within, doors closed
to the weather, contorting like a back-seat lover
to peer under floormats.  He can't be found. 
She reaches Burlington Airport with time, barely,
to escape at the edge of the black storm.

A couple weeks ago, she came upon
a plump brown caterpillar
who was humping across the little lane
in front of her house.
She tried to guide him with the edge of
her flip-flop.  He was stubborn.
A car approached.
Reflexively, obediently, she stepped aside.
He was popped
— splattered —
under the tire of a black Mercedes driven by a callow young man.
Now hunched in flight, middle seat, no leg room,
ignoring some bullshit movie
she clutches her belly.  In her eyes appear
all things fragile, winged, unborn. 
She could have stopped the car.  Both cars:
pulled the Mazda to the side of the road
until she found that little beast, Adirondack refugee,
before the squalls trapped her — and he — inside
that metal cage.  She could have stood
her ground against the black Mercedes
until the hairy worm could shimmy to the other side.

Air turbulence.
Hands clasped on the seat tray,
she prays: Little caterpillars,
please keep creeping.
Some day
you'll reach
whatever you're seeking.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Brother William

Adirondack Sketches:

Brother William

Between a charcoal grill and a keg on ice
before a half dozen friends who tried to dress nice,

Brother William pronounces: "Husband and wife."
Couples by the hundred he's bonded for life
— or some brief stretch of it — in back yards, grassy
parks, open space under birches.
Never in churches.
These are joyous affairs with a simple touch.
"For people," he says, "who can't afford much."
He does it for free. 
He says: For love.



Note: The man who I call "Brother William" is the man who introduced me to the Plattsburgh Hillbillies.  He's a noble man (in the untitled sense), as you might expect since he's the son of Ken LaundryHe's also the only man I've ever met who has been turned into a bobblehead doll.  If you would like to buy a genuine William D. Laundry bobblehead for $20, the proceeds go to an endowment at SUNY Plattsburgh.  Call 800-964-1889.


At the Dock, Among Mountains

Adirondack Sketches

At the Dock

A warm breeze rises
over black water.
A meteorite —
so silent!
Your little finger
seeks my hand.
This, our cabaret.
Entranced we linger
among fireflies
sporting in
the nightlife.
Above hulking mountains
float stars,
the Milky Way
like city lights
of heaven.



Among Mountains

Returning as an old man
maybe now I understand:
The terrible weather of the Adirondacks
makes you treasure the good.
You find the right woman and stop.
You ride out storms.
You stir the glowing coals.
You learn to crave the taste
of wild blueberry
plucked fresh, staining lips,
sweetness so intense
you will climb peaks, gorge yourself,
filling pockets
for deep winter.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

In the Burlington Airport

Adirondack Sketches: Thursday, July 12, 2001

In the Burlington Airport

Two men in T-shirts are sun-roughened,
muscular in that non-bodybuilder way. 
They know physical work.

On the window glass with a smudgy finger
the older man sketches a map from memory. 
They speak of willow trees, a trickling spring.
A rocky field.  Twin graves on a hill.

The younger man says, "That land was like home to me.
Every time I set foot on it, I felt like I was being hugged."
Embarrassed, perhaps, they each look away
through the glass.  On the runway, jets are rolling. 
Newark. Chicago. Some goddamn city. Now boarding.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Catching a Cab in Burlington, Vermont

Adirondack Sketches

Catching a Cab in Burlington, Vermont

The sun has set, the dusk is deep.
You wipe your fingers of hamburger grease
while the counter girl cleans up, humming,
closing.  Stepping out, you catch a taxi
for the five minute ride to the Ho Hum Motel.
The driver, Amanda, looks college age.
She says her father owns the cab.
Chatty, she says she's lived here
her whole life.  It's a safe town:
"I mean, look at me, I'm driving a taxi at night."
A pleasant trip.
You overtip.

Morning, you head for the lake where
sailboats flutter like delicate moths.
Your cabbie, Albert, blares the horn: "This is what
I hate about this town.  People
don't get out of the way.  People walkin'!
Y'know what I'm sayin'?"
Albert's a whiner, a short guy.
"I can't wait to go back south in a couple
months when my service ends."
Oh, service.  Meaning: Albert's on parole,
a work-release.  What crime? 
Probably no danger, but strange.
You count your change.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

While Buying Groceries in Burlington, Vermont

Adirondack Sketches: Saturday, June 30, 2001

While Buying Groceries in Burlington, Vermont

Something, I forget what, reveals I'm from San Fran,
so the bread stocker, a big white guy, tells me
he lived in California for six months,
college in Long Beach,
had a "brown-skin girlfriend,"
but he had to leave because he's "earthquake sensitive."
He woke up one morning with the certain knowledge
that there would be a killer quake within three days.
He warned everybody.
"Was there a quake?" I ask.
"Yes.  In Mexico City."
"So you were off by a few thousand miles."
"No.  The way I see it, I prevented it from happening locally
by calling it.  Then I got the hell out."
"The girlfriend?"
"No."
So now he's married with kids and drives
a bread truck in Burlington, Vermont.
He smiles.  "It's a good town."
I agree.



Note: I usually come to the Adirondacks by flying into Burlington, Vermont, followed by a ferry ride across Lake Champlain.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Au Naturel

Adirondack Sketches: 
Au Naturel

Postseason

After Labor Day, speedboats gone,
the weather turns gorgeous.
Teacher Jim, age eighty-two,
and nurse Edith, a mere seventy-eight,
at the dock nonchalantly strip.
In the cold water they soap themselves,
bare butts etched like driftwood.
The air is warm, breeze gentle.
World, carry on.



 

Midseason

Free like an otter I swim
without suit nor jock,
then spy a mom and (uh oh) young girl
at the neighboring dock. 
They wave, (whew),
smiles on their lips.
There's something so wholesome
about a skinny dip.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Alone, Moose Mountain

Adirondack Sketches: Sunday, Sept 14, 2003

Alone, Moose Mountain

The man climbs foolishly alone
into clouds.  Breaking spider webs,
he's first to follow this abandoned path
in a long while.  A final, steep scramble
up rocks and he's atop
Moose Mountain.
Clouds lift.  Brilliant view, shared:
Perched on a near spar, an alert falcon.

Tired, descending a different
faint trail, he hasn't seen
another human all day.
Crossing a creek, he hops to
a slick rock and falls so fast
there is no time to raise his arms.
His jaw slams against a boulder.
Is the bone fractured?

He's in the cold creek,
getting soaked, seeing stars,
mad as hell.  He was always good at bearing
pain but this is amazing.
He gets up swearing,
screaming at nobody, the gods,
everything.  Where's the hat?
Shit!  He stumbles down the creek searching
and slips again.  Fuck! 

He's too tired, too wet,
too banged up and crazy.
Farewell, beloved Tilley hat.
Socks squishing,
he continues along a trail so little used
the duff bounces under his boots.
Moss, fungus, throb.
Birch, pine, stab.
Squirrel, jay, pang.

Two weeks later — two weeks in which it was impossible
to swing a hammer — a doctor purses her lips and says,
"You're crazy, hiking solo where nobody would find you.
You almost broke your jaw.
And didn't it occur to you," she asks
shaking her head, "you dislocated your shoulder?"
She pops it into place.

Above Moose Mountain
alone,
a falcon soars.



Note: Yeah, I confess, I was that man. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ken Says

Adirondack Sketches: 2001

Ken Says

The first time my father took me to the Forks
— the town, Ausable Forks —
those fifteen miles took all day by wagon.
On Blueberry Hill you had to stop and chock
the wheels so the team could rest.
Later I'd ride our old mare
and later still — this would be, oh, 1929 —
me and some boys shared a Ford Model A. 
A mounted patrol stopped us.
Our driver was fourteen, no license of course.
The trooper consulted his gelding, I swear,
turned his back to us and muttered,
adjusted the saddle for five minutes
while we stewed, scared.
Well, the man let us go
'cuz we needed a way to get to school.
That's how things was done.
It was horse sense.



Evenings after a glass of scotch, Ken would tell a story with a straight face so you never knew exactly when the truth was left behind, if ever.  I heard this one several times.
Here's another:
'
32 Ford, '80 Calendar, '64 Story

Friday, March 22, 2013

How Often?

Adirondack Sketches: Thursday, June 24, 1999

How Often?

How often will a weary cashier see
long after midnight, shopping in a
Plattsburgh Price Chopper grocery
cheerful mature men, all three
giddy as kids going to summer camp? 
Which we are.

Arriving near dawn,
directly to the lake we're drawn.
No need for flashlights on
this trail learned by heart
a lifetime ago.

We strip and dive
— WAHOO! —
startling the loons.
Purple water
split by the moon
so calm,
ice-cold on flesh
like balm.


First as campers, later as counselors, now as owners (and I, friend-of-owners), we gather in late June for a long weekend to open the cabins.  There's water to turn on, pipes to repair, docks to install, weeds to hack.  In 1999 we met in the Montreal airport baggage area, each from separate flights, near midnight and drove across the border.  Customarily we buy groceries in Plattsburgh, then drive along the Saranac River through sleeping villages until at last we arrive at Silver Lake.  Door-to-door for me it's a 15 hour journey.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hairy Brown Spiders

 Adirondack Sketches: Sunday, Sept 3, 2000

Hairy Brown Spiders

Hairy brown spiders cling
trembling to the underside
of boards, then drop
to dark water
as we dismantle a dock.

My brawny son,
goofy-haired, so tall,
is distressed,
refusing to rip nails
until he observes:
these spiders can swim!

Good boy.



Note: I don't normally feel a need to fact-check a poem, but in this case I did and here's what I learned:  They're called Dock Spiders, genus Dolomedes.  They are nocturnal.  They walk on water.  They eat insects and even small fish.  They can go underwater, breathing air captured as bubbles on their hairy bodies.  Cool critters.
Here's a photo from Wikipedia:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Or They Will Destroy

Adirondack Sketches

Or They Will Destroy

You must learn the appetite of insects,
the temper of trees,
the sex life of local fungus.
Or they will destroy.
Know the weight of snow,
the force of frost,
the humor of stone, the habits of soil,
even the chemistry of the local air.
Or they will destroy.
Talk to people.
Customs are the accumulated wisdom of a place.
Respect the very soul of these folk, this land.
Or they will destroy you
as they should.



I learned this lesson in the Adirondacks, but it's true everywhere.  Construction is local.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Helping Ken

Adirondack Sketches: Tuesday, June 27, 1999

Helping Ken

"Need a hand?"
"Nope."
"Can I help anyway?"
"Doubt it."
(Which means yes.)

Old Ken couldn't lift this dock alone,
but he would manage
with the wile of eighty-odd years
to winch, drag, set it in place.
His movements, stiff.
His knees, weathered.
His grip, when we shake hands,
like the clamp of death.

Job done,
he climbs aboard his
skeletal tractor,
a relic, 'Fifty-One Ford,
for the uphill journey home.
Maintained where it counts,
the naked motor
purrs.



I've written extensively about Ken Laundry, starting here:
Ken Laundry: The Ice Saw, The Double-Bladed Ax
and ending here:
Another Death in the Family.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Overhaul

Adirondack Sketches: Friday, June 25, 1999

Overhaul

 

Being men, we can't just talk
so we eviscerate a
vacuum cleaner
as a social vehicle
while the radio
plays oldies,
our music.

We sort screws, test wires,
gathered around a table
with hand tools to
mend and maintain
a well-worn friendship,
aware that the Hoover
will never run.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

At the Hardware Store

Adirondack Sketches: Saturday, August 23, 1997
 

At the Hardware Store
   
Two rock-jawed old men: 
“You don’t want a gallon of that.” 
“Why not?” 
“Bad for you.” 
“Bad?” 
“Yes.  It causes work.”



Most summers, I return to the Adirondacks.  I go as a working guest.  For pay, for play, I have a hard time telling the difference.  You don't get to choose what you love.  Somehow, the Adirondacks chose me.
Over the years, I've jotted sketches.  I'll publish a few of them here over the next few days…