Monday, January 10, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 10 -- Two Questions

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

I've kept a daily journal for most of my life.  Every post in 365 Jobs is an expansion of some brief entry I found in my pages.  Like a long-forgotten scent, it's amazing how a few words, jotted so many years ago, can bring such a flood of memory.  Today I found entries on January 10, 1993 and January 10, 2006 that make perfect bookends:

Sunday, January 10, 1993

I'm fixing oatmeal in the kitchen when from the workshop in my basement, I hear the shudder and whistle of the motor starting on my radial arm saw, then the chatter of the blade cutting a board.

I go downstairs and find my son Will, age eight, third grade, placing another board on the saw table.  He's wearing ear guards and safety glasses.

"Did I say you could use the radial arm saw?"

On his face is the uh-oh look.  He removes the ear guards.  "Was I supposed to ask?"

"Have you ever used that saw before?"


He's watched me use it plenty of times.  On his own initiative he'd put on the ear guards and safety glasses, a good sign.  He's a sensible child, good with his hands.  But he's a child.  "Will, I need to teach you the safety rules.  And I need to be here in the same room watching you use it.  And you can never use it if I'm not home."


So I deliver the basic safety lecture.  Only one rule surprises him: "Before you press that START button, always ask yourself two questions: Where is the saw blade?  And where are my hands?"

"You do that?  Always?"

"Yes."  I hold up my hands.  "Ten fingers.  A lot of carpenters can't show you that many."

He gets my point.  He will remember that rule and quote it back to me, with chords and harmony, for years to come.

"So what are you building?"

"A foot pedal."

"What for?"

Eventually, we bought drums:  Will, 1994
"The bass drum."  He points to an oatmeal box that he's nailed to a block of wood.  Lately, he's been into drums. 

He never even asked me to buy him a drum.  In our family, we make things. 

I ask, "What's the design?"

"I'm making it up."

"That's my favorite design.  Want some help?"

With a combination of dowels and scraps and the spring from a screen door, we end up with a ludicrous, bulky, semi-workable foot pedal.  And a great morning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

With the help of my son Will, age 23, college grad, professional musician (drums, guitar, dobro), I put in a long day finishing the conversion of a Menlo Park office into a therapy gymnasium.  It's the end of a two-month job, and I couldn't have done it without him.  Tomorrow, the clinic opens. 

I gave Will all the hard jobs, like crawling in the attic or cutting a doorway in a lath-and-plaster wall.  I always fear for his fingers, though he never seems to hurt them and besides, he tells me, Jerry Garcia had fewer than ten.  He likes working for me, and construction pays better than serving coffee. 

Just this morning, I put a notice on our local e-list offering a free trundle bed.  It was Will's for all of his boyhood and on vacations all the way through college, but I'm ready to admit he's never moving back home.

One of my final tasks is to build a ball rack using a combination of steel and PVC pipe.  Somehow in the process I lose my footing, bang my head on a steel pipe, and spill PVC adhesive all over my hand and the arm of my sweatshirt.  "Ow!"  I grab my head and smear blue carcinogenic glue on my cheek and in my hair.

Will, 2006

Will looks up from the shelves he's assembling.  "You okay?"

"Just a bruise," I say, still holding my head.  "The cancer comes later."

He smiles.  "Before you open a can of glue, you need to ask yourself two questions: Where is the pipe?  And where is my brain?"

In the evening after dark we finish the job.  Will heads back to San Francisco where he has a gig playing bluegrass at a coffeehouse.  He lives in the Mission District.

I drive home to La Honda in my truck.  Blue adhesive has dried on my sweatshirt and in my hair.  I smell like a PVC pipe.  On the e-list, when I check in, somebody who calls himself a "brand-new father" has asked for the trundle bed.  He comes to my house and, together, we carry it out to his van on a cold, starry night.

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