Monday, February 28, 2011

What is 365 Jobs?

I started 365 Jobs on a whim.  I got the idea on December 28, 2010 and by January 1, 2011 it was up and running.  It's more work than I expected.  It makes me insanely happy.

The short nature of a blog entry is a discipline, a cousin to poetry: you try to say more by writing less.

I'm mining my journals for memories.  What I find are entries of one sentence, maybe two sentences, sometimes just a person's name - and as with a whiff of a long forgotten scent, a flood of memories will flow.  With the distance of years I see these events in a new light: hopefully, the wisdom that only time can provide.  For each job, I try to extract the kernel of truth.

Here's what I wrote on December 31, 2010, when I launched the blog:
Most of the jobs begin like a blind date.  What's different is that you try not to get screwed.  You meet people.  They have problems; you try to help.  You work hard.  Stuff happens.  You live by your wits.  Sometimes, you do things that make you proud.  Sometimes, you make a friend. 

Since 1976 I've worked small jobs in the construction trades: carpenter, plumber, electrician.  Some jobs last an hour.  Some take months.  That's a lot of blind dates.  And all the time, I was keeping a journal.  For the next year I'm going to remember some of the people, the problems, the craft, the joy and sorrow, day by day.

365 Jobs, Day 59: No Animals or Humans Were Harmed in the Writing of this Post

Tuesday, February 28, 1984
I was pretty naive about the ways of business when I started out.  Bert became my teacher.  Bert was an interior decorator who started hiring me for the occasional job.  Bert had a great sense of color.  He was a very personable guy and a heck of a salesman.  Bert was also a con man, but I didn't know that yet.

On my first job for Bert, I accompanied him to a house in Los Altos where he wanted to add some track lights.  We discussed where the lights should be located, and then I told the client that I could buy the track at a discount for her.  Bert grabbed me by the arm and said, "Let me talk to you for a moment."  He quickly steered me out of the house and said, "Are you our of your mind?  Don't you know how I make a living?  A decorator doesn't get paid by the hour.  I make my profit by ordering things for my clients and selling at a markup."

"Oops.  Sorry," I said.

"Here's your Rule Number One: NEVER DISCUSS PRICE WITH A CLIENT."

"Okay."  From then on, I deferred all discussions of cost to Bert.  Bert, meanwhile, paid me by the hour, which led him to give me instructions like "Go install chair molding for Mrs. Ohler but hold down the expenses, okay?"  Then I go to Mrs. Ohler and try to do a quick job, but Mrs. Ohler calls me on every shortcut - nicely - saying "Is there anything you can do about this crack over here?"  So I end up doing a quality job, against Bert's wishes.  Bert was an idiot that way.  His mania to hold down costs made him lose his clients and his reputation - and of course it made me look bad, too (until I learned to ignore his cost-cutting suggestions). 

When Bert made a mistake, such as ordering the wrong color, he'd never admit it.  Instead, he'd try to sweet-talk the client into thinking it was the better color.  When he failed, which was often, he had an explosive temper.

Eventually there came a day when Bert wasn't at the job and a client backed me into a corner and forced me to quote a price.  Later, when I told Bert, he asked, "How much markup?"

"Ten per cent."

Bert snorted.  "Thanks for nothing."

"How much is your markup?"


"Fifty per cent?"  I really couldn't imagine such a big markup.  On little items, maybe, but not on a $5000 sofa.

"One hundred per cent."

Like I said, I was naive. 

Eventually, I realized that he was also doubling my wages when he charged the clients, and that if I worked independently I could increase my hourly rate by 50% and still be cheaper than what he was charging.

Bert found out that I was competing with him, working directly for his clients.  It wasn't poaching in my opinion because the clients had already washed their hands of Bert, anyway.  He called me to his decorator showroom - a collection that would have made Liberace drool - and foolishly I confronted him.  I felt somewhat safe because, while confronting him, a fire inspector was making his rounds.  Bert proceeded to read me the riot act.  "After all I did for you," he kept saying.  "They'd already left you," I kept saying.

The fire inspector interrupted Bert's rant to tell him to get rid of an uncapped two-gallon can of gasoline that, oddly, Bert kept beside his desk in the showroom.  "For the yardman's lawnmower," he said.  While smoking a cigarette Bert carried the gas can out to the rear parking lot, still reaming me about stealing his clients.  He tossed the can into a dumpster while gasoline sprayed in an arc until it landed on the old furniture and shredded paper within.

Bert drew hard on his cigarette, then held it between two fingers, studying the glowing tip.  He looked at me, scowling.  Then he looked meaningfully at the dumpster.  The message was silent, yet loud and clear.

"Bert," I said, backing away.  "I'm sorry things didn't work out between us."

"Fuck you," Bert said.

I turned my back and walked away as quickly as possible without actually breaking into a run.

There was no boom, no fire, no joining of cigarette and gasoline.  I'm sure that as soon as I was out of sight, Bert crushed that cigarette under his shoe.  Then he went to his desk and called all my new clients, sweet-talking as only he could do.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 58: Therapy

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Friday, February 27, 1981

In the morning I remove an entire wall - the damaged exterior wall of a wooden house.  It's a bearing wall, of course, but I don't install any temporary braces.  As a result, the roof sags a bit while I construct the new wall with larger windows.  It's a plywood shear wall, earthquake proof - and perhaps even childproof.  Lifting the house, I nail the new wall into place, and then I paint it.  Not bad for a morning's work. 

It's a dollhouse, and I'm being paid carpenter's wages to repair it for the Children's Health Council of Palo Alto.  The dollhouse is useful for the therapy they perform, but it takes abuse from children who themselves may have been abused. 

A house in the morning, a railroad in the afternoon: a model train set which folds up against a wall when not in use.  The folding mechanism needs beefing up, and so I beef it.  The psychotherapist attaches electrodes to a child's head and measures brainwaves.  It's classic biofeedback, with a train as a reward.  As the child learns to control his own brainwaves, calm thoughts move the train around the track.  The child learns to calm himself.  Cool concept.

Repairing a dollhouse and a model train: the work calms the worker.  Maybe somebody should try woodworking therapy with these kids.

Late in the afternoon, I repair the "time-out room."  That's the place the Health Council doesn't like to talk about - it can be misconstrued.  When a child totally loses control of himself, when you can't speak to him, when he's a danger to himself and everybody around him, you put him in the time-out room until he calms down.  What's the alternative - drugs?  A straightjacket?  It's a padded cell with a one-way window.  Unlike a prison, it's made of wood with foam padding.  It's astonishing the damage an out-of-control eight-year-old can do to a room.  I'm basically on retainer to keep the room repaired and functional.  These are the kids who need the model train.  And the dollhouse.

When I come around wearing my toolbelt with screwdrivers and chisels and pencils sticking up while a hammer is slapping my leg as I walk, all the boys - and some of the girls - stop whatever they're doing and stare.  To the boys, I'm some kind of a mythical superhero with a magic toolbelt.  There ought to be a comic book with somebody like me as the hero: THE CARPENTER GUY.

I'm glad I can help with my skills.  And I'm glad there are some bright, tough, loving therapists who have the skills to help these kids.  They are the heroes here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lit Night in La Honda

Tonight, 7 pm, at Sullivan's.  Join us: eat, drink, and be literary...

Monday, February 21, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 52: The Wisdom of Lightning

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Saturday, February 21, 1987

Ralph has bought an old house that isn't bolted to the foundation.  My job:  bolt it.  In the basement I count 17 spots where the mud sill should be attached to the perimeter foundation.  I'll have to drill 17 holes for the anchor bolts, each hole a half inch in diameter and 5 inches deep through concrete.

For this job, I need a rotary hammer drill.  I could rent one - as I've done before - or I could buy one as an investment in future work.  Cash is a little tight.  How often will I be called to bolt a foundation?  Aren't most of them already bolted by now? 

As I'm thinking, squatting on my heels in the basement, shining a flashlight on the mud sill, I'm aware that just outside the vent screen little chips of ice are bouncing on the ground.  It's a sudden hail storm.  And then it happens...

A blinding flash.  The entire basement is alight.  I feel a tingling on the soles of my feet inside my work boots.  At the same time there is a deafening clap of thunder, so close and so sudden that it must have been right over the house.

Seconds later, Ralph throws open the basement door.  "Holy shit!" he says.  "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine.  Did it hit the house?"

"No, but it must've come close."

"I'm going out.  I just got a message from above.  I think I'm supposed to buy a rotary hammer drill."

Ralph shakes his head.  "I'd hate to see what happens when you need to make a really important decision."

"It's usually quieter."

I go to Tooland in San Carlos and pay $250 for a Makita Rotary Hammer HR1821.  I return to Ralph's basement and - wow! - it's like drilling through butter.  I charge Ralph $200 for labor, so I'm out $50 for the day but I've got a great tool.

Let's jump forward...

Today is February 21, 2011.  For the last 24 years I've worked the crap out of that Makita - Old Mattie - earning her worth many times over.  The lightning bolt was right.

Just a week ago I was using Old Mattie when the head jammed, frozen.  All those years eating concrete grit, and now she needs a new SDS chuck.

Those chucks are expensive.  Should I make the repair?  Which grimy old part will wear out next?  Isn't it time to buy a whole new drill?  I'm 63 years old.  Will I stay alive - and active - for another 24 years?

I'll wait for a message.

Friday, February 18, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 49: Jolly Red Bed Wheels

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Thursday, February 18, 1993

I started working for Wesley in 1980 when he was 71 years old.  He needed new kitchen outlets and a new doorbell.  He was a professor of education, retired.  Walking by my truck, he spotted on the dashboard a book of poetry by W.H. Auden.  "Well, well," he said.  "Do you like Auden?"

"Sometimes," I said.

"Stop all the clocks," he said.

I must have looked puzzled.

"That's one of his poems," he said.

There was a playfulness about him.  Later I learned that Wesley began his career teaching high school civics and English.  You somehow felt he wanted to bring out the best in you.  Formal but friendly, rigorous but generous, knowledgeable but open-minded, he was the teacher we all wish we had had.

After he paid me by check, as I was leaving, his wife Eleanor stuffed a five dollar bill in my hand.

In 1991 Eleanor called me to their house.  Wesley was ill, and she wanted me to put wheels under their bed.  I don't know why.  I didn't ask.  I'd like to imagine a happy couple frolicking on a rolling bed, but I'm sure the reason was more grim.  Wesley was now 82 years old, and from the sound of his cough you knew he was dying.

Then on this day in 1993 I get a call from Eleanor: "We'd like you to take the wheels off the bed."  Again, I don't ask why.  Their house now looks more like a medical facility than a home.  Eleanor and Wesley both seem cheerful and sharp-minded, though as Eleanor says, "There's been a lot of stress."  Wesley has to stop for breath, wheezing ineffectively, after taking a step.  Eleanor now uses a cane.

"I'd like you to build a window box," Eleanor says.  "Then Wesley could look out and see flowers."

We make plans.  I remove the bed wheels and don't charge for the labor.

That night, Eleanor calls.  "I guess we won't need the window box."

"I'm so sorry."

"It isn't over yet."

In fact, it wasn't over for another three years.  But I never saw them again.

Some people, though you meet them only briefly, touch you with a lasting spirit.

Auden wrote:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
That second line is so awful, I assume the poem is a joke.  But serious people quote it all the time.  Somewhere, I imagine, Wesley is laughing.  Perhaps Auden is, too.
Those wheels remain in my basement.  They are four inches in diameter, heavy-duty, and colored a jolly bright red.  I don't know what to do with them.  Maybe when I'm 82 and my wife is 81, I'll put those wondrous wheels on our bed, and we'll roll into the waiting night.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 47: Montgomery Ward Cottage

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Saturday, February 16, 1980

The landlady warned us: "That's the fertile cabin." 

"We'll take it," I said.

So in 1973 my wife and I moved into one of the landlady's four rental cottages.  For the next seven years my weekend job was to keep those cabins from collapse.  They were located on an acre next to San Francisquito Creek and the Stanford University Golf Course.  Here's ours:

The joists were sitting directly on the ground.  There was a hole in the bathroom floor covered by a borrowed highway sign (SPEED LIMIT 45) and another by the entry (BEGIN SCENIC ROUTE).  Unrestrained by earthquake straps, the water heater next to the kitchen table would teeter, sloshing whenever you walked nearby while the exhaust vent would fall out of the wall if you slammed the kitchen door.  Periodically you had to scrape mildew off the ceiling.  There were four electric outlets—total.  Mice ran merrily along the baseboards.  Strange insects crawled out of damp walls.  At night you could hear the termites.  There was a constant smell of wet wood.

To us it was paradise.  My wife and I spent seven happy years while creating—the landlady was correct—two children, the most recent of a long line of babies conceived therein.

My daughter was actually born in the back yard of this cottage under a pine tree lit by a full moon (unintentionally, I might add—but that's a story for another day).  I have the fondest memories of this place, though a building inspector would see nothing but disaster.

We childproofed but otherwise left it as is—after all, we didn't own it.  The property was far too valuable to justify maintaining dwellings that had been ordered from a Montgomery Ward catalog.  They had been delivered in pieces and constructed over a few weekends, the 1940's equivalent of single-wides, cheap little rural nests.

Gradually through the years, suburbia had engulfed the little enclave.

Eventually the landlady died and the property was bought by a real estate developer.  In February of 1980, just days after I moved the last of our belongings to our new house in La Honda, here is what happened to that cottage:

That's my son playing in the dirt where he used to share a bedroom with my daughter.  Behind him is the pine tree under which my daughter was born.  Just out of the photo sits a big yellow Caterpillar D9 bulldozer.

On that acre they built seven McMansions.  I wonder if any of them proved to be as fecund as our little cabin.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 46: Price Tags

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Wednesday, February 15, 1984

It's a tony strip of shops in downtown Saratoga.  Parked at the meters are Jaguar, Bentley, Mercedes—and my truck.  I'm installing cabinets in an Italian designer clothing store .  For most of the job I'm alone with the saleswoman, whose name is Marzia. In four and a half hours, exactly three customers enter the shop.  The first is a woman who examines a skirt and then asks, "Why aren't there any price tags?"

"Just ask," Marzia says.

"Okay, how much is this skirt?"

"Eight hundred and twenty dollars."

The woman walks out.

About two hours later, a man and woman enter together.  The man is pasty, overweight, and is wearing short pants that reveal half of his hairy thighs.  The woman is skinny, braless, slightly awkward like a teenager. 

Marzia greets them.  She seems to know the man.

Tentatively, the young woman holds up a blouse.  The man shakes his head.

Marzia suggests another blouse.  The man shakes his head.

He rejects every piece of clothing suggested by either Marzia or his nervous companion.  Not once does he ask about the price.  Finally he grabs a short skirt and a very thin top.  "These," he says.

The young woman stares at the floor.  "All right," she says.

Marzia rings them up.  Nine hundred and ninety dollars.

The couple leaves, the woman clinging to the man's arm.  Neither one of them looks remotely happy.

When they are gone I say, "I'm afraid to ask if that was his daughter."

Marzia sighs.  "He comes here about once a week.  Different women."  She shakes her head.  "That wasn't shopping.  That was foreplay."  She frowns.  "And what comes after won't be fun."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 43: Craftsman 1/4 x 8 Inch Slot-head Screwdriver, Melted

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Sunday, February 12, 1989

There's something inherently funny about screwdrivers.  As bananas are to fruit, screwdrivers are to tools.  The latent twelve-year-old in all of us wants to giggle.  Let's get over that.

Okay.  Now you can say what you will about Sears power tools (it's a whole 'nother subject), but the Craftsman people make darn good hand tools.  Like my Craftsman 1/4 x 8 inch slotted screwdriver.  Easy grip, precise head, solid construction.  It takes a while, but like a faithful friend you come to appreciate a sturdy screwdriver, especially when you're forced to grab some substitute with a point that's rounded or a grip that doesn't fit a human hand or a shaft that comes loose. 

Yesterday, I melted my trusty friend inside an accidentally energized circuit breaker panel box.

I always heard that Sears guarantees its Craftsman screwdrivers for life. 

Today out shopping with the kids, I stop at Sears in Mountain View and bring in my poor old Craftsman 1/4 x 8 inch slot-head.  It looks like I ran it through an experiment involving nuclear fission.  I expect them to laugh me out of the store.  Instead the salesman, without comment, hands me a brand new one.

It's true!  They actually guarantee for life, even if you use it like an idiot.  What suckers.

As long as we're in the store, we pick up two pairs of soccer shoes, a leotard, a yo-yo, a graphing calculator, a set of spark plugs, a floor pillow, a gas barbecue grill, and ten pounds of laundry detergent.

(Bear in mind, this happened in 1989.  I don't know if Sears still has that guarantee; but if they don't, they should.  And though slot heads are less common today, I've still got that same old driver in my toolbelt.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 39: Fact and Fiction

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Wednesday, February 8, 1984

Mrs. Goldstein was a golden client.  She had the pride of "discovering" me and she bragged to all her friends.  Her big new house in Sharon Heights was built by a crook, and I was the savior.  With her and her friends I was fully employed for a while.

One day - this day, February 8, 1984 - she asks me how I got started.  It's the basic Jewish mother question: "What's a smart young man like you doing in a line of work like this?"  She's a kind, friendly woman.  So I end up telling her my whole life story, how with three novels published I still need to support myself doing construction jobs and that, most of the time, I love this work.

She asks, "Where can I buy your books?"

"They're out of print," I say.

"Don't you have any?  Could I buy one from you?"

"The problem is, whenever one of my clients reads one of my books, they never hire me again."


"They think the stories are true.  I write in the first person, and they believe that the main character is me.  And they would not allow that character to work in their house."

"Then you must be a very good writer if you make them believe that.  Don't worry.  I used to teach English.  I know what fiction is."

There's no stopping Mrs. Goldstein.  Reluctantly, I give her a copy of Famous Potatoes.

She never calls me again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 38: Love Affair

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Saturday, February 7, 1987

I was an easy target.  Just one look - the firm curve of her body, the trim of her tail - and then the purr of power when I rode her - she seduced me.  After a couple of furtive, impulsive meetings I realized that quite simply I was in love.  With a truck.  And I must have the one I love. 

And so on this day in 1987, after work, a day of hanging doors and running Romex in Mountain View, I took my wife out to dinner.  After the meal, we strolled briefly in the fresh springlike evening, the air heavy with the scent of life bursting forth under a bright half moon.  I confessed that I was in love with a Ford Ranger V-6 but assured my wife that I still loved her too - though in a different way. 

My wife understood. 

I've been a Ford guy ever since.  I worked that first Ranger to death, so in 1999 I bought another, which I still use to this day.  She'll outlive me.  Her body may creak at the joints, but still she holds everything I need and she keeps me on a steady path.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 37: Good Labor

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Saturday, February 6, 1988 

The crawl space is 18 inches max.  Do not touch the rat traps at the entry.  Do not read the Termite Treatment list of poisons. 

You have to squeeze under 14 inch flexible heat ducts, crushing them as you pass.  Fiberglass batts are sagging down from between the joists, clinging to your crawl suit.  You creep through 30 feet of dust while brown recluse spiders watch your every move.  Daddy longlegs tremble as you pass.  You wear a headlamp and shove wrenches ahead of you, dragging your body over nails and broken glass.  You can only hope the wires draping across the dirt are well-insulated or low voltage or dead.  Spiderwebs wrap your face. 

A large puddle has formed under the bathtub where you must work.  You lie in it.  The drain is next to a post on a concrete pier, leaving only a fraction of the work space you need.  Into frozen couplings you shoot Liquid Wrench and breath the toxic fumes.  You twist your body into strange positions, seeking leverage with the wrench.  With the entire weight of a poorly-built house above, you pray the San Andreas Fault doesn't deliver the Big One today.  In California, there are no atheists in crawl spaces.

You need a different part; you creep out; you creep back in.  It's amazing what muscles you use, how winded you get, just by creeping.  It's amazing how long it takes.  Creeping could be an Olympic event.

On your way out, you try to fluff the heat vents you crushed on the way in.  At last you emerge, strip off your crawlsuit, and dry yourself with a towel you keep in the truck.  Then inside the bathroom, making the difficult transition from big body work to small, like a buffalo washing wine glasses, you carefully install the trim.

After 4 hours, with the utmost competence in a difficult spot you have replaced one bathtub drain. 

Howard, the homeowner, returns as you're on your knees wiping some grease stains from the enamel, tidying up.  Standing above you and the tub, he looks down.  "Haven't you started yet?"

It's just a simple bathtub with a simple drain, and it looks just as it did before.

"Yes," you say.  "I'm done."

You go on to the next house, the next job.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 36: Two Seconds

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Monday, February 5, 1996

It all happens in less than two seconds.  Maybe one and a half seconds.  I'm checking out a leaky skylight.  At such a shallow pitch I can walk upright over the roll roofing.  A sheen of algae or something glistens on the wet surface when without warning I enter the 6 stages of construction panic:

1. Confusion: What is happening?
2. Realization: Oh.  I'm sliding down the roof, standing upright like I'm skiing.
4. Reaction: How do I stop?  Grab something?  There's nothing to grab.  Fall on my butt?  Before I can do anything there is
5. Luck: At the very edge of the roof, toes on the gutter, I stop.
6. Adrenaline: Too late, it hits.  Heart pounding, I stare at the concrete ten feet below, my next stop if the toes hadn't caught the gutter.

I have a friend, Norm, who's a roofer.  Norm's father was a roofer before him.  Norm says his father once slid off a roof standing up, exactly as I almost did.  His father landed upright on his feet.  He broke both ankles.  Worst thing was, he was working alone.  It was about 7 hours before anyone found him.

I was working alone.  It was over in less than two seconds.  I was lucky.  Very lucky.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Coming up next: Four Dog Riot

I think I've got a cover:

The art is by Melody Pilotte.  She's captured the essence of the four characters rather nicely.  I'm still playing with fonts and colors for the title.  Everybody seems to have different (and very strong) feelings on the subject of fonts.  I like this one (it's called Chalkboard Bold) because it looks quirky, and people tell me I write quirky books.

This weekend I'll be getting together with Will Fourt, who is my son and co-composer of the music.  We hope to finish and record the one remaining song.  It's the theme song, so I can't begin posting episodes without it.

Hopefully - that is, literally, I'm full of hope - in a week or so - at long last! - I'll start releasing the podcast.

And of course, I'll let you know when it's out.

365 Jobs, Day 35: Horse Sense

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Wednesday, February 4, 1987

Mrs. Wise is a spry and frugal 76-year-old who has lived in Portola Valley since before it was a town.  She had the good luck to own a small ranch and the good sense to sell strategic pieces of what is now one of the wealthiest towns in the USA.  She lives alone.  She maintains an immaculate house and yard.  She has selective bad hearing.

She shows me her garage and says she wants to install a washer and dryer "if it doesn't cost too much."

I quote a price.

She says, "That's too much."

We are standing in the garage.  I give Mrs. Wise my card, turn to go -- and a white horse sticks his head through the open garage window.  Shaking his head, the horse mutters something in horse talk.

"All right," Mrs. Wise says.  "You've got the job."

While I work, Mrs. Wise digs in the garden and sweeps the floor and feeds the horse and fills the water trough and drags two garbage cans down the driveway and complains about how feeble she is.

I finish the installation.  She pays me.  As I'm loading my truck, she says, "You're not going to leave me with that dripping faucet are you?"  She's pointing to a hose bibb. 

I try to explain that the hose has nothing to do with the work I've performed, but I'll be happy to make the repair.  Suddenly her hearing has gone very bad.  The horse nuzzles apologetically at my back pocket.

In five minutes, I've fixed the hose faucet. 

No charge for that.  It isn't worth the hassle.

And she knows it. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lit Night in La Honda

We're still doing Lit Night, last Wednesday of every month, at Sullivan's Pub in busy downtown La Honda.

Our January event was the best yet.

It's lovely to watch how our home-grown writers and readers are developing.

They are getting more comfortable in the limelight (a very mellow limelight).

Here are some of them.

365 Jobs, Day 34: Irritating Psychology

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Monday, February 3, 1986 

John is a small bald man with a permanent look of irritation on his face.  Or maybe he's just irritated at me because, after parking my truck in front of his house, stepping out of the cab, I plunged my left foot into a mud puddle - and my right foot into dog shit.  I'm a bit irritated, too.  This day can only get better, I'm thinking.  I'm a cup-half-full kind of guy.

John is a psychologist.  His office is at the side of his house.  A redheaded woman is outside the door of the office, pacing, glancing at her watch.  John ignores her.  He has a dog, a black lab, running loose in the yard and out into the street chasing cars.

This is Portola Valley, a highly regulated town.  In Portola Valley you are not allowed to have a medical business attached to your house.  You are not allowed to have an unfenced dog, nor to let your dog chase cars.  You are required to pick up your dog's shit.

John admonishes me to remove my shoes, which I would have done anyway.  He admits me into his living room where there is a grapefruit-size hole in the ceiling.  He wants me to patch it.

"What happened?" I ask.

"You don't have to know that," John says, looking irritated.

On the wall is a large painting of an old woman, completely naked, standing in the ballet position known as efface derriere.  The painting is, uh, anatomically detailed.  On the old woman's face, staring right at you (or the painter) is a look of extreme irritation.

I go back to my truck for tools.  John goes to his office where the redheaded woman is still standing outside the door.  She says, “John, I just want you to know that I’m really angry about this.  I planned my whole day around this appointment and now it’s too late.” 

John looks irritated.  He says, “Do you want to talk about it?” 


From the sidelines, I almost cheer. 

Then, unfortunately, the woman goes into his office.  I guess she's going to talk about it.  Returning to John's living room, watched by a painting, I patch the ceiling.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 33: Accidental Psychology

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Tuesday, February 2, 1988

Wilma lives in Santa Cruz but has a house in La Honda.  Today she calls me and says, "My tenant is a bit of a whiner.  He's complaining about toilet odors.  Will you fix it?"

I'm expecting something like a bad seal between toilet and floor.  A one hour job, a $1 wax gasket.

At the rental house I find a tenant named Gary who's caring for an infant while his wife is working.  He leads me to a pretty little bathroom and a stench of sewage coming, oddly, from the wall.  It won't be such a little job.  I try to call Wilma but she's not there.  She said, "Fix it."  Meanwhile Gary is fussing that the odors are possibly poisoning the baby. 

When I start a job, I hate to stop.  So I tear an exploratory hole in the wall and find a crumbling, crusty 4 inch cast iron vent.  Again I call Wilma; again no answer.  Gary says he doesn't mind the mess and he wants those odors gone right now.  I rip out more wall, cut out the pipe and replace it with ABS plastic and a no-hub joint.  The bathroom now looks totally raped.

I really should've talked to Wilma before I did all that.

In the evening I finally reach Wilma and say, "This is the kind of phone call I hate to make."

I hear an intake of breath.  "Is Gary going to sue?  He's the type.  Oh I knew it was the septic tank.  This'll be thousands of dollars, right?"

"No, actually, it was the vent pipe."  I explain that the odors are gone but I still need to repair the wall and replace the roof jack.  "It'll be about six hundred dollars."

"Oh thank heavens!"

Unwittingly, I used the right approach.  A trashed bathroom, a $600 plumbing repair, and she's happy about it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 32: Hugging Bill Ash

Cross-posted from my new blog, 365 Jobs:

Tuesday, February 1, 1994

Today's job isn't for money.  I'm to make a pedestal to raise Bill Ash's bed.  

Bill has cancer.  Surgery removed most of the tumors that were wrapped around his innards but could not touch the one wrapped around his aorta.  He's about my age, and I'm 46.  Life isn't fair. 

Bill is a La Honda poet who has a day job as a nuclear physicist running the Stanford Linear Accelerator.  He loves bad puns and good rhymes.  During a head lice epidemic in La Honda (and there is always a head lice epidemic in La Honda), Bill attended a Halloween party at the La Honda school dressed as a head louse.  The principal told Bill the costume was "in poor taste."  "He has no sense of humor," Bill explained.

Bill would roll up his sleeves and help me mix concrete when I was building a new entry at his house.  I've attended the weddings of Bill's children.  His daughters Terri and Debra babysat for my kids.  I employed his son Richard for construction labor.  (There's more Bill Ash here.)

La Honda has always been considered a hillbilly address by the people who live "over the hill" in the Silicon Valley.  Bill gave us creditability.  In spite of his education he never pulled rank in a discussion and would rather talk football, anyway.  It has been said that Bill would suffer fools gladly - unless they were defensive coaches for the 49ers. 

Today Bill looks pale and frail.  The cancer is squeezing his heart.  I'm no good at emotional support, but I can make repairs.  It's a guy thing.  Instead of hugging, I raise his bed.