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.