Monday, April 24, 2006
First thing in the morning, the phone rings and it's Stan. Uh oh. I repaired his kitchen faucet yesterday, and when a client calls you at 7:15 a.m. after a plumbing job it can mean trouble. Spectacular, spraying, floor-flooding trouble. Actually, it's only happened to me once, but for the rest of my life I'll have PTSD - Plumbing Trauma Screwup Damnation. Thirty years later, I still dream about it.
But not today. Stan says, "I just want to thank you for coming to my place on a Sunday." Stan is one of my core clients. I have a key to his front door. Heck, I installed his front door and the lockset that controls it. In fact, I drew up the design for the entry and created a sand-blasted pattern for the glass.
Stan is an insomniac, so I guess I'm lucky he didn't phone me at 3 a.m. He's still talking: “You know, I look around this house and see all the nice things you put in, and I just want you to know that you’ve made this a great place to live, and I appreciate it.”
Which is nice to hear except that it's almost like an elegy. He's an old man. Yesterday, Stan was dropping hints that he wasn't making any long-term plans. He's a wealthy real estate developer, my polar opposite in politics, but we respect and trust each other - which you could say about all my core clients. I hope he's okay.
My day's task involves setting up planter boxes and generally sprucing up the entry to an office building. After a week of rain, it's a sunny day. I'm attaching a flower box to a stucco wall - hammer drill, molly bolt, spirit level, caulk - when it comes to me: I love this work, this simple but skilled puttering in a pleasant place in cheerful weather. All the nice things you've put in.
At one point there's a commotion. A bearded man in layers of old clothing is walking down the center of Menlo Avenue followed by a Menlo Park police car with flashing blue and red lights. Staggering slightly, the man ignores the cop car and the oncoming traffic. He's homeless, crazy, and high. He veers from the street and walks straight toward me. Two policemen approach on foot, grab the man, and place him in handcuffs while the man looks directly in my eye and shouts “LOOK AT ME! THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS!”
Do I know this guy? I don't think so.
Back home my son Will has come for dinner and brought a couple of friends. Will lives in San Francisco now. He plays a new song he's recorded which begins: "I am a carpenter, and I'm trying to get back home..." It's an autobiographical song mentioning the successful careers of his brother and sister while he is still a struggling musician working as a carpenter. All true. In the chorus there's a line:
"Got these carpenters' bags slung over my shoulder.
My father used to wear them before he got older..."
Ouch. Also true. I gave him my old leather tool belt when I could no longer cinch it around my expanding waist. I'm taking fewer jobs because - yes - I'm getting older. Look at me. This is what happens. I do have a new belt with built-in lumbar support and a nice holster for my drill, but it's made of some kind of nylon polyester crap, and I've never warmed to it.
Will apologizes for making it sound as if I'd retired and for ... the other thing. "I had to do it for the song," he says.
I understand altering reality in pursuit of truth. I should; I'm a writer. And I understand the other thing, the underlying, unspoken message of the song: a carpenter is a failed musician. Or a failed writer.
A writer who is still mounting flower boxes. I've lost weight. Maybe the old belt would fit.
"Hey Will. Can I have the old tool belt back?"
No elegies yet, please.
(Continued, sort of, here...)
(Note: You can hear part of Will's song at the beginning and end of each podcast episode of Clear Heart. You can hear the complete song at the end of the final episode.)