Thursday, July 28, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 209: Big Creek, California (Pop 385)

Big Creek, California (Pop 385)            

In Big Creek all the men
wear yellow hardhats
and park their pickups in the middle of the road
because when they stop, the whole town stops
except for the occasional
wandering black bear
and the water always rushing
through silver pipes
under sugar pine and manzanita
down granite cliffs
while hawks circle soundlessly
in Sierra updrafts,
water from winter
from two miles high
dropping through mountain plumbing,
through hefty turbines
attached by wire
to all the lights
in Los Angeles.

(I wrote this poem in July of 1984.  I was struck by how the whole town seemed to exist for one never-ending job, how it could seem so busy and yet so serene as the electrons kept flowing to L.A.  I wonder if anything has changed...)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 207: Half a World

July, 1978

Mrs. Caswell opened the front door, took one look at me, and laughed.  "You have funny hair," she said.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Don't be sorry.  I like it."  Her own hair was elegant, smoothly brushed.  In fact, everything about her was elegant and smooth: her face, her poise, even the blue jeans which fit her like water.  She was small, trim, confident.  Older than me.  Like many small women she knew she had power over men, and she seemed comfortable with that fact.

I had come to install two gas fireplaces.  I didn't tell her I'd never done this before.  On the phone she'd said there was already gas to the fireplace box, so all I had to do was hook them up. 

In a mirror I checked my hair.  It looked normal to me.

She showed me the fireplaces and the gas log kits.  "I'm sure it's a very simple job," she said.  "Most people would do it themselves, but my husband is insane and my son is an idiot."  She smiled unselfconsciously.  One of her teeth was crooked.  She was holding a cocktail glass.  It was 10 in the morning.

This was a house in Atherton, a classy town. 

I went back to my truck for tools.  A stringy-haired man wearing a leather vest with the Hells Angels logo was repairing the electric driveway gate.  "Another piece of shit," he said.


"Crappo gate," he said.  "Fancy design with a tiny motor.  Typical Atherton shit.  They buy first class furniture, and that carpet must be two inches thick, but look at those cheapo aluminum windows.  Shoddy.  So many of these places.  Shoddy shit.  These people have money but they wouldn't know a well-built house if they saw one.  Then they fill it with their fancy shit."

"You'd think they'd want a good gate."

He winked.  "I'm gonna sell her on that.  After I fix this."

"Did she by any chance say something about your hair?"

"She said it was pretty."  He cackled.

The installation of the two gas logs went easily enough, but when I opened the valve, nothing came out.  I started poking around the house, trying to follow the pipe to its source.  Somewhere between the main shutoff and the fireplaces, there had to be another valve or possibly a disconnect.

I saw the stringy-haired Hells Angel go into the kitchen, open the refrigerator, and help himself to a Heineken.  Elegant he was not.  "You seen her?" he said.

"She's somewhere in the back of the house."

He wandered off.

Outside, I found the problem.  The fireplace pipe had never been connected to the main.  I'd have to cut the main, thread it, install a union and a tee.  I went to find Mrs. Caswell to explain the extra work.  There were voices from the bedroom behind a closed door.  Hers.  The Hells Angel.  I walked away.

A half hour later the Angel came outside where I was working.  His hair was freshly brushed.

"You sell her on the gate?" I asked.

"Mmm."  He smiled.  "She's negotiable."  Then he left.

Though by now I was well into the project, I wanted to explain what I was doing.  Inside the house I called: "Mrs. Caswell?  Ma'am?"

I heard a muffled reply.  She was still in the bedroom, door closed. 

"It's a lot more work than I expected.  I want you to know."

"Just do it," she said without opening the door.  I heard the squeak of a knob turning, the hiss of a shower starting.

An hour later, I found her in the kitchen mixing a cocktail.  She'd changed into a pink dress, slinky.  Pink sandals.  Chic as ever.  She was half singing, half humming to herself.  Close to You, the Carpenters song.  She sang the instrumental break: "Waa, daba da da..."

"All done," I said.

She smiled.  "Can I fix you a drink?"

"No thanks."

"Can I trim your hair?  I used to do that, you know.  Before..."  With a nod of her head she indicated the kitchen, the whole Atherton house.  "Before all this.  I could make it cute."

"Not today, thanks."

"Well at least you have to let me brush it."  She already had a brush in her hand.  A petite woman, she had to reach high for my hair.  She smelled like - I don't know how to describe it - she smelled like the bar of a classy hotel.

Looking up at me with fingers still in my hair, she said, "We have a hot tub.  Would you like to take a look?"

"Is something wrong with it?"

She smiled.  "It's very private."

I could get laid.  Or I could get paid.  I wasn't sure I could do both.  And I desperately needed the money.  My wife was pregnant with our second child.   

Suddenly I didn't like Mrs. Caswell at all.  I was wearing my ring.  She could see it.

You talk about some things, joke about them, fantasize.  In real life - at least in my half of the world - you try for solid construction, good foundation.  "I better go," I said.

She blinked.  Nothing more. 

She wrote a check with an ostrich-feather pen, pink ink.  She misspelled ninety as "ninty," but she had elegant script. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 205: Listen to the Locals

July, 2006

Construction is local.  Construction in the Adirondacks fascinates me because it's so different from what I encounter in coastal California.  In La Honda we deal with landslides, earthquakes, termites, punishing heat and sunshine.  At Silver Lake they deal with snow loads, frost heave, and simply being frozen for half the year.

Oriole is the name of a simple cabin constructed in the Adirondack style.  Now Oriole is tilting with one side of the cabin 3 inches lower than the other.  The low side sits on cedar posts which rest directly on the dirt.  As the post bottoms have rotted, the cabin has sunk closer to earth.

As I scoop away the dirt surrounding the rotten posts, I find flat stones nearby, set into the surface of the ground. 

This intrigues me.  And I know the man who placed these posts and built this cabin way back in 1943.  Ken Laundry is now 92 years old and still an active tractor-driving tree-cutting man.  I drive to his house and find him out by his woodshed, splitting logs with a double-bladed axe.  He's happy to loan me his jacks and give his advice.

"Ken," I say, "I'm a little confused.  Textbooks tell you never to build with wood in contact with the ground."

"I set those posts on flat stones," Ken says.

"That's kind of confusing to me, too.  Textbooks tell you to dig below frost level for your foundation.  They say you can't just lay a flat stone on the ground."

"Five feet.  That's the frost line.  You want to dig five foot holes for a dozen posts?  For a summer cabin?"

"Uh, no.  But the textbooks say you'll get frost heave if you just lay a stone on the ground."

"Yep," Ken says.  "The worst is if you dig part way down, like three feet.  Then you see the heave in frost."

"The flat stones were all about six inches from the posts.  Either the stones moved west, or the cabin moved east.  Does that make sense?"

"Yep.  It happens around here.  That's the frost heave."

"So you don't worry about frost heave?"

"You take it into consideration.  Every ten years or so, you might have to adjust the stones.  I built that cabin in nineteen forty-three.  What year is it now?"

It was probably a rhetorical question.  Ken's mind at age 92 was totally sharp.  I answered, "Two thousand six."

"So nobody's checked those stones for a while.  Now you have.  Take my jacks, lift the cabin, fix it.  Easy as pie."

I imagine going back to California and explaining to my local Silicon Valley building inspector that I'll just keep an eye on those flat stones and reset them every decade or so.  Do you think he'd sign off on the foundation?

You can't argue with this:  The cabin has been there, actively used, still lovely to sleep in next to the rushing waters of Coca Cola Creek within earshot of Silver Lake and the babbling loons of the night, for 63 years.

May it stand on re-centered flat rocks and new cedar posts for another 63 years.  I borrow Ken's jacks and get to work.

Note: If you follow this link, you'll get another - perhaps better - post about Ken Laundry and local technique.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 204: Robins Nest and Little Brown Bats

July, 2011

Returning to the old Hawkeye Trail Camp now, I'm repairing the summer landscape of my teenage years.  There are about a dozen structures remaining from the old camp on Silver Lake.  The sturdiest of them - requiring, so far, the least repair - is an architectural peculiarity known as Robins Nest:

When Jules and Virgil saw Robins Nest, Jules said, “That’s your party home, right?”

Well, no.  The current owners use the ground floor to store firewood.  The upper floor is unused. 

Back in the days when Hawkeye was a coed summer camp, Robins Nest was an oddity: the only cabin with two stories, the only cabin with no screens.  Oddest of all, on the upper floor it housed the oldest teenage girls without privacy, exposed to bugs on their flesh and the occasional flying bat caught in their hair. 

I was raised to believe that bats knew their way around at night, but sometimes after lights out in the boys camp we’d hear another outbreak of screaming and beds crashing from up the hill, and we’d know that another little brown bat had entered the intoxicating, bewildering scent of hair recently shampooed with a disorienting cloud of strawberry or daffodil or lavender.  Those bats weren't stupid.  They'd gone where we wished to be.

Down the hill in the lakeside cabin of the oldest teenage boys where I lay, some of us would wonder: if it were my nose at her neck, would she scream and leap up and crash the metal bedframe against another?  Would a dozen angry girls surround and beat me with brooms and pillows until I flew away into the night? 

Those of us lacking experience, we suspected the answer was Yes. 

Those others, the experienced ones, would only smile.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back home

I've got a little catching up to do.  365 Jobs will resume soon.

Meanwhile, for the rest of July, all my ebooks are on deep discount.  Like, 100% discount.  They're free.  This offer is good for the month of July.  Simply "purchase" the ebook from  Use the "buy" button, then enter the discount code SSWSF.  The ebooks are available in all ebook formats including Kindle.

Besides my previous titles, I'm pleased to announce that Four Dog Riot is newly available as an ebook.  Like the other titles, you can get it at Smashwords.  For July, it's free.  After that, it will cost 99 cents.

Some links:

Four Dog Riot  at Smashwords.

Clear Heart  at Smashwords.

Babcock  at Smashwords.

Boone Barnaby  at Smashwords.

Famous Potatoes  at Smashwords.

Remember, use the "buy" button, then enter the discount code SSWSF.  July only.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On Vacation

Gone fishin'...

Be back in a couple of weeks.

I've been posting every day for 182 consecutive days and loving every minute. 

If you're relatively new to this blog, here's a chance to catch up.  You can sample a few of the more popular posts by going to the 365 Jobs blog and looking at the right hand sidebar.  The list of "popular posts" on this Clear Heart blog tends to feature items that show up in search engines (such as "Scooter Board Ramp"), which makes for a rather strange list.  For some reason the 365 Jobs blog doesn't show up in search engines, so the list of "popular posts" is showing true popularity.

There's no internet access at the Blue Heron on Silver Lake, where I'll be.  No cell phone service.  No television.  Just stars...  Which is exactly why we're going there.  Peace.