Saturday, January 28, 2012

365 Jobs: Storms (Four) For the Money

Saturday, December 3, 1983

The phone still works, and I'm getting emergency calls.  I drive the truck over the hill slowly.  Wind and rain are pounding the cab.  The road is a river of runoff, branches and rocks and entire bushes washed onto the asphalt, traffic lights out in Palo Alto and Menlo Park.  El Camino, the main drag, is eerily dark.  On the radio I hear that the Golden Gate Bridge is closed due to 70 mph squalls. 

I begin with a non-emergency job, one that I'd scheduled weeks ago, installing a new light fixture at a house in Palo Alto.  Their power is off, too, so the job is easy.  Hope it works.  I can't test it.

A bit behind schedule as I drive — oh so slowly — to the next job, I have to pull over for a moment, find a pen, and jot on the back of a credit card receipt while the truck shakes with gusts of air and water:

    I'm sorry I was late.
    I had to stop by the side of the road
    and write this poem.
In the middle of chaos it somehow pleases me to write a poem that means absolutely nothing.

At an apartment complex in Palo Alto, they still have power, though ornamental trees have cracked in half.  The gales are lessening.  I patch a fence, put a sliding door on its tracks, glue a doorknob that kept falling off, and then — insanely — change an outdoor security light bulb, climbing my 40 foot extension ladder hoping for no sudden burst of wind.  What am I thinking? 

Getting paid, that's what I'm thinking.  This is the opposite of altruism.

Surviving that chore, I tackle the final job: tracking down a mysterious and frustrating leak in a woman's bathroom which seems to come from the toilet — no, the sink — no, again, not that.  This is the opposite of poetry.  Finally, on hands and knees grubbing beneath a baseboard full of silverfish and
soap scum and curly black hairs, I find it: the leak comes by subtle and hidden path from a shower door.  I almost gave up on it, but the more time I invested, the more I stood to not get paid if I failed.  Three hours to stop a tiny trickle of water.  In this storm, what irony.  Money motivates.

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