Tuesday, May 31, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 151: Breaking the Shell

Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Entry doors have personalities ranging from friendly to frightened, cheap to opulent, artsy to severe.  Today my job is to remove a pair of double doors that convey neglect and indifference.  In their place I'll install windowed doors, warm and tasteful. 

The building is a rather ordinary 1940's-era house that was converted to an office.  It's located in downtown Menlo Park, just across the street from a popular gourmet grocery called Draeger's Market.

It's a sunny day, pleasant.  People are strolling on the sidewalk carrying grocery bags with french bread and lacy green carrot tops sticking out. 

Normally I would order pre-hung doors.  Then I can simply pop out the old casing and pop in the new.  With pre-hung double doors, I could avoid all the fussing and fitting required to line up two oversize, very heavy entry doors.  This time, however, the building inspector warned that if I remove the old door casing, I will be "breaking the shell" of the exterior.  Once broken, he can require that the entire old building be brought up to code including all the new handicap-access rules.  The inspector almost drools, imagining all the violations he could cite.

So naturally - as instructed by the landlord - I'm not going to break the shell. 

I'm in public view of the street, working alone though not unobserved.  Sidewalk superintendents stop, watch, move on.  Construction work is entertaining; it has a basic story arc: destructive beginning, hard-working middle, satisfying end.  It's visual and easy to understand.  You don't get that by watching somebody work at a desk.

I like to set a rhythm, working alone.  There's an intensity, a kind of hypnosis of routing, chiseling, drilling, screwing, lifting.  

As I begin painting the newly-installed door, I hear "Hooray!" accompanied by hands clapping.  Four passers-by, standing on the sidewalk, are applauding! 

Maybe it's the paint, a dramatic cobalt blue.  Maybe it's the satisfaction of a familiar plot, freshly presented.  Or maybe they simply hated those old weather-beaten doors.

Whatever the cause, they've broken my shell.  I'll take it, the one and only time I've been applauded as a carpenter.  Thank you, Menlo Park.

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