Monday, August 29, 2011

365 Jobs: "Do the math."

Monday, August 29, 1988

I start the day with a visit to the orthopedist for my knee, back, shoulder.  He says, "No ladder work.  No overhead work.  No deep knee bends.  No kneeling, period."

I reply: "That's like saying 'No working.'"

"You don't see many fifty-year-old carpenters."

On this day, I'm forty-one.

Next stop, a townhouse in Los Altos.  Bud is a white-haired man with penetrating eyes and a no-bullshit attitude.  I climb up and down my ladder to his attic running wires for new electric outlets.  I reach overhead.  I crawl.  I place the weight of my body through my knees onto 2x8 joists.

When I finish, Bud offers a glass of lemonade and says, "I used to teach at Saint Francis High School.  First day of class I wrote on the blackboard: 'Do the math.'  I kept it up there all year."

"Um.  Okay."

"What I mean is, I saw you wincing."


"We break down," Bud says.  "I always figured I'd live at least to age seventy-six.  That's the average, and we're all above average, right?"  He takes a slow sip of lemonade.  "I died last week.  I was having surgery.  For three minutes my heart stopped.  They brought me back."

He's a no-bullshit guy so I ask, "Being dead — what was it like?  Do you remember anything?"

"All I remember is waking up with a heavy head.  I had a feeling I'd dreamed something."

"Did you see light?"

"You mean the tunnel?  Everybody asks that."  He pauses, considering.  "I keep trying to put it there, but it wasn't.  No tunnel of light.  Not that I can remember."  He laughs.  "You never know.  Until you do.  And then it's too late."

On the way home I stop at California Shingle & Shake.  I need to reroof my house.  I want to live in that house the rest of my life.  There's a choice of 20, 25, 30 or 40-year shingles.

Easy.  I buy 40-year Sierra Brown shingles and haul them home — slowly, shakily — in my pickup.

At home that evening, my back aches.  My knee feels like it has gravel inside.  But I'm not complaining.  I'm busy; I'm thinking; I'm doing some math.

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