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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ramshackle Is (Still) My Middle Name


(First offered two years ago)

I've been in the construction business, in one form or fashion, for most of my life. Tectonic plates have shifted; continents meandered across the mercator projections; empires have risen and fallen. Pluto's not a planet again. I keep going.

When I was a schoolchild, they told us Pluto might not be a planet, by the way. What's happened in the interim that gave everyone the impression it absolutely was a planet, and now absolutely isn't? Is it the same thing that makes people argue about it on the internet as if they owned real estate on Pluto and stood to lose money, all the while spelling argument "arguement" and sprinkling apostrophes all over the place except where they belong? I expect so.

People have all sorts of information available to them now, and not much of it is very good. And some of it is good, but not useful. To paraphrase Mark Twain: stay away from the internet and television, and you're uninformed; go there, and you're misinformed.

I'm an odd person. I've been lots of places and seen lots of things that most people that can read, write, and spell never do. The real world callouses make me inscrutable to a cubicle dweller; the "Three R's" make me suspicious to the day laborer. When I left my last job, the CEO and the COO begged me to reconsider. They had promoted me from the lowest rung to senior to one of the owners. What did I want? Why would I leave? They called me, a day before my notice was up, the notice they had strung out over three months, and told me: Eureka! we got the bright idea of digging up your old resume and now we finally understand you.

I think not.

Ever live in a house like the ones pictured above? I have. I used to work on them all the time, too. By gad how I loved them.

When I was wandering through a portion of the education required to become an architect, a friend of mine took me to see one of his other friends who was renovating a bombed out looking victorian in Roxbury, Mass. I was born right down the street, but hadn't been there much recently. It was very dangerous to be there after dark.

The fellow had bought the place for next to nothing, lived in it like the wooden cave it had become, and was repairing it by himself.

He had taught himself carpentry, and electricity, and plumbing, and plastering and painting, and all the other aspects of home construction usually foreign to architects. You heard me right, architects generally have nothing but the most vague ideas of how things get done in construction. Surgeons don't empty bedpans. I didn't want to be an architect anymore. I wanted to be that guy whose name I don't remember. And this was five or ten years, easy, before Norm Abram and Bob Vila stood on a scaffold right down the street from the place I was describing, and did the same thing with a camera pointed at them.

I've done everything you can do to a house, old or new, from digging the hole to putting a vane on the cupola. I've bathed in lead paint. I've discovered beehives the size of mattresses inside the walls. I've found whisky bottles left by the workmen who built the places in the 1800s in the walls. I've seen wooden plumbing pipes and dirt floors and secret closets where people hid during King Philip's War. I've worked 16 hours straight, laid down on the wood floor when it got dark, and got up and started again. And now I make furniture.

I've got to get my hands on it. I can't help myself. And I'm just like Pluto. I dip into the solar system, occasionally, in my erratic orbit, and the other planets wonder: Is he like us, or isn't he?

It gets cold out here from time to time, but you get a wonderful view of the universe.

4 comments:

Gerard said...

Don't now why I spend so much time wandering about getting quotes for my sidebar when I could just give you the password.

SippicanCottage said...

Well, I'd just put Ambrose Bierce in there every day.

Henry said...

I once was inspired by George Nash's Old House: A Rebuilder's Manual (reissued and rewritten as Renovating Old Houses), but (luckily, probably) my wife and I never found the old house to renovate. She went to graduate school instead and our life has turned out the better.

Still, before that, the time I spent with my friend Nick converting a warehouse loft into an art studio was one of the more valuable experiences in my life. What I learned renovating has stayed longer with me than the art.

Thud said...

Don't get me started on architects....I know they are useful but I 'm not sure at what.