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Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004
I have to laugh at myself these days. These past few weeks at least. Iím gonna have to jot this down so that 2 years from now, I can come back and read and try to recapture the feelings of these days in a way that only old words can do.

Iíve been working since I was 15 years old.

When I was 15, and enrolled in a pretty good private school, the Head Custodian approached me one day and asked if Iíd be interested in an after school job. One that paid, that is. Other than wondering why in the hell heíd plucked me out of the seething mob (all 200 of us) for such a thing is a mystery to this very day, but I wasnít complaining. Getting paid for working came as natural to me as breathing.

All through high school I toted trash, I swabbed floors, cleaned toilets and basically picked up after everybody else. I got a check every two weeks, and this was in the day when $2 an hour hadnít been invented yet. It was a society type of school, where my colleagues were born of privilege and drove Trans-Ams and late model Chevrolets to school. Quite the image thing. It was quite a while before Dad let me take the old Chrysler in and even then it was only because I had to stay late and work.

Iíve worked fast food, and attended at paid / controlled parking lots (which is where I met Ally, but thatís wholly another tale), Iíve painted houses, built houses and worked construction during summers. Itís what Iím still into now, long past the day when college faded into the dust and making a living for a family took hold and didnít let go.

Short story? There hasnít been more than two weeks in the past 30 years that I didnít have an income, or a boss, or have at the very least been the boss of myself. For those of you whoíve never had a company and made out a check to yourself, and signed it yourself, and then endorsed it yourself, youíve missed one of lifeís great thrills. Iíve been doing that for the last 8 years.

Stu and I have sat on our collective if ample asses for 3 weeks now. I have to believe that 3 weeks is a record for the both of us, and heís had better than 30 years under his belt as well. Although he got to be a paper boy at 15. Which is nothing but clean work, noble work, when youíre scrubbing out some lone toilet in a high school at the end of the day.

You go through these thoughts when you're sitting in your house day after day, as Iíve done for the past 3 weeks. Itís been a surprise, and not an unpleasant one, to find out that I donít really mind unemployment. Especially when I keep telling myself that Iím not unemployed, Iím still the President of a respected, if tiny construction company. I mean it has no backlog and no current contracts but hey. Iím still in charge, you know? And Stu is too. Weíve never been too hung up on titles or assigned parking spaces.

I donít mind unemployment primarily because that whole thing about not having any money hasnít smacked me in the ear just yet. That would be a reasonable wake up. But reading all the stuff that I read, taking leisurely trips to the store or the Watering Hole or actually writing once in a while is a pleasant alternative to sitting in the dark and waiting for the phone to ring with news of a new project or a new opportunity.

I updated my resume which was basically non-existent, I kept it simple and topical. It listed employers for the past 25 years and they were all local ones. I did a summary which was almost curt in itsí brevity, something along the lines of ďIíve worked these here parts for 25 damn years now, and if you donít know me I can steer you to a whole bunch of folks that doĒ type of brevity. Iím not sure why I even messed with a resume, I canít stand the thought of working for someone else, and having some elseís name on a paycheck. I did a lot of years of that in my life, some good and some not.

But I did it anyway, just to amuse myself, and checked out some local online job offers. I checked once too many times, really. Because the third time I checked it there was a posting for a job that I know all too well how to do, it was with a reputable firm (itís a commercial woodworking plant) that IĎve dealt with in the past, it was a specialized enough job to guarantee a very narrow application window and so forth.

I looked at the ad, and my resume, you couldíve overlaid the qualifications from the two of them and had the same treatise.

Then I stalled for a couple of days. Until I made the mistake of telling Ally about it over a steaming plate of enchiladas and fajitas at the local Mexican joint and she looked at me with this ďWhy the hell didnít you send something to themĒ look and . . . well, that was the end of the stalling. Ally has a habit of economics about her that doesn't stand for much nonsense on the subject of stalling.

So I looked it back up yesterday and got to the page where youíve got that little ďSend!Ē button. I toyed with it. I drew circles around it with my finger. I checked my e-mail for a while.

Oh hell, I hit send. I was giggling when I did it, and wishing for a beer. But I hit it.

It took them almost, almost 24 hours to reply via e-mail. Which was sort of like the proverbial ďGetting the return phone call from the girl you gave your number to in the bar who doesnít want to let on how hot she thinks you are so sheís gonna wait a whole dayĒ mode of thinking.

Funny thing was, they used proper corporate language, telling me that the resume was under review. That they wanted to contact my former employer, and was that all right with me?

Shucks, some of my former employers are dead from old age. I told them so, in my reply. Some of my former employers closed up shop. One employer is me, for heavens sake. But there is one still out there, and heís one of their biggest rivals, and I worked for him for a long time. He and I have an uneasy sort of relationship, he knows what I can do and what Iíve been doing for the past 10 years, and I donít know. He might give a glowing recommendation, he might not. He might tell them that Iím a cad and too interested in my own freedom from corporate work to be of much use to anyone else. He might blow them off, then call me up and ask if Iím still interested in working with him for all I know. Itís that sort of thing. Heís honest about such stuff, and I respect him. I told them to go ahead and check on me if they really needed to.

I could go to work there tomorrow and do this job standing on my head. If I want to. I could demand an eye raising salary for such ability. I know this. I could, if I want to. And that, dear friends, is the crux of the matter.

I donít want to leave what Iím doing (which, at this quasi-unemployed moment, is very satisfying indeed). Stu and I feed off each other quite well, there will be other work, I could go hunt down other projects for us like the rabid dog that I am about such things. Or, If Stu ever stuck his resume out there he could write his own ticket in this area, heís that good.


It was in that sort of moody free-time bliss that Stu called me yesterday and arraigned a visit to a possible slack time project. One of those, ďLetís go up to the Hole and have a beer and ride by and see this guyĒ sort of adventures.

This guy being the lead electrician from the City by the Sea job. Helluva good guy, somebody weíve known for years. Also happens to be way in the middle of building a fishing boat.

We had our beer and chatted with Chief Mo and drove out to the electricians joint, a house in the middle of a modest neighborhood. Now, Iím familiar with this area. His neighborhood had little 1,500 sq. ft. houses on big lots in an older area of the city. Stu grew up not three blocks from there, and was musing all the way over about how ďThis canít be much of a boat heís building, the backyards arenít that big. Probably wonít amount to much but hell, Kenís been bugging me for days about going over there.Ē

We pulled up to the house and two things became clear. One, this couldnít be Kenís house. And two, it had one helluva garage out back.

Ken was out front and literally panting to see us, I dunno, it was like royalty had dained to sully their shoes on the mud of the front yard or something. He all but threw his jacket over the puddles and led us to the backyard, where an enormous three story, 60 foot long garage appeared, bigger than any two of the houses in the neighborhood. Electric doors, steel siding, air conditioning sort of garage.

Ken had a chuckle as I craned my neck back to take it all in. ďNice, huh? This is my friends house but itís starting to feel like mine. Weíve been over here screwing around with this boat for two years now. Come on in.Ē

I took two steps inside and fell in love.

There was a 36 foot Bay Cruiser in there, a boat built for the business end of fishing for tuna and striper and dolphin. Hand built, twin engine fishing machine sort of boat. Big platform in the back, engine room, berthing room below decks sort of boat.

ďJeez, Ken. This is one big bastard ainít it,Ē I breathed. It towered over my head a good 20 feet, which boats often do when theyíre out of the water and on chocks. ďLet me ask you which came first, the boat or the garage itís in?Ē

He gave us the nickel tour but kept scuttling toward the below decks area with a sideways sort of crawl. And once there it became pretty clear why he wanted us there in the first place.

ďThis is it. I need you guys to make this living space work. I need a head and a bed and a cabinet . . .Ē and he went on, running a hand over a bare primed hull wall and painting a vision of what he wanted. Partitions here, couch and bed, teak all over the place. Wood. Much and muchly wood he wanted.

I asked questions, I did off-hand layouts, Stu measured and poked and murmured about high dollar hand fitting and tooling coordinates. It was familiar and comfortable for us and Ken was fawning as though two high priests of the boat building world had just landed amidships (I really wished that heĎd had a foĎcĎsle, it would have been such better literature on here, but hell it was a power boat after all).

ďI mean, you guys could do all this stuff or I could get the guy from Maryland down here but he takes so awful long . . . ď and Ken was throwing the hook out there to see if the fish were biting.

I thought about it for a minute, and tried to get a vibe from Stu. This is usually the point of negotiation where he lets me do my thing, and we either suffer or advance for months dependant on the next minute or two of conversation.

I felt the vibe. ďOrder us some 1Ē core stock and some epoxy and let us know when you got it. Weíll be back.Ē And that was it, no pricing or any other indignity, itís the sort of way we work with others in the trades. They know what weíre worth, and to talk of it would cheapen the work. Itís the old way, and I like it that way.

Ken was positively beaming. ďReally? You mean it? Oh Iíll get the stuff first thing. Can you start soon, I mean real soon? I want to have this sucker in the water by spring.Ē

ďYep. Real soon,Ē I said.

So now, and for a little while at least, weíre boat builders. Again. Ships carpenters. Grouchy workers of the water vessel.

Hope those folks at the woodworking plant are real understanding sort of people.


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