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Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2002
Guilty pleasure moment of the month

A sweatshirt with the shout-out sized font saying:
“Jesus Loves You! Everybody else thinks you’re an asshole . . .”

That, my friends, encapsulates both theology and sensitivity so eloquently.

Stu and I were on the job yesterday at the new city, which is nearing completion of the site work. In simplest terms, the dirt has been pushed around long enough that there is no other logical place to push it, lakes have been formed, trees uprooted, topsoil laid down and smoothed. Time for some structures to start dotting the skyline. Time to build.

Having completed the fabrication of the previously mentioned fence panels, or at least a portion of them, we made a move to put a few in the ground. We bought a two man gas powered auger (looks like an oversized drill, makes nice holes in the ground), packed up a few tools and motored to the job.

As we were unpacking, Stu broke out our most prized possession. The one in the big red toolbox. The most high-tech thing we corporately own. The laser level. You can see what it looks like here.

It bears such a place of honor in our inventory that we routinely, if not reverently, place it on its own shelf in the shop. Away from the more mundane tools. There it rests, sometimes for months at a time, before we once again have need for its services. I suppose it bears the stamp of such inordinate care because of the way in which we came to own it. And every time I see it, I remember the story.

We were in Maryland, some six hours from home, on a job that I wouldn’t send my worst enemy to. Sixweasels would know instantly what location I am talking about, it’s the building at the top of the 495 Beltway in Maryland (US 1 exit, Pam!) that looks like a giant middle finger sticking up out of the earth. A government building at that.

There were four of us up there and we had a mountain of paneling to install in the first floor of this building. In order to keep a consistent and level line of paneling, you need an instrument of some kind to show you where level might actually be. Can’t just run in there and start tossing panels at the wall. Wouldn’t be quite right.

So we were idly looking at all this material and Stu and I huddled briefly for a corporate meeting.

OF: “We’re stuck in neutral until we can establish a line around this place.”
Stu: “Yeah. Gotta have a laser.”
OF: “Guess we’ll just have to suck it up and buy one.”
Stu: “Yup. I’ll do it. Got the checkbook?”
OF: “Nope. Use the credit card. Just take it easy.”

This last rejoinder was a thinly veiled reminder to Stu about his passion for tool shopping and spending money. Two interests which do not play well together, for Stu.

There being an infinite number of hardware and tool stores nearby to choose from, and an infinite number of lasers in each, brought me to the conclusion that he might be gone for 30 minutes at most. After two hours had crept by and having exhausted all the busy work I could think of for our two helpers I was beginning to get a trifle concerned. Where on earth was Stu, and what havoc was he wreaking with the American Excess card?

He eventually returned, triumphant, bearing the oversized red toolbox that (hopefully) contained the needed laser. He looked a little pained, which I chalked up to traffic and dealing with unfamiliar territory. But he got positively gleeful as he unpackaged his latest purchase.

“Look! Look what this bad boy will do,” he cried. He attached it to a nearby building column and took a thing that looked like a remote control for a very serious home entertainment center. Walking off twenty paces, he turned and aimed it at the laser, pressed some button or another, and immediately the laser began to hum and move around, its flashing laser beam describing a circular line on the walls as far as the eye could see. “Remote start! How about that! And look, it can calibrate itself, too!” He held up the remote and showed the mirrored face of it to the laser beam, which caused the instrument to emit some high pitched squeals and writhe into a new position by calculating the return beam of its own laser light. “It’s robotic, by God! Never seen anything like it!”

I had to admit it was a very impressive demonstration. Laser levels usually just sit on a tripod and spin around, putting the red beam of light on yonder walls. Which was pretty much all this one was doing too, but Stu was more interested in how it was doing it.

“Pretty cool,” I said to the grinning Stu. The helpers crowed and complimented Stu for once again having saved the day by seeking out inventive ways to ease our work progress. They hustled into position and started to work.

Stu and I donned our toolbelts and started to join them. But something was nagging at me, and I just had to ask the big question.

“So, how much did it cost? I saw one at Home Depot the other month for a couple hundred. There’s that one in the catalog for $500, but I really didn’t think it was worth it. You must have gotten a great deal for all the time you spent looking for it.”

He pondered for a moment. “Well, you know a lot of these stores don’t take American Excess cards up here, and I really wanted to get a good one. It’s a lifetime tool, you know. Can’t just pick up any old piece of crap for work like this.” And he hedged and he hemmed and he hawed. He pontificated on the relative merits of level, explained theories of laser and held forth for several minutes as I patiently awaited the punchline.

“Yeah, okay, all well and good. How much?”

He stared at a spot on the far wall, he went into a semi-trance like state. His voice but a whisper, he croaked out “Two grand.”

To say that my jaw dropped does not nearly describe the scene adequately.

“Two . . hundred, right? You said two hundred, didn’t you?”

He shook his head. “Nope. Two grand. The salesman said it was worth every penny. Gave me a helluva deal, he did. We got along very well, he and I. He even held the door for me on the way out of the store. Nice fella, that one.”

I was breathing a little irregularly. “Two grand? Two grand?” I probably repeated this thirty times, and it still wasn’t registering properly. “Are you sure that didn’t include a car to carry it in?”

Somewhere towards the end of the workday, as the little red beam of light spun lazy circles around the room, Stu reached up and cut it off, detached it from the column, and carefully packed it away in the big red toolbox. He handled it with the sort of tenderness you might ordinarily expect for a newborn infant.

So yesterday, as we stood in the dirt at yet another job, and I watched him unpack it yet again, I did what I have ritually done at each unveiling of the holy laser.

I clutched hand over heart, closed my eyes and murmured the incantation. “Two grand . . two grand . . “

It never fails to make me a little glassy eyed.

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