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Monday, Sept. 01, 2003
Itís vintage, this computer underneath my feet. It wheezes and makes goblin-like noises whenever something is sent its way via my own fingers. It was a mighty warrior in a time when the world was a much younger place, and serves as a sort of hunchbacked stopgap now that the other one has developed some sort of cruel and debilitating disease.

Itís like I asked Stu the other day. ĒWhatís more frustrating than having a really fast internet connection, paying for it, and not being able to access it?Ē

My Corporate Partner mused for a moment. ďFlat beer, perhaps?Ē

ďNope. Nothing. Nothing is more frustrating. Nothing at all.Ē I was shrieking just a little at the time. Because in a very technical world were things are solvable by calling up the very techno-types who created such things as DSL and broadband and whatall, the demise of my internet world was about as technical as throwing a stick into the midst of a swamp and watching it disappear.

It just stopped. And me with it. One day there, next day not.

So after a month or more of fooling with it in every conceivable way (and at some very odd hours of the day and night) I asked Ally if it would be all right to haul this aging unit down from the bedroom and try to plug it in again. On a (ugh) dial-up connection.

Wonder of wonders, it worked. Itís the equivalent of hauling fertilizer in a donkey cart after using the tightly sealed container end of a semi-truck for so long, but it works.

In a summer filled with things that go bust, or get busted, itís a start.

I had a very romantic notion, just about a year ago, in regards to the sort of work that Stu and I do. I wrote about it often in here, about the little company that the two of us formed back in í96. We were (and still are, for that matter) the champions of doing construction related things in the old way, of being honest and making right the ills of buildings and things made of wood and steel.

It was romantic in the sense that after toiling along for years doing bread and butter sort of things we were called upon to help build a City. A City by the Sea Iíve called it, for it truly does sit hard against lapping waves and sand. Blue crabs are our neighbors at work, deer run thru the neighborhood. Itís a place easy to get romantic about. Not to mention that it was not hard to develop the theory that, at last, we were going to build the last one. The one that would lead us gracefully into retirement, a 15 year project of houses and shops and Tiki Bars, all under one umbrella, all at the same place, the one that would have a vast pool of money to dip into with a ladle of our own making. Hell, it wasnít hard to develop that theory when we were told as much.

There was plenty of evidence a year ago that this would work. In some ways there still is. Small outbuilding dot the project, one big finished house, a couple others well under way. A big marina building. Weíve nearly ringed the perimeter of the place with a custom wood fence (Iím talking not in terms of feet of fence here, but miles).

Itís summer, and weíve sweated. Gallons of it, in the sort of heat where you start to talk about ďGetting that first sweat of the day out of the wayĒ so that you can dry out and sweat some more. Weíve battled bees who copped an attitude about invading their sovereign turf with something as un-bee-like as a fence. Small town building inspectors who sniffed at the use of new and unfamiliar building materials and found them stinky. Homeowners who found that building their dream house involved actual work and were surprised that no, you canít toss a house onto a lot in the space of two or three half hour TV episodes.

The Benefactor (previously noted on these pages, and Iíd link to them but Iím dealing with the donkey cart here, remember?) who set this whole thing up and is the developer of same, had the ill fated notion to put his son-in-law in charge of the site, the day to day stuff. Wheee, son-in-law, letís just call him the Sloth for brevityís sake, shall we?

The Sloth has been on site for a couple of years now, has seen land sculpted and buildings started and is generally understood to be in charge of things that allow us to proceed, things that come before us, the (here it is again) donkey before the cart.

In a world filled with sloths, an endless and lumpy array of sloths, there is no sloth like our Sloth.

The Benefactor, perhaps realizing the sodded nature of his son-in-law, also hired a Project Manager. Who was as different from the Sloth as different could be. Letís call him the Greyhound. Fast, lean, a furious doer of things. Most of which, like the greyhounds of Florida, involved trying to catch an uncatchable rabbit, and having a nose buried to the eyeballs in the rabbits ass along the way. It was unfortunate that, as far as construction experience goes, the Greyhound was no more experienced than the people whose homes he was charged with building. I suspect with his energy level, heíd have gone far.

I suppose it was fitting that the Benefactor bought them each a truck for their daily running about. Itís a big site and you do a fair amount of driving. The Greyhound got the gray truck and could be seen driving at a frantic pace, cell phone planted to ear, hair whipping in the wind as he pursued some inanity or other down the road. The Sloth got the brown one, and was wont to proceed at a more leisurely pace, a cigarette dangling from one hand and a coffee cup laced with whiskey in the other.

The Sloth was given the task of hiring daily workers to fill out the endless lists of tasks to be done, at an hourly rate, and he proceeded to hire the boys from town. Unskilled boys, whose familiarity with construction began and ended with the leaning end of a rusted shovel. Paying them $8 an hour and charging $25 to his father-in-law became quite the little cottage industry for the Sloth, and no doubt tired him to the point where he could justify 8 hours a day in the construction office, feet up and arms akimbo, nursing a coffee long gone cold and offering a drawling ďWeeelllllll, I just donít knowĒ to any inquiry that went north of where to go for lunch that day.

Enter Stu and Outfoxed. And I guess, in our shining naivete, we were confident in our ability to overcome what was crumbling into an unending merry-go-round of ďWho shot John?Ē. After all, weíd been dealing with this sort of thing for years, had dealt with numerous personalities and builders and come through all right. Weíd seen our little company grow and become mildly prosperous because of it.

We burned a few bridges to work on this place, since there was no way, given the magnitude of work, that we could keep a bulging list of clients happy and take this thing on at the same time. So we burned, some with a minimum of fuss, others who were a good deal more pissed off, and said so.

In other words, we took a gamble.

Given the tone, it doesnít take much to guess the result. Itís been a seething pot of political intrigue, family squabbles, backstabbing and alliances on what needs to be a project of professionals doing their thing to move this clunker along. There are enough Chiefs on this particular reservation to populate a football team of some repute, but the Indians are sadly lacking. Throw in the complications of weather and sub-contractors who donít particularly care to be part of a project made difficult and youíve got some real problems.

And problems, as always in the work world, mean money. Or the stunning lack of it.

Problem construction projects, when bid with a fixed amount of money, mean money problems. Your sub-contractors and material suppliers get edgy waiting to be paid. After they are finished being edgy, they get downright nasty.

And in the case of Stu and myself, the buck stops here. Right here, at the doorstep. Where my wife and children sleep and bid me adieu on the daily trek northward to find food, and clothing and trinkets to adorn them and the two-story teepee that sits here on its quiet cul-de-sac.

Iíve brought back about half the amount of trinkets that I used to, this summer.

So has Stu.

They came and took away the cable TV box a few weeks ago. They tend to do that when food becomes more attractive a purchase than cable TV. I didnít miss it so much, but the kids were suckling at the maw of cable TV since they were babies, and you can only have so many DVDís to play until youíve gotten sick of them.

Ally had retired a year ago. Looking at a sunlit world of ease, where things would be bright and clean and there would be no endless scraping of bills into a pile for payment later. Where the spectacle of money owed could be taken care of in an orderly way.

Sheís not retired anymore.

The calls come, and the phone is filled with messages urgent and grim. The other day some woman came to the door and asked if we had a pool, and whether it was an above ground one, and why we hadnít paid for the land it sat on and the house in front of it for so long. I didnít have a very good answer for her, but she was not listening very closely in any event. I did get a nice orange tag from her though, with ďCall this number - NOW written in letters large enough for easy reading. As though the very act of not having money for them had impaired my vision, if not my mental capacity to understand it.

There are things busted here. I donít know if theyíre busted beyond repair, but theyíre busted pretty thoroughly, in any event.

I find myself living in the world of Job, and Job mustíve been one patient cat. I can empathize with you Job, my lad. Because there are locusts on the horizon and Iím standing here with little more than a weather worn toolbelt and a handful of nails.

It became almost laughable yesterday. Laughable in an ironic and sad way. Youngest one Ben, looking for money to buy some new school clothes, (this is evolving into a Dickensonian thing, but it doesnít make it any less true) went out to fire up the lawn mower so that he could earn his pot of porridge threshing the grass of more financially able neighbors and friends. The mower, a trusted ally for years, turned out to be busted. So we went and borrowed Stuís (who might be a bit destitute himself, but it cannot be said that he doesnít have a very capable lawnmower).

I had a ten-spot in my wallet and elected to buy some beer and a gallon or two of gas for the mower. The beer was in bottles, and the box holding the beer was moist. Two steps out of the gas station Quicky-Mart, moist cardboard separated with a spectacular rip and beer thudded to asphalt in that noiseless little crunch that bottles have when encountering their demise. A busted demise.

Ally was shopping for food at the time and called me, with a tire on her car going flat. Busted.

Maggie the Middlest One was at the doctorís office getting a note allowing her to return to her part time job. After being bed ridden for mononucleosis for a week or so.

Beth the Eldest was home. After having quit/been fired/parted ways with her own part time job. And needing one in a desperate way, having started college the week before. And the aforementioned Lids, the girlfriend, in similar straits.

And I was contemplating throwing the damned computer out of the window for itsí continued, and stubborn resistance to all things internet. A computer busted, a computer of the sort of which Job would have been most familiar. Although he might have been too busy staving off plagues and boils and locusts to care.

Welcome to the end of summer, Job.

It was by the same pool, a little later, that I found Ally in tears and looking wistfully at the blue water sheíd tended all summer. Wanting to know how long we could keep the wolf from pounding on the door, if not actually taking it away.

I didnít have much to say. Maybe some soothing words, they sounded a little flat even to me. It makes for sad listening to spout hope when bridges have been burned, when food becomes something more than an annoying trip to the store in the middle of the day, when you wake in the middle of the night and cannot find sleep again because your mind is racing over the same troubled ground as it had the night before.

I keep a vision in my head of something like the Dust Bowl of the Ď30ís, of starved farmers leaning against ramshackle wooden homes and watching their dreams blow across fields where no crops will grow, where the banker is coming down the road in a Buick and he has a sheaf of papers that will make an ending real, and right quickly.

Itís another romantic vision. Itís a bit of a stretch, when you see an SUV in your driveway and a pool in your yard. A computer on your desk, even if it is a slow and muleish one.

Maybe what I need is some glue, for the busted stuff. I like glue. I use it all the time in my work. Glue sits on the shelf and waits for the hands that finally come to the conclusion that itís time to put the vase back together, or mend the chair. Iíve seen locusts stuck in a puddle of spilt glue from time to time, wings fluttering and little feet kicking. Glue has no conscience of time, or worth, or politics. Glue might make it all right. Iíll look into that.

Iíll shut this particular vent just now, the vent that I opened at the beginning of this short, and selfishly whining tale. Itís a whistling, howling sort of vent that I would rather keep closed against the winter to come. There are things dark and unhappy at the bottom of that shaft that might stay put if I slam the lid on them. Glue them in, as it were.

Iíd much rather just say how delighted I am to be behind this particular donkey cart right now, as it plods gamely along. Fertilizer and all.

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