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Thursday, Sept. 01, 2005
You know, I watch the images from Nawlins and the Delta, and remember. When I was there, and had one of the best and worst weeks of my days all wrapped in one. I think it’s part of the mystique of the place. You can go, you can have the time of your life. Or find misery on the same trip.

I don’t see anything but misery coming out of the Easy right now. Not to in any way overlook the adjoining states. They surely got their share of the evil hand as well.

And dammit, in a purely selfish way, the ruining of the Jazzfest site at the horsetrack? That’s just so symbolically awful. A place of joy ripped up and pissed on.

Not to forget the twitching of fingers, longing for the Remington, when I see fucksticks looting their neighbors and their neighborhood stores. Bastards doing bastardly things, and gleeful to boot. I know now why some chose to stay. I would have. I did it when Isabel blew in with all the hyperbole of a Cat. 2 and shut us down for a few days. Didn’t
have any looters, but then there were grim men with chainsaws, everywhere.

These people didn’t have a chance. My heart goes out to them.

Some of this might sound dated, since I’m writing in your past, as it were. I’m anchored at a hotel (with no high speed lines, ugh) near the golf course jobsite and it’s Tuesday. Just another day on an average jobsite in the wane of summer.

It’s hotter than . . . no wait. 92 degrees would be a welcome heat in, say, Saudi or Arizona or the equator on Venus. They just aren’t blessed with the Swampland humidity, running like green swamp water down your face within 2.5 seconds of exiting your air conditioned vehicle.

I have T-shits that are rotting as I wear them. I wish I was kidding.

“It’s gonna be miserable today, ain’t it Carpenter?” This is my standard greeting from the electrician or maybe the plumber as I trudge into the building where, one day, debutants will flower and drunks will produce business cards with a flourish.

“Yup. Miserable. Absolutely no question, Sparky.” A carpenter will call an electrician ’Sparky’ or even ‘Spark’ if they are somewhat familiar with each other. The electrician might cheerfully call the carpenter ‘Woodpecker’ with great affection in the same way. All depends on how well they get along, how many years they‘ve spent with others of the brethren. And on these commercial jobs, familiarity often comes within hours, with much sly derision toward the superintendent/architect/owner at any given moment. Call it a bonding of asshats thrown together by circumstance.

I can’t quite bring myself to print out what the carpenter might call the plumber, even if they actually get along with each other. As always, this is a family forum. I might be cordial with the plumber on a rare day. But I’ve never quite come up with a cute handle for ‘em. A profane one, yes, an earthy and boisterous handle. A lawyer would be proud to be tagged with something like I call my plumbers, it’s actually a factual and accurate description. They both do it. But I wouldn’t stoop to name a lawyer with an honorarium reserved for plumbers.

Moving right along. This Sparky is a feisty little rooster, the head of a half dozen of his ilk, where I am the only carpenter. And he knew that, knew he had the advantage of numbers. if not time served on this particular plat of purgatory.

He promptly moved his ladder directly in the path of my chosen focus, which happened to be a huge run of L-shaped cabinets. Put it right in the L, he did. I’ve often thought that to an electrician, a ladder is something akin to a male dog pissing in the corner of the yard. He expects it to act as an invisible barrier, halting potential infringements on his territory by other trades. I’ve literally seen an electrician pull a step ladder out of his truck at 7 am, set it carefully in place in the middle of a hall, and move off to parts unknown for the balance of the day. It might spook those of a lesser tenor, the apprentices or just hired. They’d walk around it all day.

Doesn’t spook me. “Hey Spark, this ladder? The hell?”

“Oh, heh heh, got a bit of a problem up in the ceiling. Got to wire a junction box, bore a hole through the beam. Helluva mess. Get right on it.”

“Uh huh. How long you need this piece of real estate?”

“Why, not long at all. Just a junction box. Now if you need to go ahead, you just jump on in there. After all, we can work together, right?”

I stifled a groan. I’ve heard this sad tale so many times on so many jobs and the result is always the same. It is as predictable as the very rising of the sun. Here’s how it works:

By stating the key phrase - “We’re gonna work together, right?” the electrician, who has already bonded to the superintendent like stink on plumbers, has the upper hand. Any false move on my part to usurp that relationship is doomed. If I were to say “I don’t think so sport, move that climber this very instant” or “Where exactly were you in the last 6 months that you, today, absolutely must toss this j-box directly over where I’m suppose to work?” the electrician will flee, sobbing, to the arms of the superintendent, whose main job is to mitigate these sorts of things.

And frankly, I’d win. The super would listen, probably crank his neck toward the ceiling then back to the floor, see that I had 40 cabinets lined up with engines rumbling and all my tools and gear laid out for surgery on same. He would take a little hitching breath and sigh. “Sparky, you gots to go. Woodpeckers got the field, let’s play ball.”

And you’d think that would be the end of it. Oh ho. Oh ho ho, no.

I might jump ahead of the electrician for a day. For one day. Next day, and for all the days of my life, all the temporary power (which is the very lifeblood of a commercial carpenter) in my end of the building, and ONLY my end, would mysteriously be shut down. “Bad relay,” the Spark would say, leaning casually on a transformer box without a care in the world. “Gotta wait for a new one, might be days, don’t you know . . .”

He might even be fairly direct, and ominous. “Well, that old junction box? The one above your cabinets? Darned if I can figure, but turns out the inspector was here just after you left the other day, and he failed this end of the building since I couldn’t get it installed in time . . .”

Oh yes. I have lived this scenario way, way too many times with power on a jobsite. The Spark giveth, the Spark taketh away.

So when the electrician suggested that we work together, I knew my role.

“Why of course, my dear Sparky. Have at it. Want to use my ladder (since I surely won’t need it, or any other tool for quite some time now)?”

So off he went on his chuckling little way. He was a very humorous sort of Sparky, humming a tune, jogging up his ladder, fiddling and fussing and singing a bawdy song.

I’ve often wondered about electricians. For crying out loud, all their stuff is pre-made metal or plastic, it comes in neat little boxes with oodles of fasteners, you place a pipe and a metal box and pull some wire thru it all, and there you have it. To get the same degree of a finished result, I have to take a pre-made plywood box and some wood asides which might just be totally incorrect, find a fastener which I may or may not have, saw and shave materials and get filthy and pray that the 110% humidity isn’t affecting my delicate wooden material. Which of course, it always does, and I gets to compensate. Oh yes I does. And by the way, MY stuff has to LOOK good!

It got a little strange after a while, with the electrician. He was the foreman of a crew, and clearly busy. He had a two-way radio. Responsibilities. And everything.

Come lunchtime, he was frazzled, and he wasn’t faking it. “Damn, Woodpecker! I can’t stay on this damn box for more that a minute at a time!” Which was painfully obvious. I’ve seen a competent journeyman stick a j-box in any number of peculiar spots in half an hour. We’d already rung up nearly 4, and I was running out of little side tasks to do.

“Tell ye what, Sparky my lad. I’m gonna run to the store and pick up a new drill. Old one’s on its last leg (there’s a painful electrical pun buried in there, somewhere, which he didn’t pick up on). If I can give ye another hour, can we ‘work together’?

“Oh yeah, surest thing you know! I’ll have this sucker up in an hour, no problem.”

But then, it was lunchtime, and Sparky’s the world over have a distinct attachment for lunch. As in, The Lunch of The Spark Shall Not Be Infringed Upon. And lunch takes just about . . . one hour.

I don’t eat lunch. But I did buy a really nice drill, and some cunning bits.

And got to set a few cabinets, even.

At 3 pm.

Which is, in the law of the Spark, just shy of quittin’ time.

He was apologetic, he truly was. “Jeez, carpenter. You sure are a good sport. I held ye up the whole day. Really sorry about that.”

I barely heard him. I was too busy ramming screws into wood flesh. I say barely heard him, but what I heard was, in short, opportunity.

‘Cause I won’t have one single thing to worry about for the rest of THIS gig.

I own the Sparky. And all the amps he can muster.

I am Woodpecker, behold my hammer of iron. And my unlimited voltage. God, what a recruitment poster this would make. The steel eyed carpenter, a mighty 24 oz. hammer held aloft in the right, and a lightning bolt in the left. A Nordic sort of fellow, gazing far afield toward some distant sunrise. Or longneck. Something.

The plumber might not even want to show up tomorrow.

And then, it was Wednesday on the road.

I tell you, it’s not easy seeing the state of the union today, from a hotel room.

It’s one of the few, very few days I have witnessed that the normally raucous attitudes of a bunch of construction crews were subdued. I work alone, and normally try to get off by myself anyway (yesterdays running dialogue with the electrician notwithstanding), but at times today it was absolutely eerie. I’d be in the middle of casing a door or setting a window jamb and realize, my Lord it’s quiet. A bustling jobsite with a hundred souls, reduced to a level of somber seldom seen. I don’t think anyone was much in the mood for working.

I thought about the Gulf Coast a lot today, in the quiet, and have the feeling that most of the boys were doing the same.

Come tomorrow, I’m clearing out. I planned to do so anyway, but somehow hanging around makes damned little sense. There’s always a golf course for the trendy. I’d rather be down south with a generator and a passel of tools, helping somebody. And yeah, I help for cash. Most of the time. If the government would let me I’d go in a somewhat legal way, but I’ll tell you something else. They don’t do well with allowing the kind of help in to these situations that they need so desperately without a shitst.orm of regulation.

When 9/11 happened, Stu and I seriously inquired about going to DC or NY and lend a hand in some way. We were told to stay where we were. Same deal with Hurricane Andrew, and more recently last years series of storms that blew thru Florida. There is no upfront and upright way to lend a hand, no way for an independent to jump down there with stuff that a lot of people would be grateful to see, in the same way that power companies do when a catastrophic event occurs. Power, they can see the need. Seems to be some sort of mandated agreement to send power crews from Ohio when Florida has a big one.

But if I jumped in the truck for Nawlins with a sign in the window that said - “Will work for fair rates to restore your home” I’d get turned away somewhere around Shreveport. And it wouldn’t be a calm and reasoned turn away, either.

I think Ally and me will send some cash to the Red Cross.

But I’d rather just go, and do what I know how to do. Would I ask for money? Would I do charity work? Would I grin when a little girl handed me a bowl of gumbo after reshingling the roof on their house.

Yes, to all.

God, it’s hell down there.

I really hope this isn’t the one. The time that would start the worst of times.

Just a bad day for our country. Worst since 4 years ago.

And I don’t know anything else to say about it. Miss you, Ally.

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