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Wednesday, Jun. 21, 2006

A while back I wrote a 3-part epic concerning my days of wanton youth, rambling hither and yon amongst the local wilderness as a teenager. Something about the locale bothered me at the time, I was trying to remember a specific place, a marina of sorts that I had visited only once and forgotten where it was, a true backwoods joint where old boats go to die.

Ally and I were out hunting property the other morning (the true and noble pursuit of habitable swampland). I took one route to get to the address, and another to get back. But lo! Not two miles from the address, up pops the long forgotten marina. And far from being deserted, it’s actually bustling with jon-boats and seekers of the mighty bass.

I’m not a superstitious fella, but that was all the sign I needed. We’re going to the realtor this afternoon, and if he wants to play ball I’ll swing my pen like it was a 36 oz bat, and the checkbook a whistling fastball.

We might have found the shanty in the woods. Or at least the ground to set it on. It’s pretty rural (the road leading to it is called Blackwater, for heavens sake) and has the sort of low country feel to it that I like. Has everything necessary, which is very little at all. It’s not on the water but there’s water everywhere around it.

Puts me in mind of that country song, how’s it go? “I live back in the woods you see, my woman and the kids and the dogs and meeee…..”

Something like that.

We see a lot of these two lately:

That would be Maggie the Middlest entertaining my grandson by proxy while the real grandson is doing his best imitation of Basketball under Blouse for a little while longer. I take a better picture than that, honest. But it’s tough to get all artsy with the camera when it’s dark outside and you’re wrestling with settings, the grill is smoking with a rack of ribeyes and you just tipped your longneck over the arm of the lawn chair.

Maggie is on pregnancy leave from work (like, duh?). The go date is 30 days. I probed that belly last night before she left and I can tell you, basketball is the proper description of tautness. She weighed one hundred pounds soaking wet pre-baby and is now one hundred and twenty. Maybe. I haven’t the need to ask.

I promised her a night under the stars with the old man after the delivery (and lest I be accused of being a hopeless romantic, bear in mind that seeing Steely Dan, outdoors and at night in August is not romantic, it is a necessity). “We’ll leave the baby with Grandma!”, I enthused. “She’s already seen The Boys twice and doesn’t seem to have the giddy-up she used to. So we’re goin’, you and me.” And Maggie smiled because she knows, has seen me in full gallop over the music many times and probably knows more about this band than anyone her age has any business knowing. She’s in.

After that you can just wrap me in muslin and lay me in the pirouge and push me off downriver, because life will be complete.

Much of life these days seems to be about waiting for things, waiting for events and milestones. Babies. Concerts. Land acquisition. All very necessary and important in their own right. Filling in the gaps between is work, sloggin’ for the Man under a hot June sun.

I just can’t work up any great energy for it. Up into the big truck of a morning, 29 miles to the site and offload, swing the toolbag onto shoulders and trudge for 9 hours. The cooler always has plenty of water, the drill batteries are always charged and recharged, the pants grow mould and the dust clings to the mould.

I do, however, get to wear the round hardhat.

There are really only two kinds of hardhat. The conventional kind worn by 95% of the workforce, a sort of engineers cap with a tiny bill that has been frozen into permanent shape by technical means, the sort worn fashionably backwards by the more hip youth around the jobsite and adorned with decals for surf apparel. Also kept in pristine white condition and hung in the construction trailer for visiting dignitaries and sellers of galvanized hardware.

But the roundhat is subtly different.

It’s round, naturally, with a continuous brim. It implies authority. Superintendents always, always wear the roundhat. Foremen of various crews often do. When asked what the leader of 20 or so electricians looks like, the answer is invariably “Oh, you can’t miss him, he’s the one with the round hardhat with the lightning bolt on the front.”

Somewhere along the way I acquired a roundhat, and it sits in one of the side boxes of the for weeks at a time, right alongside the much abused conventional one, waiting for a job that might fooking demand that I wear it suggest its use.

I don’t know how it started, I had a helper along one day and naturally he’d forgotten to bring a hardhat, and I seldom think wearing one is necessary, hate them in fact, but the super frowned and made it abundantly clear that hardhats were de rigueur on his site. So I had the helper go fetch ‘em, and he handed me the roundhat without a word, and that was that. I was off, wearing the web-gear of a suspendered journeyman but capped with the pith helmet of Lord Stanley on a mission to cleave wooden structures from a stand of ordinary mahogany trees, or such like.

To be sure, I scuffed it up some. Nothing more embarrassing than to be seen with a virgin roundhat, unscarred and unsoiled, indicating a life spent indoors and under a ceiling fan, leisurely flicking through a roll of building drawings with a glass of iced tea close by. No, if I had to wear the roundhat it would be one that had some wear to it, some combat experience.

I might as well have slapped multiple chevrons on my shoulder. Superintendents defer to me, visiting dignitaries gape. Helpers all but salute me in passing, while other foremen wink and nod and all but say, “Heh, you’re in the club fella, and we drink Heineken here, don’t you know.”

I don’t know quite what their reaction is going to be when the weather gets colder and I slip on the Carhardt overalls and the Coors Lite sweatshirt with that thing. I might just get crucified as an imposter.

After thirty years in this game, you’d think I’d know better.

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