My essay on remodeling

bad jobs and bullshit anthology

The great folks at The Geeky Press have published my essay “Prodigal Remodeler” in their new anthology, Bad Jobs & Bullshit. The collection contains fiction, CNF, and poetry about those less than satisfying jobs that everyone has had to work. And, though I might be a little biased, there’s some great stuff.

Mine talks about that stuff, yeah, but it also talks about working with my dad and—sort of, sometimes—missing the rewarding parts of remodeling.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

At age four, I began riding to work with dad in a series of rusty trucks and vans. I started working with him full-time at age seventeen, and continued full-time until age twenty-one. Then I went to college to pursue writing, which was the beginning of the end for my construction career. But I continued to swing a hammer twenty to thirty hours a week.

I hated how my thin arms would heat up, muscles straining to lift cabinets or carry lumber or break shit. How we’d demolish entire rooms down to nothing but bones and dust, just to rebuild them. How the saw would kick and many times could’ve taken my hand. How the sawdust would spray into my mouth.

Important note on eating sawdust: There are many flavors—take your time to savor each one, recognize the differences between a fine oak and cheap pine two-by-four. It’s an acquired taste.

You can get the book on Amazon (a free Kindle edition is out for Prime members) and Barnes & Noble. You can also add it on GoodReads to make that end of the year reading goal!

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Part of me is construction

My dad puts me to work on the house I grew up in, circa 1989.

My dad puts me to work on the house I grew up in, circa summer 1989.

From my desk chair at Angie’s List, I watched two men walk around on the roof of another building. It was wet, and the shingles must’ve been slippery. But there’s something about standing on a roof and looking out over your surroundings. It’s freeing.

I stood on top of that building once—before there was a roof, before my dad hauled up trusses and shot them into the plate I helped secure. I was in high school, and still worked at an ice cream shop. I stood on most roofs there, and watched people work at the company since it was less than a hundred people. I watched Derby Days. I stood outside their circle, on the roof.

Hanging cabinets in my parents' kitchen with my dad and brothers.

Hanging cabinets in my parents’ kitchen with my dad and brothers.

Though I started going to work with my dad at age four, I first remember doing something useful there. In the basement of what’s now called the Penthouse, my dad taught me how to pull nails with a hammer. I was seven, maybe eight. Leverage was my downfall, but became easier as I grew older.

I pulled nails because the man who owned the buildings, Fred, was so cheap. Yet he hired my dad to build a workshop in the basement, instead of renting the space to another company. Right now, only Angie’s List is in that building—and the buildings around it—but when I first worked there, probably a dozen companies rented spaces. Fred would call my dad to move walls, to customize the spaces for the current lessee or the next one, and I would tag along, usually on weekends.

Framing an addition in Meridian-Kessler.

Framing an addition in Meridian-Kessler.

Construction doesn’t have a greater meaning. In my mind, meaning is a measure of how big a ripple a person makes, how deep one can carve into the tree of human history. If we push hard enough ahead, or against the grain, we’ll make a dent, an impression that people can see for years to come. It’s a mental construct to prove to ourselves our own power.

Remodeling, however, literally reconfigures pieces of the world. No need to convince yourself you’re powerful—you see it every day. From the time I was seventeen, I built five days a week.

Then I got this idea that I wanted to write, to study writing, to go to college like I watched friends do. And when I graduated in May, I became a staff writer for Angie’s List Magazine. I said Aloha to writing—and Aloha to construction.

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Hanging drywall, looking wistfully out a window. Like a putz.

When I miss it now, I have to remember the reasons I quit. I wanted to do something creative. That’s not to say remodeling isn’t creative. It’s constant problem solving; you never know what you’ll find when you open up a wall. But being privy to the daily lives of strangers is stressful. They’re watching you work, either curious about what you’re doing or judging based on their personal opinion whether you’re doing things right. It was hard to bear. Still.

Part of me is construction, in the way I put sentences together, building a piece at a time. I write the foundations, then framing, then add the trim, finishes. Part of me craves hard work, wants to sweat and go home feeling tired but virile each day.

Sometimes I think that I will go back. That I could still write, maybe write more, be more devoted to my art, after a day in the elements. If I still tooled around in a heavy tool belt, though, maybe I’d desire the desk. It’s “The Road Not Take” paradox:

And sorry I could not travel both

I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I recognize this. You can call me neurotic. Still. I would travel both, if I could.