I am Wrecking Ball
January of 2007; my friend Ray & I enter a vacant storefront with grim countenances forged upon our mugs & heavy sledge hammers abiding upon our shoulders. We are here to deconstruct. We both bring our own specific skill sets to the party. Ray is an ex-marine. At an age when I was gingerly placing LSD blotters on my tongue & playing White Light White Heat on a loop, Ray was waking up every morning at 5 in the a.m. to do push-ups, run in mud, and get cursed out by older, accoutered men with guns. A fella like Ray is bound to be efficient with a sledge hammer and then some. Me? I once read “The Destructors” by Graham Greene. We are both prepared in our own ways.
The storefront we were about to desolate had been, until recently, a tailor’s shop. Word on the street was that the original owner had retired and bequeathed the space (and rent) to his assistants, who had then taken to living, rather than tailoring, in said space. Tailoring, apparently, would have been a more effective means toward earning rent money. They were gone now, all those tailors, leaving behind a 650-sq. foot space with a dilapidated counter cutting across the center of the room and myriad empty cabinets unaccountably clustered about the walls. Ray and I planned on demolishing anything that was neither wall nor toilet. The void would soon be filled with shelves, books, and things literary.
Smashing shit is to exercise what eating pizza & drinking beer is to consumption: not work; gluttony. The hard part, aside from not smashing more than necessary, is dealing with the debris produced by all that conviviality. Ray’s first idea was to make use of his nearby American Legion dumpster, but subsequent to loading the bed of his truck with smashed stuff and driving the requisite block-and-a-half, we discovered that a Legion member not named Ray had already filled said dumpster with his own personal detritus. With his sniper’s eye, Ray pinpointed a larger dumpster at the Foster’s Freeze, drove our load across the street, and then instructed me to ask a FF manager for permission to dump our load in their can, so to speak, while he maneuvered his truck into dumping position.
I wanted to tell Ray that this was a bad plan because following a year of blissful unemployment I no longer spoke to people, but I somehow felt that a declaration of my handicap might be met with unsympathetic skepticism from Mr. Marine. Thus, against all odds, I heroically confronted my social fears, and then reported back to Ray with the intel as he prepared to empty the trash from his truck.
“Nuh uh,” I said truthfully. “Not gonna’ happen.”
“What did you say? Did you talk to the manager? You offered ‘um money, right?”
Recalling what that Twain guy allegedly said about truth telling , I truth told Ray: “This is way too traumatic to remember. I was asking somebody something, somebody stared at me for eternity and then said something back. It just wasn’t ‘yes’ is all. It was the opposite. Let’s go.”
“God almighty,” declared Ray. “You’re gonna make a funny kinda business man.”
This was when it first occurred to me that opening a bookstore was going to make me a funny kind of business man, perhaps proffering me with innumerable opportunities to interact with grown people. Christ? Was it really worth it? Well, I was running out of money, and it beat getting another job.
In addition to having been an engineer in her pre-me life, my wife was raised by a father who routinely went around building stuff. Debbie knows all about tools, measurements, wood, joists, and other manly shit. Ray & I having effectively executed the baboon task assigned to us, Debbie entered the desolate premises the following morn with a fistful of diagrams, boxes of screws and nails, a screwdriver, a hammer, much wood, a saw, a neat power tool, and me. Her role in this shelf building business was to be planner, thinker, administrator, teacher, and problem solver. I was, as the previous sentence implied, the last tool in her sentence.
“Shhh,” cooed Debbie, patting me on the head. “You don’t talk so much. Just hit the little nail with the little hammer and try to look pretty.”
But I wanted to use the power tool.
Hitting the little nail with the little hammer was less fun than smashing the wood with the big sledge hammer, because the former demanded more accuracy than the latter. I lacked. The first half of the day began with me bending as many nails as I drove home. The second half of the day culminated with me creating a hammer-shaped indentation in a wall. I was beginning to suspect that I lacked a certain flair for creating; or at least harbored a certain flair for tantrums.
“How are you able to make things,” I asked my wife that night, “without breaking them instead. Or getting really mad and throwing tools through walls?”
She shrugged. “My father was always building & repairing stuff around the house. From watching him, I guess I gathered that when you have a problem you find a solution & calmly work through it.”
“That’s fucking weird,” I said. “In my house, like when the lawn mower didn’t work, my dad would stomp the shit out of it. Yeah. I watched him too. Once when he was having trouble chopping down a dead tree, he threw the axe over the fence and it hit a car driving by on the road behind our house. Yeah. It was kinda funny when it was him.”
“Not so funny now, is it, Chuckles?”
“Well. I feel like I’m gonna have an aneurysm & start cussing like a Scottish sheepherder. Is that funny?”
Always full of plans, Debbie spent the next week teaching me how to be a creator. She edified me in the science of screwing & hammering. She learnt me about angles and hand measures and how not to strip a screw head. When I made an error she’d offer words of encouragements such as now don’t throw my fucking hammer into our god damn wall you fucknut. She halved my morning coffee intake. By the end of the week, under her sagacious tutelage, I had constructed several lovely bookshelves.
“Tomorrow,” I said, “we should get here early and maybe we can build two whole shelves.”
“Sure. At this rate,” she answered, “we might be open for business by March.”
“But I thought the plan was to open in February. On mah birthday!”
“It is the plan. But we have another 25 shelves to build. And then secure to the walls. And then fill with books. If we’re going to be building at a rate of two shelves per day…”
“Sounds like math,” I sighed. “Sounds like math is going to curtail my dreams. Again.”
That is the story of how I learned patience, manly building skills, and problem solving, while constructing 10% of READ Books’ bookshelves, prior to learning how to hire a competent handyman.