guys who get things from the forest
Friday, November 1 2002
Louis came over again for a few hours to help me with more work on the master bedroom suite in the attic. I felt a little more of that handyman's scorn I was telling you about the other day, this time coming from Louis. He saw me doing a miserable job driving a nail and even went so far as to show me how to swing a hammer. These guys who make their living with materials, they have no patience for someone like me who has gone soft from years in front of a computer screen. Sure, I've lost my knack with a hammer. It isn't like riding a bicycle. But please, go easy on me. I'll regain my muscle mass and catch my stride soon enough.
This afternoon, Gretchen and I drove up to Saugerties, mostly on a mission to get native lumber beams for use in replacing the load-bearing wall adjacent to the stairway. Somehow we got distracted by the many antique stores of Saugerties' downtown, and we ended up filling most of the payload space of my pickup truck with large pieces of furniture, particularly a large white kitchen cabinet and counter unit (circa 1930) that Gretch got for a mere $225 (along with an antique doorknob that I couldn't actually get to work with any of our modern doors, circa 1994).
The lumber yard we went to was perhaps the smallest, most mom and pop sawmill in all of Upstate New York. It was little more than a pile of tree trunks behind someone's conventional rural-suburban house. Inside a shed was the bandsaw. When we pulled up, nothing much was going on, but a guy came out of the house and asked "What can I do you for?" in that mock-folksy greeting way that has come to be an acceptable protocol for the initiation of business relationships. He was wearing overalls patterned in the camouflage that supposedly imitates tree bark. I explained that I needed some eight foot long four by four oak beams, preferably dry. He said he didn't have any just now because he'd been so busy hunting lately (it's evidently deer season in this part of New York). But he said he could cut me some up and I could come back and pick them up later this afternoon. Gretchen suggested we just kill time in Saugerties until he had them ready, and that was agreeable to all. The price, by the way, was eleven dollars per beam.
As we were driving out, Gretchen was busy expressing her disgust at the gutted deer hanging behind the lumberman's house. She said she could actually smell the poor beast. I sniffed the air and sure enough, there it was, a hint of the viscera of deer. It's a nasty business, but it's part of the culture of rural America. It would be very difficult to find a guy who sold native lumber and wasn't also a hunter. The person who joyfully cuts down ancient trees and sells them piece by piece will have little moral objection to the shooting of deer. After her initial horror, Gretchen's attitude changed to one of uncharacteristic pragmatism. "I recognize that we're on his turf now," she said.
We enjoyed a time-killing vegetarian lunch at a big Mexican restaurant called El Rancho just outside Saugerties. It was the off-hours of a Friday afternoon, and in the vast dining room, we were one of only two active tables. Things were going so slowly that we got to talking to the waitress for awhile. She was an authentic Mexican and happened to also be a co-owner of the restaurant.
After visiting flea market and getting some small items: an ancient oval mirror for the half bathroom and a clothes rack full of rusty water, we picked up our lumber. It was all wet and covered with sawdust. With a little reorganization, we somehow managed to get all four beams into the truck, despite the priceless antiques clenched like a nut in nutcracker between them.
In the evening, Gretchen and I undertook the thankless task of putting together a Staples desk without the assistance of any directions. It was a massive puzzle consisting of dozens of rectangular pieces of fake wood and those little metal fasteners familiar to anyone who has been down the Ikea path. Before proceeding, we had to lay out the pieces to see which matched which in terms of width, sides having fake wood grain, and arrangement of holes. Even with such careful planning, we'd find ourselves stuck by having gone up some construction blind alley. At that point we'd have no choice but to disassemble the offending piece and begin again. At first we found ourselves actually enjoying the challenge like some sort of right brain crossword puzzle, but after an hour or so we started getting cranky.
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