Saturday, October 16 2010
David (of Penny and David) was up from the city with his young son Milo for the week, and today at the dump he came across an odd piece of electronics bearing the Bosch, and being a well-programmed consumer, he immediately associated the brand with quality. Neither he nor any of the employees at the dump could tell what the device was, so into David's mind popped the one person on planet Earth who might be able to solve this puzzle: me. He took the gizmo home with him and called to ask if I would be interested in this "mystery." Gretchen, who is already on orange alert about my nascent hoarding tendencies, was horrified, but I said, "Sure, bring it over."
I've often been astounded by the shoddy observational skills I've noticed in the people I encounter. It's common for people, for example, to accept an exterminator's lie that carpet beetles are bed bugs even though these insects are not similar in appearance. It's possible that the lack of ability to distinguish objects in the natural world is an inevitable result of Americans' increasing alienation from nature. But this doesn't explain observational handicaps when trying to identify manmade artifacts. I've long ago given up on David's ability to distinguish between anything except (perhaps) wines and cheeses, so his befuddlement was to be expected. But what makes the failure to identify this Bosch gizmo such a head scratcher is the observational failures of the staff at the Marbletown dump. Usually landfill employees have keen powers of observation and can tell at a glance what sort of plastic something is made from and whether or not it has value as scrap or intact. It seems the Marbletown employees are sub-par. I say this because it took me about two seconds to identify what this Bosch gizmo was. It was a cube-shaped object twelve inches on a side with aluminum rails forming a loose cage around it. On it various sides it had various features, but the most obvious was a tray for loading CDs and an LCD display capable of showing the time and the frequency of an radio broadcast. There were also two large knobs, one labeled "tuning" and the other "volume." It was a jobsite stereo, the kind that allow busy carpenters to crank their tunes or listen to Rush Limbaugh as they slam together a McMansion in a cornfield. (I know it's a hard thing to imagine, but pretend the year is 2005.)
I pushed the eject button near the CD player tray and it obediently slid open to reveal what the last owner had been listening to, in this case Disc 2 of the Black Sabbath compilation know as Symptom of the Universe. (It's precisely the kind of CD I would expect to find in a jobsite stereo.) I couldn't immediately get the CD player to work, but the FM radio seemed to be okay and the sound quality was excellent (though the digital volume controls were a bit wonky). In addition to the stereo, the box contained a 12 volt automotive cigarette lighter connector, four AC GFI outlets, and a place to charge Bosch-brand battery packs (the kind used on battery-powered tools). So I told David thanks and encouraged him to collect tomatoes from my humanure-fed tomato patch. (It's late in the season, but there are still plenty of tomatoes.)
David had told me about some pieces of "good firewood" he had for me back at his house, so at some point this afternoon, after bringing in the last of the high-quality from the recent harvesting operation, I loaded up the dogs and drove over to David's house to see what he was talking about. I didn't have great expectations, because, though he has his own woodstove, he doesn't really seem to know the difference between good and bad firewood and, more importantly, how high the upper limit of "too small to bother with" actually is. When I knocked on David's door, he was in the midst of a poopy diaper change, so when he shook my hand, I made sure to wash it before proceeding to anything else. David offered me some wine, but the cork was tricky and he insisted on uncorking it despite his unwashed poopy diaper hands. That wasn't really what concerned me; he'd walked away from a poopy diaper on the couch and I had to warn him that the dogs would grab it soon if he didn't make its disposal a much higher priority. We later encountered another, much older diaper that some varmint had fished out of his trash and dragged into the woods. Dirty diapers are the seven layer burritos of the suburban forest.
It turned out that the pieces David had called me out to get consisted of a rotten piece of basswood and two unspectacular chunks of hemlock, none of which I would normally look at twice. Luckily, though, I'd brought my chainsaw, and this allowed me to buck up a large Red Oak limb that had fallen from one of the trees of the nearby forest. I also cut up a nice (though small) piece of ancient bone-dry American Chestnut. The problem with doing this with David was that his role consisted of nothing but distraction. He couldn't really help me because he was holding his baby, so instead he tried to be helpful by interesting me in other dead trees he could see off in the distance. So as I was trying to chainsaw-through or arrange the bucking of a log, he'd be trying to get me to look at some other tree that I might want to cut up next. Inevitably these trees would be four inch thick White Pines. In other words, they were of absolutely no value to me, but I didn't feel like repeating something I've told him many times before. I'd try to be polite and mumble something about not being interested and he'd say "What?" and then I'd have to explain. But when I'm cutting wood I'm not really interested in talking. On some level, I don't think David is really thinking about the utility of the wood to me; instead he's thinking about my utility as a tidier of his forest. Both he and particularly Penny have a strict æsthetic sense that finds discomfort in the chaos of the forest. They don't like downed or dead trees, branches, or too much brush. Ideally their woods would resemble the forest on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Though I didn't take the pieces of wood I'd been called to retrieve, I did end up filling the back of my Subaru with some good wood. And we had some amusing conversations along the way. At some point David, in the process of mocking an idea I'd had about making chainsaw sculptures, stumbled upon the idea of selling lawn jockeys having the likenesses of various right wing celebrities, including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. "We'd have to do a Clarence Thomas!" I insisted, but David didn't think that was a good person to include in the series.
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