Friday, July 07, 2006
Guys Like to Build Stuff
What are you building?
I'm thinking about what I'm building.
We are all working on something, even if it is nothing. Even in avoiding work, we are working to create a life of ease.
When I was young I was building adventures.
I hitchhiked thousands of miles. I gloried in throwing myself, arms wide, into the unknown.
I loved even the dangerous events, they gave me stories to tell.
There was the guy who refused to let me out of his car, until I pulled a knife and yanked on his emergency brake so I could jump out and dodge the five lanes of heavy traffic in downtown L.A. to safety.
There was the guy who related his tale of stealing thousands of dollars from undercover cops and fleeing north with the drugs and money while the officers staggered in a dark street, wiping pepper spray from their eyes. (True story. He showed me proof. I was lucky to have found a way out of that dangerous and weird situation!)
Even when I settled down and wasn’t relying on Ewell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus for my meals, I didn’t really settle down.
I spent at most a year at any particular job. I helped open a vegetarian restaurant and worked my way from dishwasher to head cook. I developed pictures at a one hour photo for a month. I tried telemarketing, and deliveries, and installing insulation (the worst!). I was a milkman for a year delivering wholesome dairy products early in the morning (I once snuck a surfer past a security gate to a culvert leading to the beach in front of Nixon’s Western White House).
Weird jobs, eh? I ran motor grader for my dad. I fondly remember “Maggie,” the 1940s blade. Worm-drive, cantankerous pony engine, bad brakes. She beat blisters into my palms with her refusals to let control gears mesh. I enjoyed watching her spinning metal rods deliver raw mechanical power to her achingly slow repertoire of mechanical tools.
I was the editor of a corporate magazine for almost a year, putting the best face on a group of corporate pirates. I was set adrift when their ship sank (after they sold the rights to that vessel back east). I started a graphic arts business.
So what was I building? Not much. I was having fun, paying the bills. That was good enough.
There were other adventures woven into those years of job hopping. Adventures of the spirit. I go into yoga. I was a practitioner of bhakta yoga in an ashram for a year and a half. A sort of eastern monk. I told myself and others that Jesus was my avatar, but the truth: I was wandering from the flock. I once spent two and a half months reading theological books in a cave. I went on long walks along the Sierras and in Yosemite.
I’m 50 now and I look at other men my age and I see how they have nicer homes, better paying jobs. I wonder what I could have built in the time I have spent jumping and sailing and wandering.
After 2,200 miles of driving during this vacation I am letting Brenda drive. Typical guy, I like being in control. But I have relented, Brenda's driving, and I'm enjoying this respite. We have decided to push on for home, not stopping for the night. It will save us the $70 or so on a hotel room (minus the necessary espressos we’ll need as the night gets late) and will get us into our own cozy beds (Isn't that how it is with a trip? You just want your own bed!).
So I am typing up a blog post as eastern Oregon and scattered thunderstorms drift by, and being a touch reflective.
It has been a great week with my family. We have gotten tired and cranky as we rolled through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. We have thrilled at majestic cloudscapes (Big Sky indeed!) and teetering rocks. A bouquet of wild Wyoming rests in a Gatorade bottle on the van’s console.
We’ve seen bison, wolves, coyotes, elk, moose, bears, prong horns, porcupines, and swans. We have seen jagged mountain peaks biting at the sky, and gentle rivers winding through huge meadows. We’ve watched geysers spray high into the sky and bubbling mud in “paint pots.” We’ve seen lightning storms rolling across high plains. We’ve seen rocks balancing impossibly against a brilliant blue sky. We’ve seen... each other. Really seen each other.
What a wonderful thing I have built with my life. I have built a family. Brenda and I have shaped the character of two young men.
Isaac is inquisitive, hypersensitive, painfully honest, and gives me strong spontaneous bear hugs.
Jeremiah is satisfied, happy, with small things, and his constant smile beams like a lighthouse as he works hard at being helpful and kind.
Wonderful boys. My boys. People I’d be pleased to know. Kids I am proud to call my own. Those are my kids!!
My father left us when I was young, and he built an empire of trucks and heavy equipment. My wife's father left them when she was young and built himself a quiet little retirement near Puerta Vallarta. Many men build things to surround themselves with comfort and ease, money and prestige. Nice houses. Nice jobs.
Not enough men dedicate themselves to building a living legacy in the hearts of their children.
It's a little sad some men have so little to show for their years of building.