the lord’s work

There is real beauty in watching a craftsman at work. Witnessing truthful things emerge from unassembled materials gathered from near and far. I spent most of last week on the mountain, working on a side project and watching Kenny do his thing. I watched him sketch out and then cut and assemble a pretty complicated bit of business with a long chunk of 6 by 6 lumber that would become a corner post on the deck. His attention to every detail is comprehensive. He masked every joint on the deck with waterproofing materials. He installed lateral slats and used both long wood screws and nails on the hangers. The materials he chose are meant to last and are constructed for both form and function.

Kenny is studied, deliberate, and confident in his actions. He was taking some extra time to explain to his young helper Cody what he was doing. How to visualize the end, before you begin. How to figure the angles and take partial cuts and shape pieces to fit tightly together. He’s very cheerful to be around and likes to talk about different things. He has opinions but is very respectful of other opinions. He is not easily put in a box. 

Kenny was raised in the mountains of West Virginia. He’s a mountain man in every sense. He feeds his family by hunting. Deer, elk, geese, ducks, turkey, bears. He built his own sawmill and is working on a kiln drying operation. His dad also built things and was a man of truth; his mom was an upholsterer. Kenny tells me his mom’s hands now are gnarled and knotted with arthritis from years of working and sewing and pulling fabric. 

Kenny does not miss his kids ballgames and makes time for his family. Interestingly, he does not let his boys play football because he’s seen the stats about head injuries. This is a contrary position to take in mountain country where playing football is sacred. 

He’s a good man. One of the best I’ve come across in a while. 

Cody is his 17-year old apprentice. He’s a workhorse. Cody is at Black Dog Ridge by 6:45 every morning. I would be on the deck having coffee and looking out at the mountains and river when I heard his car pull up. He would immediately start pulling tools out of the trailer; laying out extension cords; uncovering whatever wood and materials was to be consumed by the days activities.

I found out that after working all day in the hot sun at my place, Cody would then go to another job and work until midnight where he and another guy were putting in a septic system for someone. They pulled their cars up close to where they were digging and used the headlights to see what they were doing. That’s the energy of a 17-year old.

Cody is being home-schooled, which I also found interesting. I didn’t ask why, but I am curious. He’s very respectful—calling me sir and always please and thanks. If he saw me picking up a piece of timber for my little project, he would quickly come over to help. When I was lifting a wheelbarrow full of wood scraps to empty into the back of the truck, Cody came rushing over to take it from me. But I had to waive him down and tell him ‘I’m not dead yet man—let me have this’. 

He’s a fine young man. He’s also inquisitive, wanting to learn as much as he can about things. I asked him how do you know you are finished with school when being home-schooled, and then when do you stop learning? He said hopefully the formal schooling ends soon but he expected the learning to go on forever. 

Good answer I said. 

There is a little pole barn on my property that I aim to enclose. So I was busy digging out space to put in pressure treated 4 x 4’s for floor joists. We will then backfill some rocks and sand as additional support and then lay 3/4” plywood down for the floor. It was hard, hot, sweaty work, but I enjoyed it. It was good to be out of the office and using my body. To feel the sun on my back and have to wring sweat out of my shirt now and again. 

But I felt it at the end of the day. When Kenny and Cody left, I would strip down and rinse off under an outdoor shower and then reward myself with a cocktail and a cigar and watch the river and mountains while cooking dinner over the little outdoor Weber. 

I am a bit sore still from lifting planks, digging, sawing, getting up and down. But it’s a good sore. A well earned sore. I’m reminded that so many do not have the luxury of occasionally enjoying physical labor and that reminds me of my many blessings.

Physical labor all day in the hot sun is a bundle of joy when compared to the experience of having to deal with Lowe’s and Home Depot. I have no idea how these organizations are able to stay in business. I’ve given over dozens of hours of my life (and tens of thousands of dollars), while their drones stare stupidly into their computer terminals, banging on the keyboard, and occasionally mumbling some bit of salty language with a quizzical look on their face. The employees are as exasperated as I am, but they are trapped by the need for $18 an hour and me by the need for some item that only they can deliver. I visualize my home in the mountains and imagine calm thoughts and try to forgive them for their silliness.

When I was young, during the Cold War, we were told that people in Russia could not get the things that made life comfortable. That they stood in long lines to buy inferior quality goods, and their store shelves were empty. What the what? Are we now living in Russia?

Lowe’s computer systems are a tangled mess of nonsense. No one ever can find my order or tell me when things are due to arrive. They ask me for the order number. The PO number. The SKU. My phone number. My zip code. My astrological sign. None of this information seems connected to the data we need to bring up from the bowels of their ancient databases. 

I am required to pre-pay for expensive items that will only arrive weeks in the future, although they cannot say with any degree of accuracy. If the item is damaged or never arrives, their refund takes 10 days to be processed back in to my account. This is our brand of capitalism. And for which we are so proud and believe we are winning at the game of life.

I got a somewhat nasty call from the manager a week ago where she informed me that if I do not pick up the stackable washer and dryer I ordered they would cancel the order and send it back. I told her that no one from Lowe’s had bothered to let me know it had even arrived. No email. No phone call. But she seemed unimpressed by this detail. Anyway I organized to pick it up Friday. I stopped by Thursday to make sure it was ready to go early the next morning. After the 20-questions and the requisite 60 minutes standing and watching someone banging their keyboard and staring like a damned fool into their computer, I was assured all was in order and the items would be ready.

As you might imagine, when I showed bright and early the next morning, all was not in order. The item now could not be located. After more questions and keyboard abuse someone finally figured out that the item had been moved for no good reason at all to a completely different part of the store. That was the first 60 minutes. Remarkably, they then stole another 45 minutes of my life simply trying to finalize the transaction in their system. Even though my credit card had paid their bank more than 8 weeks before, the item was unable to be released to its rightful owner. In the end, they had to cancel the original order and ring up the equipment in a new transaction. 

The store was absolute chaos around the customer service desk. It seems every person standing around was suffering from the incompetence of this multi-billion dollar circus of clowns. People were angry and ornery and there was a definite sense they may overrun the helpless clerks and tear the computer systems apart and stream the guts out into the parking lot. There was a visceral feeling of evil and imminent vengenance in the air. I managed to get out before any bloodshed but was scared and exhausted as I finally was able to drive away with my appliance.

But what am I do do? I need things, and they are the purveyor of things in this part of the world.

Just as I was cleared to leave, the godless, sawed-off little manager mentioned that they had a 48-hour return policy. She explained that I needed to test the equipment and if there was a problem, I only had 48 hours to return it. I explained my situation, which is that it is not possible to test the equipment immediately because the house is not yet fully assembled—it is still a construction site and the electric is not yet wired to where the washer and dryer will live and the water lines are not yet functional. 

I then explained my return policy, which is that in approximately 60 days or so, I would plug in the equipment and put in a load of laundry and if it did not work as designed, I would drive down the mountain and throw it through the front door of Lowe’s. She backed slowly away and I headed off to Black Dog Ridge.

Soon I will be up on the mountain and can minimize my dealings with humans other than the few lovely people I want to interact with. I’m tired of suffering the fools which make up so much of humanity.

I do occasionally meet interesting people. I stopped over Sunday night at the ‘Hill and Holler’; one of my favorite little restaurants in Lewisburg. They have a couple of tables outside where I am able to enjoy a whiskey while smoking a cigar. Andrea, the owner, is a nice lady. She had a crawfish boil the day before and still had about 200 lbs of crawfish left over. We went down to the walk-in cooler in the basement and inspected them and it was not looking good for the little critters. They were sluggish and definitely not long for the world. Andrea and her sister Lori were calling all over town trying to give away crawfish but were not having much luck. The building is an old, historic log cabin but in amazingly good shape. 

We all chit-chatted a bit while the staff finished cleaning up and closing the business. Nice folks with some good stories. The sisters used to live in New Orleans which is how the crawfish boil became an annual tradition.

I’m starting to make friends here.

And on a more somber note. And I must say this because I know it. And I know it to be true from my own personal experiences.

In Namibia, Sue continues to distribute food and other aid items to the very poor. When she has donations to distribute.

This morning she dropped off a food package and blanket for a 36-year old woman with 4 kids who lives on the very far margins of survival.  Her name is Johanna. When Sue gave her a blanket, it doubled her inventory. Johanna and her 4 kids sleep on a single old mattress on a dirt floor in a shack with no water or electricity. It’s winter in Namibia and it gets cold at night; and the sand blows constantly during east winds. Johanna most often gets her food from the dump site. The very poor know the routes and compete to get first look at the trash others throw away to find the best food scraps for their family.

Johanna profusely thanked Sue for the food aid and blanket and implored her to help the many others suffering. Johanna smiled broadly for the picture Sue always takes to show supporters who is on the receiving end of their donation.

Because I am writing this at a bar at a fancy restaurant in Boston where I am working, and because the Celtics are in the playoffs and the 47 televisions are all showing pre-game foolishness, I feel I must juxtapose the ludicrousness of this sporting nonsense against Johanna’s reality. 

On the Celtics show, which apparently started 3 hours before the game, they dug up some old fossils who played for the Celtics in the 70’s & 80’s or thereabouts. These old bastards were dressed in bow ties and kept blinking their eyes against the light of modernity—mostly likely having never left their houses for decades. Anyway, one of the beautiful but painfully stupid media consultants asked about the pressure of playing in the finals. I forget the answer because it was pompous blustering nonsense. But what stuck with me was this question. Who is facing more pressure on this night? These multi-millionaires who will go home tonight in a limo or a Bentley regardless of whether they win or lose. Or Johanna, who needs to be up early to meet the dump trucks and try to get enough food for her family. 

Is it really a lot of pressure playing in NBA finals when you’ve clearly already won at the game of life?

When I left the restaurant, there was still more than an hour of pre-game activity. Drumming up dollars to pay all the thousands of people in that ecosystem to do what? Watch a children’s game being played by adult men and trying to pretend like this event somehow figures prominently in our existence.

I do not revel in this type of conversation. I am painfully aware that it is uncomfortable for all of us. It gives me no joy. But to be alive, and to have the knowledge we have, to know that we choose to lavish millions of dollars on men to play children’s games while people suffer—well it feels irresponsible to say nothing. It feels cowardly of me not to bring it up. Even knowing it makes my own friends uncomfortable. Even knowing I have scant knowledge of what others do to help others that I don’t know about (but I do know the statistics on this matter). Even knowing that the connection between pro sports and global poverty is tenuous at best. But I choose to be exasperated by a society that pays sports and entertainment figures millions while people starve and suffer.

There’s a bit of a back story to this little rant. But I don’t want to post it lest I offend someone. But basically it’s someone who I know to have a huge heart and great empathy for others, but who is letting ego get in his way of trying to help. And this I sort of understand because I understand the dysfunction of our society. But I find it sad and misplaced and inhibiting. 

But in the end, it all comes down to action. Always. I wrote of Mandela and MLK and Ghandi in my last post post because they were men of action. They used words to inspire and empower supporters for their movements, but they differentiated themselves by their selfless actions.

Action is the catalyst of change. Empathy is good. But empathy without action is self-serving because it makes us feel engaged, but does not actually do anything to alleviate the suffering of others. Action makes us feel alive and valued. We become part of the solution rather than watching from the sidelines. 

Anyway. Sue runs Silver Linings and they can be found here

If you would like me to connect you with Sue, I will gladly make the introduction. I’ve written of Sue in the past. She is amazing. Truly selfless and relentlessly committed to helping those most vulnerable in her corner of the world.

No other news of note.

Humbly submitted. 

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