Sloppy Joe Christmas.Benny Boy,
Glad to see that you’re again attempting fine art (some stint, brother). Also glad to see you’re opening windows at home, always good to welcome the year’s first welcoming breeze.
Yesterday you stood inside, inches from the open air, scrap wood within reach, a stubby pencil in your hand, letting instinct produce a familiar image, yours truly, Julius Keen. You gave me a v-neck tee (similar to the scrappy white ones you’ve been wearing). Much obliged for the secondhand hat as well. My appearance screams share-cropper (I suppose farming is par and parcel of our person. Or maybe it’s all the Flannery O’Connor stories you’ve been reading. Like I done tolja: that woman is a hellfire; she oughtta mine her own bidnis).
At any rate, I intend to abuse my open access to your sprawling, disjointed journal. This warm weather has compelled me to spill some of your ‘real writing’ (none of that poetry nonsense)…
“A fad swept through our neighborhood around the time I was hitting pre-pubescence. Outbuildings (sheds, barns, et cetera) began to crop up like locusts, each one larger than the next. My father got it in his head that we had to keep up, so he set out to construct one of his own.
Dad laughed as our suburban counterparts contracted experienced builders able to do the job in a day or two. Dad didn’t need any of that; he was a man of know-how and motivation; he was a man of work, a workingman. At any rate, he staked out an ambitious rectangle in our backyard and ordered all the appropriate supplies from his favorite do-it-yourself store, Menards.
Not long after, on a day sunny with potential, the materials arrived on a gigantic truck. The driver unloaded the timber and metal sheeting with his handy forklift, conveniently attached on the rear bumper of the eighteen-wheeler. The supply stack was enormous; Legos were on my mind.
The erection of the shed was meant to be a family affair. My father had pledged to pay my sisters and me $10 an hour for any time we invested in the project. Given the saucy incentive and my father’s insane work ethic, we all managed to do more than our share of the work.
Before the real erection could begin, we needed to dig postholes for the initial uprights. It was a laborious process; our land was riddled with rocks of all sizes. My mother, in her finest work apparel, joined the fight. She proved to be quite skilled with the posthole digger. Even yet, digging some dozen holes took from sunup to sundown.
By noon the sun made us weary. It was as if we simultaneously realized that there would be no visible progress that day. Worse, my mother had hurt herself. The posthole digger came down on her hand wrong, just once. Sadly once was enough to pinch her wedding ring tightly around her finger. My father clumsily used a needle-nosed pliers to remove the ring (which he subsequently replaced with a beautiful, albeit artificial, look-alike).
The ring was just the beginning. Our shed took the entire summer to construct. I never took on a job; I was earning more than enough in my backyard. All I had to do was wait until that final payout. Although the work was always rough and usually dangerous, I counted my labor hours all the while.
One Saturday my father rented a contraption dubbed ‘The Ditch Witch.’ The instrument looked like a chainsaw for slaughtering cows two at a time. Its purpose was to smoothly carve a thin line through the yard from the electrical box near our back porch to the developing shed, a distance of roughly 50 yards. Easy, right? Wrong.
My older sister and I each wrestled a handle on the machine. We bounced helplessly as we rode slowly through the grass. Rock after rock impeded our progress. If we were lucky, rocks would shoot out of the hole and allow us to continue. When we were unlucky, we had to kill the power on the heinous beast and dig the rock out by hand. Again, digging the trough took an entire day. Turns out, lying cable is easy; hiding cable in the earth is not easy.
The summer was filled with near-death experiences and family meltdowns. Our neighbors heard about all the blood and sweat going into the construction of the shed. And, worst of all, when it was finished, we had a contaminated our backyard with a frivolous monstrosity. There was no icing on the cake, a fan-less finish line. Looking back, I see that my mother’s wedding ring truly symbolizes the endeavor. The shed collapsed all semblance of family unity. Mother was sore of much more than the fake ring, and my sisters saw the project as misguided masculinity. Even I had lost what little respect I had left for my father.
See, you don’t need a Bible to find parables; they’re everywhere. I’m not saying to burn the good book or anything. Heaven’s no, read the thing, kids (or the Koran or Bagavad Gita or whatever suits you. Hell, read them all. Read books. It is amazing what you’ll find in books these days: everything from sex to drugs to rock n’ roll. All the good stuff you crave. The best part is that no one knows you’re indulging in something dirty when your nose is in a book. Secret pornography, I’ll tell you what, I love it)…”
That’s about enough. Get off your soapbox. Go outside.
Best until again,
The better half of Ben