One of the blessings of unemployment is all the extra time it frees up. One of the challenges is figuring out how to best fill that extra time. And for me there’s been an added bonus: self-discovery- that opportunity to find out a few things about myself.
I’ll be working outside. It doesn’t matter what the task is: say I’m beautifying the front yard. To accomplish this means I need to lay down a row of bricks next to the sidewalk. It will keep the weeds from spreading over and eventually covering the walkway. And I’d hate to see that happen. How else will visitors get to see the latest paint job left by the crows? Or the festive look all those cracks add to the concrete?
Based on an online article I’ve found, laying down bricks is as easy as digging a shallow trench, tacking some plastic edging into place, covering the ground with weed block fabric, pouring in a little sand and then tamping the bricks into place. Five simple steps. And I already have the tools I need. A pick, shovel, wheelbarrow, water supply, weed block and gloves.
So outside I go, wheelbarrow loaded with the necessary tools. Grabbing a used brick as a model, I measure how wide to dig. Then I start in with the pick, digging, then stopping to make sure the trench is both wide and deep enough. Sure I hit a few roots- no, a lot of roots- so I go out back and find a bucket to put them in. I keep digging until I hear a chunking sound. It’s an irrigation pipe- no, two pipes, which causes a swear word to slip out. Steady there, old man. Not a problem. I’ll just need to dig under the pipes a bit so they can be pushed out of the way of the brick. Deciding to dig out the rest of the trench length so I can see how much under digging I’ll need to do, I excavate a couple feet before hearing a chunk- no, more like a cracking sound. Dropping to my knees- which hurts a lot- I go out back for some padded Styrofoam. Kneeling on the blessed material, I look closely. It’s a busted pipe and I let slip several expletives as the BP starts rising. “Dammit to hell” I say. “Why can’t you be more careful, you stupid (fill in the blankety-blanks yourself)”. Having made some less-than-flattering references to my ancestry, I sit down and take a few slow deep breaths, something I can now do since I’m done cursing. Though I’m wondering what kind of maniac the neighbors are seeing out their windows, I convince myself that it’s not that bad. I had to do pipe repairs before (during last year’s attempt to dig in the front yard).
I wash up and head for the local hardware store, where I realize (as the BP starts rising again) that I’ll need a sample of the frigging PIPE in order find the right-sized fittings. Grumbling, I select a hacksaw, load up some bricks and a bag of sand across the street, and head home. In order to cut the pipe, I’ll need more room, so I go find an old garden trowel. As I begin digging, I remember why I stopped using this implement weeks ago. The rubberized handle coating sloughs off on my palm and fingers like green tar, which then gets gummed up with dirt. Suddenly the tool loses the will to live as the trowel portion bends in half and falls off. That’s good for a couple colorful words as I fling it to the ground. I get a claw hammer from the garage and resume digging. When that doesn’t work I grab a hatchet.
After Carol returns from the store with a new manly trowel, I continue on. Off to the store and back again with pipe fittings and cement, I take care of business. Then I finish digging the trench, cut and lay the fabric, pour in some sand and hose it down. Laying the bricks with spaces between them, I’m impressed with how nice it’s starting to look. About the time I spread a layer of sand on top of the bricks and sweep it clean with a broom, I see the plastic edging lying there. Bleep! I proclaim as I toss aside the broom and try to place the edging down behind the bricks. But alas, the damnable trench is too shallow. I push and I slide and I fume and I curse, but not even that helps get the plastic in place. Saying the hell with it, I toss the edging aside. Maybe the weeds will be frightened off by all that sand. But looking at the deep-rooted, husky crabgrass crop growing nearby, I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be fighting another battle. For now, though, the brick-lined driveway looks nice.
A week later I decide to finish off the rest of the sidewalk work. Several trips to the store for bricks and sand later, I have amassed the supplies I’ll need. I dig out five feet, then decide I need to go a little deeper, using a hatchet part of the time. Then I hear a familiar cracking sound. “Blanking BLANK of a BLANK!” I proclaim as I realize I’ve poked another hole in another pipe. Furious, I grab the pick and dig like a madman, flaying away at an undug section. I’ll show that damned ditch! In the process, I am now looking down at two gashed and broken pipes, and in two different places. More swearing and drama. Carol tries to console me. “Well, at least you know how to repair pipe” and then she walks away, unwilling to be in the vicinity as I again lose it.
Cutting off a sample section I trudge off to the store and buy more fittings, as well as more weed block fabric. Seems we gave a bunch away to someone a month earlier, and now we’re out. Back home, I begin cutting and gluing. Then I dig under the pipe sections, generating a lot more dirt than I’d planned. I’ve had to make about eight trips to the back yard with full loads. Eventually, all is again quiet of the home front as I lay fabric and wetted sand and brick. This time, though, I’ve left space for the plastic edging. Thirty feet of brick later I grab the edging and start fitting it in place. All is well until the last three feet. The more I try to get it down far enough, the more it fights me and the angrier I get. Then, in a moment of lost control I shout out something foul in front of Carol and throw the edging across the yard as she scurries away before the next blast. In the process I’ve messed up the nice brick-setting job I completed over a ten-foot distance, and have to redo it. But calm prevails. I’d rather fight weeds later on than have a heart attack now. As I drag the plastic edging to the back yard I feel shame about having lost my temper so many times in a 24-hour period. I promise myself I’ll do better next time, just like I did at church the day before while taking the Sacramental bread and water. I’m better than this, I told myself during a self-reflective moment of the service.
A couple days pass and I like the look of my brick work so much that I decide to do a short five-foot section along the other side of the driveway. This time I’m more careful with the pick, digging a little here and there, probing and poking as I go. And lo and behold, I find another pipe, but it’s all by itself. Noticing that I have just enough leftover bricks and sand to do the job, I start in with a trowel. More digging and feeling, like surgery, as I take the utmost care. Now I can see that I’ll need to dig around and under the pipe so it will be low enough. As I raise and drop the pick, I suddenly notice water squirting out of the lone pipe, and with a “BLANKING BLANK of a BLANK!” I toss the pick and try not to start weeping. I’ve done it again. But as the draining water starts filling the trench, I calm down. I’ve been through this before. It helps that by this time of day I’m lacking the energy for any further outbursts- so I wash my hands and head to the hardware for one more set of pipe fittings.
As I return home I’m saying a silent prayer to God: Help me overcome the habit of choosing the worst reaction possible, when faced with better solutions- or maybe hire someone else to work on the lawn next time…