by Sarah Ze LaBarge
He eyed the wood from the hardware store, running the intended blueprint through his head, optimizing some steps for the mounted art board I had designed for quick production. “So you want to make medium-quality art boards to make some cash, huh. OK let’s get crackin’.” He pulls a long piece of wood into his manual saw-rig, his lip corners downturned with preoccupation. “I love to help my friends,” he says firmly to coerce himself. “Hard work is good for the soul anyway.” He noted my hands shaking a touch when I handed him the wood as I was reiterating, “It’s mitred on the joints there, facing inward, of course, you know, 45 degrees. The frame is rectangular, about 3 by 4 feet. Uh, then I will glue those and clamp all those later, but I’ll do all that at my house.” He glanced around his father’s musty basement, a place so full of teenage memories that I was adding another mere hour to, the overall worth to him still up for discussion. His eyebrow raised as he tested the cheap hardboard I was going to use. He said, “We don’t have an electric mitre saw here anymore, in this dead ol’ studio– a studio of truly former glory.”
Then his large arm bowed out and back, with a sawhorse block of some kind. “We do these things with sweat, now, with might.” Yet his brow furrowed. I couldn’t stop staring at him through my thinking eyes. It was the fervor with which he grabbed the wood, pressed it down, and sawed away at it without looking into my eyes all this while; I was shrinking with each millimeter of wood removed– I knew the yearning he had for every saw-stroke to mean that he had achieved his own ideal family, his own career, his own creation time, his own dopamine-ridden success story, his own abundantly-resourced comrades, the last of which he was working on now. And perhaps he had more Zen than that, but I doubted it was there except in the minor attention it took him to reconsider his technique holding down the unstable rig of the boards. Although cowed, my inner engineer was allowed an analysis by me, and I got up and put my foot and bodyweight on the rest of the board for him. “Ah, perfect,” he said.
This had been another dumb night I was letting oxytocin swirl in my brain, oceanically, my pupils unconsciously widening but with such lofty reasons, and he said, “well you’re not getting through this experience without some sweat and learning, too.” He handed me the saw. I sat down with it and had a very hard time looking at it. Its balanced weight sat in my hands awkwardly because my brain refused to put down the other weights being carried inside of me. I heard him thinking (one of his eyebrows drifting up) how such a brilliant person could spontaneously be such a dimwit over such a simple thing. About whether I was daydreaming, or had low blood pressure again. After glancing up at his long-ago-made sassful knickknack assemblages on the shelves, so much of him and his witty sarcastic art, drumsticks, old CDs– my hands were able to make the saw and boards come to life again.
I assessed them with a few quick mental images, and I made them do what they do relatively fine. Then faster, even, because I wanted this all to be over, too. I wanted to be to the part where we were so very full and finished with all of those good notions, where my creations and good day’s work were all well done, well paid, and I could summon up any remaining poetry or bodywork or equally admirable hypnosis to make him my mate. Or we could at least croon to each other in unison, or chortle, or power chord. I had batches of forgiveness for the alternate reality we were skating on. As we were packing up, I choked out a dear “Thanks, no really, thanks a lot for helping me get this done, I know you really have amazing things to be making instead.” And he beamed –(which photochemically assembled itself into a pattern, to be forever conditioned, shining among my neurons where it would bounce up in my sleep) –for a dimpled moment, and he lifted his chin. “I’m glad to help you, you’re a good friend. … I like to work. Hard work is good for the soul.”