Thursday, April 07, 2005


In Which I Owe My Existence to the King of the Dumb-Asses...

A tale of two IDs
First: Not even sure this will post because I'm doing this from Flickr (and Blogger don't seem to luv me no mo'). Which means I need to post a pic with it. I WAS going to post the bikini image, but this one spoke to me. My son has discovered Photoshop and decided to make me a new ID, since he didn't quite believe the goofy-ass picture is me. So he pasted in a NEWER goofy-ass picture which, ironically enough, was taken almost exactly 10 years later and is vivid proof that once upon a time, I was just another guy with a cheesy beard and a weakness for hair product who couldn't get a date.

No, I'm really not sure WHAT I'm looking at in the new photo, but it's about as good as I've ever looked (I realize that's not saying much).

And I needed to post a new image because I really didn't feel like seeing that guy hanging onto the rock anymore. All the things that have been weighing on me the past few days are slowly ironing themselves out, which is how it always goes. One day, you think you're dangling by your fingernails, inches from the abyss, and then the next morning you realize all you needed was to turn the situation on its side, and suddenly you're just a guy flailing on rocks. Which isn't great, but it's better than falling.

Speaking of falling, let's get to what I really wanted to tell you today.

Nobody takes a fall like my dad. He once plummeted 20 feet off a scaffold that was positioned over an old silo. There was a hatch in the top of the silo. A hundred guys falling that same 20 feet would have bounced off the curved edge of that silo roof, or missed it completely and gone the additional 50 feet to the hard ground below. My dad, through no skill of his own, turned around in mid-air and feel feet-first through the hatch, landing on his ass in a pile of scrap lumber, almost completely unharmed (he cut his ear on the lip of the hatch when he fell through).

When I was 6, he was building a family room on the back of the house and fell off the roof. He stuck out his hand to break his fall and miraculously succeeded. Well, I'm using the term "miraculously" loosely, since what happened was he ran his hand along the plywood wall, forcing a 7-inch splinter up into the web of his thumb, into the meat of his hand, all the way to his wrist. But this jagged edge of plywood slowed him enough that he was able to grab something else and keep from landing in the open pit of the basement. I witnessed this event, by the way. And while I was grateful my dad didn't land in the basement, I remember being impressed by the stream of pain-driven invective that left his mouth (my teachers were too when, the next day, I accidentally pinched my hand in a desk and howled "cocksuckingshitbaggingmotherfucker!") By the way, Dad had to undergo surgery to have the splinter removed and still keeps it, in three pieces, in an old cuff-link box in his dresser.

Falls are a big part of his personal mythology, but I had no idea how large a role they played in my own until, while we were working on The Brownie's secret room (with increasingly tiny walk-in attic) he watched me put an errant foot between the rafters the other day and almost crash through my own family room ceiling. It also, naturally, reminded him of a day more nearly four decades ago, when he was a young welder and pipe-fitter on a construction crew.

Working with my dad is like that. We'll bang away at assorted nails silently, not speaking for minutes or even hours at a stretch. Bam. Bam. Bam. And then out of nowhere he'll say, "Your grandfather once kicked me in the ass--I felt the tip of his boot right up there in my fundament--for banging two hammers together" and then there will be a little story. Or he'll say "Membawen you crawled down that goddamn chimney out at the old house? Jesus H. Jesus did you squawk!" and we'll relive his record-breaking sprint up the ladder to save me.

But today, it's 1967. Dad had been assigned to help install an air-conditioning system in the attic above a popular restaurant in Concord, New Hampshire. It was Augus and hot. Not the textbook time of year to be installing central air, so the attic space was plenty stuffy and made for hard work for the three-man crew.

My dad was hauling large pieces of ductwork through this small, dark space. The pieces weren't heavy, just awkward. The attic space was very similar to the space we were working in--no floor, just rafters. My dad was pretty deer-footed (except when he was falling off scaffolds and roofs, I mean) and he knew where the joists were. What he didn't know was that one of the guys on the crew had decided to go to lunch. And had taken off his tool belt and left it on the rafter where my dad was blindly placing his foot.

He put his foot on the belt, slipped backwards. He shuffled his feet and would have regained his balance, but the weight of the piece of duct work he was holding shifted him too far back. He didn't want it to go crashing through the ceiling, so he twisted, and shoved the ductwork to his side. It got wedged between two rafters. My dad flailed one free arm out, grabbed a piece of wood sticking out from the eaves above. It promptly snapped, his weight shifted forward and both feet went off the rafters.

It was lunchtime at the popular restaurant. The counter was packed with state employees who worked up at the capitol or over at the DMV, while the booths that lined the window were full of couples and families. A young mom and her three boys were having a meal with Grandpa, a curmudgeonly old gent who was just tucking into his soup...

...when there came an almighty crash from overhead and two booted feet burst from the ceiling above them. Squares of drop-ceiling flew like frisbees. One landed in the old man's soup, spattering his face and shirt-front with cream of tomato. Overhead, they heard a terrible "Oouuughhh!" a grunting whoofing noise so loud and so terrible and so directly overhead that the young mom screamed. Then everyone in the restaurant screamed as, with a loud crash, half of the drop ceiling and several pounds of plaster came crashing down, covering every single patron sitting in a booth, and making quite a display for those customers who had been fortunate enough to sit at the counter.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Musta broke something important on my way down, a piece of rafter, maybe. Anyways, that whole christly ceiling come down all the length of the restaurant. It's a wonder I didn't goddamn kill someone. I just about killed myself."

"Hurt your legs, huh?"

"Don't I wish. Nossir. When I come down, I was straddling a rafter, you see."

"Oh. OH! Oh, man."

"That smarted some, now I'll tell you. And I couldn't get no purchase, so every time I moved one leg or t'other, it was like someone had taken a rolling pin to my balls. I got that awful brown taste up in the back of my throat that day, by Gorry."

"So what happened next?"

"Well, that fella who went to lunch comes back and pulls me out of there. He was King of the Dumb-Asses, and that's no exaggeration. All he wanted to know was where his goddamn tool belt was. I told him he better find it before I did, cos if I found I was gonna stick it up his ass."

"Did the restaurant owner freak out?"

"Not so much. Not once my boss paid out $300 in lost lunches. I thought he'd fire me for that, but it was an accident. So he let it go."

And with that, my dad went back to nailing. This is how he tells stories when he works. There's no great denouement, no great moral. Unless, maybe it's: if you have to fall through a roof, watch out for the rafters.

I thought that was it, but a few moments later, he says, "Cawse the rafter weren't the only thing I thought was broke. My balls were all swolled up something fierce that night. It was like the goddam mumps all over again. I didn't want to go to the doctor, but after a few days it got so I could hardly walk, so I went. Stupid goddam doctor said I'd ruptured something or got a kink in the pipes and wouldn't be able to have any kids after that." My dad's grasp of medical terms and conditions is pretty limited so I'm not really sure what happened. Nor did I really want to know, but hearing this story had taken on a certain morbid fascination. Like slowing down on the highway to view an accident, I think that despite themselves, most men can't turn away from a good genital-injury story. Neither could I.

But apparently my dad could. He went back to hammering. Bam. Bam. Bam.

"Wait, you can't just leave it at that!" I said.

"Nothin else to tell," Dad says. "Fucking quack, he was. Soon as the swelling went down, we proved him wrong."

And then I did the math.

I'm no more interested in the sex lives of my parents than I am in the sex lives of, say, dung beetles. Really, it is the very definition of Too Much Information. And yet, I couldn't stop myself.

"Wait a second," I said. "August of '67 was more or less nine months before--"

My dad stopped hammering and gave me a smug little look.

"So," I said, not really wanting to go here, but here I was, "essentially you're saying I was conceived because the King of the Dumb-Asses caused you to fall through a roof and smash your balls."

My dad just shrugged. "Someone told me the plumbing was broken. I needed to run a systems check. That's what pipe-fitters do."

I'll say!

Then we both went back to hammering. Bam. Bam. Bam.

Working with my dad is like that.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Your 6 year old knows more about photoshop than I do! Sheesh - smart kid. Change the title from Detectives Inc to CSI and you've got a young Gil Grissom resemblance there.

This story is CLASSIC! "Systems check"! LMAO! So glad I was alone in the office cause I was laughing so loud. Your Dad is very cool MM. Now, I just have to clean up the coffee that I sprayed all over my keyboard.
Listening to Bob Dylan while reading stories about fathers is a good combination.
Hmm. I could have sworn that I commented on this post already! Weird. Anyway, great story. As disturbing as it may have been for you to hear it at the time, it certainly makes for excellent blog material. "That's what pipe-fitters do." Classic.

Re: your comment. I'll gladly trade an Aero bar for a job -- but are you okay with the mint or caramel kind? I'm not sure if I can part with the regular milk chocolate one.

Re: your new ID. Looks like your son is developing a useful talent! I like the new goofy-ass picture.
MM -- the product of the immaculate-ish conception, part two.
Too much information!!! Oh yeah - I mean about the huge splinter. Ick!
I just love your dad. Great stories! Hmmmmmm ... what pipe fitters do that is too much. OMG!
Thomas did that?? Holy cow, if you haven't already, you should get him a Graphire Tablet right away!

This story was great, like your others. X3 I wish I could meet your family some day, you all sound like fun.


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