15 March, 2012

Wayward Sacredness: The Arkansas Men's Social Club, 2.2

[Continued from 2.1]

It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

A word or two on the remaining principal characters:

Donner is a contractor who is used to working hard and independently. And like most men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, grew up something of a natural problem solver. Dion is generally thought well of by the other members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club. And he is actually fairly well thought of by Donner; but also like men who are either from a rural region or who end up there by predilection, Donner would hardly every say so... unless he was drunk or unless it was some holiday like Christmas, New Years Eve, or Lincoln's Birthday. Tweed (who has not arrived on the scene yet) -- is a retired man whose actual former occupation is unknown by me; but he continues to piddle and work -- as men who are raised to work are wont to do in order to avoid death and boredom. Al -- or Alfonse, which he prefers not to be called -- is an artist, an avid reader of arcane literature,a drinker, and something of a storyteller. Though he is not from these parts, he ended up here as the result of a dozen or so questionable decisions, one of them being a short sighted desire for sobriety. Though he is what he would call an Old Fart, he has an artist's interest life and a much younger man's zeal for women.

Sven was doing a reasonably good job of not showing his concern. One of the things that makes him a good proprietor is his attention to detail, and his need to control as much of the world around him as humanly possible. But he's also lived enough to know that there's really very little anyone can control except those things a man creates for himself... and that even that, sometimes, is difficult. The other advantage Sven has is that he grew up in the restaurant business and so has learned to curb his need to control and maintain against the understanding that one way or the other, sometimes a square peg really does fit in a round hole.

Every once in a while, if you learn to loaf and invite your soul, as the American Bard* once wrote, you will see history in action. Thus, if you want to understand the true genius behind the Constitutional Convention, The Treaty at Versailles, The League of Nations, and every family cook out since the invention of the gas grill, you need to watch  a group of men try and decide on how to do something that could be easier than any of the parties involved are making it.

Harry, who's truck would see the most immediate damage, wasn't concerned.

"Are you sure the tailgate can handle the weight?" Slim asked. "I don't think it will."

Harry shrugged. "Eh. All I know is if we can't get this thing out of my truck, I got a new refrigerator."

Everyone laughed -- Sven with a tad more discomfort (Not because he thought Harry would actually drive off the new appliance, but because the thought itself secretly terrified him.) -- and the group of them proceeded toss out ideas and considerations and provisos.

The  group agreed to the proposition that Harry back his truck up to the Kraft Building door, though the precise distance was briefly and bitterly debated. One line of thought -- suggested by who I don't remember -- was that Harry could simply back up as close as he could get that would allow head room for the box to be tipped backwards, and that we could all, with the number of back involved, carefully lift the appliance out and down out of the truck bed and onto ground. This was rejected almost immediately because no one wanted to be the person responsible for dropping the thing after so much had gone into getting it out of the semi. (No one mentioned, rightly since it was immediately understood, the likelihood that one more backs would be injured, with potentially permanent implications.)

At this point, Tweed showed up, bringing with him his own brand of wisdom, drive and an easy going temperament.


The group then tried to explain -- all at once -- why that would be a bad idea.


Sven and several others then answered that it wasn't generally a good idea to put a commercial grade refrigerator on its side. To be perfectly honest, I had the same thought, since it looked like maybe trying to tip the behemoth appliance combined with the height of the truck made it too tall to simply tip into the coffee shop -- ramps or no ramps.

When I'm faced with these situations -- that is, where I have the option to either assert myself as an Expert In All Things**, or to sit back and wait it out -- I often play it safe and wait for the dust to settle. This isn't due so much to a lack of confidence in my ideas as it is a realization I arrived at long ago:

I'm essentially a one trick pony.

Emerson warned us about what would happen in a society where the division of labor is reduced to giving one person training in one specific area in The American Scholar (1837). According to Emerson, only a society of well-rounded citizens can truly be free and democratic. Additionally, Henry David Thoreau pointed out in Walden (1854)  that the division of labor removed people from a sense of connectedness with the world and results in the concentration of wealth in the very few.

I'm a writer. Part of being a writer means that I've held plenty of other jobs at various times. I won't run down the entire list now. But I haven't exactly spent all of the last 20 years cloistered away in libraries and academic halls.  But that's part of it... and part of trying to be a better all around person. And while I may not be useful or handy -- I don't build, plumb, or repair with any aptitude (Though I can follow directions. That's what you learn in college, kids!) Being a writer also means that, in addition to loafing and inviting my soul, I also observe, and sometimes eavesdrop on conversations. (My daughter refers to this as being a "creeper." To me it's just plain ol' People Watching, which I learned from my Dad... who, while he wasn't a writer, was a grand talker and student of the human condition.***)

So I remained silent, prepared to offer my help in whatever form might have been needed.^  And I waited. And I watched.

Tweed offered to run and get roller casters that could be used to roll the box once it was ground level. He made this offer three or four times, and finally took the silence of the others as an affirmation. Before he left, though, he did make one more suggestion.


Sven reacted to that suggestion with silent panic and well-contained terror, hidden more or less efficiently by a rapid shaking of his head. Slim and Harry also shook their heads, and Donner pointed out that while cutting it out of the box might allow for more space, it would also increase the risk of hurting the stainless steel.

"WE COULD JUST BE CAREFUL," Tweed pointed out. His attempt to explain and qualify his idea was ignored.

By this time, Dion had left to go get the ramps that Donner insisted wouldn't work. And in the meantime, the members of the Arkansas Men's Social Club considered the possibility of using a different door.

The other door is just as heavy; but it's at the top of 5 or 6 concrete steps and was actually closer to the kitchen.

"I can just pull up on the sidewalk," Harry said.

"Won't that hurt your truck?" Slim asked.

"Why?" Harry answered. "It's a truck."

"Yes," Sven said. "But it's a truck with an additional 500 pounds in the back."

"He's also worried that the fridge might tip over," Donner added.

Sven agreed.

The new door idea was quickly discarded and the men went about trying to figure out how to get the appliance down without hurting the appliance, the tail gate, or the hardwood floor.

Dion soon arrived with the ramps. When Donner saw them he said, "Oh, you meant those. Those might work."

About that time Tweed returned with the coasters, which, upon seeing them, the other men agreed might be useful as well. It was then decided that the men could use the lifting straps to edge the appliance off the truck bed, over the tailgate, and onto the ramps, which were designed to hold the weight of a car.

Also around this time, Al showed up for his mid-day constitutional. He arrived about the same time each afternoon, carrying some book or another -- almost always a different book from the previous day, and almost always with a title like The Secret, Sacred Wisdom of Conifers Planted By the Knight's Templar. Al is a painter. A long time ago graduate of the Chicago Institute of Art, he is, he admits, not one of those  painters whose work is "the next thing" in the development of  art. But he's also a natural talker, a copious and respectable drinker, and a reader of esoteric and unknown books -- all three of which make him fine company for me, most of the time. Like me, he stood back and watched. He made some small talk, and had an amused smile on his face. (Like most artists and semi-barbarous old coots, Al understands the absurd when he sees it. Also, his status as an older gentleman and mind as a useless scribbler necessarily excluded us from being drafted for hard labor.)

Donner and Dion eyeballed the ramp and the appliance to make sure it would sit on the ramps correctly; Harry, Slim, Sven, and Fred -- who up to this point played a purely supervisory role -- each grabbed an end of a lifting strap... two of which had been snaked through the pallet from one side to the other. Fred picked up his end, shouldering the strap with an resigned expression befitting Sisyphus.

After a brief count, a silent prayer, and a hope for backs stronger than their combined years, the men carefully lifted the appliance and moved it in line with the ramps. This meant putting the weight of the appliance on the tailgate... but like the marvel of modern Mexican manufacture, it held.

From there, Sven, Harry, Slim, Donner, and Dion managed to slide the appliance down the ramps and through the door -- there was still plenty of headroom left between the top of the box and the bottom of the upper door frame -- and in. At that point, they again lifted it just enough to get Tweed's coasters underneath... which made it easier to roll across the hardwood floor.

Getting the appliance into the refrigerator was a simpler process but had much more fanfare. Initially there was some concern that it wouldn't fit through the door -- either horizontally or vertically. So after some eyeballing and some tape measuring, it was decided that:

  1. it had to come out of the box, and
  2. it had to come off the pallet.

Upon hearing that, Tweed snapped out his box cutter and went to work with the same glee that a child has when attacking wrapped presents under a Christmas tree. Sven looked mildly concerned that Tweed would scratch the stainless steel; but the cardboard and Styrofoam fell quickly. Fred picked up the cardboard, joking that he would use it to make a new fortress of solitude. No one, as I recall, tried to claim the packing material.

Donner and Slim then got down on their hands and knees to see how difficult it would be to lift the appliance off the pallet. The commercial refrigerator had wheels of its own, and they weren't bolted or tied into the pallet at all -- which was good news.

The only real bad news was Slim's plumber ass... which all of us agreed was a crime against nature.

Eventually, though, they manged to get the appliance off the pallet -- while managing NOT to swish anyone's fingers -- and into the kitchen.

Dion, who stood back to watch at this point -- which was really the only reasonable thing to do -- said to me "Seems like they made this harder than it needed to be."

I agreed. "Yep. But it's that way with most things."

Al was standing with us as well. I told him I had been working on a whole different blog, but that I now felt compelled to throw it out and write a different one.

He only gave me one piece of advice. "When you do," he said, "say it happened in Arkansas. After all no one would believe this could happen HERE."

*Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892). The poem referred to above can be found here...and in a thing once called a book entitled Leaves of Grass.
** To proclaim oneself an Expert In All Things is the natural-born right of every man... just as it is the natural inclination of everyone else to demand proof on an uncomfortably regular basis, and the natural right of women to assume we're full of shit.
*** The latter is virtually a prerequisite for being a writer. The former, while not a necessary for being a writer, helps in getting free drinks.
^It wasn't.

[Thanks for reading. My road plans are laid out for the next month or so. I'm headed back out of Mount Carroll on 3/24 and going to Cincinnati to stow my home goods away. 

  • Then, a brief road trip with my Mom back out to Virginia to visit the Kid.  
  • Then, I'll be doing another run through Kentucky, via Greyhound, stopping over on Willow Drive for a promised return,
  • and through Louisville to visit with another college chum and to catch some pre-Derby races at Churchill Downs.

From Louisville (pronounced Lu'vlle) my tentative plans are to visit Hannibal, Missouri, childhood home to one of my literary heroes, Mark Twain. After that, points west.

And if you REALLY like what you're reading, remember:

  • You can share the link. (Go ahead. I don't mind.)
  • You can click the donate button and contribute to the travel fund, use mickp@gmx.com to contribute via paypal, or click use the tip function on Open Salon.  (Please? What if I promise to visit? What if I promise NOT to visit??)

And if you HAVE contributed... Thank you.  If I was there, I'd kiss you. Ok, maybe not a kiss. Maybe a hug. Or, if you prefer, a strong handshake. 

Seriously... thanks.]