The Hammer Is Mightier Than the Word

This is a short piece written for the Character Project blog.


Harvey Martinez O’Rourke swings the twenty-ounce hammer, missing for the fifth time. Each time his reading glasses slide down his sweating nose. He and Bubba, his best friend since grade school, are in his workshop where, at 6’ 10”, Harvey is kneeling in order to refasten a top to a nightstand he’s rebuilding. Bubba puts down his can of Bud Light while Harvey, the wood around the nail cratered, finally hits the finish nail. “Bubba I’m out of finish nails. Give me one of those sixteen penny nails.” He takes the large nail from Bubba and drives it in with one stroke. Bubba winces as the oak top splits across its entire length.

“Harvey you’re a writer. Why would you give it up to be a carpenter? You want to trade, show don’t tell, for, square and level?”

“I’ve wanted to be a carpenter for forty years. You know that.” He starts another nail and misses his thumb by a hair. ”Remember thirty years ago I started building my summer lake cottage in Vermont. I want to finish it and sell it before I die. I knocked together a birdhouse for cub scouts when I was six and since then I’ve never stopped building things in my spare time. Writing just pays the bills but I could stop tomorrow and never think twice about it. If I have to resolve the conflicts in a boy meets misunderstood girl trope one more time I could go insane. You ever try to complete the story arc involving a postmodernistic pastiche of characters? I never thought I’d be doing it for my whole life. You know what I mean?”

“I do. It’s the way I feel about sanitation engineering, believe me, but I thought you told me in the past that you hate to rebuild furniture.” He takes another swig of beer. “You don’t even like to use sandpaper.”

“Yeah, that’s true about the sanding. Once it’s build it’s built, sanding just makes me sneeze, but the rebuilding, that’s not my fault. It’s impossible to satisfy the public working part-time. I have no cred; the stain’s never the right color exactly, the seams are never perfect, and chairs are bad even if they wobble just a minute amount. No one wants to rock anymore. These people would criticize their mother on her deathbed, and what do they know, they’ve never built a piece of furniture they could sell. So, regardless, I keep reworking the piece until it’s right for them. If I was an established master carpenter I could build a reproduction 19th century French antique Louis XVI fake walnut armoire out of driftwood and barn board and they’d think it was a masterpiece. There are so many things I want to build. I want to build things that I would want to use.”

“I hear you.” Pausing to take another sip, “I’ve got to tell you something as a friend. Remember the kitchen cabinets you put in for my wife last year?”

Harvey glues the last of the nightstand legs in place. It’s a quarter inch short and glue is dripping on his wingtips. “Yeah, those were beautiful. That idea came to me one morning as I was taking a shower. Bamboo shoot shelves and matching split cane door handles. Nobody’s ever done that before.”

“You’re right about that, Harv.”

“You told me your wife was delighted, your words in my blog. Later she told me they were beyond anything she could have imagined.”

Harvey cuts the other three legs to match the length of the fourth. One is short by an eighth inch. “True, but I never had the heart to tell you two of the cabinet doors were nailed shut and one of the drawers opened up through the counter top. Man, it took me a month to square that away. My wife was pissed.”

“Sorry about that, you should have said something. I would have fixed it no charge.”

“I know you would have. It’s just that there were some ‘square and level’ issues and a couple of other things she didn’t like. Didn’t want to embarrass you, you know.”

“Yeah, I understand, and thanks. Y’know, fortunately, I’ve learned a lot since then. Just finished another little hutch for that family in the Quonset hut across town. It’s a perfect match to this nightstand. They loved it and have friends that want one like it. ‘Course those jobs are for free. Gives me a chance to practice my tradecraft until I can nail down a big paying job.”

“What about an internship at a cabinet shop?”

“Thought about that but I think what I might do is build on spec and sell through consignment shops. I see online every now and then a carpenter makes it big that way. At least I have things to give to folks at Christmas and on birthdays. My wife tell you she loves the armoire I built for her for our twenty-fifth anniversary?

“Yeah we did talk about that. That’s the one at the back of your walk-in closet, right?”

“Yeah, I love that piece. Spent a lot of time on that one. Regardless, just a matter of time, then I can quit writing for good.” Looks at the clock on the wall, “Wow, 8:00 already. Got to go upstairs. We always watch Idol. They’re doing the auditions. I love to watch those tone-deaf clowns who think they can sing. Grab another Bud.”

Getting up and adjusting his camo hat, “Nah, I better head out. I got a test tomorrow in my hydraulics class at the college.”

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~ by jmforceton on March 28, 2011.

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