Friday, June 24, 2011

Finding One's Tools

It all started with Dad's tool box: it was a treasure chest of toys for his sons!  Why use a rock for busting caps when a hammer is so much more cool?  "Who's been into my tool box again?"  Uh oh, forgot to put it back.  Guilty looks around the breakfast table on Saturday morning.  Poor Dad, I had my own place and a family and I was still going back, borrowing tools, and not returning them.

I never owned many of my own tools until I started doing odd jobs, and it wasn't until my Uncle Alvin cleaned out his basement workshop and gave me whatever didn't go in the yardsale, that I came into a few half decent power tools: a small drill/driver, a workshop jigsaw, what else?  It was so long ago when I held a 9 to 5 job that left me spare time to work in my basement workshop where I made some rudimentary furniture.  Some of these items are still in service today, in my daughter's home.

Later on we moved to a large apartment and I had a porch where I put up pegboards with hooks where I could spread out all my beautiful tools and admire them, together with various charts, plans for furniture and sheds, etc.  Alas, that was the last time I had much predictable spare time for over 30 years.  I started my own business and, except when I finagled time for learning the art of writing, and occasionally a hobby such as family ancestry, it was like working three jobs.

We moved to a new community halfway across the country and it was a small house.  I had to start up a business all over again.  It was enough work to try to keep the van organized, to keep all the tools and supplies in order so you could find what you needed for the particular job at hand.  Usually if you were busy at all (contractors don't say hello to each other, they ask "busy?") you're tired at the end of a job and you throw all the tools into as many milk crates and 5-gallon buckets as you need, thinking you'll sort them out later.  And the day comes when you have to -- or go broke getting ten copies of everything.

Still the day comes when you cannot for the life of you find a simple goddam flat head screwdriver.  I always used to have such a nice selection, each one poking into his own hole, minding his own business.  Or an exacto knife, or putty knife, or tape measure.  How simple can it get, Lord?  Now don't tell me.  I already looked at the place I remembered it last.

When I had a big business (big for me meant 6 or 7 up to 12 or so employees), we had one man take every Friday afternoon to put the van back in order.  Later, the van and the old station wagon we used to transport employees to the job site.  Every helper was supposed to be responsible for his or her own tool bucket.  Of course, pockets get emptied out at night and putty knives and exacto knives start getting lined up on dresser tops.  So, explain to me, why, when you are constantly buying and handing out these things, plus storing extras in various places so that you don't have to run all the way from Montauk Point to Commack just to get one stupid screwdriver -- well, of course I'm exaggerating -- but why can't you find what you need when you need it?

So the dread day finally comes when you must absolutely dump all those crates and 5-gallon buckets out onto the driveway and at least do some sorting.  What do you find?  Bundles of putty knives, bundles of dusting brushes.  What are they doing all huddled together like groups of sheep against the fence in the pasture corners?  Do they secretly migrate together in some fantastic, phantasmagoric psychic Tool-Land?  I never could figure it out.  Yesterday I couldn't buy a small flathead screwdriver: now I have five of 'em.

Many's the time I'll simply improvise, for lack of a tool.  I still can't find my angle-finder.  It's in one of these 5-gallon buckets somewhere in storage.  I spent a couple of hours searching for it, no luck.  I did find the two-foot level that I couldn't find last week.

Now that I've been semi-retired for a couple years, there are 5-gallon buckets waiting for me out there in the storage shed, waiting a long time.  Maybe I'll have time to go through them and treasure the jobs and the people each tool will remind me of.

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