Rendered Fat Content


William Merritt Chase: A City Park (c. 1887)

" … knowing that probably nobody will notice."

Most of my work seems short-lived. Mowing the lawn, for instance, buys me, at most, a week's reprieve from needing to mow the lawn again. Cleaning up the kitchen extinguishes in mere hours. According to my schedule, my writing, which I sometimes think of as eternal, must be added to each morning so its reprieve extends less than a day. If I finish writing a story by six am, another aches to be born by four the following morning. House maintenance work tends to run on much longer cycles. One repaints infrequently, often a few years after it becomes absolutely necessary. I think of it as a 20YearJob, one for which I will be much older by the time it needs refreshing. It might take me three or four years to entirely paint the Villa exterior, so it’s good that its frequency moves more like an ice age.

Yesterday, I finished refinishing three cast iron-framed park benches The Villa's prior owners left behind when they moved.
They were derelict when we inherited them, and I fondly remember fixing them so they looked new. I bought fresh nuts, bolts, woodscrews, and fine-grained oak slat boards to replace the rotting ones. I'd never refurbished cast iron park benches before, so I didn't know their periodicity, but I'd imagined that fix was very likely for eternity. How soon should fine-grained oak slat boards wear out? I imagined they'd last forever, but twenty years later, The Muse and I returned from exile to find those benches derelict again, slat boards reduced to the structural strength of styrofoam, and the cast iron frames rusting through their once-new previous paint job.

This was not a high-priority chore but one for which I'd require considerable space in my schedule. Two years and change later, my disgust at procrastinating finally found its critical mass, and I began disassembling the benches. The partially disassembled things over-wintered alongside the driveway, looking derelict and indictable, a testament to my dragging feet until the promise (or was that a threat?) of family coming to visit awakened the slumbering handyman within. I sicced my carpenter on sourcing the wood, and he found some New Zealand pine which, he assured me, would be acceptable and less gold-plated than oak. It seemed ironic to be working imported pine while standing in The Evergreen State. The pine was plenty pricy, but price loses its influence when engaging in a 20YearJob. I found the paint and counted hardware, then visited the Ranch Supply, shopping for the ages.

I could not find the wood treatment I'd hoped to find. The paint store owner explained that the shipment had been stalled in a freight yard in Reno, and delivery remained uncertain. Barriers always emerge when engaging in long-cycled work. The world seems more interested in transactional stuff, anything likely to spark frequent repeat purchases. Once in twenty years sparks little interest. Who knows if they'll still be in business twenty years hence? The paint store owner found a replacement that had already been tinted a different color than I'd convinced myself I wanted. However, I finally accepted that The Universe had another idea to contribute, and I agreed to the replacement. This was synchronicity's chief contribution. All long-cycled work relies upon such accident. The reassembly process involved several stages and hand fitting since the frames would only remain stable with boards bolted into them. I determined an assembly sequence and measured and then drilled each board. These, I lined up on my high saw horses for painting in a specific order so I wouldn't lose track of the reassembly sequence, which was 1-3-4-5-2-6-7–8 so that the front and back seat boards could be bolted in place first to stabilize the frame for bolting in the remaining boards.

The treating of the wood, front and back, required patience since the goop needed drying time between coats and multiple coats to achieve a patina for the ages. It makes no sense to rush a 20YearJob. These demand at least a leisurely pace, however pressed for time one feels. Drying times left me ample schedule time to revisit the Ranch Supply when I discovered I'd not purchased enough hardware. I bought more paint then since I'd used the original can and needed to paint the new hardware to match the other. I gave the frames another coat while I was waiting for the slats to dry. And so my day extended into the evening with me painstakingly fitting and bolding each slat board into place. I created a process I would not repeat for at least twenty more years if I would still be here to repeat it then. I acquired knowledge for which no further use might be found, yet it was not entirely useless effort. I prefer to think of that learning as timeless, like any long-cycled knowledge acquired. Not to use, perhaps, but to relish. Here's to The Ages into which we cast our very best efforts, knowing that probably nobody will notice.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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