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Handyman Dave

"I become a disciplined robot for the duration."

I doubt that any military campaign ever received more detailed planning. Logistics have been swirling around unresolved in my brain for days. This morning, the wet weather finally broke, the humidity dropped twenty percentage points, and the forecast predicts no chance of rain for the next two days. I can put on the two top coats of paint on the deck railing today and even slop over into tomorrow if I must. I linger in bed, running through more obscure details, the order of application seems to trouble me most. What sequence will minimize wait time between coats? Should I mount the ladder or squat on the deck first? I suppose I should apply that annealing primer to the top rail first. It's likely to take longest to dry.

I wear a uniform every bit as steeped in tradition as any general's.
Most prominent, my shoes, a discontinued Earth® style no longer available for love, money, or anything, soles patched with ShoeGoo® and tops liberally splattered with remnants of prior campaigns. My pants, likewise bearing traces of several prior skirmishes, scrapings from my five-in-one tool, finger smears, and brush-cleaning strokes. The blouse most resembles a Jackson Pollack canvas, sporting far too many pockets and a liberal, loose-fitting cut. The smear of polyurethane on the collar scratches the nape of my neck as I button it in place. My five-in-one slips into the right back pocket, the one partially shredded from much prior hasty scabbarding, ready to be quick-drawn should an errant speck appear on any fresh surface. A clean rag slips into my left back pocket. Surgical gloves fit onto my hands with great difficulty, but will prevent paint from seeping into my cuticles. My homemade havelock, the one The Muse created from the remnants of a former one, finishes the ensemble.

My identity changes once I'm garbed up. I become Handyman Dave, a man on a mission, however modest. My mindset shifts away from planning to fully immerse into execution. My perception crispens as I slip from distant observer to front-line worker. I become sort of steely inside, completely dedicated to completing my assignment, constantly critically judging my every move. I hear echoes of my mother's self-talk like a derisive drill sergeant egging me forward. I will not take kindly to any interruption. I will not take your call. I will forget lunch and most likely dinner, too, until I successfully complete my mission. Failure will not be an option, neither will sloppiness. I become a disciplined robot for the duration.

I used to wear a headset and listen to recorded books or podcasts when I painted, suspending myself in an alternate aural universe, but I can't bear more than a baseball game distantly playing in the background or some American Songbook lightly tinkling from speakers set some distance away. The headset cord always gets in the way and I have to struggle to remove the surgical gloves when I back into the wrong button. I cannot attend to these distractions and properly attend to the work at hand. I most often produce a playlist in my head, perhaps the same damned tune replaying for the duration. I don't know where these accompaniments come from or why they haunt me so. I believe that the soundtrack holds special power over any engagement, an almost subliminal subtext intended somehow to enrich and perhaps to enlighten. How an old Bobby Short track, imperfectly reproduced in my mind, could ever fulfill such a lofty possibility only deepens the mystery.

By the end of the day I'll be nursing the latest aching muscle group, calf or shoulder, knees or wrist, while also nursing a cold beer while sitting at some slight distance from the surfaces I finished. I will experience a deep satisfaction. I will stroll around, checking several angles, finding small faults, my mother's self-talk revisiting, accepting that what I've done was the very best I could have done, before, later, accepting that I must be finished. However long the workday, the end of it comes as a surprise, for I invested days in planning and considerable time procrastinating before assuming the Handyman Dave persona. I will eventually remove the shoes and slip into my slippers. I'll rehang the rest of the uniform in that corner of the closet where I hide my alternate self when I'm not so engaged. I'll shower off the dust and sweat before probably deciding that I'll just skip supper, though It will have been a long time since breakfast that day. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat will curl up next to me as I pretend to read. I'll startle awake hours later, maybe wander out to see how the finished job looks in the predawn darkness before slipping back into bed for the rest of the night.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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