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"Even the garbage man sings to himself,
accompanied by the truck's garbage-grinding groans."

A point comes in every project where there's little for some contributors to do. The more skilled might continue apace, but the common laborers, having completed the initial demolition, idle along the sidelines, impatient with what they understandably experience as delay. We dare not disband the now (finally) oriented laborers, but we have little meaningful engagement to offer them for a time. Such forced idleness could prove to undermine whatever cohesion emerged through the busy early days, for few assignments encourage more dissatisfaction than no assignment at all. A few days or hours in the future, the effort will be up and running at full speed again, but it'll have to survive this choke point first.

Speaking as the common laborer on our massive kitchen remodeling project, I can muscle my way through almost any assignment except nothing to do. I will not sit and eyeball while the electrical work proceeds, understanding without being told that exacting wiring work was never meant to be a spectator sport. I can hover with broom and dustpan, but debris needs some accumulation before cleanup's anything more than a disruption. Not every nail or splinter needs immediate removal. The Muse works remotely in another room, but she's not appreciative of my disruptive soldiering. I'll need to find my own wall to lean against.

I excuse myself mid-afternoon, having sweated through my belt removing yet another in a long, continuing series of ceiling joists and a curious little corner cabinet where the drywall turned out to be the sole support for its two by four frame. Disgusted as only someone tasked to remove toed-in overhead two by fours can become, I decided that I might have provided all the productive damage I could dispense for the day.

I slipped downtown to complete what turned out to be a futile errand, stopped by Safeway for supper ingredients, then returned to my sister's place where The Muse and I bivouac during our extended stay, with nothing to do in the middle of my day. I shaved, showered, then sat down for a few minutes, idling and ill-at-ease. I was out in The Zoom Car a short time later, telling myself that I needed to get the carseat over to the house so someone could fetch The Grand Other from after school care. The Muse was on a call. The wiring work continued in the kitchen, where I felt like a crasher at a secret Masonic convocation. Wiring's still not a spectator sport.

I ended up fetching The Grand Other, though I'm the only adult around NOT formally authorized to fetch her. I was the only adult around with idle time. Last week, I explained to the guard lady at the desk that I'm not authorized to pick up The Other. She suggested that my introduction was probably not the very best way to announce myself, though she quickly determined a way to justify releasing The Other to my custody. Now, I enter with impunity, feeling every bit as invisible as idle. The Other's in a foul mood. It had been Valentine's Day, and she exhibited the normal behaviors accompanying severe sugar poisoning as she sucked on a candy bracelet and started spooling up for the short ride home. She can sometimes successfully mimic a belligerent brat-face. I cannot appreciate her disrespect and drop her off to whine around the house before leaving to engage in some more interesting nothingness, my idleness hardly two hours old and I'm bored.

I stop in at My Local down at the end of the street for what I imagine will be a well-deserved pint. I have something to read and I envision myself quietly absorbing some great writing while enjoying the product of Washington State's fine hop fields. I can hardly avoid feeling even more idle in the company of the daytime regulars. Though the sun seems well-enough over the yardarm, I'm unaccustomed to sitting solo at a barstool when it's still light outside. Both book and beer serve their purpose, burning some excess daylight and delaying my return to the source of my afternoon's idleness. If I were more adept, I might more effortlessly switch gears between meaningful engagements, dropping a crowbar with one hand while taking up a pen in the other, but I experience a Wylie Coyote delay between points of focus, where I seem to have to just hang in the ether, disrespecting gravity, oblivious to any alternatives surrounding me for an indeterminate length of time. I grind my gears.

I don't think I know anything about any Devil's Playground, but idleness seems capable of encouraging almost anything. I can sit and do absolutely nothing for twenty minutes at a stretch, but give me half an afternoon off, leave me to my own meager devices for a quarter of a day, and I'm as lost and desperate and impatient with myself as a convict stuck in stir. I phone my little sister to fill some time, understanding that my presence would prove an unwanted distraction until after The Muse's six o'clock quitting time. Until then, I'm a presence best distinguished by my absence. A mindful idler understands these things.

I think the notion that some people prefer to do nothing ignores something significant about human nature. Those forcefully unemployed would sell their soul for something to do, even something meaningless, for idleness seems the very worst form of punishment. For all the complaining and cajoling laborers engage in while working, the slow, searing silences accompanying their idle times better represent their relationship with their work. Their complaining and cajoling might be best interpreted as their soundtrack, their hearts' song surrounding their engagement. Even the garbage man sings to himself, accompanied by the truck's garbage-grinding groans.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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