Buildings die hard. All of that wisdom, native or of the more refined sort, coalesce into an artifact that is supremely resistant to that old bitch, gravity. You can knock all the studs out, snatch the main support posts out of the wall with an F-250 and a chain, jump up and down on the roof, and if there is perhaps one tiny sliver of wall buried deep inside, the roof will still stand, testimony to centuries of refined techniques designed to defeat that inexorable force. But then, it gives way with a sad creak and a whoosh and a thump, the clouds of lead and dust and rust and aggregate collection of 60 years of neglect.
Left to their own, they will stand for decades, empty and rotting. There is one such building on the road to Franklinton–an abandoned, rough-hewn frame, drinkin’ and fightin’ shack, that everyday we would pass. One day we stopped for a look. Inside were the detritus of hell raisin’ come and gone 34 years ago–empty liquor cases, bed springs, a forest of screw-top jars, and newspapers, lots of newspapers. I began to read them in front of Cup-A-Joe, same coffee, same people, same street, same chairs–only the papers were different. Inside, the stories were eerily familiar–many of the names, the places, the “problems.” “Mid-east Conference Hopes to Stem Protests,” “Beauty Queen Grew Up Poor,” “Latest Pentagon Projects Fail Test.” The crumbling, yellowed journals rendered to today’s dreary news a quality devoid from current “news”papers–actual context–a long ball view of how things have continued in the same, bloody, predictable slide. Blah, blah, blah.
OK. Fine. I got the picture. Save yourself the hassle and look at something interesting, like the slow rotation of the earth, the path of the sun across the sky. Something is desperately broken in America, perhaps irredeemably, and I am not very interested in autopsies. Leave it to the “experts” who failed to stop, deter or slow the current impending train wreck to pick through the wreckage after the collapse. The great machine of the Republic has had a spanner thrown into the bowels, has seized up and is beginning to shuck supports and gears. Soon the actual frame of the thing will begin to spread and crack under the weight of the lies and denial and like the Twin Towers, the device, fueled on cordite, blood and ignorance, by lies and laziness, will shatter and fall in a deluge of broken promises and the accumulated deaths of millions. Best one can do is just step out of the way and let ‘er fall. Resistance just prolongs the inevitable. And as far as Election Day, let’s see, now that Kerry says we will stay the course in our current overseas adventures, what’s your pleasure, Mr. Eichenberger? Boiled in oil or the ol’ buzz saw? There are too many institutional impediments under the new Federal Dictatorship for progressive change to be possible or even permitted.
So I’m saving my money, the plan to be Somewhere Else come Election Day. I had to assess my assets versus liabilities. The current economic realities, coupled with great chasms in my employment record (and a disdain for being ordered about) preclude a real job–a boy has to do what he must. I’m a laborer for now. And I do some of the worst work imaginable, that generally performed by the invisible, the despised. Fifty-year-old mineral wool, flaking-lead-encrusted siding boards, dry rotted heart-pine lumber–all to be manually smashed to bits, dragged and carried into a steel Waste Management skip, dragged off to the landfill, replaced and made new. Taking cruddy distressed properties and turning them into houses, homes, that people of lesser means can afford. And getting paid for the pleasure. What could possibly be wrong with that? I wouldn’t do this for just anybody. At my age, education and occasionally prickly demeanor, anyone gets in my way is going to hear about it. No, this is different. Last installment I talked about how society could be “generous, tolerant and occasionally hilarious.” In my current labors, we have/are realizing this on a micro-level. We have this thing we are all doing; Dave, Phil, Evan, Tommy and The Big Nowhere, the biggest Mexican you ever saw. Most of us are veterans of this sort of thing, especially The Big Nowhere, who has been grinding out a living doing whatever it takes to live on and off the streets of America for almost two decades. Tommy, 16 and 6-foot-2, worldly in many ways, but still a child, has been entrusted to our care and guidance–his debut into the larger world–he rarely having been away from his family, from the birds and critters that live on quiet ponds where he was raised. His parents knew it was time and loosed the strings in their minds to allow us to usher the boy into the world, he in full possession of what it takes to work. At 185 pounds, Tommy has all the strength a man would need, but there is more than pure strength involved in this sort of hard work. Anyone can swing a wrecking bar–it’s all knowing what to hit where.
There’s thought, heart and force direction. First day at a new site, the kid finds a 36-inch Gorilla brand wrecking bar in the weeds–quite simply the best, outside of a custom model. “I sense a trend,” said I. “I want to work,” said Tommy.
The Krazy Krew started about construction/demolition, but it has evolved into something more enduring, more eternal than wood, steel and drywall. It is an idea, an ideal that we are attempting to achieve on a small scale, and the particular leads into the general. It is all about a lack of hierarchies, a shedding of ego, an embracing of the moments of this life that are yours to be either cursed because of what you are doing, or to be treasured–every blessed second standing as a unique, timeless event–sacred for their irreplaceable qualities. In our world, even the bad days are good days. If someone walked on the job and asked who was boss, there would probably be some puzzled looks. See, none of us knows everything about anything, but we all know something about most everything. And when you are faced with the unknown, it helps to have someone who’s been there before. “Es like working for the Tree Stooges,” says The Big Nowhere, gazing at three crazy gringos on the roof, gone mad in the 120-degree heat, laughing and tossing roofing tacks at one another. That happens. But mostly they are spent in steady, ongoing labor–mule-like plodding of pulling of nails, shoveling debris.
The demo is the fun stuff. There is nothing so satisfying in this job as handling a sledge and watching siding boards spill off a house like leaves in autumn. Got something troubling you? Do some demolition.
And then, the renewal. All the plumbing, electrical, Sheetrock, from the pillars to the paint, all made so a person can live in the comfort we’ve grown to expect in the first world. That is the payoff. I am learning. Tommy is the blank slate of the crew, but compared to the others, I know but a little more than he. And sure, we mess up from time to time, but instead of screaming and placing blame, we pitch in to make it right instead of looking for someone to point a finger at. Like it is supposed to be.
If it were only so easy to rebuild a political system formerly based on the rule of law. Once a constitutional system is deliberately bent or broken, the forces that damaged it try like devils to keep it bent. Power seized or ceded is power lost forever. And no amount of paint can cover the problems with the foundation.
Our job is easy. We work together to make the bad good. Fixing what is wrong in the United States is going to require a task that I don’t have the strength for; there are powerful forces busy tearing things down as fast as they can be mended.
The frame of the U.S. republic has been battered, perhaps beyond repair. I don’t see any way to repair the damage; the only remedy may lie in actually reforming the structure from the bottom. The bad guys who pillaged our electoral process and the conscience of a nation have profited grandly from their malfeasance and actual crimes; likewise they have so much riding on the upcoming election that I don’t see them going away quietly. Where the path will end or diverge is up for dispute, but one thing is for sure: There is hardly consensus on the direction or the logical termination of constitutional government, especially when the dictator is a failed-frat-boy-cum-Christian-cult-zealot whose only claim to power comes from destroying innocent nations coupled with a repellent tendency for strutting about in a uniform he has no right to wear.
Peter Eichenberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.