Working construction can be lively and invigorating. It is also bone-crushingly hard on the body, especially as I am no longer in the bloom of youth. I’m not quite to squishy-tomato stage, just my knees. I can still cut a mean swathe through a stack of 2 X 10 fir lengths, that are twenty feet long, sixteen for each rafter, with enough left over for the tail and one block.
Every crew needs a sawyer, who does with lengths of wood, what a lawyer does with words: makes ’em work for you, using whatever tools are needed. Theoretically, a sawyer could work 90% of the time in a wheelchair. Certainly, cuts made with a mitre-box (chop-saw) or a skill-saw could be done without the use of legs. I remember when I blew that ACL out in ’91, I missed a total of ten minutes of class time, those being the last ten minutes of that fatal Friday the 13th, when it seemed like such a good idea to play basketball with my elective Spanish class.
I spent three months on crutches or in a wheel chair, telling my students that I felt I was lucky that nothing more was wrong with me than a knee. As long as there was nothing wrong with my head, then we were good to go. That’s what the sawyer relies on most, his brain, and his attitude. The sawyer is the go-to guy on the ground. Every crew needs a guy who is able to check his ego at the door, and be everybody’s little--well, let’s call him everybody’s gopher.
This individual must be so flexible, he can leave his sawing arm behind at the table, while he whisks a chalk line up on top to the guys who are trying to nail off the last of the siding, up high, or snags another tube of shmooky for the guy doing window trim, up in the apex. Usually this guy is the sawyer, unless the sawyer is Keith, or some other pro from Dover, who is being paid way too much to fetch 16-penny nails, for the guy installing blocking along the rafter tails.
So we were working for Matt and Erin, and we were having fun. Ever since Island Mountain, our crew had functioned as a unit, humor a necessary component for the daily grind. It was OK to not participate in the lively exchanges, but it was not OK to impede forward progress by being salty. If you didn’t feel like smiling, you damn well better paint one on, and keep it to yourself.
We had arrived up at the Island on a Friday, at ten in the morning, after having loaded materials onto our trucks in the early morning hours. We then made the two and a half hour commute up to Island Mountain, where we were to build a 20 by 28 structure, that allegedly already had the pier and post foundation in place. It was the worst of all possible developments, one which carpenters dread, universally, inheriting someone else’s headache.
In this case, the headache consisted of finding that the foundation was nine full inches out of square. A structure that is 20 by 28, and out of square even an inch, poses a continuous struggle, as the carpenters find that one inch, over 28 feet is like a set of dominoes, the problem compounding as you get further into the project. As a result of having to seriously tap dance our way around this egregious error by a predecessor, we formed tight bonds, early on in our work schedule, and we benefited every step of the way.
But I don’t want to talk about the Island; I want to talk about Matt and Erin’s job, because that is where I picked up a hitchhiker in my hand, my right hand to be exact. It was one and three-sixteenths inches long, and neatly tapered, from one-eighth of an inch down to the point of a needle, a very sharp needle. I was handing a ten feet length of two by four fir, up onto the floor of the structure, after having taken off my gloves for a minute, to take a swig of water, when I picked up the sliver. To put it into perspective, one and three sixteenths of an inch is the exact diameter of a fifty cent piece.
In handing the wood over, it had slipped innocuously along my hand, and before I could even react, the sliver was embedded in the part of my palm, which attaches to my right thumb. The weirdest part about it was the way that I could press down on the wide base of the sliver, and see the stretched skin across the length of the sliver suddenly react to that one and three-sixteenths inches long chunk of wood, just below the skin.
Was there a tweezers in the house? We had five carpenters on the job that day, and no tweezers. Frankly, I think a tweezers would have been useless. What I opted for was a pair of needle nose pliers, but in the haste of affixing the jaws on the tiny fragment of the sliver, protruding from my palm. I did not keep things aligned, and the tip of the sliver snapped off, leaving me no convenient means of extracting this intruder under my epidermis.
I am not going to describe the degree of discomfort I was in, because that was not the driving force behind my desire to eject my hitchhiker. It just annoyed me beyond description. The heck with pain--just get lost. With that in mind, and now feeling a vague sense of urgency that said, “I don‘t care how, let me work it out.”
“Is there a razor blade in the house?” Casey had a brand new 100-pack of pristine razors, the ones that fit 99% of the utility knives in Mendo County, and he mutely produced one for me. Without giving myself enough time to fully consider all the ramifications of my actions, I snatched that razor blade, and made an incision, approximately one and three-sixteenths inches long, and evicted that hunk of wood.
How painful was that? Not very, because the wood of the sliver gave me firm backing for the incision, and it was over before I had time to register anything other than a slight sense of unease, at the thought of the accompanying blood. But I am used to seeing my own blood, just not the blood of others.
The reality is, this particular sliver is not the longest sliver that I have extracted from my body. It’s just the the one that was longer responded quite nicely to the needle nose pliers, thank you very much.