“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, December 08, 2005

notes of a non-native son

The codex of everyday life is lost. The epiphanies of Babylonian woodchoppers, Sea Island cotton pickers, line order cooks and leasing agents have been scattered irretrievably in the ethereal babble that hugs the glob, a smog of unknowing. Long ago I vowed this wouldn’t happen to me. I’d take a toehold in life and battle death. It is the only reason I give a shit about politics, philosophy, art, or any of the grander vistas. So far I haven’t kept my promise. Defeat after defeat, you know. But I’m still here, and I still might.

My old man made his money in temperature modification. He started out as a farmer, switched to carpentry, and then discovered his real road to wealth as an HVAC man. At one point he deviated, trying to make an endrun around his fate by becoming the ice mogul of metro Atlanta, which is why I spent my youth, like Dickens, in a factory. Charlie put labels on boot polish, I believe. I bagged ice: ten and fifty pound bags and the treacherous twelve pound blocks – treacherous because you had to take the metal canisters that contained the blocks out of the coolant with cold hands and try to get them to slip out of there. It was easy to get cut. However, in the wake of the oil crises of the seventies, my old man’s dreams folded – the price of gas for the van skyrocketed, as did the price of the plastic bags for the ice, as did the coolant, which used some petro derivative. The coolant was your ultimate enviro unfriendly, and could be met with in nature only on the surface of Jupiter. So the old man brooded, and then went back to HVAC.

My brothers followed in that path, or at least in the path of mechanical aptitude, carpentry, and the ability to fix heating and air conditioning. They are now jack-of-all-trades in Atlanta, where the real estate boom has made such knowledge as good as gold. Which brings me to yesterday.

All through my post college life I have dabbled with extreme poverty. At the lowest points, my bros have intervened, often hiring me as a tote. I didn’t inherit the old man’s aptitudes. I nail a crooked nail, need a diagram to jump start a car, and my idea of temperature modification is sleeping naked under the sheets. However, what with the cost of the vacation and my lack of editing work, I’m ready for any job at the moment. So yesterday I was out there with my bros, replacing one and one and a half ton a/c units at a property in the North part of Dekalb county.

A “property”… That word. Geologists, by examining pebbles and soils in a given area, can reconstruct its long history. The same thing can be done, in human terms, by listening to the terms and phrases and nicknames that occur and reoccur among a given set of persons. The group is bound together by ties not only as public as family and region, but also by ties so hidden that the group’s members are unaware of them. Exiles can die for lack of these hidden ties, and the misbegotten from too much of them, from being suffocated by the words you hear casually exchanged at a dinner table. Property is a word that comes up frequently in the conversations of my brothers, and it has a particularly ring. To me, it means parking lots at ten in the morning, pittus porum or juniper, porches, the grill area and the car wash area, the leasing office. My brothers started out as apartment maintenance men and they have in their heads the long histories of the various Gables, Arbors, Traces, and Smoke Rises that have appeared in the metro Atlanta area since the early eighties. How many times have I myself paced a property, checked the levels in the pool room, laid down pea gravel drains, cleaned trash from the common areas and leaves from the gutters? Yesterday’s task was a simple one: I had merely to cut the a/c units out of their boxes, put the serial numbers in the packets that came with each box, dolly them into position, and dolly out the junkers.

For the resident, an apartment complex is a hive of different living quarters. For the maintenance man, it is so many puzzles and problems. Is there a trip rise problem with the concrete slabs that comprise the walk in the back? Are the a/c units hidden for maximum invisibility behind the shrubs in front, or down some flight of stairs? Is there a dog in apartment X? And can you take a leak out behind the maintenance man’s shop?

The work went surprisingly fast. This is, for my bros, absolute crème. In my family, the movie hero we all respond to is the rebel a/c man in Brazil: get in, work fast, get out. On the other hand, if you aren’t used to toting units, the end of the day comes with a muscle crash. Yours truly felt that crash today, winging back to Austin.


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