Monday, August 01, 2005

Wenn ist das Nunstruck git und Slotermeyer?


There were times, a lot of them, when I was less a son to the old man than a live in helper-assistant.

Now and again I was a: doorstop, hold down, wedge, shim, vise, clamp, reel and stand right there and hold that and don't you dare move until I tell you, all with bad seventies hair.

Sometimes I didn't mind. I thought that I would hang around the old man and both learn how to do things for myself and then graduate to doing them for him as I became more skilled.

None of this came to pass.

On the first part, I did learn a lot of valuable lessons. Specifically how NOT to do certain things. Now Dad was not incompetent, but he was highly idiosyncratic. There were things he liked to do, there were things he hated to do and watching him, you could figure them out. He went through big projects the way you'd tiptoe through a minefield. Carefully plan your route, then stick to it avoiding anything not in the plan like the plague. Dad planned his job, figured out what he liked to do, figured out what he hated and went after the likes big time while short cutting or end running the hates entirely.

Made for some interesting work. He liked things level. He once spent the entire day shimming sub flooring in the basement such that the curvature of the earth was the only natural deflection in the floor.
He loved wallpapering but hated painting. He hated things that involved mixing wet with dry materials. As such, he despised drywall taping, mudding and spackling while he loved to hang drywall sheets-in perfect ninety degree perpendicularity to the perfectly level floor. These sheets formed a partition between the stairs down to the basement and the rec room in the basement. As I said, he hung the drywall and, avoiding that part of the minefield, forewent taping and mudding for...

Wallpapering over the joint in the sheetrock.

Not only did the constant flexing of the unsecured drywall joint perpetually tear the wallpaper anytime anybody walked down the stairs, the unsecured sheets also let off a rumbling noise like distant thunder, stopping most people in their tracks to wonder if the car windows were left down. A neat trick in winter.

Of course these defects had nothing to do with Dad's work. It was flawless, in his opinion which of course was the only one that counted. The problem was with the way the stairs were used. One foot in front of the other!
Indeed, one had to walk more gently. A bit of a work-around but it stopped the wallpaper from tearing.

This was Dad's world and these were his rules. Everything had a workaround of one sort of another to compensate for something he had not wanted to do in the first place. Rather than ditch the TV when the main on-off switch blew, Dad put a rinky dink switch on the back of the set that, if you reached behind, just past the high voltage back of the picture tube, you could turn the set on.

The other thing Dad was good at, and this is where I came in, was soliciting help with his projects. But only after he had first identified the most mundane, uninteresting, boring, unrewarding part of the project and assigned it to me in perpetuity.

So much for the second part. I never seemed to graduate from thing holder down or cable keeper or screw counter/sorter to do any kind of significant work (like spackling).

Dad always assigned me the ladder hold down, tool hander, whatever it was he needed and wanted but could not be bothered to do.

Now this could have been intellectual death for me other than for a fact of life that distinguished Dad from me. He was an immigrant who only spoke English as a second language. I was a native who only spoke English. When he put me in charge of tools handing up, I learned the fundamentals of German noun construction in what he asked for versus what I handed him.

Mind you, he tried his best but his nomenclature of piston ring spanners in English was marginal at best, nonexistant most of the time. As a result, most conversation at the worksite went like this:

"Boy!"

"Me?"

"You see another boy?"

"No." But I was glad that he had noticed I took up space.

"Hand me the doppelflipperkuchengewurztraminer." German, I learned later in life, has an adversity to adjective use and dispenses with such by ramming them into the subject noun until you get a compound that senior chemists at DuPont couldn't re-create.

"Here you go."

"Boy, that's the uhraltschwarzwalderkirchtortespannungundleitungschraubenzeiher. What's wrong with you?"

"Is this it?"

"Nein! Next to there, the hammer, the hammer!"

"Why didn't you say hammer?"

"Because you would have handed me the fliegenderhollanderunterziehbarhesbettsache."

"Well, then."

"Shut up and hold that."

"How long."

"Until I say so."

"Dad?"

"What?"

"Ja!...Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!"

"Exactly. Now you learn something!"

1 Comments:

Anonymous constant weeder said...

I think you should tell the now famous lunch table masterpiece: My father and the telemarketer selling insurance to veterans story. I tell it to everyone and it's a big hit.

8:20 AM  

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