All This, and Without Drugs

In my head, I’ve constructed an absolutely gorgeous painted wood and metal wire railing for the back deck. It is modern in appearance, strong in stance, and allows for broader and more appealing vistas than we’ve ever had before.

The problem is that I’ve done all this in my head. Without having purchased a single piece of lumber or the hog wire that is to fill in the frames between the outside edges of the railing panels. “The problem.” There are more. The old railings must first be removed. The remaining posts must be stripped and painted. The new frames must be cut, precise dadoes made to accept the wire, hog wire measured and cut, frames assembled, and the wire panels carefully slipped into them. And, then, the final pieces of the panels must be assembled, the top rails cut and affixed to the posts, and the upper panels screwed into the top rails. Oh, and I want to paint the wood before all the cutting and, after assembly, do some touch-up. I have the vision. I just don’t have many of the practical skills, nor the tools with which to apply those skills if I had them, to get the job done.

I could hire the entire job out. But I’ve been burned so many times by incompetent “handymen” that I am more than a little gun-shy. So, what to do? I dunno. If my history is any indication, I’ll stew over it for quite some time and, finally, will hire someone to do it. I won’t be happy with their work, though. So I’ll fire them. And then I’ll hire someone else, who I will fire for the same reason. By then, the wood will have weathered so badly it will need to be replaced. And I’ll be considerably older and less willing to spend my rapidly-dwindling bank account.

So, instead of my grandiose plan, I’ll buy a roll of used chicken wire and staple it to the posts. Because I won’t have the proper heavy-duty staples, I’ll just use my desk stapler. One morning after I’ve completed the job, I will take a hummingbird feeder outside to hang it up (having brought it inside the night before to protect it from raccoons). The raccoons, having been deprived of sweet nectar for months and months, will have decided to ambush me that morning. Just as I reach to hang the feeder on a hook, an entire family of raccoons will spring from a hiding place just beneath the deck. They will grab the feeder from my hands and greedily drink up the nectar, spilling half of the sticky, sugary water onto the deck surface. I will slip on the wet nectar and fall against the chicken wire that literally is hanging on the deck with one edge of a lightweight staple. The wire will break loose from the staple. Wrapped in my chicken-wire shroud, I will plunge twenty feet, head-first, to the rocks below.

I know. I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t even finished sanding and painting the floor of the deck. I have to think about whether I want to spend the money to do the job right. By the time I’ve reached a decision, I will have forgotten I wanted to have an improved view and will have concluded that I should build a brick wall instead of a deck railing. Half way through the wall’s construction, I will determine that I’d be happier with a cut slate wall, so I’ll tear out the brick. I’ll do that, of course, before I discover that the grey cut slate I envision is not available locally. I’ll have to import it from Italy.

So, I will learn to sail one of those big wooden ships and will sail it to Italy, where I’ll purchase the slate. On the way back, I’ll notice the ship’s railing allows far too much water to spray onto the deck, so I’ll begin constructing a slate wall around the perimeter of the boat to keep the water out. About the time the wall is done, I will sail into a powerful storm whose waves will cause the vessel to founder. I will abandon ship just as it begins to sink into the sea. Fortunately, I will grab the side of a skiff as it falls from the sailboat and will drag myself onto it. I will then float for days as the sun beats down on my head. Using fishing line and hooks I find on the skiff, I fashion fishing gear. A single piece of bacon that somehow found its way to the skiff will be the bait. I drop the line into the sea. Soon an enormous marlin takes the bait. The fish pulls me a hundred miles as it tries in vain to escape. I begin the admire the beast for its fierce determination. It dies. I pull its body to the side of the skiff. Sharks tear at its flesh. More time goes by. I recognize my defeat. I return home, broken. As I crawl up to the deck, I see that raccoons have built a string of condos all around the perimeter of the deck. Chicken wire hammocks, affixed to the upper railing with poison ivy vines, sway gently in the breeze. Empty hummingbird feeders serve as parasols, shielding the happy animals from the blinding, blazing August sun.

The scene is too bizarre for me to accept, so I turn and go into the house. Inside, I find a refrigerator full of cold beer and cold pizza. I slip into a gluttonous trance as I drink the fourth beer from the fifth six-pack and place the last slice of the third pizza in my mouth. Sitting in front of the television, I watch the credits roll on The Old Man and the Sea.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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