Simple Living By Necessity
Life is good when you can get the parts.
One of the fishermen called up a few days ago from down the island. “I’ve gotta have a weird fitting.” He described what he wanted: quarter-inch pipe by three-quarter-inch flare with a 90-degree angle. “That’s not weird.” Sure, I thought, hearing one side of the conversation from the next room. It’s not weird for HERE.
Paul rummaged around upstairs in the shop, and Clayton got his fitting. “You’re better than a hardware store!” he smiled. Don’t spread it around, I mumbled. The next few days brought similar encounters, as Clayton’s plumbing job proved to need various odd connections. He stopped by as we were parked at the recycling shed waiting to assist another islander with her trash. “I need an inch-and-a-quarter union.” It was Saturday; nothing to be had from the mainland plumbing supply house. Paul scowled. “Hmm, I don’t think so.” Just the same, Paul took off up the road behind Clayton to look in the shop for the part, while I tended the recycling facility. A few minutes later, Clayton drove past me headed in the other direction, holding up his pipe union and grinning. I gave him a thumbs-up.
Some of the parts that save the day are not new. Packrats rule. Ours is not a stylish lifestyle.
“Shop,” to those of you reading from out of state, means workshop of course, not retail establishment. You might have a mental image of an inviting workshop with neat outlines of the shapes of tools drawn on a white pegboard, everything in its place, shiny new table saws and bandsaws with their dust catchers and bench brushes, shelves filled with orderly rows of pickle jars containing carefully sorted wire nuts, wood screws, and other familiar small bits, and logical areas where the requirements for plumbing, electrical, automotive, welding, and other jobs are kept each to its own well-organized department.
You’d be wrong.
Well, mostly wrong. There are five-gallon plastic buckets in a rainbow of colors (all having once held some necessary product, of course, not purchased new for the purpose) which do effect a reasonable sorting system for certain things…they’re ideal for chainsaw stuff, for example. Upstairs, four rugged benches built by Uncle Hi years ago hold an approximately sorted array of fastenings (meaning nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and the like, much of it stainless steel for marine applications,) fittings in brass, copper, black iron, PVC, and anything else every contrived by mankind the connector, switches and outlets and circuit breakers and electric boxes of every sort, items needed for the maintenance of furnaces, copper tubing, stovepipe, water pump parts, chimney brushes, and propane regulators. On the other side of the dangerously narrow path running the length of the second story is every sort of wire, insulation, and a few items that ought to be in an attic except that we haven’t got an attic.
Paul is a master electrician, licensed propane dealer and serviceman, telephone company customer service technician, Internet installer, officially apprenticed boilerman, chimney sweep, mechanic, radar technician (used to was, anyway,) CMP electrical substation repairman (likewise,) power company trouble-man, summer-place caretaker, and builder of superior picnic tables. All that means is he gets called upon to do an inordinate amount of plumbing. He doesn’t much enjoy plumbing, especially unimportant plumbing. For some reason known only to God people like their fancy bathtubs. He’d truly rather deal with an emergency like a well pump self-destructing than mess around trying to install a fancy bathtub. “But I’m not a plumber” he says. They do not listen. There’s a lame joke that goes, “How many electricians does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Electricians don’t screw in light bulbs. Electricians fix the sink.” Or worse. Anyway, a great deal of his stock of miscellany is, unfortunately, for plumbing.
At any rate he couldn’t be any of those things on this island without being, by nature, nurture, training, and profession, a packrat. This popular nonsense going around on the cable television home shows assuring us that “if you haven’t used it in the past year, you should throw it away” is absolutely scandalous on an island. You can’t rescue people without parts.
Some of the mess is mine. I own about a hundred dozen mason jars. People keep trying to give me theirs. I have plenty, thanks. The eastern third of the upstairs is my room, containing my drum set, my stained glass stuff, my blacksmith tools, and some other treasures which have no other place to live — a handmade boomerang, the hardhat I found on top of Mount Sinai in 1985, my sheetrock mud hawk, my fireman’s helmet, my rejection letter from Harvard (in the very fanciest of ornate Rococo-style gold plastic framing), and a pile of No. 14-shade arc welding glasses duct-taped into cardboard boxes for showing a group of school kids a solar eclipse. What else are you going to do with stuff like that?
There is altogether too much respect paid of late to some bizarre notions of simple living, notions that only make sense in the suburbs. A sparkling and Spartan empty house is fine if it comes with a full wallet. In the sticks, living simply often means not having to spend a hundred bucks or using up the whole day just to get to the store for the part (or an adequate substitute) when something’s broken, or when somebody has a good idea.
When we need it, we know where it is. More or less.