He's a hard one to impress when it comes to sartorial unorthodoxy. But impress--or stun--I did.
"Mom, you look like you're ready to break into a chemical plant." From out out of the mouths of babes.
I'd be lying if I said I took the assessment calmly. Rather, I'd caught a glimpse of myself just a few seconds before, and was already hovering on the edge of hysterial fall-apart laughter. It was ninety degrees out, and I was decked out in a tank top, with a wet bandana across the lower two-thirds of my face ala Jesse James; safety goggles over my tri-focals; giant padded vinyl ear protectors that would have kept my hearing safe on an airport runway; and a pair of green suede work gloves. I personally thought I looked a bit like a galactic bounty hunter straight out of "Star Wars."
My son started to laugh, and that's all I needed to become completely unglued. Once the safety goggles started to steam up, I was done for. I pulled off the scarf, ear mufflers, gloves and goggles, and laughed and laughed, holding on to the porch, until tears came to my eyes. I kept laughing until I got just about all of it out, then suited up again. One piece at a time. Scarf. Goggles. Ear protectors. Work gloves.
Because frankly, my dears, operating a chop saw just isn't a laughing matter!
My composure marginally reclaimed, I finally approached the reason for all the caution: a rented "chop saw" sitting on the tailgate of the Ford F-150. It had a circular blade about a foot in diameter . The blade pivoted up and down, ready to slice through concrete, metal, wood, errant limbs, whatever was called for, with lethal efficiency. It looked menacing just sitting still, lurking beneath its bright red metal safety guard. It was about to give a whole new dimension to my acquaintance with power tools. Wow, how things change.
Six months ago, I'd never heard the words "chop" and "saw" used in the same sentence. I was feeling mighty pleased with myself, in fact, that I'd acquired a cordless drill and a battery-operated chain saw since the divorce and wasn't afraid to use them. Really, I thought I was pretty well set with a couple of hammers, a set of hex wrenches, some screwdrivers and a tape measure.
Then my aunt passed away, and I spent hours driving back and forth to Chicago with my friend Mary Kay to organize an estate sale for my aunt's things. As the miles sped by, the topic of putting in a brick patio next to the house came up, and I picked her brain for suggestions.
Mary Kay is a very handy gal, able to pull off both spike heels with a slinky black evening dress and home improvement projects with aplomb and panache. She is far more experienced than I when it comes to wielding a hammer, and routinely takes a more active role in shaping her environment. I tend to get backed into making repairs because things break, such as pasture fences, or when trees come down where they shouldn't. The most initiative and daring I show usually involves a paint roller. Mary Kay, on the other hand, has been known to dismantle and reconstruct her foyer while her husband was away on business for a few days, just for the fun of it. When it comes to using power tools, she not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. I'm learning at the feet of the master.
"You're going to need a chop saw," she said as I drove, and I duly made a mental note. I had no idea what a chop saw was, but I was assured that one was needed for cutting bricks. And for a person with her heart set on a herringbone brick pattern, I understood that some bricks indeed would require cleaving.
Months later, both the estate sale and the winter snow cover behind us, the plan was finally ready to roll. I had pallets of bricks and sand stacked in the driveway, lumber ready to be picked up for framing, two brand new shovels, weather that was warm and dry, and most important, a supply of "volunteer" labor in the form of three of my kids, one of their friends, and the man in my life. Don't think that THAT didn't take some coordinating! I'd played the "let's celebrate Mother's Day late!" card. It works.
I'd spent the day before cooking nearly non-stop to feed this busy crew, and naively assumed that once I'd picked up the saw from the nearby rental place, my project duties would mainly consist of finishing up the potato salad, keeping the beer cold, and bringing food out from time to time.
The best laid plans...
By the time we actually got started, it was one in the afternoon. Since the man in my life was the only one among us who'd had any experience at all in laying patio brick or in building and setting a wooden frame, the job of cutting the bricks suddenly shifted to me. Wielding a pencil and a calculator while sitting in the shade, I'd figured out that setting this particular pattern would require cutting a minimum of eighteen pavers into two parts. Never let it be said that you don't need math after high school!
We measured the first brick and lined up the metal guide together, and then he pushed the "on" switch and set the blade whirling. As blade met concrete paver, the noise level ramped from loud to absolutely searing. An incredible cloud of brick dust erupted and hung in the air, drifting toward the garage and filling the pickup truck with fine white powder. He stood back, incredulous at the magnitude of the mess a single brick had left behind. There were nineteen to go.
Well, he said with a shrug, the beauty of having an old truck is that you can mess it up and there's no harm done. Cleanup would come later, when he'd park it on a hill and run a hose over the inside. We left the chop saw on the back of the truck, and I gamely stepped in for the rest of the job. After I finally quit laughing.
Thank god for ear protectors. And safety goggles. And being able to find a cotton bandana to soak and cover my face with! Even with my ears covered, I could feel the screaming noise through the vibration of the machine. There was a primitive, visceral feeling of accomplishment to be had in watching the cloud of dust kick up as the blade cut a slot through one side of the brick. Then a short pause while I turned the brick over, lined it up again, and finished the cut. It was a thing of wonderous, smooth beauty, especially when compared to the Neanderthal alternative method of hitting it with a hammer and chisel. It was empowering and frightening all in one. And my triceps ached for two days afterward just from the effort of pushing the blade downward into concrete again and again.
Driving to work the next day, after I'd dropped the saw back at the rental shop, I called Mary Kay to bring her up to speed on my admission to the Sisterhood of the Chop Saw. When I got to describing the outfit and my son's observations, both of us were sputtering and laughing so hard we could barely talk. "Feels pretty good, doesn't it?" she asked.
Yup, it sure did.
A little later in the drive I thought about a much younger guy I used to work with and found myself grinning from ear to ear. A few years earlier I'd come to work one day and popped my head into his office, regaling him with my exploits of having to buy my first hand saw to cut up some branches that had fallen across a hiking path. At least I think it was the story about the hand saw. It might have been the cordless drill adventure.
"That settles is, Mary," he said. "You are officially manlier than I am!"
Well. If he'd so been impressed with my using a hand saw, what would he think about cutting bricks off the back of a pickup truck?
I didn't have to wait long to find out. I had an email message from this very man waiting for me in my "in" box, asking about the status of a case I'd argued months ago. We traded thoughts about the case, and then I filled him in on the "chop saw" afternoon.
He was impressed, but stressed that now that he was married and a homeowner to boot, he felt like he was finally started to catch up to me. He'd just recently finished remodeling a bathroom, in fact, and was now well acquainted with the art of cutting tiles. We were both justifiably proud at the ground we've covered, me since the divorce, him since he was a young single guy living in an apartment.
I suppose, if he's really nice, we'll officially admit him into the Sisterhood of the Chop Saw. And if he sends imported chocolate, we may even waive the part about the spike heels.