Today's Tom Sawyer
Waterproofing a deck is not sexy. No one oohs and ahs when you’re done. The only discernible difference is that when juice spills it puddles instead of absorbs. But it is necessary. The payoff is deferred, barely tangible except over time: the deck lasts longer.
I built this one myself, a summer ago. It was our third year in the house, long enough to be sick of the cramped poo-brown platform tacked on the back, with its national park bars that dissected one’s view no matter where one sat. Five more feet and white-painted rails was all we needed. It turned into one of those epic homeowner battles that you swear you’ll never fight again.
The old boards were fastened with twisted five-inch hurricane nails designed to go in but never come out. During construction I wrestled sixteen-foot lengths of lumber and lugged eighty-pound bags of cement on hundred-degree days, recruiting relatives and neighbors along the way while my wife took lots of extra hours with the boys. The deadline then was my own 39th birthday party. Crabs and beer, and lots of oohs and ahs.
Now, it’s a year later. I’m transitioning jobs, and happened to have a day off this week—no kids, no work. Just me, a powerwasher, and the dogs panting beneath a picnic table. A chance to knock out some household maintenance; and nearly a whole day to think about the new phase I’m entering in my career.
Despite that my mantra as a teacher has always been, “Administrators work for me,” I confess that now it feels like I’m moving up in the world. I’ll have an office and more responsibility. I’ll be a manager of grown ups as much as kids; colleagues and students will both see me differently. I’ll wear ties.
There’s that bump in salary, but not enough to start paying other people to waterproof my deck. It’s still educator money, not real money. Lucky for me, I like a day of manual labor now and then. Knowing I’m saving a few hundred bucks is part of it. The mindless physicality and the solitude are a break from the constant extroversion of daddying or teaching. And there’s that intimate connection to whatever you make, something no one feels when they only buy labor.
The whole process is sort of like being in admin, I bet. What you do is crucial, and keeps the school running smoothly. However, the work is often thankless, or the reward is down the road.
There are other parallels. As I was rooting through the shed for the pump sprayer, I couldn’t resist the urge to reorganize. Forty-five minutes later, with bikes hanging on newly installed hooks and an old dresser on the trash heap, I was ready to start in on the original task. Constant distractions, I’m told, are part of my new job description.
Once I actually started spraying, it was clear that the pump itself was kaput. Instead of an even vapor, it emitted a spastic spatter of compound that freckled rather than coated the wood. Improvising, I grabbed a roller and smoothed as I went. Bending over for three hours left me feeling forty but got the job done. Improvisation and occasional pain in the back side are also to be expected as a Dean.
Needless to say, I flogged the metaphor pretty hard over the course of the day. I’ll spare you extending it further unless you want to come sit a spell on the deck. Actually if you’re interested, I’ll be painting the front porch a little later on this summer…