I am lucky to work in a place where the players are all so diverse, there are probably few things in this world that we couldn't tackle together. There is a completely non-judgmental air so it's OK if one is a girl and doesn't know how to adjust the alternator on the steam cleaning machine. If one of the homes isn't all that literate, we'll work around it - that's why I'm in charge of writing. We're a small group in close quarters who have weathered much together in the name of the team. Here there is a deep understanding and admiration for each person's special talents. No one is beaten up for things they don't know how to do. Which is not to say there is much tolerance when one of us gets stuck on stupid. We share information and model behaviors for one another, the idea being that everyone has something to teach everyone else.
As one might imagine, some roles and niches have developed. Troy is a mechanical sort. He can and does build anything. He can repair motors and engines, machinery and broken furniture. I know where to go when I want some shelves installed or when my office chair blows a wheel! He impresses me because I am not mechanical in any way and I don't want to touch tools. That's what I have him for. He owns every tool in the world, the toolkit to carry it, and he knows how to use it. When I have him come to my home on a Sunday, I have a long honey-do list, the payment for which is cash.
Cesar is a fixer. He knows how to fix most anything one can name, even if parts are missing. He can find an ingenious way to repair some item that "can't be fixed" and have it work. Cesar also fascinates me because of the odd variety of things he can do well: paint, alter a wool suit or coat and give a credible razor haircut. [He once offered to razor Justin's hair and I immediately said I'd rather give him my haircut money than anyone else. "Uh-uh, Les. If I mess up Justin, I can just shave his head. If I mess up you . . . "]
The way I help the homes typically has something to do with paperwork. Maybe it's time to register the car or renew their business licenses or complete papers for a traffic ticket. I've helped some of them open their first bank account and taught some to use software programs. One asked me to teach him the ropes about building websites and blogging and another requested I explain the intricacies of the Excel spreadsheet and formulae. I've gone farther afield from time to time, though. Once I exchanged ironing two dress shirts for an oil change in my car. And once I sewed a pair of ripped pants for the same home dude who came out with me to cheer the Badger at a criterium and showed me how to take video of the event with my BlackBerry.
Some of my favorite hits:
I alternate more pairs of glasses than Elton John in the 1970s. Often a screw goes missing or a temple piece needs to be reattached. The John Lennon glasses throw a trifocal lens fairly frequently. For the price of a fast food lunch, Cesar will sit for an hour rehabbing the collection so I can be cool again. He's great at shortening or fixing jewelry, too.
At the first of every month, when our fleet of service vehicles is being inspected, I get a chirp on my BlackBerry. "Hey, Les, toss your keys down. I'll check your car's body fluids. All the other hoods are up, why not yours? I'll check the tires, too!" I write myself a note to provide pizza later that day.
Sometimes one or more of the guys asks me to make an eBay purchase on their behalf or create a spreadsheet to help keep track of their deductible business expenses or locate something on craigslist. These are things I do well and without difficulty. I usually find a Starbucks giftcard on my chair the next morning, or a Fresh & Easy pass.
It's a beautiful thing, this helping one another out.
Late in August I went to the granddaddy of all craft shows. I was looking for really special birthday gifts for my girlfriend and I found them there. I bought myself a duplicate of nearly everything I bought for her. One stall that drew me featured Chinese charm bracelets. These pieces are slender black laces, each with four charms that have different meaning. One gets a card that tells the meaning of each charm. There seemed to be no two bracelets alike, and there were many tens of thousands of them spread out in a heap on long display tables, longer than I am tall, and as deep as I am thick. I was snared when I touched the first one.
There is no small legend surrounding the selection of the charm bracelets. If one is enlightened and pure of heart, a spiritual energy guides one to the charm bracelet best suited to her needs, says the legend. An example is my bracelet that has the charms for eternal youth and everlasting love, a pot of gold, bamboo for strength and a peacock for colorful romance. I'm asked to believe I selected that bracelet because those were the things I most needed for fulfillment as I stood at the table in the Cashman Center that hot afternoon. And one can select for another person, too, as I did for my girlfriend.
Although the picture makes it seems as if one just ties the bracelet on, that's not accurate. The bracelet is actually long enough to practically serve as a belt and each end of the lace passes through a pair of beads. One pulls the ends to tighten, loosen or adjust the bracelet. But I didn't figure that out. I asked others who came in and out of my home and who may get off the farm more frequently than I do. No one could figure it out. The bracelets sat for months. Sometimes Virginia Woolf would make off with one that I'd find in some strange spot. I know it was she because Dylan is not obsessive about small shiny objects. Finally I brought the bracelets to work a couple of weeks ago.
During our morning huddle, I told the legend of the bracelets and explained I needed help. Cesar didn't say a word, but walked toward me with his hand out. I gave him the bracelets. He took my wrist and went to work. Meanwhile, Troy mused that these that worked in exactly the way I was about to learn they did work. He was right! He knew because his daughter has some. Good, I'm selecting teenagers' jewelry again.
Two of the other homes were looking at the card that tells the meaning of the charms. They began to pepper me with questions. "Les, do you have a bell?" I do. "That's 'may your prayer be answered every time the bell rings'." Well, good! "Is there a yin and yang?" I have one of those, too. "That's for balance and good decision making." I can use a little assist in that arena. "If you have a little stone purse, that means 'may your money bag always be full'." I'll take two of those! "Do you have a fish, Les?" I looked. No fish. "Are you sure?" I looked again. No fish. "Look once more." No. I'm tired of this game. "There's no fish, homes." Big grins. "I guess you didn't need any freedom, prosperity and good sex that day, Les."
It's a beautiful thing, this helping one another out.
In my ears right now: Much loved R.E.M.
Something that charmed me: My bracelets, of course! The reader knew I was going to say that.
One photo credit (the wrist of LimesNow - January, 2010): J.D. Morehouse