Snakes, Scrap Wood and Justice

Junk. Call it something else, but in the end, a rose by any other name takes up just as much room in your shop. What might start as a petite box of cutoffs invariably grows, until it threatens the security of your table saw, workbench and neighboring counties.

As woodworkers, we view this heap as a symbol of prowess – a reminder of the great things we have built and the foundation of greater things to come. We shape it, mold it, pluck choice morsels from it – but under no circumstances will we discard it. Wives, on the other hand, view our collection with detachment. While it may be an eyesore, as long as they can walk by without risking major injury, they will tolerate it. But just let one snake crawl out from under it and…

I was first alerted to the “situation” as my wife sat on the shop steps, enjoying her morning cigar. It began with a shriek, followed by a gasp and heavy footsteps, then the all-too-familiar sound of a shotgun being cocked. I peeked through the screen door to see Helga leveling a 12 gauge at the base of my table saw – I shrieked and then gasped.

Only traveling salesmen or a snake could evoke such a response. After a tense hostage negotiation, she surrendered her weapon and ran inside to defend the children. I relocated the unwanted guest to the neighbor’s yard and swaggered inside, the intrepid defender of both house and shop.

“That CRAP has got to GO! TODAY!!!” she says. Now, any of you who have been married longer than 45 minutes know that the way a woman says something is much more important than what is actually said.

Based solely on her tone, it was clear my weekend would be spent shoveling out my shop. I began the odyssey by borrowing my brother John’s pickup.

The little truck looked like a rental car from the Beirut airport. With favorable winds it could almost achieve freeway speeds – a safety feature considering the brakes worked on only one side.

After four hours of backbreaking labor, the “junk” was loaded. Scraps burgeoned from the bed, dangled over the sides and drooped down to nearly reach the ground. The truck was reminiscent of a burro laden for the Grand Canyon – a 70-year-old, half-blind burro with a hang nail and a case of hemorrhoids. I drove off to an uncertain destiny.

I completed the 15-mile trek to the municipal dump in 2 hours and 17 minutes, a personal best for this vehicle. The smell of rotting upholstery slowly gave way to the sweet aroma of the landfill as I cut across two lanes of traffic to make a wide right turn. Alarmed by the squeal of tires and the sound of all hell breaking loose behind me, I stood on the brakes and the truck rolled to a gradual halt.

The culprit was an El Camino that had lost its payload of aluminum cans while trying to enter the recycling facility. Clearly he was just another lead-footed maniac who had tried to take the turn too fast. In typical old man fashion, I raised my hand to my mouth, giving the international signal for, “How much have you had to drink?” He returned a different universal gesture, indicating he’d only had “one” – I doubted that as I left him to reclaim his cargo.

I backed into the depot and, owing to its weak suspension, the junk practically unloaded itself. The hardest part was ensuring that no part of the truck was inadvertently discarded. I swept down the bed and was ready to go. It was then that the El Camino pulled in behind me.

A dense hail of profanity filled the air as he emerged from his car. He paused briefly to gasp for air and to grab cans that continued to fall to the ground, stuffing them back in through the window.

I wished for a moment that I’d brought the shotgun…or the snake.

By the time the police arrived his eyes were red with rage and he was roaring incomprehensibly, punctuating each “statement” by slamming his hand down on the hood. But as with all hurricanes, he eventually ran out of wind. And, as the officer approached us, he threw open his car door to leave and the empty cans tumbled to the ground around him.

This gave the uniformed representative pause. “Have you been drinking, sir?”

For the first time that afternoon, he was speechless, so I decided I would help him, “He told me he’d only had one.” And with that I jumped back in the truck and headed home, not waiting for the inevitable “tests of manual dexterity” and the “Breathalyzer.” To be sure, I didn’t make any new friends that day, but I did clear out the garage, eliminate a nest of snakes, satisfy my wife and maybe – just maybe – I made the road a safer place for all of us. PW