Fig.26-Hot Engine Heart

I no longer trust the nail gun my father brought home from Costco two winters ago for me to build him a monster deck off his house in Florida. I don’t know that I ever did trust the thing. It ran hundreds of nails at his house; it did the same last spring—a whole box of two and a half, ring shank, in one morning, plowing down a squeaky floor over an anesthesiologist while he chewed aspirin downstairs and watched his TiVo.

However this week, at Judson’s house, it misfires and jams. The thing runs nails at wild angles if it shoots them at all. I’ve been playing Andean Flute music for Victor and José, the Peruvian painters outside, worrying about how ridiculous it would be to catch a nail in the face, having it ricochet off some case-hardened yellow pine, with the “flautas” trilling along behind. José has no English so Victor has to help me tell him “La musica del Andes’ llena mi corazon.” Fills my heart. We swap stories about summer musicians in the hot subways of New York. Later I run onto the porch and announce “La musica del Britney Spears llena mi penga!”

I have to stop framing in order to demolition more of the walls of the “play room.” I keep calling it Baby Mary’s room because of the ancient pink paint. The plaster buckles and peels off easy enough. The sooty pink walls of some old man’s daughter, full grown and gone, shatter and give way to grey scratch-coat, mortar webbed with horse hair.

At the end of the day I notice the gun sitting alongside with the air-coupling up, covered in grit. I worry that grains of it will pressurize inside the housing next time I hook it up to the compressor, that the perfectly smooth chamber will swim with grey imperfections, that it will explode anyway as I go to toe-nail studs to the bottom plate of the closet. I still have a half bottle of pneumatic tool-oil I bought at Harper Hardware over a decade ago. I double up on the morning dosage for the rest of the week, hoping to drown the grit and potentially quench what could be the hot, dangerous heart of the tool.

It’s things like this that keep me up nights. Tools breaking, the assholes I work with. Sometimes I take the motorcycle out after the kids are down. If it jostles me enough and I am feeling angry or reckless I bank off Kensington onto Ellwood, and just on the other side of Patterson, open it up on the ramp to the bypass. The best part is the three-way merge with 95 and 64. It becomes less complicated if I go faster than everyone else, which is how I address most of my problems. Speed makes traffic two dimensional. I only have to worry about whatever’s in front of me. I think about the potential of dangerous people on the road---drug traffickers up from Miami, truckers on speed. I think about whether or not there is enough air in the tires. I consider the sensation of being simultaneously angry and afraid. There are lots of ramps merging on that stretch and everyone drives it very fast. I can hear truck tires, my chain flying through revolutions, flinging grease, the pistons roaring away in their cylinders. I try not to think about what could happen.

On the ramp off 95 to the downtown expressway there is an open joint where the two roads meet in the air—in a tangle of overpasses. A biker got stuck in it just before we left town, years ago. This junction, this expansion joint between two huge elevated slabs of cement, channeled his tires to the divergent point and catapulted him over the side, a hundred feet above Shockoe Valley. The ramp beyond it is a perfect descending radius which tightens incrementally before launching you through the center of downtown. This is the way I complete the circle back to the Fan. This is the way I wind tightly around a city I’d thought I’d never call home again.