Morning erupts over the city the color of Alizarin Crimson, a new day of fire for us. Banishing whatever Gods lean over this sleeping country, whatever ones that raise the day. Who else will name each hero, shuffling awake in the blue cold of each kitchen? There is coffee to be steeped, the mouse turds to burn off between each radiator’s coils. Mouse turds forgotten under the winter furnace, her first fire. As if in the night we had forgotten ourselves, our machines, our war. The pilot light remembers, Apollo, the mouse-god, he remembers for us. I am sure he is the one that summons me each morning, “Wake up.”

Hundreds of miles away my father has been up for a good hour before me. I never call him then. I want to tell him that our lives are an anthem, starting back, by his dad, in the Black Forest. Schwarzwald pronounced in Tennessee, being sung by my son Henry sleeping in the next room. Pondering and ruinous and wide like a river. Cold and fast like a creek cutting a gash down a mountain. A song that you’re listening to right now.

There is the anthem in the memory that my body holds: the first morning hanging sheet rock is awkward and slow, by afternoon it’s as if I’ve been doing it for weeks. I couldn't tell you what sharp is, but I know it in my finger tips. The chisel is sharp, I recognize it. My hands know what to do with my saw when I am unsure. The trigger and blade guard. The teeth splashing through pine fibers.

My saw is an anthem to violence.

Not far from here is a town I have never been to named Achilles. As if Achilles could be pinpointed on a map of the Northern Neck. Achilles hemmed in by rivers flowing to the Chesapeake. Rivers piercing deep inland, old enough to be all that there is to a story. I wonder if there are cat-tails there, ratting like spearheads in the wind. I wonder if the wind in those parts ever whispers the word Revenge.







Cello Suite #3 in C--Courante. And the man is smiling.

Much thanks to Rweitz.



Came by a couple of weeks ago to finish his rough-in for the bathrooms upstairs. He surprised me. I had been busy re-installing the old brass swing-arms for the dutch windows on the first floor but had to ditch that for “trade admin.” In that I spent most of the day laughing and jawing, running all over the house helping him run pipes, cipher the layout, and butcher my beautiful framing. He gives me hell when I don’t bring him coffee. I have been bugging him for over a year to give me a “Grey’s Plumbing” t-shirt. Instead, months ago, he brought a t-shirt with a depiction on the back of the monster truck Gravedigger. Sometimes I enjoy wearing it to pick up Henry from school. Last week I finally remembered to bring him his “blind-man’s rule,” a thing that I’d had for years before realizing that no-one deserved it more than him.

One of the tasks we took care of was rigging up a temporary sink and toilet in the basement, as all the existing water lines are being reworked in the house. I had demo-d the old metal sink in the kitchen, complete with avocado-colored metal cabinet and slanted cast-iron top and we drug it downstairs. He ran a cold-water-line in to the faucet and some pvc off the drain, out the back and around the cabinet to a big rusted up drain in the concrete slab. I insisted that he glue on a 22 degree elbow at the floor so that it would a. slow the run-off down and b. force the water to spiral into the cup-shaped opening in the floor. He gave the whole set-up his “Niagara test” by stopping the sink, filling it to the top, and then pulling the plug, we watched, two grown men, with great pleasure as the water ran out of the sink, down and out into a perfect spiral, curling over itself in hurried abandon, washing over the sides and finally down the drain. I have no idea why this is so pleasing to me. I have shown it to Darin and Judson, pretty much anyone who has come by. Most everybody agrees it is one of the best things currently going on in that house.

That afternoon he finished with me and I got back upstairs to the dining room and my hardware. I had just gotten my wits back on the subject when he came through, singing, and stopped dead in his tracks.

“Clay. Come down off that ladder for a second.” He was staring at a place next to me where the wall intersected with the ceiling.

“What? Are you having a stroke or something?” I asked.

“Look up at that crack up there. You see it?”

“Yeah, I see it.” There was a small area where the plaster had chipped off revealing a triangular shaped piece of scratch coat.

“Don’t that look like Scooby Doo?”

“What?” I hollered, “Are you high?”

“I don’t know, maybe I am, I mean, isn’t that, doesn’t that look like his neck?”

I stared. I stared at it for two days after he left. “Ronnie, I don’t see it.”

Later that day he told me about a clear toilet he’d seen in a trade catalogue with an aquarium built into the tank.

“Dude you are fucking with me today!” I told him.

“No I swear! I mean I think I saw one. Shit, now I don’t know. Let me go ask Scooby Doo.”

“Gah!” I said, and walked out of the room.

That night I went hunting on the web and sure enough, found the aquarium toilet. Complete with fish.

Two days later I apologized to Ronnie Grey for not believing him, and would be honored if one day he would one day install a fish-tank toilet in my house. He said he’d love the opportunity. Darin has since informed me that “Ronnie Grey tells no lies” and I know this to be one of the life’s great truths. That very same day, as the descending sun refracted in through the ancient warbled glass of the large windows in the front greeting room, a single ray lit upon the crack at the ceiling. I saw the big mouth opened for the great happy tongue to spill out, the pointed ears folded forward, and suddenly Scooby Doo was there, smiling down at me.



The Portico for the church next door got a new ceiling.

A cast of my left hand for a long lost sculpture.


Tuesday Southern

I smoked on the threshold of the back porch at the Grove job, next to the pine ice-box, picking plaster grit out of my hair. The ancient box fan muttered along inside. I realized I didn’t notice the smell of the old house anymore, myriad dusts, or pine tang from whatever framing I was blowing off. The painter was singing again, upstairs, in Spanish. I realized I’d started to hate him. There were bugs in the hot yard in October. For no reason. I thought about slinging a walnut at the chattering squirrel, the abandoned sink in the grass, the trash trailer. I smoked instead. The fan on its base with one bad wheel kept its own song. I don’t believe I’ve ever felt so Southern.



I spent the better part of last week in the basement of the Grove job stripping one hundred years of paint off the hardware for the second floor windows and doors. It involved a process Judson (boy genius) found on the internet of boiling water and trisodium phosphate, roughly one cup dissolved in a five quart pot, over an old camp stove that he'd restored. I'd get the water just under boiling, so that I was still able to handle the stuff, let it soak and then peeled off layers of paint with a scraper and a brass-wire brush. I used a dull scraper to move the paint rather than scrape it as that would scratch the soft brass. One of the hardest parts to this operation was keeping the different piles organized, to do this I utilized a year's worth of sushi take-out containers from Akida. Here is a jig we came up with to soak the long brass arms that open the transom windows over the doors:

Skinning the paint left the brass in a raw state which rusted pretty easily, so I put a protective finish on it, by shmearing Brasso on the hardware, letting it dry and then hit it with a buffing wheel on a bench grinder. They make a polishing compound for the wheel that I used as well. To polish the screw heads (yes, because I didn't want them to stand out from the hinge faces and such) I used a pair of needle nosed pliers with electrical tape wrapped around the jaws so that they wouldn't mar the brass. To be able to do the transom swing-arms I had to run it with all the safety features removed, and even though I was careful, I still got myself a couple of times with the wheel on Firday cause I stayed up all night Thursday watching this damn thing.

It took a good while to do all this but I think it will make all the difference in the world with the house is finished. I don't know how many times I've worked on a place only to either half-ass scrape the hardware and re-install it, or else just chuck the whole batch and go with all new cheesed-out shiny stuff from Lowes. However, this is coming from a guy who has no problem spending an afternoon rummaging through piles of rusted-up hardware that will never find a home outside of the buckets they find themselves laying in.




Last Friday, Judson and I
climbed onto the roof of the Methodist church next to his house on Grove that we've been working on. We got there via the scaffolding the church had set up for a mason named Larry (that coincidentally I used to have to tote tile for) so that he could re point the grout joints above the frieze.





"...You'll Never Be Gold"