October 7th, 2009
I climbed into the hole in the street, surrounded by the circle of construction vehicles that partly shielded me from view, and started cutting. The roots were remarkably difficult to sever. They seemed to be stronger than other types of wood. Perhaps it was because they have so much moisture and are somewhat pliant, perhaps because they were connected to so many other roots.
After a few minutes I was sweating. To my horror, I noticed someone standing at the edge of the hole. It was a neighbor from across the street, Ray, the guy who worked in his garage on his Mustang while blaring country music from his boom box, the guy with the two German shepherds that barked, one after another, at any human in the vicinity. “Whatcha doin’?” he said, hands in his pockets, puffing on a cigarette, rocking back and forth on his heels.
“I lost something down here…my wallet,” I thought quickly.
“Oh yeah, I hate when that happens.” Only later did I reflect: how many things had he lost down the storm sewers? “You really could use some power out here. I got a reciprocating saw that would cut through them roots real quick.”
“I’ll be OK,” I said, but too late: he was already walking back toward the garage. That’s the problem with tools. Tools, and work projects, attract guys.
As I stood there wondering what to do and looking down at the roots it seemed I saw a gray shape moving quickly in the even deeper darkness beneath the roots. “Farkus? Are you down there?” I whispered loudly.
“No need to swear,” said Ray, who had returned amazingly fast with his saw and a long extension cord—and a friend. “This is my cousin Chuck,” he said. Chuck nodded and said nothing, sipping from a can of PBR, the sleeves of his plaid flannel shirt rolled up to reveal the tattoo of an eagle on his left arm. “Here you go.” Ray handed me the saw. “Just pull on that trigger like a gun.”
I was already having second thoughts about whether I should be cutting through the roots at all. Now that people were watching there seemed to be no choice. I pulled the trigger; the blade moved in and out quickly. I had the rush of satisfaction like a warm flood of adrenaline in my arms and chest that comes from the response of a power tool. I felt the approval of all the men: cut, cut, destroy, destroy, they seemed to chant like a circle of redneck monks. I went back to cutting. Now I was making progress. I cut for a while and then stopped.
“Hey, do you need a flashlight?” It was the guy from next door, Ken, the one who spent an hour each day trimming, weeding, mowing, and otherwise fussing over his plot of earth.
“Uh, sure,” I said.
“Hey, what’s going on?” It was a guy I had never met, dressed in the white overalls and hat of a painter, his steel toe work boots pointing at eye level.
“Dropped his wallet down there,” said Ray.
“Howdja do that?” said the new guy.
I shrugged my shoulders and started sawing again so as not to speak. The men stood above, talking, as I suppose men have done for eons. Probably there were men in togas standing around while slaves paved the Appian Way. Natives stood around on Easter Island while someone chipped away at the huge stone blocks. So it is today, whenever someone undertakes a project.
Pretty soon I realized that this was fruitless, that I could never get down in the hole. However, I had created a little opening I could squeeze through later. I took the flashlight and pretended to look. I took a stick of gum out of my pocket and through it down the hole. “Nope, don’t see anything,” I said. I handed the saw back up to Ray and climbed out.
“Well, thanks,” I said to Ray. He nodded. We chatted for a moment, the way men do awkwardly, and dispersed, back to our own toolboxes and individual projects, ready to create and destroy once again.