I am a simple man . . .
I am a simple man. I probably owe an apology to both Graham Nash and Ricky Van Shelton, who recorded different songs under this title. Van Shelton’s lyrics probably have more immediate parallels in my life, but the Graham Nash song from the Songs for Beginners album (Crosby Stills & Nash) reaches out and speaks occasionally as well. I don’t spend alot of time on me. My haircut is pretty much the same as when Leo the barber cut my hair for 50 cents and a 25 cent tip in the 50’s. It was on East Wisconsin Avenue, on the north side, so it was on the far reaches of my range. (park your bike in the alley, not on the sidewalk) I took a sabbatical from haircuts in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but that was political. It was my sister’s bike. It was the reason I walked to school. It was a blue Schwinn balloon tired bomber – a GIRL’s model. Another reason I was an outsider. My mustache is about the same since the cuts first healed and the stitches were out after my altercation with the ice fishing shanty in 1971 – on Fowler Lake – on a very similar track that I had followed a few years earlier on a far more innocent trek across that wonderful little lake. The damage to my face was and is a mess no one needs to see. If it works, and it feels good, I am content to let well enough alone. I am a simple man. I become complex only when people think I should be something else. I left home early, went to college, quit, got married, went back, finished, went to work
I spent 35 years in an industry I neither understood or cared for, initially. The insurance industry has alot of rules, most of which are understood only by the number crunchers who live far (physically and intellectually) from the people they are supposed to serve. The numbers generally win. I was fortunate, in that I worked for a mutual insurance company most of those years. I also was successful enough to have access to the decision makers, and could usually drink enough to impact some decisions – or maybe I just drank enough to think I did. My boss for most of those years frequently told me that I needed to have an avocation, that wasn’t for money, that I could be good at and find escape, satisfaction and personal rewards. He even put this in writing at times when he thought I was taking the business too seriously. I did that. There were fast cars, bicycles, training hunting dogs, real estate, woodworking, and a pretty long list of minor interests, as well. I even coached my daughters’ basketball teams for several years. The girls were also a great source of escape, satisfaction and personal rewards. I still love fast cars, try to ride the bike occasionally, love my dogs and tinker with a few other interests, but the wood working has stuck. The girls are long gone to their own lives and families, but proffer the greatest satisfaction, when we can stand back and look at their successes and state unequivocally that the heavy lifting is done.
The woodworking has stuck. It is confounding, yet incredibly satisfying. I love the silence of hand work, can get lost in it without realizing it. I also love the action and noise of the CNC router that I built from the ground up and has opened up a whole world of things I haven’t done before. Turning is a drug – the incremental removal of material that results from the scraping of tools against a rotating project, revealing itself progressively – carrying with it a hope that it can be what we planned. I’ve never been much for rules, especially rules that I didn’t understand or made no sense. The wood doesn’t seem to care what I think. It will change on the whim of a percentage of moisture content or a few degrees in temperature. It forces me to adjust, anticipate, and sometimes just grow weary of its stubborn demands to remain as it was Created. When I asked a chairmaker friend from Tennessee why he had no electrical power in his shop, I got more of an answer than I anticipated: “Mistakes happen faster with power tools. With hand tools, I can fix a slip or gash, make it look like it belongs there. With power tools, it is usually too late. If it is too dark to see in the shop, I am either there too early or it is too late and I belong in the house with my family.” I got the feeling he had worked on that answer for a time.
I am a simple man. I could easily get along with a bowl, a spoon and a cup. (we would still need to keep a plate, fork and knife around for the occasional rib eye or sirloin). When something wears out, I look hard for an identical replacement, because I don’t want to fool around with adapting to something less functional. When I find what I want, I usually buy two. A good pair of boots (Red Wing 8″ 899 13M) suits me fine, as does a pair of jeans (wranglers – relaxed fit) and a long sleeved t-shirt (Hanes 2XL tall beefy T with a pocket), an LL Bean 2XL tall flannel shirt (or a Pendleton if it’s a formal occasion). On a cold day, my Wolverine vest (2XL tall) takes the chill off. But I’m not particular.