I’ve never considered my self a “handy” person, despite the fact that I have spent a great deal of my life in the throws of manual labor. This has not been by choice I can assure you. I can still remember the day my father told me I would be going to work with him. It was the end of my 6th grade year and we were out to dinner. “You’ll be going to work with me this summer.” He said. “What? As a plumber?” I said. “A plumber’s helper.” He replied. A short discussion about child labor laws did nothing to sway him, and a month later I was cleaning concrete out of the top floor of an H&R Block while my friends were at the pool. This is how it went until my last year of college. Every summer was spent cleaning something, plumbing something or handing my father the wrong tools and I hated almost every second of it. However, despite my loathing, I learned a great deal. I can set toilets and sinks, solder copper pipe, and install dishwashers and garbage disposals. It is worth mentioning that these skills have come in handy more than once since my last “official” plumbing job. I would like to believe that this may have been my father’s plan all along, a way of teaching me about life, self reliance and adulthood. Maybe he wanted to bond over something, and working together was a way to do that. Although, I suspect that coming home from an excruciating day of work and seeing his teenage son stretched out on his couch was likely the catalyst for my conscription into R.K. Walker Plumbing and Mechanical.
I tell you this because my life has been spent split between two worlds, the forced world of manual labor, the real world, the money making world and the imaginary world that I would rather live in. I went to school for theatre and film. I’ve both studied and taught Shakepeare. I have written and performed in shows. I met my wife while working on an opera. The arts are a part of my soul in a way that it is difficult to understand if you are not one of…“us”. And growing up, I often viewed my blue collar secret identity as a roadblock to my real destiny. An annoyance that would be cast aside at some point in favor of intellectual dinner parties and making art. However, the older I’ve become, the more I realize that this isn’t so. These two lives, these two skill sets give me a perspective that not everyone has. I was reminded of this earlier this week when I fixed my own lawnmower.
My lawnmower had died just before this last winter. With its last gasp of life it sputtered, coughed and shot smoke everywhere. Its death was noticeable, in part because of the smoke, but mostly because my lawn remained half mowed for three days*. When the first snow hit, however, I was off the hook for nearly six months, but when our freak snow flurries began to cease it was time to mow the lawn. The neighbors were already ahead of me on this one. Public shame was enough to make me act, so last week, after much internet research and waiting three days for a part, I fixed my own lawnmower. I took the machine apart, put it back together and it started. The machine ran like a champ for longer than three seconds without belching smoke. I was surprised that it worked, since I have no previous experience with engines of any kind, other than paying thousands to have them fixed.
This event happened on the heels of having just completed a theatrical performance. As I was mowing my lawn I was thinking about the last show and my delayed episodes of Victorian Cut-out Theatre, when it hit me. Here I am, still making art and still mired in the very literal nuts and bolts of day to day life. I think I may have come a little closer to making piece with my dual identities. I can see that they compliment each other and make me a more well-rounded person. I feel like a mix between Leonardo Da Vinci and Ron Swanson, capable of the practical but celebratory of the ethereal.
*I mowed the rest of it with a borrowed mower.