tricks of the trade

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The old timers learn how to fix, compensate, and overcome adverse scenarios regardless of the craft. Most of the tricks of the trades are passed down, but some are invented on the fly out of sheer necessity or desire.

Before the age of magnetic hammerheads, we were taught to hold the head of the nail on the side of a hammer and jump up to stick the nail in the just out of reach areas then use the full length of the hammer from below.

Some of the most intriguing tricks of the trades had to do with self-medicating injuries. When it comes to construction, wounds just come with the territory. It takes a fair amount of pain to motivate a human to inflict additional pain in order to bring delayed relief.

One of the tricks of the trades to stop a gushing wound is to pour some gasoline on it. It burns like lighting yourself on fire for a spell, but it cauterizes a wound like magic. If you drive enough nails by hand, eventually the law of averages are gonna run you down.

There’s no feeling exactly like smashing a thumb or finger as hard as you can with a massive hammer… The pain is fierce and constant for days and there is no relief from it until the blood pumping under the finger or thumbnail is set free.

Newbies always try to hold out from using the old timers tricks of the trades, but the agony has perfect persuasion. The ordinary ole paper clip is straightened, the match or lighter flame held to the tip of the wire until it’s glowing orange.

The paperclip turned searing medical device is rolled back and forth between the thumb and forefinger drilling the hot tip into the nail. Teeth are gritted, the scowl uncontrollable as the tip burns through the nail. The boiling blood erupts from under the nail and the pain mixed with relief brings a new understanding of the old analogy, “Hurts so good”.

I don’t work with my hands or back like I used to, but occasionally a situation arises when I’m compelled to… like remodeling my daughter’s first home.

After close to twelve hours on my knees in the sweltering Arizona Spring, despite having kneepads, skin softened by plenty of sweat, flesh gave way and ripped clean off my knee. In years long past I’d invented a trick of the trade to turn the knee pad around and use the knee cap area to lean on instead of the area right below it.

I considered using that ole trick of the trade… for about half a second. Using tricks and shortcuts can only take you so far. When the tricks don’t work anymore something has to change… That’s the most difficult type of change; changing ourselves.

Whether change happens supernaturally in an instant or after decades finally bring some wisdom, I believe it’s all divine intervention or inspiration.

I got off my knees and let some air begin to burn and heal the torn flesh… but I’m still old school enough and have learned enough tricks of the trades to swap places with one of my guys and do the cutting instead of the tile laying… even after the tile saw snatched a piece of tile out of my soggy hands and a slice outta my right forefinger.

Thank God for superglue… and another trick of the trade.


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Possessions come and go in this life and plenty of emotions are poured out in the process. Those “first timers” are sweeter than sugar, but the losses, especially the ones not of our druthers, can leave a spirit downright dejected…

One of the “first timers” that stands out in my memories was my first red bicycle. It was the one with the sissy bar that scraped the bottom of the clouds, the one I got for Christmas. That first-time emotion of gain was perfectly contrasted a couple months later when someone stole it outside the newspaper office.

I can almost hear the old western twang in the voice of Rex Allen, the narrator for some old Disney movies, saying, “Yeeees… the reality of this fallen world catches up with us early and often in this life…”

With enough time, and loss of dominion over our belongings stretched over decades, life can usher in a pretty calloused perspective.

I couldn’t begin to recall all the tools I’ve had stolen. And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of standing in a parking lot questioning your sanity over where in Thee Sam world you could have sworn you parked your truck… Then slowly realizing the weight of the bowling ball in your belly that you’re stranded – someone stole it.

Being raised in a blue-collar home by transplanted Southerners in the Arizona desert has a way of tending to make a person think the 2nd Amendment is only superseded by the Good Book. We were hunting and shooting guns before we reached double digits in years.

Along the merry course of this life, I’ve had four or five guns stolen from me, but the one that really stuck in my craw the most was the machine gun I had to be registered with the FBI to get, but that was a long time ago. Around twenty-two years since the emotion of being violated, then intense anger smothered my being.

There was a time in life when I got a little sideways with the long arm of the law, but that too was way back when. That’s why I was taken aback by the call from an agent with the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms office about a year ago.

I was mildly relieved to find out that I wasn’t in trouble, but I was shocked to learn that after two decades they’d recovered my machine gun in an arrest in Northern California. It’s not often in life we get to retrieve what we’ve long since written off.

In the two plus decades that have passed since that machine gun had been stolen a lot has changed, but nothing more than me… I enjoy nice things and even some extracurricular possessions, but they don’t mean to me what they did back when I was using them to help define who I was.

It’s easy to pick and choose from the Ten Commandments and use them like a sledgehammer of judgment. It’s not nearly as easy to see our own trespasses of the words etched by the hand of God. After all, a house, a car, a boat, or even a machine gun doesn’t resemble a golden calf… but they can all be idols just the same.

If that machine gun could talk, I’ll bet it could spin some harrowing accounts of this fallen world, but like all idols made by the hands of humans, it can’t ensure us a place in heaven… maybe just the meeting of St Peter a little sooner…


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In the rompin’ stompin’ days of kindergarten through first or second grade, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how to get to my school via the mean city streets, but I could run the trails through alleys, high weeds, and bamboo forests almost blindfolded.

Not one kid I ever knew even considered not taking the shortcuts to school or town. Kids are naturally efficient and the shortcuts they discover generally work in their favor… or at least enough of the time to etch the pattern of looking for shortcuts into our DNA.

By the time junior high strolled around shortcuts had become an art form. Over or under fences, behind buildings, over mountains, through people’s backyards, and in the summertime, through the water.

The hotspot, aptly named for more than just the Arizona summertime temperatures, was a place at the tip of the island that sticks out into the heart of Lake Havasu like a little kid’s tongue does for an ice cream cone in the southwest heat.

At that point in life shortcuts had to be contemplated like a professional poker player. My other buddy and I knew if we hadn’t been picked up by someone headed our direction via hitchhiking by the time we got onto the island, chances of hitching a ride were rapidly diminishing. If there were more than two of us trying to hitchhike, I can tell you first hand, and thumb, that a successful hitchhiking endeavor was anorexic at best. Enter; the shortcut.

The marina is about half way between the London Bridge and the Nautical Inn and is loaded with signs; directional signs, slippery when wet signs, speed limit signs, private property signs to name a few. One of the signs was posted at the entry to the docks that housed the private boat slips. On the swinging spring-loaded gates that we pushed past, in bold printing that was brighter than the red letters in the latest King James edition Bible, warned trespassers that they would be prosecuted.

We knew we’d be hard to catch…

Sometimes if the coast were clear we’d stroll to the end of the dock and tie our T-shirts around our tennis shoes and effects, like we did for PE class in the days long before backpacks, we preferred to keep dry. We’d throw them like footballs over the murky carp-infested marina channel before swimming our shortcut.

There were other times when what we referred to as “Rent-a-cops” were yelling at us, demanding we stop… that never did happen. I never did like the feeling of walking in soggy shoes, but a shortcut taker has to be willing to live with the consequences.

I confess that even as a well-seasoned bloke that has learned the hard way time and again that shortcuts never gain or payoff, I’m prone to look for a shortcut like a duck does for water.

In our fallen world, we learn to seek shortcuts, to take the easy way out. That after failing to deliver what we hoped for at every turn, we look for the next shortcut like the gambler does the bloated winning lottery ticket.

I’m praying when the next shortcut that inevitably whispers seductively to me, I remember not only the lies of this world but also the origin of the temptation…

Then the power of God over it.


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We’re regulars, she and I, at the red brick ageless restaurant where our paths cross on occasion. Over the course of time, although trying to tune her along with the rest of the world out, I began to take note of the lady the waiters and waitresses call “Sunny”.

Sunny is old. And by the looks of her skin, I’d say she’s spent the majority of her life, if not all of it, fighting the inevitable losing battle with the Arizona sun. Sunny is short with silver hair in strands well above her shoulders. She doesn’t move fast, but deliberately. Her clothes look like she gave up worrying about fashion in the early seventies, but appreciates being comfortable.

Sunny carries an all white purse, smaller than most ladies her age. The handbag looked startling little when I looked close enough to see the clear plastic tubing snaking out of it. A closer glance revealed that tube strapped to Sunny’s head, just under her nose, and ran almost unseen under her blouse and then back to that tiny purse that housed her oxygen tank.

It’s easy for me to say that the kind folks working at the neighborhood restaurant have come to know me and treat me like a friend. If that’s a fairly accurate description of how they treat me, then how they treat Sunny would be like family.

Sunny has taken the time to learn everyone’s names and acts like all of them are her kids. Every last one of the people who work there make it a point to stop by and see Sunny, even if they’re not waiting on her.

Sunny is one of those type of folks that defy a category. To judge her by her cover would be a grave miscalculation. Just because she’s old and looks tired and relies on oxygen to keep her going doesn’t mean she’s not full of life.

Sunny is animated. When she greets each person it’s like long-lost family rediscovered, “Why-there you are! How are you, Nancy?” is typical of what she says in a high-pitched voice that sounds like something from a cartoon as she holds her arms out insisting on a big ole hug.

Sunny remembers details about each person that works there and asks them with sincerity about their lives and family members.

Despite her age, Sunny is the definition of her namesake; she lights up a room. It looks brighter and even feels lighter when she’s in it. Sunny reminds me that despite our world and personal setbacks, the gift of free will is appointed by God to each one of us. It is our choice how we see life and how we live it.

Sunny sat at the table next to me yet again a while back. Just before she left I did something a little out of character for me when I’m hoarding my time to write, “I’d say your name fits you perfectly, Sunny,” I told her.

Sunny beamed the brightest and most beautiful smile, tilted her head slightly sideways, a thankful twinkle in her eyes and said, “Well thank you, sir.”

I couldn’t help but smile back, “My pleasure,” I said and nodded.

Sunny reminded me again that caring for others is a gift. And that gift is ageless.


just in case

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My youngest was curled up on our overstuffed couch in the fetal position, her head pushed against the back of the cushion, hair blanketing her cheek. She had dragged two of the oversized pillows over her for makeshift blankets, one over her bare feet and one over her midsection. There were others within reach just in case.

As I looked on smiling, I had flashbacks to her childhood of bedtime rituals from days long past.

“Can we do whooshings, daddy?” she’d ask almost nightly for a time.

“Okay, babe, whooshings it is,” I’d agree.

She quickly learned how to count to three when it came to whooshings. Numbers one and two were like practice runs for the real deal that was exciting number three. I’d hold my little one, cradling her in my forearms as I rocked her back and forth twisting my body in the process to fling her sailing through the air and onto our king size bed. She couldn’t get enough of it.

Then there was the season of “The wrong bed” ritual.

“Will you put me to bed, dad?” She was a little older, longer arms and legs dangling over my forearms.

“Sure, babe,” I’d say in a serious tone for effect. I’d scoop up my snaggle-toothed treasure and head for odd places, and we tried everything over the years. I’d lay her gently on the dining room table, kiss her forehead and whisper, “Goodnight, babe, love you, sleep tight,”

She’d pause grinning uncontrollably, “uhh, dad?”

“Yeah, babe?” I’d ask.

“Umm, this isn’t my bed,” she’d giggle.

“What?” I’d ask with surprise, “Oh-okay,” I’d add and scoop her up again and whisk her off to the kitchen island, an occasional pinball machine, and even the dog’s bed a time or two.

Eventually, she did end up in her real bed, satisfied, we both were. We’d say prayers and exchange “I love you’s” and put another gift of a day behind us…

Then one day the number of days added up to seventeen years and the nighttime rituals had become just a sweet memory…

I grinned seeing my baby curled up asleep on the couch as I was shutting off all the lights and locking the doors in the one ritual that hasn’t changed. Melancholy filled my heart and eyes as I watched our baby in the same position she slept in as a child. I grabbed a few blankets out of the other room and as I was draping them over her she woke up, her button brown eyes squinting.

“You wanna go to bed?” I asked in a whisper.

She smiled, “I’m so comfortable here,” she answered.

“That’s okay,” I told her softly as I spread the last blanket over her shoulder. I kissed her on her cheek, just like I did in the days of “whooshings” and “the wrong bed” and whispered yet again, “I love you, babe.”

“Love you too, dad,” she whispered back, eyes already closed again. I turned the light on in the pantry and cracked the door to shed light on the course I knew she’d be taking to the “right bed” before morning.

I’ve learned to not pass up the gifts from God in this life that are more valuable than silver and gold and as fleeting as a breath. We never know in this life when we’re participating in the last day of a ritual or gift.

I guess that’s why they tell us to cherish each one like it’s your last… I did a few nights ago… just in case.