Two seemingly innocuous, unrelated events converged in my recent past. The first was that my wife and kids went to visit my parents in Ohio for a two-week stay. Without me. The second is that, whilst wandering the Internet, I came across an article called (something like) “Things You Can Make With 2x4’s.” I forget exactly what all the things you could make were, but I remember that one was a coffee table.
You should know this about me: I’m the world’s worst carpenter. Except for the gumball machine I made in woodshop back in 8th grade, I have never even attempted to make a thing out of wood. Still. A coffee table out of 2x4’s seemed doable. So against any sense of logic, I proceeded with the project using these tools:
- A small crosscut saw I got when my wife and I first got married, whose main purpose had been, so far, cutting the bottom six inches off our Christmas trees each year so they’d fit in the stand.
- A Philips head screwdriver that had been with me since college. Mainly used to open up battery cases.
- That’s it.
I made a trip to Home Depot and bought some things that I thought might be useful. Sand paper, woodscrews, nails, stain, lacquer and, of course, the 2x4’s. Certainly the employees at Home Depot thought (and kindly kept it to themselves) “There goes a guy who saw a thing on the Internet and now he thinks he’s Bob Vila.” Hampered all the more by the fact that my only workspace was my front porch (Come on. The saw I mentioned is a notch above a pocketknife. Do I have a workshop? Get real.), I got started.
Here’s something else: Aside from the fact that I just wanted to try something new, I wanted to see if manual labor, real work, carpentry in this case, could somehow be meditative. For me. I know it is for my friends who are good at carpentry, who do it regularly and draw intense satisfaction from it. The skin on my hands is too soft, I thought. I haven’t gotten enough blisters or splinters in my adult life. I haven’t ever physically sweated over an object I built.
The scratching sound of the sandpaper on the boards was peaceful. The rhythms of the paintbrushes, one for the stain and one for the lacquer, soothed me. The twisting of the woodscrews through the 2x4’s, over and over again, drove me deep into a conversation with myself, a kind of silent discourse beyond the range of words. I was getting to know a self that I assumed had never existed.
Sometime during the course of the project, I found a big moth wing on my front-porch-turned-workbench. As a monument, I guess, to this internal dialogue I stuck it to the bottom of the coffee table with my last coat of lacquer. Something impossibly delicate and silent, something incredibly hard to find.
I suppose it’s true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but maybe it’s true an old dog can find a new dog living inside his skin. And the best part is: now there’s a coffee table in my living room. When I drink coffee in my house, even if everything else I said here is total crap, I have a place to set my cup.