Look Sharp

Thursday evening, and as the last day’s light was waning I was towing a red kiddie trailer home (aka, The Crap Wagon as it hauls recycling, groceries, farm stuff, and soaps and sundries to market with admirable aplomb for its $20 Maxwell St. lineage). I was huffing into a headwind, heavily loaded for the seven-mile haul (no hills) with groceries for Memorial Day grilling, a BIG bag of sawdust, and a bale of straw (as Alefellow was prepping the beef chuck and pork chops to feed into the grinder for his specialty burgers, he asked… “why are there bits of straw in the grocery bag?”… hehe).  The sawdust was for the chicken run, and the straw to be doled out to nest-box lining and should see us through the summer and into the fall crop of grain… unless the spent-grain/straw-culture mushroom bag technique I try out is successful, in which case I’ll be buying at least another bale from my chicken feed guy (I alternate buying stuff from Backyard Chicken Run and Belmont Feed and Seed… both family businesses that I want to have around in the future!)… this bale I’d bartered from the mycologist at work for egg-futures, and would be the last she could spare until we can source more… which right now, is like buying winter hay.

As I ride past our studio a couple blocks from our house (where I am headed to ditch the straw and sawdust, then double-back to work on projects and the endless cleaning and organizing) a lumpy middle-aged woman in a tight pink t-shirt steps out into the street towards me.  She’s holding a tall can of something in a paper bag.  “Excuse me!? Excuse me?!”… she calls out.  Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  Look friendly, but aloof… and there’s a storm coming… need to get the bedding into the dry shed before it and I get dumped on… Me: “Mmmhmm?”  She: “You stay around here?”  Me: “Mmhm.” 
She: “You need a machete?”  Me: Pedal. Pedal. Pedal.  She: “I don’t got it ON me, but…” Me, over my shoulder: “Actually, I already GOT one.”  She: “Huh?”
Me, again:”I already GOT one…”

I’m sure she though I was being a smart-ass, but she did catch me a little off-guard… and I wasn’t lying… I DO have one.  I told the story later to the fellow, who said I should have asked her, “Cane or Straight?  Because you really only need one kind…”.  It was one of my Christmas presents… the fellow found it at Maxwell St. one Sunday morning while I slept in… a cane machete with a dark rust patina to its hooked blade, and a sharp and shiny silver line where he burnished the blade with a file before he gave it to me.  The handle is wrapped in soft salvaged bike grip tape… the tape that had covered the bars of my trailer-bike back when it had bullhorns and we’d just met.  The blade he engraved with a dremel-bit: “I love your work”.  Probably one of the weirdest romantic gifts ever… and one of a million reasons why I love him.  Now if only he’ll sharpen the blades on that wood-chipper he got me this fall… and show me again how to start the dang thing, I can REALLY get some work done.

I finally found some fresh-cut hardwood logs last week, and yesterday drilled and inoculated 10 maple logs with shitake and blue oyster spawn… and have more blue oyster and also golden oyster to do tonight. The logs were from a tree that was just felled behind a house a couple blocks away, that I picked up with the trusty red trailer after doubling-back from my work-commute, switching bikes, loading the logs, parking the trailer at the studio heavily laden, and hopping back on the commuter bike like nothing had happened. This rowhouse recently sold after being on the market for the better part of a year- we’d looked at it… one of many in the neighborhood that had been recently rehabbed with nice finishes, then was vandalized and gutted by scrappers and gang hoods and selling for a fraction of the money that someone put into it. I liked it because it was close, faced a park and an elementary school, and most importantly had two city-owned lots adjacent to the west (good garden potential).

Thousands of dollars of plumbing and electrical work destroyed for at best, a couple hundred bucks of scrap… and that’s a tall “at best” with a lot of dirty work involved- carelessly ripping out pipes and wires that had been carefully fitted and threaded through conduit… skilled labor that doesn’t come cheap. The skylight of this building had been broken out causing water damage to the hardwood floors. The new tasteful tilework was gang-tagged with angry black and red paint.. 20-22-12… alphabet code for TVL. Traveling Vice Lords.
You can meet some of these charming neighbors here… or see their initials or numeric code scratched into the sidewalk… like dogs pissing to mark their turf. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2UY9sjyWHw

The drywall of this house was pockmarked with holes and burn marks (the holes let us see that the developer had rehabbed this rowhouse without adding even an inch of insulation, which ended our interest in the place- we’d have to rip everything out and start over for it to be a building we’d want to own or live in), and several of the kitchen cabinets had the faces broken out. I tried not to think about what was might be on the carpet (we’ve looked at a LOT of vacant buildings over the years… and junkie-scat has its own particular sweet-stench that is hard to forget). Theft is bad enough; the vandalism was senseless. An elderly couple’s garage down the street from us was tagged with their “code” around the same time we looked at that house… I was going to paint over it after seeing this house but luckily they or the city came out to sandblast their nice stone sills before I had to be spotted covering up someone’s tag. As the neighborhood watch sign in Mrs. Davis’s window down the street says, “We ain’t havin’ it! (We Call Police).”… which is why, when I watched a scrapper tearing the steel scissor-gate off a neighboring vacant building this morning as I left for work, I stopped to ring the buzzer of one of the owner’s tenants down the street to tell him about it, and called the fellow at work to see if he had the owner’s number in his phone… you can’t put up a chain-link fence around here without the risk of it getting clipped and rolled up and cashed in at the scrapyard down the street when you’re not looking.

But wearing colors is back… red, yellow, and blue bandannas dot the city streets this spring (which already feels like summer)… which is a bummer, as I wear my Folk/People-hued bandannas in an entirely different spirit (the dusty unwashed farmer with bike-helmet hair spirit)… Although I roll up my right-pants leg, which might make me reppin’ Folk Nation (or more importantly, keep it out of my bike chain), I live in People-Land (how can anyone actually take this seriously? It’s like a child’s game, but folks… and people, live and die for it). I’m sure that this colors fad will pass when the next thing comes along and I’ll be free to once again wear the red-polka dot osh-gosh rag without worry of who I’m “reppin”… although red is the predominant color through most of my commute; that one is probably fine. I especially like the one I’m sporting today, which alternates red, yellow, and white stripes… add in some blue and purple and maybe we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya someday.


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