How I Learned to Quit My Bellyachin’ and Get Back to Work

The mess we made of the downstairs deck, which ain’t there no more. Old wood tore out … waiting for new stone.


I watched my friend use a circle saw to cut through rotted floorboards on a downstairs mini-deck outside my wife’s yoga studio, a “porch” we’ll redo with stepping stones. What we exposed was sickening.

Suffocated rats’ nest. Spiders.

And worse.

We smelled it before we saw it: shit pooling up from an uncapped pipe. The metaphoric possibilities are inviting. But let’s not go there.

The sewer line was clogged. At Home Depot I rented an industrial snake. We wrestled the monster down to the work area, plugged it in, and got going.

And going.

I thought I’d never get out of there. Jose would not give up.

I was ready to give up. I could’ve curled up in a puddle of shit and gone to sleep I was so worn out. I thought the sun would rise on a new day and I’d still be there with this workaholic, rumbling that thing under the yard. I’d been up since two a.m. I came off my Walmart shift at one p.m. to start right in on this. No time to put sore feet on a footstool and watch TV.

I descended the stone steps toward the street and put my ear to the ground to hear sounds of telltale scraping. Felt like some Plains Indian marveling along the rails at the vibrations of the distant iron horse.

Except wonder had morphed into fatigue a long time ago.

Victory was hard won, but we capped the pipe at nine. Block cleared.

Ending a seventeen-hour workday for yours truly.

Next day started three days off shift at Walmart. But not at my house.

Jose was over at six. As my wife had not liked the color of the hundred seventy-five stones we’d rashly unloaded the day before, these two old guys had to reload his truck in three trips to return them to Lowe’s. Went to Home Depot to look for stones that’d work. Struck out. Finally, a place had terra cotta stepping stones and versalock retaining-wall stones that looked like they’d match what was already on the property, but they looked dark. To avoid a repeat of before, we took a sample to show Barb.

We were right; she was not happy. Said she’d shop herself. Fine by us.

We got going doing what we could. By end of day we’d disposed of half the wood from the old deck, costing me twenty bucks at a landfill. We turned over shit-soaked muck to let it air before we can spread the decomposed granite, tomorrow at this writing, and lay the stepping stones we’re calling pavers.

Barb returned waving a white flag.

“Use the stones you guys picked out.”

Tomorrow we dump the rest of the wood and go get the stones.

It’s getting to me. All this labor.

I’m up to it, but I wake up so sore. Yesterday, carrying load after load of old, nail-studded, broken boards to the street and dumping the loads curbside, I felt like Lurch staggering along on his prosaic rounds. Found myself considering the validity of a certain undeniable resentment. I miss living in an apartment.

At times I feel like telling Barb I don’t want to work that hard. Don’t want to work at all! I want to relax and retire for real. Collect the teacher pension and Social Security and sit on my ass.

I earned it. Even our financial guy said we could quit working our respective little retail jobs, collect Social and chill.

But what would I do? Watch TV and commune with my internet harem?

My self-image depends on labor, however humbling. Perhaps the more humbling the better. I’m old but I’m not dead. I must work. Counterbalancing the resentment, I feel driven, driven by karma.

I was raised a rich kid whose dad got guys to come fix things. Pliers, two screwdrivers, and a claw hammer in the pristine garage. A grease spot from some regular shmo sliding under his car to collect old black Valvoline would constitute a horror to my mother. We were not do-it-yourselfers.

Waxing adulthood denied me that same luxury. Most of my adult life I was poor. I still have this as my operating philosophy. I pull my weight in this marriage. The bit of dough Barb inherited from her dad, which put us in this fine house, does not excuse me from that karmic debt, a debt paid in sweat.

I can’t feel sorry for myself. This is how most men live.

I watch Jose bend to his task and sense he is not happy unless he has challenges of this sort. He tore up the whole back bathroom in his bungalow to redo it. Said the floor was rotted. Makes you wonder. Does he just like having a project like this, even make-work, to get away from his old lady? Whatever the motivation, his is a more successful escape from marital kvetching than my own retreat behind a book. At least he has something to show for it.

I was so fatigued after that first day, that seventeen-hour workday, I couldn’t fall asleep, so I started in on an episode of Madam Secretary with Barb. Ten minutes later my head was a bowling ball. I was so beat I just swished out my mouth with water, arm too tired to brush. Hit the pillow with a thud.

Woke up at four, oversleeping for a guy who’d got up at two fifteen four days running. Drank coffee. Read meditations on our political crisis online. This was my time. My spiritual hermitage. A space for contemplation.


Biden attacked for knowing how to reach across the aisle to get things done. Poor guy, he does look haggard lately. I agree with Bret Stephens that Harris’s attack on Biden will come to haunt her, and with Andrew Sullivan in New York that the Dems are tripping over Latino immigration and the true practical meaning of asylum. If Trump wins in 2020, we’ll have it coming for indulging our Woodstock at the expense of reality.

It’s frustrating, but I won’t give up on our country.

Especially on July 4.

Slogan for the day: Be the American you want America to be.

It’s hard work, but it needs to get done. Let’s do our damn job and quit complaining about it.

2 thoughts on “How I Learned to Quit My Bellyachin’ and Get Back to Work

  1. Quitting is hard, Medicare kicked in three days ago and last month I signed up for another year of working with special education youth.  I question my reasoning daily, but I need to work for sanity sake. The money is minimal and not needed, but like you, I need to feel needed.  I love the way you signed off today.  Happy 4th of July to you and Barb.Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s