I spent six hours this weekend pulling disintegrated insulation out of the crawl space above our garage. There are difficult jobs. There are nasty jobs. And then there are really shitty jobs. Like what I just did.
Serendipity is perusing the comments on your blog and finding just what you need to give a boost of profundity to the post you were planning to write. Thank you, Edward, for the Richard Feynman quote:
"A poet once said "The whole universe is in a glass of wine." We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass closely enough we see the entire universe."
Hopefully also if we look closely enough at a crawl space full of disintegrated insulation that needs to be disposed of. And at other sorts of jobs that lead the brain to scream, What the holy fuck am I doing here!?
That cry of despair was particularly strong yesterday, when I clambered up the drop-down folding stairs in our thirty-five year old garage to begin the Job from Hell.
Our detached garage/carport is getting an earthquake renovation. Supporting lumber needs to be “sistered” to the joists in the crawl space. The contractor told me, “The insulation has to come out. We’ll be back Monday.” “No problem,” I said, with what was, in retrospect, ridiculous overconfidence.
My first problem yesterday was simply seeing. A squirrel had electrocuted itself on top of our power pole. Nonetheless, I needed to get going on the insulation disposal job.
Rainsuit with tight cuffs. Fifty garbage bags. Dust mask. Rake for difficult to reach spots. Gloves. Flashlight. Battery powered lantern. “Glasses” with LED beams. I was ready to go.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t ready for a stygian nightmare. Gloomy shadows. Stale air. Clouds of thirty-five year old dust, decomposed insulation, mouse poop, and god knows what else rising into the unventilated crawl space every time I touched the unholy mess that covered the spaces between the joists.
Dreams of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome danced through my head.
I’d like to say “the worst part was…” But there were so many worst parts, it’s hard to choose.
Pulling on a piece of insulation and having it disintegrate into many fragments, each of which had to be picked up and stuffed into a garbage bag. Crawling my six foot, 185 pound body under the low sloping roof edge, perched on a piece of wood to avoid going through the sheetrock, reaching out half-blindly with the rake, only to find the insulation caught on one of the 2x4 crosspieces that for some inexplicable reason had been nailed between the joists every two feet (undoubtedly with the intention of driving me insane several decades later). Hitting my head on a rafter and/or roofing nail. Pushing around the large pieces of plywood that our crap had been stored on before we’d laboriously hauled it down the stairway to hell earlier in the week.
There was a moment on Saturday of near-panic. Scrunched under the lowest part of the roof, immersed in a dark dust cloud that wasn’t being totally filtered through my mask, already tired and frustrated with the shitty job less than 10% completed, I thought, “I can’t do this. I just can’t. It’s too awful.”
And yet… (Isn’t it wonderful how life always offers up an “and yet”?) I didn’t know how to find an illegal alien for hire on the weekend. The guys from Paragon Construction were expecting the insulation to be out by Monday. I was still capable of moving. I hate to ask for help when I don’t really need it just as much as I hate to ask for directions when I do.
So I tossed the few bags I’d filled down the folding stairs. Took a shower. Went to our tango class. Got lattes with my wife afterward. Went to Lowes. Bought a better N95 particulate mask. And longer gloves.
Went to sleep envisioning a new and improved plan of attack on that goddamn insulation (which, strangely, was installed in an unheated garage; again, surely as part of some cosmic plan to drive me insane thirty-five years after the construction was complete).
New day. New attitude. Laurel kept saying, “Why don’t we just call someone on Monday, have them do the work, and tell Paragon they’ll have to put off finishing the work?” Hah! No way.
In our tango class I’d just been told by the female instructor, “Guys, have more of an attitude! Take control. Lead! Make your partner do what you want her to.” I wasn’t about to let Laurel talk me out of climbing back up into the crawl space and bending that fucking insulation to my macho whim.
With a Taoist edge. Today I started off mellow. Gazing through my new eye protection (clear swim goggles), perched on my new insulation collection platform (decided to push around the plywood for a firmer base of attack), breathing better through a respirator with a valve, I sent out love to the insulation.
Gently, gently, ever so gently, I’d pick up a piece and put it in a garbage bag. Keeping down the dust. Breathing regularly. Taking my time. Slowly, grasshopper.
Worked for a while. I realized that this job, shitty though it was, could be managed. I had a choice: to make the best of it, or the worst of it. I had the choice. No one else. I was on my own in that crawlspace. No illegal alien was going to materialize miraculously to rescue me. Nor was my wife going to be of any help, allergy prone as she is.
It was me and the insulation. Well, since the insulation was unconscious, it really was just me up there. How the rest of the shitty job day went was going to be up to me.
I had my ups and downs. After a few hours, I hit the dark night of insulation removal. I still wasn’t halfway done. Getting into the low spots was ticking me off even more than before. I’d hit my head on the roof beams so many times, I stopped saying “Ouch!” There wasn’t anybody else around to hear me. I got tired of speaking the obvious to myself.
Then I hit the sweet spot: a mini (or micro) satori. I was in the zone. I stopped thinking, “This is shitty.” Or, “This is fine.” It was both. And neither. I was just doing what I had to do.
It didn’t matter that my legs hurt, I was thirsty, my water bottle had rolled under a piece of plywood that I didn’t feel like moving, there were still three rows of insulation-filled joists to deal with. As strange as it may sound, I was quasi-blissful.
I’d hit the bottom of a really shitty job. It didn’t feel so much like I’d bounced, but rather that the bottom wasn’t there anymore. Or the top—where I’d tried to stay during my brief Taoist “got to flow with it” phase. It was just what it was, as New Agey clichéd as that sounds.
By 3:30 pm I was done. Right at Super Bowl kickoff time. I had enough energy left to do my usual athletic club workout. Saw the end of the first half at the club. Have managed to not learn the score up until now. Time to fast forward through my DVR recording, focusing on the commercials (usually the best part of the game).
I promised the metaphysics of really shitty jobs in the title to this post. I’m not sure if I delivered. Which is, I hope, an indication that I have.
You can try to find meaning in a really shitty job. Or, a lack of meaning. Same applies to God, religion, salvation, the hereafter, and all that. But in the end, there’s just what is. Dust. Garbage bags. Decomposed insulation. And…an unwatched Super Bowl game.
That’s enough. More than enough.