July 30, 2016 · Fallbrook, CA ·
My Black Shiny Mailbox
I often bamboozle myself into believing I am stronger, cleverer, and can conquer anything if I just THINK hard about whatever it is I want to do. This triangular mindset played like a three-piece-out-of-tune band last week when I ripped out my old, bent, seen-far-too-many-bills faded green mailbox that sits at the end of my driveway. The bent box with the door always hanging open looks more like a receptacle for donations. "I can pull this old slap box out and replace it easily," I said to myself. Operative, manic, delusional word, "easily."
I headed straight to Joe's Hardware Store on Main Street, which is as far from a Home Depot or Loews as you can possibly get. Joe’s aisles are so small you can never get lost, each aisle is jam-packed with both the oldest and latest versions of everything because Joe's services an old small town with lots of old small homes as well as the newer tract and custom homes. Joe's is awash with plumbing apparatus, toilets, toilet plungers, showerheads, garbage disposals, liquid drain cleaners, sinks (both kitchen and utility) fancy and utilitarian faucets. It is aglitter with spools of electrical wire, hanging lamps, dimmers, every size and color indoor/outdoor light bulb known to man including tiny bulb replacements for your clothes dryer, refrigerator and itsy bitsy ones for your flashlights. Bright yellow and orange extension cords of all lengths in case you really get yourself in a pickle, wire strippers, single and double sockets to plug the light show in. Like the pots of color the girls at department store make-up counters sell, paint cans stand at the ready to be mixed into youthful shades with shiny, satin, or matte finishes. There are wood stains, brushes, a plethora of color chips that will make you forget all about your planned color scheme. The building and repair hardware is neatly catalogued in endless bins, every imaginable screw, bolt and nails size and type. Screwdrivers-Phillips Head, Slot Head, Allen Wrench or the super cool six-pointed Torx, a star shaped head used on things that must be made very tight. There are brackets, hooks, chains, doors, doorknobs, door locks, locker locks. You find drawers and drawers of drawer-pulls to match any furniture era or fancy. Small appliances greet as you enter such as fans, coffee makers, blenders, can openers, room-size air conditioners—impulse buyers beware!
Surrounding the front of Joe’s Hardware Store are indoor and outdoor plants that are irresistible to walk past; an ocean of colorful bedding plants, unusual annuals, zone-hardy perennials, herbs, succulents and small trees. To completely disarm you and cause amnesia on why you went to Joe’s in the first place, neatly displayed on turnstiles in the garden center, are the most exquisite, lovingly detailed watercolor paintings of flowers and vegetables on seed packet covers; here you need a gardening partner to pull you to safety. Every soil mix, additive (blood meal, bone meal) and distinctive fertilizer you could want or need for citrus, avocado and fruit trees, orchids, succulents, tomatoes, African Violets, cactus are neatly stacked along with scary concoctions to chase away unwanted garden critters. As you leave you try and keep your eyes on your car because you must pass the hummingbird feeders, patio furniture, giant umbrellas and a large graceful butterfly windmill that I only barely resisted purchasing.
Luckily, I was on a mission and the most important item Joe's had for me was a shiny black mailbox and all the paraphernalia I needed to install it: mailbox pole stake, plastic brace to attach my new mailbox to the stake, a 4x4x8’ lumber length which I envisioned staining a beautiful red to go with my new shiny black mailbox and bright red mailbox flag. “It will look so beautiful,” I thought.
Joe’s lumber yard cut the 8 foot wood beam in half and advised me to use one half to drive the mailbox metal stake deep into the ground, and than to easily pull it out and replace with the permanent wood beam. Simply place the mailbox on top using the plastic brace that fit perfectly underneath the new mailbox and aligned perfectly with the top of the 4x4 wooden beam.
Day one: I pulled my old seen-a-lot-of-junk-mail mailbox out of the earth, which was very easy because the wooden beam had rotted. I started pounding the new metal stake closer to the road so my mailman will have an easier time driving up and delivering mail to my shiny new mail receptacle. The wooden beam was a bit difficult to fit into the stake, a very tight fit, however, it eventually pushed in and I started pounding away. It took hours because the ground is hard and the metal mailbox stake is long. I kept a sunhat on and remembered to hold the end of the hammer and bring it down using my shoulder in long strokes, letting gravity do much of the heavy work. At this point I notice my usually quiet street had a few more cars driving behind me than usual, and I had the feeling some of my neighbors were watching me and wondering why in God's name was I out in the 90-degree heat pounding a stake into the ground. Then it came to them, "Of, course, isn't she the nut job who pulls her garden hose into the forest and waters the ancient grove of Jade?"
After many hours and multiple walks up my long driveway to refill my water glass and reaffirming my determination that I, a single woman, CAN if I just use my head and strength wisely, accomplish this task, at day’s end, I give it a rest and leave the garden hose running to barely trickle alongside of the metal stake overnight. My plan is to start out in the early morrow morning and begin hammering into the softened soil.
Day two: I wake early, put on my garden dress-very light material that wicks away my sweat, work boots and for encouragement a red sunhat. With each blow I can see the metal stake is moving further and further into the softened ground. In fact the stake top is now ground level and all I have to do is remove the wooden 4x4 and replace it with the permanent wooden beam. I grab the beam and begin to pull and it does not move—not an iota. In fact if it had been a two-ton hippopotamus sunk neck high in the muddy Sahara it would have come out more easily—at least I could have coaxed the hippo out with offers of newly mowed grass and cool water from the garden hose.
The tools pictured are what I actually used trying to remove the wooden stake. I hammered it from all sides-thinking it would loosen; I pulled and pushed the beam and feeling my spine ripping—stopped immediately; I hammered a sharp router into the top driving it in as far as possible hoping to weaken and split the beam; I broke a nail sinker right in two trying to split it from the side. Street traffic had definitely increased and slowed down as they passed me; by now I was looking up just daring the drivers to make eye contact. If my predicament is so funny why don't you stop and help me chuckling men in your work trucks? Shit. The end of day two and I am beginning to question my mantra, “I can conquer anything if I just work strong, clever and hard.""
Day three: I am determined to get the wood beam out because this is now the third day that I have not seen my mailman or any of my mail. Additional tools, I have decided, are called for and I drive early to Joe's Hardware and buy a 100 food extension cord and a 16" long Speedbor 7/8 inch drill bit which I plug into my Bosch electric drill. The cord is just long enough to make it down the long driveway and I "Drill baby drill" for hours along the sides of the wooden beam thinking that it will weaken and undermine the beam enough to pull it out. Nothing. And now there is a God Damn procession of trucks slowly driving up and down and outright staring at the smoke arising from the drill. The whirling drill bit pushed to the maximum speed and with the incurring heat from friction has branded the wood. I think I can make out the burnt words “Give it up!”
However, the smoke has given me an idea that I actually think may work. Finding a big box of kitchen matches and a box of tissue in the house, I sneak back down the long driveway to the sinkhole. I look around, no neighbors in sight, nor slowly driving by in their trucks, (although they may be peering out the windows) I stuff tightly rolled tissue balls far down into the wooden stake’s myriad drill holes, still smoldering from the big drill bit and then push several long wooden kitchen matches, burning head side down, as far deep as I can into my enemies’ metal mouth.
I look around-I am feeling so guilty-I turn on the garden hose and place it under a nearby tree-and I light a long wooden match and place it onto the tissue-kindling. I know any minute I am going to hear fire sirens and see big red fire trucks heading down my street and I am rehearsing a “get out of trouble” story in my head as well as how I might flirt with the firefighters. “Did anyone ever tell you red is your color?”
The tissue kindling and tiny-drilled bits of splintered wood start to catch fire and flames begin to lick the wooden stake. This lasts for 30 seconds and then they self extinguish. Undeterred, I push more matches down into the tiny fire pit and this time they burn for five minutes-enough that lots of smoke is circling, rising. I am the most guilty, happy, mailbox installer ever to stand on God's Earth, mouthing, "Burn you bastard."
Smashing the charred wooden stake with a hammer it still does not budge. This is the end of the third day. I am beginning to reluctantly accept a qualified defeat. I have followed the instructions and they didn't work. I decide in the morning to go meet my maker.
Day four: In the very early morning hours, before I can even begin to think or rehearse what I am going to say, I drive to Joe’s Hardware with all my purchase receipts in hand and walk to their open office door where I see a woman seated and a man standing. I decide to appeal to the woman and as unemotional as I can make my voice, abandoning all adjectives, recount what I have purchased, what I was advised, lay down my receipts for all of the mailbox project items, and recount what has happened over the last three days. Then tears begin to fall down my cheeks out of control, positively incontinent, and my tears flow and collect into a stream on the women’s desk like the Holy Ganges River. I am crying, asking for help and, truthfully, I am asking for forgiveness, “OK, I am not as strong, or clever as I thought I was, nor can I conquer anything if I just put my mind to it,” is what I am thinking but not saying.
Tresa Klemple is Joe's Hardware Store Manager and she looks at me softy belying steel facial bones covered by skin deeply and beautifully tanned-she is a woman who does not melt or burn; her hair is pulled back from her face because Tresa has nothing to hide. She immediately puts me at ease and says, “We are going to make this right.” Tresa also says, quite loudly, “Why did we cut an eight-foot beam in half, what a waste!” Even confronting a dilemma she still instinctually thinks of inventory, supply management and the elegance of economy. Tresa calls Braulio Paz, one of her employees, into her office and says to get another metal mailbox stake and go to, she pauses and asks me, "What's your address?" which I write down and give to her. Tresa turns to Braulio and me and says, “Help this woman out. How far do you live?" I draw a map for Tresa, explaining how close my house is. "You go home,’ she directs, “and Braulio will be there shortly."
I drive home and wait outside on my desk. Braulio arrives in a big truck and I walk down the driveway to the pathetic, slammed, hammered, split, drilled and burnt beam sticking up out of my mailboxless garden bed. Braulio bends down and gives the beam a pull and it does not budge. He asks me to bring down my drill from the house and I go up the driveway and return with it as well as run the plugged in 100 foot extension cord neatly along the driveway. I also bring down my toolbox and try and talk manly. “I love my toolbox,” I offer, “tools are really important.“ Braulio is so sweet, he completely lets me get away with this pointless bravado and instead, sincerely, says, "Yes, tools are very important." (If he really thought, “Yes, tools are very important, gringo lady in the red sunhat with the toolbox you can hardly pickup,” I completely deserved it.)
For about an hour Braulio uses tools he has brought from Joe’s and loosens the beam. Eventually, it surrenders to him and pulls right out. He then says to me, "Don't worry, we are not going to let you down," and after inserting the other half of the beam, anchoring it with long bolts into the metal box he begins to assemble my beautiful, shiny black mailbox to the top of the new beam using black screws I just happened to have, proudly pulling them out of my tool box. He adds some additional screws to the undersides of the mailbox and then opens and closes the mailbox door to make sure that it is secure. I am so happy, any feeling of wimpy female I brilliantly, rationally ignore.
I admit I am not as strong, clever or able by pure focus and intent to do many of the things I set my mind to. And what beauty it is to turn to a local business-neighbor and be met without a shred of ridicule. A large part of me was expecting, "It is not our problem, Miss Ganges."
Instead, I am bestowed with the basic sensibility that you are both our customer and neighbor and of course we are going to help you. A loving and humbling experience that induced a feeling of safety and personal value that we are constantly sold via television, or on printed junk mail or opportunely conveyed by politicians up for election, but we have come to believe will never be delivered upon.This is another Facebook post from Kathy we wanted to share.