Thursday, August 25, 2016

What To Do With Two Nice Antique Doors?

Several months ago, Betty (or departmental secretary), asked me if I wanted two of her old oak doors. She knew I did some carpentry and was fond of repurposing old wood. I didn't have a use at the time, or the space to store them. Shortly thereafter, Hortencia and Carmela were talking in the office and I found out that Hortencia wanted to do some work on her deck and maybe add some furniture. They had found a picture on Pinterest of an outdoor coffee table with built in coolers and wondered if I could use the doors to build one....and we were off. I am not sure what Hortencia's husband Tony thought when we approached him with the idea though.
It was a lengthy project and I enjoyed the ever evolving design process. The finished product is far beyond my initial plans. Tony had some good design ideas, and we just kept revising as we went.

Here are the original two doors. Betty and her family had stripped the first one, and we used it for the top of the table. The iron grate you see would eventually serve as a hot plate. Four of the middle panels would be cut out to house the hidden ice coolers. The second door would be cannibalized to make the base.

This is the second door as we cut it into strategic pieces for the base units. I love working with old wood and furniture - the craftsmanship is tremendous. These two doors were solid and built to last.

Of course being two hapless guys, we needed constant supervision! Can you tell it's about 100 degrees with 85% humidity? That is not a fashion statement on Tony's head.

I should back up a bit and mention that before we started on the table, we decided to give the deck itself a face lift. It need a good deal of stain fast and some replacement planks. I think we caught it just in time. The most fun part though, as a hired gun, was watching the spousal negotiations over stain color. Tony actually won this one, to my everlasting awe and admiration....

I will let you be the judge - What do you think?

The day finally arrived. Tony and Jasmine led Hortencia out onto the deck to check out her new coffee table. The best part of the whole day was the cupcakes Jasmine made me :)

I think she likes it! The two coolers hold quite a bit of ice and beverages. The little grate on the left will be the hot plate. If you look carefully, you will see we put the family's first initials on the panels around the base. I wanted the base to have that antique toy block look, but decided to lighten it up by adding the circular cuts. Tony took it a step further with the router and added a nice chamfer around the inside edges. The grates covering the ice coolers are just common heat duct covers; I liked the pattern. So, after a hundred trips to Home Depot, the table is done. Next up, we will build planters and benches that will wrap around most of the deck....stay tuned.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


I think a lot about what being a man means, especially being a good man. I have never been comfortable with other people defining this for me, whether they be women or other men. I do know that I am often amused by men whom many women find to be "good examples of modern men", and more than a little disgusted by men whom other men find "manly."  I am also not a feminist, and subsequently have no appropriate label in this society. I am not a chauvinist (although that term has been perverted), nor am I particularly macho. I have developed a few rules and theories; and if I had a son, I would teach them to him. In no particular order or refined structure, here they are:
Strength -  I have remarked before that being strong is not easy, natural, or especially rewarding. I think it is something that has to be practiced - it is as much physical as it is mental; therefore it must be developed and fortified. If not, it is confused with pride and stubbornness. Without quoting everyone's favorite philosopher on the subject, strength, as seen in others, is often comforting, threatening, unintentionally exploited, and largely taken for granted. If you want to be strong so that people will be grateful, keep in mind an old adage - "No man is a hero to his debtors." Some people will use your strength when they need it, then deride it when it indicts their own weaknesses. You may become a favorite target and means of last resort. But make no mistake - when there is no one else to help them, you will be called.
So when you refuse the aspirin and tylenol, only reluctantly go to the doctor or hospital, and suffer silently through physical and emotional maladies, you are not being pig-headed and macho - you are building up for bigger and harder things that will befall you and your loved ones. And you will be ready. What is often viewed as silly male competition is evolutionarily valuable: Strength is a psychological construct (we know it exists but cannot measure it directly) and there is no internal scale available to us. So by focusing on what we believe to be stronger males and females and then competing with them is a valuable metric. Practice with purpose and potential.
Whatever strength is, it is certainly not simple endurance. That attribute must be given to God or to our genes; whichever you subscribe to. There is a huge difference between surviving something you cannot avoid and stepping up to take on something voluntarily that others shrink from. Everyday, on every task, be the first to volunteer and the last to give up. Strength is in those moments, not some cumulative and romantic posture only seen in movies. Strength is also not aggressiveness or violent. Bullies, like my least favorite presidential candidate, are the antithesis of strength - they pick on the weak instead of supporting and defending them.
Finally, strength carries with it the conviction to simply do the right thing at the right moment. There have only been a handful of times in my life when I did not know what the right thing to do was; there were many times however, that I struggled to get out of the obvious solution by trying to complicate the issue. Two enemies of my strength have been sympathy and compromise. A little about both....
Compromise - I really despise compromise as a virtue! As far as my manhood and compromise go, I have some very complicated connections: here goes (I would ask for a bit of patience here): I have heard many times that collaboration and compromise are hallmarks of feminine strength (not exclusively though). I separate the two concepts however. I think collaboration is a wonderful skill and very necessary. And I do believe that women often do this better than men. But this is where I step off to a dark notion - I think collaboration to compromise is unhealthy and might be what John Ogbu labeled as a Secondary Cultural Difference. To scaffold to this point, we would have to agree that women are a minority (given the percentage of power owned, not sheer population). When two groups coexist and one subjugates the other, the minority group develops new traits that are defensive and not true to their authentic culture. I think women have been subjugated and to deal with the inequity of power, have learned to work together more effectively to deal with the individual discrimination. Girls are rewarded for their compliance and collaboration. But this notion of shared existence goes to far when the aim of collaboration becomes compromise (and I am not saying compromise is a feminine phenomenon only). There are too many institutions and organizations that view themselves as "families" and then put a premium on compromise as if it was almost a sacred virtue. Compromise is not always appropriate, and it should never be a foregone conclusion or immediate goal. Contrived compromise is a recipe for mediocrity. There are times when your strength lies in your resistance to compromise. But then again, we dance just over the line of stubbornness and pride.
Sympathy - I smile whenever I think of this word. I smile because I remember clearly the first time trying to exploit it backfired on me. I have said many times that "you cannot ask for my sympathy and respect" - choose one or the other in your appeal. I then will make up my mind what to grant you (perhaps both). I have seen and experienced some bad things, some even terrible I suppose. When I mention them, it is often to give someone else a new perspective on my thoughts or actions, not to gain favor or to avoid a consequence. In Jamaica, I witnessed the death of a small baby very personally. Later, when with a group of friends and strangers, I broke down and cried having not processed the experience to that point. Their emotional response was warm and comforting, yet I knew at that moment I could exploit and manipulate their kindness somehow. A few years later, I had a similar experience with a friend who called me on it and rebuked me quietly. I was embarrassed but grateful - I didn't need his sympathy at that moment, I just wanted it for reasons I did not understand. I am not saying it is wrong to express such things. I am only wary of the purpose of such ventures. Accepting sympathy is dangerous currency exchange; particularly when it occurs well after the traumatic event or circumstance. It is not something to be bartered or stored. It is a gesture others bestow on us temporarily when we are down and recovering. And for crying.....
Crying - I have cried a few times in my life and regretted each instance. These were at low points, and the people that I made this physical appeal to were indifferent or obliged to endure it. I have even tried to cry when I was alone without much success. I guess I relate crying to the muteness of an infant - a generalized appeal for comfort or a particular desire with language to specify or distinguish. But I have language and I have a logic to deal with my problems. I simply find no comfort in the intended release granted by shedding tears. Much like my endearing belief in faith though, I have no doubt that what I hold may be different from others, and that crying may be therapeutic for them. I would like the same reciprocity without the over generalization that this phenomenon is healthy and normal for us all.
Honor - Never has there been such a mismanaged masculine misnomer as honor. This term might just be the apex of misspent privilege and perverted power. Honor does not manifest itself in swagger, violence, or self-righteousness. It is simply the adherence to a basic, simple code: Do what you should do when and how you should do it, and make sure simple self-interest isn't your primary motivation. There is no honor in military bravado, tattoos, flags, guns, sport franchises, cloistered societies, politics, or smugness. It is not a bright and shiny thing. The people I have sought to emulate did not have bright and shiny lives - they had a normal, often dull existence that was punctuated by the moments of God-given grace when they could stand apart from the meandering crowd and fight an injustice without compromise and certainly asking for no pity or sympathy. They did not thump their chests or compose songs. They lived honestly and simply and defended others to their own detriment. I have had slippery glimpses of honor, and each has motivated me to redouble my efforts to adhere to my code so that when the challenges come, I will be ready. That feeling I experience like an evaporating morning memory is incredible. I can only imagine the energy and purpose I could harness if I worked harder and was more worthy of its mantle. If I do get closer to an honorable life, those feelings and emotions will become even more private, even more hidden from the world. I will not be a loudmouth, gun owning, redneck, patriot drinking beer and droning on and one about God and country. I will not be some effete liberal, self-righteously congratulating myself on an early and exceptional transcendence to a superior place. I will learn true humility and ever-extending moments of grace.
My Path To Date - I have a certain semblance of strength through my endurance of early challenges, survival of my own follies, and a persistent and stubborn desire to become stronger. Like many males, I fought the wrong battles too easily when I was young, for the wrong reasons, and I have shied from the right battles latter in life in fear of  losing what I have recently learned to be cheap and artificially constructed conveniences that I thought composed my life. Instead, they compromise the life I want to live and I need not fear their loss any longer. I have not developed and/or stored this notion of strength for my own benefit (arguments about ego and insecurity aside), but for the benefit of others. Despite my childhood, I don't fantasize about alternative beginnings or fortunes. I also believe that I was quite a long time on the other side of the honor and strength side, well into the stubbornness and pride region. I am not happy about that and I am sure it was to the detriment of many around me. However, for me, it has been a lot easier to come back down to a sensible place than to work up to the right place after all these years. I am happy where I am, at least with ample challenges. I want to change the world and I need to be strong to do so.
My Continued Journey - I love being the man friends and moderate foes alike will look to when they need help. No matter how, no matter when. I love the fact that they believe I will be there and I will not fail. I will be on time (would rather you chop my little finger off than be thoughtlessly late - although that might just be my German blood talking). I like less the consequences of those assurances, for I get sore and tired and there are times I could just sit back and let someone else handle things. This is the very unromantic part of my strength - it still sucks sometimes and is never very exciting. I am not some altruistic, intrinsic (always hated the word intrinsic because I never understood it) nice guy. I am learning every day that my strength and eventual sense of honor is built on a multitude of inconvenient tasks. I am clearly no martyr either - I have never been asked to do something I could not accomplish, or that really took too much away from me personally. It's the simple, sucky stuff. Simple! And before any logical protests: I am not a hero or father figure either. I don't want to be someone's only resource, only hope in small or large situations. I don't want to be perceived as stronger than anyone else either. As a matter of fact, the one late transition in my life has been the abandonment of external sign posts and role models - I am in my own race now. I have listened to God and have understood the things I need to do and the goals I need to develop. I will need a lot more strength though. a lot more.
Epilogue - I have learned that I am not exactly like anyone else, and far removed from many. I don't believe (as I am often told) that I am less than a complete man because I don't let others in or that I do not make myself vulnerable. At this point, other than a gently used work van, there is very little I think I need. I will continue to find more selfless engagements and chase down that ethereal corridor of honor and strength.