Scratching Post and the Art of Loss/Woodworking 101

The Fillmore East show version is better but it goes on for like 20 minutes and I want you to listen to this jam. It connects to this post and my own life because it’s been a rough winter and I built a scratching post for my cat last Saturday night.

Each year my brother posts about his gardens and our Dad is another time I can firmly say I will never get over the loss of my father. I also do the gardening thing and need to step it up because the winter was long but finally over. I have turned my beds over, taken apart the broken wooden frames that are rotting and dragged them into the garage. I briefly mentioned the garage a few posts back because I have finally cleaned it out and organized it, to some extent, for the first time in over three years. Actually, for the first time ever because I never worked out there with my Dad as I should have. Regret is not helpful though so I am using it as fuel for my own projects.

The old man loved this tune but I think he liked the Bobby Darin version. I also want to be a carpenter. Well, at least a competent handy man.

The wood shop was where my father hung out. He may have kept the house relatively clean, although the more we had our more own homes the more we found fault in our parents’ mode of cleanliness, but the wood shop was a temple of organization. Even after three years of basically nothing being out there and stuff slowly accruing on the benches and shelves, you can still find damn near anything within five minutes. It’s a sad and happy feeling to go searching for tools because everything is labeled by black Sharpie in my Father’s almost indecipherable handwriting. Happy because I can find anything I need and sad because the feeling of him is so strong that I almost think he’s gonna pop into the door wearing his filthy woodworking clothes and spouting some of the worst profanity you have ever heard before cracking jokes on your expense that you will make you laugh for days.

Both my Dad and Merle smoked marijuana and I know he took at least a few trips on LSD, but this song was never about bashing hippies anyway. Merle wrote it making fun of the conservative Midwesterners he knew and my old man loved this song endlessly. In fact, it just occurred to me that part of my love for honky tonk music may have come from listening to this song on repeat in my Dad’s dirt covered Saturn station wagon as a middle schooler.

I have stayed away from the wood shop for three plus years for the reasons I have stated, which can be summed up succinctly by saying I wasn’t ready to be so close to the spirit of my Father even if I sleep in his house every day. Sure, I have used tools for various home improvement projects, but I haven’t cleaned it up and the sawdust on the floor was likely from his final projects. With the loss of my best dog friend Remy a few months back, the loss of Dad loomed even larger. One of the ways I chose to combat this, I got a two-year old orange cat from the refugee league named Hunk. He’s a great cat, although he poops more than I do and he quickly began dismantling an antique chair in my living room. He needed a scratching post fast and I wasn’t about to go buy one when we could build one in the wood shop. But first, it had to be cleaned out so it could actually be used.

I don’t know if my Dad liked the Carpenters, but I bet he did. I want to be a carpenter in my free time and also the first project will hopefully be only the beginning. Lastly, this song is delightfully cheesy, like ELO’S “Telephone Line” but not as awesome. 

With the help of one of my best friends, we cleaned out the garage over the course of several afternoons, removing a trashcan full of dust, dirt and grime off of the floor. We then destroyed several old pieces of furniture, half-made projects that must have been my Dad’s, and did a dump run. We were finally ready to make the scratching post. We sat around the work bench to make a list of materials and as we wrote each item down, we would see it already in the shop. Plywood for the base? There it was, stuck under the bench and half covered in sawdust. A post for the main component of this project? Already cut to length and residing in the overhead racks he had built for scrap wood. A rope to wrap around the post to sustain multiple scratches? Coiled up perfectly on the wall. All the tools we needed were already there, almost eerily set up for our use.

The old man always loved this song too, probably because it had his name in the title and had easy lyrics that he could remember to sing along. Now I don’t believe that ghosts can come back and avenge themselves and I don’t believe that the old man somehow knew we’d lose Remy then get a new cat down the road and need to build a scratching post. I think he just acquired tools for nearly any job and it was just a happy coincidence that all of the materials were already in stock. It did feel nice to feel close to him. 

Once we had cleaned the space and found the materials, building the thing didn’t take long. We had to cut down the plywood slightly using the table saw and then wrapped the rope around the post, putting in sheet rock nails every few wraps to keep it super tight. Then, I sunk a three-inch screw from under the base into the post with three additional two-inch screws to make sure it didn’t move. Lastly, I sprinkled cat nip all over the thing to make it appealing to the cat. We brought that beast right in and Hunk quickly took it on.

He has largely stopped abusing the old chair and spends most of his destructive time on the post, sometimes even sitting on top of it for a better vantage point from which to observe the living room. I’m sure my Dad is proud and I’m proud I got the garage cleaned up and my first project done. The best way to get through any hard time is to stay busy and this proven itself to me time and again. I can only hope to learn some more things so I can show my nephews and nieces some holiday and God willing, my own kids some day. I can’t go back in time but I can design my future.

This song is about nuclear war, but I’m taking it in the literal sense. I’m hopeful for my developing wood working skills, this growing season, and hopefully building some stuff with my family/friends. It’s one of the best ways to remember my Dad and utilizing this space and tools attached to my house.

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Dive Bar Playlist

As I passed the mark of my mid-twenties, two things happened that forever changed my night-life. First, I moved back to my rural home from the decent-sized city where I attended college; and the second is that I realized I really was sick of college kids. This makes me sound like a prick, but after five years of attending graduate and undergraduate school and a decade of visiting siblings, I really desired a new crowd of people.  I wanted people whom I perceived were living real lives and not in the hallowed fantasyland of higher education. Of course, the folks I’m about to describe are at the other end of the spectrum in a sense and live in no less of a fantasyland then anyone else.  Basically, I missed the rednecks of my youth and wondered if I would be allowed back in the club.

I quickly learned that once a country boy, always a country boy. I had been gone five years but not much had changed (which is actually not a depressing realization for me). When everything else in the world is fucked, you can always depend on the local dive bar and the rednecks you grew up with for a good time and a helping hand when you need it.

My particular dive bar has a local reputation as being a biker hangout and generally a rough spot. I don’t mean lawyers who drove BMW bikes on the weekend, I mean gigantic patch-wearing dudes who like to get into fights for no reason. My bar is the only local spot where bikers can sport colors so it is a popular spot for these boys with names like “the Outlaws” and “Mountain Men” or sometimes even the “Iron Horseman” or “Hells Angels”.

It’s best to take care when dealing with these folks. Take a look and keep your distance. Identify and recognize the very real threat of violence.Unless you hit on their women, touch their bikes, or somehow interfere with their intoxication, they will not bite. Also, it helps if you know someone who knows them, which I do in the form of a good friend we will call “the general”.

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