Handyman

Childhood notions about existence, immortality, and happy endings still persist in my consciousness at twenty two. My councilor called me a late bloomer. I didn’t do well in high school until my senior year then I got all A’s. They said I had emotional problems in grade school. I didn’t know, or want to know, what they were talking about. And I wouldn’t take the pills they tried giving me. My father said if I wouldn’t take the pills I’d better straighten up or he’d beat it out of me. And he did. I eventually found ways to control myself and stay out of trouble. I don’t remember reading books, drawing pictures, or listening to music. All I remember are feelings, mostly negative. Fear dominated my motivational psychology.

An eleventh grade teacher changed my outlook. She motivated me to excel. One day she caught me looking at her ass and she kind of smiled when our eyes met. I thought, wow, she’s really kool. I started turning in my homework every day and reciting in class. She asked me to stay after one day and I got a hard on just being alone with her. She said she knew I could do better and she wanted me to try harder in all my other classes. Without her, I would never have been accepted into college.

My college grades weren’t bad. A’s in calculus, B’s in programming, but only a C in analytical physics, the most important class of all if I wanted to go to engineering school, and I did. The C wouldn’t do it. My lab work wasn’t good enough. Text book memorization wasn’t the problem. I knew the laws of physics, I could derive all the equations, and I understood the experiments. I just couldn’t apply it in the lab. I didn’t have enough patience to tinker around with tools. The lab instructor said I would never make it in engine school. My decision to drop out became easier after that.

Basic construction trade tools, including pick and shovel, suited my temperament better than the physics lab tools; and putting money in the bank every payday gave me a secure feeling of independence I had never had before. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next with my life but I was enjoying working outside everyday. I was into my body. I would go home after work and lift weights to get ready for my nude modeling job at the art class every evening on campus. I would always use cold water in the shower. Hot water relaxes your muscles. And I wanted mine to stay pumped up for the art class.

After my encounter with Professor Purcell, I thought seriously about going back to school as a drama major, and I asked Doreen about it while helping her move some heavy industrial sewing machines to her studio and living quarters on the top floor of an old four story warehouse building near campus. She said: “If you want to teach and publish and have credentials, for a myriad number of reason, then yes, you should return to school. Maybe not right away but don’t wait too long. Meanwhile, think about this. I’m opening a small stage downtown. You could get your start there. Work your way up. I can’t pay much but the experience would be priceless, if you’re really interested in learning the theater.”

I looked into her searching, big brown eyes, and said: “Does a bear shit in the woods?” And immediately wished I hadn’t.

“That means yes, I take it,” she said, her face expressing both amusement and surprise.

We had never really talked much from the beginning when our paths first started crossing on open mic nights at the bar near campus. I didn’t know who she was but she stood out in the crowd. Beautiful, angelic face, fine body, stylish dresser. She was always at the center of the hippest crowd, it seemed to me, and I found myself daydreaming about her while at work. I started hanging around campus just to watch her from a distance, getting closer with each encounter. And then one day, in the campus coffee shop, she acknowledged me with a long stare concluding with a quizzical smile, leaving me with the feeling we had talked. And she acknowledged me regularly thereafter.

Why did she ask me to help her? Why not someone from the university? She wanted a worker, someone who could get the job done. I had no reason to believe it was anything more than that; and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make a good impression. After my first comment, I decided I had better allow her to do most of the talking.

“Come over here,” she said, turning on the overhanging light above one of the three large cutting tables in her sewing area. “Here, feel,” she said, indicating one of the many bolts of fabric stacked on the table: “Look at these colors.” As I felt the fabrics and gestured my approval, she watched intently, and then said: “Silks and satins and lace. Black, white, and scarlet red. Trimmed in silver and gold. Dresses, capes, hats, and gloves. They want it all delivered by the end of the week. I’ve got materials and equipment. I’ve got sewers coming in on Monday morning. And I’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do between now and then to have everything ready so they can just step in and start sewing.”

I would have walked through burning coals to be with Doreen. Spending the weekend helping her set up the cutting and sewing operation was like going to heaven without even dying. I began to understand were our similarities resided. We were both at a crossroads. She knew where she was going from there. I did not. But I’d happily be her handyman.

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