Filed In: Stories

The Noise

June 24, 2018   |   Chris Blandford

I wake up to the subtle sounds of promise. Far beyond the outmoded screen windows of our little jungle chantey, I hear hammers driving roofing nails. Hand saws cutting through raw lumber. Masonry chisels chipping stones. Shovels plunging through top soil, moving earth.

I throw on my swimsuit and a t-shirt and head downstairs to make coffee. My two friends—the couple I’m traveling with—are just waking up as well. Our dwelling—booked conveniently on the internet, of course—is beautifully simple. It’s made of stone and wood, capped with a thatch roof and finished with simple openings. The wall studs and ceiling rafters are exposed, revealing the hut’s obvious handmade quality. Mosquito nets drape over the bed frames.

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This little Mexican town in which we’re staying is busy, but quiet. Bustling, but slow. I’ve never visited such a place. In recent years, hip foreign tourists have begun herding to this coastal community to experience its flourishing restaurant and retail scenes. The town—by all accounts—is thriving. That said, it’s also technologically primitive. It’s quite cut-off from the rest of the country. There’s electricity, but much of it comes from generators. There’s running water, but it’s not potable. There’s no sewer system. A couple of the small hotels have spotty wifi. The town is a strange mix of peasant and Prada. I’m sure there are some social concerns to be had in reflection of a place like this, but that’s not my interest at the moment.

Right now, I’m noticing something else.

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All the development going on, like that outside our windows now, is being done entirely by hand. With actual tools. Hammers and hand saws. Chisels and shovels. No heavy equipment. No power tools. There’s not an air-compressor or jackhammer or circular saw within a hundred miles.

As I boil water for the coffee, the sound of all those hand tools continues to echo through the trees outside. It’s still early, and last night’s Mezcal-induced headache hasn’t yet worn off. I should be finding all of this construction noise off-putting. For some reason, though, all that hammering and sawing and chiseling and digging isn’t annoying at all. It’s natural. It mixes with the chirps of the birds and distant collapsing of the waves, like it belongs. It’s sound, not noise. Men building things. Chatting and laughing while they do so. Making something.

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Author's note: I wrote this story while building—ironically—an electric-assist bicycle for myself. You can see the completed bicycle, here.

Filed In: Essays

Dear Matthew

May 01, 2018   |   Chris Blandford

Dear Matthew,

I’ve never done this before—written a letter to an author—but here goes.

I recently finished reading Shop Class, and find myself compelled to send you a note. Your book was one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever read; I enjoyed it totally.

That said, what you wrote also hit eerily close to home and has forced me to examine my own circumstances and upbringing. I hope you don’t mind if I do so here.

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I was raised on a hearty diet of white-collar privilege—private schools, expectations, and inevitabilities. I’m not complaining. You understand. I led a thoughtful, activity-rich childhood. One thing completely absent from that education, however, was handwork. I was never taught to wield a hammer or shown the advantage of a ball-end allen wrench. Reading your book made me realize this fact. Like all of my peers, it was expected that I work diligently at school and that I enroll in a respectable university. State schools discouraged. Four years minimum. I should study a subject that interested me and then go to work in a professional manner. Medicine, law, finance. Sales as a last resort. Something worthwhile. If I was lucky, I’d get solid vacation time and work for a corporation that embraced Casual Fridays.

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Author's note: I wrote this letter while building a hardtail mountain bike for my brother. You can see the completed bicycle, here. The referenced book is Matthew Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft.

Filed In: Stories

They're All Liars

March 30, 2018   |   Chris Blandford

They’re all liars.

I’m pretty sure they’re all liars.

Walking through the hospital’s revolving door, I’m more anxious than I’ve ever been. This is surreal. It’s early February—a Monday evening. Outside, it smells like it might snow. Potential-snow has a distinct aroma, I think. At least in the places I’ve lived it does. Here on Chicago’s north shore, it smells like a slurry of manure and apprehension.

My pregnant wife is overdue by a week, so she’s been scheduled to be induced for labor tonight. Our first child will be born sometime tomorrow morning—a girl, to our silent disappointment. We’ve decided to name her Mathilda.

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We walk in to reception and check ourselves in. The doctor will arrive shortly to get things moving, we’re told. Looking around, the delivery room isn’t what I was expecting. It’s oddly large, anchored by an ominous bed near its center. No curtains or bright lights. Nothing like how people describe. Seems odd. In the corner sits a solitary, oversized armchair. I suppose that’s for me. Behind the armchair, a couple of large, seemingly-flimsy windows look out over a dark courtyard. In case the chair gets uncomfortable, I think.

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