Filed In: Stories

Headstone

August 17, 2018   |   Chris Blandford

I’ve visited this place countless times—once or twice a year for as long as I can remember. Almost always with my mother, his daughter. Almost always in the summer, when the Midwest air is as warm and sickly as overstored syrup.

My mom drives us up the cemetery’s western edge and parks deliberately at the end of one of its rows of unassuming headstones. She turns off the car’s engine, looks out the driver’s side window, and reaches down to open her door.

“Give me just a minute. I won’t be long,” she says.

There’s little about this cemetery that stands out, other than the person who happens to be buried here. The graveyard consists of three or four acres of land—an imperfect rectangle at the far edge of this forgotten, Iowa farm town. Bashful homes border one side; cornfields border the other three. The site is situated on a hill. At the top of the hill rests the town’s water tower, looking out over the dead and back towards a lightly traveled highway.

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Author's note: I wrote this story while working on a mixte-style bicycle frame for my wife. You can see the completed bicycle, here.

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.

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