Friday, January 27, 2012

Bill's Dragon

The other evening, Milan, one of my favorite building contractors, stopped by to measure the shower door in our downstairs bathroom. This "man cave" shower has been leaking, and Laurie wants it repaired or replaced. She despises mold and mildew, and believes I need to be more active when it comes to ridding the planet of this ever-expanding scourge. Because of my more liberal nature when it comes to such issues, there is a girl’s restroom upstairs and the man cave tucked into a corner of the basement. The term, "You spawn it, you live with it," is often heard around our house, most often directed at me. As we were joking about such things, Milan mentioned he might be in need of an assistant sheet rock hanger. He has been working with Steve and Jana on the renovation of the Lemuel Harrison Redd Jr. house, and they are at that phase in the project. Their goal is to bring the sandstone residence, which was built in 1900, up to contemporary standards while maintaining its original pioneer feel.

The term sheet rock brought back memories from 1975, when my parents began building Blue Mountain Trading Post. Through their careful and frugal management of the Plateau gas station and second-hand store, which was located on the south side of Blanding, Duke and Rose scrimped together enough money to purchase a three acre parcel of land from Harv and Hattie Butler. Grandpa Woody brought in his rebuilt Caterpillar tractor and terraced the land to perfection. Dad bought 1,800 sheets of 3/4" plywood from a small factory near Cortez, Colorado for $2.00 per sheet and bargained for several additional bundles of building materials from other vendors. Scott Hurst was hired to pour a 50' x 100' concrete foundation, and Jim Foy, from Moab, was brought in to frame-up the heavy-duty shell and finish the outside. Kenny Mortenson plumbed the place. At that point I recall dad saying, "There you go boys, I've done all I can. Finish-er' up." "Sink or swim" was his motto.

Since it would allow them an additional venue to sell their wares, even the artists we had been working with at the filling station were excited about the build. At the time we were buying and selling genuine Ute arrows from John Dutchie, flutes by Billy Mike and wonderfully unique baskets woven by Susan Whyte, Rachel Eyetoo and Rosemary Lang. James Tapaha, Rose Philips and Wallace Toney, talented Navajo silversmiths, provided jewelry, as did the Taylor brothers and Peck Wood from Bluff. At one point dad traded the Ford pick-up truck I had inherited from him for $6,000.00 worth of jewelry. Having completed the transaction with the Taylor boys, he informed me, "We need inventory son. You're young, you can walk." I remember old Espie Jones laughing out-loud about that deal. "Your fadder, he's an Indian gibber!" said Espie. Leave it to the Navajo to twist the term. These and many others often stopped in to check our progress and ask, "Is it done yet?"

As he could dad found locals who were handy in the work of the day and hooked us up so we could learn from them. This was the summer of my senior year, which meant I was eligible for the work release program. I would check into school in the morning, work through the afternoon and attend football, wrestling, track or tennis practice in the evenings. Life was busy, educational and, in a word, good. When it came time to sheet rock the interior of the building, dad teamed me with Bill Acton. As I recall, Bill was a retired sailor who returned to dry land and became a local handyman. I was young and strong at the time and figured I could work this old gruffer under the bench. Bill put me through the paces, however, letting me do most of the heavy lifting. His job, as he put it, "Was in the details." He was a practical joker, pulling juvenile but effective tricks like shaking sodas and salting powdered donuts.

Bill was a short man, 5' 6" at best, roundly built and blessed with an active sense of humor. He was quick to point out any flaws one might have. As we were sheet rocking the ceiling, he would set the height of the scaffolding to suit his needs and expect me to adjust my taller frame by hunching over. When I suggested an adjustment and a step stool for him, he laughed in his jolly way and said, "The comfort should be mine, because quality is in the details boy, in the details."

The day I met Bill's dragon it was stifling hot. Bill and I were lifting 4' x 10' sheets of plasterboard to the ceiling, holding it in place with the tops of our heads and nailing it into place. As a result, my head was bruised and battered. To this day, I can feel the hurt. Having put the latest piece in place, I jumped down from the scaffolding to grab another sheet and pass it up to Bill. The old-timer took the brief respite to strip off his sweat-soaked Navy sweatshirt. That is when I saw it, a huge oriental dragon emblazoned across the entire upper torso of the old bounder. I was so surprised by the tattoo that I nearly dropped the super-sized sheet of sheet rock.

The dragon was fiercely impressive, with brilliant colors of ruby red, emerald green, sapphire blue, golden citrine and the brilliant orange of a Padparasha sapphire. For a brief moment I envisioned Bill in his prime. He would have been short but well muscled, with a full head of hair and an attitude to carry-off that radical tattoo. I looked at Bill standing there in all his bare-chested glory, puffed-up and waiting for a compliment. I thought of how he had made fun of me and said, "Dang Bill that must have been one impressive dragon in its day." Bill visibly deflated. Remembering his juvenile tricks, I twisted the knife even more, saying, "That poor old cuss looks more like a withered lizard than a dragon." Pushing a little too far, I continued, "He's all wrinkly, hairy and out of shape. Kinda sad and homely if you ask me." Bill guffawed at my caustic comments and said, "If you were only man enough to bear one of these babies!" "Man enough?" I said, "Your once manly figure is looking rather matronly these days. Put your shirt on pal, the locals don't like snakes; you'll scare them away." Bill laughed out loud, and from that day until we finished the job, in an effort to upset my sensibilities, he took every opportunity to show the dragon.

That year I learned a lot about quality, workmanship and attention to detail. I also learned to appreciate unique characters and love them for who they are. As Milan was leaving he said, "I'll be in touch when it comes time to sheet rock Steve's house." "Yeah, well about that", I said, "You don't have any tattoos do you?" Milan looked at me strangely, trying to decipher my meaning, while Laurie became out-right embarrassed. "Never mind", I said, "you need someone young, less mouthy; someone strong and willing to absorb the details." Milan was still confused, but Laurie said, "Exactly that!" and ushered Milan out the door before I could embarrass her further.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and The Team

Great New Items! This week's selection of Native American art!

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Enjoy artwork from our many collector friends in Living with the Art!

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