On Love and Hammers

I was talking to my mom when she asked about my weekend.
It was late. Maybe 10:30pm and I was oblivious to anything apart from the materials in front of me.
I had met with Dan Busby, Holden Bonwit, and Laurent Pelletier, down at the Brewery to take another night of abuse from the task master, Dan.
You gotta understand, Dan, is brilliant, fun, and patient, but every human has their limits. Between the confederacy of dunces that he had been voluntold to work on the Moveable Feast that evening, he would on occasion fly off the handle.
Before and after pacing about, he would repeat, “Where is are the pliers? Hummmff.  Same place last time you grabbed em.”
He would ask, “What do you mean you don’t know how to make that there 50 year old lathe create a cone with the measurements derived from the delta of these hypothetical braces out of a solid piece of steel?”, whereby everyone in the room knew damn well he could absolutely tackle that task.
I…we all…would try to find tasks that allow us the minimal amount of sheer terror that he would inflict upon us.  Oh, the dread and misery.
I tease.
When tasked with a job that allowed for extended immersion, it was fun to get lost in it.
In any event, there I was, working away on some bit of metal and had my hammers laid out in front of me. A brad hammer that was about as big as my pinky. A ball pean hammer resembling the size of my thumb. And a 16oz framing hammer that I feel could easy knock the doors of hell off their hinges.
Over my shoulder leans in an older man. He startled me a bit, hovering over a little closer than was comfortable. I could see a week old white gruff on his face and nose hairs that were obtuse and characteristic of old men that lean in a little closer than is comfortable.
“Aaron! It is ‘Aaron’, right?”
Before I could answer..
“You’re using the wrong hammer there.” He said very matter of factory and rested back on his heals to invite conversation.
I snickered.
“I’m not sure I caught your name…”
No response
“Well, perhaps not. But frankly, I think I can do anything I need to do right here with these three hammers.”
Awkward staring.
I could see his mind twining around, not so much to what I was saying, but in the direction of the tools I was using. It was as if I was only a hook. A hook to hold and utilize these tools, hammers, that were one of the human race’s oldest known.
I asked how his day had been going. No response. It wasn’t so much that he ignored me as it was that he didn’t even hear me.
He stepped around to get another vantage of the project and he leaned in closer.
Finally, I got up. It was unnerving to just be sitting there with him shuffling about.
I got a cup of water and grabbed a cigarette.
He followed me and postured up to chew the fat.
Engaged, I took a drag of my smoke and asked again. “How was your day, man?”
“Oh, it was good. Solid afternoon. Had some good food late.”
“Oh, cool.”
Another drag.
“I’ve been working with metal for a good many years.” And his gaze drifted down. It was as if he boasted his experience as much in pride as in embarrassment.
My mind raced to my home, North Carolina. It wasn’t uncommon for old men to come up just to talk. Not about anything in particular. Just to share stories.
But I was in downtown Los Angeles. A 100 year old brewery that was only the second Edison substation in the country had morphed into an artist colony.
And now I was drenched in the yellow light of a street light sharing stories and a cigarette break with an old man that just wanted to talk. Not about anything in particular.
“Want to come over over and see my  shop?  I’ve been fascinated with hammers for a good long while.”
“Well, sure.”
I was due for a break anyway.
As I walked in to his shop, about 15′ x 30′, the walls were covered.  Hammers everywhere.  All different types, hung on peg board taller than I could reach, and I’m 6’5″.  The materials the hammers were made out of were listed – wood, leather, polyethylene, steel. The applications the hammers might be used for were labeled – metal work, leather tooling, hammer repair.
It was overwhelming, all of the hammers.
My thought was “Get me the hell out of here.  This guy is bonkers.”
But then I stopped.
I thought “This guy is passionate.  He loves hammers.  He has something that keeps him up at night, even if its strange to me, its something.”
For that, I loved him.
I spent the better part of the next couple hours getting schooled on the ancient tool and all of its marvelous glory.
I finally headed back to my project smiling.  I had learned something interesting.
But more importantly, I was reminded that there are folks out there that have a restless mind and do something about it.
Old man whiskers has passion.
Mom laughed at me…with me.  In retelling the tale, I had to chuckle as well.
“So, Aaron, you went out with that girl a couple weeks ago.  You said she was fun to hang out with.  Any new developments?”
“Nah.  I don’t think so.  I kind of let it fizzle.”
“Why is that? I thought you liked her.”
“I did ma.  She was fun, but she is sort of just floating through life.  She didn’t have any hammers.”