June 15, 2019

shovels and rakes and implements of construction

A sonic screwdriver
would have weighed less.
There were four of us out there this morning patching up the road leading to our little mountain-cabin neighborhood.  Last weekend brought record flash rainfall and unforeseen road damage, the kind that needs immediate attention lest things go pear-shaped.

We were all members of the property owners' association board.  It stands to reason.  Anyone who volunteers to be on a board of directors is a known masochist and a born sucker.

I volunteered to help but very quickly realized this gesture was all heart and very, very little actual muscle.  I was the short, scrawny girl among three strong men, two of whom have worked construction all their lives and one of whom owns six shovels.  If we had been the Department of Transportation, there's no question I would have been the one holding the "SLOW" sign for traffic.

Instead, we were the Department of Volunteer Half-Assed Road Patchers With No Hard-Hats.  It doesn't make a good acronym.

The experience was educational, though.  I learned how to shovel gravel into the back of an ATV without hitting anyone in the face with flying pebbles.  I learned how to spot road damage and threats and determine where repairs are needed.  I learned that some people are demented assholes of such breathtaking saturation that they will stop their vehicle and climb out holding their ash tray, intentionally dump fifty cigarette butts into a pothole, then get back into their vehicle and drive away.

My first job was wielding the tamper packing-down stick thingie on the layers of asphalt patch.  It's supposed to be used in such a way that a person brings it down flat and it makes a satisfying, muted "thud" and compacts the tar stuff.  I managed to make it bounce with kickback and clink and scrape and cause the construction guys to wince.  I got worse with practice.  Once, I lost my balance and fell.

I showed marginally increased adeptness with a gravel rake.

Asphalt cold patch comes in bags and it is the coolest substance in the known Universe.  It's just a mixture of fine gravel and tar, but when you dump it out, it crawls by itself and looks like creeping black, shiny organic matter that exercises sentience and oozes into the needed shape with very little coaxing.  It would have made an excellent villain in a Tom Baker episode of Dr. Who.

It was hard work, and I don't mean the physical labor.  I mean the search inside myself for humility.  I was the weak one today, all the more sensitive to being patronized after this week's news that I'm not getting a field-based promotion.  I felt like a child this morning, playing with plastic rakes and shovels while three kindly dads looked on and let me do enough to gain a sense that I was contributing, lest I feel left out.  They all had to go behind me and re-do my work to make it right, better, done.  It was hard, not letting tears well up.  It was hard, not injuring myself trying to stubbornly match them muscle for muscle to prove I have worth.

And credit is due them, because when I lifted the fifty-pound bags of Dr. Who asphalt patch out of the back of the ATV and carried them, no one tried to take them out of my hands.  No one said, "Here, let me get that," not even when I was struggling and wheezing.  My comparative weakness was an objective thing, but that didn't stop our board president from trying to the very end to teach me the right way to tamp down a road patch.  He finished tamping when I couldn't lift the tool any more, but he didn't give up on me.

So there's something honest about these blisters on my hands and these sore muscles, and in the bond we formed this morning, working together.  They don't know I'm crazy, because being mentally ill doesn't matter when you're working from the heart.  And I might be a weakling, but I was there.  I showed up.


I got tar stains on my white t-shirt.  I went on Amazon to look for some tar stain remover.  They have some.  I have questions.


  1. Yikes - well.... if the FDA don't approve it as a supplement, then just use it for it's actual purpose :)

    My thinking is how much did the T-shirt cost? Does the non-ingestible Tar Remover cost more than the T-Shirt? Should the T-shirt now be framed, with it's tar stains, as proof that Lille did that road maintenance?

    Amazon may now be putting that disclaimer on everything, (nope, I didn't check) in the same way pharmacists put "may make you sleepy. If this happens, do not drive or use tools or machines" on everything including Calpol - which is for children, who shouldn't drive in the first place.

    Other than that - fair fucks to you for getting out there and doing ….doesn't matter that you don't have the experience - (learning to tamp correctly takes ages), you overcame yourself and got out and did. *Wipes tear of pride from eye*.

    As an aside - people who chuck out the entire contents of their ash trays suck wide.

  2. Okay, Arlo...You can either hide the evidence, I mean...T-SHIRT...at the bottom of the cliff under all the other garbage and hope you don't end up having to sit at the Group W bench...OR...you can do what Carol suggests and frame the damned thing; which is what I'd recommend. Update us on this, please! ~ Mona

  3. Okay, there's a third thing...you could put it up for sale on Craigslist! Just saying...God only knows what other blog fodder you'll get from doing that! ~ Mona

  4. I do NOT want to sit on the Group W bench! I soaked the shirt and the corresponding denim overalls in a very thick solution of OxiClean last night and it *almost* all came out, so I'm going to lather, rinse, and repeat (literally) until they're purified and then throw them in the dryer. OxiClean is sorcery.

  5. I had to reread that cigarette butt thing a couple times just to make sure it was real life. What. The. Fuck.
    Whoa. Asphalt cold patch! It makes me think of Venom, which is equally fanciful and evil. I want to watch Dr. Who fight the cold patch monster. I just want to watch Dr. Who do anything. Why has the Doctor abandoned us.
    Isn't it wonderful, being treated with respect even when you're weak and flailing. I used to meet up with a group of guys for parkour. I suuuucked. They were really patient and respectful and crazy scary strong doing their flips and shit. I struggled to climb a four foot wall, while watching them bound everywhere like graceful monkeymen. I was the only girl and like, ten years older than them, hahaha. I felt so heavy and sluglike.
    Major props to any woman I see in a construction crew. Also, the sunburn!!! AAA

    1. Dr. Who (Series 12) returns in early 2020 with the Judoon as adversaries

  6. You had me at holding the 'SLOW' sign. I do appreciate that they let you hold the heavy bag without trying to help. I workout a lot and I long for the day when my brute strength is required at a family party, so my brothers who don't give me much credit can see me kick ass. What can I say, middle child syndrome run amuck.

    1. You have to somehow instigate an opportunity to demonstrate your prowess ... tripping and catching one of them heroically should last a good ten years of future family party story-telling. Not that anyone gave you that idea, because an injury could occur and I DID NOT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT, BROTHERS, OKAY? SERIOUSLY. DON'T SUE ME. There you go, Ernie! :)