8 Million Stories: A Man with a Drill

Written by Jay Cleary on . Posted in 8 Million Stories, Posts.

Everything we had heard was true. Young mothers carried yoga mats and young fathers walked with newborns in slings. Restaurants advertised locally sourced food and bikes were everywhere. But no one seemed all that nice. Our new apartment was above a coffee shop and the owner wouldn’t let us double park to unload. From behind our building’s front door, neighbors watched dispassionately as we, boxes toppling, fumbled for keys. They made way reluctantly and then stood watching. My girlfriend dropped our couch and a man said, "I bet that’s heavy."

And that’s probably why we didn’t mind Vince. He may have been too friendly, but he provided that missing, fabled sense of community. While we worked, he opened doors and once carried a load himself. Inside, he felt comfortable enough to inspect and comment on everything we owned. He especially liked a 90-pound piece of art we planned on using as a headboard, but said it would be impossible to hang. We were missing the ledger board and would need a matching piece of plywood—he was a carpenter, so he should know.

Vince was one of a group of guys who were a fixture at the coffee shop. They were always on the terrace when I came home from work, and sometimes there when I left the next morning. A favorite topic was how blacks are the most disadvantaged minority—from my window, I would hear them agree that while a gay man can firm up his handshake and learn to enunciate, a black man can never hide. When I could hear Vince outside, I’d know that if I left then, I’d need to take into account five extra minutes for small talk so Vince could ask how I’m adapting, recommend a place and perform introductions. He seemed to know everyone and felt that I should, too, once running across the street so I could meet the owner of the laundromat. A small Asian man and I shook hands, then stood there, not knowing what to do next. And then Vince told me that he had found it.

"Found what?" I asked. "A piece of plywood. I found a slab just big enough and exactly beveled. It’ll sit under your piece and boom!" he clapped his hands. "Locked. That’s how you hang anything heavy. Let me do it. I’ll bring over my drill tomorrow."

I couldn’t say no; he was too excited.

I agreed to buy the supplies and pay him something small. The next day we met in a hardware store, and if I had expected the monotonous chains and bolts to quell his enthusiasm, I was wrong. They only heightened it. So many ways to hang it! We could use the ledger board and reinforce it or just use a chain. Suspend it directly from the plywood. Vince was after the cheapest, safest way, and he wanted me to know this.

"Hey, Vince," said an employee wearily. "Kareem, tell my man here the many ways to do this. Tell him. So many ways."

Poor Kareem soon escaped and must have alerted his coworkers because though every other aisle in the store had someone in an orange smock, ours remained empty for over an hour. That’s how long it took Vince to deliberate between the many ways, the many, many ways we could hang it. Eventually, he said that it was time to move.

"So what am I buying?" "Nothing. It’s in my pocket. Just move." The hardware store only sold chain and screws in bulk and, as Vince explained, this was wasteful. We only needed a little. This left the moral consumer with one option: stealing.

Deliberations continued in my bedroom. We had supplies, but there were still so many ways. So, so many ways. I asked Vince to find studs while he decided. In the hardware store I had offered to buy a stud finder, but Vince said he had his own method. I was now learning what it was: trial and error. He stared into dark holes holding nothing but bottomless space and coughed at thin white dust. The ledger board went in upside down, and the chain blocked the headboard. Vince was no carpenter. He was a man with a drill.

When he finished, it looked like a particularly slow machine gun had shot up the bedroom, and the art was balancing on a beam’s edge. This is where it would be while we slept. Right above us. Ninety pounds.

"Vince, this really doesn’t feel too safe." "Agreed. I’ll do this a different way. I’ll make new holes and move up the plywood. There are really so many ways to do this— so, so many ways."

Suddenly I had a vision of me and Vince at this all night, more and more holes, my wall crumbling, the two of us now in my neighbor’s living room, Vince still talking, so many ways, so, so many.

"What if you drilled directly into the fucker?" This hadn’t occurred to Vince. It hadn’t occurred to me either because it would ruin a piece we’d bought to resell, but from the first screw I could tell it looked good. The piece was wooden and benefited from something industrial. Those chains especially seemed trendy, and when Vince finished I wondered if the piece might now be worth more. Vince could tell I was pleased.

"All right!" he said, and spun his drill.

"Where else do you need the carpenter?"