The Observer had a few days off last week, so we took the time to putter around the little woodshop we've set up in our tiny Capitol View garage (while we don't quite know the legal definition of “puttering,” we think it has something to do with getting out of your wife's hair, lest she hit you over the head with a putter). The shop is dark and cramped, with only a layer of sawdust between the soles of our shoes and terra firma. We've learned to keep to a habitual crouch while working there, to avoid ringing our noggin on one of the low-hanging roof trusses. All that said, we've managed to round up a fairly good selection of power tools over the years, buying them up a little at a time at pawn shops, estate sales and out of the paper — a good planer, a pretty good table saw, a pretty good drill press. A few years back, we drove to Hot Springs and bought a band saw from a one-armed man who owned a one-eyed dog. You just can't make this stuff up.
Our latest puttering session was a regular testosterone-fest, with The Observer cutting stuff on the table saw, drilling holes and sorting one coffee can full of random junk into another coffee can of random junk. As with most of The Observer's puttering sessions over the years, the only thing we really managed to create was a cloud of wood chips and sawdust, but the feeling of putting metal to wood — of making the knotty warp of nature bend to man's will that it be flat and straight and square — was undeniable. As an added bonus, we still have all our digits. Typing this column might be a little tricky otherwise.
(As regular Observer ob-servers know, we are more than one on this beat. This particular Observer notes that we actually made a rocking chair from scratch, or whatever the proper terminology would be. We were really rocking along until we got to the legs. One, for some reason, was longer than the other three. We sawed it off to match, with the result that the rocker never rocked back quite far enough, and pitched us out every time we went forward in it. We wonder where that rocker is today. If your head's made out of lead, it would work fine, and we'd give it to you.)
We noticed something a little odd recently. It might well be all in our head — that's where most of our wild, free-floating paranoia seems to get its start these days — but we've seen enough to believe that it warrants a mention in the Times' one confessional of blessed anonymity. Here goes: Did you ever notice that the worse the economy gets, the more willing vending machines are to take a rumpled dollar bill?
Let me explain. Like many offices, ours has a break room, and in that break room is a Coke machine. A year and a half ago, there were days on end when in order to get that sucker to dispense its wares, an armored car from the U.S. Mint had to back up to the door and unload a single dollar bill, preferably one that had never been touched by human hands. Only then, tempted with a bank note so crisp that you could carve a turkey with it, would our Coke machine give up the juice.
Maybe we're exaggerating. A little. But the point is that literally 10 minutes ago, we got that same machine to take a dollar bill that looked like it might well have been chewed and swallowed by a goat. A goat with a head cold. Just to make sure it wasn't all our imagination, we immediately tried another dollar bill, one that someone had obviously used to make an origami frog sometime in the recent past. We didn't even straighten the dog-eared corners. Lo and behold, the machine slurped it right up and — clunk, clunk — another chilly beverage in our paw.
So who says this “crippling economic downturn and world financial collapse” thing doesn't have an upside? It's nice to know that in a couple of years, when The Observer gets that mangled dollar bill in our apple box, pencil cup or beggar bowl, we can still find solace in a Diet Dr. Pepper.