20. The Wood Shop

Best to begin with the wood shop.  Best to see how the epic is born from the banal.

Nearly a decade done with college and with little affinity for power tools, I had little business being there.  And yet there I was, in a woodshop at Mission Bay High in San Diego on a cold night in January.  A handful of adults also filled the room, all of us wanting to learn how to use woodworking equipment.  One older woman wanted to make a clock to hang in her kitchen.  A new father wanted to make a bassinet.  Someone else a cabinet.  So once a week we gathered in the fluorescent lit room smelling of sawdust and singed wood. The teacher, a blond middle aged man who surfed, had a comforting even presence of mind, which was probably key for a guy who’s job was to show people how to work with machines that could rip their arms off.

On the first night, as we were taking our first tour of the planers and table saws, drill presses and routers, I recognized someone. Up front, drawn in under a Greek fisherman’s cap, sat Gerry Coon.  We’d grown up together in Mission Hills in San Diego. I thought somehow that he should have been dead, but perhaps that was just because of his brothers.

After class we approached one another.  He asked why I was there.

I want to build a table, I said.  And a chair.  You?

His voice was so quiet I had to strain to hear him.  I want to build a boat, he answered.