Taking Care of Things

First written on August 19, 2016

6 min. read

Since this past week I’ve been staying in a place that I’ve been coming to for over 15 years. I come back every time around the same time of year: the last month of summer.

Here there’s a forest behind us and hills before us. I always come here driving too fast and because they don’t have enough people living here to maintain the road well, I have to slow down.

It’s annoying at first to drive more slowly. You want to go from point A to point B. But when you lower your pace, you start noticing these cracks in the road. They tell the story of the trucks and cars and bikes that slowly beat up the road. That road wasn’t just laying there. It was holding on to this piece of land and that land is not having any of that. The river nearby is pulling it over as it strolls by. The mountain back there is pushing it away as it rolls down.

Things are moving, nothing is really standing still. It takes great care to make it look like things aren’t going anywhere.

That takes me to my friend Claus. Claus was an auto salesman at a Volkswagen dealership for years. He’s Canadian but from Germany and he’s small but packs a punch. I don’t mean that he’s aggressive, no, just that he’s intense. He’s got one of those furious brows that can turn from anger to roaring laughter in a split second. He doesn’t like solving problems, he likes to make them disappear.

Claus was a cook for years after retiring from selling cars. He made French and German food, some of the best I’ve ever eaten. It was delicious and simple and got the job done right. Just like he does. I can still remember the taste and color of his roasted potatoes. The ones he served with his famous Bavette. When I was younger I disliked how many vegatables he mixed into the side, and how he loves to drop a ton of lightly roasted scallions on top of the steak. Now I wish I could go back in time and slap myself for not eating them.

First Claus and his wife Paulette had a restaurant on the side of the highway outside of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts in the 90’s. I mean as far as I know. Then in the naughties, they moved to a fancier location in downtown Ste-Agathe. A super cute place in an old wooden house where they had a wide terrasse and could sit a lot more people.

I have some of the best memories of my life in this place but that’s not what I want to focus on. While he and Paulette had so much of this stuff going on — the whole business of running a restaurant, hiring and firing people, getting provisions for the restaurant, prepping, cleaning, all that shit — he took care of things.

He took care of the old roof on the old house his parents left him. He took care of the concrete pavement on the side of the pool that I vaguely recall him telling me his dad blasted out of the rock with dynamite — that one’s not going anywhere. He took care of the little garden until the fucking forest deer starting eating all his nice zuchinis, tomatoes, and cucumbers, at which point he said “fuck it” and put up an electrical fence around the whole garden. It’s not pretty, but it does the job.

Claus’ basement workshop is a place of wonders. If you care remotely about tools, building stuff or even older houses, you’d fall in love with that place in an instant. There’s even a meat smoker in there, under the house, and the smoke runs out throught same pipe as the chimney above. Or a different pipe, I don’t know for sure.

I mentioned that he’s not a tall man, and I guess his father wasn’t either or I guess he made due because that basement is just tall enough for him. There’s storage everywhere, tools everywhere. A few years ago he even had the old oil tank (Canadian winters, are rough) that was taking up so much space and cut it out of there since electric heating makes a lot more sense these days. Now the place looks like a mini- Batcave.

Beyond impressing on me the value of hard and thoughtful work, Claus and people like him reminds me constantly that him and I are people who like to take care of things. His car is old, but you wouldn’t know it. He knows exactly how to make it last as long as it can possibly last. Rust is a fact of life with winters that harsh, so every summer he sets out time to sand off the rust, repaint the damaged bits, and finish it off with some clear coat. I didn’t even know what clear coat was before he showed me. Now I feel like an idiot for not properly maintaining my car’s clear coat now that it’s starting to age. I could have done a much better job making it last, if I had taken care of things.

I guess what I’m getting at is that it bothers me to see so many people scoffing at how things cost when they don’t even understand that stuff doesn’t last forever. The expensive stuff — at least the one that isn’t a scam — lasts a whole lot longer than the cheap shit but that doesn’t mean it’ll take care of itself. You can throw as much money at the world as you want, it’s not going to freeze time. Metal will fade and rust. Glass will crack and shatter. Even the strongest concrete will shatter and slowly turn back into sand.

And that’s not sad thing. It’s a good thing. Nothing stagnates. Things move under the road. You can’t just live your life prentending it’s somebody else’s problem to tend to the cracks. At some point you’ll have to start patching things up.

A beautiful thing I notice when looking at things people made is to see if I can spot “deviations from the plan”. Everything is aligned and straight in the beginning. Then you notice that water is pooling in that one spot, so you have to pour some new concrete. When gasoline runs out of style you end up having to pull electric cables from the house to the shed where the pump for the pool is. You first start drilling that one beam to pass the cable through it but you realize it’s too low, so you make another hole. And you leave the first one, because the sun is getting low and you have to finish before night.

Those pragmatic alterations are one of the most interesting things you can look at as someone who makes things for a living, or just for fun. How people handled evolving requirements. How the best laid plans always need a little adjustement once reality sets in. Like those fucking deer who couldn’t help but eat the goddamned zuchini.