Wednesday, April 3, 2013

At the end of a long, hot day last week I bent over for the thousandth time that afternoon, hefted up my dusty old toolbox, carried it to the truck and went for the tailgate handle. I grabbed it with a thoughtless pull of day-end force and ripped the thing clean off, the handle flung over my shoulder and into the street. That's when I knew it was time to get the truck painted.

It's been bugging me for years. We were calling it the "car cancer", and when you drive down a SoCal street and look for it, you'll notice every fourth car has it: the faded color, the peeled back clear-coat, and the mottled, dry paint job suffering the sun's rays in the Mediterranean climate. It's the price we pay for living here. Even the cars have the skin of an old sunburn, twice-fried and peeling. 

It had gotten to the point where I was embarrassed to show up on the job site. Did a gig last month in a fancy neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes. I showed up with the other contractors, and we all stood there for a moment and looked each other up and down. They with their clean shoes and cel holsters, me with my dirty cargo shorts, torn work shirt, and holy boots. I wasn't all bad, I'd shaved, but they looked sharp and professional. I merely looked like I knew how to use the tools. I admit to not spending time on appearances, but neither am I impressed by them. I happen to be interested in integrity, and I know that all I need is a good set of references. I believe my work sells the job, not my truckshine. 

And yet... perhaps I do lack an air of professionalism, but only recently have I considered myself a professional in what I do, and so I have never paid it any mind. It's over a decade since I got my General Contractor's license, and maybe I should clean up a bit. The tools are old and worn, like my body, and the clothes have had half their thread-count laundered clean out of them. And the truck needs a paint job.

And a new bumper. And some tires. It's got a broken windshield. Torn trim. Headlights are yellowed and clouded. And there's the matter of that trunk latch... So I resolved to clean up my act, since that's all it really is, an act. I stripped the truck down and hauled it to Earl Shieb, where I abandoned it for a week. Spent our Spring Break monies on the family business. Again. And I took a few days to recoup.

I got on the Internet and bought some new parts on eBay. I went by AutoZone and invested in some car cleaning supplies. Spent my break days spray painting the truck rack, and burnishing the old vinyl trim. Then I went and got some new boots. Ordered some new work shirts and a couple logo-stitched jackets and caps. And then the day came and I picked up the truck. 

A fresh look. I feel a bit stronger. I work a little more carefully, more meticulous and methodical. I throw stuff around less. I don't lean up against the new paint with my tool belt. Clean work, like an old man does. And, most importantly, I pull up to the job site and don't feel like a scuzz.

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," writes the preacher in Ecclesiastes. But maybe, sometimes, just a little vanity. Pride in ownership. Pride in workmanship. It all has value in this world. Or maybe it's just a matter of self-respect, the forgotten component of good personal hygene.