Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rites of Passage: Building projects

There are certain things that all boys do. 

We all destroy things. 

We all ignore the girls that we like. 

And we build.

(Sometimes we build just to have something to destroy, but that's beside the point)

This is a tendency that goes back beyond recorded time, when someone, struggling to scratch out an existence in the deserts of Egypt, look out on the plains of Giza and said "You know what would look REALLY cool here? Three giant pyramids! RIGHT?! And then we can build giant statues of me, and obelisks. I like obelisks. And call me pharaoh, that's cool too."

That's a loose translation, but it's basically what those hieroglyphs say...I'm pretty sure. 

All over the world, men built, and they built big. Pyramids. Temples. Colossal statues (called colossi). Churches. Arenas. This was more than building the trappings of civilization. This was more than homes and shops. It was a stamp in time. It was a marker left on the Earth that said "I was here, and don't ever forget it."

Boys of the 1980's were no different from the pharaohs and caesars and kings of the past. Boys built things, and  they wanted to be remembered for it. We wanted to leave our mark on the Earth. We wanted to be remembered. 

It all starts with Legos, maybe the greatest toy of all time. With legos you are the master of your universe. You construct buildings. And guns. You create spaceships. And guns. You assemble towers. And guns. And even bigger guns.

From legos, you graduated to tunnels and forts made from couch cushions and kitchen chairs, and blankets, or old cardboard appliance boxes. But, eventually, you need to build something more permanent. Which brings us to the clubhouse. Every boy worthy of the title, at some point in his life, should build a clubhouse. And one summer Aaron and I did just that. 

The first step was to find a location. That was easy enough, we'd just put it in my backyard. I was sure my mom wouldn't mind. Heck, it would probably drive up the property value. But, just to be on the safe side, we put up as much of it as we could, while she was at work...we picked the far corner of my yard -- the corner that could be seen from the point in building something this magnificent, unless everyone was going to be able to see it. 

The next step was to find material. Since our resources were limited, we scrounged scrap wood from construction sites, and dumpsters from all over the neighborhood (and beyond). Once we had accumulated our wood, swiped a couple of hammers and saws from Aaron's dad, and procured some nails, we went to work on The Hut. 

That was the clever name we gave to the magnificent edifice that we were about to erect -- which portends the direction of the rest of the story. 

We drew up the plans, measured twice, cut once, and with our very limited understanding of construction, built the ugliest clubhouse ever. It looked like an outhouse built for two. (Thinking back now, I wish we had cut a moon in the door, for the limited time we had a door -- at least it would have seemed like we were in on the joke). But the truth is, to us, it was the greatest thing ever built. And, even better, we were the first. The pioneers. The trailblazers. After we built The Hut, every other kid in the neighborhood decided that they needed a clubhouse for themselves. And all of theirs turned out better than ours. But, there is something to be said for being the first. 

The thing I was most proud of was that The Hut had an upstairs. What innovators we were. You would have thought no one had ever thought of building a second floor before. Like I said...pioneers. 

We had such big plans for The Hut that first summer. We figured we'd sleep out there every other night or so. We'd hold all of our clandestine meetings in there. We'd be the envy of every other boy in town. Of course, like a lot of big plans we had, it was a lot more fun to plan, than to carry out. It turns out The Hut had two major flaws:

1. It was only about 6' x 6' (not counting that innovative upstairs, which was just big enough to lay down uncomfortably, and try not to get tetanus from the nails driven through the roof)

2. It was so hot inside. It was like solitary confinement, in some Vietnamese POW camp. You couldn't stand inside for more than ten minutes, much less sleep in there. 

But those flaws never diminished, in our minds, the accomplishment of constructing The Hut. It was the biggest, and most enduring thing we ever built. It stood in that corner of my yard, for years afterward (and found real use as a platform for jumping onto the trampoline). 

Like the pyramids, or the Sphinx, or the Acropolis, The Hut bore testament to a race of builders, with dreams of grandeur, who longed to leave their mark upon the world, and left a monument for those who would follow, to gaze on with awe and wonder. And then, as with those ancient creations, eventually no one could remember  how (or why) it was built, and The Hut passed into history and became part of the legend of life on Woodchuck Way.

At least that's how I remember it. 

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