I sure felt cool in that carpentry apron.

Childhood is weird, and there’s no doubt that parenthood is challenging – but there’s one simple principle worth remembering – kids remember! Any experience they have of being able to create things which are fine and/or useful, is bound to have repercussions out of all proportion to the hours involved.

Everyone has a mix of good and bad luck – growing up in a commune this can be especially chaotic. My own folks were mostly into themselves (and books and music – which were very good early landmarks for my brain) – but there was no way I was going to learn anything about carpentry or electronics from my dad. (Which is weird, since he did highly specialized bits of both, as a repairman for pipe organs).

Measure twice, cut once – seriously

Richard on the other hand, who lived upstairs, was not only wacky and very curious about the world, he was also generous and patient. He and I built several projects in a row, beginning with a bike light (constructed a wood and plexiglass housing from scratch, mounted the works, then soldered it all up). Later we used a huge spool of that fabulous super fat multi-conductor telephone wire (offcuts of which all hobbyists used to collect, to make their projects cheap but good) to build a pair of ridiculously overcomplicated twenty light signal-boxes. I lived on the fourth floor – and the wire was long enough that I could run it out my bedroom window, and have the other secret agent (or spaceman) terminal set up in the backyard for remote transmission. (This also gave me my first excuse to try my hand at inventing basic systems of cryptography!)

Of course, the fact that I was a happy and excellent electronics technician for a couple of decades, has nothing at all to do with this early boost in clear and rock-solid conception of critical ideas like what a circuit is and is not (cheers, Richard).  ;o)

Ah Lufkin – a friend in the toolbox, to this very day!

But the project we were working on in these shots was our most ambitious of all. A two storey playhouse, which could easily collapse for flat storage – but also take the weight of myself, my brother and my friends, when we were all inside (and NOT collapse!)

We framed it in two-by-fours, surfaced with masonite, and floored both first and second storeys with solid boards which could be lifted out selectively, so we could climb from first to second floor without having to go through the outside doors – any form of ‘sneaking’ always being just that much more fun than mere clambering.

Measuring was probably my favourite thing – I loved the way you could make stuff that wasn’t yet good for anything, into the parts of something real – like seeing the sculpture waiting inside of the stone. Sawing was a close second – especially after Gareth’s father (the most skillful carpenter I’ve ever known) showed me how to hold my saw and cut properly, with sensitivity to the grain and density of the wood, the tool itself, and your own body.

The uprights were bigger than me!

The jig-saw and soldering gun both scared me – but I was careful, and learned them. Hammering? – well, that’s a tough one for kids. I didn’t dodge it, but it sure is harder to drive a nail straight in one go, when the hammer weighs more than your entire arm. Anyhow, anything we were hammering was wood-glued as well – and it was huge long (pilot-drilled and soap-lubricated) screws that actually carried and distributed the weight of the assembled structure. Four walls, two floors and a roof – absolutely minimal – but still so many skills to learn about, and new ways to consider how the world around me was put together.

I wish I had a picture of the finished structure – it was really cool and lasted for many years of fun after that – never collapsing or hurting anyone (not even with a splinter – thanks to much sanding care on all critical edges). Last I saw, it was folded-up and tucked behind the furnace in a basement on Kendall ave. May still be hiding back there someplace – who knows?

It’s only thanks to Greg Sass, another commune eccentric, who was studying black and white photography at the time, that I even have these images – very grateful, Greg!  They were handheld (and hand-processed) with extremely limited (basement bare-bulb) light, on analog 35mm, of course (and really great, considering).


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