Saturday, October 20, 2012

Like sandpaper softly wearing edges off hardware



He was traditionally a creature of the backroom. 
Behind the double doors, and the stairwell to the basement, at the check-in stand (or perhaps, on the tall red-seated metal barstool in front of the Microfiche), one could find him every day. That was true for… I don’t know, sixty… seventy years.
Merton Taylor surfaced at the coffee pot in the back corner of the front room, precisely at 10 a.m. daily, and then, again at 11:30 a.m., gathering the dogs in the Scout, for the trip home to lunch. He returned in an hour and spent the rest of the day in the backroom until someone asked him for a key at 5:30 that evening.
“They would not find me changed from him they knew – Only more sure of all I thought was true,” wrote Robert Frost in 1913. Merton Taylor and Frost, it seemed, were contemporaries.
I reveled in stories he would tell of Dolores area characters past, like Doc LeFeurgy, and Reverend Flanders, and the “Wild Woman of Horse Gulch.” His odd take on life -- a constant draw for others, as well. His advice sought for particular hardware concerns, or archeology, or mining, or forestry and farming. He held court in that back room, as surely and regularly as the federal district.
I knew him just barely before the “Walmarting” of America, but I think he would have understood and liked Sam Walton, the change agent who opened his first store in Rogers, Arkansas, more than 50 years ago, and altered retailing forever.
Probably, he would not agree with him however. It wasn’t his nature to necessarily agree with anyone.
It is not that the Walmart Top 10 would bother him: everyday low prices, selection, altering the retail landscape, the decline of the labor movement, supplier partnerships, the ‘cult’ of Walmart, data-driven management, a culture of over-consumption, with the odd partner of sustainability, and the power of access. He might just be slightly miffed that he didn’t become famous and rich for embracing them.
But on second look, he wasn’t really interested in becoming either that rich or famous. He was interested in success, as evidenced by his involvement in the establishment of Dolores State Bank in 1959, and later the Bank of Telluride, but he measured things differently, I think.
He certainly looked at Dolores with different eyes than most. The long view, through birth, and school, railroad and dam building, lumber mills, plywood plants and dryland farming, depression to ‘80s recession, fires, floods, Roosevelt, and Reagan, WW II and the Iranian hostage crisis, Jack Dempsey and Elvis.
But times, they were a changing.

As Frost noted (again in 1913), in Reluctance.

“Ah, when to the heart of man,
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?”

Quite traditionally a creature of the backroom, in a time before great change, in the late fall, or early winter of a season of a different truth. One that I can barely remember.
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Nailed it, over and over again.






Cook your eggs the same way every time, don’t you? Some things, you just can’t help but come back to, to the same place, over and over again. For me, it is in a little store, in a little town, when I was just a little man.
Saturday morning, 9 a.m., 1979 ­­-- A curvy woman, dark shoulder-length, curly hair, maybe 30, attractive, with a big, winning smile on her face, bounces in from the side door, right up to the nail counter.
“Do you have a block of wood and a hammer?”
Nick and I looked at her, and perhaps at each other. We didn’t say it, but this is a hardware store, lady, of course there is a hammer around here, and I’m sure, a block of wood.
“What are you using them for?” One of us asked.
“I bet I can balance 16 nails on the head of one,” her answer confidently snapped back in our general direction.
Per her instructions, we fished seventeen 16-penny, smooth-box, cement coats, out of the dusty nail bin and plopped them down on the semi-rough surface of the composite counter.
“Now drive one into the center of the block,” she said. “But not all the way down.”
One of us grabbed the hammer that hung in a loop at the edge, near the scale.
And,  we did as we were told.
She grabbed up the rest of the nails. She places one flat in the center on the dark countertop, then, alternating on each side, places all but one of  the additional nails, with their heads down the spine of that first nail, until all of them lined up, looking like an eight-winged dragon fly. Then, with the last nail dropped on top, facing the opposite direction, and also weaving between the segments of the metal dragon fly, she picks up the whole configuration, between thumb and forefinger.
Steadily, but very quickly, she balances it on the nail that we drove into the block of wood.
All sixteen nails balanced, by themselves, on the center piece.
“I told you I could balance 16 nails on the head of one,” she said, flashed the smile again, and left through side door. Never to be seen again.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve successfully, and sometimes profitably, used that trick since.

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