Tuesday, November 12, 2013

my neighbor Tomas

There were three things about my neighbor Tomas that had me really worried there for awhile: conversation, manual labor, and sexual intercourse.  

He had been trained as a carpenter to fashion things out of wood.  As a small boy in Iowa he would ride his bike through the countryside, gathering fragments of wood and taking them back to his woodshop.  He cut them, he nailed them, he glued them, he sanded them.  When midday rolled around and it was time for a break and a snack, he sat down under his favorite sycamore tree and casually whittled a stick to a point, with which he would then spear fruits, meats, and vegetables, and cook them over an open flame fed by the wood scraps leftover from whatever project he was working on at the time.  He was devoted and talented.  He had a lot of ideas.  Just how he generated all those ideas is anyone's guess.  Did he go to woodworking seminars?  No.  Did he follow online symposia?  No.  Did he consult the relevant articles in the World Book Encyclopedia?  Sometimes.  Did he wander thru patches of unexplored wilderness?  Maybe.  Did he enjoy conversation?  It depended on the who, why, when, where, and how long.  Did he build forts out in nature to protect himself from rough weather and enemies?  Yes.  He was a simple lad, I think that's obvious, and he grew up into an even more simple carpenter.  He enjoyed wood and what it could do if treated with attention and industry.  Was he like that because of genetic factors or environmental factors or both?  I think both.  He woke up extremely early in the morning and went to work on his projects.  It's true, sometimes he whistled.  And he also sometimes used profanity, such as when he accidentally hit his thumb with the hammer or knocked a delicate object onto the floor.   

One of the other things about him that worried me, and this is sort of a delicate subject but oh well, was related to sexual intercourse.  Like most outdoorsy types, he had enjoyed several very successful intimate or animal-style relationships.  They would gradually get to know each other over the course of several months, weeks, or days, and then decide it was probably ok now to just go ahead and have sexual intercourse.  This is how it works with most people, I've learned.  There's a lot of other cool activity that goes into a successful relationship, experts tell us.  Camping, cooking, vacations, the raising of the children if they decide to go in that direction, the building or buying of the home, the furnishing of the home with both practical and decorative objects, wanting to give it their all, wanting to effect some positive change in society.  They both have difficult jobs that cause a lot of stress and fatigue, and when they come home they like to unwind by watching TV or listening to radio programs sometimes followed by long sessions of sexual intercourse, drug-taking, nacho-eating, and Twitter.  Life is just like that these days.  I don't know why, exactly.  Social stratification, technology, urbanization, advances in medicine, the irrepressible desire to effect positive change in society, the nesting instinct, the breeding instinct, the erotic instinct, the hunger for entertainment and novelty.  All of these things kept developing and we now find ourselves in the precarious situation that is the early 21st century.  We can engage in conversation and yes, that might indeed help out the victims a little.  We can engage in more focused activity, and yes, that would probably also be helpful.  Manual labor and sexual intercourse both have their undeniable roles to play also.  If it is remotely possible, we would like to become a more harmonious people.  People like Tomas just got that.  He played his small role as well.  People liked him.  I liked him.  We engaged in quite a bit of conversation about the complicated issues of the era.  Neither of us had any answers but I suppose we just enjoyed talking anyway.  In some cases talking can be seen as an activity sufficient unto itself.

And yet, several weeks ago, Tomas abruptly ceased all this random activity.  No more manual labor, no more sexual intercourse, no more talking, no more cycling, no more cursing or whistling, no more Twitter, no more cheerful midday meals under the sycamore.  He just sat there alone in his woodshop, gazing off into the distance.  There was no why or wherefore.  There were no warning signs, either.  One day he was carving, planing sawing, hammering, gluing, etc, going home, washing up, attending to far flung correspondence, maybe journaling, scrimshaw, sweeping, mopping, polishing, pausing, cracking jokes, having intercourse, preparing meals, watching TV or spending some quality time on the internet, going out at night to look up at the stars and UFOs, shoveling the walk when it snowed, raking up the leaves when they fell, taking the cat to the vet when she got sick, etc.  You know, all the normal stuff.  He engaged in activity.  He woke up in the morning, very early, and would lay on his back for awhile, gazing up at the ceiling and the cobwebs that sometimes gradually formed in the corners, wondering to himself how the day might play out.  He had a game plan, a back-up plan, a contingency plan, and a dire emergency plan.  His life was relatively structured.  There was a sense of order and focus.  As far as I could tell, he had his priorities straight.  He enjoyed conversation.  He enjoyed manual labor.  He enjoyed sexual intercourse, at least as much as the next guy or gal on the block.  He had his interests, his hobbies.  He had his profession as carpenter.

Were these things not enough?  I started to approach him with questions.  He didn't answer me, but I continued to ask all the same.  "You have a decent life underway!" I protested.  "Why are you just sitting here in silence, stillness, and darkness in your very own woodshop?  Buckle down, Tomas!  At least turn on some lights!  You have several deadlines approaching!  Your customers trusted you to follow thru with your promises.  Several of them paid in advance, and paid dearly.  Don't deny it!  And don't make it more complicated than it actually is!  Sure, your woodshop is cozy.  I get that.  You have a little cot in the corner if needs be.  You have a supply of apples and trail mix.  You have a few books lying around.  It's a good life you've established, friend!  Don't let it fade off into oblivion!  You're well-liked in society.  You're an in-demand local carpenter.  You have effected several positive changes in the local community and there's no reason why you shouldn't effect a few more!  You're a middle-aged man!  You've had more than enough time to think!  Get up, Tomas!  Take up thy trusty tools and carve!  You've been working with wood all your life!  You can't just throw away all that experience!  And then there's Paula, your girlfriend.  She's really concerned about you as well.  You won't talk to anyone!  And according to her, you won't even entertain the notion of sexual intercourse!  That rickety cot couldn't handle it, but still- you could figure something out, couldn't you?"

He wasn't even looking at me.  He didn't appear to be looking at anything.  He no longer appeared to care about such things as computers and carpentry.  I wish things were different but my wishing doesn't necessarily make a whole lot of difference.  I am a simple man also, with very limited knowledge when it comes to this kind of outlandish behavior.  I've already talked to a friend of mine who took some courses in abnormal psychology at the local community college to get her opinion on what might be the deal with Tomas.  She said she had no idea.  So I guess his situation is one of a kind.  Totally unknown and unprecedented.  Poor Tomas, I thought.  Why can't he get it together?

And then one day, he just resumed.  End of story.  He resumed all his former activities.  His enthusiasms, his friendships, his concern for society, end of story.  He went back to carpentry, and not only finished up all the commissions in progress, but took on many more, and even hired a part-time assistant named Larry, recommended to him by none other than my friend from the local community college.  He was restored to the old Tomas that we all knew and loved.  Intercourse, conversation, whistling, scrimshaw, sycamore, the whole nine.  He still had some issues, sure- none of us were under any illusions about that.  But they seemed to be the kind of issues that sort of just came and went on their own, like the seasons.