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  • Writer's pictureDavid

Life and Times of a Would-be Salamander

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

Got a nice glimpse of our friend Anna Today! Highlight of the week for sure! We talked for a few minutes while standing well apart from one another in the pouring rain. It was pretty tempting to walk over and give her a big hug. That would be normal, but I held back. We are holding our distance, taking seriously the health of others. Like most folks, we are probably safe to be together, but it only takes the wrong contact at the wrong time to kill off someone who is dear to someone. And most everybody is dear to somebody. So we settled for the glimpsing.

With this social distancing, even as we try to keep working, sometimes we feel like we must be just standing around scratching our asses. Socially, we find ourselves living like salamanders. But on the bright side, it is about the cheapest way to live. In order to find a salamander you have to look under old wet boards, or maybe in the bottom of the water shutoff hole. They won’t be out and about burning calories, or spending money. But since our bank is fifty-eight miles away from our home, we have to crawl out from under our board and go to town once in a while, if only to deposit a check. In fact our trip to the drive-through teller marks two of the humble high points of our month. I never imagined there would come a day when our biggest single monthly entertainment expense would be that of taking our money to the bank, nor that our closest social interaction would be with the drive-through teller, over the intercom. Just a vacuum tube away from our hands actually touching!

It isn’t that we are making great gobs of money that has to be toted to town. We aren’t. It’s just

that staying home, standing around and scratching your ass and petting the cat are really

very affordable hobbies. I didn’t expect otherwise, but neither did I expect ass scratching or going to the bank to be in the top ten on my list of entertaining things to do between getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. I somehow expected a more adventurous life. But, griping hasn’t helped much. It too, is cheap, however even less satisfying than visiting the teller. Tori doesn’t listen to me anymore. She just says “Um hmm”, and turns the radio up. But she is just as bored as I am. When I mention that we could go to the bank, she hears that. In fact she gets all tail waggy, like a bottle lamb.

So, we make a trip of it. We splurge on a soda pop and a candy bar, and putt around the big city. Fill the car with gas. Look at the locked doors of the library. Imagine what it would be like to stop at Barley Brown's and have dinner and a beer. Two beers. After a while we head out for home. The Powder River was muddy on the way to town but less so on the way back. We speculate as to what sort of activity would cause that. We decided it was a man-caused disturbance rather than a cloudburst, though it could be either one. No telling. Weather does things. People do do things. Just not us. Not lately anyway.

Ordinarily I keep clean shaven so my dust mask fits tightly to protect me from the silica and copper dust associated with my bronze work, but with the galleries essentially closed down, it seems like a good time to work on things that need doing that aren't so dusty. I haven’t shaved for three weeks. So I’ve begun to resemble a geriatric wild burrow with the mange. And the rain has just kept falling for days now. I’m not complaining, as we could use the rain, but the word “drizzle” fits nicely into this scene of isolation and boredom. Drizzle and the mange and going to the drive-up teller.

I looked at my cabbages and lettuce to see whether the birds have cut off the leaves to line their nests, but they are all doing fine. I suppose the birds are doing some social distancing themselves, due to the weather. One thing is clear, I won’t be so tempted to work on any of my many unfinished outdoor projects currently in the works.

Anyway, I started a new sculpture, and being at my real work feels right. Righter than rain, really. I know nothing I make is going to see the light of day any time soon, but us artists are, at heart, entertainers. We need to perform, even if nobody will see what we do. And I might as well do something as nothing.

Of course any day of working in my shop costs money. Unlike petting the cat, bronze sculpting is not a cheap hobby. Certainly not one I could afford. While I am working on a bronze sculpture, about a minimum of sixty dollars a day will roll out the door, no matter whether anything rolls in. I can pet the hell out of the cat for way less than half that. And if I just stand around and scratch my ass, money will hold out much longer. Even going to the bank costs less than a day in the shop. Of course, if I leave the lights off, and don’t heat the shop, and don’t do any welding, or slurrying, or use any sanding discs, wax, propane, or heaven forbid, mold making materials or bronze, it doesn’t cost much. I could stand around in the dark and scratch my ass in my shop pretty cheaply. I could even pet the cat, but of course I can’t let the cat in the shop. Planer shavings and foundry sand prove too tempting to the toileting instincts of a cat.

When we get through with this social distance thing, I think it will probably take a while to get back in the swing of human interaction. Like a home-schooled kid from the outskirts of nowhere, coming out in front of people takes time to get used to. Maybe we never will get back to normal. Maybe our closest friends will be of the quadrupedal variety, and have tapeworms because we haven’t been able to get to the vet. Or maybe we will all live quietly and cheaply under our cold wet boards. But something tells me we will learn how to spend money again. We will probably buy a little cramped camp trailer, head out into the vast and desolate Oregon desert, and find a private place to scratch. Just get the hell away from it all! Maybe even take the cat.

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