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The Happy Masons

One occupational hazard of the writing business is that a person can get weird spending so much time wandering around in the imagination or fiddling with this word or that.  Not surprisingly, therefore, writers develop techniques to fight off the weirdness when it descends.   So I search for the perfect anti-weird medicine, a way to clear the mind, to reconnect, to realign.

Wallace Stegner might be an excellent role model.  He reputedly wrote until lunchtime and then chopped wood for a few hours.  This solution, however, is impractical for me.  We have no use for chopped wood.  The neighbors would be disturbed if I widened my activity beyond the few trees in my own yard.  And I am afraid of axes after seeing the preview many years ago of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Charles Dickens was also a master of balance.  The man walked about ten miles daily.  Again, however, this technique is impractical for me.  Besides the traffic issue, there is the surrounding swamp, the heat, the virtual monsoon rains, and the general fact that this is not England.

Nevertheless, walking has been my medicine-of-choice when the weirdness starts to encroach and so I decided to dose myself recently on a balmy December morning.  My mental goal is always to give my mind freeplay so that it will relax and serendipitously produce whatever I was earlier trying to force it to produce.  My mind, however, does not always understand that this is the goal.  On this particular December morning, my mind busied itself counting the number of maintenance and contractor operations underway on my street.  On my block, two houses were involved in long term, major projects.  In the next two blocks, nine—possibly ten—projects were underway.  Walking along the street and seeing all the various trades out and busy, I felt a bit like Oliver in the movie Oliver when he steps out in the morning to a teeming world of dairy maids, knife grinders, and flower sellers, all singing and dancing along the street.

No singing and dancing on my walk, but I soon heard laughter.

Shouts, waves, gales of laughter.

I turned a corner to cross in front of a major renovation project that I like to keep tabs on.  A beautiful, ornate, brick, four-story, 1930’s school building which has sat desolate since long before Katrina is finally being restored and renovated into condominiums.  Currently the brickwork is being cleaned and repaired, including the detailed arches over the huge, multi-paned windows along each side of the building.  A yellow web of scaffolding obscures the work-in-progress as well as the workers themselves.

It was from these hidden heights that the laughter rang out.  Standing on the ground in front of the building, the orange-vested supervisor grinned up at the building while an invisible, loud-voiced man said something I couldn’t make out and a whole crew of masons burst into laughter.

“Me and that girl,” I heard, and the laughter rolled down.

Clearly a story was underway.

Another shouted line.  Another wave of laughter.  And another and another.

By this time, I was laughing myself although I couldn’t make out a word of the story.  For two more blocks I could hear them and I kept laughing.  I assumed that if somebody who knew me saw me, they would assume the weirdness had finally overwhelmed me.

But in fact I had found the best medicine.  I felt completely reconnected, realigned, and clear headed.  Laughter.  It is much better than chopping wood or even a ten mile walk in England.  Thank you Happy Masons.  I can think of only one thing that might be better.  Next time I walk by perhaps we can all do a little song and dance together.

1 comment to The Happy Masons

  • Alice Powe

    One Sunday afternoon sometime in my college years, I was in Saluda and Mama and I were hosting Minier Padgett for lunch. I had insisted that one of my down-on-their luck boyfriends come home with me. He was a devilish boy with a sly grin and I guess his appearance got her to thinking. She made one of the most random comments. She was, after all, in the vicinity of 90 years old at the time. Between chit chat about college classes and rent checks, she said, “Laughter is good for your liver.” Just as deadpan as could be and it has always stuck with me. She had been a former nurse forever; she should have known. Glad to hear you’re keeping your liver in tip-top shape.

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