“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor” – Albert Camus -and in order for Sisyphus to be seen as an absurd hero, “…one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Recently, a section of the fence needed repairing due to a tree falling on it, but our mailbox post fell down without needing any such forceful encouragement. Perhaps it was just a passing breeze, or maybe a leaf blew up against it. At any rate, it just slammed to the ground barely missing the cat by inches. The bird she was stalking got away. Since I was in the yard and within sight of the cat at the time, I felt sure to be punished for it in some way.
I knew the post was old, and nothing lives forever. I’ve just not given much thought to the life span of a mailbox post before. Closer inspection showed it was rotten. In fact, it was so rotten that had it been a tooth, it would’ve been pulled years ago. There was not going to be any point in trying to stand it back up; it’s time had come. Pointless was no deterrent to my son, Nathan. He attempted to prop it up with some rocks, but it didn’t hold. It took on the appearance of my politics, leaning too far to the left and too far to the right all at the same time, depending on your point of view.
Two kinds of projects tend to undo me: those I gladly take on, and those forced on me due the a sense of urgency felt by others. This was not the premeditated kind that I’d been saving up for with any anticipation. No, this was an interruption, and according to my wife, it was also to become my most immediate concern.
In her eagerness to get me going on this right away, she went with me to the hardware store. Her intent was I not get down there and become overwhelmed with all the options, and end up buying something ugly or inappropriate. She would want something plain, yet tasteful that would not in any way cause postal route carriers to look like they were having to force-feed some wild animal backwards. I’m sure that sometime in the past, I must’ve shown some enthusiasm and pleasure in seeing some comically novel mail boxes, and perhaps remarked how nice it would be to have that sort of thing, I don’t know.
The new wooden posts were made of treated lumber, and I’m sure the old one was, as well. But treated for what, I can’t be sure. Maybe it was stain or water resistent, wind resistent, or lightning proof, but whatever the “treatment” it had turned out to be absolutely delicious to termites, as what was left of it wouldn’t make good cardboard. Besides whatever pre-treatment the old post had received before it was placed in the dirt, there had been additional on site treatments as well. But apparently many applications of the salt treatments associated with years of Cosmo Topper and every other dawg in the neighborhood stopping by to pay their respects, also did no good. The post was beyond rot.
After looking at several different kinds, I decided to just get a 4 X 4 that I could place in the ground and remount the old mail box to it. Besides that, I’d get a set of post-hole diggers, which is not what you’d call an impulse item. Nobody wants post-hole diggers. All they want is a hole in the ground.
Instead of just a post, Brenda wanted one of the pre-built kinds that went up to an ornamental knob at the top, and had an arm extended out to the side to provide over-kill support for a simple metal box. And, we were going to have to get a new box for the simple reason that Brenda was in the mood for one. It was going to be my Christmas present.
So, we settled on a post that was a lot like an iceberg–extremely long, but most it was intended to remain below the surface. The post she picked out came with a kit including a steel tapered spike attached to a square bracket to bolt onto the base of it. The bolts were not included, but lucky for us, they had some just the right size for sale on the very next isle.
Though the bolts were not a part of the kit, it did have a steel striking plate intended to protect the cosmetics of the ornamental top of the post while you gently tap-tapped it into the ground. The kit was advertised as a “ten minute solution” to what might take reasonably skilled people a couple of hours to complete without it. It sounded simple enough, and that should have been a clue for me right there. Nothing I’m allowed to do turns out to be simple.
Looking at the striking plate caused Brenda to remember the handle was broken on my sledge hammer at home, so we should get a new one while we were in the store. That’s when I realized the purpose of the striking plate more than anything else, was to sell sledge hammers.
By the time we finished our shopping, the store manager came over and declared my wife to be the “customer of the month”, and told her she’d be entered into a drawing for coupons. I think it was for 50 cents off on a riding lawnmower. Luckily I was able to get her out of the store because she knew she’d never have need of such a thing as that. Besides, we were already about four or five hundred percent over budget on this project, and I was beginning to feel like a government contractor.
Once we were back home, and not able to convince my wife of any benefit of postponement, I went to work. The exact spot where the old post stood would not do. Not that there was anything wrong with it position-wise, but that the ground underneath it appeared to be solid rock. How the first post ever got put there is mystery to me unless they’d used dynamite. Three other adjacent areas were tested, but still solid rock. I tried a fourth spot, and believe I found the base of Stone Mountain which up ’til now was thought to be about thirty miles away.
My brand new post hole diggers were now all crumpled at the tips, and would be useless in a sand pile. The bedrock was the hardest stuff I’d tried to dig since trigonometry. I tried prodding the ground with the tapered spike until I found a place where it would go in a bit deeper, and finally selected new home for our post.
That was the easy part. The reason the ground was softer there was due to it being in the middle of a huge fire ant bed. I gave up on the post hole diggers, since they were useless anyway, and decided to just hammer it into the ground. It was stubborn.
After a while, the striking plate had been beaten up so badly that it began to look like a bowl, and not a pretty bowl at that. Neither one of our dawgs cared much for the sound of it, and Mason said it was making them nervous. The fact that they were a bit high strung right now was probably due more to Ashley Cooper being in heat, but It was okay for me to let Mason think it was the racket.
Even with Brenda’s help, I was making little progress towards getting the post properly into the dirt. Best we could do was not good enough, unless our mail carrier was nine feet tall. So we decided to pull it back out of the ground and move it a couple of inches. Surely the fire ants were able to dig there, so we were convinced we could, too. In the meantime, though fire ants are generally not active this time of year, we managed to get the attention of a few of their forward guard who wanted to investigate the commotion and submit a formal protest.
Brenda and I pulled and pulled until our backs hurt, and stood on each other’s toes along with anything in the area that resembled a flower or a shrub. Finally got it moved. Then the hammering went on continuing to violate the integrity of the striking plate, and eventually splintering the top of the post well beyond any benefit of trying to save the ornamental knob. You would’ve thought I was trying to make toothpicks.
Though we’d started this “ten minute” enterprise right after lunch, it was now after dark. It was past suppertime, which we didn’t stop for, and all but the professionally mischievous would be in bed. Fire ants though perhaps thought to be hunkered down for cold weather, are not to be deterred by social politeness or curfews.
By the time we began to gather our tools, or at least the ones we could find, the children had figured out a way to get something to eat, feed the dawgs and the cat, and were already in bed if not asleep. As we looked around not quite finding everything we’d used on the job site, it became apparent that one of my good wrenches and a pair of vice grips were most likely buried under the mailbox post. Don’t ask.
Seems my enthusiastic hammering had managed to cause the main shaft of the post to split, and that the arm intending to support the mailbox itself was going to fall off if not reinforced by steel bands. All manner of scrap metal that any sensible person would’ve thrown away years ago became valuable. This caused Brenda some concern that it might encourage my packrat hoarding habits, but that night she was too tired to talk about it more than mention it a few times.
After equipping the post with orthopedic braces, I’d climbed up on a stool to get a better angle between the hammerhead and the top of the post. The stool seemed to enjoy tipping over each time I swung the hammer, and had I owned a step ladder, I would’ve used it instead. A few neighbors, evidently awakened by the clang clanging and colorful language, were gathered up the street to watch. And though it was an improvisation, they were no doubt getting a show like you cannot buy tickets for anywhere in a civilized country.
Although the striking plate now had some curvature to it, it would not remain in place when clobbered with the sledgehammer. It would fly off into the darkness, but by then we had a flashlight out there so I could see where to hit. After retrieving the plate a dozen times, we tried taping it to the post. All we had was a roll of Scotch tape, and that turned out to be silly.
Best I could do was get it into the ground leaving the part where the mailbox would rest still a few inches higher than the U. S. Postal Service might find acceptable, but I left it tilted forward a little bit so they could reach it. It was going to have to do, as we were both exhausted. We had taken on the assignment with vim and vigor, which as it turns out, has something to do with the perspiration that forms all over the body of a rented mule.
As we headed towards the house, too tired to even realize how tired we were, Brenda mentioned that we needed to clean out the garage. Having done it before, I knew when the time comes, and it wouldn’t be the next day even if we could still move, the entire family would be enlisted to move everything out of the garage, sweep the dirt and dust around a while, then put everything back inside about where it was before.
Once inside, I went to the den to play musical dawgs one more time. Both Topper and Ashley needed a chance to go out, but not at the same time. Taking everything this household might need into consideration, puppies are not on the list.
Finally in bed and almost asleep, Penny Lane moved in quietly, and with sharp claws finding a portion of a kneecap poking out from under the cover, let me know that she was certain the mailbox falling so close to her was my fault, and that I’d done it on purpose. Right about then, I only wished it had hit her. Then she curled up next to me and purred, which is the only time in history that a cat is known to have ever let go of a grudge so quickly.