Saturday, June 04, 2016


The moment I stepped onto the front porch I knew it would be a breathlessly hot day.

Friday had been very warm in the oppressively cheerful way the early summer days here are warm; in the sun the heat bears down like hot metal while the shady sunless patches are pleasantly cool. The real measure of a hot Oregon day, however, in just at sunrise. Today the sun rose on a flat, breathless sort of dawn. Pulling the air into your chest it felt dry with the scent of dust. Even the asphalt was still slightly warm underfoot.

It would be a hot day.

The Pearl District of Portland has, in the preceding decade, descended from being a rundown post-industrial hardscape of dreary warehouses and melancholy-looking duplex apartments to a shiny, happy bustle of steel and glass and carefully-hand-rubbed artisanry; cute little coffeehouses, precious retail outlets, many, many spas and salons.

The early-morning passersby were already in their hot-weather wear; shorts, brief tops, and sandals, for both men and women.

Why is it that a woman's feet in sandals look pretty and tended while men's just look...unkempt?

The same goes for our legs, unfortunately; most of the Pearl morning women were tender, neat, and attractive from the hips down...while we betesticled types ambled about in an ungainly shackle of knobby knees and hairy shins.

In my heavy boots and thick work pants I envied the gentlemen of leisure their cool shorts and open shoes, but not their bumptious look. I know my own appearance too well to pretend that I would look any less ridiculous in their abbreviation.

There was a single five-hour parking spot next to our work site, a city block being transformed into a wooden-slatted hole in the ground, now full of machinery and the debris of construction. I fiddled with the parking machine and then stopped to enjoy a lovely pedestrian, cool in her flowing white dress and (of course) tidy jeweled feet in tenuous sandals, her bell of iron-gray hair shining like a gunturret in the heavy sun.

She passed with a look, calm and pleased with herself and her morning, bound on who-knows-what errand or no business at all; perhaps merely "taking the air" on a Saturday morning.

I was what I call the "anchor nanny" today. It is, rather like highway driving, one of those appallingly awful tasks that combines the necessity of constant attention with a complete lack of intellectual or physical stimulation. It is bookkeeping, pure and simple; so many feet drilled, so much silt, so much sand, so much anchor length (how much bonded, how much unbonded..?), so much grout pumped.

Primary grout volume, secondary grout volume...the point of the exercise is simply to reduce the number of indeterminate variables when an anchor is tested and fails. That way the designer can decide whether it is the design that is inadequate, or whether the construction was defective, or whether - if both appear satisfactory - the failure was due to some sort of anomalous soil condition that no one could have anticipated.
The crew worked in the heat, roaring like their equipment, cursing and sweating. I moved, like one of those slow-migrating animals (a tortoise, perhaps, or a similar creeping reptilian thing), from west to east following the shadow of the superjacent building and the eastern wall until, finally I could retreat no further and the sun in its' loathsome splendor leapt overhead and I was sweating and cursing and stinking like the rest.

By midafternoon no one wanted to continue. One of the drills got stuck, the foreman breathed out one last fiery curse and shut the job down.

I still had an hour to go, completing my report for the day, but at least in the cool of the old mill building where my company has moved. There was also cold beer, and I could strip out of the heavy protective gear and into shorts, daring the empty office to laugh at my legs. It was late afternoon when I emerged to be punched; gasping, breathless, by the hot, heavy gold blanket of the dying day.

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit."

~ Ada Louise Huxtable


Anonymous said...

Very lovely reading. I comment rarely these days as I read on my phone and the posting bit from Google is simply non-functional for me.

I think my feet look unkempt in sandals, too, just saying!

It is about 95 here right now. I am staying indoors; sun stroke me once and that was enough!

FDChief said...

The ladies of the Pearl are devout supplicants to the Goddess of the Pedi; their feet are always neat and well-groomed. It's not a "person" thing so much as a "lifestyle" thing.

I volunteered at a soccer tournament on Sunday - which was hotter than Saturday when we worked - and without the battle rattle feel cool and comfortable. But by 4pm I was trapped in the a/c as well. Sunday after noon was just brutal...

Lisa said...

I like reading about your work days and manly things. But I'm sorry it's so hot -- we've been reading about the OR heat here on the East coast and marvelling how you manage sans mint juleps :)