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MISTIR, Ch 7: The ManCave

Even before we moved to Bisbee and lived there full time, Lori had found our home on the internet. We really didn’t consider any other. The mining company, Phelps Dodge built it and a slew of others in the 1940s to house miners. Simple but sturdy, the homes were typically 700-900 square feet, two bedrooms, one bath with ample lots.  Many of the homes also included half-garages that shared the other half with a next door neighbor.  On our second Christmas Day in Bisbee, Lori walked me out of our backdoor and into the half-garage. We entered and I discovered the boxes put away, the floor swept, and the space ample. My radial arm saw and band saw, both vintage Sears Craftsmen battleships, acquired in Virginia but virgins to me, stood prominently on the concrete floor, ready for action. On the radial arm saw was a simple red Christmas bow. Lori converted our storage shed into my ManCave. No words were necessary. The gift said it all: “Get a hobby, Baby, before this job kills you.”

I accepted her gift without reluctance and in the next several years filled the place with tools, welders, saws, grinders, wrenches, screwdrivers, more wrenches, and other riches. I rewired the place with outlets a plenty, put in a 220 volt connection for my arc welder, built work benches, hung overhead fluorescent lighting, and mounted a drill press, chop saw, and heavy duty vice. The more I did my church job, the more I spent time in the ManCave -inordinate time- sometimes staying up all night with ridiculous projects like learning the intricacies of a cheap oil can so to repair it. I told myself  that my late nights there, as off balance as they were, were still within the realm of sanity because they did not include drink or smoke. Yes, I stayed up all night but I stayed up sober.

The ManCave experience came with a downside.  Following evening church meetings, I began to frequent stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot.  Often tired from the day and requiring an energy drink or two to drive home alert,  the drinks gave me enough kick to find my way to the home improvement stores to outfit my shop. Because we had good credit at the time and because I managed the money at the time, I began to return to Bisbee and to the ManCave with tools aplenty and not just the cheap stuff. Though saws and welders and lathes scared me terribly during shop class in high school, I’d sufficiently conquered my fear and acquired pretty much whatever I wanted and thought I could use or learn to use.

Then I went Pro.

Spending much of my free-time, and at times, a good chunk of my church-time in the Cave and on the projects it supported, I began to wonder if I could convert my new found passion for tools and my growing skill using them, into some extra income.

I decided to start a handyman business and learned that in Bisbee if I just returned phone calls and showed up when I said I would, I’d have plenty of work.  I did it right. I incorporated a small business known as ManCave Enterprises. I opened up a business account at the bank and I drew a line of credit at the stores where they began to recognize me. I had business cards made. Because ManCave Enterprises would be the umbrella company for my many pursuits, I called my handyman business, HIGH DESERT TRANSFORMATIONS.  Adam, a graphic artist by trade, designed my business logo, a hammer in the midst of a agave cactus with a delightful butterfly dancing about. I bought advertisement in the local newspaper. I purchased business magnets, business postcards, and a cool little deposit stamp for the back of checks. That never got used much.

I occurred to me that I should tell my bishop about my new endeavor. Somewhere in cannon law regarding clergy conduct, it states that a cleric needs the bishop’s permission moonlight. My bishop gave me the go-ahead stating only that he needed 110% of me. By that time, I was kicking into overdrive so the thought that I might need to push at 150% or so didn’t really strike me as problematic.

People hired me. They did. They called. I went to their homes. I gave them a bid. They typically accepted it. I went to work as a handyman.  It worked okay sometimes. Once I built a concrete pad for a man’s backyard patio. I hired two helpers to help me get it done. At the same time, I had a parishioner dying in the hospital nearby. I’d mix the mud, work the pad, then go pray for Anita. More often than not, I did my hospital visits wearing clergy collar and carrying my prayer book. When I called visited Anita, her nurses looked at me askance. I approached their work station not in my ecclesiastical garb but in work boots and suspenders.

My enterprise also went poorly sometimes. A landscaper friend suggested to me I become skilled in sprinkler repair and I would have work aplenty. I took on a job he referred me to and set to the task of fixing the sprinklers in a couple’s backyard. I did learn about sprinklers, plumbing, and tiny bit about the electronics that made the system automatic.  I also learned about people’s impatience with incompetence. I did manage to fix their system but the cost to the couple in money and the cost to me in time far exceeded what we had both budgeted for get the job done. I learned that it was one thing to do home improvement projects. It was another thing entirely to try to make a dime off it.

My time in the ManCave and my new love affair with tools found its way into my church work and especially my preaching.  I did a few simple maintenance projects for my two churches but I also preached about what was happening to me spiritually as I embraced the skilled trades. One Sunday, I offered my sermon wearing a clever magnetized wrist band that opened and closed with Velcro. The magnet part held screws and nails and whatnot within easy reach of the handyman. I drew the parallel between how the innovative  wrist holder helped me get my projects done more efficiently and how new ways of seeing and doing things in the church could help us with our mission to live the Gospel.

Not everyone appreciated my Sunday show and tell. I only brought my props to church once, but I must have referenced the ManCave and its effect on me several times. After a vestry meeting, three parishioners cornered me none too happy. My ManCave preaching disgruntled them.  One parishioner spoke-up and told me point blank:

“I don’t give a shit about your ManCave!”

“Neither do I,” said the second.

“Preach the Gospel!” said her husband

Surprised by their level of agitation, I was still proud of how I handled their discontent.

“This is helpful information.” I said.  “I’m sure I can make some adjustments to my preaching and won’t mention my tools on Sunday morning anymore. Thanks for letting me know.”

I got that I had pissed them off  but told them that my newfound creativity was a high point in my life and I shared it with them in sermons as an example of God’s ability to create in and with us. I didn’t tell them that they pissed me off  by coming to me three to one a calmer conversation would have sufficed. I loaded up on energy drinks that night, drove home to the ManCave, and tinkered about until sunrise.

Though it led to serious financial excess, my pursuits in my shop did have a transformative effect on me, in a way that a monastic cell might have on a cloistered monk. Professional church work is an extroverted and relational affair.  I have excellent people skills but the work always drew much energy for me. Until the ManCave, I didn’t have a place of my own, somewhere to be alone with my self for extended and undisturbed time.  The more time I spent there the more I began to consider the idea that I could transition professionally into other work. I had only ever considered academics rather than parish work and my failed bids into PhD programs stifled that idea.

I knew I enjoyed the trades, but it was also becoming clear to others that  I had some skill at it. People complimented me on the remodeling I’d done in my home. I did some work for a couple of parishioners-mostly in the wee hours-and they affirmed my skill. I started thinking about becoming a contractor and investigated the licensing requirements thereof and talked to friends in the business.

I enrolled in a prerequisite class at the college toward licensure. The class required that I buy an approved yellow construction hat for safety. I wore it to the few classes I attended with zeal. I also thought about how to acquire the hundreds of hours of experience necessary to satisfy the state contractor board. I continued to purchase (of course) and use tools, justifying the growing amount of credit card debt as a necessary investment to my contractor business.

The confidence in me mounted. I might be able to do something else besides preach for a living. That possibility clouded my increasing imbalance and upside-down daily rhythm. The ManCave served as both solace and temptation. A few days after my herbal night out with Adam and Max, my sacred space would begin to serve another  pursuit.

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