By David Glenn Cox
You do weird stuff when you’re a kid and then one day, you don’t do it anymore. You look back and think, “Wow, that’s some weird stuff! What the hell was I thinking? Oh yeah, stupid kid. So I’m in eighth grade shop class with thirty or so, other fourteen year old boys. What could be better than a room filled with power tools, hammers and implements of destruction along with fourteen year old, bright eyed wood shop prodigies? At the beginning of the semester, we were required to draw up plans for some project. Nothing too complicated, just a general idea of your basic intentions, before they turned us loose.
As this was the end of the last week, before my project was due. I placed the task at the head of my agenda. I can see your eyes from here… “Gee Dave; maybe you should have been a bit more responsible about your school work.” This wasn’t school work, this was shop! They just called it a class, so it would fit in. This was recess with power tools and besides, I was far from alone in this predicament. So the ideas started to fly amid the slackers. This one kid was brilliant; he decided way back at the beginning of the semester, he was going to make a slalom water ski, slalom meaning one, just one. Plus, it would take a couple of weeks to bend the wood with clamps and a bucket of water. He’d arrive in class check the water in his bucket with a 1×6 sticking out of it and he was done for the day. Ladies and gentleman, that’s slacker, executive material.
Our instructor, an instructor in the same way monkey cages have keepers. What was he thinking? What sort of madness would provoke a man to voluntarily make such an insane career choice? To spend day after day and month after month, year upon year, locked in a whirring monkey cage, sponsored by Black & Decker. He was a man of his times though, Mr. Strong was. He had a handle bar mustache, pullover sweaters and Hush Puppy shoes. On top of that, he played the banjo at Shakey’s Pizza on the weekends and drove a 1966 Shelby Mustang. We used to just stand in the parking lot and wait for him to drive away. When a guy with a Shelby tells you “to knock it off,” well, you just did. I mean he had a Shelby for god sakes, who could stand against the peer pressure of pissing off a teacher, cool enough to drive a Shelby and play the banjo at Shakey’s Pizza?
I suppose it was one of those moments of divine, teenage inspiration; I decided to build a coffin. Great for parties! Thrill your friends! Be the first one on your block! Yes, my plans called for a full-sized, bring us a sinner coffin. A trip to the local lumber yard with the old man however, modified that plan to a less than full size coffin.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of four to four and a half-foot tall, economy sized coffin, sanded and stained a sort of chocolate color.
It was just your basic, wooden, Dracula or Old West, primitive pine box. After achieving the skeptical approval of Mr. Strong, I began cutting boards. “I don’t believe I’ve ever had a student build one of those,” he remarked. I took that as a compliment, how many thousands of magazine racks or night stands has this guy endured? I was broadening his horizons, why at any time in the future, if a student were to propose such a project; he could look wistfully at the ceiling stroking his chin. “We had a boy did that, a few years back,” only adding to his authority. Chances are, it would drain the zeal right out of the little miscreant and he’d end up building a lamp or a night stand, like everyone else.
At fourteen, the quality of an idea is overly dependent upon what your friends think of it. My friends all loved the idea; their parents wouldn’t be taking double takes of them, when discussing school work over the dinner table. It wasn’t their parents whispering in the den, stopping when they walked into the room. The project did offer
attractions, the top and bottom were identical, cut the sides, nail it together, then screw around in the paint room for the rest of the week. The rough-hewn construction only added to the patina, all in all, turning out quite nicely, in a crappy adolescent sort of way. Graded accordingly, it earned me a “B” just like everyone else. Like I
said, they just call it a class.
And the kid with the water ski? Well at the rate that wood was bending, it was going to take another semester or two, before he’d have anything closely resembling a water ski and he got a “B” too. So don’t judge me too harshly, he got a “B” for a warped and waterlogged 1×6. But he only needed to throw it over his shoulder to get his
“project” home. Or simply cut off the first six inches and leave it unnoticed on the lumber rack. Getting a four and a half-foot tall, pine coffin home was a bit more difficult. My parents were the Cleaver’s and this was the 1970’s. June would say, “Why Beaver, couldn’t one of your little friends help you with it?” and Ward would
look sternly, “You should have thought of that Beaver, maybe next time, you’ll plan ahead.”
Next time? You mean the next time I’m in eighth grade shop? I lived too close to school to ride the school bus, besides, the bus got irascible about bubble gum. A four and a half-foot tall coffin, ah… no way. So I alternated, dragging this sucker and carrying it on my shoulder to the looks of startled townsfolk, making their way home.
Finally arriving, it rested in that place of honor and respect; where all shop projects eventually go to die, in the basement. I tried putting it in my room, but you know it was a lot bigger in my room, than it looked in shop class.
A couple of years later, we moved to Montgomery Alabama and well, the school there was a bit different. The football team mascot was a drug dog (Go Traffickers!)And we wrote essays like: “What I did on my First Arrest” or “People I’ve met at the Coroner’s Office.” They asked a kid if he could name one of his civil rights and he answered, “The right to remain silent!” You gotta give em half credit for that one. This school didn’t have a shop class, they didn’t think it was a very good idea and in retrospect, they were probably right.
The coffin ended up in my new room in service as a laundry hamper. It didn’t really function well and then I hit upon the bright idea of installing my stereo system inside of it. Up until this point, the interior of the box had been neglected. I made a trip to the store and returned with cheap white satin, which I stapled inside the coffin
with some rough batting for realism. Since the thing was smaller at the foot end, it had a tendency to fall over if bumped. To compensate, I placed record albums in the bottom which helped, but kept the lid from closing. It worked, but it didn’t work, it looked cool, but really kind of sucked other than just looking at.
For a short time, I mounted a stereo speaker inside of it, imagine, sounds from the grave. My teenage attention span exhausted, I jettisoned the project to the outer regions of the garage. There it sat, silently waiting, waiting for some new adventure. Well the old man got to feeling Froggy one weekend and decided to clear out the
garage. As has happened throughout the Millennia, I was not consulted on which items would stay and which would be disposed of. When I arrived home the old man says, “Hey guess what?”
“Ah what,” I replied.
“I put that coffin you built out front on the garbage pile and two guys stopped in a truck and took off with it!”
It wasn’t that I cared really; it’s just kind of nice to be asked, before they put your childhood stuff in the garbage. Just suppose, I was elected President of these United States, I know, but this is America. Any boy can be President and could probably do a better job of it. What if the curators at the Smithsonian had wanted to build a
Presidential exhibit honoring my childhood, growing up in a log suburb? “Did the President have any hobbies or handicrafts as a child?” There he’d sit, “why yes,” the old man would mutter, “but I threw them all out. A big pile of stuff! I cleaned house!” Well, the Smithsonian would be dumbfounded and forced to fall back on the
Presidency of Chester A. Arthur or Millard Fillmore.
Gone! My shop built casket was long gone and there was nothing more to be said about it, until I read the local Montgomery Advertiser, a few days later. Police Find Small Casket: The Montgomery Police are investigating a small casket found off of the 400 block of Lower Wetumpka Road. The casket is described as between four and four and a half feet tall, stained brown, the interior upholstered in white satin. Anyone having any information should contact the MPD.
No, I’m not that stupid, casket? What Casket?