My friend and co-conspirator on the Rankin Flats novels Erik Wehler just reminded me in an offhanded fashion that I completely forgot to talk about my experiences with some of the more odd classes I took at the Colorado Center for the Blind.
I’m not good with tools. Never have been, never will be. I’m not going to excuse myself by saying “I’m just not wired that way” because, c’mon, everybody can grab a hammer and throw in a nail. Except… not really. I try it, and I guarantee you that nail’s going to wind up in someone’s pituitary gland, the hammer’s head will explode, and within minutes, Ron Swanson will show up to my place, gun in hand, ready to rectify the world of the worst carpenter there ever was.
Mechanical devices at large are foreign to me. Just Friday, I was struggling to understand how to knock the legs down on a folding table, something I’m pretty sure my four year old cousins could do, probably while building a brick outdoor barbecue and shoring up the windows on their trailer.
I have really weird cousins.
Anyways, one of the classes I had to at least dip my toes into at the Colorado Center for the Blind was a woodworking class. Me being the guy who was immensely proud of himself for building an unsanded, unpolished, infinitely ugly table in his college set-building class in college was expected to work power tools, not just with my low vision, but completely blinded by sleepshades.
I’m still giggling like a school girl meeting… who’s a famous celebrity these days? Tom Jones! I’m giggling like a school girl meeting Tom Jones! Wait, even I’m young enough that joke doesn’t play. Uh… giggling like a school girl meeting… Elvis? The Cookie Monster? Frodo Baggins? Just pretend I said something culturally relevant and let’s move on.
JUSTIN BIEBER! Nailed it.
So here I was, expecting to be tossed out of that woodworking classroom in minutes, because I’m not just all thumbs when it comes to this stuff. I’m limbless. I don’t think I’ve ever so much as owned an electric screwdriver, unless you can attach the little screwhead thingies to a vibrating toothbrush. Is that a thing people can do? Yes? No?
The teacher was a cool guy. Chilled and relaxed, and unfortunately unmoving on the possibility of me getting out of the class. He was also either married or divorced from my supercool (shut up, I’m bringing back supercool) home life teacher there, which should come as no surprise.
I was piss-my-pants scared when he told me everything I’d be doing, which essentially amounted to me building a small shelf for home use. It had to fulfill several specifications, including nice, fancy edges, a good sanding job, and a stain.
I kid you not, I thought I was going to die in a bloody, horrible shop accident in five minutes.
The classes were about twice a week for… mmm.. two months? Something like that. During the first month, there were other students, all of whom were more qualified than I was to run machinery with sharp, pointy edges that could very easily slice my skull open like a watermelon on the 4th of July. And each of them was blind. Not a little blind, not behind sleepshades blind, but blind-blind.
They whipped through their woodworking projects like they were cutting up a sandwich for dinner. I… mostly walked around with some boards in hand, trying not to be noticed. Pro-tip? That doesn’t fly at the CCB.
My teacher cornered me and asked me what I was afraid of. Well, “cornered” is a strong word. More like he approached me all Zen-like and told me he wasn’t going to let me hurt myself if I wasn’t stupid about things, and he didn’t believe I was stupid about things. He started me off on a jigsaw. Or a bandsaw. Or some kind of a machine that would spell the end of my fingers and hands that also ended in “saw.” He showed me, by touch, that the power cord wasn’t plugged in, and guided me to every point of interest on the machine, showing me the safety guides, where the blade would come down, how I could measure with guides, and what I’d need to do with my hands when feeling for the power switch after every cut.
It was, and still is, the best training I ever received with power tools. He was patient. He didn’t talk down to me. He didn’t get frustrated or make me feel stupid in any way. And unlike one or two of the other teachers there, he took the time to make sure I understood what I was doing, that I was comfortable and ready to take the next step.
I wish I could detail for you the specifics of how I made my little shelf, but I don’t remember a damn thing about the process. All I do remember is taking it slow, learning each machine in turn. I burned the hell out of the edges on the edger thingie. I went through twice as many boards as I should have trying to make the right cuts. My sanding was rough. I didn’t end up screwing hooks into the back so it could be put on a wall. But by the end, I had… well, not a shelf, but something approximating shelf-like.
And I didn’t murder myself in the process.
Then there was art classes.
Art at the CCB was a funny thing, because I so very rarely had it. I think I came into the Center near the very tail end of one art cycle and didn’t get involved with another class, though I don’t recall the specifics of why. I think by the point they were starting up another art class, I knew my time there was drawing to a close and I was focused solely on learning as much Braille, computer tech, and home living stuff as possible, covering the essentials of what I’d need.
But those few weeks I dabbled with art classes there were really fun. Our big project was a clay landscape of sorts. We could define it however we liked, imagining the landscape as an extension of our personalities. Mine at the time was meant to be vaguely Taoist, representing the balance of anger and calmness I felt in equal measure at the time. It wound up being something like a mashup of divots and crude hills, but still!
The process itself was largely straightforward. If you took a class in high school molding clay, we did pretty much the same thing. Clean-up was the hardest part, because cleaning a mess of clay by feel is almost always a pointless endeavor. You’re always bound to miss huge swaths of dust crap on tables, no matter how many swipes you take at the thing.
Unfortunately that’s a problem that has persisted to this day for me – cleaning, even with limited sight, often means I miss easy-to-spot details and leads to great embarrassment for me. As much as I’d love to say I keep a clean bathroom – and I do try – it’s often led to horrific moments of shame when guests try to point out things that need to be touched up. That’s not to say they shouldn’t – it’s actually greatly appreciated, because who the hell wants a filthy bathroom? But even just writing about it makes me red in the face.
And let me tell you, that makes the dating thing oh so very much fun. “Need to pop in and freshen up? Oh, there’s a fungus growing on the wall by the toilet? Errrr…. yeah, no, I completely understand running out of my apartment at full steam.”
Don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that particular shame online before. Hey, I promised honesty. So… there you go.
Anyways. Art was fun. My favorite memory was of us trying to go to some artistic thing and us breaking down somewhere along the way. It sounds miserable but it actually gave me a chance to get to know a bunch of my soon-to-be friends. That’s a good memory, just one of a thousand I have of that place.
And it’s also a good place to leave this off. Thanks for reading, as always, and I’ll be back soon to maybe talk a bit about my other fun physical afflictions.