It began about a month ago when we were thinking about adding some Florida friendly roses to our never ending patio and garden project. Teresa, my sensible half, looked at some planters and uttered 4 words that no one had said to me before, in all of my 56 years: “You could build those.”  I looked over my shoulder, wondering if someone else had come into the room behind me, and then the testosterone hit, “Why yes I could, I could build those.” I am, after all, a man, and when the women in your life expect you to act accordingly, you act like a man, you build stuff. Or fix stuff. Or go shave your legs.

As I began to commit woodwork, past decisions haunted me, Paying attention in wood shop would have been a good life choice, geometry class too. But; after much trial and some error, I built two 6 foot boxes for our rose bushes and even added trellises. I was proud, and maybe a a little cocky. I had, after all, overcome my old circular saw, which ran perfectly well until it came into contact with wood (bought a new one = 1 extra trip to Lowes), bought the right amount of wood (okay, two more trips back to Lowes, where a not very helpful sales clerk dropped my lumber on me, leaving a purple and yellow mark on my quadricep), and figured out which ends of the planters went inside the sides (hooray math). I even bought a Black and Decker Workmate, which served the dual purposes of acting as a vise and work table while providing verification of my homeowner’s DIY status. All told, my home made planters cost only 300% more than the ones Teresa thought I could easily build.

My new found manliness was now unleashed, what could I build next? A dining room set? An addition on the house? How about a garden potting bench, which I found in a woodworking magazine? (Yes, I bought a woodworking magazine.) I even ordered the old timey powdered milk paint for the bench, as the magazine suggested. The bench was a go: and then we went to Disney and I saw my next project, a three legged plant stand, designed to give height to your garden while providing a rustic look. Deal! My garden needed height. And rusticness. Memorial Day weekend was now booked.

Friday, at lunch, I left the office bound for Lowes, ready to build my planter even though for over a month I had not looked at the photo of my project which was safely stored on Teresa’s phone. From memory, I confidently bought 2×4′s and quickly assembled a piece of furniture, a really nice three legged stool that in no way resembled the picture Teresa brought home that evening. I had, however, taught myself how to build a stool, and, if you could sit on it, you could put damn plants on it. I declared victory, calling my piece a “prototype.”

Saturday began with another trip to Lowes, after a long breakfast, time with the dogs, time to read a chapter of a book, AND a trip to the Farmer’s Market. No one was on my schedule, but it was okay, I was simply building a bigger model of my prototype, cockiness still ruling common sense. We were good. It turned out my new model was very different than the stool I’d built the day before: it was going to require 2 x 6′s which were heavy and also took up more room. Getting the angle right was more crucial now and I really could have used my old shop teacher, or a carpenter, or a 4th grader with a protractor. The angles had me stumped. My 3 legged stool prototype wasn’t the same and I literally spent hours trying to figure out which way to attach the legs before screwing them in. I have the visual space equivalent of dyslexia and I called for Teresa’a set of eyes. And, since she wasn’t a shop teacher, carpenter, or a 4th grader with a protractor, our two out-of-our element brains only made matters worse. For a while, we even determined that our Epcot original must have had 4 legs, not three, and I added the extra appendage, creating a monstrosity that looked nothing like the intended target. We continued, in puzzle solving mode, disagreeing about my decision to go back to the three legged design and finally getting the legs attached at the almost proper angles. We had a stable and sturdy plant stand.

Now to attach the shelves. No problem: need one 6 inches in the back, 21 inches in the front, I’ll simply trace that out on the wood, plop it in my ole Workmate and slice them babies out like cold cuts. Not so much. You see, I hadn’t put the three legs in at equal angles, so the shelves had to be individually cut, one side was something like a 21 degree angle, the other 33. And each side of the triangles was going to be different, every shelf would require a different measurement . We talked. And talked some more, trying to invent geometry right there on our patio. The best I could come up with for a solution was this: we folded and traced on a poster board,  like a sewing pattern, to create a template for the first shelf and it worked well enough. My work gave new definition to the term “rough cut” and I said, “Don’t worry if the shelf doesn’t fit snug, no one will see the big space, there will be plants covering it.

But it bothered me. A lot.

My manliness was being threatened.

Back to Lowes we went, I needed a break and more wood. The fat SOB clerk guy in the lumber department at Lowes mocked my question about the angles, suggesting that I could best solve the problem by hiring a carpenter. Can they do that? At a do it yourself store? I was pissed now and more motivated than ever to finish my project, no matter how crappy. He relented and helped me select a fine carpenter’s square, which, with a little practice, allowed me to copy the angles of my piece and translate them to shelves that were serviceable if not perfect. I worked in the garden until dark, making a few more mistakes, but none that couldn’t be fixed or hidden. Sunday morning I got up to cut and attach the last three shelves and paint the unit. It was to be a bad morning.

Here’s the thing about creating something: you see ALL the mistakes. And, if you don’t have the skill required to avoid or correct them, they begin to pile, multiplying and assaulting you; death by a thousand cuts. By Sunday morning, I was pretty much over the entire idea, I would just shave my legs and be done with it. But this 5 foot unfinished piece of lumber was sitting in the middle of my patio, taunting me. I hit a wall. The screws wouldn’t go in straight, the angles weren’t coming out right, things were falling down and disappearing, my glasses kept slipping down my nose, my Workmate wouldn’t fold up the way it was supposed to. (“Now, I am supposed to stop and repair the thing that is supposed to save me work? Wait, my glasses slipped, where is that drill bit, down there, oh, my glasses slipped. Why won’t that Workmate fold up? Oh good, the extension cord is wrapped around the extra wood, now it is falling. There go my glasses.”) It was overload and I declared the plant stand finished, as is. Time to paint it; did I mention that the paint recommended in the woodworking magazine for an OUTDOOR garden stand was an INTERIOR paint (determined once I opened the package)? Back to Lowes for varnish.

Monday morning was installation time, and Teresa was in charge of the plants. Off we went to the nursery. After much discussion, several suggestions that involved delaying deciding what plants to buy, and even threats to burn the plant stand, we came home with plants that were guaranteed to cascade down the sides of our planter. The plant decisions were not unanimous. And we had to face another decision: pots. Or window boxes? Build sides to the shelves to hold the dirt, without pots? (Hell no.) We finally settled on window boxes, which kind of fit my irregular shelves, with my assurances that the cascading flowers would hide the boxes anyway. Another trip to Lowes. And Old Time Pottery. And Walmart. (Where I did see a guy with an awesome Hitler mustache.)

We survived and our garden looks better. I am happy that I have experienced the project and I know how I would do it differently next time. The planter is sturdy, if not square. The flowers are lovely, if not unanimously agreed upon, our marriage surviving but tested. I learned a lot: I learned about angles, I learned the value of a mentor (by omission), and I appreciate the skill and knowledge required to build even the simplest pieces of furniture. My manhood is bruised but surviving too, and I am fairly sure that no one will ever again say to me, “You could build that.”

Then again, that potting bench looks like a fun project…




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