A tough assignment

August 31, 2008

I worked in the scene shop of the theater department for a while in college. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I learned so much. We worked on everything. Whatever was next on the check list got to be your job. And if you didn’t know how to do it, you got a lesson. We cut wood with all sorts of saws, be did tons of fastening and we worked on scenic painting. But the thing was you really only got one lesson and there wasn’t much forgiveness if you messed things up. You had to do things right because of the limited time and resources. And working with power tools can be really dangerous. One of the other professors, who was not our supervisor would come down about once a month and show us how he had cut the tip of his finger off on the table saw. Scary.

I got assigned building a hand rail for the escape steps of the back of a 10 foot set. Our professor Jim told me to use 1 by 4s and cut them down the middle (making 1 by 2s.) For some reason (I can’t really remember why, I guess I thought he was just making a suggestion rather than giving me strict direction) I used 2 by 4s instead. Well I got through ripping down some 12 foot stock when the table saw quick working. I had burned out the motor or something. Boy did I hear about that. Luckily whatever was wrong with the saw was fixable. And after we finished the other side with the one by fours it was a little flimsy and our professor said I might have been right after all.

I also got in trouble once for painting the stair risers too meticulously. I was trying to do a really neat job but I was told the you couldn’t even see the small slip-ups and drips from the audience. I was helping someone who accidentally used the circular saw to cut its own cord. There were lots of sparks.

But I also got some complements. I still remember them. When I leaving one day Jim said, “Erin, you’re getting to be quite a good carpenter.” And I got to be the official jigsaw specialist because I had some sort of natural gift for doing the precise cutting. I got to do a whole car cut out once by projecting a picture on it to trace the edges and then cutting it out. Jim told me that I was better at it than he was.

Jim was a pretty stern guy. And he excepted a lot from all of us. That’s what made the compliments that he gave all the more meaningful because they were hard to earn. And when he said something to you, you knew he really meant it.

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