Monday, August 23, 2010

TOOLS OF THE TRADE


     Craftsmen/women are inventive people. Take electricians, for example. With all the fancy lithium-powered drills and saws and other modern tools to hang from your belt, most of the sparkys I’ve known and/or observed use lineman’s pliers as combination hammer, cutter, measuring device and coffee stirrer.

It’s probably easier to stick with one tool, be it 1929 or 2010. Your hands are married to the pliers in their symbiosis. You can save time by not putting one tool in your pouch and then taking out another. Most important, this tool is basically an electrician’s only, not a plumber’s or a carpenter’s. It is therefore the mark of the trade. And anyone in a trade or a profession likes to be noted as such. It is pride.

In the old newspaper composing rooms, printers had line gauges in their apron vest pockets. Also called “pica poles,” these rules measured type, 6 picas to the column inch, 14 agate lines to the inch.

Doctors carry stethoscopes. Carpenters hammers, or more recently, pneumatic tools. Mechanics have wrenches in their pockets.

Two generations ago, grocery clerks had a pencil resting on an ear so as to quickly pull it out and tally up the bill on a fresh brown paper bag, the speed of their arithmetic amazing. Some of my teachers stuck pencils in their hair, usually red ones, for difficult marking (or was it a warning?).

Fishermen return from the sea with their nets, and, it is hoped, their catch, but when they are set aside, their trade is marked by sun-etched faces and a distant look that says “I go to the beyond every day, and so far I have returned.” 

Children have a mark of the youth “trade” as well. Imagination, curiosity, wonderment – gifts to the early ones so quickly obscured by the details and distraction of puberty and adulthood, only to return in aging years.

The observant can tell often tell who is in what job, or where the life has been, sometimes where it is going. For we all carry the tools of our trade.


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