Sunday, February 2, 2014

Laughing like Sysyphus

My 20 gauge Huglu side-by-side (new cocking dog screw in the center, below the barrels)

For those who have been paying attention (hello, Hippo! and, maybe Dad...), I took a hiatus from blogging.  Life had gotten a little more complicated, what with a new job in a new and fairly complex realm (transportation).  I also didn't think I had much to write about.

But, over the year, I kept getting snippets of encouragement to start writing again (mostly from Hippo, but occasionally from my wife).  Also, I made a sappy resolution to do things that I love (like tying flies, working with my nut of a dog, and apparently writing), rather than things I merely enjoy (like playing annoying little video games on my phone).  So, here goes nuthin.

In addition to venting, I'm using this blog as a reference for my house projects and attempts at hobbies and items of interest.  So first, some house and land projects for the year, in general order:

1)  Increase storage in the attic, since the wife is hoping that I'll eventually move in there and end the charade that I have any space whatsoever left inside the house;
2)  Clean up the 8x16 shed out back, and add a real roof and interior walls(!).  I'm considering this practice for learning how to drywall;
3)  Clean out the washroom and put a washer and dryer in it (what a wake-up call to read that a guy in the backwoods of Angola has a washing machine and I don't);
4)  Fix up the back porch (ideally with an honest-to-goodness roof, a bread oven, sink, countertops, and permanent grill; realistically with a cloth roof, a hibachi, and a three-year old boy eager to carry burning coals).

Of course, each of these endeavors is a universe of joblets, broken tools, trips, agony, despair, makeshift jerry-rigs, and painful attempts at convincing people of progress.  Why, you ask, would a person, knowing what he knows about the utter inevitability of tears and curses, about the futility of it all -- why would he still try?

To understand why I will, yet again, take a running start before I hit the wall (to paraphrase Bill Cosby), let me take you back two months (cue harpstrings and wavy video effects)...

Two months ago, I was happily hunting alongside my amazing springer spanglish, Rocio, and my great brother in-law, who we shall call "Paul".  We'd made a typical circuit in fine California wild pheasant hunting fashion:  a six mile slog through every imaginable invasive weed on a patch of public property almost completely devoid of any game animal.

We'd seen exactly one pheasant, a rooster that popped up in a spot as likely to hold a game bird as a parking lot in front of a 7/11, so of course we weren't prepared.  As we neared our car, however, along a ditch line and near some blackberries, we jumped another bird.

"Paul" was shooting a 50lb draw recurve bow with flu-flu arrows (yes, it's a real thing), and I was -- oddly enough -- perfectly positioned just behind his left shoulder, affording him a clear shot.  Sadly, he missed, but the bird banked left.  I let loose with some #7 steel shot, and the bird faltered in mid-air.  I pulled my second trigger to finish it off, and... nothing.  No sound, no kick, no "click" of the firing pin, even.  Instead, the trigger merely squished back.  Thankfully, the bird fell out of the sky, anyway.

At home, I worried.  I had not taken apart my gun (a Huglu double barreled 20 gauge, found here), and when I looked it over, I noticed that it was missing a screw on its left side (ha ha, I had a screw loose -- okay, let's move on now).

I called Holly, a friend and amazing writer (and editor of CWA's magazine), because she and her boyfriend Hank have a guy.

I asked for his phone number, but I also asked about his prices.  Holly responded that prices would depend on the work being done, but that it had cost around $500 to get her gun fitted.


I called anyway, lacking any options (I'd trust a new gunsmith less than a new auto mechanic).  I knew he was British, at least, and so he had to be nice.

My first conversation with him went well.  Of course he was nice, and when I described the missing piece, he replied, "Ah, it's the (I swear to you he said this in his very British accent) cocking dog screw."

The cocking. dog. screw.

The only way that could get any more British is if Benedict Cumberbatch had uttered it while eating chips.  (My friend Andy pointed out that the Brits have a number of sayings -- "bullocks" comes to mind -- that are both extremely vulgar and completely innocuous; apparently, they name gun parts the same way.)

He did say that he'd look it over for free, and in so doing immediately sealed a deal with me.

Out of curiosity (or as Ronald Reagan quoted the Russians, "trust but verify"), I googled the gentleman, and intimidated the crap out of myself.  Among other things, this man had apprenticed and worked for J. Purdy and Sons and Rigby rifles, guns of my childhood dreams.  Now, he repairs and fits guns, engraves, and teaches shooting.  He also hand-crafts a few guns per year, which he sells, apparently, for many thousands of dollars.  I'd be bringing him a sub $600 gun over which I'd fretted spending so much money.  I felt almost embarrassed.

The following Saturday, my wife and I took a drive up to the hunting and shooting club where he worked.  Driving in, I was impressed -- a beautiful iron-worked gate, a couple of happy dogs, and a nice, clean clubhouse.  We asked about the shop, and were directed down a hill to a small, nondescript workshed.

We knocked, and were invited in.

I was surprised: This man's shop looked somewhat similar to mine, and definitely what mine could look like: only four machines -- a bench sander, a bench-top drill press, a bench grinder, and a metal lathe.  Other tools were strewn about the shop -- engraving tools, and also some typical things like screwdrivers and hammers.  Unlike my shop, of course, guns were also strewn about, in various states of disrepair, and I noted that not one looked cheaper than two grand.  One of them was a shotgun of his own making: a beautiful sidelock hammer gun in 12 gauge.

The gentleman shook our hands and warmly invited us in.  He looked over the gun and quickly confirmed it was the "cocking dog screw" (for those of you from England, an explanation: if an American quotes a person with italics, that means it is to be read in an English accent, unless otherwise noted).  I suppressed a chuckle.

He made nice small talk with us while he studied over the gun and removed the forearm and barrels.  In as nice a way as possible, (I swear, Brits can put you down in such a way as to make you feel like royalty), he recommended that I trade up my gun for an AyA (the next cheapest gun on the market, about three times the price of my Huglu).  He removed the stock-plate and looked to see what socket it might take.  He grabbed a one-piece T-handled socket wrench in 11mm.  Too small.  He grabbed a 14mm.  Too big.

He then grabbed a socket wrench with a drive (for fitting various sized sockets), and put a 12mm socket on.  Too small again.  He looked for a 13mm, but couldn't find one, so he grabbed a 1/2".  That seemed to loosen the bolt right up... and then the socket popped off the drive, stuck in the gun.

The gentleman put the gun between his legs to get more leverage, and slowly pulled.  And pulled.  No luck.  He tried to lever it out with a wide screwdriver.  No luck.  He took the gun over to his workbench, raised it stock-side down, and banged it hard against the bench-top (or as my wife, the English Professor, noted: "he knocked the shit out of your gun").  Finally, he pulled the socket.  Apparently, the nut was still stuck fast to the innards of the gun... hmm, probably a 12mm, after all...

A consummate professional, he earnestly explained each procedure to me, (while I stood there imagining scenarios in which, after sheepishly admitting defeat, this amazing gunmaker would offer me one of his guns in exchange, with the promise that I not utter a word about what had transpired).  After about 45 minutes of small talk, banging, explaining, mild cursing, and awkward pauses (my wife had left about 15 minutes in, when he'd started grinding a socket to fit), he stopped, looked at me and said, "I can fix the gun, I'm just going to need it for a bit."

Mind you, we'd never decided on a price.  He knew well both the amount I'd be able to pay (judging from the value of my gun) and the amount of time(money) he'd be putting into the thing.  He looked me square in the eye:

"I can do it for, let's say, $60.  But that's firm."  I'm sure I'd just watched him put $75 of his time into my little turk.


I walked back up to the clubhouse, where my wife was drinking a Coke and reading Gray's Sporting Journal, under various deer heads and birds in flight.  We felt very upper-crust, indeed.

It would be five weeks before I'd see my gun again (although in his defense, we did go on an extended vacation).  When I picked up the gun, it had two matching cocking dog screws, handmade.  He said it is a fine little boxlock, and that the rest of the gun may disintegrate, but he'd guarantee the triggers.

Why does this story inspire me?  Because, watching my gun get worked (and I mean worked), it occurred to me that I was basically watching myself do just about anything.  I was lucky enough to watch a master craftsman hard at work, and I could just as easily have been watching a video of myself changing the brakes on my Subaru.

At one point, as this man took my five hundred dollars and slammed them against the bench to dislodge a seventy-five cent socket, I actually thought to myself:  I can do this.


Bud said...

the gun story was great. I can't offer you advice on any of that. I envy your writing skills. But I can offer you some advice on new year's-and other-resolutions. I no longer make 'em.
Start with the smallest chore first. Don't think about the others until that one is done. If you are like me, by the time you give up on that one you will have forgotten what the others were, and that small project that you never got around to won't seem so important after all.

Hippo said...

The man lives! I had given up all hope and thought you were probably on the bottom of a river sipping sewage.

I urge you to buy yourself a washing machine and learn how to use it. My wife was thrilled that hers was fully automatic. I took the clothes out of the laundry basket, sorted them into loads, stuffed the washing machine etc. A woman is never happier when she has clean crisp undies.

Regarding the chores, tackle the biggest one first. After that they're all easy.

I do love the way you colonials, speaking only a form of pidgin English mock those of us with a thorough command of our native tongue but, as you have observed at first hand, we take it all in our stride and tend to be rather nice about it.

Josh said...

Hi, Dad! I like your recommendation.

Josh said...

Hippo! Thanks for stopping by, and especially for encouraging me to write again.

No river bottoms for me, yet.

We have access to laundry facilities (public and private), but the trips with bags full of laundry have been daunting these many years.

You are quite amiable about our butchering of your language, for sure.

Mr. Fashion House said...

Nice to see you posting again Josh!

Having a gun go click instead of bang when you expect the bang, seems like a not very good thing.

And as always, eager to help as long as the wives and kids can get together and play.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...


wonderful to see you posting again, once again the bad habit of not clearing out my RSS feeds has paid off!

Re 'bullocks'
Bollox and bollocks are both english idiom with 'bollix' an occasional usage.
Bollox meaning both wonderful and awful.
For example if we were to dine together in a Persian restaurant that served testicles as part of the menu I might demonstrate my appreciation by saying 'These bollox are THE bollox' you however may find them a little over-cooked for your taste and would retort, 'Nah these bollox are bolloxed'

The waiter, a gentleman of both Persian and Irish extraction, questioning the wisdom of such foodstuffs and mental fortitude of those who consume them, may interject, "what are you eating bollox for? You bollix"


PS I have more magazines for you