A price we put on display

You build yourself a house.

It happens at some point in your late 20s that you’ve saved up enough money to either pay back college loans or buy some small property outside of Dallas, and that seems less reasonable but more productive, so you fake your own death and get down to Dallas in a surprisingly hot late November. You get a taxi from Dallas/Fort Worth to your empty lot at the end of street they were too lazy to make a cul-de-sac, and you sit down on the curb. “Shit,” you think “I should’ve bought some lumber.” Next day you walk down the road ’till you get to a strip mall where, in a pet shop, you post, next to the fliers for missing dogs and such, a notice that says, “help needed to build a house. Must supply own lumber, hammers, nails, caulk, and design plans.” You intend it as a joke, probably to be picked up by some indie kid looking for some found art to put on the back of the new issue of his zine. Four days later, you do get a call. “Hi, my name’s Josh” the voice on the other end says, and you immediately know, after those 4 words, that this is not a scam.

Josh arrives at your lot the next day in a blue Toyota Tundra and unloads some lumber. He asks you if you’ve ever built anything before, and he doesn’t laugh when you say “well, a bird house or two.” He says, “There’s a first time for everything.” By the end of that day, he has a frame put up, and when, at the end of that day, he realizes that neither of you built a foundation, he curses a bit under his breath, and say’s he’ll be back the next day. He doesn’t ask you where your sleeping that night, and you don’t want to tell him it’s going to be in a hole 50 feet away. The next day, he brings his shovel and starts digging. It goes from there, and the long and short is, Josh does a damn adequate job at building a house. He puts in plumbing, a sunken window, a winding staircase, all that stuff. After he’s done building, he asks whether you want it painted. By now, he’s bringing lunch for the two of you, and he says, in between bites of dry cornbread “do you know what colors you want to paint it?” That afternoon, he drives you to Menards and lets you pick out paint. The next day you sit down to paint; you start at one ends of the house and he starts at the other.

You’re most of the way done with your rooms when you walk in to see what he’s done, and suddenly it feels like you’ve just met Josh. That every moment up until now, the moment his dirty sneaker appeared from his truck, the way he struggled with the sink and almost dropped it before he asked for help, has been blown into nuclear bits, and that right now is the first moment that Josh is there. The way he holds the roller, it’s like he’s holding an ice cream cone by the very bottom, passing it from truck window to tiny eager hands, and he moves it as evenly as a zen master would. The walls you’ve painted look alright; they look painted. The walls he’s painted look clothed…no, they look blanketed…no, they look lit up. He makes you wonder whether anything actually existed beneath the paint before this morning. Of course, you know better, but the way he does it is so overwhelmingly seamless that you want to get swept up in the illusion.

The Bad Actress” is from Josh Ritter’s album Hello Starling.

The Temptation of Adam” and “Still Beating” are from Josh Ritter’s album The Historical Conquest of Josh Ritter.

Josh leaves, and it’s late and you two had just split a bottle of wine, one of those big cheap bottles they sell at the supermarket that’s either labeled “red” or “white,” and so you go upstairs to go to sleep. Very quickly, you doze off, and at 2:34 (you don’t have a clock, but somehow you know it is exactly 2:34), you wake up to nervous skittering in your kitchen. Your thoughts immediately go to mice, and you think of how tough it was to get rid of the two thumb sized rodents that lived in your hole-filled apartment in New York City. You groan and slowly walk downstairs with a hammer you found, unsure exactly what you’re going to do with it should you find two mice sitting on your floor. You walk into the threshold and see three giant red spiders staring at you with their 24 combined eyes. They don’t move and you don’t move. You swear these spiders are glowing. You start to wonder what kind of burial ground this house was built on. You start to wonder how you’ve gone so long in life without taking any course or reading any book that would help you identify poisonous spiders. You think back to pictures of Brown Recluse bites and Malaria and West Nile, but then you remember that’s mosquitoes. The spiders haven’t moved. You have the feeling they’re waiting for you to make the first move. You go back up stairs and try to go to sleep. You don’t see them the next day, but that night, you hear them again. This time you don’t go downstairs. It takes about two weeks, but on New Years Eve, you fall asleep early to the sound of skittering legs on fresh wood floor. You wonder, right before you doze off, if you will ever be able to sleep without the sound from this point forward.

Congoman” and “Fisherman” are from The Congos’ album Heart of the Congos.

Hey NYers, Field Music play the Bell House Thursday night with Wye Oak, and next week, Parts and Labor play the Brooklyn Bowl! For free!

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