I’ve never liked being in a rush. I forget things: my coat, my wallet, my keys. I bump into doors and doorways and stumble over cracked pavement. Or, as was recently the case, I back out of my mom’s driveway and accidentally knock over her mailbox.
Oh, don’t worry—the thing’s a tank. It’s a security box made of seamless steel, including a post sheath. When the back of my Subaru Forrester drove into the mailbox, what gave way was the twelve-inch stretch of exposed 4X4 between the bottom of the sheath and the ground, where the post was secure inside an 80lbs lump of concrete. Chris and I cut the engine, rushed out of the car, and found the mailbox lying in the grass, impermeable, scratch-less even. Meanwhile, there was now a hole in the back of my car, just below the rearview window. A quick Google search on Chris’s phone revealed that the punctured part was called the “garnish,” and replacing it would cost about $500. Ugh.
With the sun going down and our tails between our legs, Chris and I vowed to return the next day. On the way home, we stopped by the Home Depot, wandered around lost and confused (Is concrete the same thing as cement?), and eventually picked up an 8ft weather-treated 4X4 and three 60lbs bags of concrete, just in case. Somehow, lugging those back to the car, we still didn’t realize the magnitude of our imminent endeavor. We were young, healthy. We had all the materials. How hard could it be?
At eight o’clock the next morning, we woke up to the alarm as usual, but instead of spending the next hour in our pajamas, making breakfast and listening to NPR, we bundled up in work clothes, drove out to West Seattle and stepped out into a light, but frigid rain. With heavy hearts, we set to work dismantling the garden patch around the splintered remains of the mailbox post. This involved removing three layers of cement garden blocks (heavy and covered in moss), uprooting tender flower shoots, and shoveling away the soft mound of dark topsoil.
That part was all fine and well. The trouble began when we hit actual ground. Tough and stony, we had to chip away at the dirt rather than shovel it. Chris hammered away, and I wandered around my mom’s backyard until I found a second shovel to help. My short-handled, pointy-headed one was a better fit for the job than Chris’s, but even so, I made only an inch of headway at a time. Worse, I often struck against rock (or dirt so compacted with rock that it might as well be rock), and bounced off, the reverberation stinging my wrist like being hit on the funny bone.
By the time we had finally unearthed the splintered stump and the two top inches of the cement, our hands were numb from fatigue and cold and we were tempted to try tying the rope around it somehow, and wrest the rest from the un-giving ground with the car. But then we remembered my Subaru doesn’t have a hitch post.
We got back to digging, hinging further and further at the hips as the hole got deeper, and eventually the cement lump began to wiggle. Chris and I tooks turns wedging our shovels beneath the lump and leveraging our weight against it. Once one of our shovels finally found purchase from beneath, Chris hulked the lump out and threw it aside. Panting, he cried, “Why don’t we have robots to do this yet?!”
Our reward for exposing the hole and getting half the job done was a half-hour break to consume coffee and Quiche Lorraine. Meanwhile, the light rain picked up.
When we returned to our hole, it was partially-filled with rain and groundwater. I grabbed an empty flower pot from the front porch, and Chris bailed most of the muddy water out. Then, as I held the new post level, Chris cut open the first bag of concrete and poured a little into the hole. As he stirred with a length of broken 2X4, the grey powder was absorbed by the accumulating groundwater. We poured, stirred, poured, stirred. We took turns on our hands and knees, dragging the stick through the gluey muck. The attendant at Home Depot had recommended using just one 60lbs bag of concrete, but the bag said to avoid a “soupy” texture, and we couldn’t keep up with the groundwater seeping in. All three 60lbs bags wound up in the hole to get the texture right, and we hustled to shovel the rock-dirt on top. Finally, there was nothing more we could do except cover the lot with cardboard and plastic garbage bags. We had to wait for the concrete to set.
We returned bright and early the next morning. Sleepily, almost mechanically, we went through the remaining motions: we carefully slid the mailbox sheath onto the new post and screwed it in; we set the cement garden stones back around the hole, shoveled the topsoil back into place, replanted the flowers, threw away the garbage, called it good as new. Chris took a picture of me posing in triumph, but really, we were both just sore all over, and grateful to return to our privileged normalcy, where the only back-breaking, heavy-lifting we do is done with our minds.
Published by the West Seattle Herald 03/21/2017.