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Volume 14, Issue 4: Doctrine 101

Pinocchio and other Wooden-headed Things

Patch Blakey

As a youth, I remember spending many long days in the heat of the summer sun working at my father's lumber yard. I didn't get to do the fun stuff, like load or unload lumber or pound nails into lumber or even cut different lengths of lumber. No, instead I was consigned to the task of pulling weeds around the numerous piles of lumber. The upside was that in Mojave, California, where we lived, there were plenty of weeds for an aspiring young man. The downside was that there were plenty of weeds, and what I aspired to had nothing to do with them, even though we lived in Mojave. Nonetheless, I have many cherished memories of my time working in my dad's lumber yard.

One such occasion was when a man came in and asked for a piece of wood. "How long?" was the yardman's query. "One foot, fourteen inches long," was the prompt, straight-faced customer's reply. The yardman cut him a piece of wood that was two feet, two inches long, but was clever enough to tell the customer that it was one foot, fourteen inches long. The customer, having paid and left with his piece of wood, went away a contented man.
Often times, in the winter months when I wasn't pulling weeds, I would spend idyllic hours looking through great literature. My folks had several books from their college days at Occidental College. One of these books was a large clothebound collection of cartoons from the New Yorker Magazine. A favorite that I recall to this day was a drawing from 1939, with a husband and wife conferring with a salesman. The salesman was expounding to the couple the benefits and capabilities of a new product that had just come out. "Yes, indeed. You can saw it, nail it, and paint it, just like plastic! It's called wood!"
Of course life wasn't always so racy. I used to canvass the desert around Western Village, the housing development where we lived, looking for wood to build a tree fort. Every boy wants a tree fort. Once when we lived down in Sepulveda, California, before my father built his own lumber yard in Mojave, I had a friend who had a great tree fort. We used to collect gourds from the field across the street, and store them inside it. When the older boys in the neighborhood would come by, we'd ambush them with our gourds and haphazard marksmanship. This would generally lead to a gourd fight. Of course, tactically speaking, we had the high ground and the protection of the magnificent tree fort. Strategically speaking, they had the gourd field across the street, the advantage of much stronger arms, and of course better aim. Larry, the friend who owned the fort was knocked unconscious once with a well-aimed gourd. When you run out of gourds, its hard to hold the fort, so to speak. But we loved that tree fort, and that's what I wanted to build in Mojave.
You'd be surprised how much usable wood a diligent and thorough search of the desert will produce for a dedicated young boy with vision. I found lots of wood, generally around the sites where contractors were building new homes. It was an uncanny gift that all my friends praised me for. But we didn't have a tree.
Wood is in my blood. Once I thought I had wood poisoning 'cause I got a splinter. But I didn't die. I suspect that my body somehow fabricated an anti-toxin so that I'm now indoctrinated against wood poisoning. Of course, I still take splinters plenty seriously just the same.
All this talk about wood reminds me of my second bicycle. You see, growing up in Mojave, wood isn't the only thing you need to survive in the lumber business. No, sir! My dad's lumber company also sold bicycles. Selling bikes in a lumber yard was sort of a creative blend of entrepreneurial speculation and the need to find an income-producing market niche. From my personal perspective, selling bicycles was far more in line with selling wood in a lumber yard than selling panty hose, which we did later on.
As I now reflect back, either there weren't a lot of contractors who used panty hose, or the women who came in to buy lumber products didn't see the shelf all the way down the center of the store. Some things, I guess, can just be too obvious for some folks. And anyway, we didn't have any dressing rooms in which the women (or the contractors, for that matter) could try them on for size. But shooo-eeee, did we offer some sweet deals on those panty hose! But we just couldn't get them to move. The yard hands wouldn't even take them as partial compensation for their labor! It was the strangest thing.
One last thought, why is "Pinocchio" pronounced "pin-oak'-ee-oh" instead of "pe-notch'-ee-oh"? It's never quite made sense to me. But then again, maybe it was all explained later in the movie. Since I always fell asleep about the time everybody was starting to act like a wooden-headed mule, I never got to see how it all ended anyway.
So that's pretty much what it's like working in a lumber yard. There's no limit to the beneficial knowledge awaiting a young, industrious, and ambitious fellow willing to work hard in a lumber yard. But that wasn't me.

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