The Education Of Everyday Encounters

Pierre Fontenot Thursday, November 2, 2017 Comments Off on The Education Of Everyday Encounters
The Education Of Everyday Encounters

They’re tearing down a house that was built when William Howard Taft was President. Some are there to pay for the doing, some there to do the doing, some are there to make sure the tires don’t catch a nail.

I’m there to save some wood from the landfill. The floor joists are true 2×12 longleaf pine, from trees as old as the Declaration of Independence. Build yourself a new house today – your subfloor will be about an inch, of utilitarian plywood, as jane as plain jane can get. This house, there’s a portion where the subfloor is three inches thick, and all timber.

The more you fool with old stuff – whether people or things – the sermon stays the same… they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.

Maybe you’re not here to read about old wood. Good. Let me introduce you to some people I met there.

He says, “Muscadine wine.” It’s Boone’s Farm without a farm. Or a Boone. Or a bottle.  “Used to get it by da gallon!”  We’re having a back-in-the-day conversation. Back in his day, “you could just pass out where you were, under a tree in somebody’s yard, wake up in da mo’ning and head on back home. Not no mo’!” he says. “Dese days, you might get robbed.”

Four White Guys Standing Around

There we were, four white guys, standing around, when a truck pulls over, and here comes a black man, older than us, big smile, looking for who’s who.

“Whose house we tearing down?” he asks.

He-who-owns reaches out his hand. They shake. The man points at the house next door. There’s a stump on the property line. While you got the equipment here, “would you mind getting that up?” No problem.

“You live there?” someone asks.  “I own it,” he says. Then he says, “I keep getting these flyers in the mail – We Buy Ugly Houses – and I say ‘Me Too!’” Now we’re putting it together. He’s a landlord. Two of the white guys own multiple properties. The guy to my left owns 14 houses. He’s young. I’m kind of impressed. So I ask the black guy….

“How many houses you got?”…and he says…O, this here, this is a doozy…get ready…

He says, “I don’t tell people,” which ain’t much of a quote, until the next sentence. “It just hurts their feelings.”  Mic drop. Off he goes.

Did You Know?

Did you know that one of the earliest Uncle P Bedtime Stories came to me after watching a nephew’s high school graduation? I sat there, thinking about who I was back when it was my turn, wondering what I wish I’d been told instead of all that go-conquer-the-world nonsense they always say at commencements…

I did the college thing.  I did the white collar thing.  I did the impressive thing.  I did the cutting edge thing.  I did what seemed cool, but, like eating a doughnut, the first one is fun, no pleasure in the fourth, sick by the 12th.

When I signed up for Facebook they asked me about my education and I wrote, “College is overrated; nothing out-schools a hungry mind and years of dining.” I meant it. Still do.

I spent early adulthood trying to escape my manual labor youth, only to find out that life was miserable for me without sweat on my brow.  My best place is the middle of the middle. Some mental, some muscle, the joy of being tired in both mind and body, and being somewhere between check to check and the living death of chasing money.

Here I am, with my formal education, and my sought-it-out-on-my-own education, blue jeans, a black t-shirt, working a sawzall and a chainsaw, thoroughly enjoying my day, nothing more to show than to save what’s left of mighty fine, long dead trees.

I count it a good day.

Back With Muscadine

He knows the man who walked up on the site. “I bet he owns 200, 300, houses.”

The guy telling me this rides a bike.   A girl’s bike.  One of the guys I was standing near owns 14 houses. Let’s say they average $100K. And he has holes in his jeans.

That quote is in my head. “I don’t tell people how many houses I own. It just hurts their feelings.” I add that to what I know. The wealthiest people I have known are so low key that if they stayed put at a redlight long enough someone would roll down their window and hand them ash tray change. I know people who could buy one, and then two, then four, then six, then eight…give them twenty, thirty years…

Talking Money

Another conversation, with one of the guys, I say, “Back in ’16 during the election, some people couldn’t stand either candidate, but some of them were voting for Trump because he was a billionaire, like that was a qualification.”

I told him my story, about being a hundred-aire and then reaching thousand-aire, and ten-thousand-aire, and realizing that the ladder never ended, that being a millionaire would feel the same kind of poor once you met ten-millionaires. To be a billionaire, I said, wasn’t impressive at all. It meant you were too clueless to realize that chasing money is like the coyote chasing the roadrunner. You never get there, and there goes the years of your life.

I envision this moment-of-death clarity, and the awful realization, so-that’s-what-you-did-with-your-life…and there you are in your deluxe casket, a fine suit, and gold cuff links, still wondering if they’ve attended your funeral because they liked you or because they liked your money…

Money matters. But, as I’ve found, not like they make it out…  Give me a choice between a clean conscience, peace with fellow man and God…or a chunk of money and it’s a no brainer.

And That’s What I Meant…

…its what I meant from my quote, College is over-rated. I learned something, from everybody I was around that day, whether flush or poor, whether suit or labor.  Everybody a mirror, every mirror a lecture.

More this, less that, one day at a time, figuring life out with the subtle pull of conscience, the feels-right of our map.

And humility, at the grace and gift of a day… I feel happy, so, as measurements go, there’s that…

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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we think there needs to be a place for those who march to different drummers.

Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories can be found on the Eighty-one Facebook page.  People wishing to compliment, criticize or put him in their will, may reach him at

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