Martin’s 2017 Christmas Poem

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Martin’s 2017 Christmas Poem

On a dark December night, a lonely builder feels he’s getting old

Posted on Dec 22 2017 by Martin Holladay

The Love Song of J. the Builder
With apologies to T. S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. has been nailed,
        the roof all capped,
The building like a carton ready to be wrapped;
Let us go, then, up the temporary stairs
To rooms with drywall-bucket chairs,
And count the days we framed with 2x4s —
The sawdust days weighed down by boring chores,
Jobs that linger like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent,
Leading to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the architects sip(SIP) Building panel usually made of oriented strand board (OSB) skins surrounding a core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam insulation. SIPs can be erected very quickly with a crane to create an energy-efficient, sturdy home. wine,
Talking of high-R wall design.

By day, the sun pours through the window-panes,
Too much heat through south-side window-panes,
While backyard puddles linger from the rains,
Spreading in the yard, unhelped by drains;
The boxed-in metal chimneys, fake hiding fake,
Are all reflected in the backyard lake.
And on that crisp December night,
Engulfed by darkness, wishing for a light,
I curse the missing subs. Their vans have fled.
Electricians, plumbers — might as well be dead.

And indeed there will be time
Before our permit finally shall expire,
Perhaps — we’re now down to the wire —
Time for punch-list items, twelve or more,
And for the smoke test and the blower door.
There will be time, there will be time
To once again berate the subs — it is no crime —
There will be time to murder and create,
To lift and drop a question on their plate:
“You numbskulls! Dolts! Where were you all these weeks?
Who’s going to seal these gaping hole-saw leaks?”

And time for all the work; more days of woe,
As clumsy fools drop tools upon my toe;
Time for the owners still to change their minds:
“We want to go with automatic blinds.”
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions;
Time for owners to request a bigger deck,
Even though they’re late with their last check.

In the room the architects sip wine,
Talking of high-R wall design.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to rue the day the laborers were hired,
Time to see the HVAC(Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Collectively, the mechanical systems that heat, ventilate, and cool a building. guys get fired.
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
Time to bid on work, to lose or win.
My coat is buttoned tight against the cold,
My leather boots are starting to grow mold,
The painters often mock my whiskered chin,
And say, “His arms and legs are getting thin.”
The PassivhausA residential building construction standard requiring very low levels of air leakage, very high levels of insulation, and windows with a very low U-factor. Developed in the early 1990s by Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist, the standard is now promoted by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt, Germany. To meet the standard, a home must have an infiltration rate no greater than 0.60 AC/H @ 50 pascals, a maximum annual heating energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (4,755 Btu per square foot), a maximum annual cooling energy use of 15 kWh per square meter (1.39 kWh per square foot), and maximum source energy use for all purposes of 120 kWh per square meter (11.1 kWh per square foot). The standard recommends, but does not require, a maximum design heating load of 10 W per square meter and windows with a maximum U-factor of 0.14. The Passivhaus standard was developed for buildings in central and northern Europe; efforts are underway to clarify the best techniques to achieve the standard for buildings in hot climates. designers say, "He should
Get trained. His homes are only pretty good."
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
They leave me feeling weak, and old, and gray,
Cutting corners on the job site every day.
Could I imagine other paths or lives?
I have measured out my life with drywall knives;
I walk through sawdust, room to room,
And say, “These subs have never held a broom.”
        So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all —
The eyes that pin me, wiggling, to the wall.
I spot the plumber: time to set things right!
I’m timid, though, and frightened of a fight.
So when I flip a bucket, turn it to a chair,
The plumber says, “What makes you think I care?”
Ahead of me so many tasks still loom,
        And how should I presume?

And I have known the tools already, known them all —
Sawzalls chewing up the joists above the crawl,
Tape dispensers missing; missing rolls;
The drills and saws that make the unsealed holes.
Inspecting work, I slowly make my way,
Smelling marijuana smoke each day,
Watching subs who sometimes go, and sometimes stay.
        And should I then presume?
        And how should I begin?

Shall I tell them, then, “My anger now is ripe”?
I miss the smoke that rises from the pipe
As plumbers solder — if they work at all.
The plumber’s only signs are litter in the crawl.

I should have been a teacher, worn a different hat,
Not a custom builder — anything but that.

The afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Just like the roofers dozing in their truck,
Their work forgotten, asphalt tabs unstuck.
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
Like the roofers’ swollen fingers.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, climbed up many a ladder,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen my CFLs begin to flicker,
And I have seen the Realtor hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After texts that were ignored, unanswered calls,
And threats, change orders by the score,
After deadlines missed six times, and more;
Would it have been worthwhile,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball,
To have pushed the lazy subs against the wall,
To shout, “I am a builder, full of zeal,
Who's come to tell you all just how I feel!”
The subs would load their tools into their van —
        Not just one, but every single man.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worthwhile,
After the ants, the termites — all the nasty bugs,
After the paint upon the doorknobs, and the spoiled rugs,
And this, and so much more? —
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
The siding guy rejects a half-inch rainscreenConstruction detail appropriate for all but the driest climates to prevent moisture entry and to extend the life of siding and sheathing materials; most commonly produced by installing thin strapping to hold the siding away from the sheathing by a quarter-inch to three-quarters of an inch. !
Would it have been worthwhile
If I shouted at the roofers, who let their shingles fall,
Littering the yard? Assigned blame to one and all?
Turning toward their trucks, they all would say:
        “This is not good at all,
        Not worth it, dude, at all.”

No! I am no developer, nor was meant to be;
Just a small-town builder, one who can do
One house a year, a bath or two,
Advise the owner, buy a simple tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Well-intentioned but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous —
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall keep my plans and blueprints tightly rolled.

Should I take some courses? Maybe I could teach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Like closed-cell foam the waves are white, blown back,
When the wind blows the water white and black.
I’ve lingered in the crawlspace much too long,
As far-off mermaids sing their mournful song:
“When you became a builder, you chose wrong.”

Editor's note: J. the Builder recently announced his retirement. His current building project will be his last. He has told his friends that he plans to move to a bungalow in Folly Beach, South Carolina. In anticipation of his move, he has already purchased several pairs of white trousers.

Martin Holladay’s previous blog: “Three Code-Approved Tricks for Reducing Insulation Thickness.”

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  1. Julian Peters -

Dec 22, 2017 1:09 PM ET

Well done, Martin.
by Paul Eldrenkamp

This is brilliant, world-class parody.

If I read this in McSweeney's I'd say it was one of their best pieces of the year. Or ever.

Next year "The Waste Land"?

Dec 22, 2017 6:46 PM ET

Great work!
by Rob Myers

I always look forward to your Christmas poem and this years offering was superb (plus it was based on one of my favorite poems). I smiled all the way through. Thank goodness it's not autobiographical,,, well at least the retirement part at the end isn't. Have a great (and well deserved) holiday season Martin!

Dec 23, 2017 7:06 AM ET

The narrator is not the poet
by Martin Holladay

I'm not a builder; nor am I currently despondent. So everything is good. Thanks.

I'd like to wish all GBA readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Dec 25, 2017 5:06 PM ET

Best of the season
by Malcolm Taylor

Many thanks to Martin, Scott and the rest of the GBA community. I saved this to read on Christmas day as a treat!

Dec 27, 2017 3:36 PM ET

by Dan Kolbert

Like a client etherized by a DER estimate!

Dec 27, 2017 10:55 PM ET

True to form
by Paul Kuenn

Thanks Martin! Some of this should be scattered among the stones of my favorite Boston cemetery surrounded by TS E and the caring environmentalist of Jamaica Plains. I know there are a few builders in the neighborhood that may look down curiously and pick up a scrap and perhaps learn a thing or two.

Dec 29, 2017 5:04 PM ET

I love this.
by Lucy Foxworth

I guess you have been to Folly Beach. I haven't been there in forever, but it was a rundown out of the way beach front when I lived in Charleston in the 80s. Probably seriously yuppified now.

Great poem.

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