On The Deck Vs On The Desk

A few months before my 84th birthday I realized I had chosen the wrong profession more than half a century ago. After being fired from my first job out of college as a disc jockey, I wandered into the news business where I spent 45 years.

Despite challenging hours and some bosses bereft of talent, I loved the work much of the time. It’s exciting to handle a major breaking story — we’re talking here of the now antique definition of “breaking news.” One of my proudest moments was writing a quick piece, some of it off the top of my head, when China’s Mao Tse-tung died. As an editor in the Central Newsroom at Radio Free Europe, my story on the Chinese Communist leader was translated and broadcast into the Soviet-dominated nations of Eastern Europe.

On retiring 16 years ago, I was generally satisfied with what I had done in newsrooms in Chicago, Munich and New York, although cringing when remembering several bad decisions. I still can’t explain my failure to order wall-to-wall radio coverage of the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Last year on a pleasant April afternoon, Danny Bettes, the partner of our oldest granddaughter, walked into our backyard on Long Island to build a new deck. He had a van full of equipment — saws, drills, hammers, crowbars, levels, benches, tape measures, extension cords and lots of stuff I’d never seen before.

He also had a speaker that played music. Danny and Rachel Parish, the granddaughter, are both in their late-20s and share my taste in music — lots of country and the likes of Bob Seger and Tom Petty.

I have no skills with tools, no understanding of how to make things fit together. If I had learned to measure and to cut a board so it slips into a tight corner perfectly, to pound a nail at an angle to support a post and to manipulate an electric saw to turn a piece of wood into any shape needed, I could have worked outside much of the year and listened to country music and good rock the entire work day. Mind you, loud country music and good rock. After a couple of years as a carpenter, maybe I would have been able to move half as gracefully as Danny did when walking nonchalantly on the support beams (I hope that’s what they’re called) that now hold up the deck.

But foremen, even in carpentry, are quick to chew out an apprentice when a mistake is made. Fair enough. While the music was playing and I was being handed boards from the old deck to stack in a trash pile, on came “Night Moves” and I shouted, “Glenn Frey.”

“What?” Danny asked, shaking his head almost in disgust. “It’s Bob Seger.” The boss was right. Watching him work, he talked to himself when going over options of how to deal with this problem or that. Other times he sang the lyrics to the songs, lots of songs.

Hours after my “Glenn Frey” faux pas, he made sure Rachel and her grandmother, Irene, knew about it. I was of little help after the old deck boards had been removed, but I could still open the back door and enjoy the music and think of what life might have been like if I had spent much of it pounding nails instead of keys on a keyboard.

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(Posted May 28, 2022)

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Larry McCoy

Retired newsman, author of “Grandma Told Me to Never Believe Anything Grandpa Says” published by Covenant Books. It’s his third book. He’s yet to be sued.