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December 3rd, 2003

Steel Buildings

Our suburb is in an electrical co-op, as if we were still farm country instead of suburbia.
This situation entitles us to a subscription to "Texas Co-Op Power", a charming magazine about the rural Texas life. I read this magazine for the Classified Ads, which remind me, vaguely, of sitting in a barber shop at age 6, reading the earthworm farm ads in Field & Stream.
These ads sometimes diverted the men in the shop from their favorite topics (trucks, blue-tick hound dogs, and the perfidy of elected representatives) into full scale reveries about the money-making potential inherent in the earthworm. Only the quavering voice and fluid profile of Dolly Parton on the Porter Waggoner show, back before Dolly got "mainstream", could excite as much sheer desire in those fellows (I still hear, in my mind, a rather cinematic deep voice saying "Dolly Parton--what...a...woman").

My favorite "Texas Co-Op" ads are not for the "Root Grubber", which kills trees by cutting roots 6 to 8 inches underground, nor even the ad offering custom machine-made quilts. Instead, I am always drawn in by the ads offering to sell steel buildings.

Steel buildings have such possibility. They can be barns or carports. They can be wood shops or even the ribs of a greenhouse. But I love it when they are community things--churches, businesses, or classrooms. The ads always promote buildings for as little as 4,000 dollars or, for massive structures, as much as 40,000.

During our recent drive through rural Kansas and Oklahoma, I saw metal building church after metal building church in town after town. These little towns in some cases don't have ready sources of wood or brick, as they are in scrub timber regions far from brickworks. I imagine, moreoever, that the one hundred dollars per square foot that custom buildings can cost are beyond the means of facilities with names like Church of the Incarnate Word. For a fraction of that cost, one can put up a steel building, although the ads do warn "codes may affect prices".

To me, steel buildings say something about community. People put them up for churches (or rural schools or other worthy purposes) because they want a meeting place, even though they do not have the means to build the cathedral at Rheims. Lately, I've focused on the elusive quality of meeting places, as I've been assiduously pricing spaces for potential chess tournaments. In my memory, places for people to meet were largely available from communities and churches on an "anytime we are not using it, you are welcome to use it" basis. But maybe my memory is tarnished by a child's lack of sophistication.

In my mind's eye, though, I wish I had the resources to build my own steel building, where gatherings for all worthy things could occur.
My town is back on its "let's spend millions on a bond to go in with other cities for an arts hall" jag. But I wish to write them and tell them to just put up a steel building instead.
I've got the ad--right here in the co-op magazine. "Farm*Church*Sports*Horse*Car*Plane", it says--surely "Culture" will fit in there someplace.

I suppose steel buildings are temporary, and not really attractive. But something appeals to me about the idea of structures erected merely to create community, which may not last forever, but is worth putting up a steel building over.

seeing sun

That fellow Fogerty's lyrics fail to impress me generally, but I love that lyric in which he implores the listener--"have you ever seen the rain?". For me, the sight of distant rain ranks among my favorite commonplace pleasures.

The "smell" of impending rain, which I'm told is really the smell of far-off dust stirred by distant rain, appeals to me. The sight of streaks of dark purple clouds on a stormy horizon, "rain falling" literally to ground, gives me a bit of a thrill.

I remember once my wife and I were out for dinner in January in a Southern California restaurant in the foothills called The Barkley. We looked outside, and in what had formerly been a clear night, a vivid, large-raindrop, torrid storm had begun. We felt that shiver of safe comfort and dry harbors.

I suppose I should find some metaphor about dark clouds and dark moods, but my life doesn't really work that way. I sometimes see sunny days in dark clouds. I also see sunny days in the sight of a reddish sun setting over farm fields. In this year of astronomic wonders, the sight of Mars winking beside the Moon enchants me.

I imagine that on a planet far away, some other being looks up at the sky, and sees something novel, and smiles. I imagine that a cormorant sees water breaking, and dreams of a fish beneath. I imagine that I look through a kaleidoscope, and see the swirl of prisms, and smile.