When I’m out for a walk in my neighborhood I can’t help looking in open garages. Few have cars parked in them. Many are crammed with overloaded shelves and teetering stacks of boxes like that Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse.
I totally get it. We are a nation of consumers and looky-loos. But, what really slows my step as I pass an open garage is catching the flicker of fluorescent tubes in a back corner. That clinical glow makes me strain for a better look, hoping to catch the glint of finely machined metal hanging from great rectangles of pegboard. It usually means one thing back there: a workbench.
That post-primordial place of refuge, possibility, failure and triumph. It works like a magnet on me. God, I always want to poke my head into those open garages and marvel at the workspace, the tools, the hardware: twenty-pound pipe wrenches with Pleistocene patinas; bent nails piled high in antediluvian Folger’s coffee cans; endangered saber-toothed saws that might’ve felled the great Saharan forests. The very sweat and blood of history, of civilization, written in countless garages.
Yet the tools and hardware aren’t even the best part. The workbench is. The actual surface on which it’s all built. From worn hardwoods with grains glowing like luminescent creatures from the Mariana Trench. To polished metal sheens rivaling chrome accents on 1950s Cadillac fins. To faded and scored linoleum as thick as a buffalo hide.
It gives me shivers.
Funny thing is, my current workbench never struck me as a thing of beauty. I didn’t build it. It came with the house I’d recently bought. A heavy duty tin-covered behemoth that looks like it might’ve come from a Depression era foundry, carelessly wedged between my furnace and outer garage wall. The dented and discolored metal surface is supported by a sturdy gray-green cabinet with a staggering array of tiny drawers that appear stupidly impractical.
No, my new workbench is not a thing of beauty. It is stolid and inscrutable. What I found in it later—or what found me—is the terrible attraction of the thing.
The other reason I like looking into other folks’ garages is that I can’t get into mine anymore. My garage is inaccessible. I can’t go in. No one can. No one should. Not ever.
I’m afraid something’s at work in there. At my workbench. And it isn’t me. Remember I mentioned the crazy arrangement of drawers and cupboards my workbench has. When I moved in and wanted to put my tools away, I discovered the funky drawers weren’t empty. Every drawer of my workbench had a little pyramid object in it. A tetrahedron about an inch and half a side made of a translucent composite material.
Very odd. I piled all the pyramids on top of the workbench. There were 42. One in each of the drawers.
Though puzzling, I was in unpacking mode and started organizing my hardware and tools in and around the workbench, finding a prominent place to hang my vintage twenty-pound pipe wrench which I’d never used yet had to have. Just because.
Under the glow of my fluorescent shop lights, I finished unpacking late in the evening. I was pretty tired, but not too tired to notice that when I headed back into the house and turned out the garage lights the pile of little pyramids was glowing. Like I said, I was tired. Lots of materials naturally absorb light and glow in the dark. I slept soundly.
For the last time.
The next morning, I went to work. My car was parked outside because the garage was full of boxes still needing to be unpacked. When I got home I was too tired to do anymore unpacking and fell asleep on the couch. Until.
You know where this is going. Until the noise in the garage woke me. A deep low thrumming.
Somewhat disoriented, I made my way towards the noise, and when I entered the garage vertigo hit me hard. I leaned against the door frame trying to make sense of what I was experiencing. The whole garage floor seemed to be moving, the unpacked boxes, everything.
And over on my workbench, a strange glowing shape filled that entire surface, too. Hundreds and hundreds of little pyramids, tetrahedrons, were restlessly shifting, assembling and reassembling. And moving things. My tools and hardware, everything.
I slammed the door to the garage and deadbolted it. I haven’t been in there since. No one has. No one should.
I still walk my neighborhood looking in other open garages in admiration of all those workspaces, that primal maker inclination we have.
And maybe we aren’t alone in that. Some kind of maker is in my garage. Something still figuring it out, figuring us out, in a place of refuge, possibility, failure and triumph.
By my not telling anyone, you’d think I was okay with whatever is going on in my garage. The truth is, I could really use my twenty-pound pipe wrench. I’d sleep better…with it underneath my pillow.