Nails and screws

Today I sorted nails and screws in the cellar. Also nuts and bolts and washers, hooks and hinges and picture hangers, brads and tacks and hardware for the screens and windows. The nails were of two kinds, galvanized and ‘bright common’: framing nails, roofing nails, box nails, drywall, finishing, 8d, 10d, 16d, and the ‘d’ stands for ‘denarius’, in English ‘penny’, as you may know, and the screws were brass or steel, Phillips-head or slotted, in I would say more than forty sizes and designs. Each nail or screw went in and out of boxes and jars and cans to be with its fellows, the 8-penny finishing nails tumbling and flashing like a school of minnows, with a stray 20-penny spike like a barracuda making havoc with lesser nails in the miscellaneous jar.

Miscellaneous jar, because I did not sort every last nail (that’s for the obsessive-compulsive personality, and I am only a household handyman who needs to find the right fastener from time to time). Besides, not all nails need be sorted for jobs when you need just one or two, perhaps of an odd size or function, viz. nailing into cement or brick. I threw, for example, after a brief caress, half a dozen of those tough, short cement nails with the twisted shank into that jar. And then there was the decorated tin box of old brass screws from Holly’s grandfather, and coffee cans marked 8d and 16d by my father on masking tape stuck to the side, heirloom nails and screws which stand apart in my mind, and now on my shelves, and which I would not hesitate to use if I needed them.

“L’artiste doit régler sa vie,” wrote Erik Satie in “La Journée du musicien.” Of course, his daily schedule as he reports it may also be looked at as a series of impulsive and irregular acts:

Get up: 7:18 am; be inspired 10:23 to 11:47 am.

Take lunch: 12:11 pm; leave table at 12:14 pm.

Healthy horse-riding out on the grounds: 1:19 to 2:53 pm

Order or disorder? “Important or unimportant?” as the King asks in Alice. My nails are ordered, what of my books? What of my papers, what of my thoughts? Open any drawer, or box, or lobe, and you will find evidence of an ordered and disordered life and mind.

Perhaps you have visited a small-engine shop, not the front desk but where the work is done? Tools and parts are spread from wall to floor like a cubist collage. The effect of disorder is oppressive. And yet the repairman may play that space like a piano, with a feel for every nut and bolt. Or he may search for ten minutes for the right wrench. I suspect it is something in between; it is for me. Wasn’t it Montaigne who said we think and act with a staggering motion? But ask me now for an eyebolt or a bugle-head screw to stiffen a railing and I can go downstairs and find one for you promptly.


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