"Straight up the gut."
So said the expert paintballer as he refilled his hopper. As we prepared to go into battle, these were his words of wisdom on how to win the field.
The company played last Friday at Skirmish USA, America's largest and most notorious paintball course. Castles, Alamo-styled forts, Old Western ghost towns, demilitarized zones -- myriad options for blowing each other away with pellets the size of gum balls that traveled at 200 feet a second, and often broke skin (Photo to the side, with names appointed by Niko).
Looking at an aerial map of Philadelphia SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) routes, or even better driving or biking each morning beside their buses, it becomes apparent that "straight up the gut" constitutes the organization's own philosophy. Philadelphia, its streets laid out by William Penn in a simple grid easy enough for drunk colonists to negotiate (unlike Washington D.C., laid out by the consistently drunk French Major Charles Pierre L'enfant, and completely unnavigable) is ideally situated for executing what seems to be the operating principal of SEPTA: get to end of town to the other as fast as possible. Buses barrel down Second, Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, Lombard, Walnut, Chestnut, etc., moving like motorized battering rams, shredding quarter panels, exploding mirrors, the bike racks on the front of the buses functioning more as truck grills to keep off the errant bikers andoccasional pedestrian. Safest way to avoid the capriciousness of SEPTA is just to ride the damn thing.
I've made a practice of driving to work along Second Street, ordering the dog in the back cab, and picking up passengers. I grant you, there is significant confusion when I lean out the window and make the proposition. While it makes perfect sense -- I'm headed across the city, and have four empty seats -- people, understandably, are wary. It's usually a crowd of three or four, and half will flat-out ignore me. But one rider will throw up his or her hands and say the hell with it, I'll take that ride. Others usually follow, especially when it's raining.
In place of Straight up the gut, the Art of Waiting. Some people do it so gracefully, as if they were born to lean against that brick wall and stare off at a distant gnome. Others can't seem to get comfortable in their own skin, checking and rechecking their black brick of a phone, looking unsure about their socks, the particular contents of the Starbucks cup in their hand.
Of the fifteen or twenty rounds of paintball we played, "Straight up the gut" worked a few times. We split into teams of 8 -- most of us Greensaw folks, a couple others from North Jersey sprinkled about, and one or two self-proclaimed "experts" -- and wrapped blue or red tape around our biceps. On the Alamo course we the Blue Team arranged a sort of blitzkreig, swooping around from either side on of their fort, pinning them down. Reed got a straight shot at four backs, defending against a flank attack.
But for the most part, I would argue the Art of Waiting took the day. In one battle in particular. This one played out in a variation of how I imagine Sherwood Forest, scattered with boulders emerging from the brush like bony knobs on a horse's foreleg, oak and maple trees generously spaced, strategically situated mounds of deadwood scattered among the brush.
The referees placed a flag in the center of the course. The object, they explained, would be to secure the flag, and take it to the opposing team's orange pole. Not unlike recovering a fumble and running it into the opposite endzone.
Well, we decided to take the expert's advide and go straight up the gut. Samir would make a sprint for the flag. Once he secured it, he would fall back, and we would create a horseshoe around him, and shove it down their throats, easily walking the flag across the course.
To move faster, we suggested Samir relinquish his weapon. With understandable reluctance he gave me his gun. The ref counted down, and at the word Go Samir transformed into an Avatar, leaping over deadfalls, balancing one-footed on the crests of boulders, changing direction on a dime, like a running back on a dream run. He snatched the yellow kerchief from the pole, and fell back to us. We encircled him. He found me as I was laying down steady fire to secure our position.
He asked for his gun back. Dear Reader, I am generally a good person. But I so much enjoyed playing Rambo, I did not give it back.
"It'll be cool, I'll cover you man," was the wartime justification I gave.
With a good-humored shrug off went Samir, only to get lit up Platoon-style behind a tangle of branches a couple seconds later. I felt a brief tinge of guilt before taking a couple in the chest from god knows where.
As it happened, the Red Team had taken the tact opposite of straight up the gut. They had decided to wait in the brush, and pick us off as we traveled, like hardwired king salmon, upstream. Anchored by Jason, Heath and Niko, nestled into natural bunkers, they blasted us one by one as we advanced with the flag. Finally, they gathered the yellow kerchief, and walked it across the field, unopposed.
And so it goes, I would argue, with architectural salvage. We are upon the point of completing the most magnificent armoire in the history of the company at the house of Judy Wicks (pictured above, sans center sink, which is to come).
Originally culled from the stocks at Architectural Antiques (www.architecturalantiques.com), the armoire required an enormous amount of waiting in order to complete. Waiting for the correct router bit to imitate the original pediments, waiting patiently with our handcarving knives and Arkansas soapstone for sharpening to get the floret exactly right.
It is the process of SlowBuild: careful, considered movements, in reaction to something done before. Human energy - mindpower, problem-solving, manual dexterity - is expended on material that would otherwise have been incinerated, made to disappear. Instead of shooting across the city, instead of running over all competition with overpowering Tippman paintball guns, we practice the art of waiting. We do not expend fossil fuels while waiting. Rather we practice our chops, or converse on the subject of the intricacies of the job at hand. How can we make this happen? A lot less burning through material, a lot more thought.
And let me be clear here: when we move, when we start shooting, when we start cutting wood, we take no prisoners. We don't need to - careful consideration of the work at hand, multiple iterations of design, checking in constantly with clients - obviate any second thoughts. In fact, we can't afford to. The sublime paradox of salvage is that we give it a second chance, but it doesn't return the favor; if we miss a cut, ain't no going down to the Depot to pick up a replacement.
In a word, straight up the gut doesn't work if the opposition has a gut to go by, a gut they trust -- and a gut that has done a certain amount of sit-ups.
We still have years, miles to go before our education is anywhere near to complete. And yet we know - instinctively - that SlowBuild, and more particularly, building with what already exists, constitutes the future. It is just a matter of time before SEPTA, other contractors, paintball experts, and the rest of the world catches on.
Labels: Architectural salvage, green builders, Green building, Greensaw, Paintball, Philadelphia Carpenters, reclaim, recycle, SEPTA, SlowBuild