On Maintenance

The concept of maintenance occupies my mind, the constant attention and labor it requires. All around me I see signs of need for routine or critical maintenance. Much of what I see cries out for immediate action or something will be beyond repair—a person, a building, a neighborhood, a Camaro.

That rusted, molding and colorless Camaro with flat tires and blackberries growing out from underneath its hood and front seat in the driveway of a home clearly listing…that’s what prompted these words. The decay of that Camaro truly breaks my heart. I don’t want to drive it, but somebody should be.

The need for maintenance manifests itself every morning on my walk through the neighborhood: houses, roofs, yards, basketball hoops, porches, gardens, shrubs, trees, garages, business facades, sidewalks, newspaper racks, dumpsters and human beings. Some of the necessary maintenance eventually gets performed because I see it underway in the moment or afterward. Some of it will never be performed for a variety of reasons: money, time, death, disinterest, mental health, addiction, infirmity, indifference, inattention, incompetence, laziness.

I often think about something I read decades ago by the philosopher/longshoreman Eric Hoffer. I am paraphrasing very loosely here: “Societies can easily galvanize the energy to implement bold new initiatives, but the hard work is mainlining them.”

Many of Oregon’s governing entities come to mind when I think of that paraphrased quote. A new creative initiative to solve some problem or enhance our lives is launched with great fanfare, and then sort of gets implemented by the bureaucracy, and then goes to seed because no one wants or knows how to maintain it. Certainly addressing the homelessness crisis is following this dreary path.

I have read multiple reports where homeless people say they are contacted by outreach workers about services, and then they never see the worker again. I know in my own various attempts to obtain services for my homeless friends, maintenance of the system to help them is terrible, unacceptably incompetent. I don’t see enough reporting about that.

The biggest challenge in making any significant difference on homelessness is expert maintenance of all the various projects that have been launched or are about to be launched. But that is such a difficult story to track and takes anyone interested in such things a lot of time and energy to follow.

I look at my own life and all the calls for maintenance: the back yard, back deck, my father’s care, my own physical and spiritual fitness, my website, my publishing company, the herb garden, my teeth, my father’s estate, friendships. It is all hard work usually done without any recognition, let alone congratulations. No one congratulates you if you keep your gutters clean. They only notice if you don’t and they begin to sag and leak.

Every week some new need for maintenance surfaces and I try to address it with swift action.

Caulking is one of the supreme acts of maintenance. It’s easy to do, cheap and incredibly effective. It wasn’t until I lived in an old RV that I really understood the importance of caulking. Caulking is also a good metaphor for life.

As for my nation’s ability to conduct maintenance on important matters such as policy, programs, ideals and infrastructure, it seems almost incapacitated. The maintenance of National Parks and Forest Service campgrounds? No. Bridges? No. Drinking water quality? No. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid? No. National Defense? Of course! Build yet another useless aircraft carrier when that expenditure could fund child care for five million struggling single mothers for a long, long time.

In recent years I have been so much better at maintaining personal relationships. In fact, I reinvented myself because of this new-found ability and the act led to better writing as well.

I am writing this from a coffee shop that is good at maintenance of its interior and exterior. My only complaint is that some of the tables wobble when I am writing. But don’t all tables in coffee shops eventually wobble?

The beaver is the most excellent creature of initiative and maintenance in the world. They never stop maintaining their dams and lodges. Never!

How do you prioritize maintenance needs? You obviously can’t do everything all at once. It’s a good question and I don’t have a clear answer for it. If I did, I could write a self help book on maintenance and become a guru who ends up on TV and radio and social media telling everyone how to conduct proper maintenance in their lives.

That’s not my role. I write this essay to remind myself of the importance of maintenance and as a reminder I need to vacuum the car’s interior.

It would be interesting to see a politician run on a platform of maintenance. It would seem to be a winning message if framed vigorously with vivid examples.

Some people perform perfunctory or half ass maintenance. I suppose that’s better than nothing. It might keep the roof from leaking for another year.

There is only one thing in my life where I desire no maintenance. NONE! That is in the Oregon Tavern Age joints I patronize. I don’t want new lighting or new fixtures or updated this or that. I want steady erosion. I want torpor. I want dust and old sexist beer posters. I certainly don’t want any University of Oregon neon.