The Dim-Post

September 27, 2009

De Profundis

Filed under: personal — danylmc @ 3:17 pm

I’m having my house insulated this week and part of the work involves laying polythene down beneath the floor to prevent rising damp, so my job for this weekend was to crawl around underneath the house and clear out all the junk that successive owners had dumped down there.

This turned out to be a bigger job than I anticipated: roughly ten hours and counting to haul out the detritus accumulated over ninety years. I’ve spent a lot of that time trying to figure out if I’ve ever had to do a shittier, more horrible job and I don’t think I have. This has been the worst job of my life. Which put me in mind of a famous quote by Paul Bowles:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.

I think Bowles was a great writer but I don’t think he ever had to spend forty minutes on his belly dragging a huge, waterlogged roll of cobweb-shrouded carpet through a dark, dusty, damp confined space. It is true that I’ll only see the full moon rise a limited number of times and this is a shame, but it’s also true that the number of large sheets of jagged aluminium steel I have to force between narrow concrete piles while thousands of tiny insects crawl beneath my clothes is similarly limited, which is a great comfort to me.


  1. Things, events, that occupy space yet come to an end when someone dies
    may make us stop in wonder—and yet one thing, or an infinite number of
    things, dies with every manʼs or womanʼs death, unless the universe itself has
    a memory, as theosophists have suggested. In the course of time there was one
    day that closed the last eyes that had looked on Christ; the Battle of Junín and
    the love of Helen died with the death of one man. What will die with me the
    day I die? What pathetic or frail image will be lost to the world? The voice of
    Macedonia Fernández, the image of a bay horse in a vacant lot on the corner of
    Sarrano and Charcas, a bar of sulfur in the drawer of a mahogany desk?

    Not just Bowles. Borges, too, appears to have avoided the horrors of home insulation.

    Comment by joew — September 27, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

  2. Where does the polythene go? On the ground, or attached to the under-side of the floor?

    Comment by mjl — September 27, 2009 @ 5:15 pm

  3. I know this may be kind of glib; but be thankful that your existence is not one of mundane, backbreaking, soul-destroying work, and this is forty minutes and not your entire lifetime.

    I was watching a documentary yesterday, and saw poor women literally crawling in the dirt, planting huge long rows of plants. This is their existence.

    The small number of jobs that I’ve done in my life that approximate yours (dirty, dangerous, demeaning, low paid) make me appreciate this reality.

    Comment by George Darroch — September 27, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

  4. “The food here is terrible”

    “I know, and such small portions”

    Comment by Neil — September 27, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  5. Never clean under the house
    and eat Madeline cakes
    at the same time.

    Comment by Adhominem — September 27, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

  6. C’mon, man-up.

    Comment by Grant — September 27, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

  7. “at the same time”

    I’m looking to remember that time.

    Comment by Neil — September 27, 2009 @ 8:38 pm

  8. “I’m looking to remember that time.”

    If you do, don’t try to write it all down.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — September 27, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

  9. Where does the polythene go?

    On the ground.

    Comment by lyndon — September 28, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  10. Clearing out the underneath of an old villa? I’d do it free!
    No matter how many creepy-crawlies lurk among the abandoned paint cans!
    (speaking as probably the only person in NZ who always watches `Time Team’ of a Sunday evening…
    OK, I am weird)

    Comment by Leopold — September 28, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

  11. “and saw poor women literally crawling in the dirt, planting huge long rows of plants. This is their existence.”

    Some folk choose to do this every weekend and summer evenings, too. I’ve never understood gardening.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 28, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

  12. I’ve never understood gardening.

    Me neither, until last summer when I started planting tomatoes and strawberries in pots – all the benefit of a proper garden with none (barely any) of the hassle!

    Comment by Phil (not Goff) — September 29, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  13. You planted pot last summer and have no hassle?

    I guess I could try strawberries and tomatoes to start with…

    Comment by Clunking Fist — September 29, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

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