Destruction – R. Webb


My third floor window looks out on destruction. Heavy equipment crawls all over the lot across the street. A backhoe, an excavator, a bulldozer, and a seemingly endless line of dump trucks.

Last Monday, the lot held a two-story building over a parking deck. The kind raised up on pillars so cars can drive underneath. By Friday, all that remained was the concrete foundation.

I watched them do it. Tear it down, piece by piece. The excavator, claw-and-bucket fitted to the end of its orange hydraulic arm, taking one bite after another until all that remained was a pile of splintered wood and drywall. One man. One machine. That’s all it took.

So easy, to destroy.

I think about that sometimes. Over the years, I’ve thought about it a lot. How the difficulty of creation does not match the ease of destruction.

Years ago, some anonymous businessman thought “there should be a building here.” How long did he spend putting together the deals to make it happen? Buying the land, getting permits. How much work did the architect expend, poring over blueprints, obsessing over where to put all the doors and windows?

I’d watched that building go up, too. Thirty-odd years ago, I watched an older generation of bulldozers scrape the ground flat. Watched men dig trenches for pipes and cables. I watched with particular relief when they poured the foundation, when grey slurry blocked the disturbed soil from the light. Hiding all the trauma out of sight and mind until nothing remained but a smooth, precisely rectilinear slab.

I watched the framers erect the bones of the building, board by board. Plumbers. Electricians. Roofers. All the trades, in and out like a line of ants for months, until at last bright-faced young couples moved in and made lives there.

Then last week, in the blink of an eye, it all went away. Nothing left now but that same smooth, rectilinear slab.

I stared at that slab all weekend. At one featureless spot near the center. Parked nearby, the excavators stood vigil, waiting for Monday.

The workers returned. Hungry excavators chewed the slab and spit the chunks into waiting dump trucks.

Last time the fellow from the neighborhood association came around, he told me they’re putting in a new high-rise building. “Mixed use,” he called it, which just means pricey condos over a floor of trendy shops and a parking garage beneath. Twenty-seven stories up, the fellow told me, six levels down.

“That’s a lot of digging,” I said. I know about digging.

Tuesday morning, it began. The surveyors had marked the lines of a new rectangle to be dug, and the men with their machines scraped away at the soil that lay hidden those three long decades.

Tuesday afternoon, they stopped.

I knew they would.

I watched, a cup of coffee in my hand, as workers scurried around the center of the new, still-shallow hole, grabbing each other and pointing. Fetching the foreman. Snapping pictures for Instagram. I watched a shred of old brown tarp dangling from the excavator’s scoop.

I could go online. Find the pictures if I wanted to. But I don’t need to. I know what’s down there.

I’m watching now as men in navy blue shoo the workers away. My coffee is stone cold and my feet hurt. I’ve been standing here a long time. The men raise a line of bright yellow tape around the hole. The foreman argues with them. It’s pointless. The men in blue will get their way.

An ambulance arrives. I almost laugh at the irony of it. The most useless possible vehicle under the circumstances. It backs up to the hole.

I turn away from the window. Dump the coffee down the sink. I suppose I could run, but no. Running is a young man’s game.

I sit at my kitchen table.

Creation. Destruction. They should be opposites, but they are not. My mind drops into a well-worn groove, meditating on all the effort, all the years that went into creating what was so easy for me to destroy.

The only thing that’s easy to create is a mistake.

One man. One small machine the men in blue will soon discover. That’s all it took.


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