Ode to a Chalk Line Reel

The day after Bo Diddley died, I watched a carpenter stretch a line the length of a board & give it a pluck: a diddley bow with no resonator, dry chalk instead of a bottleneck slider’s glissando note. I’d been expecting blue, but this line was red. The saw followed shortly with its howling eraser.

I had an argument with the carpenter about new tools versus old. Why does something that works ever have to be replaced? Why red? Why plastic for the housing? Why the constant upgrading to new drills & saws? The carpenter showed me his hands: they were cruelly crippled. I can only use what fits my grip, he said.

That sudden, electric blue from my father’s chalk line was one of my favorite things. Inside the chrome-plated reel I pictured a Galilee of chalk where the string went to renew its glowing shadow, like a blueprint line translated from the plane of the ideal: fuzzy, but straight as a fault.

Links for the culturally deprived: Bo Diddley; diddley bow.

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

6 Replies to “Ode to a Chalk Line Reel”

  1. Amen to patry, for the whole series.

    The other day, I briefly got to use my stepfather’s power drill, which is older than I am! It not only still works fine, but looks damn good — classic industrial design, they don’t make ’em like that anymore. (At least not for the consumer market.)

  2. I never knew about chalk-lines till we came here, and our neighbour lent us one when we were doing our roof. That electric blue is just sublime to me, I used to wonder if I couldn’t get hold of a lot of it and mix it with a medium to use as paint. And it is just the right startling shade to go with the sense of delight with that ‘ping!’ and the perfect straight line appearing…

    Thanks for reminding me.

  3. Thanks, all.

    David – The oldest power drill I’ve used, at a friend’s house once, was maybe 40 years old. The best that could be said about it was that it still worked. And the friend fiercely resisted my suggestion that she get a new one.

    Lucy – just the right startling shade to go with the sense of delight with that ‘ping!’ and the perfect straight line appearing…
    Exactly! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who reacts that way.

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