Irrelativity: Barry Smith |

Irrelativity: Barry Smith

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

I built some bookshelves several years ago. They were so spectacularly bad that friends who came over would point at them and say, “Ha!”

And I knew what they meant.

“Oh, I get it! You’re putting books on that wobbly, crooked, poorly designed and incompetently built … thing … as if it were actually a bookshelf. That’s so hip and clever. Ha!”

But what nobody realized is that this bookshelf was not meant to be ironic (and I’m using the word “ironic” the way it was meant to be used – incorrectly.) No, this leaning tower of fail was my earnest attempt at carpentry.

Given my success at shelving, I figured the next logical step would be to move right into renovating a 100-year-old farmhouse. And, wouldn’t you know it, I just happen to have one – one that’s needed some renovation work for at least the last 30 of those 100 years.

And now, after months of planning and replanning and aligning of schedules, the time has finally come to get down to work. My brother, Bryan, who is an actual carpenter – and who said I could only write about him if I mentioned his company (Buildersmith – “Built With Care”) – will be in charge of the project. I will be in charge of standing around and occasionally handing him tools and suggesting we take longer lunch breaks. It’s just the two of us, who’s gonna know?

Here’s how it’s looking so far.


I have a tool belt. Or “bags,” as they’re called by real tradesmen. In it I have a pencil, a 3-foot tape measure with a picture of Snoopy on it and a soft plastic hammer that makes a squeaky sound when you hit stuff with it. At least that’s what I imagine my “bag’s” contents look like to Bryan, who has real bags with real tools. In fact, he has a whole trailer full of tools, which he backs skillfully down my long driveway first thing Monday morning and parks next to the house. We spend the first hour unloading tools and setting up various work areas.

“Grab the other end of that,” Bryan says.

“OK. What is it?”

“Tile saw.”

“Oh. Cool. What, uh … does it do?”

This was my question as each tool was removed from the trailer. Mitre saw. Table saw. Reciprocating saw. Drill.

“Oh, a ‘drill.’ Interesting. And that’s for when you want to, uh …”


Did I mention that I have a pair of Carhartts? Yeah, I do, because as a professional theater artist I realize the importance of a good costume. And a sturdy pair of reinforced Carhartt pants says, “Here’s a guy who knows what a drill is.” As all the rest of my clothes have been packed away since our move, I had my wife grab me some clothes from the Aspen Thrift Shop to work in. T-shirt and a hat, I told her, doesn’t matter what, just something to wear while I saw and/or drill things. Something I can get dirty and it won’t matter. And this was a good call, because even after one day I’m already dirtier than I’ve ever been. And it’s not like I’m a stranger to being dirty – I’ve been to a Grateful Dead show.


Our father tried really hard to “instill” a strong work ethic in my brother and me. I say “instill” because the word “beat” is just so out of vogue these days. With Bryan it worked, whereas I managed to dodge the lesson. In fact, I worked really hard to avoid getting the lesson. Is that irony? Possibly.

Bryan’s staying over each night, and he’s up at the crack of dawn and right to work, even though there’s no boss to impress. He keeps things moving, working with skill and efficiency. I’m not used to this, and am trying to adjust. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining, but the sound of him using the tile saw makes it nearly impossible to complete my post-lunch nap.

We make our first trip to the local hardware store, and I’m feeling pretty manly in my now-even-dirtier construction costume, and the other people in the store are doing some double-takes. You know, because I’m so construction-y looking. But later I realize it was probably because I’m wearing a hat from a foofy Aspen spa, a Blue Man Group T-shirt and brand new Carhartts. You can still kinda see the crease down the front of the leg. Sheesh.


As you can tell, I’m a bit preoccupied with irony. It’s a word that’s so casually tossed about, and I’m constantly searching for its pure form. You know, something that is so clearly textbook irony that there’s no disputing it.

Well, today I found just such a thing.

Irony is when you poke yourself in the eye while putting on your safety glasses.

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