Quiet Desperation

A lifelong attraction to the hard stuff

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A man walks into a bar with a large chunk of concrete and says to the bartender, “Give me a drink. And one for the road.”

I like concrete.

I’ve always liked concrete.

Concrete is everywhere.

Construction of Hoover Dam began in 1931. It was completed in 1936. It looks the same today as it did 85 years ago. Who else can say that?

There are 4,360,000 cubic yards of concrete in the dam, powerplant and secondary buildings.

The Empire State Building used 62,000 cubic yards of concrete.

Arapahoe Community College on South Santa Fe in Littleton is a brutal-looking structure, isn’t it? Actually, “Brutalism” is an architectural term.

Brutalism began in post-war Great Britain and was characterized by constructions that showcased bare building materials.

In ACC’s case, that’s exposed concrete.

When my in-home studio addition was built in 2003, a truck pumped concrete over my house to the foundation forms at the back through a pipe that was controlled by a workman with a handheld device.

Concrete is normally 60% to 75% aggregate, 15% water and cement, and 5% to 8% air.

Aggregates include sand, gravel and crushed stone.

I know what you’re thinking: “The old frog has run out of things to write about.”

Far from it.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way about concrete.

I recommend “Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World’s Most Common Man-Made Material.”

“We use it for our buildings, bridges, dams, and roads. We walk on it, drive on it, and many of us live and work within its walls.”

Okay, it’s not espionage or zombies, but for those of us who prefer to be informed, it’s good reading.

The Smithsonian Channel has a new program that thrills, stuns and mesmerizes me.

“How Did They Build That?”

“Across the globe, radical architects, ingenious engineers, and skilled builders are creating structures so outrageous they defy logic.”

Often, these architects, engineers, and builders rely on concrete.

Songs? Songs titled “Concrete” can be found. “Concrete and Clay” reached No. 1 the UK in 1965.

Remember Johnette Napolitano? She was the lead singer of Concrete Blonde, a successful rock band from Hollywood.

Concrete definitely lasts but it doesn’t last forever. Many of the concrete bridges in America are showing disconcerting signs of deterioration after decades of traffic, especially semi-tractor-trailer trucks traffic.

Concrete trucks have always intrigued me. The revolving cylindrical barrel going in one direction, the truck in another.

I try not to follow them, and admit to a childish fear the chute will swing out and the driver will release his load, as it were, on my imported station wagon.

Concrete is gray.

Or not. Concrete can be colored with stains, pigments, and dyes. None for me, thanks.

Gray is good. In fact, I chose warm, concrete gray for the exterior paint of my home.

(It was either that or dachshund red; the HOA barked.)

There’s an urban myth about “concrete shoes” attributable to the connection between certain types and the concrete industry in New York City.

You can explore the ruins of Concrete City, a collection of 20 homes built entirely of concrete in 1911 in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, northwest of Philadelphia.

A better name now might be Graffiti City. The ruins haven’t been respected.

Hellen Keller: “There is plenty of courage among us for the abstract, but not the concrete.”

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

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