I could have just bought one from Barnes & Noble.
Last week I saw a lap desk at Barnes & Noble. I want one of those. My laptop gets fiery hot and writing with a clipboard is just a pain. A lap desk would work in the backyard and in bed, two places I often want to write but where it's uncomfortable to do so. I examined a faux-wood lap desk and thought, there you go, but didn't buy it.
On my basement workbench is the nearly finished top of a lap-desk I began building last night. I've applied a second coat of polyurethane and will give it a third and maybe a fourth tomorrow. I want to be sure I can easily clean the coffee I'm bound to spill on it.
Buying a lap desk seemed foolish. Money is tight and I'm not sure I'll use the thing very often. I wish I could go back and not purchase most everything I've ever bought. The combined savings might allow me to retire now. Spending money on a lap desk would set me farther back and deprive me of the chance to make one.
I enjoy few things more than building something for myself. I work alone with wood and saws, nails and a hammer, tape measure and a carpenter's pencil. Saw dust gets all over me and up my nose. I fail to notice the passing of time. And then there is something new in the world because my mind imagined it and my hands brought it into being. Compared with that, buying a lap desk is more than a mistake. It's a wasted opportunity.
For some reason, I got it in my head to make the desk at absolutely no cost. I also wanted to build it out of an old pear crate. Thirty four years ago, as a kid, I worked in a produce store. Pears arrived in roughly sanded, hardwood crates, with a blue label on the side. Total old-school aesthetic. I took more than a dozen of them. They weren't big enough for records but made perfect bookshelves. Later, I divided them for compact discs. Then my daughters used them as toy shelves and doll houses. Over thirty four years I've kept every one of those crates.
Last night, I carefully disassembled one, pulling each nail, laying out the pieces on the workbench, and imagining them becoming a lap desk. The image came together almost as if it was a kit. I sanded and made some cuts. I measured and came up with a way to join things. At half past ten I quit for the night so the family could sleep.
This morning, I ripped down the ends of the crate to form a frame, clamped the long sides of the crate and screwed it all together with leftover screws. I keep the screws in a peanut butter jar whose cap is nailed to a ceiling rafter. I unscrewed the jar from the rafter and tipped the screws out, sorting through until I found some that would work. I wasn't going to spend money on this project. None. I built from what I have.
I sanded the top and rounded the edges. Every knot, dent, and gouge delighted me. I opened the polyurethane and applied a coat. The wood came to life under it. Thirty four years glowed in that wood. I love things that endure and the look of the marks time leaves on them.
I have scraps of foam padding to secure to the bottom and will cover those in old fabric from my daughter's bat mitzvah. This will be a beautiful lap desk. It will be free in every sense except that it will be laden with meaning and significance for me. I'll savor this because it has been purchased with the currency of my imagination, built by my two hands, and has been in the making for thirty-four years. I've yet to find all that in a big box store.