"You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet."
Michael Crawford, writer
One might think a profile of a former Oceanlake kid, Taft elementary youth and a teen who dropped out of Taft High School who now, 21 years later, works hard as a carpenter might not be the stuff of legends.
In fact, speaking with 37-year-old Justin Marical is like a breath of fresh air along with bursts of déjà vu.
He’s scrappy, he’s gone through ups and downs as a framer and construction worker, and he faces the struggle of being a quasi-step-dad to four children and a biological father to his 16-year-old boy who lives in Sedona.
We meet in Waldport, as I shadow him building his specialty now — high-end sheds or office spaces on people’s properties. We cover a lot of ground while he’s putting up siding on the 200-square-foot shed at a house on Bay Street.
He does the work from dawn to dusk, leaving no detail unfinished for this craftsman-like gig before he heads to the next job.
His business — JM Sheds -- is going on 12 years, and his life is representative of a lot of young American men’s lives: dropping out of high school after 10th grade, getting sent to an aunt and uncle’s farm to be home schooled, getting a GED and learning a trade to survive.
Add to his formative years a biological father who ended up leaving the family with Justin at the tender age of six.
“I don’t know what the true effects of the divorce on me are, but I am sure I was hurt, yet at the time I wasn’t aware of anything.”
Justin says the Central Coast is a great area for which to grow up, or at least it was when he was younger, although he admits he did “slack off in school” and stopped going to Taft.
“I really wasn’t in any trouble, but I did ditch school, and did smoke a bit and got stoned.”
However, a safety net appeared: he was sent to an uncle and aunt on their 500-acre apple, pear and cherry farm in Yakima. This really set the foundation for the young Justin’s life and where he is now.
“My uncle worked hard and recently retired well off. That farm was everything to him and to my aunt.”
We talk about the uncle’s hidden but brilliant plan for the young Justin. He had three cousins on the farm, and his uncle bought a bunch of lumber and put Justin to work with a challenge — make a playhouse for the younger girl.
The project was a full-on micro house — eight-by-eight, full-height walls, a roof, windows and a door, all finished in cedar shingles.
It was an after-school project, which Justin did on his own.
“I realized I had just built a building on my own. I totally remembered what my dad did as a framer. All that stuff stuck with me.”
That playhouse 20 years ago set Justin off into a world of construction, and this shed and micro-home business. Thus far, he’s built about a hundred sheds and office spaces.
Justin’s worked for Highline Homes in Salem, keeping busy as a commercial framer. Justin soon realized he could be his own boss, set his own schedule and make more money. Before shed making as a business enterprise, he worked in full home-building construction, but the jobs dried up during the 2008 recession.
“I could have quit and done something else after the jobs dried up. Instead, I built sheds, utilizing my construction skills.”
Justin reminds himself while speaking to me that building sheds got him his first home, got him a nice truck and trailer, and has helped to support his significant other, Emily, and her four children.
All of these skills he learned came from job sites his father, albeit as a divorced dad, took him on. He learned to do grunt work, observed the intricacies of a job site, and picked up vital carpentry skills that got him that golden prize — a complete, cool playhouse built by his own two hands.
It’s clear that once he starts a job, Justin is like a Tasmanian devil: “Once I get that job in front of me, I can’t stop.”
This is one work ethic that is a win-win for his clients who put down several thousand dollars for a nice outbuilding that not only serves as office or studio space, but enhances any property’s value.
“I knew early on I wanted to be a framer, to be in construction.” Luckily for Justin, his Yakima uncle instilled in him to shoot higher — be your own boss, work smarter not harder, and don’t make a living just doing grunt work for someone else.
Framing houses, framing lives: Part II
“In ordinary life, a mentor can guide a young man through various disciplines, helping to bring him out of boyhood into manhood; and that in turn is associated not with body building, but with building an emotional body capable of containing more than one sort of ecstasy.”
Robert Bly, “Iron John: A Book About Men”
Justin and I talk about the failing school system, how tough it is to work with young men today to motivate them, and what it means to be a man in this world where sometimes the headlines and book titles can be off-putting: “Adam's Curse: A Future without Men;” “The Y Chromosome is Disappearing — So What will Happen to Men?” “Do We Need Men?” “Are Men Going Extinct — Some Experts Give Men Five Million Years.”
While his biological dad always worked and even took the young Justin to job sites, expecting the 8-year-old to throw in as a laborer, Justin is conflicted by some of his relationships with men.
“I wish I had listened to the advice of men when I was younger. You know, listened to my buddies’ dads. If I had, I’d be in a lot better place.”
He lists off more savings, sticking to one thing and not flittering from job to job, better investment strategies, and making a plan as some of those mentor men’s tips he let go by the wayside. He labored hard in his 20s, framing, but it was working for Friday nights to come around in order to hit the bars and find parties.
This is where a simple story about a plain 10-by-20-foot shed turns into a deeper conversation about the meaning of life, and the meaning of what it takes to raise children — boys in particular — to help them make it in life with a sense of dignity, respect and work ethic.
We talk about Michael Crawford’s book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work” — Two of this philosopher’s words resonate when I speak to Justin —
• Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.
• Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right.
While Justin has upped his game with a nice website with amazing photographs of his craftsmanship encouraged by his spouse, Emily, he looks at the value of his skills translated into what young men and women might gain by working with their hands and brains.
A few years ago, Justin was hiring others to help with the shed projects. He could get one of these 10-by-20 sheds up in two days with that help. “I ended up shaking hands, developing quotes and running around getting materials. I wanted to put hands on projects. I had friends and their families who depended on me.”
Have Tools, Will Travel
Now he’s going at these projects alone, putting five or six days into the solo work. This gives him a lot of time to think what he might be doing to not only help his spouse’s two boys, 13 and 16, but the serve his community.
We talk about the housing crisis, about veterans who are homeless, about families not finding any affordable housing. The other crisis — PK12 education — might be the interconnected salvation for a county and state that face colluding forces that tear at the fabric of communities, down to the family level.
Justin drills down into the truancy issues of these two boys, and discusses how young men want to mimic gang-like behavior or even associate themselves with miscreants or wannabe gang-bangers while also skirting doing an honest, hard day’s work. Justin laments what he sees as young men and boys demonstrating a complete lack of respect for their elders, parents.
We both agree that having boys and girls building things, and planning, designing and following through on projects like building greenhouses, sheds, chicken coops would go a long way in the right direction to enable our youth to bring both meaning and skills to their young lives.
Justin and I talk while he puts up a shed, and he asks me about my work in education, about a writing project I am engrossed in to virtually explode the myths that tinkering with public education will make it better. “I have had these questions rolling around my head for a long time, but meeting you, I see what needs to be done.”
Hands-on, no more classrooms. Then, teachers that are inspired, inspiring and with multiple disciplines. We talk about getting youth to raise vegetables, chickens, orchards (permaculture). We talk about youth figuring out how to plan, draft, carry out and finish a building project, like a tiny home for needy people within their own community. We talk about teach-ins — having members of the community come to schools on a monthly or weekly basis instructing youth on their myriad avocations, skills and professions in these elegant round-table community engagements.
Justin wants to figure himself into this mix, working his magic as a builder to mentor and instruct youth on building something that is permanent, things that they can look at with pride.
“Not many young people are learning a trade. With that lack of hands on skill set, they are not getting any sense of accomplishment.”
Answers for Life
In his busy schedule working on this job on our coast, dealing with intermittent rain deluges and sunny breaks in the weather, Justin seriously pondered these questions I raised:
1. What does it mean to be a young man in America today?
For Justin, he sees struggle for young men, and confusion. “They have no solid ground to stand on as males.” He believes that too much screen time, too many other distractions and general parental lack of discipline add to the struggle. Justin isn’t thrilled with the economy getting Balkanized with fewer and fewer small businesses and apprenticeship opportunities.
2. Is there much difference from when you were 17, 20 years ago, then what it is to be 17 today in the USA?
3. How can we motivate young men to follow through, have a work ethic and care about doing honest work and living authentically?
We both believe that the education system — where youth spend 200 days a year, eight hours a day in the “system” — needs overhauling. Justin would like to have a part of educating, working with both disadvantaged youth and others on valuing their minds, bodies and creative spirits doing things with their hands. The doing things he emphasized, and Justin means anything from skills working with engines, farming, building, crafting and engineering.
4. One word to describe your work ethic?
5. Is building a shed creative work? If so, explain.
Just watching Justin go into a project, I can see he is thinking a mile a minute, putting the pieces together in his head. The craft involves architectonics and design and aesthetics.
6. If you weren't building sheds and framing, what would you be doing?
He tried his hand at logging, and while working like a mule on big construction sites taught him the value of hard work and refining skills, Justin seems to be at place designing, marketing and organizing construction projects, from inception to completion.
7. What do you like about the Central Coast of Oregon?
He impresses upon me that the places on the coast still are and feel like small towns with people willing to get to know neighbors and customers. Just on one job site, all the neighbors around the project site talked with him. More than a half dozen drive-by neighbors looked at his project as it was being put up.
8. Define success.
He sees self-sufficiency and having the flexibility to be his own boss. Justin considers himself “homeless” in that he has no apartment or house mortgage, and he lives on the road, sometimes in his big truck while completing projects. His significant other of 10 years is a safe harbor from the constant dislocation, yet Justin says with all the tools, the trailer and his truck and his skills, he can virtually go anywhere and do his trade.
9. Define failure.
“Simply, being my own man” Justin emphasizes the person in that statement. He thinks that if he was doing things to cut corners or to scam or rip-off people, he’d be a failure. Do unto others as you would have people do unto you.
We end on a complicated note: More and more companies like Amazon and the like have kits for both sheds, tiny homes and other building types. “I am told by some that, ‘Hey, your shed is $2,000 more than what I saw at Costco for a kit.’ Well, I laugh and tell them good luck with putting up that product by yourself.”
With Justin working here in Waldport, he’s stayed at a local resort for days, he’s been to restaurants, shopped at Ray’s Market for groceries, put gas in his truck at the local Chevron, and purchased construction items at the locally owned lumber yard and hardware store.
That multiplier effect is not the only value-added service JM Sheds provides the Coast. We get to see a hometown kid done good, pounding and sawing away, on site, with all the personal touches you can’t get from a kit sent to you from Amazon or IKEA.
Paul Haeder is a writer living and working in Lincoln County. He has two books coming out, one a short story collection, “Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam,” and a non-fiction book, “No More Messing Around: The Good, Bad and Ugly of America's Education System.”