A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
Everybody works. Some work harder than others, some work smarter than others, but as each of us wanders along life’s incredible journey, we all have a relentless series of jobs to do. Just to clarify – I’m not talking about gainful employment; I’m talking about all those nasty little tasks that haunt our otherwise leisured existence — everything from filling out income tax forms to assembling a Fridekgloben bookcase from Ikea. This is the work that torments our souls.
Having survived on this planet for – uh – a number of years, I’ve done my share of personal chores and, without bragging, I’ve gained some valuable experience. Here are just a few bits and bobs from what I’ve learned along the way.
1 – Every job takes longer than you think. No matter how simple it looks or how comprehensively you’ve prepared, the task at hand is going to eat up more minutes than you bargained for. (See items 4, 5, 6, 7 and sometimes 8 for a detailed explanation.)
2 – The rule of quarters. No matter what you do, the first 75% of the job takes 25% of the time and the last 25% takes 75% — or more.
3 – Do as much as possible before lunch — cuz after lunch, you’re going to be useless.
4 – Something you need isn’t going to be there. Whether it’s a particular medical receipt, a pinch of coriander, an account number or an oddly shaped one-use-only tool, there will be one item, that’s absolutely necessary to the task, which you either don’t have or can’t find. This means you have to stop, search or go buy it – no other choice. And, BTW, this never happens at the beginning of the adventure but always more than halfway through — when you’ve got everything torn up, half assembled, disassembled and/or spread out all over hell.
5 – There will be an essential piece of information missing. Assembly instructions are notorious for this – the placement of Lock Washer #3 is a mystery known only to God. Meanwhile, the Federal Government will not accept your tax return without an entry in Box 906a even though its purpose is a bigger secret than the contents of Area 51. But the very worst are online forms that demand an encyclopedia of personal information and, after you’ve entered it all, flash the big red “Error” warning at you — while slyly refusing to tell you where the error occurred.
6 – The thing that’s supposed to fit … won’t. Carpenters and plumbers know this and are skilled in Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, but the rest of us are utterly stunned when the last bolt’s too big, the connecting rod’s too short or the brand new muffin pans don’t fit in the oven. The result is an extended period of swearing and weeping.
7 – The experience you gain from one task does not translate to anything else. What you learned trimming the hedge doesn’t help you buy car insurance online. Painting the porch and making a soufflé are straight chalk and cheese. Every task demands a particular expertise, so whatever you attempt to do (unless you’re a poly-skilled professional, or spend your life watching YouTube) you’re going to waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel.
8 – You can’t get there from here. – This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens regularly enough to be included here. Basically, there’s always a danger that the first touch on any project will set off a chain of disasters, each more expensive and time-consuming than the last. The leaking faucet that eventually becomes a $5,000 plumbing job. The birthday cake that ends up with a new stove. The computer upgrade that resets your Netflix account to Serbia and your banking information to Good Shepherd Savings and Loan in Azerbaijan. Seriously, I have a friend who tried to buy a paper shredder and is locked out of Amazon forever. (Even they don’t know why.)
Yeah, we all have jobs to do, but I’ve discovered that only paid professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists get anything out of these mundane tasks. The rest of us just have to grit and bear it.