Sunday, 6 August 2017

Where Laziness Will Get You




I am not lazy.

That first sentence was a typo but rather than fix it, I decided to just keep typing because it was easier. Weirdly, I am so committed to moving forward, that I will now write an entire article to go with it.

Ok. So, I 'm a certain, perverse kind of lazy.

Because I am lazy, I am deviously sparing with my muscle power and very particular about the projects I tackle. But it's not procrastination; it's detailed planning. Only after I have an acceptable, well-organized and efficient plan will I will jump into a project, but getting to that point can take a while, as my wife will readily attest.

If asked—but often, even if not asked—she will quickly recount how she was forced to cold-shower for a year, before I finally fixed our hot water problem. In my defence, we have a very fancy, computerized gas boiler system that provides both heat and hot water. Our furnace room looks like something straight out of NASA. This one was a strange problem that only affected the shower several minutes in, and three times I thought I had fixed the problem. The first two times she corrected me, saying that her showers were all still going cold, halfway through. I rarely shower, preferring to bathe. If I do have a shower, I'm in and out within 5 minutes. The third time I made a change to the system, I had several test showers over the course of that week and the problem never occurred. We have three tenants living below who use the same hot water system as us. They mostly shower. None of them ever complained. So, I assumed I'd solved the problem.

A year later, while at a house party, we were arguing about something completely unrelated in that playful way that couples do—you know the kind, where everyone else can feel an underlying tension that clearly shows the argument goes much deeper, and you are surrounded by lots of awkward giggles but no one has a sudden urge to refresh their drink or go to the bathroom because this might just get real—and then she segues into: "...it's been over a year and he still hasn't fixed the shower!"

ME: "Wait. What? The shower's not fixed? But you shower every night."
WIFE: "In cold water."
ME: "You mean, you've been showering in cold water for over a year and never thought to mention it?"

It's difficult for a husband to know exactly, but I suppose it might have been adding the belly-laugh to that statement that was truly responsible for us leaving early, me sleeping on the couch and four days of having my supper plate slammed down in front of me. The silence was nice, though.

Or, it might have been this: The shower problem had never totally left my head. I'd mulled it over in background thoughts for many months, even after I'd thought I'd fixed it. In fact, I had come to the conclusion that my last fix should not have worked and was prepared for that eventuality, though in the meantime I went with leaving the complex system well enough alone. So, as soon as we got home from that party, I returned to the furnace room and managed to truly and permanently fix the problem in less than five minutes. As it turned out, this, too, was a tactical error. I proudly reported the real problem identified and repaired—this time, for sure. The way I saw it, I had tried three different things, with each failure helping me track and corner the problem. The failure of my third fix had exposed the true nature of the problem and led me to the correct solution.

The way my wife saw it, she had endured a year of ice-cold showers because I was too lazy to do five minute's work.

Timing might have been a factor, as well; she was brushing ice-cold water out of her hair when I walked into the bathroom with the news.

Or it might have had something to do with the moon. It's all very complicated with wives.

A few days later, I felt brave enough to approach the subject again. I wanted to explain my side of the story.

ME: But you never said anything...
WIFE: Because I told you twice and you didn't fix it.
ME: But I assumed the problem was solved because you never said anything.
WIFE: I gave up. I assumed that you were lazy and incompetent.

It's difficult to adequately relate the confusing emotional impact of such a statement. My pride was definitely sliced, diced and handed to me on a styrofoam platter, marked down for quick sale. But, at the same time, my heart filled with warm fuzzies because even though she had concluded that I was slothlike and simple, she had stayed with me. She definitely loves me. It does make me wonder what other shortcomings she hasn't bothered to mention, but I don't dwell. She loves me!

I've read that incompetent people are unable to recognize their own incompetence, so she may be right about my lack of competency. And she's definitely right about my lazy streak. But what she fails to see is that it's my lazy streak that makes me a good worker. I won't do anything unless I've come up with a plan to do it efficiently and with a very high probability of success. This does mean that I spend a disproportionate amount of time dreaming and scheming, plotting and planning, but once—eventually, finally—I start moving, things tend to come together pretty quickly. Thusly does a year of thinking conclude with a five-minute fix.

Thusly, too, does varnishing our hardwood floors take five years to begin.

"Enter ONLY if you have to! Go slowly—look out for wet spots. Good luck."

From time to time, I'd noticed the varnish wearing thin and mulled the problem over and it always led to the same conclusion: Wait until we move or until they invent antigravity so we can walk on the ceilings for three days.

Initially, I'd refinished the hardwood floors way back when life was simple; we were newly married and had no kids. As well, we had just purchased, and the house was empty. Sanding and giving the entire floor three coats of varnish took less than a week. But that was sixteen years and two kids ago.

We now occupy our house... every inch of it. Some areas are higher-trafficked than others, but there's not a square foot that doesn't get trod on each day. And the ones doing the majority of the trodding are our two children. The minimum drying time before a footfall will damage a coat of varnish is about three hours. We homeschool, so our kids are home most of the day and the maximum amount of time that either one can hold their pee is about two hours—far less, if the internet shuts down. Worse yet, my daughter is crafty and girly and sheds hair like Lassie and glitter like Tinkerbell. I've sanded both out of varnished projects before; it is no fun and probably not healthy to spend that much time resenting a child.

I'd varnish after the kids are in bed, but they now stay up almost as late as me, and besides, my wife's own bladder is about the size of a nickel. Once, when we were dating, I drove into a gas station where she used the toilet, then, just as I was pulling back into traffic, declared that she had to pee again! On balance, she is the fastest pee-er I have ever met. If bathrooms had saloon-style doors, she could enter, do her business and exit before the doors stopped swinging.

Decommissioning an entire floor in our house is almost impossible. And so, I waited... until the project was forced on me...

WIFE: I really think the floors need another coat. They are very worn.
ME: It'll be ok for now. I'll get to it.

 five years later....
WIFE: The floors, especially near the front door, are very, very worn.
ME: I'm working on a plan.

one year later, as I walk in the door...
DAUGHTER: Dad, look! I got a huge sliver. Mom had to dig it out with a razor!
EVERYTHING EXCEPT WIFE'S MOUTH: I told you so.

And so, I varnish, taking a crazy patchwork quilt approach, leaving thin paths to all vital locations. And I lay it on far too thickly even though that creates problems in spreading it evenly. It's my way of ensuring that I don't ever have to do this again: If three thin coats lasted ten years, then two thick ones should buy me fifteen. We'll be retired and down-sizing by then. Refinishing the floors will be someone else's problem.

Then, I clearly mark every path with electric green painter's tape to counter sudden inspirations and gap moments. Secretly, this is mostly for my own benefit.




Our kids are naturally attracted to places I work because, basically, the primary purpose of a Dad is to "guess-what" and "lookit" things. They hover, right next to the edge to show me Pokemon cards or inspirational art-like projects composed of macaroni, ribbon, and sticks and, of course, glitter while asking questions about just how difficult it is to lay a thick coat of varnish and why I am so stressed out about it... while mimicking squirrels and nibbling on crackers. I shoo them away and pick crumbs, hair and glitter from the edge of my workspace.

SON: Lookit, Dad!
ME: Not now.
SON: But Dad!
ME: Nope.
SON: Dad!
ME: What!!
SON: An ant!

During the course of my 12-year career as a Dad, I have lookit-ed about 3790 times. More and more lately, I've been calling it in: "Yeah, yeah. That's super," without actually lookit-ing at all. The kids don't seem to notice.

ME: Yeah, yeah. That's super.

The world keeps on spinning. 

 *** *** ***

At three AM on a Friday night, I finish the last patch leading to the bathroom door. It's been a hot night and sweaty work—four hours on my hands and knees with a three-inch sponge brush. Having recently given birth to a 2mm kidney stone I have taken no chances, kept a water bottle close by and made sure to stay hydrated throughout the process—believe me when I tell you that even a 2mm kidney stone will scare you straight like that. I seal the can of varnish for the final time, and it's only as I straighten, unkinking my aching back that I realize that part of the dull throb was a sublimated urge to urinate.

Standing between me and the toilet is a now nine-foot swath of glistening varnish and one hundred and eighty minutes of minimum drying time.

I can do this, I think. Netflix and I can do this!

I head for the requisite supplies. Our junk food cupboard is in the dining room I was varnishing as the kids were going to bed. It's dry enough by now for me to nip in and grab a bag of chips. I open the cupboard and immediately notice a thin moving line of black dots. Sugar ants.

My eye backtracks along the ant-path, down the cupboard, to the floor. A scitter-scatter convoy of ants is marching from the open window, down the wall, heading toward me and the junk food. The varnish has set, so they cross without difficulty over the bodies of previous explorers; ants embedded in varnish, like flies in amber. Those must have been the earliest scouts because their entombed bodies litter the entire dining room floor. I'm afraid to even think beyond, into the living room.

Just then, I have a flashback, just like in a movie, except italicized, like in a novel: "Lookit, Dad! An ant!"

Life has called me out on calling it in.


____________________________
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