Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Jon grew up in suburban Chicago when times were slower and simpler. One hot summer day when he was about 12 or 13, he decided that what he really needed was a horseshoe court. He'd seen one at a family picnic earlier and decided that his dull back yard would be an ideal spot to create one for himself. The spot he chose was out by the garage, right where a pile of junk and lumber now sat. He figured all he'd need was a couple of lengths of pipe and some horseshoes and he'd be in business. Cheap. Easy.

So, on that hot day in July he approached his dad. "Can I build a horseshoe court out by the garage?"

His dad looked at the spot and scratched his head. "I guess so. You'll have to move that lumber and other junk to the back lot before you do anything though."

Jon began moving the lumber. It was heavy. The day was hot as hell. It was really awful. He stopped for a bottle of pop (remember this is Chicago). He looked at the pile of lumber which was still huge. He sat under a tree and thought about his horseshoe court; then he went back to work.

There was still a lot of lumber left by suppertime. Jon worked until dark and then started again the next day. Eventually, by the end of the day he (and his dad) had moved all the lumber and other junk out to the back lot. Finally, Jon thought, the place was ready for the horseshoe court.

"Not so fast," said his dad. "You've got to cut all these weeds and then move those cinder piles left over from the coal stove. Jon realized that the job was far from over. He got to work again. He cut the weeds, a backbreaking job in itself. But moving the cinders was worse than the junk moving. The piles of cinders defied him and he figured it simply wasn't worth the effort any more. When his dad told him he'd need to dig and frame out the court, Jon gave up and went swimming.

To this day in our family, the term "Horseshoe Court" is used to describe the job you undertake only to find that there are a gazillion little jobs that must be accomplished before you can even get to Job One.

Jon relived his Horseshoe Court this afternoon. It's gorgeous today and when we broke for lunch we decided to eat on the back patio just outside our office. During lunch Jon noticed the hummingbird feeder hanger which needed to be moved to another location. "I'll do it after lunch," he told me. "It'll only take a few minutes.

He went into the utility room downstairs and retrieved a screwdriver. Back outside he quickly unscrewed the hanger and took it over to the new fence where it was to hang. He realized that he'd need to make new holes in the fence and went back inside to find a gimlet. He looked in both tool kits, to no avail. He went upstairs, got the garage key and opened the garage. He looked in his tool chest out there--no gimlet. He locked the garage, put the key away and came back downstairs. He took his drill out of its case and was about to assemble it when he decided to look in his tool kit one more time. Voila! He found the gimlet. He put the drill away.

Back outside he made two holes in the new fence and went to screw in the hanger. He was tightening the first screw when it gave way and the head stripped off. Back inside, he looked in his tool kits for brass screws--no luck. Back upstairs, he retrieved the garage key, unlocked the garage, found two brass screws after 10 minutes of searching. He locked the garage, went back inside, down the stairs, and out to the back again. He screwed the hanger into the fence.

Job One done--it took almost an hour. He could have read two partials in that time. Damn Horseshoe Court!

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