Projects, Projects, Projects

There are many reasons why we pursue that pinnacle of the American Dream — home ownership.  We are tired of simply throwing money away on rent and instead want to invest it for the future.  We no longer want to share walls with noisy neighbors (although our new, more distant neighbors may have barking dogs and screaming children to bridge the gap).  We want to have lawns and gardens of our very own (along with our very own dandelions and gophers).  But most of all it is a sign that we have finally progressed to the point in life where we have acquired too much stuff to fit in an apartment anymore.

This, after all, is the real reason God made garages.

If you are a computer geek like me, you probably remember getting a computer with a hard drive so big you just knew you would never need all that room…only to discover about a year later that you were close to filling it up.

Garages are like that.  Moving out of a condo or apartment, you discover that the boxes that held all the overflowing mass of your back closet clutter somehow fit into a small corner of your new garage..and still leave room for two cars!  And you gaze up in awe at all the future storage space waiting up in the rafters.  And you just know that you have absolutely solved your storage problems for the indefinite future.


And how long, pray tell, does it take before you have to walk sideways and jog around obstacles to get from here to there in your garage?  Hmmm?

This, I would argue, is the natural consequence of Plachy’s version of Parkinson’s Law:  Mess expands to fill all the space available…plus 10%.

However, in my own case, there is an added problem.  Like everyone else, I somehow acquire stuff over the years that fills up the closets and overflows into the garage.  Like everyone else, I buy or make shelves and cabinets and soon overflow them as well.  And like practically every other guy I know, I insist on periodically adding “necessary” tools to all the other impedimenta.

But since my psyche clearly feels all that is not enough to truly overburden my life with junk, I have to add a separate, space-eating category: Projects.

Not completed projects, of course.  Those are small and tidy and richly satisfying.  Oh. No.   Instead, it is that wealth of half-completed projects that cover the available counter tops and workbenches and drag on my conscience every time I walk into the garage.

I suppose that in a sensible world we would all follow the king’s advice in Alice In Wonderland:  “Begin at the beginning…and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”  That is, we would work each project through to the end before starting a new one.  Somehow it never (or darned rarely) works out like that for me.  Unless it is something absolutely vital like, say, repairing a toilet, the typical project begins in a rush of enthusiasm that, while it may last for days, somehow only takes me half or two-thirds of the way to the end.  Then something like a missing part, a work deadline, or even a TV show I just have to watch interrupts the flow.  After that, through some strange psychological melt-down, I just can’t seem to get started again.

First it is hours, then days, then somehow months have passed.  Pretty soon I am walking through the garage carefully not looking in that direction.  Guilt has come upon me, making it even harder to restart.  So instead, when the next burst of enthusiasm hits, I push the last project out of the way so I can start a new one.

Mind you, at this point a more sensible person would simply shovel the last (and clearly unnecessary) project into a box (or even better, the trash) and exile it far out of sight and mind.  Alas, my nearest and dearest wouldn’t call me sensible.  I have this small (approximately the size of the Grand Tetons) problem with letting go of things.  So my world ends up with a sort of stratification of projects.  You can move backwards in time by looking for the layer with the thickest coating of dust.  Ah, yes, I’ll say.  I started that one a few years ago.  But I’ll finish one of these days.

Clearly, I live alone.  I think any court in the land would adjudge this habit of mine to be “mental cruelty” of a fairly high order and grounds for divorce if not for justifiable homicide.  But in my defense, let me hasten to add that I do, eventually, get back to my projects.  Sometimes years later, it’s true, but I do get them done.

Except, that is, for my one really big project.

You see, while I was in college I had this professor who drove the coolest car in the world.  It was a British racing green MG TD (that’s the one with the french curve fenders, bug-eye headlights and upright gas tank in back).  When I heard he wanted to sell it I moved heaven and earth (i.e. begged, borrowed, and stole) to get the $750 required.  By which process I became the proud owner of one of the least reliable, least weatherproof, and most fun cars I’ve ever owned.

Problem is…I still own it.

You see, it’s a matter of language.  If you own a Honda or a Chevy, over the years you will find yourself facing more and more repairs until you finally give up and sell the thing.  But if you own an antique (or near-antique), you will find yourself facing more and more repairs until you finally give up and admit that repairs are no longer enough and face that dread word restoration.

To restore a car like this means to take every part off, dismantling the whole vehicle to the bare frame and disassembling every component down to its basic nuts and bolts.  Everything that can be re-used is stripped, primed, and repainted (with the authentic period paint, of course) or re-plated.  Everything that can’t be re-used must be replaced with either vintage parts or exact reproductions.  In short, it is an unbelievably tedious and expensive process whose duration is usually measured in years.  It will not only eat your budget, but, since a disassembled car takes up a lot more room than an assembled one, it will also eat your garage and exile your cars out to the driveway for the duration.

So I haven’t exactly rushed into the process.  In fact, my TD has been sitting there on jacks, tidily covered with a tarp, for…well…some time now.  Let’s just say it could be measured in decades.

I haven’t completely neglected it.  Over the years I have occasionally been moved to remove a part or two.  I clean them up preparatory to painting or plating…and then I set them aside.  The truth is I fear that there is an invisible point-of-no-return line in that car somewhere.  Once I cross it, I will be unable to stop and will be sucked right into this endless task, shelling out money, sweating, scraping fingers, and spending hundreds of hours with the finish receding ever further.

So somehow I haven’t rushed into it.  This seems to me to be sensible.  After all, the TD is off to one side, discreetly covered and hence not jogging my conscience too much.  And it’s my problem, right?  I mean, nobody else is bothered by it, are they?  This is supposed to be one of the benefits of living alone.

So I thought.

And then, just the other night, two friends who are antique car fans confronted me.  Apparently my (ahem) patience about this project has just been driving them crazy.  They have tried, over the years, to nudge me into action by expressing polite interest in the restoration.  This having produced no visible results, they apparently decided on something perilously close to an intervention.

If I would finally get off my butt and get serious about it, they told me, they would both donate their time and considerable expertise to assist me as needed.  Since both of them know exactly how deep that sort of volunteering can get you, I can only conclude that their frustration has reached the point of desperation.

Whatever their emotions, it has pushed me right into a corner.  Clearly I finally have to face the problem and make some sort of a decision.

It isn’t just a matter of starting to work on the TD.  The truth is that there really isn’t room in the garage right now for anything as big as a car restoration.  If I really wanted to do it, I would first have to clear the decks of all that backlog of accumulated, half-finished projects.  And that would obviously take months.

Not that I’m procrastinating, mind you.  It’s just that it takes a major effort to finish any one of those things, not to mention all of them.  And the alternative, simply giving up on them, is clearly unthinkable.

Lord, it’s just too much to contemplate.  When I even start to think about it, my stomach flips and my mind reels.  This is clearly no good.  Instead of facing it, what I want is some guaranteed way to distract myself.

Aha!  I’ve got it.  You see, there’s this new project I’ve been meaning to start on…

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