Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Price of Imprecision

A lifetime ago I worked for my older brother Kelly. He is an extraordinary builder of structures of all configurations, shapes and sizes. Way back when in the halcyon days of the late 1980's/early 1990's he owned a construction company that principally did light metal framing. We built buildings, did renovations and pretty much anything and everything of which you might be able to think.

Apparently people in construction have a "thing" about erecting buildings to last forever - or longer. Given that my lack of skill mechanical and otherwise made me more than a little bit of a curve buster in the "Over/Under:  How Long Will This Structure Remain Standing?" game, no one associated with Kel's business shed a tear when I chose to pursue a career in the law.  Truth be told, I think they all wondered to themselves whether I could construct a legal argument any more adeptly than I could anything they ever saw me attempt to construct and further wondered just how long it was going to be before I starved to death.  Truth be told even more truthfully, I wondered the same thing myself.  Still do every now and again.

One of the things I enjoyed most of all when I worked for my older brother was getting introduced to stuff on TV that I never would have watched in a million years.  I had never even heard of "This Old House" before Kelly introduced me to it.  I had no idea how to do any of the things that they showed the various trades doing each week on the show but it sure looked cool.   As much as I enjoyed "This Old House", it paled in comparison to "The New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abram".  Norm Abram was the master carpenter who actually was responsible for making sure that whatever was being built on "This Old House" actually could pass the "Test of Time" test, although most of the show's glory went to its host, be it Bob Vila or Steve Thomas.  Abrams was sort of the construction equivalent of Marlin Perkins' assistant Jim Fowler on "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom".  You remember Jim right?  Jim was the one who invariably ended up with his head inside of a tiger's mouth or trapped in an open plain in the middle of a rhino stampede while Perkins, wearing his safari suit in the air-conditioned comfort of his television studio, explained in his typically nonchalant style what Jim was doing. 

On his own show, Abram - supported by what Kelly used to joke appeared to be $250,000 worth of tools and equipment - would make the most gorgeous pieces of furniture, etc. that you have ever seen.  Some of the work he did was absolutely jaw-dropping.  Much as was the case when I watched "This Old House" I had neither (a) any idea how he did what he did; nor (b) any hope of ever being able to replicate that work myself.  Mattered not at all.  I appreciate watching anyone who is skilled at a particular thing ply his or her skill. 

One of Norm Abram's mantras was always, "Measure twice.  Cut once."  Even for the mechanically inept like me that simple, sagacious piece of advice rings true.  And it rings true for practically everything, whether made of wood or not. 

I was reminded of that fact in a rather benign, yet significant fashion on Monday afternoon.   I traded e-mails with someone who I have known for the entirety of his life but with whom I have fallen very far out of touch for close to the past decade and a half.  His e-mail was actually a response to something I had sent him close to eight months ago.  Whether he had seen it in his in-box all this time but not answered it for he was uncertain as to what to say or whether he had not seen it at all until recently I know not.  I suspect however that it more likely a case of the former than the latter.   His response was concise, compact and wholly devoid of emotional attachment of any ilk or form.  Sadly, it was also entirely appropriate.

Wars are fought and casualties are sustained.  Sometimes blood is spilled in an area that you never bothered to account for when hostilities commenced.  A bond, once broken, is much like a broken bone in that it shall never again be "unbroken".  The best result for which one can hope is that it heals cleanly.

Heed the advice of Norm Abram.  You only get one chance to make the proper cut.  Make certain before you pass the blade through the wood you have measured twice.

Three times for the really important stuff.

-AK

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