Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Preparations for the Impending Apocalypse

Over the last few months I have become interested in the idea of building up some food storage. Despite the low probability of a zombie attack, having a stockpile of life-sustaining supplies is useful in a number of unusual and dangerous circumstances. Tornadoes. Floods. Siege. Sudden onset of crippling agoraphobia. Rioting mobs. World-wide peanut butter shortages.

This last possibility, in particular, has been very motivating. I love peanut butter.

However, my pantry closet has a total of three shelves. Each shelf is about ten inches wide. Even an unfailing optimist (which I clearly am not) would have difficulty believing that's enough storage space for a month's supply, let alone the three months I hope to eventually build up. (If I'm caught up in a crisis so severe that it lasts longer than three months, I will undoubtedly have other problems before I run out of food.)

So the first step of my journey was to procure more adequate shelving. Ideally this shelving would be lightweight and mobile so I could take it with me when I move. Also ideally it would hold canned goods (and peanut butter) with a minimum of wasted space. And my last ideal would be that these magical shelves would be cheap.

I looked online. You can get a set of metal wire shelves of the general dimensions I desired for... $130.00. Plus shipping. So somewhere in the range of $150 when all is said and done. And since all of the shelves I saw were designed for garages and industrial kitchens, one set of shelves usually had four to five shelves total, instead of the nine or ten I thought would be perfect for canned goods.

So instead I embarked on a journey to build my own shelves for less money and more shelves in my shelves.

Never embark on a journey. It's very bad for your health. Not to mention your nerves.

I drew up my shelf plans and estimated that my total cost would be about $60-$70 dollars. (And I looked at Home Depot's website to make that estimate, so I wasn't just pulling that number out of the air, either.)

At Home Depot, all went well until I couldn't find the lumber I had found on the website. I settled for a beautiful whitewood pine that smelled nice, was the same dimension, and cost $2 more. I didn't think it would make that big a difference. A very friendly Home Depot person cut it into 22'' lengths for me.

Cost on leaving Home Depot? $92.61.

Well, okay, that was still cheaper than any of the shelves that wouldn't really work for what I wanted that I'd seen online. And I was going to end up with perfect, custom made shelves, right? That's worth ninety bucks. Onward!

I arrived at the construction site (my aunt's house) where I was planning to build these magical shelves, both for the empty driveway and the availability of a borrowed power screwdriver. My aunt and uncle left for the evening, leaving me confident in my shelf-making abilities (I was confident- they weren't so much), and certain that they wouldn't be back for many hours, leaving me plenty of time to clean everything up when I was done. There was also the bonus of knowing that no one would try to park on top of me while I worked on my magical shelves. I waved them off to enjoy their evening, serene in the knowledge that all was well. I would spend thirty to forty minutes putting together my magical shelves and then I would kick back for the rest of the evening in the glow of a job well done.

Then I discovered that in the expensive scramble at Home Depot, I had lost my beautiful professional-looking graph paper shelf-plans. Suddenly all was not well at all. I had a pile of lumber cut to size (so I couldn't return it), and only a vague recollection of my cunning plans of how it was all supposed to go together. I was Free Babysitter In Chief, so I couldn't drop everything to run back to Home Depot looking for a piece of paper that had probably blown away.

Well, I wasn't going to quit after spending $92.61 on a bunch of boards. I just had to make new plans, that's all.

I made new plans. They were not beautiful or professional-looking.

I continued anyway.

I went ahead and screwed the sides, tops, and bottoms of both shelves together, which is when the next of my series of unfortunate events occurred. The power screwdriver was a plug-in model, much heavier and more cumbersome than the power screwdriver I used in my golden childhood when I could raid my father's toolbox whenever he wasn't looking. It was also older and more tired than it looked. It started to overheat. After forcing it to finish putting together the frames for my shelves, I unplugged it and banished it back to the garage before it could spontaneously combust in my hands.

This left me with the good old nail-and-hammer plan.

I soon discovered that when the helpful Home Depot person cut my boards into 22'' lengths, he had cut them approximately. They were all aproximately 22'', but some of them were closer to 21 1/2'' and some were more like 22 1/2''. This meant that I had to kneel on the wood to make it bend inwards, or use the hammer to knock a shelf into place between the sides before I could nail it in place. And since he had efficiently cut three boards at a time, that meant every time I found one shelf that was off I knew there were two more just like it.

This was bad for morale. So was the fact that I was working under a tree that kept spitting acorns at me. And the fact that in spite of a nice limpid puddle on the other side of the street, all the neighborhood mosquitoes chose to swarm me instead. There were usually three on me at a time; I didn't swat at them often, because it's a bad idea to wave your arms wildly when you're holding pointy nails and a heavy hammer.

After banging together the first shelf (which took far longer than it should have - it was now dusk, and thirty minutes were long gone), I made a shocking discovery.

The driveway was slanted.

Which meant that my shelves, which I had built on a diagonal on that slanted driveway, were also slanted.

I would like to claim that the shelves were crooked because of the driveway, but I must admit that it was probably because I only bothered to make measurements and markings on one side of the shelves. I eyeballed the other side. I was still cherishing illusions of a quick and easy project, and was skipping steps you really shouldn't skip.

I observed the slanted shelves, and the fact that despite the fact that the sun is supposed to set at 8:30 pm, not 7:45, I was running out of daylight. I continued.

I got out my 1x2s and put them on the back of the shelf, preparing to hammer them down for reinforcement. I noticed dismally that the straight-up-and-down 1x2s made the crookedness look even worse. Oh well. I nailed the first 1x2 at the top, and walked to the other end of my six foot shelf to nail it down there before doing the second one.

And made another discovery. My shelves were only approximately six feet long. And since I had asked that the 1x2s be trimmed down to 6 feet, they were about 3/4'' too long.

I'm very proud of the fact that I took this moment to not cry.

After an (internal) scream of ultimate suffering, I determined that I could swivel the 1x2 to make a diagonal across the back of the shelf. This downplayed (very very slightly) the crooked shelves, and meant that I could finish the blasted thing. I then leaned the finished shelf against the wall, displaying it for the amusement of anyone who might pass by.

The second shelf went better. Mostly because I did make measurements on both sides of the shelf this time. However, it was past dark at this point, so I had to turn on the porchlight and work in the narrow sidewalk in front of the front door. I knocked over my box of nails. (You know it had to happen at least once.) And I was so tired that more than once I drove a nail all the way through only to find that I had entirely missed the shelve.

Finally, about three hours after I had begun my half hour project, I was on my last nail. I positioned it carefully, and took a moment to look at it silently. We eyeballed each other, the nail and I, like the last survivors of two enemy armies. Wounded, weary, but ready to kill each other before we fell down dead. If I hadn't felt so irritated, it would have been a very moving, almost zen-like moment.

I determined that in this horrendous project that had gone wrong in so many ways, this nail - the last nail - was going to be perfect. I balanced myself, raised the hammer, and brought it down in a perfect blow.

The nail bent.

I took a moment to not swear.

Then I straightened the nail and hammered it in until it cried for its momma.

Then I responsibly picked everything up and put it away, and put the shelves on their sides so they wouldn't fall on the head of any innocent passerby, and collapsed on the couch inside.

My aunt and uncle got back from their date twenty minutes later.

It took me about half an hour past that to recover enough to be able to drive myself home.

I spent a lot of time thinking about life, the universe, and everything while I was working on those shelves, and I came to several conclusions.

If all my preparations for the impending apocalypse are so harrowing, by the time the world really does end it won't faze me a bit.

Mosquitoes give up before I do. I'm not certain that this is a good thing.

Now that the shelves are inside my pantry, no one is going to notice that they're crooked unless I open the door and point it out.

And in spite of the fact that my aunt laughed when I said I'd wrap everything up in half an hour, I still think that my plan was perfectly sound. If my boards had been cut to a consistent length, and if I hadn't lost my plans and didn't have to stop every fifteen minutes to try to remember the measurements I made six hours before, and if the power screwdriver hadn't thrown a tantrum, then I really could have put the shelves together in half an hour (or forty-five minutes, if you allow for water breaks.)

In other words, if nothing had gone wrong, everything would have worked out just right. There's a duh thought for you.

Behold my beautiful shelves:

They may not be worth $92.61 by themselves, but the story adds value. There's nothing like tales of suffering to make the time just fly by when you're barricaded inside, waiting for the rioting mobs to get bored and go home.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Duh Thoughts

There's something about being young that makes very obvious statements seem like blinding insights into the true nature of the universe. I call these insights 'Duh' thoughts.

For example: On Friday I pulled a rib in my back (somehow, don't ask me how, it makes no sense). I was initially proud of how I handled it. No panicking or running to the emergency room or even whimpering very loudly.

But as I slogged through the day, counting time at my job (my wonderful perfect job) by slow, agonizing 15 minute increments until I could go out and buy a bunch of instant cold packs, some m&ms, and most of all stop pretending to be professional, I had a deep, amazing insight:

Being in constant pain is exhausting.

I never really knew that, but as soon as the thought registered, I realized that not only was it the deepest, truest thought I'd had all week, it was also blindingly obvious.

I mean, it's not like being in pain is going to make you want to sing and dance with the elves. Hello.

Yesterday I had another obvious insight.

After my appointment with the chiropractor, as I laid on the massage table (an amazing invention that I will insist on being installed in the spaceship before I agree to be sent as a representative of the human race to distant galaxies) and began to relax, I felt the pain lift and as it lifted, I realized that I could think.

And that I couldn't think very well before then.

Therefore: pain makes you stupid. QED. (This is something that I sort of knew before from a scientific study showing that pain causes blood to flow more slowly to the brain in women and more quickly in men. The conclusion of the study is that women have higher endurance because they literally 'feel' less of the pain the more of it there is (admittedly sacrificing higher functions for this endurance) while men get faster and smarter when they're in pain (up to the point they collapse). This is just a paraphrase of something I read several years ago, so don't take my word for it if you're really interested - look it up for yourself.)

The moral is that when you're young, (or maybe this will be a lifelong condition- since I haven't lived long enough to be anything but young I don't know yet), it's very hard to have an insight that isn't already old news to everyone else. But even duh thoughts feel nice and new the first time you figure them out on your own.