CB And The Sad Tree

In the classic animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, young Charlie Brown is sent out by Lucy to purchase a tree for the Christmas play all the kids are rehearsing.

As Charlie is departing on his quest, Lucy instructs him to buy a “big, shiny aluminum tree.”

 

After passing by all the trees that match what he was sent for, Charlie spies a sad-looking little pine sapling, the only real tree on the lot, and decides it is perfect. His friend Linus is with him, and warns that the forlorn tree isn’t what the others are expecting. Undeterred, Charlie purchases the pathetic tree and brings it back to the auditorium, where he is immediately ridiculed for his choice.

As the balance of the show unfolds, event-by-event, the tree comes to symbolize the true meaning of Christmas, especially as compared to the commercialization represented by the shiny aluminum trees. In the end, Charlie Brown’s wrong choice transforms into the only proper choice for the play, the kids, the story and the lesson.

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As the school year began this fall, it became immediately clear to me and my wife, that the one family computer in our house was not going to be enough to meet the needs of our four children.

With more and more textbooks being accessed online, coupled with an ever-increasing need for the kids to type their assignments, and create PowerPoint presentations, we were seeing a traffic jam at the family iMac… several times a day.

The heretofore single family computer.

The heretofore single family computer.

 

If money were no object, the easiest thing to do would be to go out and buy four laptops and be done with it. Unfortunately this would fly in the face of the “no Internet behind closed doors” policy we have managed to hold onto in our home, oh and money was an object.

It isn’t that we don’t trust our kids, but the temptation to stray into the seedy neighborhoods of cyberspace is just too strong.

 

So, we have created an environment where all kid accessible screens are exposed to the rest of the family, all the time. I also log all browser activity. I don’t check it too often, but they know I can.

With all this in mind, we set out to double our computer infrastructure. Having just received a new laptop from my job, my old laptop was available for the kids to use, but we wanted it to have a permanent home. Additionally, it was requested that where the laptop would live would be, and I quote, “not ugly.”

Although a vague and subjective statement, anyone who has been married for more than twenty minutes knows exactly what this means.

 

The new computer workstation could not be in the family room near the other computer. It was already bad enough that at 10:00pm when Emily and I might be able to squeeze in an hour of TV before bed, there was one kid still tapping away at the keyboard. We didn’t want another.

There was no room in the kitchen and it couldn’t be in the basement, since that whole space is as private as a bedroom.

This left only the two most grown-up rooms in the house, the living room and the dining room. Since the dining room is the farthest away from the other computer, it was decided, the new permanent home of my old MacBook Pro would be the room in which we dine… sometimes.

Our very traditional dining room

Our very traditional dining room

 

As you can see, our dining room is very traditional. Whatever piece of furniture we chose to hold the laptop would need to match the décor of the room. Better yet, when not in use, (I was told) the computer should be, well, invisible.

I searched eBay and Craigslist for weeks looking for a suitable desk or other piece of furniture that would:

  • Look good in, and match the dining room
  • Hold the laptop
  • Allow access for effective homework doing
  • Hide the laptop when not in use
  • Not take up too much room doing any of the above

We were almost a month into the new school year when I finally stumbled across a Craigslist ad for an antique flip-top desk for $150. The picture looked good, but I couldn’t tell how big it was.

I sent an email asking for measurements, and when I received them they struck me as too small, but I went to see the desk anyway.

 

I arrived at the high-rise apartment building where I met an older woman in the lobby standing next to the desk. At first glance it was too small, but the lady seemed keen to talk about it, so I listened as she told me the whole family history of the desk, and how she simply didn’t have space for it anymore.

Very little about the desk seemed right; it was too short, too expensive for what it was, and it was going to require a good bit of work if it was going to survive any time with my children.

For some reason, with little hesitation, I offered the woman $125 for the desk. She said no, it was $150 or no deal. I took another $25 out of my wallet, shook her hand, picked up the desk and walked to my car thinking, “what the hell just happened there?”

When I got the desk home, I put it in the dining room and it looked great. The color and style fit in with the room and it wasn’t too large. I was starting to feel better about my purchase.

Then I then tried to fit the laptop docking station, the laptop itself and an external keyboard into the desk. Houston we have a problem.

I had my daughter Charlotte sit at the desk using a dining room chair. The desk was at least three inches too short for comfort.

 

I then took the desk down to my workshop and started pulling it apart. Within an hour, it no longer really resembled a desk. From the skeletal remains of my $150 purchase, I made the following modifications and enhancements:

  • Added 3.5 inch extensions to all four legs
  • Replaced the desk bottom with a new ¾” thick piece of Brazilian Cherry
  • Added new diagonal reinforcement braces all over
  • Moved the attachment of front panel of the desk from the bottom to the hinged top
  • Added hidden, ball bearing slides to the top of the new bottom piece
  • Attached a ¼” thick sliding platform to the slides
  • Drilled holes for cable access
  • Mounted a power strip to the underside of the bottom

When all was said and done, we ended up with exactly what we needed and it has been working well for both the kids and their parents.

The finished desk in both stealth mode and happy homework mode.

The finished desk in both stealth mode and happy homework mode.

 

By any measurement I substantially overpaid, for a poor quality desk, that didn’t even meet my criteria, but that isn’t the point. The desk I bought was exactly what I needed to achieve the result I was after, even though it looked all-wrong from the start.

What is important, is that the sad little desk was the necessary starting point to take the project from an idea to something real.

 

Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Certainly the quest for the perfect laptop desk wasn’t akin to the hell of World War II, but the lesson is the same. Keep moving, keep going, keep doing, and you will get what you’re after. Standing still while waiting for the perfect solution to present itself will be both costly and disappointing.

So the next time your head says “this is all wrong,” but your heart says, “I know this is right, but I can’t exactly say why,” listen to your heart. Both you and Charlie Brown will be damn glad you did.

 

Copyright © 2014 - Stephen S. Nazarian - All rights reserved. (CB And The Sad Tree)

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