Pork Chops & Applesauce

I went to an odd elementary school. It was built in the 1960s, and it carried all the open-and-free-love attitudes for which that decade was well known. Here are just a few facts to illustrate the point:

  • All of the rooms were in the shape of a hexagon
  • We didn’t have “homeroom,” we had (not joking) “family room”
  • Each room was refereed to as a “Hex.” So in first grade I had Mrs. Turner for Family Room in Hex Three
  • The school (at the time) was divided into four sections each made up of five hexes that surrounded a central hexagon, which was referred to as a “centrum.” The sixth side of the centrum was the hallway that led to the rest of the school.
  • Kindergarteners had a separate space called the “Kindercluster”
  • First grade was not called first grade, it was called “readiness”
  • Oh, there’s one more thing… none of the rooms had walls. That’s right, 400 kids, K-5 in a giant, open, hippy-designed honeycomb
HH-Arial

Harris Hill Elementary as it appears today from Google Earth. Hexagonal Honeycomb Indeed.

 

To say it was a different environment might just be the educational understatement of the century, but somehow we all survived, and ultimately persevered through an awkward, and painful transition to a “normal” middle school.

One of the books I remember clearly from my days in elementary school was a reader called The Dog Next Door. Within the pages of this book was a story called Pork Chops and Applesauce.

The story was about a young kid who has a job in a small grocery store. In retrospect, there is no way a kid this young would have a job of any kind, but such was the story. Anyway, one day the kid is stocking the shelves in the store and someone asks him where the applesauce is located. The inquiring customer is already holding a package of pork chops, and this gives our protagonist an idea. He thinks to himself, “why not rearrange the entire store, placing things that go together right next to each other?”

Before taking any time to think his idea through, he starts moving stuff all around the store, starting with the pork chops and applesauce.

 

Before too long all hell breaks loose in the store, since it is impossible to make all possible pairings work. For example, where do you place cheese… next to crackers, or macaroni, or bologna?

In the end, the kid is praised for his creativity, but admonished for not fully thinking things through. At least that is how I remember it.

————

Thursday morning, we awoke to several inches of snow here in western New York. It was not enough to close the schools, but there was no way either of our cars were getting out of the driveway before somebody moved some of the heavy wet white stuff.

As the older kids trotted off to school I enjoyed a cup of coffee and prepared to go out and clear the driveway with our trusty Ariens snow blower. Using this ten horsepower mechanical marvel, I can typically clear our driveway in 10-15 minutes, and I have done so, without fail, for the last eight years.

Earlier this fall, as I was putting the lawn mower away for the season, I decided to do some long overdue maintenance on the snow blower. I changed the oil, lubricated bearings and adjusted cables. After all this, my snow-spitting workhorse of American engineering started up on the first pull like it always has.

I stowed it for the first snow.

BlowerSM

My Ariens 1028

 

The snow we received on Thursday had really started on Wednesday afternoon, so I had used the little orange monster already, but it had given me a little trouble getting started, something I chalked up to “first now of the season” jitters.

When I came out Thursday morning however, it was a different story. The damn thing simply would not start.

 

I could see and smell that it was getting gas, but it seemed to not be getting spark. Internal combustion engines that run on gasoline don’t do much without spark. When I had done the aforementioned maintenance back in October, the one thing I hadn’t done was change the spark plug.

I pulled out my extensive collection of socket wrenches to remove the plug, but none of them fit. After a bit of deductive reasoning I determined that what I needed was a 13/16” deep socket… a size that I simply didn’t own.

Normally when replacing a spark plug, the very best thing to do is remove the old one and bring it with you to the store. Since I could not remove the old one, the best I could do was print out the page of the owner’s manual that listed the plug specs.

With this in hand I headed off to Home Depot.

 

I quickly found the 13/16” deep socket, only $3.89, not too bad. I then headed over to the massive display of snow blowers. Beyond all the shiny new models is an area where they have snow blower parts. They have belts, shear pins, air filters, fuel filters, oil and spark plugs. All of the parts are arranged by the brand of blower on which they would fit. As I stood in front of the display containing Ariens parts, I could only see one spark plug, and I must have looked confused because almost immediately, an orange-aproned associate approached me and the conversation went like this:

HD: Can I help you find something?

SN: Yes actually, I need a spark plug for an Ariens snow blower

HD: Do you have the old plug with you?

SN: No, (holding up the shiny silver socket) I have to buy this to get it out

HD: What model Ariens do you have?

SN: It is a ST1028

HD: How old is it?

SN: I don’t know exactly, maybe seven or eight years old

HD: Oh, well in the store we only carry the plug that fits in the new models we sell

SN: (after a healthy pause to make sure I heard him right) Do you realize how completely ridiculous that is? The only plug you carry is the one for the last guy in the world who will need it.

HD: Who is that?

SN: (trying not to flip out) The guy with a brand new snow blower, that has in it, a brand new spark plug.

HD: Well we have dozens of them online you could order today, and conveniently pick up here in the store in three to five business days

SN: I have a foot of snow in my driveway… today

HD: Sorry dude

At this point I calmly walked over to self check-out, purchased my socket and drove home.

I removed the old plug, went to the small, local hardware store up the street and got exactly what I needed from the selection of more than twenty different plugs they had.

plugSM

The plug that solved the problem.

The snow blower is now running better than ever, and as I walked up and down my driveway clearing snow, I had the chance to think about how Home Depot had blown it so badly. It was then I remembered the story about pork chops and applesauce.

In both cases they simply didn’t think it through.

 

Somewhere in the Home Depot main office is probably a perfectly smart and logical, well-meaning person who was given the task of deciding which spark plus to stock in the stores. He (or she) logically looked up what brands and models of snow blowers they would be selling and opted to stock matching plugs.

Perfectly logical… and completely wrong.

 

So, as you make decisions at your job, in your home and in your relationships… take the time to think things through as completely as you can. You may not end up covering every possibility, but you may prevent someone from having to paw through jars of applesauce just to find the right spark plug.

 

Copyright © 2014 - Stephen S. Nazarian - All rights reserved. (Pork Chops & Applesauce)

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3 thoughts on “Pork Chops & Applesauce

  • I cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading these anecdotal pieces of real wisdom Steve.

    You are a literary virtuoso in telling poignant yet humorous lessons of life.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Funny Steve, makes you wonder.. and thanks for the trip down memory lane. I have unsuccessfully tried to explain the school to others in the past, I shall refer them now to this post!

    TL

  • “Kindercluster” sounds like the kind of euphemism a father of four might fling at his inoperative snowblower on a snowy morning with kids within earshot.

    I wonder if Penfield would have retrofitted all its other schools if the open layout had proven successful?

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