Robert Burns, the eponymous Scottish poet, penned a verse oft quoted in modern times, but few know the origin.
The line to which I refer is from a poem called To A Mouse,
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew
In colloquial use, the word “schemes” is typically replaced with “plans,” but the result is the same…
no matter how much we humans think we know how things are going to play out, we are pretty much always wrong.
What I like about Burns’ approach is the idea that the complex and intelligent human is no more likely to achieve success in planning, than the simple-minded mouse. One week from today this writer turns forty-eight, and I am sorry to report I am no closer to accepting Burn’s admonition than any dwelling invading rodent.
This morning I offer you the latest pile of proof.
As many of you are aware, the Nazarians are moving. After nearly two decades in my hometown of Penfield, NY, on December 26th the moving van comes to shuttle our house full of stuff to our new domicile in Charlotte, NC.
The short story is this… My wife was offered a job so good, none of us could refuse it, so off we go.
The process of moving a five-bedroom house, four teenagers and a dog is more complex than even I could have imagined, but we are getting through it. As details came into focus, it became clear I would need to make a couple of trips south in advance of the actual move.
One of these trips was last week and I had a very specific list of things I needed to accomplish.
I have a thirty-two year old “project car” on which I have been working for a few years. It is not exactly in what you would call “driving condition,” so I needed to throw it on a trailer. With this as my anchor task I set out to do the following:
- Leave at noon, with car on trailer behind our Suburban, which would be loaded with boxes of framed artwork, photos and other stuff the movers said would be expensive for them to manage
- Drive all but the last 100 miles and flop for a few hours in a cheap hotel
- Arrive at our new house (which is empty, but not yet ours) where the current owner would let me in
- Unload the car and place it in the garage
- Unhook the trailer and leave it in the driveway
- Unload all the boxes and place them in a safe location in the house
- Measure the master bedroom for hardwood flooring
- Go purchase hardwood flooring, and load it into the back of the now empty Suburban
- Return to the house and unload the flooring into the house where it could begin to “acclimate” to the temperature and humidity of the house
- Go spend the evening with my cousin who lives five miles away
- Open a checking account
- Go to a few job interviews
- Run some errands
- Again spend the evening with my cousin
- Leave at 5:00am
- Pick up the trailer at the house
- Drive 750 miles, getting home in time for dinner
When I got home Wednesday evening, a friend asked me, “how did your trip go?” After a moment of thought I simply said,
“I got everything done, but nothing went according to plan.”
Sunday morning as I loaded the car onto the borrowed trailer, I discovered a problem. The wheel arches of the trailer blocked the door of the car, so I had to climb out the window and fashion a placeholder window out of cardboard and duct tape. Then, half of the brake and signal lights on the trailer were not functioning. The owner of the trailer assured me my car was the problem. He was right, but it took me the better part of an hour to Google the problem, find and replace a blown fuse.
I did not leave until 2:00pm.
No long after my departure I received a message from our realtor, stating I could not get into the house until 4:00pm… on Tuesday! Luckily I had a lot of free time to figure it all out. Fourteen hours to be precise.
Having never made this particular trip, I was unprepared for the mountains of West Virginia. Driving an 18-foot truck, towing a 25-foot trailer on which was yet another car, I averaged 50 mph and 7 mpg. Ouch!
With four hours still to go, I threw in the towel around 10:15 and checked into a $70 hotel room.
I pulled my rig back onto the highway at 5:45 Monday morning. I had to redirect to a Harbor Freight Tools to purchase some tarps, straps and a 50-foot tape measure.
I arrived at our new, locked house around 11:00am.
I drove the car off the trailer and placed it off to the side of the driveway. The cardboard window survived the whole trip.
I took my new tape measure and measured the dimensions of the bedroom, from the outside of the house, figuring too much wood is a better problem than not enough.
I then called the hardwood floor guy who said he was there and ready to sell me 600 sq ft of 4” Red Oak. I was going to have to load the wood onto the trailer since the back of the Suburban was still chock-full of boxes.
I found the place, but had to bang a series of several u-turns just to be able to guide my nearly 50-foot contraption into their parking lot. Before they loaded the wood, I laid out the tarps I had purchased. Once placed, I wrapped up the wood and secured it with the straps. I was smart to do this as it rained Monday night in Charlotte, for the first time in over a month.
I drove the trailer back to the house where I had to leave it overnight. I then went and opened the checking account and did a bunch of errands before heading to my cousin’s house.
Monday evening I received a call asking if I could do a job interview by phone at 5:00 on Tuesday. Of course I said yes.
Tuesday I ran a few more errands, had lunch with a friend, had one job interview and then set out to meet the owner at the house at 4:00. If he was on time, I had exactly one hour to:
- Move 600 Sq. Ft. of flooring into the house
- Move all the boxes from the truck into the house
- Move the car from the driveway into the garage
He was late.
At 4:59, I slid my sweaty, and aching body into the driver’s seat of the truck to wait for my interview call. I was out of breath and mentally shot. The call was not late. The interview went well, and by 6:15 I was back at my cousin’s house.
Wednesday went pretty much as planned, but as I drove, I again had plenty of time to think about how the previous three days had transpired and how despite my careful planning, the universe seemed to be conspiring against me. Looking forward I know I have just scratched the surface of the things I will plan, most of which will go awry, so I better get used to putting as much energy into creative problem solving as scheming.
The original text of the line from “To A Mouse” actually reads:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
I have never in my life uttered “Gang aft agley,” but I think that’s pretty much how I felt as I ran around like the proverbial “headless chicken” for three days.
It isn’t a question of if life is going to thwart you with curve balls and hurdles, but rather, how much?
Will you let it defeat you, or will you rise up and accept the challenge?
Luckily for us, humans are a tad more capable than the average mouse… well, most of us anyway.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.