Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why constructing artificial flowers is work

"Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden."When Mojo bought the Little House (or the "Fire Direction Center" as it's known hereabouts) it was a perfect piece of North Portland. Drab (the current or one of the former occupants had painted the trim a gloriously ugly combination of dark red and gray) and ungraceful (the same or another occupant had bolted one of those ginormous metal security doors on the front) its "curb appeal" was...muted. Mojo wanted a home, and needed a small home to match her budget, and had only a large dog and a small bird to find space for.

The dog needed a fence to keep him from a rendezvous with that served as automotive Death at some disputed streetcorner, so a friend helped her barricade the rear of the house, and that fence served as our barrier long after the child arrived and the dog departed.

But it really was an ugly fence, and when we had the opportunity we tore it up and replaced it with a delightfully suburban white picket fence along the retaining wall in front, right along the sidewalk.The new fence is now the old fence, and we've repainted it several times. It's not a difficult job, but it is a bit time-consuming, and no one in the family really enjoys repainting it. But Mojo and I explain that its an important job, and that without the biannual painting the fence will fall down and someone will get hurt falling off the wall.

No one in the family likes repainting it.But it gets repainted, with a little bribery and a little threat and a little cajolery. None of our offspring, I'm either proud or ashamed to say, is as gullible as Tom's friends. They KNOW that painting the fence is work and, as you can see from the pictures, either avoids it (in Missy's case) or sulks while required to assist in it (in the Peep's case) or rubs her face in it (as you can see from the white smudge on Fat Nitty's upper left lip - dopey cat!).

But a couple of hours' work in the summer sun, and the whitewash is completed for another year."Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign."(The quotes, as I'm sure you know, are from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain)

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