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Thursday, Jul. 18, 2002
Stu was rummaging around in our shop yesterday, searching in vain for some needle in a haystack thing, when he paused and looked around at the whole enclave.

"You know, I'm really not looking forward to moving out of this place", he said. He was referring to the forthcoming, moving-at-a-snails-pace project to end all projects which we have been promised. Eventually, we will pick up our boots, pack up our gear and move 40 miles to the north to build a small city.

I looked around with him at the burgeoning walls of our shop. You cannot believe how much crap there is in there. You know how your garage gets when you just heave stuff in there and let it get out of control? Well, take your garage, increase its' size by a factor of ten and you have our shop. Oh, and it has high ceilings, don't forget the high ceilings.

Stu has a packrat mentality and I have an affinity for really not caring about how packrats fill their garages and shops with junk. Makes no never mind to me. Unfortunately, there comes a time when you look at the big picture and it scares you. Stu and I ran through a list of stuff we have stashed at what is supposed to be our place of business.

1. Fred's Greeting Card Franchise. Our good buddy Fred got the notion in his head to buy into a greeting card business, birthday cards, Happy Thanksgiving cards, whatever. You buy a whole bunch of cards, some portable display racks and take them into a 7-11 or some other convenience store and presto! Instant cash, low maintenance, nice clean work. I don't know how much he paid for the whole shebang but rumor has it that it was well into 4 figures.

Guess how many cards Fred sold? Zero. Nada. For whatever reasons he either lost interest in it or couldn't get the concept to work. So he needed a place to stash all this stuff until, as he put it, he could sell the materials to someone else. That was four years ago.

The twenty suitcase size plastic tubs are still stacked up, waiting for a buyer. Or at least a major holiday.

2. Fred's Tile Business. Yep, same Fred. He was in business with a partner, setting ceramic tile in bathrooms and entry foyers. Did pretty well until the partner left town and Fred had to run things by himself. He was storing all his tools and materials in a self-storage facility and when the business finally went bust, he was still having to pay $80 a month to keep the stuff in there. He called up Stu and told him to come take a look at the place.

And of course, Stu called me up all excited. "Outfoxed! Fred wants to sell all this stuff for a song! I mean he's got all kinds of cool tile and tools and gadgets! It's the deal of a lifetime!"

Selling it for a song translated to $1,600. How they arrived at that figure has never been explained, but the next thing I knew we were hauling truckloads of "cool tile" and other non-perishables to the shop. I poked through it, nudging a broken shovel and a box full of miscellaneous electrical outlets. Coffee cans full of unsorted nuts and bolts. A tile saw with a broken fence. And on and on it went.

3. Junior's Basement. Stu's son lives in an apartment. The apartment has no storage space to speak of, and Junior inherited the packrat gene from his old man. He took over an end of the shop, he did it slowly, over the course of the past year, but every time I look down there I see another spare tire, another mystery box labeled "Give to Goodwill", another milk crate full of wood scraps too pretty to throw away.

4. And finally, Stu's Corner. The big guy views clutter as merely an expression of his individuality. His favorite phrase, which I am privy to at least once a day, is "We've got one of those around here somewhere", said in a forlorn voice which summons up no hope of ever finding the item in question.

Stu's Corner always reminds me of Dante's Inferno for some reason, the hopeless wandering of complete and utter pain in a nightmarish world. Stu will breeze into the shop after a workday, toss a bucket full of tools in the general direction of the Corner and, I swear, the Corner opens its' maw and swallows it whole. You won't find that bucket again. Not in the Corner anyway. A black hole opens up on the other side of the shop and spits the bucket out after a week or so goes by. It's all very Twilight Zoneish. In the meantime, your tools are in limbo. Stu is rather fond of the Corner, it's become his tradition to go over there and fondle the ten foot high pile of stuff, but nothing ever moves from it.

There is the stack of table bases from the restaurant we gutted. The pile of metal wall studs, the 12-foot pallet that no one ever got around to cutting up for firewood, the card table with the nice lacquered finish ("We'll sell it to somebody one of these days…"). The endless pile of plywood scraps, some no bigger than the palm of your hand, gathering dust in the corner.

Next time you're in the area, stop by our shop. I'll be at the door, handing you a Christmas card, while Stu sneaks out to your car and puts some bicycle tires in your trunk, some plywood in your back seat, some empty paint cans, perhaps.

I just hope you won't have anything in there that even remotely resembles a broken tool. Consider it gone.

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