Tales from the Cabin
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A Clean Well-lighted Shop

Organization envy rears its ugly head at the cabin

By Paul Sullivan
Published: February 17, 2011
Photo by dreamstime.com
At my friend Gary’s cabin, I sometimes catch myself admiring his organized, clean and well-lighted shop. His screwdrivers and wrenches are sized in furniture-grade wooden racks with routered edges that he built. Gary makes useful, beautiful things that are plumb, square and level. In shop class, I got a “D” on a birdhouse.
Lately, my admiration for an organized shop has turned into obsession. I crave organization: A place for everything and everything in its place. The other day I actually hollered at my teenage grandson for putting my hammer on the left side of my toolbox, a cardboard banana box I keep under the hall stairs.
Worried, I made an appointment with my therapist to talk about this new obsession. In his outer office is a magazine rack he built himself. While I waited, I read an article on building a screwdriver rack with routered edges. I asked the good doc if I could have a copy of that article. Then I told him about my admiration for my friend’s shop and my obsession for a clean, well-lighted shop of my own.
“Parents are the root of obsessive behavior,” he said. “So why don’t you tell me about yours?”
“My parents bought a 10-cabin fishing resort in northern Minnesota. It was a dilapidated old dowager built during Prohibition. The to-do list was endless. A new roof for Arapahoe, rebuild a chimney for Chippewa, outboard motors to tune-up, a leaky minnow tank, a wooden dock to repair. And yet, miraculously, we all somehow found time to go fishing.”
“Was there a shop?”
Photo by dreamstime.com
“Sure. Sort of. In a dark lean-to there was a sagging workbench covered with scarred, plaid linoleum. Rusty hand tools were thrown on it like a game of pick-up sticks. One time, dad was working on a water pump down at the beach. He sent me up to the shop to get a screwdriver. I pawed through that oily pile of tools until I found one. Smiling and happy, I said, ‘Here Daddy, I found one.’ And then he hollered at me for bringing him a slot instead of a Phillips.”
 “Tool trauma at an impressionable age,” sighed the doctor. “Impatient father. This is not uncommon. Where did you keep your tools as a young man?”
“My wife and I had a tiny one-room primitive cabin in the woods. We kept them in the outhouse.”
 “Ah! More evidence of premature and conflicted tool training,” said the doctor. “You have a classic case of shop envy. Don’t worry. It’s curable. You must build that screwdriver rack and show it to your friend. It will be good therapy. A beginning.”
At Gary’s cabin, I proudly showed him the new screwdriver rack I had built, and he showed me his latest project, a reproduction late 18th century French armoire.
I’ve already scheduled my next therapy appointment.

Paul Sullivan has never met a cabin he didn’t like. 
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