As I review my cycling resolutions from 2011, one thing stands out: there weren’t any. I logged over 12,000 miles, but that was by accident. There were a couple of vague references to “winning Boulevard” and “dominating at Punchbowl,” but they seem so stupendously silly and preposterously impossible under the harsh light of January 1, 2012, that I can’t believe I was sober when I wrote them, even though I’ve been on the wagon for three years.
For 2012, then, the goal seems simple enough: have a goal. After reading the first half of the first chapter of Gemba Kaizen, it seemed obvious that this year’s cycling goal should be…and just before I wrote down the perfect cycling resolution, in walked my eldest son, just home from college.
It’s so nice to have your kids back home with you after their first semester. They grow so much in that short time. They see the world differently, have a sense of their own strength, and begin, ever so slightly to reflect on the hard work you as a parent have done to make this chapter in their life possible. In a word? Appreciation.
“Man,” he said, surveying the kitchen and the living room. “This place is one nasty fucking shithole.”
“Well,” I admitted, “it could use a bit of picking up.”
“Picking up? More like blowing up. It would take years to clean up this mess and you’d need a gross of flamethrowers and a hazmat team. How do you guys live like this?”
“The same way you did for about eighteen years, I guess.”
“Very funny,” he said, making a beeline for the towering, heaping, tottering, massive pile of dishes that filled the sink and spilled over onto the counters. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work cleaning. I watched with much satisfaction and pride, enjoying his keen sense of sanitation, responsibility, willingness to pitch in while I shirked on the sidelines. “You know what?” he said.
“You guys need to get your shit together. This place is unbearable. I can handle it for a couple of weeks, but Jesus, look at all the Mom piles spread all over the fucking living room. You can’t even walk without knocking into one. And what’s with the case of bottled iced tea next to the couch?”
The “Mom pile” he was referring to is the affectionate name we give to the little mounds of paperwork, sometimes 8 to 10 inches high, that cover every inch of our apartment. Mom will be working hard at something and then the phone will ring or someone will post to her FB or she’ll get a text message or the moon will enter a new phase and she’ll have to drop what she’s doing and rush off to the Nijiya market to get the last package of kenpira gobo for $2.13, down from $2.45, and so she’ll drop whatever she’s working on into a “Mom pile.”
She then kind of forgets what she was working on when she gets back home, but that’s never a problem because while at the market she also picked up twelve large shopping bags’ worth of essentials such as fermented soy curd and pig’s blood. By setting the shopping bags atop the Mom piles, the paperwork pretty much goes away, at least until we’ve eaten all the pig’s blood.
“Well, son,” I said. “It’s not that easy.”
“Sure it is. Get off your ass and help out, Dad.”
I sat for a while longer, admiring the speed and skill with which he plowed through the monster tower of dirty dishes.
Know (and experiment on) Thyself
I once had a buddy who we’ll call “Dogbait” (not his real name). Dogbait was famous for many things, not least of which was the time that he and Filds gave Porky a musette bag hand-up in a long, hot summer road race. Porky, famished and on the brink of bonk, reached into the bag and discovered it had been filled with his least favorite energy food: blocks of wood.
Then there was the time that Dogbait and Filds loosened a bolt or two on Porky’s rig before a big crit and got ringside seats to watch the crank fall off in mid-sprint. Porky was hardly hurt, and the neck brace came off within the month.
But the most famous period in Dogbait’s life was his career as a scientist. Somewhat underemployed, and rather hungry, and only living under a roof when he could find a bridge, he learned that by volunteering for medical experiments he could make plenty of money for beer and bike parts. For several years he supplemented his income by participating in all manner of experiments, trials, grafts, tissue removals, drug tests, and novel procedures not yet approved for use on animals.
As I considered my son’s challenge, to “get off my ass and help out,” I thought about Dogbait and his exemplary, even noble, willingness to stand up and volunteer for the scientific firing squad. Sure, I had formed ideas about setting goals, reaching goals, motivation, and bending the human mind to accomplish difficult tasks, but it’s one thing to preach the gospel of New Year’s cycling resolutions…it’s a different thing altogether to set them for yourself, not to mention attempt to reach them.
The problem behind the clutter
In fact, the house was a mess, and had always been a mess. The last time we had moved, a mere eight months ago, we had so thoroughly de-cluttered that our cast-offs filled half of the garage to the ceiling. To get rid of it we’d had to hire two laborers with a dump truck. They shoveled for three hours straight, filling half the dump truck with the useless crap we’d accumulated in a mere four and a half years.
My cycling resolutions, whatever they were, had no chance at all in the midst of this chaos. In fact, by applying some of the basic tenets of Gemba Kaizen, it was doubtful that my problems had anything to do with cycling at all. How can you assess the functionality of the production line when it’s covered with clutter? How can you isolate the obstacles to your cycling improvement, or make rational goals for anything at all, when your personal life is, quite literally, one big mess?
I concluded that I can’t. In order to make a meaningful goal I needed to see what lay underneath and I needed a clean space in which to live.
Starting small and the 5S System
The enormity of our junked up apartment was so overwhelming that even a wildly optimistic crazyfuck like me had to admit that this would have to be done in tiny, tiny increments. So I whipped out my handy dandy Gemba Kaizen manual and reviewed the 5S System: Chunk, Organize, Clean, Hygiene, Repeat.
All family life begins in the kitchen, so, waiting until my wife had left the country to visit her family, I began the first part of 5S, chunking. I started with the wine glasses. No one here drinks. The occasional drinker who shows up, although certainly in need of a strong one due to the chaos and clutter, doesn’t need fifteen wine glasses. So I narrowed it down to one glass and threw away the rest.
Then I moved on to the plates. We’re a five-person family and that’s only when the two older kids are around. We had thirty plates. I chunked all but eight. Twenty-five saucers? Eight. Fifteen miso soup bowls massacred down to six. Forks, spoons, chopsticks, serving trays, coffee cups, teacups, nothing was sacred. After about an hour, I saw something I’d never see before: space in the kitchen drawers, space in the kitchen cabinets.
The more deeply I dug, the more I discovered. One reason the big pots never get put away is because the biggest cabinet is always full. “But full of what?” I wondered. Down on my hands and knees I peered into the gloom. There it was, a Tupperware breeding pod. Square Tupperware, round Tupperware, oval Tupperware, large, small, medium Tupperware, and an endless supply of lids. Clearly we had a breeding pair in there somewhere, and they were mass birthing the Tupperware babies.
Unfortunately for the Tupperware party, I’m pro choice, and I vote, especially with my hands. Our stock of Tupperware, enough to supply a dozen bomb shelters for ten years, was reduced to seven pieces.
As the last plastic tub clunked down the garbage chute, it hit me: when my wife gets home on Tuesday I’m going to be in very deep shit.
Next: Wankmeister doubles down on suicidal self-improvement endeavor