Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

When you need work done, ask the old guys

An even dozen mailboxes are clustered where the gravel road meets the paved one. A large, very old, rotten timber holds up 8 of them while the other four perch atop various posts that are as individual as the homeowners who added their mailbox to the row. In all, a very random collection with only one at the US Postal Service mandated 40″ height.

Last Monday we all received notices from the post office that our mailboxes needed to meet the 40″ minimum. I responded with printed notes in each mailbox inviting all to a work party at 0900 Saturday to raise them all together.

One man telephoned me to say he couldn’t make next Saturday, but wanted to help. If there was any work for the following Saturday he would be there.

Two old men joined me Saturday morning. One couldn’t stay, but volunteered to go buy the lumber for the project. Of the dozen mailbox owners, one 68-year-old and one 78-year-old put five hours into removing nine uniquely attached mailboxes, dismantling the old structure with several active ant nests in the rotten wood, building a new structure, milling fresh lumber as needed and installing the mailboxes in a nice regulation-height line.

Austrian economists call it “The trajedy of the commons”. When everybody owns it, nobody owns it. Someone else will fix it.

We are now two generations into the age of specialization. We are taught to sit in the bleachers while experts play games; sit in classrooms while experts expound on their specialties; watch vidoes where experts make alternate realities appear; obey random laws that experts make for our own good; and to find some narrow niche wherein we can earn a living.

Being an active part of a functioning community is programmed out of us… other than those who somehow break out of the mold … or the old guys who grew up doing stuff themselves.

Next time you hear, “Somebody will fix it”, “somebody needs to do something” or similar phrases,

Be somebody.