Once again it is May, and our elected officials are struggling to get their work completed at the last minute. For observers and representatives alike, it is similar to how my brother used to describe his police career: long periods of boredom interspersed with brief moments of excitement.
We were in a great hurry to get block grants passed so we would have a school finance plan. Now we have a budget hole to fill that gets bigger every day and only two more weeks to finish the task on time. Throw in changes to KPERS and a host of smaller issues and it looks like we are on the verge of more all-nighters at the last hour. My daughter just left my office talking about pulling all-nighters for two finals. I imagine she will be as receptive to my advice on the efficacy of this strategy as the legislature.
My parents and I had dinner in Hays last week and we were discussing the phenomenon of waiting to the last minute to get your work done. I recalled the summer before my first teaching job, when my brother and I hired on to build fence.
My dad was truly a gentleman farmer at that time, holding a second job as superintendent at Junction City to support his raging farm jones. He would give assignments on the weekends and my brother and I would do the work. The day before I was to leave for my teaching job, he called with a problem. He needed one last quarter mile section of fence done before we quit for the summer. If we could do it in one day, we would both get crisp $100 bills. My dad had/has an affinity for getting “one more thing” done, as anyone who has ever worked for him can attest. We were not surprised; the pay was good and we were young, strong, focused and dumb.
We started at the break of dawn and worked until the sun went down. This is stone post country folks, the posts that can withstand the charge of a 2000-pound bull, but will break if hit just right with a hammer. At the end of the day, we had broken a few posts, strung a lot of wire, built a tear-away over a draw and collected our $100 bills. It was a great sense of accomplishment.
Until Christmas, when we came home and asked, “Where’s dad?” My mom had the look that we knew ever so well, the look that said, “Lay low boys, until the heat is off.”
There is art and science to stringing wire. The art is knowing how to get it just tight enough in the summer so when the cold weather comes and the steel contracts it doesn’t pop like a violin string at an elementary orchestra concert. In our haste, we pulled just a little too hard. George knows about shrinkage, and so did we when Max came home cussing about the shoddy job that had been done that summer. I’m surprised he didn’t ask for his $100 back, but it was Christmas.
My concern about hastily constructed block grant bills and budget plans is that when Christmas comes around, the wires will pop, the cows will get out, and we will have already spent those crisp hundred dollar bills. Just as was the case 35 years ago, some emergencies can’t be foreseen. I sure hope the result isn’t the same.
Epilogue: Although his memory is still sharp, my dad has little memory of this incident. He did recall that he had bought some cheap barbed wire that summer and maybe that was the problem. Hmmm, there was no mention of poor materials 35 years ago, just poor workmanship!