ON MOST weekends I try to do two things at once. I attempt a home-repair project and, at the same time, I watch a televised athletic event. A lot of fellows I know work this way. We do it for the usual guy reasons.
First, like moths to the flame, we are drawn to the flickering screen. If a game -- football, basketball, baseball and, in some cases, tennis -- appears on a television screen, we will watch it. It seems to be part of our nature, or maybe a defective Y chromosome.
The networks know this. Last week, network executives explained that the reason they had agreed to fork over some $17 billion for the rights to show professional football games for the next eight years was that nothing attracts male viewers like televised football games.
The other reason we guys watch games and work at the same time is that we fear commitment. We are reluctant to commit our time and attention solely to the game. We hedge our bets and putter around the house as we watch TV.
Moreover, we don't see ourselves as the kind of people who spend an entire Saturday afternoon sitting in front of a television set, yelling and pounding on the furniture. Accepting that image would be an admission that our lives are empty and that we have tied our sense of well-being to the outcome of an athletic contest.
So to prove to ourselves that we can lead balanced and productive lives, we work on small jobs as we shout at the television set. When the sun sets, we can take consolation in the fact that a closet got painted today, even though our favorite team lost and the world almost came to an end.
I have reached the stage of my home-repair career where I can easily do two things at once, but neither task gets completed quickly. A few weekends ago, for instance, it took me most of the day to assemble some simple metal shelving, the kind you put in the basement to hold your jug of antifreeze and your cans of paint.
The assembly procedure was straightforward. First I put the frame together with nuts, bolts and braces. Then I added the shelves, making sure each corner of a shelf was the same height on the frame. It was a task that would take an experienced shelf assembler about one hour. It took me five hours.
One reason for my slow pace was the fuzzy-looking drawing on the sheet of instructions. The drawing was supposed to clearly show which shelf parts went where. Instead, it made me nervous. It reminded me of the drawings that used to appear on my high school geometry exams. Back then, I was supposed to be able to look at the drawings and determine how parallelograms would get along if they traveled in space. I never knew the answer. Just like in high school, merely looking at the drawing showing the shelf parts made my palms start to sweat.
I kept moving the shelf parts into various positions until they vaguely resembled the arrangement depicted in the drawing. It seemed to work.
However, the main reason the job took so long to complete was that I watched two consecutive professional football games on television.
Many shelves were assembled during the first game, won by the Green Bay Packers over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I did not care who won that game. But during the second game, when the Denver Broncos defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, progress on the shelves slowed considerably. For instance, shortly after the Chiefs unsuccessfully tried a fake field goal, a big dent about the size of my fist appeared in one metal shelf. The dent popped right out.
To keep myself from doing too much damage on the home front, I have drawn up a couple of rules that guide me when I try to do two things at once.
One is that I never try to take the car apart while I am watching a big game. Experience has taught me that if you get angry at something that you see on television and slam your wrench down, ball bearings and other important auto parts take flight.
Another rule is that timing is important. If, for example, I have to take the toaster apart, I try to do it early in a Baltimore Ravens game. Then I can afford to devote my attention to the toaster wiring even if I miss some of the televised action. Later in the
game, when the stakes get higher and the action more hectic, I watch the game and avoid all attempts at repairing appliances. I have learned that if I try to fix the toaster as I watch the final minutes of a Ravens game, I will, for one reason or another, end up getting shocked.
My final rule is to make the most of the boring stretches of televised games. These dull moments are ideal times to get small, mindless tasks done. The doldrums can hit any time during almost any sporting contest. But history tells us that some times are more likely than others to be deadly dull. The second half of the coming Super Bowl, for instance, could be a real good time to clean the basement.
Pub Date: 1/17/98