Two Inches Shy of a Whole Tape

Steve, a friend who owns a sign face manufacturing company, once told me of an unusual and frustrating problem that came his way. First, a large sign face was returned to them, which was perfect except that it was exactly 2'' shorter than the customer requested.

A few days later a second customer sent back a large formed plastic sign face, again fine except that it was 2'' off in one dimension. Before long a third sign face 2'' shy of its needed size was brought to his attention by a not-very-happy client.

And by this time, Steve wasn’t a very happy camper himself, having eaten about all the shatter-resistant, UV tolerant, vacuum formed polycarbonate he had an appetite for.

So he went back in the shop to have a rather blunt discussion with his fabrication crew about those job failures and try to get to the bottom of the disgusting trend he had noticed.

Before long he had found out that, with purely good intentions, an employee admitted to having damaged the end of a high quality 25' measuring tape, and to save money he had decided to just trim 2'' off the tape and rivet the metal end at its new starting point. Knowing that the tape was 2'' short, he intended to simply always add 2'' to each measurement he had to make.

A brilliant and moneysaving idea! Not!

I believe Steve said he confiscated the guy’s tape and chunked it in the trash as fast as he could, telling his employee that though there were things around the shop worth repairing or salvaging from the junk heap, a measuring tape was too important a tool to use once it has been altered by damage. He also told him that no one remembers to do anything all the time.

Having to remember to always add back that missing 2'' was a trap, that’s for sure. Had I given myself such a perpetual test of memory, I certainly would have failed too.

In fact, in running my sign shop I have long since had to face up to the fact that my memory isn’t going to be nearly reliable enough to keep me out of trouble.In order to salvage a modest level of self respect, I have determined, and use as my excuse, that the reason I am prone to forget any number of things is that I just have too danged much to keep up with. Those who don’t forget things are simply playing with a smaller number of game pieces in the game of life. At any rate, this theory may not be all that far off, since most people I’ve known who worked at or near overload all the time were at least a bit forgetful.

I, like any other person with a known disability, have learned to live within my limits. I have developed crutches and methods for dealing with my flawed memory, such as making a habit of putting every work order, and nearly every important piece of paper in its own plastic folder.

I also buy all my tape measures, hammers, screw drivers, and the like in those bright florescent colors, therefore making them much less likely to be left out on a job site, and even a bit easier to keep up with in the shop. And things that are certain to be lost eventually, I don’t pay much for. Like the nice little pocket knives I buy at Harbor Freight for two bucks.

Well, you get the picture. There are methods of dealing with my less-than-perfect memory, at least as far as physical items and procedures are concerned.

But there is one particular thing that happens at the shop that I don’t really have a defense mechanism for. And that is dealing with the small but annoyingly persistent group of customers coming in the shop who seem to not only expect us to instantly know who they are (though they may only come in every few years, or maybe even just once before), but also expect me to remember every detail of their last order, or every detail of every order they may have placed in the past.

I sometimes feel like gently bringing to their attention that I’m the one with his name on his trucks, on the building, on my shirt. And they only have to remember the details of perhaps one sign job, whereas we are keeping up with hundreds each year. That does stack the deck in their favor just a bit, don’t you think?

Oh well, thanks to our computers and paper records, we usually can reference just about anything we’ve done, for the past several years anyway. And I think that’s great.Since we are all human, and prone to errors, sometimes the best we can do is not set traps for ourselves, and to organize systems that keep the cost of mistakes to a minimum.

I don’t want to have to remember to always add that 2'' to the measurement, because I won’t. And I can live with myself knowing I couldn’t do it. After all, just this month I’ve managed a shop and kept up with many sign job deadlines. I remembered to pay the employee payroll taxes, sales taxes, and my income taxes on time or early.

I’ve made the bank deposits before the checks bounced, and kept every gas tank I own full of gas. I’ve kept up with any number of important deadlines… including the one that says I must write another In the Trenches. I remembered, I did it, and now I’m done. All I have to do is sign my name to it. So, have a great month!

--Rick