By Vince Giuliano and Hal Lyon

Update March 20, 2008

Copyright 2008 by Vince Giuliano and Hal Lyon - all rights reserved



Vince speaking: Shoehorning is when you have something you should do right now but you slot in something else which you think you can or should do along the way.  And it is iterative: what mathematicians call a recursive process.  You shoehorn in doing something on another doing that shoehorns another doing, and so on.  So, shoehorning involves putting things on hold and taking them off of hold, often multiple things and often resulting in lateness.  Sometimes it results in original priorities being lost.  Shoehorning can be instigated deliberately or be the result of responding to some unforeseen stimulus.  Some shoehorning is benign or even necessary, such as giving a kiss to your wife on the way out.  Other shoehorning is more serious and shoehorning can become a lifestyle.

One way to look at shoehorning is as an efficient method of multitasking, one that uses the last-in first-out algorithm for cueing tasks. Shoehorning is to getting things done like Reverse Polish Notation is to writing out normal logical formulas. Hi tech and sophisticated. Another way to look at shoehorning is as frenetic ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) behavior by people who either cannot or choose not to keep a steady focus. You can choose the explanation that fits your own world view.

My good friend Hal Lyon and I are both consummate shoehorners.  We sometimes compete to see who can out-shoehorn each other.  Here is an example:


It is 3:30 and both Hal and I are together in my office and we know we must leave at 4:00 to join a party at a bar where we will view the Army-Navy football game with Hal’s old military academy buddies.  Both Hal and I are busy carrying on our business productively and don’t want to leave until the last minute.  We agree to leave promptly at 4:00.


3:52 Shoehorn: Hal gets a phone call from his friend in charge of Hal’s hovercraft on lake Winnipausakee.  Hal learns that the Hovercraft motor has died of some serious disease and his friend had to abandon the vehicle a half-mile from shore sitting o the ice.  His friend is too busy to take care of it.  The conversation goes on until 3:57. 


3:59 Shoehorn: follow-through  Hal does not want to leave the hovercraft just sitting on the ice so he calls another friend to see if he will come with his ATV and pick up the hovercraft and haul it to shore.  No answer, so Hal calls somebody else.  Shoehorn: Meanwhile Vince who had been ready to leave decides this shoehorning will go on for a while so he starts to shoehorn himself.  He checks his online brokerage accounts at Merrill Lynch.  He is reminded that he should call Sue at the office there and see why a certain transaction there has not gone through.  Second Vince Shoehorn: At 4:02 he calls Sue.  He has to hold for a while to talk with her.


4:07 Shoehorn: follow-through  Hal is wrapped up in the logistics of getting his hovercraft hauled to safety.  He makes three more calls and writes two e-mails about this.  He puts out an all-points bulletin on seeing if anybody will go out on the windswept freezing ice and help. Meanwhile Vince has just got through to Sue.  Shoehorn on Shoehorn. Vince is interrupted by a call from his son Vincent.  Vince says he will call Vincent back in a minute.  Vince eats peanuts from a jar in his office.


4:12  Hall is still wrapped up in phone calls and e-mails to rescue his hovercraft.   Shoehorn on Shoehorn Vince goes downstairs to use the bathroom.   Shoehorn on Shoehorn on Shoehorn On the way back Vince stops in the kitchen and grabs some Prosciutto di Parma and more cashew nuts.  Melody sees him and asks him to take down the kitchen trash.  Shoehorn on Shoehorn on Shoehorn on Shoehorn.  Vince does and, in the garage by the trash he sees several additional things that should go in the barrel.  He puts them in.  Returning to the kitchen he realizes he has left his cashew nuts and Prosciutto in the garage.  He goes down again to get them.  For some reason, he gets confused about his immediate priorities


4:17 Second and third-order shoehorns.  Hal is on his cell phone explaining the hovercraft situation to his son Eric who actually owns the hovercraft when he gets a phone call from a friend on the lake who could possibly help.  Fifth-order Vince  shoehorn.  Meanwhile Vince phones Vincent back while he munches the cashew nuts.  Some bits fall on the study floor.  Vince picks them up and puts them in the wastebasket which is full.


4:22  Level-3 shoehorn.  Hal has to generate three more e-mails to tidy up the situation for transportation and storage if the hovercraft.  Seeing Vince eating nuts, Hal goes downstairs and does his own a quick kitchen raid.  Sixth and Seventh  order Vince shoehorn.s  Having eaten the nuts and Prosciutto di Parma Vince gets thirsty and makes a quick stop downstairs to get some tea.  On the way he empty’s his waste basket.  Eighth  order Vince  shoehorn.   In the kitchen-family room Vince. remembers that he had programmed a TV show to be recorded last night on a DVD and that the disk is still left unlabeled in the DVD recorder.  He takes it out of the recorder, labels it and outs it in an album. Ninth  order shoehorn.  Being right there by the TV, Vince quickly checks the program guide to see if he should set anything for recording on the DVR that evening.


4:27  Vince and Hal mutually decide that it is late and we must go immediately.  Shoehorns: on the way Vince has to hunt for his gloves and hat and Hal has to use the bathroom.  Vince can’t find his gloves until two tours around the house.  In the process he finds a small flashlight that has been missing for days.  Vince also quickly flosses his teeth to get the peanut and cashew bits out.


4:30  Forced Shoehorn:  Vince’s car windows are covered with snow and we have to brush them off.  It takes a while to find the brush.


4:34  We leave the driveway.


4:35 We try to use the windshield wipers and note that one of them does not connect to the windshield.  Hal tries to fix this by reaching out the window but it is clear we must stop the car and fix it from the outside.


4:38  Shoehorn.  We pull over a quarter mile from home and get out of the car.  We realize that in our haste when cleaning the snow we had loosened up the wiper blade from its arm.  Putting it back on is like solving one of those crazy-making puzzles with strange-shaped metal pieces.  We can’t make sense of it.


4:45  End of showhorning: We finally manage to get the blade on right and are on our way, only 42 minutes late.


5:25  We manage to get to the Boston Garden though a maze of expressways and strange ramps and finally park in the 4th subterranean level there.  We manage to find our way to the side-street bar where the Army-Navy game party is. 


The first half of the game is over, but no matter.  The restaurant had ordered the game to be delivered by a specialized satellite link, but that link could not be implemented until the next day.  That is,  there was no game on TV.  We had a great time schmoozing with Hal’s Army and Navy academy graduate friends, good beer, good snacks and good company.


Did the shoehorning pay off?  I would say YES, this time.  Look at what we got done and we lost nothing.  Of course it doesn’t always work out that way.  Another story:


Shoehorn #1:  When driving back to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from the Hague to return to the US number of years ago, I decided to take back roads.  I was returning to the US from a two-week trip.  It looked like I had two hours of time to spare and would get to see a bit of the Dutch countryside.  It was Sunday.  Shoehorn #2: I passed a roadside flea market, and absolutely had to stop and snoop.  One antique dealer had a lot of interesting ancient brass stuff all jumbled together.  Shoehorn #3: I stopped there for a closer look, pulling items out from under one-another.    There, under other semi-interesting stuff was an ancient brazier, a large hand-hammered brass and copper cooking-eating plate that I knew was standard dinner wear back in medieval times. In another pile, I also spotted a pair of large brass coach lanterns.   I coveted those too.  I wanted these items but the asking prices were way too high.  I had acquired good bargaining skills in the course of shopping in the bazaars of Iran, Egypt and Morocco.  I knew if I used these skills they would work.  Because these skills operate on a psychological level, however, I also knew using them would take time.  Shoehorn #3: Nonetheless I started the process.  The first step was to establish friendship and empathy with Heinrick, the keeper of the stall. This itself entailed much conversational shoehorning, e.g. “You have a cousin who is a lawyer in Buffalo?”  “I lived there for 4 years and was with the University there,”  --No I did not know anybody named Brynker --” --- “I purchased a brazier a lot like this one ten years ago in Rome” --  “do you know how they were used for cooking and eating?”  And on and on.  The bargaining process took 50 minutes but after we settled the price another realization came to me.   I  had to haul these big brass pieces in the plane but my luggage was stuffed.  Heinrich told me there was a semi-cripple guy Erik at the other end of the flea market who did wrapping.  Shoehorn #4: So I rushed over to Erik’s stall barely able to carry three awkward items.   Erik happened to be busy with another pretty-lady customer but would wrap my items as soon as he was free.  I waited for him while he chatted with his customer in Dutch.  I looked at my watch.  Still a little spare time but I had to get going.  Twenty five minutes later I was on the road again with a big cardboard custom package.  But then there was a final killer shoehorn I could not resist.  By the side of an intersection a farmer had set up crude wood tables with giant 10-killo wheels of gouda cheese,  Shoehorn #5: I had always wanted to bring one home so I stopped again.  Buying and packaging it took another 25 minutes.  The farmer did everything in slow motion.  Finally, no margin of time whatsoever left, I was doing over 100 miles an hour on little country roads heading to the airport, risking my life and a number of others too.  That was a perfectly OK thing to do back then in Holland.  You have probably guessed the outcome.  The airport authorities had adopted a rigid rule that you had to show up an hour before flight time for international flights.  Required shoehorning #6: By the time I figured out the airport ramps there and checked in my car and got to the check-in counter, I was only 55 minutes ahead of flight time.  My pleadings to let me through landed on polite but deaf ears.  So, I missed my plane and had to stay in Holland another 24 hours.  I will spare you the details of getting my extra packages checked in baggage the next day without adding another $50 dollars per pound I was paying for the cheese.  Or the details of getting the cheese past the US Dept of Agricultural inspector who was angling to take it home for himself.  Lots and lots of more forced shoehorning.  The cheese lasted over a month and was great.  The brazier and the coach lanterns are still mounted on the living room wall of my Winnipausakee house.  I am always happy to see them but am inevitably reminded of the tour-de-force of shoehorning that was required to get them.


Hal is cooking dinner now and I am supposed to be helping him.  So as I write I am shoehorning finishing this little piece.


Hal has an interesting story to tell, involving himself, shoehorning and former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.


Hal speaking now, I am shoehorning this writing in when I have 5 other seemingly higher priorities on my today’s-to-do list as I’m leaving on a trip tomorrow and have not packed.


In 1969, a friend had made a last minute appointment at 3:30 PM for me to meet his boss, Donald Rumsfeld about the possibility of working for him. I decided to shoehorn it into an already over-crowded schedule, as it seemed like an interesting opportunity. He told me that I should be prepared to wait for 30 minutes to an hour as Rumsfeld was always running behind schedule. I was busy with other things and decided as to shoehorn in getting my car oil changed which was way overdue as a result of my being so busy. I finished my 2PM appointment and rushed to get my car to the garage, thinking I’d be better off taking a taxi to the Pentagon since there was no place there to park. But there was also no place to park at the garage as the lots were full.  But I managed to throw the keys to the man behind the desk telling him I had to catch a cab for an important appointment. I had trouble catching a cab but finally got one which got me to the Pentagon at 3:25 and I dashed to Rumsfeld’s office, thinking how well I had done to get the car done as well as make the meeting on time. My friend greeting me and he was not happy. He said that my appointment was for 3PM not 3:30PM and for once his boss was on time and had waited for 30 minutes for me and then angrily left for another meeting. An hour later Rumsfeld came back and we met. At the end of the short meeting, after telling me that he was seeking a few highly intelligent people -- punctual people -- our meeting ended and needless to say, I was not called back with a job offer.


Vince Comment:  This was possibly a very good thing, because if Hal had started working for Rumi in 1969 he might have got so warped in the process as to make our present friendship impossible.


Vince: Computers are wonderful instigators of shoehorning.  I got a mail bank notice that my son’s account is overdrawn and there is a $25 penalty.  I know that if I grump at the bank they might reverse the penalty but the first thing is to transfer money into his account so it is no longer in the hole.  When I turn my monitor on there is an urgent reminder to update my spyware program, right now.  Or else!  So I do that and then have to reboot the machine.  While it is rebooting I go to my other machine (I keep two going right next to each other) to check my e-mail.  I decide to ignore the urgent notice to update Adobe Reader and find my e-mail is overloaded with Spam about buying drugs from India, Penis Health and 43 new e-mails from Barach Obama or Hillary Clinton.  I have to clean them out to see what I actually have, so I start to do that.  One e-mail tells me I have just won $56 million dollars in a British Cricket raffle and if I only send my information in I will collect the money promptly.  It is an impressively packaged hoax and I decide to forward it to a few friends for the fun of it.  My eye then gets  caught by an e-mail news Item: Oil Hits $104 as OPEC Rebuffs Bush.  I remember I have to call my broker to ask if he has actually purchased the commodities mutual fund he said he would do.  So I open my reminder notes to write this down.  Opps! In doing this I see an urgent note to myself tht I am meeting my friend Larry for Brunch in only 20 minutes from now.  Gottah go.  I hyper-shoehorned a lot but did not transfer the money, did not update Adobe, did not really check my e-mail, did not completely clean out my mailbox and did not call my broker, did not grump at the bank, did not grump at my son for making the overdraft.  Gottah get around to doing those things tomorrow. 


Hal again: But shoehorning is not always a negative thing, if one can triage well. Just because I discipline myself and promise to prepare my taxes today or write 5 pages on my novel, is no reason not to stop when my water pipes break and shoehorn in fixing them before my house floods.  And there are many people who are overachievers from their habit of shoehorning…even in their relationships. I have certainly been a habitual shoehorner most of my life. At one point early in life I realized that 4 out of 5 things I did turned out to be failures. Not wanting to be a failure, I decided the way to avoid that was to do ten times more things so out of 50 things attempted, with luck I’d have at least ten successes.


I do think that shoe horning can be a positive thing, even if while sitting at my computer writing to meet a deadline, a neighbor calls and tells me that a large moose is walking through my back yard and amorously attacking my fake deer archery target.  This stimulates me to grab my camera and run out back, remembering as I pass the washing machine to put my wet laundry in the dryer, where I find that the electric breaker has tripped and upon running back inside and checking it, I realize that the cake I had baking in the oven which is on the same breaker, and while resetting the breaker I notice that the screws to the panel which covers it have fallen out, and get my electric screwdriver which I find needs to be put on the charger, and then remember I have forgotten to take the moose meat out of the freezer for the guests coming for dinner tonight, and then finally on the way out I remember to turn the dryer on and step out without my camera to see that the moose has totally demolished my artificial deer and has moved on seeking more alive and responsive love mates – than and only then do I realize that I do not have my camera with me… as it is now spinning in the dryer with my wet clothes.

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