One of the smartest things I have done this year was to hire someone else to do a job that I could have done myself.
I say "one of the smartest" because I don't like explaining to others, "What is the smartest thing you have done this year," as in, what is your favorite movie? What is your favorite song? What is your favorite food?
Choosing your favorite or your best or your greatest is nearly impossible. One, I don't have a total-recall memory. Two, my favorite-best-greatest changes by the year, month, day or hour.
So I tell the person asking the question that I can't answer it directly, but I can tell you what might be among my favorites. I resort to a top five or top 10 favorite-best-greatest, and include one thing that might be on the expanded list.
That way, I leave myself an out. "Imagine" by John Lennon might be my favorite song, but so too might be "American Pie" by Don McLean or "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot, or "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel, or "Bad to the Bone" by George Thorogood, or "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash, or Mozart's "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A."
I have a fair amount of music, almost all of it on vinyl or CD, which is a throwback, I know, because the way people listen to music today is digitally on iPods or similar devices that are the size of a pack of gum and can contain thousands of songs and come with tiny earphones, and you get to choose your favorite music without having to put an album on the turntable or a CD into the player, then be within earshot.
"Almost all" of my music is on vinyl or CD because I do have music that can be listened to on my computer. While it's not really "my" music – it belongs to the Internet or Bill Gates or Al Gore, I think – I just so happen to be listening to a Mozart concerto for clarinet because it is relaxing and beautiful, and "Dark Side of the Moon" will have to wait because one of my Wednesday morning roommates is studying Hebrew. Does that make Mozart's concert my favorite? For this moment, it does.
And I like most of my music, and on any given day, any given number of songs might be among my favorites. That's the way it is with movies, books, parables, food and politicians.
But I think I can say that one of the smartest things I did this year was have someone else install a railing on the outside steps to our front door.
I could have done it myself, and it didn't seem that hard to do, but I knew what lurked behind the railing. Unforeseen problems: the wrong tools, perpendicularity, cutting thick metal to fit, drilling into concrete, matching the angled-upward flight with the horizontal railing, having neighbors and passersby wondering, "Does he know what he's doing?"
We had been thinking about installing a railing for a few years because the steps can be slippery and I know I would hate to fall down them on a bitterly cold winter morning while fetching the newspaper. But it never would have gotten done. Not high enough on the list of priorities.
That is, until we got a letter from our insurance company last December explaining that, should we want to be fully insured, by December 2012, we would need to have new shingles put on our roof and a railing installed on our steps. So there. There's no arguing with the insurance company.
It was right about the roof. It needed to be done and we needed to be told that before we spent thousands of dollars to have it done. We are about as happy with new shingles as anyone can be. Like having new tires on your car or a new 40-gallon heater for hot water. Oh, the joy.
For some reason, the insurance company decided we needed a railing. We had been thinking about it and this was the shove, which is the right word, we needed: insurance.
My wife found someone she knew to install the railing, and it took two guys about four hours to complete the job, and that was last month. Had I decided to take it on, I suspect it still would not be done, and I suspect I would be completely frustrated, and I suspect neighbors and passersby would wonder, "What's taking him so long?"
It's kind of like painting the exterior of the house, a job that should have taken one summer. But it took me three. Which would have been just in time to start on the railing.
Which is why the smartest thing I did this year was to agree not to do the job myself.
• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.