In the movie Goonies, a group of subterranean adolescent adventurers revel in the fact that they made it farther than the legendary treasure hunter and riddle solver, Chester Copperpot.
They had less experience and less training than the Great Mr. Copperpot; afterall, they’re just kids. But, in the end, their footprints outpaced the expert.
I have a Chester Copperpot; it’s The Hardware Store Guy, hunched over, mustached, and soft-spoken. He’s the expert. He has the solution to everything:
Try hardware cloth. Vinegar will take care of that. The trick is to go under the floorboard and come back up the other side. It’s the 3/4 inch gasket; that’s what’s giving you trouble.
Me and The Hardware Store Guy. I bring the riddles. He solves them.
As it turns out, we happen to have the same sink – an ancient model where the parts don’t have serial numbers and the fixtures don’t have logos. So, this time, when I came to him frustrated and wet, he had a pretty specific idea as to what the problem was:
The ceramic cartridge is fused into the cover nut and the piece under the basin has an outcropping so you can’t pull it through. That’s where I got stuck. Had to cut it out with a hacksaw.
Uh oh. If Chester Copperpot can’t do it…
I went to bed with the problem knotted around my brain, picking at the threads.
Upon waking up, I realized I’d solved the riddle, though, like most dreams, I couldn’t remember how I did it. Still, I had the feeling of victory in my body.
After work, I got back under the sink and banged my head and elbows around by the light of my iPhone.
I had no idea what I was doing but, having experienced the solution at least once and without the formidable shadow of Chester Copperpot looming over me anymore, I clinked around with vigor. I tried my ridiculous ideas until one of them wasn’t so ridiculous and I beat the corroded, decades-old pipes and hoses and tension brackets and cover nuts.
There is this small, lovely space at the intersection of inexperience and perseverance, where something unexpected can bloom, where you can shortcut your way to ingenuity and come out ahead of the masters.
Victory came with a quarter-turn of the crescent wrench; the damn angular metal thing dropped through the sink basin and nearly cracked my iPhone.
Like a prepubescent Goonie, I ran to the hardware store with my heavy, ugly treasure in hand: an ancient artifact, unrecognizable to all but 2 people in Oakland.
He knew what it was immediately. He was neither sad nor happy, though I saw an uncharacteristic smile curl up under his mustache.
You got farther than I did.
And then back to choosing between an 11/16 inch and 17mm socket.
Whoa. Props from the great Chester Copperpot.
There’s a certain PG-13 revelry that only a Goonie knows, a satisfaction that comes with stepping into the woods and walking your amateur feet past the experts when the only thing getting you there is your sheer desire to do it. Not your training, not your tools, just the silly, uncorroborated notion that you can.
In not understanding the best way or the proven way or the logical way, ironically, you have an advantage: you don’t know enough to know how to fail.
And that’s the solution to the riddle.