The Clandestine Pipe

“ Let me start by saying I owe you an apology” a very contrite Tony, MMSC farm manager, said to me over the phone.

I had just read the text that our barn manager Catherine had broadcast to Lori, office manager, Tony and me as I was heading out the door for my first day back at the MMSC after the holiday. 

OFFICE IS FLOODED. WATER IS GUSHING EVERYWHERE FROM THE CEILING IN SUSANNA’S OFFICE!

“Apologize for what?” I responded, confused. 

“For the pipe bursting.”

“That’s your fault? It was a clandestine pipe!”

should have known about it! I am, after all, the farm manager.”

“Well, we don’t have any plans or drawings of the building in our files, so its understandable  you didn’t know.”

“But I should have gone into the rafters before.”

“I see, in all the free time you have during your work days at the MMSC? And are you going to blame yourself for the polar vortex too? If so, that seems a bit cheeky. Anyway, I'm on my way."

When I got to the Center, the cascade from my ceiling had ceased. Lori and Catherine were mopping the water up into buckets. Tony had gone to Lowe’s to get materials to fix the pipe.  

I sloshed through the foyer, checked out the flooded bathrooms and kitchen, looked soberly at Lori and Catherine’s work spaces, and braced myself for what I might find in my office.

I wasn’t worried about the furniture or the computer. Those losses would be regrettable but replaceable. It was the artwork I cared about:

  • A  Raoul Dufy racing poster from a Parisian art gallery that my mother had given me on my birthday many years ago. It has hung on walls throughout my life ever since. 
  • The photographs personalized to me and signed by George Morris and Secretariat’s exercise rider the late Jim Gaffney. 
  • Photographs, the negatives of which are long gone, that my sister had taken of places in Europe.
  • Artwork from my two sons.
I never tire of looking at these things. There are plenty of times when I feel disheartened, weary, overwhelmed, inadequate, and, well, that I just can’t face another day of MMSC challenges. That’s when I quietly close my door, rock back in my chair, and slowly scan the room. I examine each thing on my wall, willing my mind to be still and open to take in the impressions and emotions that they evoke. It’s a trip down memory lane where the scenery is always the same yet constantly different. I always come away settled, renewed, and inspired. To me, it’s a priceless collection.

Miraculously, however, the pipe ran over the quarter of my office that does not have much artwork on it  A quick visual sweep of the room assuaged my fears.

I climbed the ladder placed beneath the gaping hole in the ceiling to see what was under the roof. I saw the broken pipe running from the back of the building where the kitchen and bathrooms are over my office to the front the MMSC. Turns out there is a faucet on the
exterior front wall to water the shrubbery!    I had seen the faucet before, yes, but never used it, and so out of sight, out of mind. It never occurred to me to ask Tony to leave that faucet dripping along with all the others when the polar vortex hit. What struck me, however, was the blast of frigid air in my face. Sunlight gleamed from under the eaves. It was  as if I had stepped outside. Patchy and thin strips of insulation laid on the ceiling panels. Plastic pipes were suspended a foot above the insulation reminding me of  open air city subway tracks. WOW! No wonder our office was so cold despite the furnace running full out all the time. And given their placement, how come the pipes hadn’t broken before?
Exposed pipes, unisulated ceiling particle board, air pouring from the eaves, no wonder!
I climbed down the ladder musing over my new perspective. I have been at the MMSC for six of its nine years. When I first saw it in 2007, I was dazzled, as many are, or at least should
be. It’s a beautiful place: simple, elegant, a real Taj Mahal. I didn’t notice when I walked past that the portico pillars were rotten or that the front door stuck, that the  exterior trim paint was peeling, or that the wires in the barn were not in conduit. These, and other imperfections became apparent to me after I had been there for awhile.

None of this surprised me when it did come to light. My husband, Jim, an expert in historic preservation who restored and ran the non profit organization Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (www.shakervillageky.org) for over four decades, has taught me a lot about construction and particularly construction under financial constraints. From him I learned there is a best way to do things, an ok way to do things, and a bare minimum way to do things, all within code. 

In a not for profit business, it's very tempting to opt for the bare minimum way to do things (also true of reschooling horses!).  Infrastructure underpinnings lack glamour. People are much more likely to write a check for hay and feed for the horses than for a larger HVAC system, or 2X6 studs when 2X4s placed as far apart as possible will pass code. Hence the  MMSC’s minimalist ceiling insulation and the exposed pipes made sense. I get it. 

The fact that the MMSC exists at all is something to celebrate. Its location,  the Kentucky Horse Park is unparalleled. Its design and furnishings are lovely. The reality that enough donated money was raised to clear the site, build the office, the barn, the fencing, and all the features of this beautiful property is a tribute to how much people both within and beyond the racing industry love Thoroughbreds and want to do right by them. Bravo! And thank you!

The issue here is integrity, not in the sense of moral rectitude, but meaning wholeness, complete, togetherness. Are you going to build something that meets the minimum standards? The average standards? Or superlative standards? What does it take to achieve each of these levels in terms of money, effort, time? What are you willing to sacrifice to meet each goal? 

I am a born student. I loved school. Exams were fun.  A library is my favorite place to be other than a barn. I am wired in a way that minimum and average just don’t do for me. If I commit to something, even if it is just cleaning the refrigerator, I am going to give it my 150% best. It’s tiresome for those who work and live with me. So be it. That’s who I am. 

Excellence, however, comes at a price. And price brings up the issue of value. And value is subjective. Over the years I have fought for and argued about about the benefits of excellence (NOT perfection) in spite of the sacrifices it may require. I have wrangled with people with blind eyes and deaf ears. I haven’t always gotten my way. And I haven’t always needed to. Sometimes good or permissible is just fine. Especially, if I lower my expectations. 

But the truth is, you get what you pay for, and when you cut corners, you will end up paying at some point. That's why I am so grateful for the donated dollars that went for the unglamorous expense of insurance premiums. Thanks to the generosity of those of you who like what we dothe case of the clandestine pipe will end happily with new dry wall and carpets courtesy of our insurance company! Bravo! And thank you, again!

Cheery bye,
Susanna