Beaten By a 12-Year Old!

I’ve had some real wheeler-dealers in the store before, but this kid took the prize.  Of course, I realized that I had actually put myself in the situation to be cornered by him, but I don’t think I could have changed that.  The young man’s father has been a used-car dealer all of his adult life, which may explain the boy’s bargaining skills a bit, but even I will admit that he was quite precocious in his adroitness.

A few weeks ago, the boy’s father and I had worked out a deal to get him a guitar he really wanted.  Trading in a guitar of less value, the dad and son had agreed that the young man would work for extra money for the next three months so that he could pay off the balance on the guitar within the ninety day layaway period we stipulated.  There was a fair amount of haggling that went on in the transaction, but in the end, the man got what he wanted (a nice guitar at a fair price for his son) and I got what I wanted (a reasonable return on my investment), so we both were happy.  Yesterday, the boy and both his mother and father stopped by.  I assumed that the young man would pay another thirty or forty dollars on the account, but was surprised to hear his mom tell me that they were picking up the guitar a couple of months early.  It seems that his bargaining skills have an effect on more than just hapless music store operators.  Mom paid the balance and I handed over the guitar.  The boy wasn’t through yet.

“How much do you want for the bongos? ”  I checked the price tag and told him what it said.  “Sixty-nine dollars plus tax.  It’s a fair price.”  He looked over the drums for a moment.  “Why would you ask the new price for used drums?”  I was puzzled.  “Used?  They’re new.  You can see the manufacturer’s tags still on them.”  I glanced over at his parents, but they weren’t going to interfere.  I’m not sure, but if I was guessing, I’d say they were proud of him.  I’m pretty sure I saw a smile on his dad’s face.  The kid had learned his lessons well.  He took a breath and continued, “Well, look at the heads.  They’re dirty where people have been playing them.  They might have been new when you put them in here, but they’re used now.  You can see the hand prints on the heads.  What’s the used price?”

Have you ever been backed into a corner?  That’s where I was.  I think this is what’s known as a Catch-22.  A Catch-22 (from a book by the same name) is a situation where you logically cannot win, nor can you escape.  In the book, the protagonist could get out of a deadly situation by claiming to be insane, but by definition, if he asked to be declared insane, he was surely sane, so he could not extricate himself.  My Catch-22 wasn’t nearly as desperate, but nevertheless, I had put myself in that corner.  In order to sell products in the store, I have to allow customers to try them out in advance of their purchase.  If they cannot try them out, they won’t purchase them.  This young man had figured out that if the bongos had been played, they were not by definition new anymore, but were used.  I wanted to sell the new product, but in the process had made them used, so he wouldn’t pay new price for them.  He had me and he knew it.  “Alright then, fifty-five dollars and they’re yours.”  I know when I’m beaten.

I should be unhappy, but I’m not.  This bright young fellow just revealed to me once again that we live in an imperfect world.  We can get tied up in knots by the events in which we find ourselves embroiled, or we can learn from them and move on.  Many times, I have found myself in a “no-win” situation, each time to realize that paralysis is not an acceptable reaction.  We move through those circumstances to what comes after.  Hard lessons learned make for smoother sailing later on.  But, you have to move past them.  I’ve got many more of these lessons to share, but I’ll save them for another day.  It’s embarrassing enough to admit defeat to a twelve year old boy.

And yeah, if you want to try out the instruments, you still can.  But, you’d better have clean hands if you do…

“The difference between school and life?  In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test.  In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”
(Tom Bodett~American humorist and author)

Feelin’ Groovy

“I’d like to get three accompaniment tracks, please.  The last time, you sent me those new compact discs, though.  I need cassette tapes.”  The voice speaking to me on the telephone was obviously that of a mature woman, probably in her sixties.  I patiently explained to her that cassettes were no longer available, so she would need to buy the CDs and transfer them to cassette if that’s all she could use.  In spite of the fact that prerecorded cassettes have been unavailable for at least three years, we still get requests like this frequently.

Over the last few years, approaching my senior years myself, I have contemplated this phenomenon any number of times.  The lady described above is a Baby Boomer, as am I.  We were the hip generation, the in crowd!  We were never going to be like our parents, those old geezers.  As groovy chicks and dudes, there was no way we were going to be caught dead over thirty, in square threads, investing our dough in the Man’s system, and handing out downer lingo like, “We’ve never done it like that,” or “When I was your age…”. 

Now admittedly, not all of us in the Boomer generation were hippies, spouting the “make love, not war” mantra, and putting flowers in the barrels of the soldiers guns.  The great majority of us were more conformist than otherwise, but the universal thought was that we would be “forever young”. Even now, I can hear the whining voice of Bob Dylan, along with the cheesy vibrato of the Hammond B3, as he invokes the blessing of the epoch, “May you stay Forever Young…”  When did we get to be old like our parents, stuck in the past, drawing imaginary lines in the sand over which we will not cross?  It happens to each generation in its turn, it would seem.

I readily admit to a love of nostalgia.  A friend today sent me the text of a radio story about a museum for eight-track tapes.  I was immediately eighteen again, tooling along in my brand new Chevy Nova, with the stereo I had installed myself.  Radio? Pah!  We listened to what we wanted to, on our extremely portable and wonderfully ill-conceived eight-tracks.  I realize “wonderful” and “ill-conceived” seem to be paradoxical, but that’s how I view the technology, in retrospect.  These tapes were a hodge-podge of genius and idiocy, held together by a generous dash of creativity.  The genius was the idea to use a movable head to read the information on the tape, its downfall the inability to keep the head in alignment, often resulting in double tracking (two songs playing at once).  It was genius to use a continuous tape, but idiocy to loop it in a circle that frequently tightened up on itself, making the music drag as if you had slowed a forty-five rpm record to thirty-three rpm.  Oops, sorry! Another reference to an obsolete technology.  Anyway, let’s just say the idea of the eight-track was brilliant in its concept, but  impractical in its application.  We bought them by the thousands.

There are innumerable other obsolete gadgets which have come and gone in my lifetime.  The same could be said of my parent’s lifespan and of their parent’s era.  For some reason though, we form attachments to the familiar, the once useful accessories, and we don’t want to let them go when they are replaced by superior technology.  Our parents did the same thing, as did our grandparents before them.

I’ve said it here before; I want to keep learning as long as I live.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t turn my nose up at a few non-essential inventions; right now, the e-book comes to mind, although I may embrace that idea one day.  But, I want to keep an open mind and a lively imagination that grasps new ideas and exciting developments for as long as I’m able to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time.  All of my life has been played out in an exciting era of innovation and discovery, with no period more so than right now.   What a shame it would be to miss out on it, just because I decided to get old.

I do still have a small collection of 8-track tapes squirreled away just in case they ever get popular again.  You never know…Hey! bell-bottoms and tie-dyed shirts came back…

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

“I could not, at any age, be content to take my place in a corner by the fireside and simply look on.”
(Eleanor Roosevelt~former First Lady and social advocate)

Forbidden fruit…

The beautiful drum set has been sitting in the same place for three months.  It’s a wonderful convergence of maple wood, metal hoops and mounts, and synthetic materials, as well as some sturdy stands for the copper alloy creations we call cymbals.  All these divergent components meet in cooperation to make a unit worthy of the name “percussion”.  But, it has sat in the same place for ninety days or more.  The price has been set at a very reasonable percentage of the market price suggested by the blue book, so we’re not likely to lower that.  Three months, though!  The drum set languishes, with many admirers, but no takers.

Until this week.  The folks came by late one night as we worked, long after business hours.  They stood outside the window, gazing and talking, moving to a different vantage point, and talking some more.  Finally, the man knocked on the window.  “How much?”  I told him the price and he said, “Thank you,” and drove away.  Just like all the others.  Only, this time it was different.  He came back the next day, backing his pickup truck up to the front door.  He paid the price.  He loaded the set.  And left.  We cheered.  The drum set was finally sold and we were done with it.  Well, not quite.

Two hours after the set was loaded into the truck out front, a Hispanic family came in the front door.  He spoke no English, so the dad and I struggled to communicate.  “La bateria no esta aqui?” (“Is the drum set gone?)  I answered that it was sold and he continued.  “Pero, yo tengo el dinero ahora.” (“But, I have the money now.”)  He said this as he touched his wallet.  I apologized again, then he and his family left the store, disappointed, but promising to come again.

If I thought I was done with the drum set, I was mistaken.  That very afternoon, another family came in the front door, turning to look at the bare spot where the set had been.  “Oh no!  You sold it?  Will you have another one?”  I wanted to say, “Not on your life!”, but thought better of it.  As we promised to keep our eyes out for a similar set, they left, telling us they would check back.

Three months that drum set sat there for sale.  We dusted it, shoved around the individual drums to make space for equipment moving in and out, and listened to kids beat noisily on the heads and cymbals as their parents shopped.  No one wanted it until, on that one day, three different families decided they need it.  How is that possible?

I took a guitar in trade yesterday and hung it on the wall behind the counter.  It was admired by every guitar player who walked in for the almost two days it was there.  This afternoon, a young customer asked me to hold it until he could talk with his parents about drawing down his savings account to purchase it.  I promised to hold it until closing, a mere 60 minutes away.  One hour.  No problem!  But again, the young man wasn’t even out of the parking lot and another fellow came in asking to play the guitar.  “I think it’s sold.  I promised to hold it until closing today,” I told him, but he insisted on trying it out anyway.  Within minutes, he was positive.  “I really want this guitar!”  I reiterated my intent to keep my word to the other young man, so he made me promise to let him know if the deal fell through.

Why is it that we want what we can’t have?  What is there about being told something is not available that makes us desire it more?  I’ve heard it all my life…“The grass is always greener”…  When I was a kid, my dad went through a period of time when he wouldn’t let us eat pork.  He said that God must have had a reason for telling the Israelites to abstain from it, so we didn’t eat pork products for quite some time.  All of the sudden, ham became my favorite meat.  I craved it; couldn’t stand watching other people eating it; even snuck it onto my plate at church dinners.  As I ate dinner out tonight with the Lovely Lady, I noticed that the dish I had ordered had ham wrapped around chicken.  I suddenly realized that I wasn’t all that big a fan of ham.  I can have it any time I want it, but I really don’t care that much about it.  Go figure!  Now beef…that’s a different story!  My low cholesterol diet (at which I’m not doing really well) doesn’t allow much “red meat”, so beef is off the menu most days.  I really want to eat steak, hamburgers, tacos…anything with beef in it right now. 

Forbidden fruit.  Adam and Eve struggled with it, thousands of years ago.  King David killed a man for it.  Wars are fought for it; feuds endure for generations over it; marriages are destroyed because of it.  I’m looking for the day when I can be free from the temptation and paralysis caused by it.  It looks like that’s a battle I’ll fight all my life.  I’ll keep letting you know how that’s going for me, if you’ll let me know how you’re doing, as well.

I guess I’ll start looking for another drum set tomorrow.  And I hope I can have a hamburger for lunch then, too… 

“No, it has gone beyond our reach. Of that at least let us be glad. We can no longer be tempted to use the Ring.”(J.R.R. Tolkien~”The Two Towers”)

“The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank”
(Erma Bombeck~American humorist and columnist)

I Need A Hug

We were engaged. That meant something, right?  I was the most important man in her life, the one she could count on to be her rock, her strength.  So, why was she pushing past me to find her father with tears in her eyes?  I was disappointed and confused.  Here I was, her knight in shining armor, standing with arms outspread and she’s going to cry in her daddy’s arms?  If ever I thought I understand females, that illusion was quickly being stripped away.  The blow to my ego was severe, but fortunately short lived.  I soon discovered the problem, but still I felt let down.

The Lovely Young Lady was a senior in High School and had given a friend a ride home after school.  Her friend lived out away from town and they had to traverse a rough country road in the process.  You have to experience a dirt road in Arkansas to understand the issue, but let’s just say that it wasn’t a smooth trip.  Rocks grow in these hills, seemingly sprouting from the soil to poke their blooming heads up wherever they happen to find a crack.  The rock she had impacted with the oil pan on her car was unyielding, while the metal of the pan was a bit more tractable, so the trip back to town could have been mapped by the oil trail, first on the gravel road, then on the pavement.  Needless to say, she was more than a little flustered and emotionally distraught by the time she arrived at the music store where we were.  So, she did what came naturally to any teenage girl; she headed to her father for comfort and reassurance.  Right past me, the love of her life.

I’ve had a few years to contemplate my feelings that afternoon so long ago.  If I consider it rationally, I can’t for the life of me understand why I was upset.  Who in their right mind, would actually want to have to console a young lady, offering sympathy while deflecting the self-recrimination and “if onlys”.  Better to stand at a distance and wait until the situation improves, enjoying the sunshine without the storm.  Having said that, I don’t believe for a moment that I would feel any different if the same situation presented itself tomorrow.  When you love someone, you want to be there for them, whether to celebrate or to comfort.  In complete honesty, I will also tell you that I have never experienced that disappointment again.  We’ve cried together and laughed together, including others in the process, but never again supplanting each other.  

Later, I did get to share a part in making that particular situation better, along with the Lovely Young Lady’s brother.  Now, that stage of the reparations, I would have gladly let someone else take care of.  I’ve admitted that I’m no mechanic, but replacing the oil pan on that little Chevy was a trial of a different sort.  Love makes you do some unpleasant things…And I guess I’m okay with that, too.

Isn’t is strange, that we willingly and purposefully seek that kind of relationship?  Marriages, children, friendships, even the responsibility of having pets puts us in the line of fire, guaranteeing that we will participate in the heartache and pain.  I can list any number of these situations in which I have been mired, and I wouldn’t give up any of them.  Our children grew to maturity with us sharing the triumphs and the defeats.  We laughed and sang our way down the road, stopping periodically to cry and comfort.  While those relationships have changed drastically as their lives take different paths, we remain close, still sharing in the hard times, as well as the good ones.

When we write the stories and wax poetic, we love to tell of the happy, the ideal.  But, fairy tales aren’t reality; in this life there’s no “happily ever after.”  The plain truth is that we need the hard times to keep us close in the good times.  Pain and pleasure are all part of our lives and we want and need to share them with the ones we love.

Illogical?  Undoubtedly!  But there’s no better feeling than knowing that someone you love needs you to be there for them.  It kind of gives you the warm fuzzies to know that they are there for you too…

“Trouble shared is troubled halved.”
(Lee Iacocca~American businessman)

“Affliction’s sons are brothers in distress; A brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss!”
(Robert Burns~Scottish poet and lyricist) 

A Momentary Pause

“Anonymous” left a comment about last night’s musings.  “A Sunday afternoon nap punctuates a morning of Worship, a good meal and the woes of the week past.”  Now, I don’t usually do follow-up posts, but I can’t pass up this propitious opportunity.  First of all, I’m always happy when readers leave a little of themselves on my pages; otherwise, how would I know if I’m on the right track at all?  While I don’t depend on the comments for my sense of well-being, it never hurts to get a feel for what the recipients of my ramblings take from them, as well as giving me a sense of who you are.  But, in reality, my brain was jolted into activity by the wonderful comment above.  I have no idea who the author is and I’d kind of like to keep it that way.  I can imagine some wise person perusing my daily nonsense, finally finding a post worth commenting on and making an intellectual statement which may one day be in all the lists of quotes by famous writers, motivational speakers, and anonymous sources.  Not likely, but a guy can dream, can’t he? 

I  read the comment aloud to the Lovely Lady, finding that hearing the words brought a completely different perspective to the statement.  What roused me was the use of one word in the sentence.  The verb in the sentence brought me to a screeching halt.  Yep, just like a period.  “…punctuates…”  The nerd in me was all atingle instantly.  The picture drawn by the sentence was vivid.  Yes!  They get it!  The Sunday nap is the period on what is past.  A full Stop.  No more.  And, just like that, I wanted to believe that it was true.  The hard week, the busy days, the weariness, all were banished with the period of the nap.  This far and no further.  Gandalf the wizard was on the bridge in Moria standing against the evil Balrog.  “You shall not pass!” 

But, just as quickly as it appeared, the vision dissolved into nothing.  That’s not right, I thought.  There’s no disconnection from one day to the next.  There’s no full stop and restart.  Perhaps, the punctuation  Anonymous meant was a comma.  I like commas, simply because they give me a chance to catch my breath.  A very brief rest and we’re on to the next phrase.  Yes, maybe the comma.  But as I considered it some more, I don’t think that fits either.  The comma doesn’t give any sense of renewal, but simply separates parts of the same idea.  Just a pause, and a continuation of the same old, same old.  Not much refreshment in that.  No, not the comma.

We could keep going.  We haven’t talked about the exclamation point!  Excitement! Surprise!  Shock!  They’re all rolled up into one little straight line with a period below.  Nope, not quite the description of a nap.  At least, not a good nap.  How about the question mark?  Why?  How?  When?  It still misses the target by a good bit.  I scratched my head for a moment more, and then I had it.

I think the Sunday nap, or a nap on any other day for that matter, is best described as a semicolon; the little mark, part period and part comma (it includes both in its form) which gives a chance to place two sentences next to each other.  The sentences continue from the first into the other, both aiding each other, but able to stand alone if need be.  I’m exhausted from the events of this week; the semicolon allows me to be refreshed for the new one to come.  It’s not a full stop, not a momentary pause, but a chance to regenerate, to be ready to go forward.  This must be what Anonymous meant!

As I start to think outside the lines a bit, I’ve come to realize that this thing we call time is a bit arbitrary.  We make the day start and stop at midnight, but the moments keep marching past, oblivious to our false milestones.  Time pays no attention to weekends, nor to Mondays; only we humans are foolish enough to mark those anniversaries.  What is true is that our past leads continuously to our future; the lessons of yesterday become the practices of tomorrow.  The times of refreshment we crave and even require, simply give us a chance to regroup and move on through the days that are appointed to us.

Even having acknowledged the foolishness of our shortsightedness, living from work week to work week, I’m grateful for the rest on the way.  I will happily admit that the nap isn’t the only thing which accomplishes this.  I love the fellowship of friends and family, the joy of music, and even reading; all these and more bring about revival and rejuvenation.  May we  enjoy these times throughout our lives, with the real goal in sight, the goal of serving our Maker daily.  Every new moment is an opportunity for service and being agents of change in the world; every encounter is a chance to show God at work in us.

The sentences are long; the semicolons between them are short and blessed.  They’re not intended to stop the action, just to get us ready for what’s next.  As the Bard so aptly uttered centuries ago, “What’s past is prologue.”  

 I’m not sure if Mr. Shakespeare also wrote the old ad copy for Lee Nails, but it speaks to us too.  “Press On!”

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:31)

“Sometimes you get a glimpse of a semicolon coming, a few lines further on, and it is like climbing a steep path through woods and seeing a wooden bench just at a bend in the road ahead, a place where you can expect to sit for a moment, catching your breath.”
(Lewis Thomas~American physician, poet, and etymologist)

Not Just for Three Year Olds!

Of all the legacies my parents gave me, I think I enjoy the Sunday nap the best.  When I was a kid, however, it was the longest hour of the week.   Every Sunday, we would head for Sunday School and church, coming back home to our Sunday dinner of roast beef and vegetables.  I never realized until much later in life that the reason the menu never varied was that it was a meal which could be left in the oven before leaving for church, arriving back home to a prepared dish.  We didn’t have a long wait before eating, but after the cleanup came the dreaded nap.

One hour of enforced quiet time, lying down, hopefully sleeping, but at least resting.  For a young boy, full of energy and imagination, it was torture.  There were places to go and things to do!  I didn’t have time to waste!  Something might happen while we were asleep and I’d miss it!  But onto our beds all of us went, there to lie quietly until the prescribed hour was completed.  As with the menu for Sunday’s dinner, this nap was also something I didn’t understand until I matured a good bit, but now I realize that this time was for my mom and dad, not for us.  They were exhausted.  Five long work days for Dad and a continuous around-the-clock job of taking care of five children for Mom.  How could they not be tired?  Sunday morning wasn’t very restful either.  Getting all the kids presentable for church, checking ties and shoes, making sure that there were no toys concealed in pockets or up sleeves, looking under fingernails and behind ears for stray dirt missed in the Saturday night shower, and combing the unruly hair.  Then at church, teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, ushering, chasing errant children, and finally back home, knowing all would be repeated later that evening.  Ah! But, nap time was coming.  The kids would lie down in their beds, quiet at least while the parents had a well-deserved, if abbreviated snooze.

I can so identify with that!  The weeks are long and fatiguing, with not enough rest and more than enough stress.  Sunday morning is still busy and Sunday dinner more so.  The Lovely Lady is a good bit more ambitious than my mom was, so the table is always filled, both with diners around it and with food on it.  I don’t sit around and watch ball games while it’s being prepared either,  Today, I set the table (with help) for nine adults and four children and it bent beneath the load of food which the Lovely Lady prepared (also with a little help)…No not roast beef today. although that’s a favorite which is served frequently, but the ham was wonderful, along with salad, veggies, and bread, with a few extras squeezed in there (and I do mean squeezed in, if you get my drift).  Afterward, the oldest grandson helped me serve coffee as the homemade apple pie was served with ice cream. 

Ah! But nap time was coming (is there an echo in here?).  When the company headed home and the cleanup was finished, I settled into my comfortable recliner, the Lovely Lady in her corner on the couch, and I slept the sleep of the weary.  I don’t even know if she slept today, but a couple of hours later, I know I awoke refreshed, ready to face a new week.  Now that I’ve had my restorative timeout, I can take whatever the natives throw at me in the days to come.  Bring on your worst, your toughest!  I’m ready!  It’s amazing that the nap not only helps physically, but the mental aspect is improved as well.

I’ve told you about the attributes my parents shared with me, the high cholesterol and the breathing problems from Dad, the ability to “argue with a fencepost” from Mom.  I’ve shared about the good gifts too, but this Sunday nap habit, I will be eternally grateful for.  What a great way to cap off the Day of Rest.  I’m thinking God is pleased with this, too.  If you don’t agree, maybe you could just keep your opinion to yourself.  I like this tradition and hope I can pass it on just like my parents did. 

“I usually take a two hour nap, from one to four.”
(Yogi Berra~Professional baseball player and manager)

“Think what a better world it would be if we all-the whole world-had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap.”
(Robert Fulghum~American author and speaker)

A Quiet Corner for Two, Please

The first time I drove a car, I experienced what could only be described as sensory overload.  I couldn’t have explained it.  The scenery simply shifted from passive to active in my perception.  I have yelled “Shotgun!” as many times as anyone in my life, so the front seat was not new territory to me.  There was no change in what I actually saw.  No, the alteration was in the import of the information reaching my eyes and ears.  As I began to drive, I suddenly realized that every single article in my field of vision (and some not in it) was in play.  Each item, whether another car, a trash can, a mail box, a pedestrian, or ditch, or bird (the list goes on and on) had the potential to impact what I was doing (and yes, the pun was intended.)   The instantaneous realization was that all those things which had just been part of the backdrop, now were the active cast in the stage of driving.  It’s odd; driving wasn’t that much different than riding a bicycle, at which I was an old pro.  You’re moving down the same street, with the same objects, but somehow, the sobering realization that serious damage could result from one split-second choice changed the perspective exponentially.

Driving for the first time is not the only time I’ve experienced this feeling in my lifetime.  It happens to a lesser extent every time I’m thrown into a new, unfamiliar situation.  A new town, a new job, a new marriage, all of these changes have made me keenly aware that I’m no longer directing the show; there are other actors in the play of life, all of them with the capacity to affect me.  The overused catchphrase for this is, “out of my comfort zone.”  I’ve meditated on this a bit and think a more appropriate phrase might be, “out of my control”.  We love to live in a place where things happen at the appointed time and in the prescribed manner.  We don’t want to worry about a chance encounter or an overturned time schedule.  The ordered, neat little world we have arranged for ourselves is just fine, thank you!

It’s sad to realize that even when I’m used to a situation, if I get out of it completely for a period of time and then jump back in, the same thing happens again. This may be one reason that I don’t like taking a long vacation.  The reentry is like sliding under the wheel in the car for the first time all over again.  Oh, the break-in time is a lot shorter, but for those first few minutes, I sincerely wish I had just kept my nose to the grindstone without the break.

I’ve had to live “out of my comfort zone” a lot the last few weeks, but this week, it just might be described as completely out of control.  I don’t like it.  The little corner of the world in which I exist seems to be moving at me too fast and I’m afraid that I may do some lasting damage (or be damaged myself). Most of us have watched a child riding a merry-go-round on the playground and can identify with them, at least symbolically.  For the first slow rotations, it’s all smiles and happy squeals, but as the speed increases and the queasiness in the stomach rises correspondingly, we wait for the shout of “Stop the merry-go-round!  I want off!”  I’ve thought about yelling it a time or two myself this week.

I will admit the OCD part of me would be fine with that.  It’s easy to actually make the image of objects (real or imagined) coming at me worse than it really is.  If I dwell on the thought, the potential for disaster is overwhelming, with every person I interact with being a plausible candidate for catastrophe.  But, every once in awhile, I have to tell myself the same thing my drill-sergeant fitness-guru sister-in-law yells repeatedly at her victims, er…classes.  It works for me, temporarily at least.  “BREATHE!”

It turns out that I’m not the only one with problems in the world, not the only one just figuring out that he’s not in control.  I’m happy to say that I haven’t totaled any cars or people this week, and I’m not getting off the merry-go-round anytime soon.  But, if you see me leaning over, taking deep breaths, just give me a minute.

I’ll be back in the driver’s seat making good time pretty soon….

“We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.”

(Bill Watterson~Creator of the Calvin & Hobbes comics)

“It is a dangerous business going out of your front door.”

(J.R.R. Tolkien~English novelist~1892-1973)

Sucking Up the Dirt

“Close the deal!  Don’t take no for an answer!  If they didn’t want what you’re selling, they wouldn’t let you in the door.”  I sat and listened to Bob Q trying to teach me his selling techniques and determined that I was going to sell those Kirby vacuum cleaners if it killed me.  When I answered the newspaper ad for a position with his company, Mr. Q promised me huge paydays if I would follow his instructions, so I hung onto every word.  The other trainee and I practiced on each other, perfecting our skills, answering objections with ease and impressing ourselves beyond our wildest expectations.  We were ready!

I have a fair assortment of memories in my head of which I am not proud.  Some, you will never read about here, others will come to light as I can face the chagrin they evoke, mostly from myself.  My stint as a vacuum cleaner salesman is one of those depressing recollections I would rather leave buried in the past.  In some ways, however, it informs who I am today, so I’ll drag it out of the storage bin and air it out for a little while this evening, if you will indulge me.

I have asserted many times that I am not a salesman, even though I’ve spent my entire adult career (with a few short detours) in sales.  I approach sales a bit differently than the training I had with the vacuum cleaner concern.  I would rather suggest to a customer that he or she come back later to buy a product than to force the sale today.  I have actually talked customers out of purchases because I believed that they had no need of the product they were considering.  Bob Q would not be proud at all.

I actually sold one Kirby vacuum cleaner during my stint as a rep for that company.  Okay, to be truthful, Bob sold it, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  When we were ready to start selling, we made “cold calls”, finding names and numbers in the phone book and calling people out of the blue to set up demonstrations.  I set up my first call and made my way to the home one afternoon.  The lady of the house listened patiently to my pitch, allowing me to run her vacuum and then mine to show how much more it picked up.  The photos of ruined carpet were shown, advantages touted, warranties explained, payment plans offered, and then the door was closed behind me.  No sale! 

To say that Bob was unhappy with me would be an understatement.  He was livid!  “Don’t you know she wanted to buy that vacuum?  She didn’t want to say no!  She wanted you to help her say yes!”  Then he gave me the fateful instructions, “Don’t you ever leave a prospect who says no without calling me first!”  I listened to him and determined to do better on the next call.  The opportunity came within a day or two.

The older man and woman were both on Social Security, living in a small frame house with peeling paint and a rickety front porch.  Their furniture was aging and threadbare and most of the flooring in the house was scarred-up hardwood, with just a faded area rug in the living room and a fraying runner down the hall.  As with my first presentation, these nice folks listened attentively to my spiel, watched my demonstration, and said no.  After talking with them for a few moments, I knew they didn’t need the vacuum (they had just two old rugs in the entire house!) and they certainly didn’t have the money to purchase this pricey model.  I wasn’t interested in trying to get them to buy any longer, but I had to call the office.  I couldn’t face Bob’s anger again.  With their permission, I called to let the man know that it wasn’t going to happen.  “Let me talk with them,” he demanded.  Twenty minutes later, I walked out of that house with a check in my hand.  When I got back to the sales office, we celebrated.  Well, Bob and the other trainee celebrated.  I was ashamed.  Those folks had no money and would be doing without things they needed because I had walked into their house.  Never mind that it was Bob’s persuasive personality and words that convinced them.  I had taken their money.

I did face Bob’s anger one last time, because I started looking for another job the next day.  When I was supposed to be out on sales calls, I went to employment offices.  A couple of days later Bob confronted me as I walked in the front door.  “What have you been doing this afternoon?”  “Looking for a real job!” I retorted.  He fired me on the spot.  It was the only job I was ever fired from and I was relieved beyond belief. 

I have thought of that couple many times in the thirty-four years since that day.  They have provided an incentive to honesty and integrity that no sermon ever could.  I’ve dissected the situation many times, to determine why I was so ashamed and I believe I know the answer.  You see, Bob Q’s world-view told him that he was the most important person in his circle of influence and he was acting on that creed.  Try as I might, I can’t get away from the principles I learned as a child and have had reinforced time and time again as an adult.  “You cannot serve God and money.”  (Bob Dylan said it clearly when he sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.”)  Many of the other precepts I learned as a child flood my thoughts as I write this: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  “Consider others better than yourselves.”  “Where your treasure is…”  The list goes on and on, all reminding me that I don’t come first.

I haven’t always been able to live with integrity.  As I said, I’ve got a lifetime of missteps and failures hidden away beyond your view.  That’s the depressing part.  The thing I celebrate is that each day is a chance to do better; each encounter an opportunity to redeem the evil times.  I’m enjoying God’s gift of more days and new opportunities to get it right.

But, don’t bring back that guitar you bought from me last week.  You wanted it or you wouldn’t have come into my store in the first place…

“A little integrity is more valuable than any career.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American poet and essayist~1803-1882)

“There are worse things in life than death.  Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?”
(Woody Allen~American actor and movie director)

Mushy Stuff (that I don’t understand)

Valentine’s Day came and went yesterday.  I planned to write a brilliant post on love.  I really did.  So, I sat at the keyboard and thought about all I know concerning love.  And, I moved on to fast cars and guns.  Tonight, again I sit at the keyboard and dredge up every bit of sagacity I can manage on yesterday’s intended subject.   Words fail me (An extremely rare event!).

I don’t understand love; can’t explain it, nor can I begin to describe how it works.  I’ve been asked the secret of a happy relationship before and I realized that I have no idea.  Oh, I remember events which have occurred over the years of my marriage and the couple of years leading up to that, but the events don’t explain the phenomenon.

I know that millions of dollars a year are spent by folks who are looking for the secret.  A profusion of conferences attempt to explain how love works, the secret to re-igniting love, and even how to put laughter back into your marriage.  Checking Google tonight for “Christian Marriage Conference”, I couldn’t help but notice that there are 24 million results.  Twenty.  Four.  Million.  I’m pretty sure the folks who run those conferences can’t explain it either.

What I do know is that the Lovely Lady and I have spent well more than half of our lives enjoying each other.  Undoubtedly, I’ve had the better part of the bargain, but she tells me she’s content (and I’ve never known her to lie).  I’m still wracking my brain to explain it and probably will go to my grave confused about the reasons.

I really don’t have a clue.  All I know is I wouldn’t give up a minute of the last 32 years for anything.  Whatever makes this love thing work, I’m  up for another 32 years.  After that I might be qualified to wax eloquent regarding the origins and mechanics of a good relationship.

Ask me again then.

“Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”
(Martin Luther~German theologian and church reformer)

“One time I gave Dale a little peck on the forehead and we got a ton of letters telling us to cut that mushy stuff out…So I had to kiss Trigger instead.”
“Roy Rogers~”King of the Cowboys”~1911-1998)             

Torinos and Pistols

The 302 cubic inch motor purred, then roared as Mark kicked the accelerator of the 1970 Ford Torino GT.  For obvious reasons, when we went cruising, his was the car of choice.  My 1972 Chevy Vega, while a good-looking car, had a wimpy 4-cylinder with 140 cubic inches, which impressed nobody while cruising Tenth Street.  And any eighteen year-old guy in those days knew that if you didn’t have a girlfriend in the car to impress, you certainly needed to impress those outside the car.  The beautiful red fastback was an eye-catcher and it could move down the road. 

To this day, I have visions of another friend, Eli huddled down in the back seat of that beautiful car, as we flew down Ware road at 105 miles per hour, screeching, “We’re gonna die!  We’re gonna die!”  That night, I was about to miss my curfew and Mark was determined that it would not be because he got me home too slowly.  We didn’t die.  And, the two minutes we arrived late must have passed unnoticed by the timekeepers inside the house, because we leaned against the car in the driveway laughing about the evening’s activities for quite some time without interruption from them.

Mark has been a friend of mine since I was barely a teenager, even though he is a year older than I.  You remember how it was back then.  Eighth graders didn’t deign to stoop to the level of seventh graders and the younger juveniles didn’t aspire to reach to the heights of the older ones, except to emulate them and hope to be noticed, at least.  I have marveled again and again at how the years between people shrivel to nothing as we age.  We now think nothing of close friendships with couples who weren’t born when we got married, and the camaraderie we feel with octogenarians is often akin to what we have shared with those we grew up with.  By the time I graduated from high school, Mark and I were fast friends.  We had been in youth group at church, gone to summer camp together, and even chased the same girls a time or two.  As much as I hate to admit it, we went through the citizen’s band radio craze together, right down to “10-4 good buddy” and a CB foxhunt or two.  (I may have to elaborate on that some day.)  We’re still good friends today in spite of that.

Those crazy teenage days are long gone, but many of those moments are still frozen in my mind, hot steamy summer evenings when we drove aimlessly around with the windows down.  The air conditioner worked great, but you didn’t just want to be cool, you wanted to be COOL!  And, that couldn’t happen if you were  isolated from the other cruisers.  How would you ever be heard when you called out to the pretty girls in the next car at the traffic light?  And how could anybody hear the Quadraphonic stereo system blasting out Three Dog Night or even the Eagles with the windows closed?  There was one night when I wasn’t happy to feel so exposed, but I’m pretty sure the window wouldn’t have helped much.  We were gliding along, listening to one of Mark’s eight track tapes, and we came up on the left side of a car that he recognized.  “I know this guy”, he said, so he gunned the motor to get the driver’s attention.  I quickly wished that he hadn’t done that, as the driver looked at me and aimed a revolver in my direction.  I yelped and flopped over on the front seat, to hear him and Mark break out in laughter.  “That’s just Freddie,” Mark said.  “I think he’s harmless,” a description belied by the very real firearm which was withdrawn soon enough.  Freddie drove beside us for a few blocks, peeling out at the traffic lights and breaking several other traffic laws.  As we pulled up to a major intersection, he turned right, burning rubber as he left, with Mark frantically trying to warn him with hand motions of the police cruiser approaching in the oncoming left turn lane.  The policeman followed as quickly as he safely could, but was unable to overtake him.  I found myself secretly hoping that he would catch the lunatic and find the gun.  It was one of the oddest feelings I have felt in my life to have a gun pointed at me, on a dark night, from a strange car.  I met Freddie personally eventually, but never could bring myself to quite like him.  I was sorry to hear a couple of years later that he had drowned in a riptide while swimming at the beach.

There are lots of good memories of those days and nights in my brain.  Funny, but I wouldn’t go back there for anything.  We enjoyed life and hadn’t a care in the world, except for fifty cents a gallon gas (really expensive to us!), but for all of the weight of the issues that face me now, with relationships, world and local events, economic issues, etc., I’m right where I want to be today.  We love to reminisce, love to recreate those days in our heads, but they belong to the past and we belong to the present and the future.  We learn from the past, but there’s no going back and it’s a good thing.  I wouldn’t get in the “Back To The Future” DeLorean  with Marty McFly on a bet!  

The one important thing I’m really glad we don’t have to leave in the past is the friendships.  Mark and I are good friends to this day.  Miles separate us and we see each other only rarely, but when we do visit, the years disappear, and we’re best buddies again in the instant we shake hands (now we hug, too).  There’s no awkwardness, no fumbling around for words, just comfortable enjoyment in each other’s company.  And that’s the way it was meant to be for us all.  Events occur and become history, the temporal trappings change (no more 8-tracks!), and our bodies grow old.  But, our love and joy in companionship only grow as the years pass.  I think it’s one of God’s best bestowals on us, the gift of friendship…of human fellowship.

It’s good when we can jettison all the unhappy, unsettling events along the way, and just settle in to the comfort of being old friends.  The new ones we’ve picked up on the journey are kind of nice, too.

“A good friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg, even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”
(Bernard Meltzer~American radio announcer and talk show host)