Shifty

Chameleons, we called them (although they aren’t really related).  The little green lizards were quite prolific in the part of Texas in which I spent my formative years.  My mom had a jungle of plants on the screened-in front porch of our home and the green anoles were grateful for the environment.  Like chameleons, they could change color if threatened, but they were limited to shades of green and a few browns.  We were adept at seeing them no matter what their color and would catch and torment them with regularity.  Oh, I don’t mean that we tortured them; they were protected in this environment by the head gardener (and we knew better than to mess with her).  It’s just that no wild creature likes to be caged or held.  They would open their little mouths and snap them shut on our fingertips; all to no avail.  They were powerless against their captors, but eventually, the easily distracted young men would release them to move on to bigger and better pastimes.  Once more the little amphibians were free to move around freely and catch the gnats and flies which also frequented the porch.  I told you that my mom protected them.  She knew that they were harmless and in fact did her a great service, as they eliminated the threats to her precious plants and helped to reduce the number of insects that made their way into the house.   The unique coloration and the ability to change it has served the species well, since it is in no danger of extinction anytime soon.  They’re not super-intelligent, though.  One other trick we would pull on these guys was to hold a mirror in front of the males.  They would often actually try to attack the look-alike in the mirror, sensing a threat in the newcomer. 

I found another chameleon the other day.  The young man brought in the case, shaped oddly enough, like a coffin, which contained the strange creature.  This chameleon wasn’t alive, though.  I opened the case to find an electric guitar which was clearly intended to appeal to the heavy-metal rock crowd.  The extreme angles and sharp points are all, as far as I’m concerned, calculated to hook the young wannabe stars.  It is a well-built guitar, with industry standard construction and all the desirable features.  Hot pickups and a vibrato tailpiece which will either raise or lower the pitch of the strings; lock-downs at the top of the fingerboard to keep said strings in tune as the “whammy bar” is slammed to the guitar’s surface; even the sharkfin inlays on the fingerboard…are all calculated to grab the fancy of the player and induce him or her to spend the eight hundred dollars which a new one will set the purchaser back.  I’ve seen all of those features before.  On this day, the young man needed to sell the guitar and I was agreeable.  This is a guitar which is sure to attract the attention of enough guitar players that it’s worth hanging on the wall, even if the price tag is more than most of them can afford.  Sometimes, you just purchase instruments to have them as a conversation piece, something sure to draw the warm bodies into the store.  As I started to write up the paperwork for the purchase however, I realized that I had a problem.

Our town recently enacted an ordinance which requires all businesses that purchase or trade used equipment to record all such transactions.  It is a little bit of an inconvenience, but more of an embarrassment for me, since I have to ask customers with whom I have done business before (sometimes for many years) to show me a state-issued ID.  At the end of each business day, I must upload a report of all the purchases to a website which shares information with the local law-enforcement agencies.  As I mentioned, this particular guitar gave me a bit of a problem, though.  The form asks for the color of the instrument.  I started to write that it was green.  Then I moved the guitar and decided that it was brown.  But no matter what I did, the color wouldn’t stay the same.  The guitar actually changes color, depending on the angle at which you view it.  Brown, green, yellow, even a little red are all visible in the finish.  As a good friend of mine always says, when faced with a question for which the answer is still not completely settled, “You pays your money and you takes your choice.”  I did a little research and find that the guitar manufacturer actually calls the finish for this little beauty “Chameleon Red”.  I like to describe it as “shifty”.

The real chameleon (and his cousin, the green anole) relies on his coloration and the ability to change it for his very existence.  Lacking any other real protection, the necessity of blending into his environment is absolutely essential.  The coloration of the guitar, on the other hand, is just an interesting subject for conversation.  There is no fundamental imperative for the guitar to change colors; single-color guitars have existed for a long time without the species becoming extinct.

All of which leads me to wonder about the human equivalent of the chameleon.  Oh, you know what I’m talking about.  Most of us have done it at one time or another.  We take on the character of the person or persons we are with.  Party crowd?  We’re the life of the party, telling jokes and fitting in.  Religious bunch?  It is amazing how quickly we can find a scripture verse which is apropos, preferably intoned in a reverent speaking voice.  Sports mob?  I can scream “Kill the ref!” with the best of them (and have done so on several occasions).  We’ve even seen the extreme, and are likely to see a lot more of it in this election year, in the guise of politicians.  These chameleons promise to be fiscally responsible, until they stand in front of a group they need to impress.  Then they promise them the moon…sometimes literally.  It happened, just a few weeks ago.  I’m not picking on the man who did that, but just pointing out the fallacy of the chameleon tendencies in this particular group of people.

But, lest we think that such comparisons make us look better, we need to look in the mirror for a little while.  Hopefully, we won’t attack the person in there, but the changing colors don’t look so fine on us, do they?  We were intended to be who we are, not to try to fit in with everyone we meet.  More than once, I have been gratified when I was able to say, “No, thanks.  That’s not who I am.”  The momentary embarrassment was more than offset by the lack of personal shame in the morning.  It’s a color with which I can live. A time or two, as the crude jokes and lewd talk about wives or girlfriends started, instead of joining in, I’ve had to say, “I’ll see you guys later.”  It wasn’t all that easy, but I can still look the Lovely Lady in the eye and know that I’ve never degraded her in the presence of anyone.  I like that color!  I’m not bragging that I have never played the chameleon, but I can assure you that the times I have stood firm and unchanged are a lot more enjoyable to recall than those other times.

I am not a lizard.  Nor, am I a guitar.  I’m just an aging man who is still learning right from wrong.  And, this aging man is grateful for second chances and for Grace.  I may even be starting to stand out in the crowd.  At the very least, I’m learning to be who I am intended to be.

And, in a world of shifting colors, I’m pretty sure that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

“We are a puny and fickle folk.  Avarice, hesitation, and following are our diseases.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American poet and essayist~1803-1882

“Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.”
(James 3:12)

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