by Keith Yancy
What gives you hope?
Stop and think about that question for a moment. It’s an interesting question that I came across while reading Regina Brett’s book, titled Be The Miracle. In it, she lists a variety of personal observations that give her hope.
But the question itself is worth considering — after all, it’s different from “what gives you happiness,” or “what gives you satisfaction.” “Hope” is different — rather than the immediate “what makes you happy,” hope is more about what you look forward to or expect in the future.
So, what gives you hope? Hope for the future? The world? Humanity? Have you stopped lately to ask yourself what, beyond the typical fill-in-the-blank type reactions, you hope for? Do you have the courage to think deeply about hope?
I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of hoping for the typical litany of outcomes our culture feeds us. We hope for success at work. We hope our families are safe. We hope for good weather, good service at the local restaurant, good traffic on our commute, an enduring marriage. We hope our sports teams win, our tax refunds are larger, our boss is nicer.
Perhaps it’s easy and safe to hope for the immediate, the easy, the next step on your path to wherever you’re going in life. And in a hyper-publicized world, hope can sometimes seem to be easily pummeled into despair by the barrage of negative news which constantly preoccupies our country and our world. Wars. Ebola. Environmental disasters. The decline of values in our society. Civil unrest, terrorism, scandals, corruption, partisan politics — too often, these are the main ingredients of the media diet we’re fed. How can hope survive? Our culture often seems fixated on its own decay and decline — how can something like hope not seem trite or naive?
With so much negativity, so much to worry about, so much to fear, its pretty easy to keep our hopes focused on the “little things.” But aren’t there opportunities to hope for something greater? Something beyond ourselves, or the definitions of success/happiness/achievement that we’ve bought into?
I think so.
When I think of the question “What gives me hope?”, I find myself searching for deeper answers. Yes, I hope for all the normal stuff — a raise at work, fewer meetings, Granny Smith apples in the cafeteria — but I’m trying to aim higher. I’m trying to change my opinion of “hope” from a naive, simplistic emotion to the powerful, profound emotion it can and should be. Hope is more than endurance of life’s disappointments and steadiness in the face of defeat — the things we hope for should help define who we are, what we stand for, what our ultimate goals are for our lives. Our hopes should inspire us to think more deeply, feel more profoundly, act more purposefully.
Here are some things that give me hope:
- The glowing red sunrise above me on my drive to work, reminding me that there is always, always beauty in the world — no matter what problems I may face.
- The knowledge that I (and everyone else) is more than just the sum total of their jobs, their looks or their possessions — everyone has value.
- The kindness and understanding of my wife, because it reminds me that compassion for others still exists in the world.
- Watching my daughters growing up with moral values, strong opinions, and dreams of the future. Today’s kids are no worse, or better, than any other generation. I believe in the idealism of youth.
- The knowledge that our present-day challenges are not that different from the challenges of generations past. If we can overcome slavery, the Black Plague and a host of other problems, humanity can overcome the problems that face us today.
- The comfortingly predictable and glorious change of seasons, marked by the leaves of Autumn, the chill of Winter, the blooms of Spring, and the glory of Summer.
- Watching and recognizing that people can and do change. Not always, and not always permanently, but people DO have the capacity to overcome their prejudices, to fight for what’s good in the world, to become better people.
- That an African-American can be President, that women are breaking traditional barriers in sports/business/government, that people of different faiths can respect, understand and support each other without hatred, that those who have can and do try to help those who have nothing.
- The brilliant blue of Lake Huron, if only because of the awe it’s beauty inspires inside me.
- The enjoyment of art, music and literature. May they always be an escape from the everyday and give us a glimpse of the sublime.
- The persistent, calming belief that there is, in fact, an existence beyond death and this world we live in. That belief is sometimes a tenuous one, but it’s a lifeline of faith that remains unbroken for me.
- The recognition that the vast majority of people, I believe, are decent, honest, and good… and as such, are rarely if ever mentioned in what we call “news.”
- That there is purpose and meaning in our lives beyond our understanding, and that, because the human mind has limits, there will always be a need for faith. What people choose to have faith in is their choice.
- Loyalty, courage, integrity, faith, morality, perseverance, compassion, empathy. In other words, the best elements of our nature. As long as these traits exist among us, there remains hope for the present and the future — and for us.
What gives you hope? Feel free to share your thoughts with me. I’m sure my list can be improved.
Until next time…
by Keith Yancy
“Reg” is a groundhog. Not “just” a groundhog, or any random groundhog. Reg is the adopted, “Yancy family” groundhog.
“Reg” has been living with us longer than he’s had his name, actually. For whatever reason, it took my wife, kids and I collectively a year or so to realize that Reg has been living quite contentedly under our backyard deck. One day I noticed a fat, jiggling rat-like creature running through our yard and making straight for our house. He ran without breaking stride right under the deck, and after watching our frustrated dog bark at him helplessly for a while, I realized that all the clues of Reg’s living arrangements were right in front of me the whole time.
- Our dog would constantly check the basement window wells next to our deck, looking for something (I knew not what at the time). She never, ever let the chance go by without checking these openings, and in retrospect, I now know that Reg uses them as both escape hatches and doors from his house under the deck into our (his) yard.
- Once when I was working in the basement, I heard a strange scratching sound over my head. I looked up and out the window, only to find Reg plastered against the window, right where the deck meets the window well. Reg’s two large front teeth were in full view, and we peered at each other for a surprisingly long time until Reg ambled off to do whatever it is groundhogs do under people’s decks. I have to admit, I think Reg looked utterly ridiculous plastered against the glass, and I somehow suspect Reg felt ridiculous too.
- My daughter talked once about her “fat squirrel” in the backyard. We all thought she was talking about an actual squirrel until one day, a fuzzy head peeked above the steps on the deck, and we decided that an animal with a head that large was too big to be a squirrel. The big fuzzy head looked around, noticed the dog going nuts behind the glass doorwall (he was not scared and definitely not impressed), and eventually disappeared.
It was only after we pieced together all these events and started seeing this groundhog more often that we decided to give him a name. It didn’t take us long. I asked my daughters what we should name it, and after a couple of suggestions (I vetoed “Bubbles,” for the record) we decided on Reginald. Reginald was soon downgraded to “Reggie” and, not long afterward, just “Reg.” Reg has been making fairly regular appearances around our home ever since.
Even though I killed thousands of bees, I can’t find it in my heart to try to get rid of Reg. For one thing, Reg isn’t living IN my house. For another, he’s never stung me, or chased me around the yard, or shown up in my basement, or master bedroom, or any of the other places that the bees would make their appearance. I’ve never tried (or had the inclination to try) to vacuum Reg with my Shop-Vac, like I did with the bees. Reg seems quite content to live under the deck outside, and while I suspect he thinks it’s HIS deck and HIS house, we manage to co-exist pretty nicely together.
As a neighbor, I have to confess that I find Reg somehow comforting. Reg never demands anything from me. He’s not looking for the next innovative strategy, or reminding me of a deadline, or presenting me with a bill to pay; Reg barely makes any noise or fuss at all. He wanders about the yard virtually every day, doing his groundhog thing. Occasionally, he’ll walk around ON my deck, but he’s quiet, and doesn’t do any damage.
One Saturday a few weeks ago, as I was painting my dining room (part of yet another “never-ending project”), I got a strange feeling and looked out the window. There was Reg… staring blankly up at me from the deck. Once again, I found myself face-to-face with this groundhog, with only a single pane of glass and about four feet between us. And once again, we made eye contact and stared at each other for a surprisingly long time. This time, Reg had much more dignity than when he was pressed up against my basement window. It may sound crazy, but this time, Reg seemed almost thoughtful. We watched each other for several moments, while I whispered to my daughter to get me my phone, trying not to move or otherwise scare Reg away. It didn’t work. Reg is notoriously “camera shy,” and by the time my phone (and the camera inside it) got to me, he had dashed off. I still think we shared a brief moment, though.
Anyhow, I find myself looking for Reg, and finding him in the yard is now a source of entertainment for our family. Reg seems very busy. He’s always rooting around for food, I suppose, or looking around for predators. There doesn’t seem to be any real predators anywhere (my dog is the closest thing Reg has to an “enemy,” and she can’t catch him). Reg has taught my family a lot about groundhogs, as we Google up groundhog facts quite often when we see him. The literature on groundhogs is not terribly interesting or exhaustive, and we learn a lot more just seeing Reg in action. Though he looks fat, he moves astonishingly fast, and can get out of Dodge in a big, big hurry when properly motivated. He’s got some courage, too, as I’ve seen him crossing our street more than once. Reg will occasionally stand up on his hind legs when the mood strikes him, and while he gives up that “dignified look” I mentioned earlier, stands over a foot tall when he’s on his hind legs, which I find pretty impressive.
So, once again, I find myself living in close proximity to wildlife. And, as long as Reg stays OUTSIDE my house, I’m waving the flag of truce. Reg is a rather comforting tenant to have around, and if he eats a flower or two, I’ll overlook it. I just hope he stays single, and doesn’t start a family… my dog will never be able to relax, and I’ll waste too much time trying to take photos of all the groundhogs.
Until next time…
TO: IKEA Complaint Department
FROM: Mr. Keith Yancy
RE: Product Issue Causing Gradual Insanity
My name is Keith Yancy, and I am a customer at your Michigan (Canton) IKEA store. I have a complaint.
Along with my wife and three daughters, I am a loyal customer. I have purchased furniture, pictures, lights, light bulbs, rugs, drapes, plates, and a host of other products. I like them all, even though they have unusual names like “Besta Vassbo,” “Vejbon” and “Hemnes” that I suspect I mispronounce. I even like the food, from the meatballs to the 50-cent hot dogs, and I’m particularly fond of the cinnamon rolls. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve spent thousands of dollars over the years at your store, and was generally happy to do so.
Until now. And it’s all because of this:
Yes, this is a cup. A cup YOU sell, in packs of 8, I believe. Various colors, of which I own all. To fully understand my problem, allow me to explain how these cups have begun to chip away at my sanity.
It began with a trip to your store, obviously, with my wife and kids. Because you design your store to channel hapless patrons like myself through all the merchandise, I unwittingly passed a display of these cups, and (unbeknownst to me) my youngest daughter put two packs of plastic cups in our basket. My wife and I only discovered these cups as we were checking out, and began to debate our kids about why we didn’t need them. But, with other customers waiting behind us and our daughters’ obnoxious ability to argue endlessly about anything for hours and hours, we gave up and just added them to our bill.
And that’s when it all started.
You see, these cups are left everywhere in my home. EVERYWHERE. Some empty, some half-full of water or milk, many COMPLETELY full of water or milk, all of which are left just waiting to be discovered by my wife or me. This process can take days in some cases (as they are sometimes placed in very strange places), and only the smell of curdling milk makes their location — eventually — known. My favorite ones are the ones with a spoon in them, fused to the bottom of these evil little colored cups by a layer of what was once hot chocolate (I hope); all attempts at getting a kid to wash them have, to date, resulted in dismal failure.
No matter what day of the week, time of day, or season of the year, these cups are everywhere. They can be found left on the table,
on a countertop,
scattered around the house in places they shouldn’t be,
or even inside a candy dish, for reasons unknown:
This has been going on for months. Little plastic IKEA cup-bombs, forever lurking within my home, their multi-colored silence mocking me from room to room. I’ve tripped over them, found them in the yard, in the bathroom, in my cars, and because they are seemingly made of indestructible, perpetually cheery colored plastic, they never break, and therefore never grow fewer in number. Even the colors contribute to my descent into madness: I find my OCD in full bloom when, as I load the dishwasher, I become agitated because I can’t find the OTHER orange cup, or wonder why the blue cups always wind up in the kitchen while the green ones disappear for weeks at a time, or why I secretly like the yellow ones the best.
I’M LOSING MY MIND.
Now you may protest that this is MY problem, as MY children are the ones leaving them everywhere, but I believe you are partially to blame. Sure, all our parental attempts at getting the kids to clean up after themselves are generally failing, but it was YOU that designed your store to put them in our path. YOU offer these cups in bright colors that kids like enough (apparently) to put them in our shopping cart without permission. In other words, you set a trap for us (me), and I’m suffering as a result.
In case you wish to know how bad this situation has become, I’ve begun to suspect that these cups will eventually wind up everywhere — like a virus that takes over the entire planet. I’ve begun to have visions of them cropping up around the world, like this:
Given what I’ve observed at my home, I even think these cups could escape the bonds of earth. I really do.
In fact, I’m convinced that these cups are so pervasive, there is absolutely nowhere they can’t turn up. I’m willing to bet that if someone actually DOES find Bigfoot out in the forest somewhere, he’ll be walking around holding one of our little plastic IKEA cups, like this:
In short, I don’t think I can escape these cups. Ever. Even when it’s my time to go, I suspect they’ll be waiting for my arrival:
Or, in the event that my behavior here on Earth isn’t as good as I think it is, I could EASILY picture these cups waiting for me elsewhere, poised to ensure my journey to insanity is both complete and eternal:
So, IKEA, since you were in part responsible for my deteriorating condition, I propose compensation. Clearly, you’re cheerful little plastic cups have negatively affected my mind, and I think a free package of cinnamon rolls is a fair exchange for my mental health. If you are particularly moved by my suffering, some meatballs would be nice too. I may eventually go completely insane, but it would be nice to do so after sampling your cinnamon rolls, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be a more docile and satisfied insane person on a full stomach.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I feel compelled to observe that, even if you choose not to offer compensation, my wife and kids enjoy your store too much for me to effectively boycott your products. So while this may appear to be an empty threat, I can only trust that your conscience as a marketer and as a parent (if you have children) will nag at you, knowing you have driven a cynical suburban father of three out of his mind.
Keith D. Yancy
by Keith Yancy
Not long ago, Josh Bradley, an acquaintance of mine (via LinkedIn) sent me a message, asking me to give him my reaction to his blog post, “Can Smart Marketing Sell Anything?” (http://corporategraffiti.com/can-smart-marketing-sell-anything/). In short, Josh argues that even poor ideas or products can be effectively marketed, if in fact the marketing strategy is smart and clever enough. He cites several examples of smart marketing selling less-than-stellar ideas or products, including lousy movies like The Human Centipede, Bitch brand wine, and even the Iraq War.
My reaction? Josh is absolutely right, of course. Damn near anything can be marketed, and if done well and convincingly, someone — or many someones — will plunk down good money to buy it. The famous quote (incorrectly attributed to P.T. Barnum) that “There’s a sucker born every minute,” is famous for a reason: it’s true. Pet rocks, Chia Pets, battery-powered pumpkin carving knives (don’t ask)… someone will buy it, if the “sell” is effective.
Good salespeople know this instinctively. A good salesperson’s greatest attribute is his/her ability to determine what’s important to the customer and show how their product meets the customer’s wants and needs. Marketing operates basically on the same principle — appealing to customer fear, or altruism, or even sense of humor. The trick is to find the best approach and make your product stand out from the competition.
Obviously, Josh’s position in this argument is pretty strong. The only thing I would add to his perspective, however, is this truth really extends beyond marketing. Josh tips his hat to this fact himself with his mention of the Iraq War, and included a description of how Colin Powell effectively “marketed” the need to go to war, despite the fact that evidence later refuted the presence of weapons of mass destruction.
Since Josh started down the road to a “broader view” of marketing, allow me to go the rest of the way: Bad ideas, cruel ideas, stupid ideas, even deadly ideas have been and continue to be “sold” to people every day. Consider the fact that many of the “assumptions” in history were once ideas that were, in a real sense, marketed to those who would listen, believe and buy into them. Women are less intelligent/capable than men; black people are less than/inferior to white people; celebrities are somehow smarter/wiser/better than non-celebrities are just a few examples. The Nazis were expert marketers and propagandists of their ideology, which ultimately paved the way for millions of people to be exterminated while the local populations not only showed indifference, but in many instances, participated in the process.
At the core of all this — whether it be smart marketing or effective propaganda — is the effective use (or manipulation) of words and language. In fact, I believe that words and language are the most powerful weapons in the human arsenal to motivate and convince others. Just as propaganda can lead to great human failures, words and rhetoric can inspire people to fight for moral reasons (think Allies in World War II), stand up for civil rights (I read Martin Luther King’s speeches, in part, for the sheer brilliance of his writing) and champion the causes of the poor, sick, oppressed and powerless among us.
In other words, language is incredibly powerful, and when the right combination of people, ideas and language comes together, the power of that combination can sell almost any idea, at least to some people. Show me the greatest marketing campaigns in history, and I’ll show you that each of these campaigns were made by talented people with a powerful idea and the language/strategy to sell it.
The power of persuasion is merely a person’s ability to sell his/her ideas. Marketing is this attribute focused in a business context. The best politicians, activists, and religious leaders instinctively understand this and are capable of selling their ideas to the public, sometimes with good motives… and sometimes not.
Other factors, of course, may influence a customer’s thinking, including product placement, price, packaging, etc. And again… these factors can apply beyond marketing to any persuasive exercise. Leaders, prophets, and dictators understand the value of “theater” — that is, dramatic displays that underscore their message to great effect. The next time you see a single mother or a wounded veteran pointed out at a State of the Union address, recognize that this is simply a President using examples to “sell” his ideas or policies.
Can smart marketing sell anything? Yes, Josh, it most certainly can, and does. Whether that “thing” is a product, an ideology, or even a point of view. And being a “smart marketer” in any avocation — whether it be in business, politics, law, whatever — is a talent that everyone values, whether they recognize it as such or not.
Thanks, Josh, for inviting me to share my thoughts on the subject.
Until next time…
by Keith Yancy
I couldn’t resist.
Watching the recent Ram Truck ad (click this link to see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMpZ0TGjbWE) and hearing the unmistakable, melodic voice of Paul Harvey inspired me to create my own version of his speech. I wish Harvey could read it with that wonderful voice and style of his. Not really sure why, just felt like writing this and having some fun with it.
And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a source of frustration — so God made a politician.
God said I need somebody willing to take both sides of an issue, argue passionately for and against the same principles, have lunch, take both sides of an issue again, pause for a photo-op, eat dinner then go to a political rally and stay past midnight reminding people of how you enjoy spending evenings with your family — so God made a politician.
I need somebody who won’t shy away from promoting family values yet brave enough to sleep with his own staff members; somebody to protest loudly, cave meekly, talk endlessly while saying nothing, proclaim your individuality while never breaking ranks with his or her political party, then tell news reporters you’re too busy to grant an interview or answer tough questions — so God made a politician.
God said I need somebody willing to fight day and night for the middle class, and watch it wither because of unemployment and higher taxes, then dry her eyes and vote for tax breaks for the rich. I need someone who can ignore a multi-trillion-dollar growing deficit, let bankers cheat people out of their homes and savings, kiss strangers babies and hug their children while voting to cut spending for their education, refuse to take a position on difficult issues while introducing symbolic and unnecessary legislation to appear patriotic — so God made a politician.
God had to have someone public enough to accept donations from taxpayers, charities and companies, yet private enough to spend those donations to pay for his mistresses, vacations and hobbies — so God made a politician.
God said I need somebody shameless enough to call political opponents names, yet outraged and indignant when those same opponents respond in kind. Who will smile and nod with those who agree with him the same way he does with those who do not. It had to be somebody who would dodge and demure and not give direct answers; somebody to talk, balk, gawk, and walk in parades and shake hands and give high-fives and pat backs and nod wisely and make bold proclamations and sincere apologies and self-righteous denials all in a 30-minute span of time, and do it day after day until their 8-week recess starts. Somebody who can rally the base and generate voter turnout with the soft, strong bonds of empty promises and finger-pointing; who would laugh and then sigh, and reply with smiling eyes when her daughter says she wants to spend her life doing what Mom does… so God made a politician.
Whatever you do, this was intended to be a joke — it’s not meant to be partisan, nor does it reflect my true opinion of politicians (though it’s not that far off). Perhaps it leans a bit left, but I’m well aware that Democrats and Republicans are far more alike than they are different.
Until next time…
by Keith Yancy
People often feel smarter when they see someone do something stupid. That’s why I’ve decided to share a recent experience that will help my friends and followers feel better about themselves — kind of my very own “self-help” post.
A quick note before we begin: I’m a sucker for self-help books. I have a vast collection, probably because I’m a harsh self-critic; while I’ve collected quite a few “read this and you’ll improve”-type books, they rarely make much of an impact on my day-to-day life. But I keep reading them, hope springing eternal that I’ll read my way to better fitness, better leadership, better charisma, better whatever.
Anyhow, when it comes to the self-help genre, I know my way around pretty well. So sit back, read this post, and by the end, you’ll feel smart. Trust me.
Over the past few months, I’ve been working on a home improvement project. This project is like most of my projects: time-consuming, expensive, exhausting. As part of this project, I needed to purchase a variety of materials at my local home improvement store. Normally, I make about 300 silly trips to this store, sometimes several per day, in part because I’m forgetful, and in part because buying materials in small quantities makes me feel (wrongly) like I’m somehow spending less money.
On this day, I decided to break my pattern and buy all the various lumber for my project at once. I chose a cold day for this, about 33 degrees, with gusty 30+ mile-per-hour winds and a steady rain. I wanted to get the entire trip done in one fell swoop, because I was anxious to make progress quickly and didn’t really want to go to the store anyway.
I decided to take my wife’s minivan, because it had more room for lumber, and did a quick clean out of the incredible variety of junk and materials our family minivan regularly contains: empty cups, wrappers, homework papers, music books, etc. etc. etc. I complained aloud throughout my rushed and not-very-thorough cleaning, getting rained on as I carried what felt like a million scraps of stuff from the van to our garage. Already wet and getting grumpier by the minute, I decided to fold the back seats down into the floor and leave the middle seats half-folded (with the seatbacks forward). Satisfied I had done enough, I closed up the back and sides of the minivan, got inside, and headed off to the store, cold, wet and crabby.
The store was busy: the winds whipped up and the rain got harder (and sideways) as I went inside, and even though it took me about 45 minutes to gather all the materials I needed, it was going strong as I went through the checkout. The lumber cost a fortune. I had several large 4×8 plywood panels, at least 30 eight-foot boards, a wide assortment of 12-foot moldings, and several hundred dollars later, I began the slow walk through the rain and wind toward the van.
This walk was made harder by the fact that one of the wheels on my lumber carrier had some sort of problem that made the entire cart bounce constantly, veering and jitterbugging everywhere except the direction I was pushing it. I indulged in some colorful name-calling as I zig-zagged through the parking lot to my van, twice having to stop in the wind and rain to make sure the lumber didn’t fall off. After what seemed like forever, I finally got all my lumber to my minivan, and opened the back to load it in.
You’re about to feel smarter.
I loaded all the lumber into the minivan, messing around to get the panels in first, then stacking all the lumber in various creative ways until all of the lumber was in the van. I was cold, wet, and had a couple of splinters in my hands when I went to close the liftgate.
Of course, the liftgate wouldn’t shut. The panels, which I had put on the backs of the middle seats, stuck out about two inches too far in the back. After trying to force the liftgate shut a few times, I looked through the van for some string or a cord to tie it down. In the rain and wind. Of course, I had nothing like string around, so I did the next best thing: I moved the driver and passenger seats forward as far as they could go, then pushed the lumber forward just enough to get the liftgate closed.
Thinking I won, I took the jiggly push cart back to the corral (muttering a few parting insults) and got in the van to drive home. Cold, wet, tired, breathing heavily, and now in a foul mood, I wedged my body into the driver seat. It was then I discovered that the seats were so far forward that the steering wheel literally was pressing against my chest; my legs were so jammed in, I couldn’t operate the pedals.
I felt and looked like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man in a phone booth.
As I sat there, an overstuffed man squished into an overstuffed minivan, I actually tried to convince myself that I could drive like this. The trip was short. There’s only two traffic lights. Hell, it’s only about two miles — what could go wrong? As I temporarily escaped the wind and rain, I tried desperately to rationalize how I could make this silly situation work out. I even started the car and sat for a moment before I finally admitted that if I couldn’t steer or use the pedals, then I really couldn’t drive.
Someone once said stubbornness is when you double your efforts when you no longer have a clear vision, and I set about proving that to be true.
I sighed, got out, and then had a flash of (what I thought) was insight: I’d fold the seats into the floor without unloading the minivan. In the cold and rain, I got to work trying out this moronic idea. It only took me about 10 minutes — after trying to fold seats under at least 100 pounds of bulky lumber (bristling with splinters, btw) to admit that this idea was even dumber than trying to drive a minivan while smashed against the controls. I paused, in the rain, and consciously ignored the stares of other shoppers as I admitted defeat.
I then began a new round of muttered swearing and insults (directed at the rain, lumber, minivans, carts, anything but myself) and set about unloading all the lumber I had worked so hard to squeeze into my minivan. The rain poured down and the wind whipped up as I got yet a different cart, brought it back to my van, and put all — and I mean ALL — the lumber I had just loaded into the van back out onto the cart, swearing under my breath with true gusto.
This cart, unlike the previous one, rolled great. So great, that it would roll without pushing, which made wrestling all the lumber onto it (in the wind and rain) incredibly difficult, and time-consuming too. This situation soon became the focus of my sarcastic self-dialogue of swear words, insults, and colorful descriptions. I finished unloading, folded the middle seats into the floor (after telling them what I thought of them), retrieved my cart of lumber — which was rolling several car lengths away through the parking lot — and started the loading process all over again.
By now, the wind had started gusting stronger — so strong, in fact, that when I tried to put a large panel in my car, the wind caught it and almost ripped it from my hands. I soon found myself bent over backwards, holding desperately onto a large wooden panel that was trying to fly over the roof of my van, literally growling (!) with anger and exertion. I would probably still be there had a passing stranger not stopped to help, looking at me with a mixture of confusion and contempt as he helped me wrestle this now wet, cracked piece of plywood into my van. All dignity and pride were gone by then, and as the rain blew into my eyes, I finished (for the second time) loading all my lumber into the van. As I slammed the rear liftgate shut in disgust, I noticed that my feet were now cold and wet, mostly because I was standing in about 3 inches of icy water that had collected behind my van.
By the time I got all my lumber loaded into my vehicle, it occurred to me that:
1. I should have picked a better day,
2. I should have put the seats down before I left,
3. I should have picked a better cart, and
4. I should have picked an easier project.
After a trip to the store that cost me a fortune, stripped me of my dignity, and lasted twice as long as I wanted it to, I ended up cold, wet, with a collection of slivers in my hands, literally beat up by my own lumber purchase. What’s more, it was clear to me a few days later that I didn’t buy ENOUGH lumber, and had to go back to the store anyway.
In self-help books, there’s often a strong element of “at least you weren’t this bad.” So… I hope this true story makes you feel better about yourself, and that my stupidity makes you feel smarter.
Until next time…
by Keith Yancy
I thought my days of throwing up in a grade school restroom were 35 years in the past. I thought wrong.
It all started with an event at my kid’s grade school: “Donuts with Dad.” The flyer came home with my 10-year-old daughter, a purple slip of paper with a 1950’s style neon sign typeface, and lay in plain sight on the kitchen counter. The flyer described a morning “Dad/kid” extravaganza, complete with donuts, coffee, and a short “discussion” afterwards about how to be a better Christian father. And my 10-year-old daughter was pretty excited about it. Only one conversation with her made it clear: she was really, REALLY looking forward to going to Donuts with Dad WITH her dad, and not going wasn’t going to be tolerated.
So, after a moment of reflection on how “good dads” do this sort of thing, I agreed to take a day off work and go. Not that this would take all day; but something inside me warned me that this degree of social awkwardness might take some post-donut recovery time. I’m not outgoing at these types of events, and sitting around with a bunch of other fathers isn’t something I typically like to do. But I also know that doing stuff you don’t normally like doing is part of life, so with a sigh and a smile, I told my daughter we’d be there.
The day arrived, and I felt fine. No issues. I decided that, since I had the day off anyway, I’d go casual and try to look like one of the “cool dads.” That meant, for me, jeans, a button down shirt (not tucked in, which, to me, says “I’m young and trying to be cool”), and a black leather jacket. In retrospect, the entire ensemble was completely negated by the uncomfortable look on my face, but at the time, I thought I’d look okay. My daughter was grinning ear-t0-ear, wearing her backpack and school clothes, excited about both dad going to school and the chance to eat a donut (probably not in that order).
We walked in, were greeted by some very, very friendly school employees, and walked into the Donuts with Dad area, which consisted of several long tables with coffee, donuts, bagels and spreads, all arranged carefully and garnished with harvest themed gourds and leaves. It was obvious that women were arranging and running the event, which was good; guys would have just stacked a bunch of donut boxes on top of each other and let the chips fall where they may.
The room was loud. There were young kids darting everywhere, grabbing donuts and juice, with many of them sporting powdered sugar on their lips and cheeks. Half-empty paper cups of juice were on virtually every horizontal surface. Most of the dads in attendance were either sitting with their kids, making some forced small talk with the nearest “other” dad, or simply sitting silent while drinking coffee. There were few open seats.
At this point, I have two confessions to make: First, I don’t do well at these sorts of parties. Even when I tried to dress cool, I knew I wasn’t, and would have probably paid cash money for the gift of invisibility. As a result, I did the next best thing: I immediately tried to “blend in” by getting a cup of coffee and grabbing a donut. This leads me to my other confession: when under such “social duress,” I sometimes make inexplicable choices. And this time was one of them.
I decided, in one baffling moment, that I would eat healthy (!) and choose a bagel rather than a donut. Looking back, this was the beginning of my downfall. I chose what I THOUGHT was a plain bagel, and because putting cream cheese on it would seem awkward, decided to eat my plain bagel bone-dry. My daughter, who doesn’t suffer from such social confusion, grabbed a donut and juice, and we retreated to a bench near the back corner of the room.
My daughter was genuinely excited. She talked and grinned the entire time (which made this entire story/experience worthwhile, I might add) and discussed what she would be doing in school that day. She pointed out friends in the room, but either out of excitement or loyalty, refused to leave my side. I began to eat my bone-dry plain bagel, only to realize that what I thought was a plain bagel wasn’t. It was a pumpkin bagel. I sighed. I don’t like pumpkin-flavored anything, and here I was, holding a pumpkin bagel and a cup of luke-warm coffee, and feeling awkward and uncool.
And then, another bad decision: I decided to eat my pumpkin bagel. I thought it would look ungrateful and rude to not eat it, so I ate it, despite the fact that a) I hate pumpkin bagels, b) nobody cared, and c) no one would have noticed anyhow. There we were, my daughter drinking her juice and talking non-stop while I looked vaguely bewildered in the corner of the room, force-feeding myself a dry pumpkin bagel. I ate the entire thing. No way was I going to look rude.
After a while, the kids were called to class, and for the first time in my life, I felt role reversal with my kid: I didn’t want her to go and leave ME there by myself, facing the uncertain-but-likely-oogly “Dad’s discussion session.” I steeled myself for what was to come, gave her a hug, and watched her go, slowly shuffling toward the church entrance with the other shuffling, uncomfortable dads to start our “discussion.” I started feeling queasy, but chalked it up to nerves. I went in, and like all the other dads, sat apart from everyone else. Every dad had at least four feet of personal space from every other dad. A few of us made slight small talk, with hastily whispered introductions and a benign remark about how Donuts with Dad was a nice idea.
A pastor came in and led the discussion, which was really a lecture. No dad spoke. The lecture was pleasant enough, though it became clear that the sub-text to the lecture was the importance of financial support for the school. This was not unexpected. What WAS unexpected, unfortunately, was the growing realization that I was feeling more and more ill as time went on.
My physical state went through several phases of decline during the 30-minute discussion:
- “I don’t think that pumpkin bagel agreed with me.”
- “I could actually throw up.”
- “I could really, really, truly throw up.”
- “I wonder how embarrassing it would be if I threw up here?”
- “I might just throw up here.”
- “If I leave now, could I make it home before I throw up?”
- “I’m NOT going to throw up. Be strong.”
- “To hell with strong, be discreet. I should go to the bathroom to throw up.”
- “Will I make it to the bathroom before I throw up?”
- “If I throw up in church, will other dads be offended?”
- “I’m going to look disrespectful if I leave before the prayer.”
- “I’m outta here.”
In the end, I fled just before the prayer, taking great pains to walk rather than run. By this point, I no longer cared HOW I looked, just that I didn’t throw up pumpkin bagel all over the church in front of 60 other dads (and a pastor). I made it to the restroom in time, which — thankfully — was empty, and promptly did what I should have done 30 minutes earlier: disposed of my pumpkin bagel. The entire time, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I threw up for the first time in 35 years in a grade school bathroom.
I cleaned myself up, and decided to leave. I gave a polite smile and greeting to the women cleaning up the donuts and bagels, and walked carefully out to my car, taking care to leave before the other dads made their own personal mad-dash to their cars. As I left the parking lot, I felt a mixture of satisfaction for going to Donuts with Dad with my daughter (who didn’t know my sad story at this point), embarrassment, lingering queasiness of my ill-fated pumpkin bagel, and relief that I had the rest of the day to recover.
Donuts with Dad. Next year, I’m sticking with donuts.
Until next time…
by Keith Yancy
I recently had a very eye-opening experience. I went back to high school.
In my case, that would be Detroit Lutheran West High School, home of the Leopards. My high school was one of many high schools in Detroit, a smaller high school that, like most others, had its highs and lows. To an outsider, Lutheran West was just another high school; but of course, a kid’s high school is always his or her own, a place of memories (good and bad) and usually a place that has a marked impact on their lives. Lutheran West did that for me.
But, like so many other high schools in Detroit, Lutheran West didn’t survive.
My high school closed years ago. Another school moved in for a few years, but the forces of decay and population flight were still present, and it eventually closed too. Like so many Detroit institutions, the problems of our area were just too large to overcome. Nowadays, the occasional reunion and a devoted Facebook page keep the memories of my high school alive, with former graduates sharing news, renewing friendships, and trading memories.
It was that Facebook page and the pictures on it that made me decide to take a drive over to school to see it once more. I confess, I’ve been a poor alumni. I hadn’t physically been there for at least 20 years (class of 1985), even though it’s only a 20-minute drive from my home. Only when I saw that the property had been sold to a land developer did I decide to visit, and on this occasion, I had my 10-year-old daughter Clara with me.
Even before I got there, I knew things had changed. Dramatically.
Just for fun, I intentionally went out of my way to re-create the route I took to school each morning. And while the street signs bore the same names, the trip was strange and unfamiliar; office buildings (some vacant) had replaced empty fields, old buildings were replaced by new ones; too often, those old buildings were either replaced by empty, weed-wild lots or simply boarded up. I couldn’t help but feel slightly guilty about how long it had been since I had driven through the area.
All these strange feelings steadily increased as I got closer to where my old school was, and when I saw the familiar railroad tracks across Greenfield Road, I braced myself for what lay beyond. (I remembered how I — and a lot of other kids — used the “got caught by the train” excuse on more than one occasion to explain why I was tardy for first hour.) I bumped over the tracks, slowed down my car, and pulled into the parking lot of the school I had attended all those years ago.
It was a sad sight to see.
I stopped my car, and stared so long at the building and grounds that my daughter finally piped up from the backseat, “What is this place, Dad?” I took a deep breath, exhaled, and finally said, “This was where I went to school, sweetie.” She paused, gave it some thought, and finally said, “That’s sad.”
We didn’t say another word while we were there.
Tall fences stood where once was an open parking lot. Tall grass and weeds were everywhere. Everything from the concrete driveway to the building was crumbling. The forlorn school sign, still standing in front of the property, said “Faith lives and shines in Detroit.” A playscape, added after my school closed, sat silent in a sea of overgrown grass.
Time, neglect and scavengers had definitely taken their toll on the building. Metal fascias had been torn off, doors boarded up, windows broken, awnings sagging. Fences leaned back and forth. Broken glass and peeling paint seemed to be everywhere. The sports fields in back — where we played our games, cheered our teams, and held our phys ed classes — were now silent and empty, overgrown and abandoned. The windows that remained gave glimpses of what I once knew as our school cafeteria, the band room, classrooms, principal’s office. All empty, all silent.
Now, I’m a realistic enough person to know that my school wasn’t perfect. We had plenty of problems, like all schools do, and while I had many good memories of high school, I have some that aren’t very pleasant, either. I was neither popular, nor athletic, nor a scholar. (In fact, I was Napoleon Dynamite before Napoleon Dynamite even existed.) We had the same cliques, issues and dynamics every high school does.
But Lutheran West taught me a lot of valuable lessons, too.
Lutheran West was the place where I learned that white kids and black kids are, well… kids. We made friends with each other, could tease each other, laugh with each other, play sports together, occasionally fight with each other, and make up again. It was a place where I saw teachers and administrators who were characters, but who genuinely cared about the kids they taught, even if that meant running extra laps or getting sent to the back of the lunch line. It was a place where I learned that a good education could be gained even if we didn’t have all the money and “stuff” that bigger schools had.
And Lutheran West was, in my opinion, unique. Instead of today’s fixation with the color black, our school colors were maroon and white — still my favorite color combination. No one else we played had those colors. And I don’t ever recall, even a single time, where we played another sports team called the “Leopards.” That was us, and us only. We knew we didn’t have as many resources as some other schools, and while we didn’t all have matching uniforms on the JV baseball team (there weren’t enough, so a few of us had older-looking versions), we loved — LOVED — when we beat the “rich kids” from the prep high school with their fancy uniforms and palatial baseball diamond. We had our rivalries with — who else? — Lutheran East, which eventually closed also.
Religion was, of course, important. One of the best experiences I had in high school was being required to read the ENTIRE Bible as part of the curriculum. I’m amazed, even now, at how many Christians haven’t done that. We studied — with respect — other religions, too, and we had chapel for the entire school every Wednesday morning, no matter what. Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, this gift was the greatest gift Lutheran West gave to me, and I remain grateful for it every day.
All those memories came back to me in a flood as I slowly drove around the school. My daughter and I sat in my car for a long while, staring at the building and listening to the cars driving past. The entire place seemed utterly forgotten and invisible; it was as if the surrounding neighborhood didn’t even see the school (or us) there at all. Before I finally pulled out of the driveway to go home, I found myself looking one last time at the school sign out front.
“Faith lives and shines in Detroit.”
Whoever put that message on the sign was right.
The building is empty, the people long gone. Soon, I suspect, the building will be gone as well. But the true purpose of Lutheran West lives on, its mission accomplished. Graduates of all ages — and colors — are productive citizens, in all sorts of professions (many students went on to become teachers and pastors themselves). Some stayed local, like me, while others moved to Florida, or Texas, or California, or other far away places. And while it’s sad knowing that my high school is gone, I feel better knowing that the lessons I learned there live on in many other people’s lives as well.
“You can’t go home again.” Yes, perhaps that’s true. But maybe you can take home with you. For those of us from Detroit Lutheran West High School, that’s what we have left: our memories, our friendships, our faith. And those gifts are greater than any brick and mortar building could ever be. Faith does live and shine in Detroit, and beyond.
And no matter where I go, or how old I grow… I’ll always consider myself a Leopard.
Until next time…
Note: This letter is written to Peter, a friend in England. He is a pub owner in the town of Huddersfield, and I hope to visit there someday. Peter has followed my battles with the bees for a long time, and while I was performing the semi-disgusting task of cleaning out the remains of the beehive from my living room ceiling, Peter decided to send me a steady stream of jokes and puns. As I suspect this was as much for his amusement as for my own, I decided to share with Peter exactly what my experience was like, if for no other reason than to explain my somewhat limited sense of humor at the time.
By now you know that, after three long years, I’m finally rid of the bees in my house. You’ve heard about my ridiculous adventures: bees chasing me around the yard, stinging my face, and getting vacuumed up in my work vacuum, and you’ve been a good sport and interested friend through it all.
You can certainly appreciate how excited I was to finally remove these damned bees from my living room ceiling, after all my battles and failures. As I suspect, you were also interested to hear about how I finally removed all the bees — and the beehive — after such a long process. That may explain why you took so much pleasure in sending me such corny jokes as:
- How do you hunt for bees? With a bee bee gun.
- How does a bee brush its hair? With a honey comb.
- What flies but tastes good on toast? A BUTTERfly!
And, my personal favorite:
- Why did the queen bee kick out all of the other bees? Because they kept droning on and on.
Peter, since it’s obvious you’re in a joking mood and looking for a few laughs, allow me to relate how my day went today. I think you’ll soon understand why I’m no longer fond of bees, or honey, or anything to do with the subject. I also suspect you will laugh at my experience. Let’s get started.
Consider, for a moment, what you think of when you think about a beehive: thousands and thousands of bees, working day after day after day making two things: more bees, and more honey. Then consider what happens when you kill all those bees, in a closed in, small space hanging in the ceiling of your home, right above your living room sofa. Yes, that’s right — you’ve got a suitcase-sized blob of honey, honeycomb and dead bees with nowhere to go but DOWN — through your ceiling, or, if you cut a large hole already (we did), down into where you and your family live every day.
In other words, it’s a huge mess, and it has to go. Fast.
With this knowledge in mind, I proceeded to start trying to clean this mess up to avoid it becoming even MORE of a mess. This was the first of my many mistaken notions. Within 10 minutes and despite strategically placed garbage bags, plastic sheets on the floors, rubber gloves, etc, I had somehow spread honey and bee guts everywhere. It was impossible not to do so. Honey was dripping from the ceiling, down the walls, and all over the plastic, and no matter what I did or how I tried to manage the mess, I found that this honey — gooey, sticky honey — had spread like a virus to virtually every surface inside (and even outside) my house. Honey, bee wings, bee heads, bee legs, and various other bee parts quickly coated the floors, my shoes, my clothes, the front porch, our sink faucet handles, and later on, my tools, my hair (and eyebrows, and eyes), my ladder, my flashlight, my eyeglasses, and even my wife’s bathroom mirror, which I used to see just how much of a mess was still in the walls.
But this was just the beginning. The honey was sticky, but I discovered, with some irony, that the closer I actually came to the beehive, the harder and harder the honey became. This was because the temperature outside was cool, and the colder the honey is, the more and more it becomes like a combination of glue… and iron. Once this became apparent, I described this discovery using some colorful language that I won’t repeat here. I also realized why the exterminator left this part of the job for me to do.
After chipping and scraping at this honey/glue/iron mixture for a few minutes (punctuated with a yet more genuinely heartfelt swear words), I came up with a brilliant idea: heat. Warm honey is much easier to work with and clean up, I thought, and this would make the job much easier. So, I went and got a heat gun, and being that the hive was in the ceiling, I had to stand underneath the hole to heat it up. I’ve had lots of bad ideas in the past but this one was one of the worst as I learned that heated honey does two things: 1) becomes liquid and drippy very, very fast, and 2) burns morons who stand below it with a scraper and a heat gun.
So, if you’re following along closely, the scene is this: one not-so-smart middle-aged man, standing in a sea of plastic tarps in the ruins of his living room, swearing at a dripping shower of honey from his living room ceiling directly over his head, holding a scorching hot heat gun (covered in honey) in one hand and a hot metal scraper (covered in honey) in his other hand. Middle-aged moron is also covered in honey, which is now boiling (yes, boiling) on the heat gun and scraper, running down his gloves and onto his bare arms, down his forehead, through his hair, inside his t-shirt, down the outside of his pants, and all over his shoes.
I should point out that, while the initial destruction of the ceiling and removal of the honeycombs by the exterminator gathered the audience of my daughters, this clean-up process quickly became a lonely, one-moron job. Whereas everyone wanted to see the bee hive and dead bees, no one — NO ONE — wanted to be around to hear me invent new colorful terms and adjectives as I narrated the cleanup experience. Even my youngest daughter, who is pretty good about bringing me tools when needed, quickly vanished, and my wife only appeared periodically (and briefly) to make sure I didn’t seriously hurt myself.
But I digress. The honey didn’t stay cold, or hot, but varied in temperature and behavior. The honey on my tools and heat gun first became liquid, then began boiling (I still find the scene of looking at the honey boiling on my gloves to be endlessly fascinating) then fused into some type of substance that is brown and absolutely impossible to remove. Honey on the walls hardened as it dripped down, so near the ceiling, it was like water… near the floor, however, it returned to a near-molasses-like state. Honey on my arms, forehead, chest, etc. started as scalding hot, then cooled to become both glue-like and incredibly itchy.
It was at this point that I learned something new about myself: I have some sort of minor skin allergy to — you guessed it — honey. I broke out in hives in all sorts of strange places, including my chest and back, where the honey had dripped down either under or through my shirt. This whole discovery was made more disgusting by the fact that, when I say “honey,” I’m again talking about honey mixed with bee heads, legs, guts, etc… which all immediately fused to my skin and clothes.
When a not-so-smart person is covered in such a disgusting mess, the process really comes down to a simple choice: to proceed, or to quit. I decided to keep going, and this entire scene continued for another hour or two as I pulled large amounts of honeycomb, dead bees and honey out of my ceiling and walls. Another lesson I learned during this phase was to be careful about how much to talk/curse and how important breathing through one’s nose is in a situation of this sort. Having a large, hot blob of honey/guts drip into your mouth was embarrassing, unpleasant, and brought my wife to the room to wonder why I kept spitting down my own living room wall. She left quickly, trying (unsuccessfully) not to laugh.
It was about this time that I saw your jokes, and while I’m always grateful for humor and friendship, I was admittedly in a poor position to fully appreciate them. I spent a lot of time cleaning, first the ceiling and walls, then the floors, then my shoes, then the ladder and tools, etc, etc. etc. My clothes were in a terrible condition… in fact, the shirt was a total loss, and was thrown out with the plastic and other beehive-related waste. Cleaning the baked-on honey from my eyeglasses took a long, long time, and my tools and ladder may never fully be rid of it.
In the end, I was tired, scalded, disgusted, itchy, crabby and generally in no condition to converse with anyone, however sympathetic they may have been to my situation. Most importantly, I had shed any semblance of dignity, decency and modesty, and decided — without guilt — to leave my honey/guts-covered pants in the downstairs laundry. This necessitated my walking through the house in only my underwear and socks, which isn’t something I do very often, especially at 4:00PM in the afternoon.
My wife, who knows me better than anyone, elected to not comment on my lack of clothing nor the bee guts stuck to my hair, forehead, body, etc. Not so my daughter, who, with considerable amusement, asked aloud, “Why is Dad walking around in his UNDERWEAR?!?!?!?” I chose to ignore the question and proceeded to pour myself a cup of coffee, too tired and bitter to care. Eventually, I moved off in my underwear-socks ensemble to take what would be a long, hot shower. Even with the shower, my arms continued to stick to my shirt sleeves for the next couple of days. In one of the final lessons of this cleanup odyssey, I’ve learned that honey is almost as tough to get off of one’s skin as it is to get off of walls, tools, etc.
So… after all that, I wanted you to know that I appreciate your sense of humor and the jokes you sent. And, per our agreement, since your jokes were so corny, when my wife and I eventually visit Huddersfield, I get a free order of bangers and mash with a pint of Black Sheep ale. In return, I’ll bring you and Rebecca a nice jug of American honey.
And I promise, I won’t open that honey before we visit. Trust me.