Monday, May 18, 2015

Memory, Magnolias and Making a Fool of Myself

                If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’ll share with you a tale of shame and woe.  Well, not really, but it sure was embarrassing after the fact.

                In 2009, I had just relocated from Lowell, Massachusetts back to Washington, DC (very specifically Alexandria, Virginia) and was at the Pentagon City Borders Book Store.  As I love a bargain, quite naturally I was perusing the discounted books near the cash registers when I saw a middle-aged or slightly older lady who I immediately recognized.  And despite a better than average memory, I could not in that instant remember her name or from where I knew her. However, being a true Southern gentleman I smiled at her and proceeded to do what my friend Jackie Collins (not the author) calls ‘Magnolia Mouthing’.  This is when you are trying to butter someone up or cover up the fact that can’t remember who someone is, so your accent gets thickah and thickah like a magnolia blossom has fallen out of your mouth.  Where your sugahs and darlins takeover your vocabulary and you just talk ‘em right to death so they can’t get a word in edgewise.  In other words, you’re trying to Out-Scarlet, Miss O’Hara herself.

                I proceeded to Magnolia Mouth this poor woman with an, “Oh gosh, it’s so good to see you; how  you been?  How’s your fam’ly?  Are you lookin’ foah a great book?  I can recommend sumthin’.  Fannie Flagg?  Eudora?  That fussy ol' Faulkner?  How’s life treatin’ you honey?  You look just wuuunderful.  I’ll be sure to remember you to my fam’ly, if you say Hey to yours for me.  Gotta go.  Huuuuugs!”   She looked somewhat startled and slightly panic-stricken as I hurried away.  I just assumed she was as shocked to see me in the nation’s capital as I was to see her.

And I did that because at no point in the entire conversation could I remember who she was and I didn’t need her to ask me something that I wouldn’t know.  I didn’t want to be embarrassed and didn’t want her to be embarrassed thinking I didn’t know who she was.  My mother wouldn’t necessarily have appreciated what I did, but I think she would have approved of my intentions.

                So, I buy my discount books and I’m sitting on the subway headed home when somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain a neuron fired and straight to the front of my mind flew an image of this same woman with a headline above it.  In that moment I realized I had just verbally accosted Harriet Miers, who, if you remember, was White House Counsel under Dubya Bush and was the Supreme Court nominee who withdrew her own nomination after a public outcry.

                Did I mention I have never met this woman at any point during my time in DC?  Yep.  I’m that guy.  And so, to my Southern brethren and sistrethen, I apologize for the Miers’ family of Northern Virginia firmly believing that all Southerners are insane; polite, but insane.  Although, if we’re being honest, that’s not too far from the truth.

                But that’s all I’m saying for now, huuuny.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Problem Solving with Evil Ponies

               At work, we’ve been discussing root cause problem solving as the best way to improve our processes.  The concept is simple; asking those who do the work to give suggestions on how to better do the work.  My extended blue collar family would call this common sense.  I come from a long line of farmers, welders, carpenters and the like.  And they will tell you to ask a successful farmer about crop rotations, not the preacher.  Ask the preacher about Jesus, y’all; it’s the area of his expertise.           However, there was one time when my family did not follow its own rule with a result much like they should have anticipated.  Why they sent my ten year-old self, to feed Misty the (most evil) Shetland pony, alone is something that has never been fully explained. 

                It was an unsurprisingly hot August evening about an hour before dark, which is the key way to tell time in the country.  Dark is the dividing line between being able to see (working) and not being able to see (resting).  The children, me included, were slowly being rounded up for baths, supper and then bed as children in my family were not supposed to be seen or heard, y’all. While sitting on the back porch waiting my turn in the bath, I feel sure I was sitting idly as chubby, sweaty children are prone to do in the Louisiana heat.  My Uncle Ronald approached and instructed me to “go feed Misty”, the afore-mentioned Shetland pony, who at this point had not been deemed evil, just avoidable as I have never been a fan of riding horses, even on the carousel at the fair.  The carousel horse offered motion sickness; real horses offered a lack of control I found unacceptable.

                I feel sure my initial response, internally was, “Is he serious?”  My verbal response was, “Yes, sir” due to the fact that I was raised to not question those in authority and authority meant adults, anyone who was really tall and my sister, regardless of her age or height.  My unspoken thought as I walked as slowly as I dared in the direction of the barn was, “but it’s so dark and there’s no light out here.”  I have always been jittery under the cover of darkness especially on a farm that housed equipment, providing all manner of locations for evil in its many forms to hide and wait to “git ya” or so I had been told.

                I need to clarify that while I had grown up on my grandparents’ farm, it was during the summer and all major holidays.  I had been around animals but at that point the only previous independent interaction with them had been making sure I didn’t mix a monkey shirt with hippo pants in the Garanimals section of JC Penney, people.  Ownership of Hee-Haw overalls does not a farmhand make.

                Cut to me making my way across the yard with a gait that was an original choreography of actual trepidation and an attempt at bravery through posture.  I’ll bet Uncle Ronald wondered if I had to use the bathroom.  Upon my arrival at the pen, Misty pretended I wasn’t there; setting up her alibi, I would later realize.  I opened the gate, remembering to close it behind me as I had been taught and walked to the little room where the feed was housed.  I scooped out the feed using the old coffee can as we are not a family who spends good money buying kitchen implements for animal husbandry purposes.  I looked over my shoulder to assess the location of the pony in question and saw her standing there staring at me, malevolence filling her eyes as the sun faded along with my chances of escape. 

                I turned to ensure I left no stray kernels of feed and in that instanct Misty turned around and readied her malicious haunches so when I spun around to empty the can into the trough, she kicked me square in the stomach and made a sound that can only be described as a vindictive cackle while I fell head over heels into the dirt.  When I was able to catch my breath, she stood eating her feed from the ground near me.  I rose and Misty gazed at me with a look so filled with hate it almost took my breath, again.  Always one to go with my gut, which was now bruised, I fled the pen specifically not stopping to close the gate in the hopes that one of the monsters hiding amongst the equipment would take her in the night.

                Filled with the serendipitous athleticism that is often available to those in crisis, I raced back towards the house, holding my shirt over my head, pointing to my now-purpling stomach wound, screaming that I had been attacked.  Cut to various uncles and cousins having to chase a horse up and down the road all the while wondering “what is wrong with that boy?”  My poor, sainted mother gave me a hug, put me in the bath and, I feel sure, tried not to roll her eyes at her most dramatic child who from that moment forward was literally and figuratively marked, by a hoof print, as “the one who is not like the others”.  Or at least that’s how I remember it.

                To return to my original point, if you don’t ask the right people for input and don’t put the appropriate personnel to work to fix the problem, you will not get the result you want.  Root cause problem solving is something farmers have known all these years; long before Toyota wrote a book about it.

And that’s all I’m saying for now.