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Devouring a Strategic Partnership

22 Nov

I need to apologize in advance for the title of this piece. It might lead some to believe they are about to read an insightful business treatise on the reasons that a strategic partnership failed. Or it could be about quickly learning everything there is to know about a strategic partnership. It is not about these topics. It is only about words. I will not be offended at this juncture if you scamper off to the next headline, a cat video or a more politically charged offering.

There are words being used every day that give me great pause. I’m sorry to say these are not curse words, just everyday words used in personal and business worlds. These are words that are giving no one else great pause. Unfortunately for me, I’m funny like that. Why should a couple words bother me enough that I should feel the need to write about it? Before I launch into my distaste for said groupings of letters, I think it’s fair to acknowledge that the users of these words may be equally annoyed by my focus on their words.

I can’t know for certain, but have to believe that if I dislike these words enough to write about it, then somewhere there are people who hang their proverbial hats on these words. There are people who would be unwilling to travel through a day without having these words perched on the back part of their lips ready to take flight at any moment.

Who am I to take their little word birds and crush them like some mean playground fourth grader? Is it right for me to say when I think a word’s usage is acceptable and when it’s not? Kind reader, you will need to hear me out and weigh the facts for yourself. This will be difficult because I feel certain that I will not put forth the facts in a fair and balanced way. I am surely going to deliver this word news in a way which should lead you to agree with me – or at a minimum, find me incredibly annoying and self-righteous.

Let me cut straight to today’s thesis. The word “Devour” pertaining to reading is pretentious and the phrase “Strategic Partnership” – made up of the two words “strategic” and “partnership” is redundant and unnecessary. Let’s also discuss how these words are linked in the personal and business worlds? By the end of this pure fluff piece of storytelling I am hopeful that we will all have learned something. Actually, mostly you.


1. to swallow or eat up hungrily, voraciously, or ravenously.

2. to consume destructively, recklessly, or wantonly:

3. to engulf or swallow up.

4. to take in greedily with the senses or intellect:

5. to absorb or engross wholly:

I don’t like the term “Devour” as it pertains to reading, or acquiring information in general. Come to think of it, it’s sort of gross and sordidly implacable under any circumstances. But, unfortunately, this is my problem. I mainly can’t seem to separate its use for reading versus the way a wolf may take in a particular meal.

Now, hear me out dear readers. I realize my kind audience includes those who may rank reading in the top echelon of their extra-curricular activities. Possibly listing hobbies as “hiking, spending time with family and reading” on assorted bios. And as stated so succinctly in number 4 above, it can be used to describe “taking in greedily with the senses or intellect”. Reading would fall under this. But was the process really “greedy”? Was it enjoyable? Once again, it’s just me. I sometimes have problems with things as they are. My guess is that “Devour” did not start out as a descriptive term for reading. Someone at some point took creative license and used it as a descriptive term to double for the intellect. It may have been the cousin of the guy who first talked about “Drinking in the words of the page.”

It’s just a word we say to describe how much we read or our children read. But, unfortunately, the word always pops up in a way that seems to measure intellectual achievements at the high end of the scale. Nobody “devours” The Farmer’s Almanac, Beetle Bailey comic strips or popular children’s picture books. People are always “devouring” the New York Times and “The Classics”.Children may devour the The Hunger Games books. In this instance, it’s usually the parent, not the child, speaking of the “devouring”. Devouring The Hunger Games seems almost bearable and appropriate based on the “Hunger” part of the title.

As a child I could have been described as “devouring” The Three Stooges or Gilligan’s Island, but my parents didn’t think to describe it as that. Besides, only watching after school for a half an hour, five times per week is more like “slow munching”. I slowly munched on every Three Stooges episode until I had seen them all. You see, although “Devour” can mean taking in of information, somewhere along the line the hyper-readers stuck their flag in that word.Well, that’s not exactly accurate. It’s not the Hyper-readers, but more the subset within the Hyper-readers – the “Look How Much I Read” sect.

I once met a woman in a bar who I’m sure used the term “devour” to describe spending all her waking time reading books. As fate would have it, this woman was reading a book in the bar. It was early in the evening and the juke box was not yet plugged in. It was around the changing of the guard time. The afternoon drunks were starting to wrap it up and after work patrons – some to become late night drunks – were just coming in.

The woman – I’ll refer to her as “the woman” – was sitting at the bar and reading a very thick spined book. The book undoubtedly had more of a spine than me. But she wasn’t just reading this book, she was speed reading this book. She had her hand on the page and slid it down at a rapid pace, turning a page every seven to eight seconds. Good Lord, this was an impressive feat. The funny thing was that she wanted everyone to see this impressive feat.

I had a couple beers and was someplace between the afternoon drunks and the after work patrons. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched her deftly turn pages. Finally, while purchasing a new beer, I was standing very near her at the bar watching this conjurer slide her hand across page after page as she “devoured” this book. I could see the remains of words hanging out of the corners of her mouth. What was left of an S poked the side of her lip. The remains of other less discernible letters lay strewn across her eyeball weapons. She knew her talents were being scrutinized but she kept up her feverish reading pace. I got my beer from the kind bartender and before I walked away I had to share something with her.

“You know, you could probably read that a bit faster if your hand wasn’t always in the way,” I contributed.

She looked annoyed and continued to “devour” at record rates.

At that moment, even though she was annoyed with me, I felt that we had a bond or a partnership. And how could I know that years later I would experience much more annoying looks from the very woman that I loved and spent over twenty years with. Looking back, the woman in the bar’s look of annoyance was cute and cuddly.

But it was the fact that I talked to her about her devouring reading abilities – that, I alone, among the drunks in the bar recognized her prowess. This is what created the bond. If we had decided to go into business and take advantage of our specific capabilities – her for reading fast and me for being an ass – we could have formed a partnership. If we wanted it to be a really, really good partnership we could have called it a “Strategic Partnership”.

Our Strategic Partnership would be focused on continuing to let people know the importance of reading, while trying to manage their exuberance and helping them to stay away from using the word “devour” to explain how absolutely, unbelievably much they have read in such an incredibly short period of time.

But I’m afraid our ‘Strategic partnership” would be doomed because I hate to hear businesses talk about forming “strategic partnerships”. Once again, there’s a reason someone might say that, as opposed to talking about forming a regular “partnership”. All the attorneys in the audience will quickly recognize that a partnership is something with legal obligations. So, let’s be clear and call it a “strategic partnership”. Why not? Well, the first thing that pops into my mind is that a company should be able to talk about having a partnership with another company and it should not be implied there are any legal ties between the companies – if there are no legal documents in place.

You see good kind people (and attorneys) I feel that any partnership should be strategic and I can’t get beyond the silliness of calling it a “strategic partnership”. To me, this implies that there is another kind of partnership that you can be involved in. That would be the “non-strategic partnership”. To make it sound different let’s call it the “Crap Ass Partnership” or ”CAP”. This would also assume there are people within an organization that are looking for strategic partnerships and those looking for Crap Ass Partnerships (CAPs).

I’ve been an entrepreneur and business owner for a number of years and, like many, I have had CAPs. I have not searched out CAPs. They have found me. It’s just part of being out there. But if I had called it a “strategic partnership” I think I would have been more let down when the partnership didn’t pan out. So, dear and kind business friends (and attorneys) can we stop using the phrase “strategic partnerships” and just assume that when we explore a new partnership we will do it because it has the potential to be beneficial to both parties – which, seems like a good strategy.

This is a big ask from me to you, so let me be clear – I know that there are partnerships that may be of the parasitic, non-mutual symbiotic type. These partnerships are a strategic one way street. But let’s just assume that our businesses are not forming partnerships with lice, fleas or mites.

Everyone I know is so busy, I would think that just not typing or saying the word “strategic” would be a huge relief – possibly leading to an increase in productivity and ever so slightly measurable dollars added to the bottom line.

I could “devour” more corporate reports if I didn’t have to read the word “strategic” before “partnerships” at every turn AND if I read corporate reports in the first place.

I don’t think either of these words are used out of shear pretension (well, maybe “devour”). I think they are mainly just words that are used by people trying to express something. And since these words have been lurking around for some time, people tend to grab them and plug them in. By my consideration, both words seem to say too much. Devouring a book seems rude and messy and creating a strategic partnership seems overly unnecessary and redundant.

Let’s work together and use “devour” when referring to a vulture having lunch on a rotting carcass and let’s work to imply that a “partnership” is by design of the “strategic” nature. And if, at this point, you believe me to be an annoying, self-righteous person let’s all look to the self proclaimed, hand on the page, speed reader to find the truly annoying person.


Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford


American Priestess – Screenplay by Jason


#Amtrakresidency: The Empire Builder

12 Mar

I knew I needed Twitter followers @SpaffordJason when I saw something posted online called #Amtrakresidency. I was intrigued. What are the odds of that, kind and relentlessly charming readers – something intriguing on the big web? This residency involves getting picked to be one of 24 writers who will get a round trip ride on Amtrak for a few days to work on writing. I thought it was a good idea – for writers and the Amtak marketing people. The application was simple enough. I only needed to submit a story under ten pages, I needed to give my full name (I do that a lot anyway), and I needed to tell how this would help my writing. But, I also needed to give my Facebook URL, Twitter and Instagram handles. Uh, oh. I smell a marketing experience. Nonetheless, it would be a good experience.

For the most part, I’ve decided that my chances at this residency are limited, as they may weigh the number of twitter followers and Facebook friends more than writing skills. I’m afraid my 16 twitter followers are not going to help my cause. I follow a rock and roller named @woolyB on Twitter. If only he could expose me to his huge following of 70 plus persons, then and only then might I have a chance at the #amtrakresidency. But let’s not worry about that right now, because this whole thing reminded me of a story that very few people will ever read.

Several years ago we needed to attend a wedding in Indiana. I had to work, so decided to leave later and meet my family there. I had never ridden Amtrak before and the price made sense. This was well before hearing of such a thing as the #Amtrakresidency, but as luck would have it, I was even writing things at that time that people would never read. I thought this would be a perfect chance for me to have some quiet writing time.

I boarded the Chicago bound Amtrak train, The Empire Builder, at 7:30 am on a Friday morning in St Paul, MN. I found a seat and placed my ticket stub above the seat to officially lay claim to said seat. I unpacked my lap top, opened a blank word document and began to not write. It quickly became obvious that I needed a break. Breakfast seemed like the most rational escape.

Making my way to the dining car I walked through the observation car. I observed that the sun was streaming in and the early morning light made any shadows disappear like sin on Sunday. I thought this would be a better writing place than my seat and stuck a mental post it note on my cerebral cortex. I entered the dining car and chose a window seat at one of the white linen covered tables that partnered with four chairs. Soon after, three more people joined me. I would like to, for the sake of this story, be able to say that these were the three most interesting people I had ever met. But that just doesn’t happen every day and my guess is they might say the same of meeting me. Nonetheless, it was nice to hear about where they were going and search for those connections that are fun to stumble upon.

After breakfast, I went back to my seat. I took with me a small bowl of oatmeal with plastic wrap over the top, because for some strange reason the waitress had offered that she could make it “to go”. I sat my bowl of cooling porridge and plastic spoon in my seat, grabbed my lap top and moved back to the observation car. The car was not very crowded and I found a seat that I thought would be just the right amount of sun, but not too much, and could produce the best writing. Once my screen was up I decided to look out the window and enjoy the scenery. I like to watch people and scenery.

This watching all started, kind and curious readers, many years ago with my dad. Years ago, in rural areas Friday nights across the country were spent on Main Streets. People would be paid on Friday and then go to town. Growing up in Northern Wisconsin our Friday nights meant going to the thriving metropolis, the hub of the north, the home of the Hodag (that’s another story) – Rhinelander. My dad would sit in the car with the kids while my mom shopped at all the finer stores – JC Penney’s, for instance.

As we complained about boredom my dad would tell us to watch the people. The people are interesting. What’s their story. In the summer, are they local or a tourist? In the fall, do they work in town or in the country? In the winter, why are they here? In 1972 the people looked a lot alike in Rhinelander. One summer evening a young man was walking down the street with long hair, ripped pants to the point of underwear hanging out and an American flag patch attempting to bridge the gap. I thought to myself, what’s his story. My dad slowly shook his head and said, “Look at that God Damn Hippy.” I guess he knew the story with this guy. The window was rolled down and I always wondered if the God Damn Hippy heard my dad.

Twenty five years later as I was walking into a store with my own long hair, I walked by a kindly looking older gentleman and under his breath I heard him say, “Hippy.” Fortunately for me I was not considered “God Damned.” I was relieved and amused and went about my shopping.

As I looked out the window of the moving train, at that particular moment I really wanted to see a hippy. Nothing. Only trees. All of this thought had made me a bit tired and I decided that I should go away from the brightness of the observation car for a short nap in my seat. It was at this moment, upon evaluating how much writing I could possibly do, once I could start writing, that I thought about how it would be a good idea someday if there was something called “Twitter,” to have a writing “residency” aboard an Amtrak train. Maybe call it something like #Amtrakresidency. I didn’t know what the number sign would mean, but assumed some clever person in the future would figure it out. This twitter thing could be really cool for a few years – until old people started using it, and by that time there would be something cooler.

I made my way to my seat. There was a woman in my seat. She appeared to be in her late 50′s with unnaturally blonde hair. She had Birkenstocks on her feet and wore a necklace with a peace sign. She was sound asleep. My bowl of oatmeal was empty and on the floor. This Goldilocks had eaten my porridge and now she was sleeping in my Amtrak chair. I coughed in the aisle. She didn’t wake and run from the chair. She didn’t budge. I fidgeted for a short time, but couldn’t bring myself to wake her. I looked at her face in a real hard way and tried to figure out her story. I walked back to the observation car and all the way back I tried to figure out her story. No luck.

Upon my arrival back in the observation car I found that there were a few more people. Some of them had just gotten on the train. Among these extra people were two elderly gentlemen setting up what looked like a small P.A. system. They also had a microphone – nothing fancy, the trusty workhorse Shure SM58 microphone. These guys were fixing to talk into that microphone. They did a couple of squelchy microphone tests. You can tell when someone is no stranger to the audio field. These nice elderly gentlemen were somewhere in the audio forest – far, far away from the audio field.

I was getting ready to help them, but they finally pulled it together and plugged the mic jack into the right hole on the P.A. Whatever they were about to do, they were now off and running. Happy to have a microphone in hand, they made small amplified talk to those who made direct eye contact with them. I was curious and wanted to know their story. I stopped beginning to start writing for a time to try to understand the purpose of these amplified retirees.

Bob and Ed were their names. Bob got out a large three-ring binder with laminated pages. They flipped through the pages apparently trying to find the correct starting point. Once they came into agreement, Bob held the microphone and Ed read from the holy binder. It became apparent quickly that they were reading information about the towns we were going by. The interesting thing about trains, like boats, is that you are often seeing the back side of towns, so other than an occasional crossing sign you may never really know what town you’re passing.

They read facts and figures about the places we passed. They told little stories about the towns or semi-famous people from the towns. It wasn’t bad, aside from the fact that Ed probably had not read out loud since 8th grade, some sixty years ago. Bob would have a turn, but he obviously had not retired from the broadcasting business, either. So, it went like this for a couple of hours, with long breaks in between towns and banter Ed and Bob had apparently came across in some record books that may have discussed Vaudeville.

During one of the breaks in the entertainment I went back to my seat to see if the fairy tale was over. It was not. Goldilocks was still sleeping in my seat. I didn’t even stop, but continued on in search of the car where food could be found. It was now early afternoon and I was hungry. It was probably a good idea to eat something, then I could jump right into writing. I felt that I had soaked up enough of the atmosphere. I ordered a sandwich and decided to soak up a bit more atmosphere in the form of an alcoholic beverage. One beer would probably just loosen up my fingers enough to be able to keep up with my brain’s story telling. Yeah, one beer would be perfect. I had a sandwich and a beer and headed back to the observation car. I walked back past my seat and saw Goldilocks’ sandals and thought, “God Damn Hippy.”

Back in my writing position, with fingers poised on my key pad I decided to quickly go to the calculator function on the lap top and mentally go through our monthly finances. Sure enough. The outcome was the same as the last time I did this. Just before focusing on writing something, I paused to notice what Ed (I must have missed Bob’s last turn) was talking about. There was a break between towns then it was Bob’s turn again. At Bob’s turn I realized the problem. They were one town off and had been for a while. Tunnel City was Camp Douglas, Camp Douglas was Mauston, Mauston was Wisconsin Dells etc. I couldn’t believe I just noticed this and I was more shocked that these old timers with mile markers on their pages had not caught it. But suddenly the microphone went silent and there was a non broadcasted meeting. I think they just realized it. They came back on-line and announced a break.

The sun was so warm and the beer and sandwich were working together in not an unexpected way. I decided that I would come up with a title – one that I could easily change later – then I would take a short nap. I deserved that. In anticipation of years to come I titled my little story “#Amtrakresidency”. I slept as the hum and sway of the train wrote great stories in my brain that would be forgotten when approaching the waking station.

I must have slept for a while. When I woke the elderly men were gone, replaced by shadows of late afternoon. We were just starting out from a station and I overheard a ticket taker talking to another Amtrak staff person. Apparently, there was a woman who had gotten on at the Fargo station in the early morning and she was very drunk. She had slept through her stop and we had to make a special stop to let her off the train. The ticket taker anxious to get the skinny on the scuttlebutt asked the other person who it was. The staff person said it was a blonde woman who sort of “looked like an older hippy.”

My God Damn hippy must have been the woman. No wonder she didn’t budge. And what drunk hippy wouldn’t eat a bowl of oatmeal? It all made sense. As we slowly pulled away from the station I spotted Goldilocks outside on the platform fifteen miles from the station she wanted to be at, looking hung over and a little confused. Being a former hippy I felt a little bad for her. But, you’ve got to keep it together my hippy friend. It’s a tough world out there for the God Damn Hippy.

Now that I could go back to my seat I didn’t really want to. The observation deck felt like home to me. It reminded me of my small town Main Street with people coming and going. I could listen to people and watch people and possibly talk to people. I heard stories about towns we went though, albeit not exactly the right towns. I even got to see a hippy through that great big train window. The only problem was that we were almost to Chicago and I had not written a single thing. I didn’t have a single story. I only had the title, “#Amtrakresidency”, and I had no idea what that meant. All I could think is that maybe I could find some quiet time at the wedding. Then, for sure I would write something. And if not there, maybe I’d take another train ride someday and I would absolutely write something then.


The New Girl Shopper

14 Feb

My daughter Lila is now eleven and proclaimed to me how much she loves to shop. I think that would be good if it were pertaining to food. When you think of someone “shopping” for food you think of the person trying to spread a dollar as far as it can go. When I think of someone shopping for clothes, I think of someone going from store to store trying to find just the right group of things that look good. That process, in my mind, may not be as dollar conscious.

I do have to admit that clothing is right there in between food and shelter in the commonly coveted necessities. I just don’t know if the preteen shop of “Justice” was originally in mind when those necessities were identified. It may just be me, but I think Justice was possibly developed by someone who was once stranded on a desert island as an eleven year old girl. Having been rescued she vowed to never be left behind again, and created an entire franchise of stores totally dedicated to enlist every possible color to adorn the cheapish third world produced fabrics. “Don’t get left behind, wearing bright colors of all kind,” may have been the mantra.

Lila told me that she thinks shopping is fun. She also let me know that it’s only natural that boys don’t like shopping as much as girls. “They just don’t get it.” So, being amused by the fact that I was watching Lila “shop” for the first time, I settled in to the Justice store to see how she did her shopping. She let me know from the onset that shopping in the summer is more fun because you don’t have to have your winter coat on in the mall. I totally agreed.

Lila had received a gift card from her aunt Kathleen for the Justice store. Aunt Nicole produced a child (Lydia) who thinks the world of Lila. As far as aunts go, she’s good for a while. Every person needs a minion – until the minion moves on and gets a minion – and Lydia will end up having many minions. Lila’s cousin 5 years her junior will eventually head a benevolent military coup in some remote country. But that’s another story.

We forgot what amount was on the gift card. I volunteered to track an employee down to get the card scanned and know our budget. I could ask the grown-up or the high schooler. I thought the high schooler’s computer skills would be faster, but I went with the adult as a token of solidarity, even though the adult was not super adulty.

Once we found out that the card had twenty five dollars we could now start shopping in earnest. I followed behind as Lila meandered though the clothes. It was obvious to me that she was a shopper learner, fresh to the scene. I stayed back then caught up. She had no plan of action. This was the interesting part to me.

She had no time constraints. She had a $25 limit, but that was not a concern for her in the beginning. Maybe this is what her mother looked like shopping before she had three children all pre melt down, before she had a husband ready to melt down, before she had college commitments, before she had a minimum wage job, and before she had developed tastes and opinions. Lila was at the purest form of shopping. It was slowly – 40 minutes – becoming aware to me that Lila was a blank shopping slate. I had a moment of terror as I watched this. How could this end?

I was almost ready to say something about leaving and waited. Then she asked me a question. She was looking at the jewelry and asked if the necklaces were on sale. Joy gushed from my bored numb body. She had acknowledged the sale. I could not be more proud. I confirmed to her that the necklaces were on sale. If you bought two you got a deal. I thought the goal was to buy clothes. But I remained silent as to not tamper with the great experiment.

She continued to peruse the merchandise. I only briefly mentioned something about what I called the “process of elimination theory.” – the idea of deciding what does not work and not look at that item again. She did not adapt. My life is based upon the process of elimination, but I’m ok. I remained patient. We looked at things more than once.

Finally, she seemed to be tiring of looking at things. This did not occur before I had to sit on one of the very few places to sit in this store. She came to my toadstool roost and asked me to come forward and review a few of the items she was considering. I dragged my wobbly licorice like legs up to a standing position and forged forward into the jungle of ick dubbed clothes.

Even though I thought we were there for clothes, I was a bit relieved that she was settling away from clothes. She brought me back to the necklaces. She picked out a necklace that was $14. The necklace was two halves of a heart ( or two separate necklaces) that magnetically connected to make to make one. Half said “mom” and half said “daughter”. I thought it was very nice that she had dug through the pile of island SOS material and found something that she wanted to share with her mom.

This would have been enough of a triumph for me. She asked how much money remained. I asked her to do the math. She did. She had enough for another item. Instead of buying another thing for herself, she bought two small overpriced things for her brother Hoyt and sister Iris. She made sure that they were the same in value and picked out something that would appeal to each. She had just become my hero.

My licorice legs turned into oak with a bounce. We went to the counter and I chose to let the high schooler check us out. Lila took the gift card and handed it over. After the discounts we found that she had seven dollars left on the card. This was a successful trip. What seemed like four hours was only really 50 minutes. Lila had navigated her first shopping trip in a thoughtful kind of way – thinking about sales and her siblings.

We left the store and I put my arm around Lila and gave her a hug like we were just rescued from a desert island. I told her I though it was great that she had thought of her mom and gotten gifts for her brother and sister. And, I said, “You have seven dollars left.”

She paused and looked at me with concern.

“What do you mean, seven dollars?”

I said, “That’s what’s left on the gift card.”

There was a look of disappointment on her face. Then I realized the problem.

I slowly and carefully asked, “Did you think that plastic gift card could be used for $25 this time, but there could be more times to use it – beyond the initial $25?”

She nodded a slow island morse code yes. Maybe even rethinking her generosity to her siblings while she nodded.

“I thought it was like your plastic cards and I could keep using and using and using them.”

“Ok, ok, ok.” Now she stabbed me with her little girl words, but I recovered quickly, remembering that I’m an adult plus. “No, it’s not like that.”

She was resolved. “Oh, ok.”

I said that I thought it was great that she got stuff and thought about her mom and siblings when she was using a gift card for her. She agreed and we quietly searched for the crumbs we had dropped to find our way out of the mall at the second level Macy’s entrance near a mannequin woman in a white jump suit.

This trip to the island of Justice had left nobody stranded – for long – and I got to watch Lila figure things out and work towards becoming a shopper. The good news for me and all my worries about shopping as a sport was that she seemed to be going in the right direction. She went in the direction of making it a necessity – thinking about her family – and I was proud of her. Although, in all honesty, I’d don’t want to be witness to the event that spends that final seven dollars. That’s looking like a mother-daughter bonding experience that I will be happy to read about in Cynthia’s notes.


Dear Old Man

30 Jun

I started going to a gymnasium a couple of years ago. Yes, kind readers, I like to call it gymnasium. I have a good friend named Jim and if I said I was going to “work out” at the gym, the vision of me doing jumping jacks in front of Jim always comes to mind.

Where did the term “work out” come from? Did it derive from working outside? Is “working in” the opposite of exercising? Would a good “work in” be a big cheeseburger and a beer. The people at the gymnasium always ask me if I’ve had a good work out. Maybe instead of asking me if I enjoyed my beer and burger, the bartender could ask if I had a good work in.

My dad is 83 and goes to a gymnasium in the winter months. Like many oldish people, he wears his work out sweat pants and comfortable flannel shirt (with sleeves rolled up) and after his exercising he drives home and changes his clothes. In fact, this is a ritual of many younger people also. Why not just wear that perspiration home and deal with it in the privacy of your own shower. I think this is more common with women. Men seem less concerned about having access to the finer things – like their own showers. Actually, I know for a fact that our water bill decreases if I can shower off site. Lower water bills are not normal motivations for exercising

There is an old man at my gymnasium who’s 93 years old. I hope that I am able to be active, let alone alive, at 93. He comes to the gymnasium several days a week – usually to attend one of the old person exercise programs. In all fairness, I don’t think that is the official name of the class. It may be something like “Silver Sneakers” or “Golden Oldies”. It may be harder to get people (old people) to sign up for something called “Old person exercising class”.

The 93-year-old I speak of, let’s call him Bill, is fairly slow-moving – which is actually moving much faster than most of the people born the same year as him. Bill has a couple of canes that move him from his car to the locker room and then into the old person exercise class.

Many of the old people move directly (and slowly) from their cars into the old person exercise class. Bill moves into the locker room and changes from his everyday flannel shirt and khaki pants to his workout flannel shirt and khaki pants. After his workout Bill moves back to the locker room where he disrobed down to his nakedness and moves very, very slowly to the showers. This is the part that makes me nervous.

Here’s where many of you will believe I’ve gone too far, offending old people around the world. You understand, dear and comfortable-in-your-own-skin readers, I think old man Bill is reckless and selfish. I think old man Bill is some kind of arrogant showboat. What’s Bill thinking? He’s 93 damn years old and it takes him two canes and ten minutes to get into the locker room, then after an old person workout he’s got to take all his clothes off and shuffle his way – without canes and naked – across a slippery shower floor, with nothing to hold onto but the smooth tiles made moist from shower steam. Good idea, Bill.

I’ve heard that Bill cross-country skiied until the age of 80, and I am proud for him – but this insanity must stop. Bill is run of the mill old, but you can still see the remnants of athleticism hanging on dimly to his frame. He has probably always forged ahead on natural skills and a naïveté understanding of danger. But, I’m positive that most of his past athletic achievements have been completed at least semi-clothed.

I am an ill combination of being more laid back than most people, coupled with a nervousness that runs deeper than most people. I have made half a lifetime of spontaneity that in most cases is planned one year in advance. So, now if I am to continue going to the gymnasium at the same hours as old man, show-off Bill, I will need to start understanding how I will cope with the day that Bill slips and falls on his way to the shower. As I stand with no jack-knife or straw (used to create a crude tracheotomy) wearing my birthday suit – no, not my green velvet one, but my nakedness – watching in slow motion as Bill slips and falls and his kind older head bounces off an unkind tile.

It’s this scenario that plays out in my mind every time Bill is doing his naked creep to the place where water goes onto his body. I assume I will need to get the shampoo washed out of my hair to be helpful. I have to imagine that I will be more helpful if I have my clothes on. If he falls, do I quickly amble past him and put my clothes on? I’ve already played it out. Naked me will tell him that I’m going to get help, then I’ll get my clothes on – very quickly, of course – and bring him a couple of towels to cover up with if he can’t get up. By the way, in most of the scenarios that I have gamed through I assume that he’s broken his hip. After covering him with towels, I’ll go to get help.

I’m irritated with careless Bill. I don’t want to have to rescue a fallen naked old man. Look deep inside dear, kind reader and see if you can honestly tell me that this opportunity is on your bucket list. See, that’s what I thought. Judge not thee who does not want to be naked and helping thee naked old man. But, I’m a responsible sort. If it’s only me and selfish Bill in the locker room, I generally stick around until he is safely and slowly back onto a carpeted surface.

On the other hand, if another person comes in – let’s say, for example, a friend of mine – I’ll call him David – I get out as quickly as I can. I’m sure David hasn’t played through the scenarios as many times as I have, but he works the stairmaster every day with fortitude and grace. He will take charge in the case of a naked Bill fall. Besides, David knows everybody at the gymnasium and he can get people’s attention faster than me. In fact, I imagine David will one day be way too old and putting others in the same uncomfortable position of gymnasium guardian (naked) angel.

The concern here is that I shouldn’t have to worry about this old man daredevil living his unclothed Evil Knievel stunts. The problem here is that we want old people to be independent. Well, I’m here to say that independence is great as long as you’re clothed. This great country was not forged on the backs of naked dudes dumping tea in a harbor. The Gettysburg address was not made by a naked guy in a tall hat. The Berlin Wall did not come down by naked people with sledge hammers. Please, people, tell your respective old people to shower in the privacy of their own homes. Old people, stay healthy and active, but keep your clothes on in public locker rooms.

Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford


How to spell Quantity and other cuss words

24 Jan

Dear readers I’m afraid this selection may not be for the faint of heart. I may have to use a word or two that none of us use and I will have to allude to some words that some of us use. I promise to move this conversation in an educational and enlightening direction and hopefully we all can learn something about the finer points of spelling and education.

Everyone knows all the bad words. Some of us never use them and others of us use them all the time. Let’s, for simplicity sake, call all the bad words swear words. No, wait. Let’s call the curse words. Wait, I promise this is my last change. Let’s call them cuss words. There.  Isn’t that just more fun sounding?

I like to break my cussers up into four categories – regular cussers, chronic cussers, mad cussers and funny cussers. I consider myself a funny cusser and as you can see I’m barely that. I’ve written three paragraphs without even using a cuss word. I prefer not to cuss in writing. It’s not very interesting to me. Funny cussers tend to be comedians and regular people who use it for punctuation and flare. A lot of professional funny people aren’t that good at making the cuss funny. Many non-professional funny people, who try to use the cuss as funny, are not successful. But, what’s important is that they amuse themselves and at least they’re not making the mistake of going on stage and cussin’ it up.

Next, we have the regular cussers. These are people that use the basics and steer clear from the unspeakables, but can easily include some of the taboo and let’s say, richer textured words on occasion. This group is followed by the chronic cussers. These are the people that are apparently too busy lowering the world cumulative IQ to learn any new words. And, finally, the mad cussers. Generally, they are made up of regular cussers who get a euphoric rush by cussing in the heat of an argument or if something is not in their favor. This hearty bunch of cussers truly believes that they gain an advantage by using cuss words at a high volume.  Their shouting, coupled with three or four words everyone one knows to be bad is a sure way of winning an argument or just making a point.  Mad cussers are funny to me.

After the cusser categories there’s another group of words that aren’t really as riveting as the cussies, but they’re words you’d rather just not hear. And I apologize, but this is where my story finally begins.

Now, I don’t think my beautiful wife- let’s call her Cynthia- falls into any of these categories.  Unlike me, who is pure like the snow that has been driven on, Cynthia is a better person. Come to think of it though, I may have heard her cuss by mistake in the past. Nonetheless, she is a great teacher and a great mom and is the driving force in our family for all things family.

I’m generally the person who handles the weekly spelling studies with our 10 year old daughter, Lila. Lila hates doing spelling with me because I’m the equivalent to the spelling chain gang. But at the end of the week the sentence is 100% on her weekly spelling test. Still, she prefers her mom’s assistance because her mom doesn’t adhere to the chain gang mode. It’s more similar to white collar crime weekend jail with steak and orange sherbet.

Recently, I was traveling for some work I got. I called home and asked how the spelling was going. I remembered some of the words. One of the new words she had trouble with on her first time through was “quantity”. I asked Cynthia if Lila knew the word now. She said she did. She said she told Lila a trick to remember it. I love tricks to remember things. I needed to know right away. Cynthia hesitated and then proceeded. She said that she told her the “tity” part of the word was an inappropriate name for “boobs” (even though, in my view “boobs” is no good. I’m not a fan of the onomatopoeia words – see “poop” story in early blogs)

Yes. There was a pause on the phone like a paragraph break. Our daughter who thinks “stupid” is a bad word just got a gateway cussish word.  Actually, it’s not so terrible except for the fact that in my head the word “bar” always follows it. Cynthia explained that Lila gets that it’s not a word to use. So, maybe it ends up being a mother-daughter bonding moment and the kind of thing dad just stays away from. After all, it comes from a natural thing – the teat. How much more nurturing can you get, right. “Tity” is sort of cute. “Oh, look at the cute little Tity”.

Ok, it’s now funny to me. I’m sure Lila has heard words that she knows are bad and doesn’t even bother to tell us. That’s what happens right. And Cynthia’s a great mom, so no matter how this comes across with me writing it, I know that whatever she says to Lila is totally ok, no matter how much of a nervous freak of a dad I am in trying to make sure my little girl is safe from everything.

But here’s the big problem I have with this whole thing. Kind and gracious reader, I know you are also bothered. You are smart people and I value your opinion. I know from the first moment you heard that Cynthia used the word “tity” with Lila, you were as equally concerned as me. You see, even though Cynthia taught Lila how to spell the word “quantity” correctly, at the same time, she taught her to spell the word “titty” incorrectly. Everyone one knows that you don’t spell titty “tity”. What was she thinking? So now she can spell quantity, but she’s learned a new word and how to spell it incorrectly. Great.

With my wife’s exercise in spelling, I now have a better understanding of how the bad words like hell, crap, shit or ass get into the mouths of children. I used to think that kids either had chronic cusser parents or mad cusser grandparents or some connections through home to the other two cusser categories. But, now I know that kids just bring bad words to school because they’re trying to spell words like “shellac”, “scrape”, “shitake”, and “crevasse”.

Next week we’re back to the daddy spelling chain gang. And if inappropriate words need to be used as spelling aids, I’ll be dammed if I’m going to spell them incorrectly. My daughter’s spelling education is very important. Aw, shitake! Did I just spell dam wrong?


Jason Spafford