Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

I spent last evening hosting the semi-weekly cub scout den meeting in my garage. It was my turn to host, and I had volunteered to get my young charges through the requirements for the Handyman Badge. After all, as Red Green says, “If women don’t find you handsome, at least they should find you handy.”

We had some fairly simple tasks before us. Some basic bike repair, opening up a light fixture, tire inflation, and such. The boys were attentive, and they tackled each task with competence and tolerance. But mostly they seemed to be going through the motions without trying to really understand why they were doing what they were doing. They certainly lacked any visible enthusiasm.

But apparently that was my fault. I had chosen the wrong tasks. Mine were boring. But there were better ideas brewing… one scout had wandered away from the group with a socket wrench in hand and was trying to trap a dime-sized spider with it. Like an idiot, I went over and asked what he was doing. It turns out that trapping the spider was important, because if he didn’t then he wouldn’t be able to take the spider to the bench and crush it in the vice. Silly me. Upon hearing the plan, the rest of the herd then took to the task of spider catching with energy that would not be seen again until snack time.

My son, simplified the process by simply grabbing spidy with his hands, dangling him by a leg or two, and lowering him into the jaws of death. Then everyone jabbered about how cool the squished guts were and isn’t it neat that the legs still wiggle afterwards. And off they go after more spiders.

In aggregate, 2 bikes were serviced, 1 light bulb was changed, and 27 spiders died. I’m sure if they remember just one thing from last night, it will be the popping sound arachnids make under extreme pressure. The rest is probably a little fuzzy.

And to the future girlfriends and wives of Doug, Matt, Justin, and Alex I wish you many spider-free days. But words of warning: Never ever touch their bench vices. Oh, and you’ll need to change your own lightbulbs.

Branded for Life

The power of brands is undisputed, as is the reality that brand loyalty is proportionate to age. That is, the older you are, the more you’ll tend to be blindly loyal to brands. This is well worn knowledge in corporate America. It’s the reason people continued to buy Chevy’s in the 70’s, when, by all accounts, Japanese cars were better on most every vector. But there is also a limit to people’s devotion to a brand. Brand loyalty will carry you over a rough spot, but if the quality doesn’t ultimately recover, the brand image is inexorably altered. But in that interim period, loyal customers will buy most anything you produce, and will even defend it to detractors.

Which brings us to Republicans. I spent a day recently in the company of several older people who identified themselves as Republicans. They defended the current administration despite the clearly non-Republican behavior it exhibits. And it dawned on me that these people were simply being loyal to their brand. They always have “bought” Republican. They “know” what Republicans stand for. And they trust that brand to provide what it has through most of their lifetime. But the Neo-con Republicans, while they have wrapped themselves in the brand, do not share the brand values. They are clearly not fiscally conservative. They do not support open/free markets, but rather structure government policies and trade agreements explicitly to line the pockets of corporate executives. But lots of people still buy the brand because it’s what they’ve always done.

But unlike consumer brands, political brands are more than habit. They become part of your identity. No one says, “I am a Peter Pan Peanut Butter Eater.” However, you are a Republican. This has the dangerous side effect of dramatically increasing the loyalty factor. Changing peanut butter brands does not really create a loss of identity. I don’t need to wrestle too long with being in the Jif camp. But switching political or even religious identities is a major life change. It causes you to re-think who you are.

Unfortunately, the world will live in is not a trustworthy one. We cannot afford to take every self-proclaimed Republican, Democrat, or Christian at their word. We cannot trust that their actions truly uphold the values of those brands. We must become critical consumers in every facet of our lives. And the first step toward achieving that has to be to remove those brands from being part of your identity.

Further, bear in mind that it’s not useful to switch brands only to tie your identity up in a different one. “I am a Democrat” is just as dangerous an identity alliance as “I am a Republican”. Rather, ask yourself why you need to be anything. It’s okay to say that you shop around for the best product available. Your opinion of Bush may vary from your opinion of McCain. You can loathe Kerry and admire Clinton. You can respect the Pope and still fear Jerry Falwell.

I challenge you to think at the individual level. Your mom always told you not to judge a book by its cover. That good advice even when the cover displays a brand you think you’ve always known and trusted.

Exodus – Stage Left

I’m having dinner with my boys and we’re practicing “guy banter”. You know, that good natured yet abusive that eventually always gets us in trouble but if it weren’t for that we wouldn’t communicate at all sort of thing? Anyway, my younger son asks me if he can kill the older one. So I told him I’d give him a dollar for it.

At this point the older one protests that his brother always gets permission to kill him, but he never gets to kill his brother.

“Well,” say I, “when the Angel of Death passed over Egypt, there was a reason only the first-born were taken. They are simply too obnoxious to live.”

He shrugs and says, “That’s why I always paint lamb’s blood over my door.”

I almost fell out of my chair, as I never remotely dreamed he would know the story. So I told him how proud I was that he knew that, and asked if he had finally started listening in Sunday School.

But he confesses that no, it’s not church. They did a unit on Egypt in school last year and they showed some feature length cartoon about Moses. He then goes on to describe the chariot races between Moses and some pharaoh dude where they rode up the sphinx and right down its nose.

At this point I began wondering if the film’s director hadn’t confused the Book of Exodus with the filmography of Charlton Heston. My mind wandered for a bit to ponder whether there was a connection between Manna and Soylent Green. But I really didn’t want to go there.

So much for proud… if it weren’t for cartoons, my kids wouldn’t know nuthin’.

Dead Man Walking

I was in the checkout line at the grocery store today watching the lady in front of me try to keep a straight face as my 10-year old asked me if the $108 million dollar lotto prize would be enough for college. But what was more interesting was the guy behind me.

Here’s a guy obviously fresh from work. Well, maybe not too fresh. He clearly labors at some task or other which warrants a shower at the end of the shift. He had that rugged tired look about him which would likely land him his own truck commercial some day. It’s just too bad he won’t live that long.

He came to the grocery store to buy just one thing. A greeting card. But this wasn’t just a last minute Happy Birthday wish to someone. This was a mushy pink beflowered card with lots of ornate script. This was clearly going to that special woman. The last woman he’ll ever love. Because as I mentioned, he’s not got too long left.

Now let’s examine guys and greeting cards. Some greeting cards are simply designed to be purchased by guys. They announce the purpose of the card in large letters right on the front. “Happy Anniversary to My Wife”, “Happy Birthday to That Special 10-year old”, or “I’m Sorry for Running Over Your Cat”. Guys like cards like this because it’s not really required that you read the rest of them. The purpose is right, and we trust that Hallmark will convey our sincerity in whatever they wrote in the rest of it. You can whip into a store, pluck a card and be back in the truck in under 7 minutes. If McDonalds started offering greeting cards at the drive-through window, more guys would go there for lunch.

But this guy’s mind was clearly as muddled as his body looked bedraggled, for he hadn’t even bothered to read the big scripted letters on top. Now I’m assuming that this was not an anniversary or birthday card, because you can spot mushy cards for those occasions, even blind drunk. Those words did not appear in the big type. So there are only two other legitimate guy-reasons for buying mushy cards for girls. Either she’s been gnawing his ear off about how he never does those “little things” any more (or ever), or he screwed up bad and is trying to do penance. But regardless, he’s a dead man.

For the card opened with those words every woman is dying to hear, “To My Dear Friend…”. I do not know what the rest of the card said, but I hope they at least read it at the funeral.