Things I Learned from R. B. (June 28th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

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Episode 21

I was invited to have a cup of coffee at O’Charleys by Henry.

I only knew the name because R. B. had mentioned it several months earlier when he got a job and told me who his boss was.

Henry Clevenger. I don’t know why I remember that so well—but for your sake and his sake, I’m glad I do.

Yes, oh, yes—after two solid years of unemployment, R. B. found a job in downtown Nashville, with a company that was large enough that they actually still worked on old machines that were worthy of repair instead of scrapping

R. B. was thrilled. He came to our house and told us in person. You would have thought he had a hand in inventing the world.

We shared chicken wings and pizza that night, and hadn’t seen him since. That was about four months before the invitation from Henry.

I heard through the passing conversations that he was faring pretty well, even though he had returned to some of his Dallas drinking ways.

I also picked up that he’d gone to a local writer’s night, held in the basement of an inner-city church, and sang his songs in front of strangers. Well, worse than strangers. Songwriters. The rumor was, he didn’t fare very well and objected to the criticism.

(Once again, I classify that one as a storyline without a follow-up.)

So after several months of no contact and erroneous information, I was very surprised to get a phone call from Mr. Clevenger—and even more curious about how he got my telephone number.

Upon arriving at O’Charley’s I discovered that he had already procured a booth, not knowing that a man of my size has no affection for a booth (including John Wilkes).

But somehow, I squeezed in (as big fat boys have learned to do).

He was a small man, bespectacled, in his late forties, unassuming but certainly oozing the juices of prosperity.

I picked a profile. It’s one I should have used more in my life: Sit, wait and let somebody else get the ball rolling instead of running up to kick it yourself.

After Henry was sure the waitress had brought all the coffee and he discouraged her from further interruptions, he turned to me and stated the obvious: “I’m here to talk about R. B.”

And talk he did. For the next fifteen minutes, he delivered a testimonial about their initial meeting, the first day of employment and events that had followed.

He punctuated by assuring me that R. B. did know how to repair a computer—but it took an excessive amount of time, leaving Henry to explain to affluent customers why they were being delayed.

But at length, Henry arrived at the main subject—his purpose for coming.

R. B. was always late.

And not just late, but belligerent about being challenged to arrive at a definitive time. Henry explained that R. B. saw no difference between 9:00 A. M. and 9:52. R. B. insisted that as long as he got the work done, what difference did it make if he was a few minutes late?

Henry added that he probably wouldn’t even care—but the disagreements were spilling out in front of other employees, who had already decided they didn’t particularly favor the new computer fixer. They challenged Boss Henry to be more assertive.

So Henry had decided to talk to me, since R. B. had explained that I was a long-time friend.

After thoroughly covering the subject and presenting a case that would impress the Supreme Court, Henry paused and looked hopefully into my eyes. He posed a question. “What do you think I should do?”

The truth of the matter was, I actually was expert enough on the subject of R. B. that I could honestly attest to the fact that I had no idea what to offer.

I chose not to go into my history with our common acquaintance.

The conversation seemed to be stalled when a crazy idea popped into my mind. I said, “It’s obvious to me that you do not want to fire R. B. For that, I salute you for having a heart of gold. But if you’re gonna keep him on the job so that your conscience won’t gnaw at you about firing a man who possibly won’t be employable outside of your present circumstances…”

After I said this, I looked deeply into Henry’s eyes.

He knew.

Henry knew that the business was passing R. B. by, and that nobody else in Music City would find his resume tuneful for their needs.

So I continued, confident that we were on the same wavelength. “Let me ask you a question. Is there a back entrance to your company, near to R. B.’s station, where he wouldn’t have to pop in the front door and expose his tardiness to all your carefully observing employees?”

Henry nodded his head and smiled, realizing where I was going. He put it together himself. He would make an R. B. entrance which only R. B. used, which went only to R. B.’s station. So if R. B. was late, he was late—and as long as the work was done, Henry could leave him alone.

The other employees should keep their noses out of the situation, and if they didn’t, he could call them down for good reason.

Henry was elated.

He had an idea.

He was the kind of man who always wanted to be generous but knew that forsaking common sense steals that privilege from you.

He stood to his feet to leave, then turned and said in a whisper, “Can I help you out with some money? R. B. says you’re always struggling with finance.”

I was infuriated. We were fine. We were always fine. R. B. just felt the need to feel superior and had placed us in a garbage bag of poverty in his brain, which calmed his feelings of inadequacy.

But I chose not to bark back at Henry, or even be catty. I reached up, shook his hand and said, “Doin’ fine, my friend.”

He legitimately seemed glad.

He headed for the door, only stopping to pay for the drinks, and was on his way.

I never saw Henry again.

About four months later, R. B. called, cursing the air about losing his job. I set up a time to talk with him.

As soon as I hung up the phone, it rang again. This time it was Henry. In the most gracious of terms, Henry explained to me, in less than one minute, that the idea to segregate R. B. with a private entrance worked for a month or so, until R. B. realized that nobody was watching—and began coming in after lunch.

Henry was so upset.

Henry was so disappointed.

Henry wanted to do the right thing.

R. B. wouldn’t let him.

Henry wept.

Fat Chance … August 10, 2012

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I have a terrific idea. (Forgive me–I guess what I should say is that I have an idea. Let me present it to you and you can determine its merits.)

It’s a concept for a new diet. Since dieting itself has fallen under severe criticism, I have come up with a plan which is practical in its application and simple in its proving. Here it is: since America is getting more obese all the time, what I am going to do is work on maintaining my present weight, and very soon the country will catch up with me and I will end up, poundage wise, in the middle of the pack and therefore it will appear I have lost weight. Then people will look at me and comment, “My goodness gracious, Mr. Cring. You don’t look nearly as big as you once did.” I will be free of the stigma of obesity, admired for my diligent efforts–although unfortunately, my health and portability will not have improved in the slightest.

Although I present this little scenario tongue-in-cheek (please don’t go out and apply it) it does seem to resemble the way we try to solve problems in our country. It is this penchant human beings persist in pursuing when trying to find a one-size-fits-all garment to cover all the inadequacies of our fellow-man. I don’t know when it started. There is a little nasty streak in all of us that believes “if I can do it, why can’t you?” For instance, for every cigarette-smoking slender person who shakes his or her head, wondering why I don’t lose weight, I, in turn, purse my lips and frown over why he or she can’t get off of nicotine.

It just doesn’t help matters. It reminds me of one night when I was at a fellowship with friends and one of the attendees became frustrated because an acquaintance was unable to find employment and was mooching off of those around him to survive.

“Why don’t you go out and get a job?” he screamed at the offender.

The man remained calm and replied, “I have made a job out of trying to get a job–except I don’t get paid for it.”

We often don’t understand one another’s difficulties, so it’s no wonder we haven’t taken the time to learn each other’s potentials.

As I have traveled this nation in 2012, I am learning how to become valuable to my human friends. I’m not always successful, but I am trying to comprehend the variety of ways that I can offer my services without becoming overly zealous and interfering. It is not easy. But I have discovered four ideas that I would like to share with you–because honestly, there is a fat chance that you’ll be able to help anyone if you start out by believing you are better than they are. So here are my suggestions:

1. What is my friend’s point of excellence? Excellence for me and excellence for the next guy is different. If I try to apply my concept of prosperity and personal growth onto everybody else, I will destroy them and on the way to that destruction, I will frustrate them from ever wanting to be around me. Finding their point of excellence is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself AND them. If they are mentally challenged, it may just be discovering that their excellence is being able to perform simple duties and take care of themselves. For some young people, excellence does not mean going to college, but rather, developing a trade or finding a way to apprentice into a business, to secure a sense of accomplishment and wage. Take a few minutes and find what the point of excellence is for your acquaintance in need–or do them a favor and leave them alone.

2. How can I help my friend get started? Don’t give people a plan. It is condescending and often mean, especially if they are unable to follow the intracacies of your pattern. Help folks find a way to get started. It’s the greatest thing you can do. Once they are started, let them find the impetus, the evolutions, the direction and the energy to continue–or walk away from the start-up.

3. How should we celebrate weekly progress? I will tell you that many a venture has been destroyed by celebrating too soon–or failing to acknowledge the increments of movement forward. They have to decide when to celebrate. It won’t be, up to you, but rather, up to the people participating to determine when they feel they have achieved a level of credential that is worthy of a party.

4. And finally, when do I back off and when do I back up? As you can probably tell, this one is huge. To everything there is a season. If they are trying to quit smoking, reminding them every week of their plight will certainly drive them back into the pits of tar. By the same token, failing to notice the signals of when our friends are yearning for support and exhortation can be discouraging to them, making them wonder if you have stopped caring. Actually, the answer on when to back off and when to back up from a project is fairly easy to understand. If there is no question in the air, an answer should not be provided. If your friend is not requesting new information or sharing his plight and seeking counsel, offering such advice will certainly scare him away from pursuing his dream, and will end up making him feel diminished. I often receive emails from people explaining their present circumstances, but nowhere in the message will there be a question. To offer counsel without inquiry is not only to intrude, but also to frighten people away from mountain-climbing.

So returning to my original, comical suggestion about weight loss, I will tell you this: like every other human being born since Adam, I will finally get to the business of changing my life when I am weary of my life unchanged. What you can do for me is:

  • Help me find my personal excellence.
  • Give me a place to start.
  • Celebrate with me when I have small victories, even though you may not understand them.
  • And back off when I’m frustrated; back me up when I’m trying my darndest.

Becoming valuable–it really is the practical application of the philosophy, “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

 

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