Monthly Archives: July 2013

Don’t Be So Harsh With the Boys

My lovely wife Rothann has told me on several occasions that I tend to speak too harshly to people, especially to other men. She may be right.

When I arrived at church last Sunday, Deacon Todd Flaherty, whose 16 year-old son Conner had just started working a summer job for me, welcomed me into the House of the Lord with “Good job, Clark! Keep on chewing him out! He needs it! Great job!” And then he patted me on the back.

QRE StaffResponding to the puzzled look on my face, Deacon Todd continued. He explained that when his son had come home from his first day on the job, Conner had reported that “Mr. Clark” got just as red-faced, when he got mad, as his dad did. To be clear, I was not even aware that I had been “mad,” nor that I had chewed anyone out, at any time, during the previous week. I do vaguely remember walking into a room where construction was going on to find four guys, including Conner, discussing what to do next. I simply offered the quartet what I felt was proper and necessary supervision.

“Let’s get moving in here! There’s too much standing around going on! Find something to do!”

Frankly, I dispute the assertion that THAT exchange is “getting chewed out.” But, upon further reflection, maybe my tone was harsh, and maybe my face did get red. Maybe I even said a little more than I was willing to put between those quotation marks a couple sentences prior to this one.

Man, I hate it when Rothann’s right.

Ted Trollinger and I have worked together for 18 years. He’s the head of engineering at my company, Quail Ridge, and he’s a lifetime Baldwyn native, just like me. I describe Ted and me as “working together” for this reason: even though Ted has actually worked FOR me for 18 years, that fact could never be discerned from observing our every-day, working relationship. He routinely says things to me like:

“When are you actually going to do some work around here?”

“The design you came up with wasn’t going to work … but I fixed it.”

“Those drawings you just released to manufacturing … Wrong!”

Ted’s typical line of off-the-cuff commentary – confrontational but delivered nonchalantly, as if in passing – almost always lures me into debate. He compels me to defend myself. And perhaps, on occasion, I do use statements that some might consider “harsh.”

MY design would not work, but HE fixed it! Ted just has the knack, a gift really, for putting me on the defensive as only the lovely Rothann herself is otherwise capable of doing. But my beautiful and talented spouse need not worry about any harshness directed towards our longtime engineering manager. Franklin Theodore Trollinger can MORE than hold his own in ANY argument. Which makes the story I’m about to tell even sweeter for me.

A decade ago, Ted and I were in some back-and-forth dispute across his desk, a design disagreement. He contended he was right and I was wrong, and I came back at him again and again with the opposite point of view. The volume of the conversation rose, and we struggled on until finally we reached an unbreakable impasse. Ted smugly leaned back in his chair and took a long sip of coffee, all the while staring me right in my red face. That’s when I saw the opportunity and changed the game.

“And don’t you be drinking out of my coffee cup either!” I said, knowing something Ted didn’t.

“This is not your coffee cup!”

“Yes. It is.”

Ted glared at me. “Why do you say it’s YOUR coffee cup?”

“Because it’s got my name on it.”

The Coffee CupMy side of the cup, a gift received on some long-forgotten sales call, was clearly, BOLDLY labeled “CLARK RICHEY.” Ted slowly turned the mug around and stared at it for a long, long time. Finally, he choked out, “Well … I guess it is your cup.”

THAT is my proudest moment in the history of Quail Ridge Engineering!

Ted smiled, I smiled, and then we said a few more harsh things to each other about whatever we had originally been arguing about.

“You can use my cup, but just make the drawing the way I said,” I jabbed, victory in hand.

“Yeah … right,” Ted replied harshly, unvanquished.

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Up, Up and Away, Kemosabe!

When I was kid in the 70’s, there were three channels on television – ABC, NBC and CBS – plus ETV, which nobody watched. Every fall, there was a prime-time special on each of the three big networks previewing the new Saturday morning cartoons set to premier that year. I distinctly remember great excitement around my house surrounding first episodes of “Batman Meets Scooby-Doo,” “Inch High, Private Eye” and “Hong Kong Phooey.” There was no Cartoon Network. Kids had to get out of bed early on Saturday mornings if they wanted to catch the best hours of television the week had to offer, at least if they wanted to hear Jonny Quest’s sidekick Hadji say “Sim Sim Salabim” as he put his magical whammy on the villain-of-the-week.

The Lone RangerWhen cartoons ended at about 11 AM, the networks would shift to live original television for a show or two – The Shazam!/Isis Hour comes to mind – before local stations moved on to syndicated programs they deemed capable of holding the attention of kids but which were also attractive to adults across North Mississippi, those who were either 1) independently wealthy and just getting up or 2) working class folks, like my grandparents, who would be returning home from a half-day’s work at the service station or factory. Tarzan, Flipper and Lassie were regularly served up mid-day on Saturdays to uplift the masses with escapist adventure.

Saturday afternoon television in those days may best have been represented by two syndicated shows that on the surface appeared dramatically different, yet upon closer analysis were nearly identical in format and moral message – The Adventures of Superman and The Lone Ranger.

SUPERMAN and LOIS LANEThe Adventures of Superman originally ran from 1952 to 1958 and starred George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman. I may have realized that the show wasn’t being filmed live in 1974, when I was 10 and watching, but I didn’t get hung up on it. You would hear the rushing wind, and suddenly the Man of Steel would burst into some mob hideout to save his damsel, Lois Lane. A pair of glasses and a fedora were sufficient to keep Kent’s identity secret, the key to his ability to righteously fight crime while keeping those he loved safe from evil-doers. Superman pulling a door from its hinges or using his X-ray vision to peer through a wall (NEVER Lois’s skirt) were all the special effects required to solidify the fact that this strange visitor from another planet was the guy we wanted fighting for truth, justice and the American way.

The Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian friend Tonto were as altruistic as the guy from Metropolis who could leap the tall buildings. They just did their thing in a “Wild, Wild West” setting. Clayton Moore played the masked Texas Ranger who suffered the loss of ALL his compadres, including family, in an ambush by the evil Butch Cavendish gang. The Lone Ranger donned a mask to strike fear into those who would operate outside the law. He shot silver bullets, and he rode a white horse, named Silver, whose intelligence was equal to that of any human.

Jonny QuestRemembering Superman and the Lone Ranger makes me yearn for simpler days, when I was a kid and right was right and wrong was wrong and there were heroes out there, somewhere, who could and would step up, ride/fly into action, on behalf of the oppressed.

This summer, The Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger are big budget motion pictures (“re-imaginings”) already released and seen by millions. Surprisingly, to me, each has received negative critiques from the elite Hollywood press. Now, I’ve seen both movies, and I unequivocally, absolutely LOVED them. I guess I’m just an idealistic fool who still lamely idolizes heroes and escapist adventure, or maybe, just maybe, I’m a guy from Main Street America who believes that good guys can still win, in the end. And that’s what I like to see on the big screen. And maybe the Hollywood elite and the media elite and the national elite just don’t get me/us anymore. Maybe they think the latest angst-filled, controversial topic du jour, wallowing in moral ambiguity, is what’s best for me. Well, I don’t. And as God is my witness, I still think for myself.

So, for my part … up, up, and away, Kemosabe! Go see a GOOD movie this summer.

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One Large Freakin’ Ocean Water

Sunset CarsonWhen my mother was just a girl of 7 or 8, she was sassy and bold.  At Baldwyn’s Ritz Theatre in 1951, Dale Gardner, my mother, went on stage with Hollywood star Sunset “Kit” Carson.  She held an autograph card in her small but steady hand as the B-movie cowboy took his pearl-white .22 rifle and fired a shot dead-center into the paper from across the theater.   She still has the card.

On typical Sunday afternoons in those days, she and my grandparents would visit family at Uncle Johnny Copeland’s home on Gordon Road.  It was usually a reserved, almost-stoic affair.  But into this restful gathering of peace-and-quiet-seeking kinfolk, my sassy and bold mother would launch an extensive repertoire of attention-seeking antics, to the consternation of her great-grandmother “Maw Maw” Copeland.

“She never liked me,” my mother would offer in later years.

Dale GardnerWhen Maw Maw had finally had enough and would say to my grandmother, “You need to get a switch to that girl,” my mother would take down Uncle Johnny’s razor strap that hung behind a door and walk a circle through the hallway, the kitchen and the living room, popping the strap as she went, essentially daring anyone to take it up and destroy the serenity of the Sunday afternoon.  No one did, and she remained bold and sassy.

The other day at lunch my mother pulled into our local Sonic Drive-In with my niece and nephew, Lee-Anna and Rob Richey.  Lee-Anna, a 6th grader, had wanted to go to McDonald’s, which is also where my mother had wanted to go.  And frankly, they would eventually HAVE to make a stop at McDonald’s because my father had sent along his pick-up order for a Big Mac.  But Rob, a lanky 14-year-old with a hint of a mustache, could not think of a thing at McDonald’s he could force himself to eat.  He effectively reasoned with his pliable grandmother that what he had to have was an “Ocean Water,” a blue, coconut-flavored drink now on the menu at Sonics nationwide.  My mother acquiesced, without sass or boldness, to a “second stop” on her trip for lunch, and the trio pulled into an open slot at America’s Drive-In.

Sonic Ocean WaterMother was all set to order her grandson’s drink, when Rob leaned across from the passenger seat and spotted a new Sonic offering – specialty teas.  A wide variety of flavors was displayed, and Rob descended into indecision.

“What do you want, Rob?” my mother asked.

“I might want one of those teas.  Ask them about those.  What are they?”  Rob came back.

“It shows on the menu.  Just read it.”

“Just ask them!”

My mother pressed the button.  “Can you tell me about these flavors of tea?”

The Sonic attendant, apparently unaware that Sonic made tea, fumbled around for a minute or two, an eternity in fast-food.

“Hold on please,” my mother finally broke in.  “Rob, you need to pick one.”

“I want to know about those teas.  I might want that.”

“Ma’am?  Ma’am?”  The attendant searched for life on my mother’s end of the intercom.

“You need to order something now!” my mother whisper-yelled at Rob.

“Just get me a large, freakin’ Ocean Water!” Rob shot back.

“Just give me a large, ‘Freaking Ocean Water,’” my mother relayed to the attendant, who was silent.

Finally … “Ma’am?”

“One Large Freaking Ocean Water,” my mother repeated.  “That’s all.”

“YES, MA’AM!”  The attendant clicked off, over and out.

Rob leapt into the back seat and scrunched down into the floor.  Lee-Anna screamed.  And an Ocean Water was delivered to my oblivious mother in record time.

Recently, my mother and I discussed her growing legacy of fast-food-ordering faux pas – the Sonic incident being merely the last in a long line of similar events – and I tried to convince her that it was her chaotic, goofy grandchildren that were the true source of her difficulties.  In grandmotherly fashion, she disagreed.

“That’s not it.  I used to be able to do anything,” my mother told me.  “Somehow I’ve lost my self-confidence over the years.  I’m just not sassy and bold anymore.”

She may be right.  But there’s at least one attendant at the Baldwyn Sonic who would disagree.

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Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Happening Now, Just For Fun