Today, ForeignCorrespondent is pleased to host Day 3 of Stephen Geez’s Been There, Going Again Blog Tour. Stephen is a fine writer and author as you will see when you read his short essay below. It is taken from his book Been There, Noted That: Essays in Tribute to Life, which has just been re-issued and is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. I highly recommend that you check out Stephen’s book and don’t forget to read the essay that follows!
Greetings, stalwarts! Welcome to the third stop on my 4WillsPublishing Blog Tour celebrating the re-issue of my memoir-shorts, Been There, Noted That: Essays in Tribute to Life. It has an updated cover, new graphics, new book trailer, and now a first-ever jacketed hardcover edition. The book’s ruminations range from light and humorous to heartbreakingly poignant, but all spring from my own experiences. Thanks for visiting, trying this sample, and commenting!
Essay by Stephen Geez
It was something I just needed to have.
Barely twelve at the time, I had just embarked on the whole junior-high experience in an era of long-long hair and hippie regalia: bell bottoms, wide belts with oversized buckles, message t-shirts, fringed vests, medallions, floppy hats, head bands, sandals and earth shoes, rock-band patches, roach-clip necklaces, beaded bracelets (guys, too), and gaudy finger rings featuring new-age symbols. (Okay, mood rings colored our world briefly, too—until we came to our senses.)
On a weekend when Uncle Bob and Aunt Doris drove up to stay with us a few days, I rode my bike to Kmart to look for rings akin to the styles several of the cooler guys had been sporting at school. I did find a nice selection, metallic designs fastened to variously shaped wood backings, but they proved a bit costly for someone my age, even with my short list of obligations not yet including mortgage payments, groceries, and car insurance. I saw no point in shopping around since Kmart would have as good a deal as anyone, this being an era of competition by price, quality, and brands as opposed to predatory loss-leading, exclusive contracting, and importing from some communist powerhouse building its economy largely on theft of technology and intellectual property rights.
So I gave up on the notion of sporting my own fingerware until I saw my friend Dave hanging out at the playground near his house. He showed me a boxful of the same kind of rings, several different styles, priced to move well below retail. Seems he had a secret wholesale source he declined to reveal. Well, did I want one or not?
Of course, I did.
Intent on joining the ranks of the cool-fingered, pleased with providence for the opportunity to afford some stylin’ gear, I went home to gather my funds. Remember, a ring was something I just needed to have.
Uncle Bob noticed I’d undertaken a mission, and that piqued his curiosity.
One of Bob’s many characteristics I still recall fondly more than twenty-five years since losing him is that he paid attention. He always showed interest, asked questions, offered opinions, and respected whatever outlandish nonsense I felt compelled to say. He quickly grew so fascinated by the notion of symbol rings for guys that he urged me into his Caddie for a trip to Kmart to see them for himself.
He did seem impressed by the rings, though now it seems the only thing he could like about such silly contrivances would be my interest in them.
He made me an offer on the spot: Pick any one I liked, and he would buy it for me, my only obligation being to wash his Caddie later that day. Yes, I could wear my ring home.
I would have come out way ahead on that deal, the ring costing more than a car wash would be worth, especially since his car didn’t even need a wash. I passed, though—graciously, gratefully. I couldn’t see him spending so much of his hard-earned cash doing me a favor when I had an easier deal and a better way to get a ring on my own.
However, Bob had figured out something I was still missing, and he didn’t want to let it go.
He wondered if Dave’s selection included every design. Well, no, but he did have two I liked. Bob wondered if Kmart’s selection included any I liked even better than Dave’s. Well . . . sure. Dave didn’t have the one with the wood backing cut into the shape of a star. Still, for the price, Dave did offer some I liked plenty.
Satisfied, Bob herded me toward the exit. Then during the drive home, he made me another offer: If I would refuse to settle for any less than the star-backed ring, he would wait until I checked to see if Dave could get it for me. If Dave couldn’t, Bob would buy it himself from Kmart and sell it to me for Dave’s price, no car-wash required. Well, okay, sure. After all, it was something I just needed to have.
Dave came by my house that afternoon with the box of rings. Disappointed I’d settled on a different design, he pitched me for several minutes, even offering to lower the price on my alternate choice. Finally, he relented and agreed to bring me the star one in a day or two.
And that’s when I figured out his supply chain.
Okay, it didn’t dawn on me as fast as Bob might have hoped, but it’s a sure bet he knew I would figure it out eventually.
Now, much as I’d like to say my first impulse was to do the right thing, I can’t. I fooled myself into thinking Dave somehow deserved the business. Look at all the effort he’d put into the sale, even offering in-home shopping and custom procurement.
Well, Bob didn’t see it that way. Not even close.
I argued that I wasn’t the one shoplifting and that Dave was doing it with or without my purchase anyway.
The whole doing-it-anyway notion didn’t fly at all. Dave didn’t have a boxful of rings because he wanted them for himself. He acquired those rings with the intention of selling them for cash, an illicit business model that works only if people are willing to buy. Bob didn’t see much difference between stealing and having someone else steal for me. Finally, it made sense to me that there really is no difference between doing wrong and being the reason someone else does wrong.
Actually, Bob pointed out, the latter is even worse. You buy stolen goods, you’re a thief. You buy them from a friend, you’re a thief and a bad friend.
Seriously: What kind of person looks the other way when a friend is messing up? What kind of person encourages a friend to shoplift? What kind of person pays a friend to steal?
Okay, it took me twelve-odd years to come to that realization. Even so, I find it galling to think how many adults never figure it out. Just this morning I listened to a guy explaining why it’s okay to purchase bootlegs of pirated movies from his friend, then sell them over the internet. I’d like to see him run that one by Uncle Bob.
Too many decades have passed since the ring episode, but I do like to think I’ve spent those years encouraging my friends to do right, to look out for themselves, to find honor in all of us looking out for each other.
I did call Dave back right away and cancel my order, then strongly suggested he find a better hustle. He wound up getting busted a few weeks later, probably snagging a ring for some guy who grew up to buy bootlegs of pirated videos for selling over the internet.
Although my enthusiasm for sporting the star-backed ring had waned, Bob insisted on taking me back to Kmart and buying it for me, no obligation. I volunteered to wash his car anyway, and not because it needed a scrub . . .
It was something I just needed to do.
* * *
Author Bio: Writer, editor, publisher, TV producer, music composer, entrepreneur and more, Stephen Geez has long honed a keen eye for the foibles of human nature. His writing since taking undergrad and grad degrees at Michigan includes novels and short stories in various genres from literary to mystical adventure, non-fiction covering academic to how-to, commercial arts spanning corporate training to consumer advertising, and web-based content including the collections at StephenGeez.com and GeezWriter.com. Easing gingerly into his second half-century, he can’t hop, skip, or jump like the old days, but he never stops noticing and taking notes.
Trailer URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw_mo5wtTMI
Prizes up for grabs… (Visit the 4WillsPublishing website for more details!)
*For each day: 1 hardcover edition of Been There, Note That.
*During the entire tour:$25 Amazon card.
This tour sponsored by 4WillsPublishing.wordpress.com.