Stuff gets lonesome

I’m still endeavoring to make the world a better place (without having to try too hard or spend a lot of money). And this week’s suggestion just might be the easiest one yet.

Give something away.

Okay, that’s a pretty broad directive and you can feel free to interpret it in any way that moves you. Because – other than venereal diseases and pieces of your mind – giving something to someone is just about always a good thing. But, just so we’re clear, let me define what I’m talking about when I suggest you give something away.

This definitely does not have to be charity. There’s certainly nothing wrong if it is, but the two examples I’m thinking of are most certainly not charity cases.

I’m talking about finding that sweet spot where you have something you’ve loved, but just can’t use anymore, and you pair it up with a friend who wants a thing just like that … but, for one reason or another, has been reluctant to go purchase one.

The FrogThere’s a very special bike in this world. It’s an ’80s-era Peugeot – black, with the signature yellow/orange/red banding.

It’s the first road bike I ever “bought” as an adult when I started racing triathlons. I paid $250 for it. I had Eric Nacey help me trick it out with what could be confused with aero bars if you squint and look at the bike from out of the corner of your eye. (They’re old, awkward and excruciatingly painful.)

I thought they were so f’ing cool.

I loved that bike. And I raced it with a chip on my shoulder. Every douchebag poseur I passed felt the mocking sting of The Black Frog.

But eventually, in one of history’s most profound acts of love and folly, Corinne found an insane deal and bought me the frame of a 2004 Felt B2. I had Eric build it up for me, and the Frog’s racing days seemed done.

My sister raced it a few times. I loaned it to the in-from-out-of-town friend of a friend once. But, for the most part, it was collecting dust in the rafters of my sister’s garage. And it broke my heart. Because stuff gets lonesome.

So when I started seeing my neighbor crank his way out of the cul-de-sac and down the road on a big, heavy mountain bike, I knew what I wanted to do. I staged a rescue operation and liberated the Frog from Christine’s rafters. I brought it home. I cleaned it. I lubed it. I put on some new tubes, tires and grip tape. Then I pushed it across the street and knocked on my neighbor’s door.

“Here,” I said. “Just use this. It’s so much lighter and faster than what you’re riding. And it needs to be ridden. That’s all I want is to see this bike flying past my window the way it deserves to. Bring it back when you’re sick of it – or don’t – pass it on. I just want it ridden.”

And it is. He rides it. He races it. He keeps it maintained and in good working order. I see that his son now has a similarly ghetto 10-speed and the two of them will take off for rides together. Perfect. In fact, the way this story played out, I probably should have named the bike Black Beauty. (Huh? What? No. I never read that stupid book. Pfft. That’s for chicks. Totally.)

Now, I know that my neighbor could have afforded $250 to go find himself a classic old road bike if he had wanted. And I never implied that he couldn’t. This wasn’t a charity thing. This was strictly about me wanting to help out a neighbor … and find a good home for a friend.

So what have you loved that’s lying around right now? Corinne had a moment at work yesterday where a friend was talking about how expensive the rent-to-own program is for a flute for her middle schooler. “If he changes his mind,” Corinne suggested, “we’ve got a clarinet at home,”

“I’ve got a trumpet,” chimed in another co-worker.

clarinetHappy ending is, tonight a clarinet that was once a big part of Claudia’s life, but isn’t anymore (she plays the bass clarinet now), wound up in the hands of a fifth grader so it can start the whole cycle over again. And I think that makes clarinets happy – because stuff gets lonesome.

So what is it? A lawn mower? A computer? A pair of skis? What’s sitting around your place? And who would love it? A relative? A friend? A wonderful charity?

Just a suggestion!

When it comes to projects, this one includes two of my favorite words

Little-Free-LibraryAlthough I think I’ve been hoodwinked on this one and the “little” and “free” are both intended to describe the “library” rather than the “project.”

No matter, I’m still kind of excited about this one. The Little Free Library movement is a wonderful story and we’ve got a stack of books, for kids and adults, just sitting in the basement right now, so stocking it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Stacks of books sitting on the floor in the basement. I blame Christine for stealing our 6-foot table to sell cheesecake on all summer. It’s a damned good thing that’s good cheesecake.

I am going to need your help holding me accountable on this one though. I told Corinne last night that I needed a topic for my series of low-impact ways to make the world better. This is what she sent me. (Thanks a lot, Gina.)

This project stretches the definition of our challenge here, because this one could almost be considered a lot of work. It will, however, become significantly less work if Corinne manages to talk her recently retired father into building the little library. THEN all I would have to do is be the steward and keep an eye on it. THAT sounds like “spreading literacy” without having to actually go teach anybody anything. And THEREIN lies the true objective of this challenge.

So wish me luck on the delegated labor thing. And if that falls through, hold Corinne and I to this – we’re locked in now cuz it’s on the blog!

Let’s face it, you’re not the easiest customer to service

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No, that’s not a That’s What She Said joke. (Oh, who am I kidding? Yes it is.)

Welcome back to installment 2 in my series of low-impact ways to make the world better. This one is either going to be the easiest one or the hardest one in the series – depending on your personality. Here’s all I want you to do: Give a clear and honest “thank you” to someone in a customer-facing position.

I’m not talking about leaving a decent tip for your waitress. (You should be doing that already.) I’m not talking about leaving a huge tip for your waitress. (That would defeat the purpose of this series … though I’m sure your waitress wouldn’t mind.) And I’m not talking about simply bubbling, “Thanks! You’re doing a great job!” to the cashier as you’re grabbing your receipt.

I mean holding an actual conversation in which you acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and specifically point out how this person made that situation easier.

You need some examples? Let’s say you just wrapped up one of those online tech support chats and “Dave” helped you resolve a computer problem. That’s an easy one. You compliment Dave on his insights and his ability to troubleshoot and you thank him for stopping you from banging your head against the wall. But how about this one: You just wrapped up one of those online tech support chats and you DIDN’T get your problem resolved. Dave still asked some pretty insightful questions, didn’t he? And Dave didn’t make you feel stupid for getting your machine this screwed up in the first place, right? Tell him that.

“Dave, I really want to thank you for your help. I respect how challenging your techie job must be, dealing with all of us non-techies, and I’m very grateful to you for doing your best.”

Or what about the lady at the DMV? How much would it mean to her if you went over, took a number, waited patiently, then, when your number was called, stepped up to the counter and said, “Esther, I don’t have any current need of the Department’s services. But I want to thank you and your cohorts for your helpful knowledge of laws and policies and your great patience in working with those of us who try to find ways around them. Keep up the good work!”

You get the idea, right? This one doesn’t cost you anything. You just need to make someone’s day.

That’s it.

Now go forth and bestow smiles.