Monthly ArchiveAugust 2012



Commentary 30 Aug 2012 02:01 pm

Growth experience

On Aug. 19, I started to cultivate my Septembeard.

I’m joining men across the nation — and maybe around the globe — who are throwing away razors (or at least putting them up) for 30 raucous days of letting their freak-face fly, growing beards and sideburns and muttonchops and Van Dykes and ’staches, all in the name of a serious condition: prostate cancer.

Septembeard.org is the online home of the facial-hair-growth-for-a-good-cause movement, promising to donate funds raised by beard growers to prostate-cancer research centers such as John Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among American men, with 214,633 diagnoses and 28,471 death in 2008 (the latest year information is available), according to the Centers for Disease Control.

I’m not sure which came first, the pink ribbon as a symbol of the fight against breast cancer or the beard as sign of prostate-cancer solidarity, but I certainly know which is most recognized.

Pink ribbons are everywhere in October — on cereal boxes and frozen pizzas, on clothing and Jumbotrons. But where are all the bearded, Fidel Castro-like images the month before? If the world were fair (which it isn’t — my dear old great-grandpappy used to say, “Suck it up, son, the fair ended in August”), we’d have images of swarthy, stubbly men affixed to laundry detergent, toothpaste tubes and popcorn tubs.

I’m not sure how a beard represents prostate cancer. Maybe somebody thought that making a man’s face look more like his butt was a good reminder. But I’m going with it, despite being follicly challenged.

It’s true: Not only has Mother Nature seen fit to strip most of the hair from my around my cranium these last 10 years, but she’s also never allowed me to grow much more than a five-o’clock shadow, even after days, weeks and months of patient waiting and watering.

How I’ve longed for a physiognomy encased in a bushy black thicket of facial hair so dense that a microscopic Martin Sheen might trace a teardrop down one cheek and find an equally tiny Marlon Brando waiting on my chin. Alas, my face is more “Lawrence of Arabia” desert than “Apocalypse Now” jungle.

Not that I’m too upset. A profusion of bodily hair isn’t always a good thing. We all know men whose back hair could star in an off-Broadway production of “Rapunzel,” guys who could put rollers in their chest hair and cultivate extra curls a la Little Orphan Annie or the little girl with the naturally curly hair from “Peanuts.”

My chances of ever being that hirsute are about the same as Rep. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akins becoming the new editor of Cosmopolitan. (As an aside: What’s with these Republicans anyhow? For a group so staunchly against gun control, they certainly have a tendency to shoot themselves in the foot.)

The bitter irony of my hairless Chihuahua situation is that I found one lone hair growing out of my earlobe the other week. Just one, like a weed that Uncle Cletus might cultivate for months in the back yard and then call the local paper to come snap a picture of, instead of pulling it like a sensible person.

I can grow it where I don’t want or need it, but nowhere else.

If you’d like to learn more about Septembeard, check out septembeard.org. To join my team, Carnation City, send me an email below and I’ll add you to the list. To donate to Carnation City, visit septembeard.org/team/748/ and make a contribution. I assume it’s tax-deductible, but who really knows?

End of commercial. I’m off to Lowe’s to buy some Miracle-Gro on clearance. Hey, if it works on the lawn …

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Aug. 30, 2012 in The Alliance Review.

education 23 Aug 2012 07:00 am

Hoping for a big sale

This week, I return to my full-time position in sales.

In this line of work, approximately 20 to 25 customers at a time enter my warm, inviting office, where pictures relating to the product hang tastefully on the walls. They take a seat and, whether they know it or not, begin to evaluate my pitch.

After about 45 minutes, a bell rings and the customers get up and go to another presentation. Or to lunch. Or to study hall. Four minutes after this first group exits, another group arrives, and so it goes throughout the day.

These sales seminars last for about nine months, with time off for weekends and holidays. Periodically, I evaluate how well the customers (and I) are doing — are they buying? what is their potential to buy even more? how can I help?

At the end of the seminar season, clients receive a three-month sabbatical before being assigned to other sales reps. These new reps will hopefully build on my selling techniques, just as I built on the techniques of those who had the clients before me.

To avoid confusion at parties, when people ask me what I do, I identify myself as a high-school teacher. But my real job is selling.

My specific products are reading and writing skills, but those are really just end products along a spectrum that includes self-reliance, productivity, critical thinking, the supremacy of education over ignorance and good citizenship.

I have many tools at my disposal — technology, textbooks, film, audio recordings, and skilled members of the community — but as any good salesperson knows, the number one asset is the seller’s skill in matching clients’ wants and needs to the product.

After all, I don’t want merely to make a sale. I want to make them want to buy. That difference is key. With the former, buyer’s remorse sets in almost immediately, and the next day you’re right back where you started. With the latter, the student finds the subject and skills so inviting, so interesting, so cool that they intrinsically want them, that living without them isn’t an option.

If all this sounds cold and calculating, it isn’t meant to. I recognize that my students are individuals, that they come to me with a variety of past experiences, good and bad, that have molded them into the people they are today. Like all of us, they are more receptive on some days than others. My job is to meet them where they are and advance them. Or more to the point, make them want to advance themselves.

Some days, I’m the sage on the stage, delivering direct instruction. Other days (the best days) I’m the guide on the side, watching and cheering as they practice and hone their abilities to analyze, strategize, and effectively communicate their positions. To paraphrase the title of a book by Donald L. Finkel, I must remember the importance of teaching with my mouth shut.

Everything I do — or don’t do — is an opportunity to close a sale. Appearance is important, so I lose a few points for mustard-stained ties and scuffed shoes, but I make them back with traits that really matter — the bemused grin, self-deprecating humor, corny joke, and incisive question. Like Charles Dickens’ Old Fezziwig, who “has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil,” I strive to make class fun, both for my own selfish entertainment and because it makes happier customers. And happier customers return more often, buying instruction in essay writing, rhetorical analysis, or the simple joy of a well-turned sentence.

It’s a sad consequence of the state of contemporary education that I have to clarify my little sales metaphor here and say that, while I see a definite and beneficial correlation between sales and teaching, this doesn’t carry over into the more business-oriented models of classroom instruction. The endless testing, the drill-and-kill “instruction” considered good teaching by legislators and too many administrators, the rating and sorting and grading of schools — all these drain the life out of the classroom and create a self-fulfilling prophecy to allow for-profit businesses to swoop in and “save” our kids while good teachers lose jobs and reputations, and large corporations feather their nests with more millions.

But those are unhappy thoughts for another time. The beginning of a new school year should have room only for optimism, unlimited horizons and the honing of the perfect sales pitch.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Aug. 23, 2012, in The Alliance Review

Commentary & Food & Media 16 Aug 2012 12:52 pm

The thinning of Larry

quaker

The Quaker Oats guy has enrolled in the advertising equivalent of “The Biggest Loser.”

The venerable mascot with the distinctive blue hat and white, wavy hair has changed, his plumpness giving way to a more toned, svelte look. The modification is noticeable only if you’re looking for it or if, like me, you mistakenly drop two boxes of Quaker Oats products in your shopping cart at the same time. (As a bonus to online readers, I’ll include the side-by-side photo on The Review’s website. There you can also see, if you squint, two bottles of orange juice and a roll of paper towels joyriding in my cart. Ah, the fast-paced, super-sexy life of a newspaper columnist …)

Anyway, the slimming of “Larry” — I swear I’m not making this up, the Quaker Oats guy’s name is Larry, although “Otis” would have been more apropos — was the subject of an ABC News report a few months ago. It explained that the makers of Quaker Oats, in an attempt to appeal to more health-conscious consumers, gave an ad agency the go-ahead to drop Larry’s double-chin, shorten his hair slightly and airbrush away about five pounds. At 135 years old, we should all be so well preserved.

(”When my age you reach, look as good you will not,” Yoda says, making me long for a meeting between Larry and the 900-year-old Jedi master, with the former waving maybe a buggy whip and the latter brandishing his lightsaber. The smart money’s on Yoda.)

A few ironies exist in this artistic nip-and-tuck. Among them: Americans may be crazily health-conscious, imbibing record numbers of diet sodas and making reduced-fat foods vanish off the shelves quicker than drug charges off an OSU football player’s Alliance Police Department rap sheet, yet we are, as a nation, fatter than ever.

One-third of all Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and just 62 percent of us walk for more than 10 minutes a week. The impact on health care costs is, if you’ll pardon the pun, immense, with the Bipartisan Policy Center warning that the battle of the bulge could eventually bankrupt the country. Even if that’s more than a little alarmist, it’s still cause for concern, and something to think about as we go back to the buffet for seconds and thirds, tickle the backs of our throats with feathers to clear the decks for dessert, wash it all down with diet sodas and dream of the day when we’ll look like the new-and-improved Larry, the Quaker Oats mascot.

A second irony is that Quaker Oats has been owned since 2001 by PepsiCo, whose other products include super-healthy Pepsi Cola, Frito-Lay potato chips and Cheetos. However the War of the Waistline plays out, Pepsi will stand victorious.

Maybe this mascot-facelift tactic could pay handsome dividends for other brands, too. I would personally feel more at ease with Kool-Aid Man if he would trim down from a two-quart pitcher to an eight-ounce glass. (He could also stop smashing through brick walls and scaring the bejesus out of little kids and their parents. Just sayin’.) Colonel Sanders would be more trustworthy without facial hair, and a collagen injection would smooth those wrinkles under his eyes and erase about 10 years. McDonald’s has already more or less eliminated Ronald, but less cake makeup and a more healthy facial tone would make me stop clowning around in the drive-thru line and buy more hamburgers.

Until then, I’ll have to content myself with my new best friend, Larry the Thinner. I don’t want to get too accustomed to him, however. If he’s like most Americans, the old, chubby Quaker will be back, just as soon as he succumbs to one too many bowls of oatmeal-flavored ice cream or something.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig at Twitter

Originally published Aug. 16, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Family life 11 Aug 2012 05:49 pm

Stormy weather, starchy clothes

When I go down at sea, let the record show I did it in new clothes.

My wife and I are on a cruise this week, her fourth and my first and last. I have avoided this vacation for years — decades even — content to send her off with friends while I reveled in the rustic glories of the cats’ litter box and Tuesday night’s dragging of trash to the road. Hey, somebody has to keep the home fires burning.

No such luck this year, however, when her requests morphed into commands and my strategy changed from polite avoidance to “go along to get along,” a mantra familiar to many a spouse.

I’m not opposed to an ocean voyage in theory, but in practice, I:

a. Don’t know how to swim;

b. Have a fear of pirates; and

c. Keep hearing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” whenever I consider sailing.

For the last year, I dutifully have collected every scrap of news about cruise-ship mishaps, which has been easy to do. They’ve been run aground, sidelined by infectious illnesses, invaded by Somali pirates — hell, they’ve probably been infiltrated by little green men with rectal probes, but the government has shushed all that.

And don’t even get me started about sharks.

Despite all the evidence that I would be safer on land, my wife insists that I go. I even played my ultimate hand, the embarrassment card, to no avail: I told her I fully intend to show up for the Captain’s Dinner wearing a life vest, surgical mask and flippers and carrying a harpoon gun, thereby covering all bases. She said fine.

For all you landlubbers out there, the Captain’s Dinner is a huge deal in the nautical world. From what I’m told, everybody must dress formally to eat with the captain, even though he won’t actually sit with you but will instead be at a table closer to the door, where he can more easily slip out with buxom passengers or jump overboard in the event of an emergency.

This is pretty much exactly what happened to the captain of the ill-fated Concordia, the Italian luxury liner that sank in January. The overboard part, that is, not the back-door exit with buxom passengers.

He claimed to have been forcibly ejected from the ship when it capsized, conveniently landing in a lifeboat, where he directed the evacuation efforts. With that kind of luck, the guy should play the lottery for the rest of his natural life.

While I worry about my mortality and morality — you know pirates are going to sell the cutest passengers into a life of debauched slavery, which means I’m first on the auction block — my wife worries about my wardrobe.

Apparently, an old maritime rule states that passengers cannot, under any circumstances, board a cruise ship in clothes they have worn before. So I now have new shirts, shorts and shoes, all purchased without my consent and many without my presence. (My spouse estimated my size.)

So when pirates muscle their way on board, I’ll face them in my new striped polo shirt and dress shorts. When Ebola strikes, I’ll wretch my guts out in a sporty casual button-down (hope I don’t stain it with my blood). When the ship runs aground on a sandbar because the captain is too busy schmoozing passengers to attend to his job, I’ll topple overboard into the sharks’ all-you-can-devour buffet wearing my new v-neck. “V,” in this case, stands for victim.

Of course, in one respect, I’ll be fortunate. When authorities fish my remains from the bottom of the sea and can’t identify me even by dental records, they can always fall back on Method Number Two.

I’ll be the guy in the new khaki Dockers.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Aug. 9, 2012, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 02 Aug 2012 01:48 pm

Best source of news is your own neighborhood

“The world is too much with us,” wrote William Wordsworth, “late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

Wordsworth believed that we fritter away too much time wallowing in the crisis of the moment, worried about situations that aren’t going to matter much in a year and maybe not even in a day or two. He thought we lose too much time amassing material goods and being consumers, buying things because friends and neighbors have the same things, and isolating ourselves from the pristine beauty of the natural world.

If he believed all this to be true of 19th-century humankind, what would he make of the 21st? The world is too much with us to the extent that it’s given up on knocking politely on the front door and has instead kicked it in, pulled up a seat in the living room and, like a boorish house guest, refuses to leave.

Consider our reliance on television news to tell us what’s important. Two weeks ago, it was drought, election coverage, drought, some Olympic fluff, and drought. We had stories about how to let the lawn go dormant in the heat (i.e., don’t cut it); how to stay cool in the middle of the afternoon (investigative reporting at its finest: stay out of the sun); how drought affects corn and how corn affects the cost of animal feed and how the cost of animal feed affects the cost of raising animals and how the cost of raising animals means we’ll be paying more for a pound of hamburger very soon.

Every field had a reporter stomping around in it, kicking up dust and rubbing fingers over dry stalks. I’m amazed there were enough corn fields in the entire country to accommodate every enterprising young reporter who needed to stand in one, shake her head disconsolately and read ainfall statistics from a cue card.

If you watched these performances on the news two weeks ago, you couldn’t help but be depressed. This was a big story. Huge. And if that wasn’t enough to have you reaching for the Zoloft, there was the swipe/counter-swipe among Obama and Romney, both campaigns working hard to win the Emmy for Smarmiest Ad of the Political Season.

The Olympics offered a slight glimmer of hope, like looking at the brightness of heaven through a long tunnel, but only if you watched NBC, which was prepping for the two-and-a-half weeks when it would make millions by televising the heavy medal competition.

But then a lone gunman opened fire in a movie theater, and suddenly the drought, Obama and the Olympics didn’t exist anymore. Or if they did, they were relegated to an afterthought, sandwiched between James Holmes and his shock-red hair and the obligatory feel-good story of lemonade stands or adopted puppies to close out the show. (Can’t send the audience away feeling too badly about the Human Condition. Bad for business.)

But if the drought was such an important story to begin with, how could it slip off the collective radar so quickly and so completely when the next crisis came along?

I may have answered my own question.

The reality is this: Network news has a finite amount of time and space. Subtract the commercials and factor in the cold reality that we are an attention-impaired society that can focus on only two or three big-picture events at a time — and the bloodier, the better — and you start to get the picture.

I’m not saying that the drought and the election aren’t important. They emphatically are. Both will impact millions of people and both deserve to be covered. The Olympics are an incredible demonstration of the human spirit and athletic prowess. Absolutely worth our time. The killings in Colorado were appalling and needed to be part of the national discourse.

But after the drought came the rains. After the backbiting, somebody will be elected in November. When the Olympics end, it will be the World Series, then football. The people of Colorado will honor their dead, politicians will wrangle over gun laws, some of which will change and some of which won’t.

It’s always something.

My point is that life goes on, and we should too.

Getting so wrapped up in the news of the day does nobody except the advertisers any good; the constant consumer clarion call sandwiched between the stories is the real reason television news — really any news — exists.

Wordsworth, back in 1801, knew the dangers of over-hyping as well as anybody today. We should seek to be informed, but not defined, by the news. If you want to know what’s really going on in the world — your world ­– turn off the TV, step away from the smartphone, close your computer and go out into the community.

Talk to friends, talk to family, talk to strangers. Make an honest-to-goodness connection. That’s the kind of news that doesn’t come in pre-defined chunks. The kind of news that matters.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Aug. 2, 2012, in The Alliance Review.