Saturday, November 22, 2014

Notes From My Knapsack 11-29-14

Notes From My Knapsack 11-29-14

Jeff Gill


Laughing all the way to the Pearly Gates



"Happiness equals reality minus expectations."


Tom Magliozzi may not have been the first person to say that, but I'm happy to give him credit for having done the most to make the saying widely known. That, and:


"If money can fix it, it's not a problem."


Tom died last month, as listeners to WOSU-FM and NPR stations nationwide well know. He co-hosted "Car Talk" with his brother Ray, a show that was theoretically about auto repair but branched out to the known universe and beyond. These two East Cambridge (MAaaaa, Our Fair City) natives helped teach us both that there was a whole 'nother side to Cambridge, and that MIT is in that neighborhood, too.


They were "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers" as part of a schtick that was largely forgotten as the WBUR show in Boston went on to become a nationwide institution as simply "Tom and Ray."


Tom was 12 years older, and had to leave the air in 2012 with a rapidly developing case of Alzheimer's disease, though the archives, Ray Magliozzi says, can carry the show forward for years.


Our memory of their laughter, and Tom's raucous hoots in particular, will carry us for years as well. There was a joy in life and an appreciation of the little things that came through whether they were talking about dealerships, or relationships.


One part of the Tom Magliozzi legacy that isn't as well remembered is his quixotic campaign back in the era of 55 mile an hour speed limits. Most of us recall the bumper stickers and song: "I Can't Drive Fifty-five," but Tom, as usual, had a different take.


Tom sporadically argued across the country for a national 35 mile an hour speed limit.


Yes, that's right. 35 mph. Nationwide.


His argument was in short: we're going too fast. Like an Italian Ferris Bueller, Tom was concerned that life goes by pretty fast as it is, and if you don't pay attention, you may miss it. His solution was: if you can't slow down life, you can at least slow down your car.


I think about this as I'm teaching my son to drive. Often, especially learning the niceties of highway driving, on ramps and off ramps and passing lanes, I'm in the position of having to say to him "speed up!"


His driving school instructor has told him the same thing: "speed up!" But he also assumes "you keep driving, get enough experience, you'll go faster: trust me." I'm sure he's right.


But what happens to "dangerously slow" if everyone has to go more slowly? I'm prodding him to accelerate because of the usual 75 mph driver coming up from behind in the 55 mph zone, and to be safe, he does need to floor it, but what if…


And there's just being a pedestrian in Granville. If someone has the green light in their car, but the parallel side of the intersection has a crosswalk with someone slowly strolling across it, you can almost count on a near peel-out from the frustrated driver who is now three to seven seconds delayed in their hurtling course.


These testy turning drivers? Don't pick on our youth, because from my spot nervously teetering on the curb, I see lots of grey hair in some of the most impatient windshields.


Tom was right. We are all in too much of a hurry. What would a nationwide 35 mph speed limit do? Would it just be a net cost to the economy in slower deliveries, or might it decrease blood pressures, lessen high speed accidents, and increase enjoyment of the landscape and the surroundings to who knows what increase in creativity and productivity?


Just wondering. And missing Tom already. His probate will be handled by a new law firm on Harvard Square: "Dewey, Missem, and Howe."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you're not in a hurry to do at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Faith Works 11-22-14

Faith Works 11-22-14

Jeff Gill


Questions, and more answers than we think



It had been something on the order of sixteen years.


I had last bought a suit quite some time ago, and while I don't wear a suit very often, the occasion does come up when I need to, I have to.


My wife also felt that my previous suit, while not looking utterly out of style, was unmistakably a suit that was… well, purchased almost two decades ago.


So we went somewhere that a friend had recommended, and where they worked, in fact, and I got some useful assistance in the arcane skills of selecting a suit (pants cuffs yes or no, the "break", how long the sleeves should be, etc.).


Precipitating this move was a wedding that I'd be performing where the nature of the reception and venue meant that I should probably not be wearing a pair of khaki slacks with a now shapeless tweed jacket. I have three or four, dating to various geologic eras but all showing very little wear other than if you look closely at the tattered linings of them, which if I keep them on you would not. A couple were outright purchases in another, previous century, and a couple more were Goodwill or church rummage sale finds; they all have every bit of the style consciousness you've come to expect from tweed.


Making the purchase and measurements for the final alterations and going back to pick it up all came in just under the wire, so there was some rush involved. Most of my consideration of this suit had to do with color, cut, and feel (it feels nice, thank you very much!), and I hadn't gone much in depth with this new clothing item.


Until I was hanging it up last weekend, and shifting it for neatness on the hanger, I saw it. The label, inside the neck of the jacket, with the maker in large letters on the tag, and below it the words "Made in Haiti."


"Made in Haiti."


Let's be honest: I have shirts made in Nepal and Bangladesh, boxer shorts made in India, we use towels made in Brazil, et cetera, et cetera. Wearing and using products made in the tougher neighborhoods of the Southern Hemisphere is not unusual to me, nor is it, I suspect, to you.


But Haiti. In a word, owww.


I've not been to Haiti, but it's getting to the point where I seem to be one of the few. Lots of folk I know have made one or even repeated trips to that island nation, a place of natural disaster and social chaos, a location for mission trips and extended campaigns of public ministry. Haiti seems to need everything, and gets very little other than charity as the people struggle with a subsistence economy.


Which includes, apparently, assembling men's suits for what is no doubt the cheapest price the supplier could get away with paying. A place of natural beauty but severe cultural disorder, any business there, any cash flow to the good for Haiti, had to be a blessing.


Still, there was something more than just vaguely unnerving about seeing that tag. It may have touched on my ambivalence about buying a suit in the first place, or it might be that the stories I've heard from Healing Arts Mission, or out of Calebasse from Pastor Moniot and his New Covenant School, or through Lifeline Christian Mission in Grand-Gouave or across the nation of Haiti – they all snapped back on me in seeing that the snazzy new suit I'd been wearing last weekend was painstakingly assembled by people in those places. Their neighbors, if not they themselves.


We are connected in today's economy through our smartphones, our clothing, our sports equipment, our masonry work, to people in distant lands speaking foreign languages who probably know more about our lives in America than we do about theirs in . . . um, how do you say the name of that country?


What does that connection mean to us? How does that connection, where we get nicer and cheaper stuff because of their harder and messier work in those far-off places, create an obligation, a burden of more than just guilt, on us?


In this Thanksgiving season, it's a good time for individual believers, families around festive tables, or fellowships of all sorts, to spend some time asking themselves that question. As we know how we benefit from their labors, how can our economic activity bring hope and empowerment to those persons who produced it?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's got a new suit and a story to tell about it. Tell him your story to, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.