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A God-given gift for singing marred by bad breath 

A God-given gift for singing marred by bad breathAfter dinner one evening, my girlfriend, Ashley, and I settled down to watch some TV.

“You get to choose tonight,” I said, leaning back on the couch. “It seems like I’ve been choosing all the movies lately.”

“Are you serious?” Ashley asked.

“Of course,” I said. “Fair’s fair. Whatever you choose, I’ll watch it.”

“Really? You’ll watch anything I pick, no matter what?”

“Within reason,” I said.

“Oh, no.” Ashley shook her head. “You can’t tack conditions on after the fact. You said that whatever I chose, you would watch it.”

“Exactly, and I meant what I said. But it has to be within reason.”

Ashley glared. “So what does ‘within reason’ mean?”

“Just that. Whatever you pick has to be reasonable.”

“So what’s reasonable? Something that’s acceptable to you?”

“I’m not trying to weasel out of my promise,” I said. “I just meant that you can’t select something like the entire series of Friends. If you pick something, it has to be movie-length, and not a series that we have to become committed to for weeks on end.”

“I wasn’t going to pick a TV series, you moron,” Ashley said. “Wow. You make me sound like a conniving witch.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that you’re conniving. I just meant that when it comes to the shared responsibility of choosing our entertainment, we need to firmly establish some boundaries.”

“So in other words, you didn’t want to give me carte blanche?”

I shrugged. “If you want to put it that way, sure.”

“So you think I’m someone who will leap at the opportunity to take advantage of the situation? Is that it? You give me an inch, and I take a mile — because I’m such a terrible person?” 

“Ash,” I said, “please! All I meant was that it’s your turn to pick a movie. Not a television show or a mini series, but a movie. OK?”

“Whatever. Give me the remote.” Ashley wrenched the remote from my hand and started flipping through shows on Netflix.

“Here,” she said, landing on something. “I want to watch this.”

I squinted. “What is it?”

She grinned. “It’s a Bee Gees concert.”

I looked at her. 

She continued to grin. “It’s not a TV show, and it’s movie-length.”

“The Bee Gees? Really?”

“You said I could pick whatever I wanted!”

I sighed. “Aren’t they all dead?”

“One of them is still alive,” Ashley said. “Besides, it was taped in the ’90s. So … what do you think?” 

I shrugged. “Sure.”

She smirked. “You mean it?”

“I said sure, didn’t I? It’s your turn to pick the movie. I’ll stand by my promise. Go ahead and put it on.” 

“I will.” Ashley clicked the remote and sat down. The concert started with the Bee Gees standing around a single microphone, singing.

“You know,” I said, “I could never be in a group where singing in harmony was required. I’m too self-conscious. Singing into a single microphone like that, I’d be worried about having bad breath.”

Ashley glared. “Are you going to make these kind of inane comments throughout the entire concert? Because if you are, just warn me now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Do you really think any of them are worried about having bad breath? They’re onstage singing in front of thousands of people, and their concert is being filmed. I think their breath is the last thing on their minds.”

“Don’t be so sure,” I said. “Look how close they are to each other. I couldn’t sing like that, huddled up with two other people.”

A vein formed on Ashley’s forehead. “You can’t sing, period. Your breath has nothing to do with it!” 

“You know what I’m saying. I’m speaking hypothetically. It’s hard enough being self-conscious of my breath at work. At least there, though, I can excuse yourself to rinse my mouth or pop a breath mint. When you’re onstage, where do you go? You can’t just leave in the middle of a song.” 

“I’m sure all the Bee Gees brushed their teeth before the concert,” Ashley said. “Now please, can we just watch this thing? I don’t want to miss ‘I Can’t See Nobody.’”

I shrugged. “Sometimes brushing your teeth isn’t enough. And with all that singing, they might get dry mouth. I’ll bet that’s why they’re doing the harmony parts first, so that later in the concert, they can move to their own microphones.”

Ashley clicked off the TV and got up.

“Hey,” I said, as she stomped down the hall. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to lock myself in the bedroom and watch the entire series of Friends,” she said, slamming the door. 

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Requisitioning a company vehicle

Requisitioning a company vehicleDuring the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.

This is a story from one of my many lawn-cutting crew adventures: 

It was a chilly summer morning. We were all at the shop, loading the truck with our mowers and tools. 

As I climbed into the backseat, Benito, the owner, grabbed my wrist and yanked me back out.

“You’re not working with them today!” he said. “I need you to do a job with Bryce!” 

“What kind of a job?” I asked, as the maintenance truck took off without me, spewing dust and gravel. 

“What kind of a job?” Benito repeated. “You all the time questions! It’s a job where I tell you what to do and you just do it! Understand?”

“I appreciate your sharing the big-picture vision,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Load a truck with shovels and rakes, and then see me in the office,” Benito said, stomping away. “I’ll give you the address.”

“How about I just ride with Bryce?” I asked.

“Because he’s already at the jobsite! You and your endless questions!” 

“So we’re driving two separate vehicles? This company’s not exactly a paragon of efficiency, Boss.” 

Benito pointed at me. “Take a truck and load it with tools! I’ll be in the office.”

“How do I know what truck to take?” I asked. 

Per carita! Never-ending questions! Talk to Shoemaker. He’s the shop superintendent.”

So I approached Shoemaker, a short, balding guy with a long goatee. “Benito wants me to take one of the trucks.”

“Which one you want?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. How about the ’84 Ford?”

“That one’s been stalling at stoplights.”

“OK,” I said. “How about the ’79 Ford?”

“Nah. The brakes is worn.”

“The ’77 flatbed?”

“Nope. Transmission’s busted.”

I glared at him. “The ’68 Chevy dumptruck?”

“Clutch is out.”

“Well,” I said, “I need something reliable. I’ll just take the 2000 Isuzu Hombre, then.” 

“That one … wait.” Shoemaker scratched his chin. “We don’t have an Isuzu Hombre.”

“I know,” I said, twirling my keychain on my finger and walking away. “It’s mine.” 

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A modern-day success story 

A modern-day success storyIt was after dinner on Wednesday evening. I was in the office working on my blog. My girlfriend, Ashley, was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher. (I wasn’t entirely sure how the household chores always seemed to land on her plate, but I wasn’t one to question the status quo.)

As I typed, the phone rang. Ashley answered it from the other room.

A couple of moments later, she called “Hey, Colane! It’s for you.”

“Ah, man.” I trudged to the kitchen. Ashley was standing with her hand covering the receiver.

“It’s some lady,” Ashley said. “She said she works for the campus magazine at the college you attended. She mentioned something about writing an article and wanting to interview you.”

I frowned. “Really?”

Ashley shrugged and handed me the cordless phone. 

I put the receiver to my ear. “Hello?”

“Colane?”

“Speaking.”

“Hi, Colane. My name’s Kylie. I’m a master’s student and a writer for the campus magazine. I’ve been asked to do a promotional article for the journalism school to publish in our next issue. You’re a graduate, correct?”

“I am,” I said.

“Well, we’re reaching out to former students to request interviews,” Kylie said. “We’re specifically looking for success stories, to sell prospective students on the value that a journalism degree can offer.” 

“Oh,” I said. “That’s, um … yeah.”

“Your name was on my list of graduates, so I wanted to give you a call,” Kylie said. “Tell me, what success have you achieved since graduation? What doors has a journalism degree unlocked for you? Would you recommend pursuing a college degree to students who right now are graduating high school?”

“Well,” I said, running a hand through my hair, “after graduation, I was unemployed for two months as I looked for a job in my field. But because none existed — as the newspaper industry has pretty much imploded — I accepted a minimum-wage job as a lawn-cutter with a local landscaping service. And these days, I spend much of my time working on a humor blog that nobody reads.” 

I held the phone closer to my ear. “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

Finally, I clicked it off and set it in its cradle. 

“That was weird,” I said, looking at Ashley and shrugging. “There was nothing but a dial tone. We must have gotten disconnected.” 

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Being cool is much more important than being competent 

Being cool is much more important than being competentIt was a lazy Saturday afternoon. I was lying on the living-room couch, reading an article on my iPad. 

“This is ridiculous,” I said aloud, as my girlfriend, Ashley, walked into the room.

“What’s ridiculous?” she asked.

“Oh, this article I’m reading,” I said. “It’s an old blog post by Michael Hyatt about the importance of using keyboard shortcuts to save time. Most of the comments are agreeing and saying that keyboard shortcuts are the most important thing ever.”

“Who’s Michael Hyatt?” Ashley asked.

“He’s a blogger and a thought leader,” I said. “And I really enjoy his stuff. He seems like a nice guy. But this particular blog post is about how clicking with a mouse uses too much time, and that truly productive people need to use keyboard shortcuts. I mean, please. I don’t care how important you are — nobody’s too busy to use a mouse.”

Ashley shrugged. “So don’t use keyboard shortcuts. Why get upset?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess it rubs me the wrong way because I had a professor who said the same thing, and he acted all badass because he rarely used a mouse. It just seems to promote the idea that speed equals productivity.”

“Well, doesn’t it?” Ashley asked. “You get more done when you work faster.”

“Only if you’re truly productive,” I said. “But most people aren’t. They confuse being cool with being competent. They think if they have an Apple logo on their laptop, that automatically makes them creative. And people shouldn’t be working faster. If anything, they need to be slowing down and paying more attention to the quality of their work. It’s the hurry-up-and-half-ass-it approach that bugs me. That’s how life is these days. People don’t do things as competently as they used to, so they make it up in volume.”

Ashley frowned. “I’m not getting it.” 

“Quality doesn’t matter anymore,” I said. “With our generation, it’s all about the appearance of competency. People swipe on their iPads and push buttons on social-media software, but what are they actually accomplishing? Nothing! Everyone wants to look cool with their fancy technology, but they don’t care if they produce quality work.”

“You sound like a bitter old man, and you’re only in your thirties,” Ashley said, smiling. 

“I feel like a bitter old man,” I said. “I wish I would have come of age two decades ago. I hate the way things are today. Nobody cares anymore. Everyone’s shallow, and it’s as if everything in popular culture is a watered-down version of what it used to be. Movies, music, books — they’re all crap.” 

Ashley laughed. “It can’t be that bad.”

“It is!” I said. “Instead of taking the time to do things well, it’s as if people are rushing their mediocrity to the market. There’s more of everything, but it’s all uninspired garbage. Take music, for example. There’s more variety these days, but it’s all manufactured, synthesized crap. The singers just dance around in sweaty Spandex shorts and use pitch-bending software to sound good. You don’t have actual musicians anymore crafting songs. It’s all about appearance; not about quality. 

“Also,” I continued, “there are a ton of blogs, but most of them are poorly written, self-indulgent drivel. Do we really need more half-assed bloggers using keyboard shortcuts to rush their typo-ridden crap to the blogosphere?”

“You’re a blogger,” Ashley pointed out.

“Yeah, but …” I paused for a moment, frowning.

“Are you saying your self-indulgent drivel is more interesting than someone else’s self-indulgent drivel?” Ashley asked, grinning.

“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I’d certainly like to think so.” 

Ashley rolled her eyes. “Tell you what. Instead of reading inspirational articles and getting all bitter, why don’t you do something truly productive, like the laundry? Last time I checked, there were clothes in the dryer.”

“I already did,” I said. “I took the clothes out.”

“And did you fold them?” Ashley asked.

“Well, no,” I said. “I tossed them on the bed.”

“Ah. You tossed them on the bed.” Ashley narrowed her eyes. “Remind me: Weren’t you just complaining about the hurry-up-and-half-ass-it approach to life?”

I shrugged. “I’ll say this: If there’s anything in this world that needs a keyboard shortcut, it’s the laundry.” 

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A surefire way to move traffic

A surefire way to move trafficDuring the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.

This is a story from one of my many lawn-cutting crew adventures: 

We were driving along the highway to our next account when traffic came to an abrupt halt. We had been going a steady 55, and now both lanes looked like a parking lot.

“What in the world?” Crew Leader Carl said, muttering. He stuck his head out the window, trying to gaze ahead. “Dammit. I can’t see anything from here.”

Juan jumped out and stood on the shoulder, shielding his eyes from the sun as he gazed into the distance.

“Is it an accident?” Carl called.

Juan climbed back into the truck, shaking his head. “Construction,” he said.

“Ah, hell,” Carl said, drumming his fingers on the wheel. “Stupid state workers. I’m sure they’re all up there standing around, leaning on shovels. They can’t even scrape a dead cat off the road without closing the entire highway, the useless bastards.”

We sat for a couple of minutes, waiting for traffic to move. The truck didn’t have air conditioning, so being at a complete standstill, the inside was sweltering — even with the windows down.

Finally, one by one, people’s brake lights started to click off, and we crept forward an inch. And then another.

“Oh, great,” Carl said. “It’s going to be this stop-and-go crap, huh?”

He turned around. “That’s all right. I’ve got a way to get things moving.”

We all watched as he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his front pocket and shoved them deep beneath the seat.

“Now leave those lay there,” Carl said. “None of you can help me get them, even if I ask.”

I frowned. “I’m not comprehending.”

“Just wait,” Carl said, grinning. “You’ll see.” 

We sat for another five minutes, each of us growing listless and warm. Sitting in the middle, I didn’t have immediate access to any of the windows. 

Without saying anything, Carl bent to reach under the seat. When he did, traffic started to move. 

We sat for another full minute. When Carl reached under the seat again, the traffic started to move a second time. 

“See?” Carl said. “It never fails. If you want traffic to get moving, bury your cigarettes where they’re impossible to reach. Then, when you try to grab them, everyone will start to go. The worse your nicotine craving gets, the faster things will move.”

“But what if you don’t smoke?” I asked.

Carl shrugged. “Then I guess you’ll remain stuck in traffic, won’t you?”

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Decorative, dust-covered potpourri that has no smell 

Decorative, dust-covered potpourri that has no smellMy company hired a new intern recently named Kyle. The other day, I was working in my cubicle when Kyle approached me from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. 

“Excuse me,” he said, “but I was just in the restroom, and –”

“I really don’t like how this conversation is starting,” I said.

He swallowed. “Sorry. But I just happened to notice that there’s a dusty basket full of tree bark and pinecones sitting on the sink counter. Do you know if it belongs there?”

“Tree bark and pine cones?” I squinted my eyes, frowning. “Oh, wait. I think I know what you’re talking about. It’s shoved into the corner next to the paper-towel dispenser, right?”

Kyle nodded. “Uh-huh. Do you know what it is?”

“Well,” I said, “if memory serves me, 10 years ago that was a basket of potpourri. Someone put it in there to freshen up the restroom.”

“Oh,” Kyle said. “But isn’t potpourri supposed to smell?”

“It tends to lose its potency after a decade. I imagine by now, it’s breaking down into compost. At this point, you could probably grow tomatoes in it.”

“Do you know why they leave it there if it no longer smells?” Kyle asked.

I shrugged. “I guess it’s more of a decoration now than an air freshener.”

“It’s not much of a decoration, sitting there all coated with dust. It’s like someone scooped up a forest floor and dumped it into a basket. It’s gross.” 

“Well,” I said, “you could suggest to management that they liven it up a tad. Maybe they could sprinkle rose petals on top and add a stick of cinnamon.”

Kyle scrunched his lips. “I think it’s going to take more than a cinnamon stick to bring it back to its former glory. Someone should throw out the old stuff and add something new.”

“Like I said, make the suggestion to management. The restrooms don’t fall under my jurisdiction, so I can’t advise you one way or the other.”

“Yeah, but in the meantime, that basket’s just going to sit there, and it’s an embarrassment. Who wants to look at a pile of mulch when they’re washing their hands?”

“Kyle, I can’t agonize over the ornamentations of the office restroom. I’ve got things to do.”

“But this is important!” Kyle said. “It’s all about perception. Why have a non-functioning basket of scentless potpourri? Potpourri is supposed to smell! If it ceases to smell, then it should be disposed!”

“OK,” I said, holding up my hands, “I think you’re giving way too much thought to the potpourri, here.” 

“You know what I’m going to do?” Kyle asked. “I’m going to throw it out myself. I don’t care what anyone says. I’m going to make an executive decision!” He turned and marched down the hall.

“No, Kyle!” I yelled, calling after him. “Don’t do it! Save the depleted potpourri from such an undignified ending. Allow it to adorn our corporate restroom in all its exhausted glory! Please!”

My boss, Steve, ambled by. “What was that all about?”

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Kyle’s just going to throw away the ancient potpourri in the restroom.”

Steve frowned. “Who’s Kyle?”

“You know, the new intern.”

Steve frowned.

I looked at him. “Remember? The college kid you hired last week?”

Steve shrugged. “Sorry. I hire and fire lots of people. Nobody really stands out.”

“That’s comforting to know,” I said. “Especially considering that my review is coming up.”

“What did you say the kid is doing, again?”

“He’s going to throw away the old potpourri in the restroom.”

Steve continued to frown. “We have potpourri in the restroom?”

“We did, during the last ice age,” I said. “It’s disintegrating into sawdust as we speak.” 

“Is that what the stuff in the basket is?” Steve asked. “I thought that was a decoration?”

“Steve, c’mon. Who decorates a restroom with a basket of pinecones and tree bark?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. The restrooms don’t fall under my jurisdiction.” 

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Big media and its incessant war against Millennials

Big media and its incessant war against MillennialsLast week, I was invited to participate in an editorial meeting at a metropolitan newspaper.

I followed all of the reporters to a conference room and took a seat. The executive editor sat in a chair near the front.

“Listen up, everyone,” he said, holding up his hands. The chatter in the room slowly subsided. “We need a new angle this week to demonstrate why Millennials are pieces of shit. Does anyone have any ideas?”

A woman in front of me raised her hand. “Can we do a feature about how most Millennials are living at home and mooching off mom and dad?”

Approving murmurs swept through the crowd.

The executive editor shook his head. “No, no. The whole living-at-home bit has been played out. Besides, recent studies show that Millennials are now buying homes they can’t afford, just like the generations before them. What else?”

A man standing against the wall waved his pen. “I know! How about a piece that talks about the entitlement attitude Millennials have in the workplace?”

“Yeah!” someone called out.

“No.” The executive editor shook his head. “It’s good, but we’ve been there before. We need something fresh — something that really plays to the hearts of the few older people who still read newspapers. These folks are our last surviving customers, and if we don’t give them stories they want to read, then we’re out of business. So c’mon, people — think! What’s an unexpected way that we can bash Millennials?”

The room went quiet for a moment.

Someone in the back blurted out without raising her hand: “Millennials are terrible tippers.”

“That was done not too long ago,” someone else said. “I read something similar on the wire.”

“Millennials are killing retail by shopping online,” someone else called out.

Everyone looked at the executive editor to get his reaction. He shook his head.

“All Millennials care about is social media,” somebody said.

“How do you create a story out of that?” someone else said. “It’s much too broad.” 

Suddenly, without warning, the executive editor pointed at me. “You. I don’t recognize your face. Do you work here?”

Everyone in the room turned to glare at me. My face grew warm.

“No,” I said. “I’m a –”

“Speak up!” someone yelled.

I raised my voice. “I’m a humor blogger. I’m just visiting.” 

“You look young,” the editor said. “Are you a Millennial?”

“Actually, I’m not sure,” I said. “No one’s ever told me. I’m either a really young Gen-Xer or a really old Millennial, like Iliza Shlesinger. I remember things like turntables and typewriters, and I didn’t grow up with the Internet. In fact, I might be what they call an Xennial. I have things in common with both generations.”

“Whatever the hell you are, we need a fresh perspective,” the editor said. “You got any ideas?”

Everyone in the room continued to look at me.

“Well,” I said, shrugging, “I’m always frustrated when I see a story about a person who’s retired in their 30s. It’s almost as if they’re profiling them to remind us readers that we’re not good enough. Like, ‘Here’s someone who’s retired, and meanwhile you never bought a house, gotten married or had children.'”

I swallowed, looking at the crowd. “Actually, since I’ve told you all that, you might as well know that I don’t even have a girlfriend at the moment.”

Horrified murmurs swept across the room. People turned away to avoid my gaze.

“I think you touched on something,” the executive editor said, sipping from his Starbucks coffee cup. “I really like it, actually. We find a rare Millennial who’s achieved major success at a young age, and we do a profile to show other Millennials why they’re human scum. When they see someone their own age who’s accomplished so much, it’ll make them re-examine their own pathetic lives living at home with their parents.”

“Well,” I said, “I wasn’t suggesting –”

“I think it’s great!” someone called out.

“Me, too!” said someone else.

Enthusiastic chatter erupted. 

“We should profile a tech entrepreneur,” someone said. “They’re always successful at a young age.”

“We could play up the fact that very few Millennials achieve any sort of success in their life — let alone retire in their 30s,” someone else said.

“We should interview some unemployed Millennials with overpriced English degrees to get their reaction,” I heard another person say. 

I held up my hands. “Excuse me? Mr. Editor, sir? Excuse me?”

A group of reporters swarmed to a whiteboard and started story-mapping the idea. In the middle of the board, they drew a gigantic circle that said, “Millennials suck.” From there, they drew interlinking threads to connect other disparate ideas such as “underemployed,” “reluctant to get married or buy houses,” “worthless degrees from crappy colleges” and “totally dependent on mom and dad.” 

The executive editor sidled up to me and slipped his arm around my shoulder. 

“That was a terrific idea,” he said. “Can we hire you as a freelancer to tackle it?”

“Actually,” I said, “I’m a humor blogger, not a newspaper–”

He recoiled, taking a step back. “What are you telling me? That you’re a lazy, entitled Millennial who thinks he’s too good to work for a living? What, did you get rich selling Bitcoin, or something?”

“Whoa!” I said. “I didn’t say that. You put those words in my mouth.”

“So working here doesn’t meet your stringent expectations?” the editor said, yelling. “What, are we not hip enough? We’re too stodgy, old-fashioned? We don’t have a strong enough social-media presence?”

“I feel like I’m missing something here,” I said. “I’m not sure where all this wrath is coming from.” 

“Well, excuse me,” the editor said. “I’m sorry that this antique, out-of-date newspaper isn’t good enough. I guess we can’t all have graduate degrees in environmental literature!” 

I winced. “I don’t think I ever claimed to have a graduate degree in–”

Before I could finish, a couple of burly security guards grabbed me and hauled me to the lobby. They picked me up, slammed my head into the front door to open it, and heaved me onto the sidewalk. I landed hard on the concrete and lay sprawled on my stomach, my face in the gutter.

“And stay out!” the executive editor yelled. “Go run home to mom and dad, Mr. Environmental Literature!”

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Fulfilling your life’s purpose may be hazardous to your health 

Fulfilling your life's purpose may be hazardous to your healthIt was a gorgeous Saturday morning. I was lying on the living-room couch in my underwear, watching TV and drinking a beer.

My girlfriend, Ashley, walked into the room and stopped dead in her tracks.

“Hey,” she said, motioning to me. “What’s this all about?”

I let out a three-second belch. “What’s what all about?”

Her fingers clenched into tight fists, which was an ominous sign. “Is this how you’re going to spend your entire weekend? In your underwear?”

I shrugged. “Would you rather I lie here naked?”

“This has got to stop,” Ashley said. “You need some direction in life. You spend all your time either lounging around or working on a blog that no one reads. You need to figure out your life’s purpose and then make goals to fulfill it.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Absolutely not.”

Ashley put her hands on her hips, which was an even more ominous sign. “And why not?”

Luckily, I had an answer prepared. (It was one that I had been concocting for quite a while.)

“Because,” I said, “I want to live a long, full life, and everyone I know who fulfills their life’s purpose too soon ends up dying young.”

Ashley’s lip curled, exposing her lower teeth — which was perhaps the most ominous sign yet. “What are you talking about?”

“Take Jim Henson, for instance,” I said. “Look at how he changed the world. He introduced puppetry to a large audience, he helped revolutionize children’s television programming, and he created a lasting legacy with all his Muppet characters. And then, after accomplishing so much, he ended up passing away in his early fifties from pneumonia, of all things.”

“I don’t get it,” Ashley said. “Are you seriously suggesting that he passed away because he fulfilled his life’s purpose?”

“Not just him” I said. “Remember Bob Ross, the painter? The guy with the frizzy Art Garfunkel hair who had the Joy of Painting show on PBS? He passed away in his early fifties, too — and this after fulfilling his life’s purpose of making painting accessible to a wide audience.”

Ashley crossed her arms, which wasn’t just an ominous sign — it was a grave sign. “Don’t you think you’re just cherry-picking successful people who happened to die young?”

“I could name more,” I said. “Jimi Hendrix, John Candy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Joan of Arc, Mozart. All of them died young after accomplishing great things and fulfilling their life’s purpose.” 

“Wow,” Ashley said. “I can’t believe the lengths you’ll go to conform to mediocrity.”

“Wrong. I appreciate the gift of life. There’s a difference.”

Ashley sucked in a long, deep breath and let it out slowly. Her eyes fluttered, and a throbbing vein appeared on her forehead. 

Slowly, wordlessly, she started walking toward me.

I swallowed, pressing myself against the back of the couch. “Hon? What are you doing?”

As she gazed down on me, her eyes narrowed to slits, and her eyebrows curled into a menacing “V.”

“You’re about to die young,” she said. 

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0.2 days without a workplace-related accident

0.2 days without a workplace-related accidentDuring the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.

I recall my first day on the job, when Carl set his stringent expectations. 

“On my crew, safety is paramount,” Crew Leader Carl said, as we gassed up before work. “If you want to keep your job, you’ll have to make safety your No. 1 priority.” 

As he was saying this, he was filling a gas can that was sitting in the back of the truck, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.

“Yes, sir,” I said. 

“You’ll need to keep your head in the game at all times,” he continued, looking me hard in the eye. “Pay attention to what you’re doing. Being distracted, even for a second, can cause you or someone else to get hurt.”

“I think the gas can’s full,” I said, pointing. 

“Huh?” Carl turned and saw the gasoline overflowing into the truck bed. “Ah, damn!” 

He yanked out the nozzle, tipping the can. Gas cascaded off the back of the truck. 

“Piece of junk!” Carl bellowed, shaking the gas nozzle as if it were somehow deficient. 

One of the crew members, Francisco, jumped forward and uprighted the can. Gas continued to drip off the open tailgate.

“Anyway,” Carl said, hanging up the nozzle, “what was I just saying?”

“We were having a safety meeting,” I said.

“Right.” He walked back to the truck and jabbed a finger into my chest. “On my crew, I don’t tolerate negligence. You got it? If you do something stupid and hurt yourself or someone else, I’ll kick your ass from here over the Rocky Mountains. You’ll be eating Hellman’s Mayonnaise for lunch instead of Best Foods. You understand?”

I squinted. “Not really.”

Carl slammed the tailgate closed … just as Francisco was climbing out the truck. Francisco tripped and fell onto the pavement.

“What the hell you doing down there?” Carl said, his voice raised. “Get up! Your clothes are getting soaked in gas!”

As we climbed into the truck, Carl glared at me through the rearview mirror. “You remember what I told you about safety, now. You got it?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

With that, Carl fired up the truck. As we pulled away from the pumps, he took his cigarette and flicked it out the window. 

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Learning invaluable lessons from an incompetent life coach 

Learning invaluable lessons from an incompetent life coachIt was around seven on Tuesday evening. My girlfriend, Ashley, and I had already eaten dinner. Now we were both sitting on the living-room couch, watching a Love It or List It rerun on TV.

I was reclined with my head tilted back, and as the show played out, I started to snooze. It had been another long day, and I was exhausted and unable to keep my eyes open.

Ashley and I had an ongoing agreement: She’d let me snooze as long as I didn’t start snoring and drown out the show. If I did snore, she’d yell “Colane!” to startle me awake.

I’d bolt up, my eyes wide. Then, after a few minutes, I’d stretch out and drift back to sleep, and the whole routine would start over again.

When the commercials came on, Ashley muted the TV and called to me. “You awake, Colane?”

“Mmm,” I murmured, my head turned and my eyes squeezed shut.

“I have something I want to tell you,” Ashley said. “I know that you’ve been feeling sort of stuck in your life lately, so I set up an appointment for you to see a life coach.”

Both my eyes shot open, and I sat up. “A life coach?”

Ashley nodded. “Yeah. Just someone you can talk to who can give you guidance and help you to figure out what you want out of life. I don’t want to see you feeling so stuck. You’re capable of so much more.”

“How much is this appointment going to cost?” I asked.

Ashley gave me a dismissive wave. “Don’t worry about that. It’s a one-time deal. Consider it an early birthday present.”

“Well,” I said, “if it’s a present you were looking to give me, I’m not particular. I would have been happy with a new pair of jeans and some underwear.”

So the following week, I went to see the life coach. She had an office in a tall building downtown. The receptionist greeted me, and after waiting for a few minutes, I was invited into a well-furnished, brightly lit office.

“Call me Nancy,” the coach said, reaching across the desk to shake my hand. She appeared to be in her mid-fifties, and she was tall with curly hair and thick glasses. “Please, have a seat. I’m looking forward to chatting with you.”

I sat in a plush, leather chair. Nancy sat down and smiled.

“So,” she said, “I understand you’re feeling stuck?”

I nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been feeling that way for a while.”

“OK,” Nancy said, clicking her pen and jotting something on her notepad. “The first thing we need to do, then, is identify those areas in your life where you’re feeling trapped. Tell me, can you describe the major block that’s preventing you from feeling happy and satisfied?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, frowning. “That’s easy. I guess it’s just my life in general.” 

“Ah.” Nancy clicked her pen and scribbled some more. “In that case, I believe the solution is simple. You just need to change your life.” 

Ashley was waiting for me when I got home.

“So,” she said, wearing a large, eager smile on her face. “How did it go?”

I walked past her. “Next year,” I said, “just get me a pair of jeans and some underwear. Please.”