December 2015

Line in the Sand: The best things that happened in 2015

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how we wound up here. I could probably piece it together by reading Courtney’s half of this column, but why start now?

I think, going by the now-traditional email chain full of personal insults and death threats that decides each month’s topic, Courtney was going to make the case that “you catch more bees with honey.” Her plan was to show some examples she had witnessed this year of people being genuinely nice and having nice things happen to them in return.

This position is great for me to argue against for two reasons. First, the phrase is “you catch more flies with sugar,” so I’ve already won. But second, 2015 has been, above all else, the year of the jerk. This is the year when so many figures rose to prominence solely on the basis of just being the worst. And what’s more, we’ve celebrated this as an achievement. We’ve held them up as role models for future generations of jerks to emulate as they elbow their way to the front of the line of history, mowing down the elderly of adversity and small children of misfortune along the way.

Let’s start with a guy I’ve already made fun of in this space, but who’s just too perfect an example: Donald Trump. Now I don’t have anything personally against the guy other than the stuff we all have against the guy. If you’re a Donald Trump supporter, more power to you, but please understand one thing: the guy is a jerk. That’s not me trying to bring him down or anything; that’s his shtick. That’s been his shtick since the ’80s.

When we watched him on The Apprentice, we watched him because he was that guy who was famous for being a big rich jerk who fires people. We cheered him on for being a jerk, we bought the “You’re Fired” T-shirt, because he was that good at being a jerk. He was the cartoonish caricature of a jerk, and we raised him up accordingly, because it made for entertaining television.

And when he started running for president, to his great credit, he made no attempt to change. He never tried to reach middle America with a heartfelt story about saving up to buy his first Mercedes. He never once played to the hayseed crowd by strapping on a blue collar and spinnin’ yarns about his days swimmin’ in the ol’ water hole. He was the same giant jerk we all knew from TV, writ large. And as of this writing, he’s still winning, because man do we just love a jerk right now.

Look at at this way. We’ve all stood in line at some godawful nightmare of a government agency before, waiting for some soulless bureaucrat to rubber stamp some useless form so we can get back to the important work of forgetting the government exists for a while.

Everything about a government office is designed to set you on edge: the soul-leaching overhead lighting, the vague smell of basement and Hot Pockets, the post-nasal sniffing that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere.

And we’ve all served our time in this labyrinthine hell, only to reach the end of the line and find out we haven’t filed the proper paperwork with another branch. Or we haven’t had a form verified via fax by the central office. Or the bureaucrat in question is just having a bad day and is exercising his small bit of power in the world by ruining our day.

We’ve all been there, and don’t we just hate that bureaucrat? These tiny little Napoleons have their one tiny little spit of land where they’re in charge, and they will turn the screws on anyone who wanders in. They’re the biggest jerks of all, because they’re completely untouchable—inside their little sphere, they are in charge, whether we like it or not.

All I am saying is, that’s exactly what we had with Kim Davis. Kim Davis is completely that jerk bureaucrat who had a bad day and decided she was going to fire up a Hot Pocket, breathe deep through her whistley sinuses, and rule her little corner of the labyrinth with an iron fist. And people threw her parades for that. It’s the ultimate jerk move—petty, unavoidable, indefensible, and we’ve all fallen victim to it at one time or another. So of course, we made her famous.

Maybe on a small level, on a day-to-day level, you do catch more flies with sugar. Or bees with honey, or hummingbirds with marmalade, whatever metaphor Courtney lands on.
But on a grand scale, on the national stage? We just love us some jerks too much. You want to lay out some sugar, go ahead. Maybe you’ll get lucky. But if you really want to catch flies, you have to lay out a little bit of vinegar and dishwashing soap.

Wait, is that even the right metaphor? Crap, this is harder than I thought. 

Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson

Barry and I have been at this for a couple years. We’ve exchanged dozens upon dozens of barbs and each crafted more than 30,000 words arguing our points. (And, I won the CH2 presidential contest, just in case you were looking for an update.) Sometimes though, we run out of things to fight about. For December, Barry asked me what I thought the best thing that happened this year was. I told him I liked the topic, but I needed to sleep on my answer.

Two weeks later I woke up when Barry nudged me again. My answer was a tad selfish. I felt like the best thing that happened this year happened to me. I became a better person, and learned a few lessons along the way. But, could we turn that into a debate? Always up for a challenge, Barry agreed to argue the case for people who don’t do the right thing, who are bad people, but still manage to make it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I cannot wait to read his column!

When Lisa Mateyka and I moved into our dorm at West Virginia University some 24 (gulp) years ago, I was incensed that our beds had not been bunked per my very specific request. As such, I voiced my disappointment to the poor woman in the housing office. I can’t remember our conversation verbatim, but I may have questioned how a major university was unable to follow simple directions and, if they screwed this up, what else will go wrong, namely the correct bed configurations for the 10,000 students moving in that day. Lisa’s mom gently suggested that, “You get more bees with honey.” And while I chose not to believe her that day, or most of the more than eight thousand days since, I recently began to see the error of my ways.

A few weeks ago, I was walking in Savannah, in the rain. A post-dinner desire for Leopold’s ice cream required a five-minute walk. As my friend and I ducked beneath the intermittent awnings that lined the storefronts of Broughton Street, a gentleman, himself soaked, stopped and offered us his umbrella. We declined—almost in a state of shock. “Who is that nice?” we questioned.

That was a gentle reminder—one in a series of recent reminders—that made me realize being nice pays off. You don’t need to change who you are, but can you change how you act.

Gentle may actually be the word of the day. Sometimes writing doesn’t come as easy as I want it to. And even when I have an idea, there is always a moment—“the moment”—that provides the crucial direction for me to either start or finish a story. Until this morning, my column ended a paragraph ago.

You see, sometimes when I play music via my phone while driving, the same song will repeat itself. It only happens with one song. Sometimes it will play three or four times in a row and then move on. Today, that song, “Gentle on My Mind,” played seven times. Of course it did, I thought. After all, it was that song that I first heard more than a year ago that changed my direction. It was right around the same time that someone told me that I was intimidating. Intense. Always on the go. Pushing. Pushing. Pushing. He was right. I doled out a lot of bees, not a lot of honey.

So, I made a concerted effort to change. To wag more and bark less. To listen fully before responding. To breathe a couple beats before firing off a sarcastic response. To not let everything bother me to the point that the stress is visible in my eyes, on my lips, across my shoulders. To make my career a part of me, but not what defines me. To take time for me. To sneak away for a weekend. To read real (not electronic). To listen to music—not read emails—when I walk the dog. To renovate my house and make it a home, not just the place where I set my laptop at the end of every day.

All of the above has made me a better friend. A better boss. A better co-worker. A better teacher. A better writer.

The best part about this year? I chose me. And in doing so, I am better for you. 

  1. glad to hear you are wagging more, listening fully,breathing before sarcasm..but please Court..don’t loose your “NJ”

    — Patricia Perry    Dec 3, 03:18 pm   

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