It was a joke, though.
I’m at the gym, gliding along on the elliptical with my brain set in writerly mode, looking around and observing people. That guy on the treadmill in front of me, could he be a Marine? Oh look, there’s my friend from church, the one who speaks with a lilting accent, I must try to remember where she’s from, is it Panama? And behind me, a man with a booming voice is having a jokey conversation with a friend as they walk along the main corridor.
I miss most of the conversation, but when the man says “I’ll fire her!” in his booming voice and he and his friend burst out laughing, I swivel my torso around to get a look at him. It’s an awkward swivel if you’re on the elliptical, and what do I gain from it? Nothing, only This is what two businessmen sharing a laugh together look like, this is what the man with a booming voice looks like. He is a rather slight fellow with a mustache, as it turns out. His build doesn’t match his voice at all.
I pedal on and forget about him until a few minutes later, when he suddenly appears at my elbow, lightly touching it. At first, I don’t recognize him.
Excuse me ma’am, just want to make sure you know I was kidding.
Kidding about what? And who is this guy? I wonder.
You know, when I said that about firing my employee.
Oh, that guy. I didn’t hear the whole conversation, I say. I was just being nosy, pay no mind, I don’t say.
Well, I was telling my friend my Chinese employee beat me at ping pong. She beat the pants off me, actually. But I wouldn’t fire her anyway, she’s the best employee I’ve got.
Oh, I say. I laugh a little, and he is gone. It takes me a moment to figure out that when he boomed I’ll fire her!, he was referring to her thrashing him at ping pong. Now the joke makes sense.
But his behavior astonishes me. After reflecting on his words, he came all the way back across the room to the woman who had turned around on the treadmill to listen to him–me. To explain himself. As though he had to. To me, a nosy nobody.
Did he think, Who is that woman who swiveled around to look at me, could she be a friend of my employee’s who will tell her about the conversation?
But even if that were the case, the employee would surely get the joke. That she might worry her boss would really fire her because she beat him at ping pong doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility to me. I’m sure they joked about it at the time, especially given his jovial, outgoing personality.
What else, then?
He wants to make absolutely sure nobody ever thinks he would fire his Chinese employee for beating him at ping pong. Not even the nosy lady on the elliptical whom he’ll probably never see again–nobody.
Because you possibly could, if you were particularly obtuse, interpret his joke as a racist or sexist remark. And racist and sexist are about the two scariest epithets you can hurl at someone these days.
I want to run after him and shout, Wait, it’s a joke, I get it! I want to shout, It’s none of my business anyway! I want to shout, Even if you meant it literally, don’t apologize, you have freedom of speech!
But it’s too late, he’s gone, leaving me wondering, as I pedal on, about freedom of speech and what it means. Doesn’t it mean some people have a right to express their racist, sexist opinions, even if they are highly offensive to other people? If the offenders aren’t at the workplace, where their comments have a direct effect on the people who work with them, the answer is yes. We have the right. But what good is it if we’re afraid to use it?
This guy was not only not offensive, he was so worried about being perceived that way that he felt he had to explain himself, to protect himself. Presumably against the possible pc patrol on the elliptical.
And if we feel we have to police ourselves from people at the gym, how free are we?
Every fall in the Seattle neighborhood where I live, pumpkin vines begin to sprout all across the lawn and up the front entrance of the house of the Pumpkin Man.
The vines are fruitful and multiply, and in the weeks leading up to Halloween, the Pumpkin Man’s yard becomes a child’s dream of giant orange and white delights.
Big pumpkins–some weighing up to 500 pounds. Messy pumpkins, sprawling willy nilly all over the place like toys that refuse to be put away. Pumpkins that suggest your front yard does not have to be a place of carefully-tended rose bushes and grass that must be weeded and mowed and leaves that must be raked. No, it can be fun and wild and free, like the setting of a Dr. Seuss book.
Well, maybe not your actual mom’s lawn. But maybe your lawn, maybe someday. The potential is there.
In reality, growing a yard full of huge pumpkins that later must be mulched or recycled or buried is a lot of work. Why does the Pumpkin Man do it?
“I like seeing people enjoy it, I like seeing a smile on their face,” he says.
But exactly why he got started, even he is not sure. It was back in 1970, and Greg Shaw, who was not yet the Pumpkin Man, had just left the Army. He was a tenant in a small house and planted some jade plants in the yard. Then he built a small greenhouse for them.
“I just liked growing things,” he says.
He had never grown pumpkins before, but for no particular reason planted some Big Max pumpkin seeds in a pot. They grew to a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk height of 20 feet. They produced a 100-pound pumpkin. Shaw was hooked.
But he had to leave his new hobby behind for several years while living in an apartment and attending the University of Washington. Then in 1981 he moved back to the Magnolia neighborhood where he’d lived before, and this time, planted Big Max seeds in his yard. Big pumpkins came up. They were even more unusual a sight then then they are now, and he got quite a reaction. Every year, his pumpkin patch grew larger. Then he moved into a different house across the alley and started again.
Shaw became a real estate agent. He told a successful colleague what he was known for, and asked the man’s opinion.
“Do you want to be thought of as a Pumpkin Man or a Realtor?” the colleague asked.
He abandoned his pumpkin growing for four years while growing his career as a realtor. Then he started planting his seeds again.
His pumpkins are an eye-opener here in the city, but when he took one weighing 170 pounds to the rural Puyallup Fair one year, it failed to win a prize. The winner was a 569-pounder. Since then, Shaw’s pumpkins have hit 500 pounds, but he doesn’t enter competitions anymore. Some growers have now produced fruits surpassing a ton.
Size is not the point for Shaw. For him, it’s all about the reaction he gets.
One year, some 30 years back, there were pumpkin thieves afoot, and he placed a baby monitor in his yard to watch for prowlers. His footage didn’t show any, but it did expose plenty of people screaming and yelling with excitement at his pumpkins.
Cool!!! they would say. Or Holy ____!!
The Pumpkin Man does not use expletives. But he understands how his yard causes others to do so, and it’s OK.
There’s something magical about the pumpkins, and it’s not just their size, it’s their rate of achieving it. When Shaw says he likes watching them grow, he means it almost literally.
“There was one around 20 years ago that grew ten feet in 24 hours. That’s half an inch an hour,” he says.
The hardest parts of pumpkin growing are weeding the plants, and cleaning it all up when the harvest is over.
Shaw can’t quite claim to be an organic gardener–his fertilizer contains a fungicide–but he uses no pesticides. His two cats take care of rats. Occasionally he has a problem with squirrels who don’t quite get what a pumpkin is.
“They think it’s a big nut or something and they try to chew on it.”
The Halloween harvest ends with a ghoulish chain saw massacre as Shaw cuts up the fruit and fills his truck with over 2,000 pounds of it, headed for the yard waste recycling center. Or sometimes he buries it, as he did last year. One year, he donated pumpkin guts to a food bank to make pumpkin pie.
By April 21st, he’ll be ready to sow another year’s crop. As long as he’s able, he’ll keep doing it.
One time a man came by with his child, and Shaw heard him say, “When I was growing up, my parents brought me here to see the giant pumpkins.”
That’s motivation. Two generations so far, and the Pumpkin Man’s still growing strong.
To sell your house or get free pumpkin seeds, contact Greg Shaw at 206.579.5475206.579.5475, email@example.com.
Today I thought I’d share with you the adventures of my friend Wendy Hinman, who spent seven years traveling around the world on a 31-foot boat with her husband.
Then she wrote a book about it. It’s a good book, too!
Listen to Wendy describe some of her adventures in this video.
After all that, Wendy and Garth are planning to do it yet again! But on a larger boat next time.
I know I’m too much of a wimp, but what about you? Do you you dream of sailing around the world? Would you dare to actually try it?
What’s in a business name?
Plenty, it turns out. Especially for women.
That’s what I realized after talking to a successful entrepreneur about my writing and editing business, which I named Teresa Meek Communications. A simple name that says who I am and what I do. Does the job just fine, or so I thought.
But no, my friend says, my first name makes it sound too personal, too much about me, not businesslike enough. I need to take my first name off and call it Meek Communications–or something else entirely. He was quite insistent about it. And he runs a multi-million-dollar business, so he should know.
Though I already have a website, a logo, and business cards, making a change from Teresa Meek Communications to Meek Communications is not such a big deal. If I do it, my friend says, I will make more money. People will pay more for Meek than they will for Teresa. Meek sounds like it could be a company full of smart people, instead of someone who’s clearly a sole operator. And Meek is serious. They might not even realize it on a conscious level, but potential customers would take more seriously a company using a last name or a business name than one with a first name in the title. He didn’t say so, but I suspect having a female first name in the title compounds the problem. Or perhaps even is the problem.
I think of Mrs. Smith’s cookies. The Mrs. makes it personal and clearly feminine, but even she didn’t use a first name in the business title. But what about Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix and syrup? Hannah’s Cupcakes? Wendy’s hamburgers?
So there, I want to shout. They use first names in the food business. Female first names, too.
But maybe that’s because women have traditionally been associated with the kitchen. Everybody’s mom is the best cook in the world, so it stands to reason that a product or a company with a female first name would sound homey. As in familiar, homemade, fresh from the oven, delicious. A selling point, no question.
Outside the food business, though, I have to admit I’m initially stumped. There’s Barbie, but that’s a product, made by Mattel.
I’ve got it: Suze Orman, who after first working as a waitress, then making her way up the ranks at Merrill Lynch and Prudential, founded her own empire and named it the Suze Orman Financial Group.
She used her first name, and a diminutive-sounding one at that, but it’s a Group. A bunch of smart people, as my friend would say.
Like the Oprah Winfrey Network. Martha Stewart Omnimedia.
I could be a Group too. I’ve seen women in PR and communications use this trick. To take a hypothetical example, someone named Beth Jones calls her business Jones Media Group. Sets up an 800 line with people answering the phone for the Group. Must be a bunch of smart people working at that busy company. Who would ever know it’s just Beth?
It doesn’t work for me, though. I don’t judge people who do it. I get it. But we all have our own comfort level when it comes to putting our best foot forward, and being a Group exceeds mine.
But you don’t have to do all that, my friend says. Forget the Group, forget the phone line. Just a simple name change.
I’ll think about it, I say.
I think about it. I decide my friend is probably right.
But I can’t do it.
Like most women, I identify much more with my first name than with my last. For one thing, my last name is my husband’s name. I wasn’t born with it and didn’t grow up with it.
But then, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using my maiden name either. Though it was my last name for 20-some years, it always felt like my father’s name more than mine.
The only name I feel comfortable using is Teresa. It’s who I am. Always has been, always will be. For my website, I even tried to get Teresa.com by writing to the owner, who doesn’t appear to be using it anymore. She didn’t respond, and who could blame her? If I ever got Myfirstname.com, I’d never give it up either, even if I stopped using my website. Even if the whole internet went down forever.
Next, I considered other names. Having a business name that has nothing to do with me is fine. It’s just the last-name thing that’s a problem. I thought of cutesy names like The Write Stuff (taken), SEO-driven names with Freelancer in the title, names with Writer, Writing, and Business in them. But none of them felt like names I wanted to be associated with.
I seem to be stuck with Just Teresa. Now there’s a name! Personally, I love it. But would you hire a Just Beth or a Just Rick? Probably not. Sounds like they don’t think much of the service they provide, so why should you?
I’m proud of the writing and editing service I provide. I would never denigrate it, but I don’t want to boast about it either. I’m fortunate because I’ve found something to do that suits me perfectly. It’s really an extension of who I am. Maybe that’s why the only name that seems to work is the one I’ve got.
So it will have to do. At least until the day comes when I can’t handle everything myself anymore.
It’s hard to envision a Network or Omnimedia in my future, but then, you never know. I started off as a waitress. Like Suze.
In the 1960s, cars were still interesting and pretty to look at. After that, it all went downhill.
At least that’s my opinion. But for all your die-hard car fans out there, here are the later-model cars from the show.
The car show had only one car from the 1920s this year, but it’s a beauty. This car, which the owner has dubbed the “Strawberry Alarm Clock”, makes the show every year.
For more cars of the 1940s, see the first classic car post here.
Ah, the 1950s, era of black and white TVs with not much to watch, of drive-ins and sock hops and hamburgers and Levittowns.
But they sure knew how to make cars. Here are some beauties from this year’s car show:
Cinderella’s coach? The owner said the 1956 Nash Ambassador was the official car of Disneyland back in the day.