Friday, November 22, 2013

Who is This Momentary Logic Chap I May or May Not Have Heard About?

Thank you for reading my blog. That's very kind of you.

But have you ever paused to wonder, "Whose eclectic, disjointed, off-the-wall thoughts and ideas am I subconsciously absorbing through my eyeballs?" No? A pity.

Even if you WEREN'T curious, allow me to give you a tiny bit of insight. Of course, since I'm talking about myself, I can say whatever I want, right? Well, yes.

So instead, I'll copy that one time I was interviewed by a much cooler blogger than myself, one Emily Smucker. She ceased her blogging in August 2013 and the wails of despair from faithful followers can still be heard. Once upon a time, she interviewed several people for a series of articles on her blog, and I was one of them.

If you've already read her article on me, then this is a whole heap of Repost, the less attractive brother of Compost. I'm glad you read (past tense, unfortunately) Emily's blog, because she's an all-around Nice Human Being. Emily's version of this interview has her own particular flavor added to it, so on that account, mine will be slightly different. (AKA: waaaaaay more information that you wanted or needed to know.)

Emily sent me twenty questions by email, and I responded with twenty answers by email. That's my favorite style of interview, since it gives me plenty of time to choose my words and sound witty, things I'm incapable of doing during a live interview. I was clearing out my email inbox when I came across this exchange of information (which goes to show how seldom I clean out my email inbox) and had this "EUREKA!" moment where, instead of dollar signs, I saw pre-written material already processed into blog format. Those of you that blog will know what that feels like.

I'll post the questions exactly as they were given to me, and the answers exactly as I gave them in return. The eagle-eyed among you will notice that some of my answers will be different than the ones posted in Emily's blog. Graber humans are not known for brevity, and I'm no exception. Emily did a fantastic job editing my long-winded responses, which was probably a hint of some sort that I completely overlooked.

Oh, and please keep in mind that the Shawn answering these questions was a few years younger, as exhibited in question/answer #2.

Emily Smucker: Hello Mr. Graber.

Here is the premise of this interview: I ask questions, you answer them with the ego of a famous person. I ask for truth, but allow a bit of creative exaggeration if the situation calls for it...that is, if it will make the interview more interesting. My readers love scandal, so penciling some of that in would be a plus.

Before I begin, let me thank you exceedingly for allowing a lowly reporter such as myself the pleasure of interviewing you! It is an honor I will not take for granted, Mr. Sir.

Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I anticipate and appreciate hearing back from you. Soon is good. :-)
-Emily Smucker, Journalist. 

Shawn Graber: I'm honored to be a part of this interview, Ms. Smucker. My busy schedule hardly allows for luxuries such as sitting down with a nice young lady and talking about myself, so when those opportunities arise, I take them.

Your readers like scandal, eh? What crowds do you run with, Ms. Smucker? Oh wait, I'm supposed to be ANSWERING questions, not asking them.

1. What is your full name?1. My full name is Sir Shawn Barry Graber IV, Junior, Esquire. Just kidding. It's Shawn Barry Graber.

2. What is your age?
2. My age is 22. See, how simple was that? There's a certain gender out there in the world (and I won't name which one it is) that throws a fit when this question is asked. It seems to me that those people are ashamed of the accumulation of years that the Good Lord has allowed them to live.

3. What is your official job title?

3. I'm the Office Manager at Graber Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc.

4. What is your unofficial job title?

4. I'm also an HVAC apprentice, secretary, accountant, deliveryman, babysitter, and janitor. The perks (and drawbacks) of a small family business. :) If I were to give myself an unofficial title, it would be Sir Myriad. For obvious reasons.

5. What is the most dangerous and/or illegal thing you have ever done?

5. Your journal is read by questionable characters, and you want me to tell you the most dangerous/illegal thing I've done? For shame. Okay, you've talked me into it. I like to drive my car with my head sticking out of the sunroof. I'm tall enough that I can still reach the accelerator. And the brakes, too. I never drive very fast this way, because if I were to get rear-ended, it would most likely chop my head off. That, coupled with my possession of a blue rotating light and my unnerving attraction to all things explosive, most likely has me on every government watchlist there is. As for the other illegal things...we'll just have to talk off-the-record sometime. 

6. How about those Yankees?
6. They're cool. Or not. I don't really hate them, nor do I love them. That sums up the relationship I have with MLB. I had only sat through two full games of Major League baseball before my first cousin Brandon Beachy began to pitch for the Atlanta Braves. Since then, I've watched a handful of his games and surprisingly enjoyed it. It was nice that 1) I have no affiliation with other teams and 2) Iowa doesn't have a MLB team, so I can now cheer on the Braves without feeling guilty inside.

7. If you could re-do any event in your life, what would it be and why?
7. Now this question implies that I regret things done in my life. And who are you to say I have had regrets! Well I have. But I dare say I wouldn't go back and change a thing, because even the slightest change in my history would mean I'd have an entirely different "now". And I like where I'm at right now. Besides, I'm just getting a grasp on my life and all its complex ramifications, so why would I want to go and change pivotal events in my life?

P.S. If this question was posed by [my brother] Shelby, I would totally go back in time and not kick him in the head.

8. What is the most awkward thing you have ever said to a girl you were not dating and/or in an "its complicated" relationship with?
8. All relationships with me are complicated, just because of the personality I possess. Even my manfriends have difficulties. This is mainly because I have a very short attention span and an even shorter memory bank. Many of my friends patiently sit through stories that I tell for the 3rd or 4th time. With that being said, you can only imagine how awkward I can make things for nice ladies. I try my best to be clear and straightforward with women, so they know where I stand. But it feels sorta weird saying "I like hanging out with you, but I'm not looking for a relationship with you." to a girl. I have done this twice, and it doesn't get less weird.
 Now, that's what comes to mind for myself when you ask that question, but in reality, I most likely say deeply embarrassing things to women every conversation I have. I have a really broad comfort zone when it comes to conversation.

9. Why do people climb mountains?

9. Since this article is all about me, I'll change the question to "Why have you climbed mountains, Shawn?" And the answer is, "Because a whole pile of people wanted to do it and I went along for the ride." I do not go out of my way to climb mountains. I climbed one of the Three Sisters(?) Mountains in Oregon with a group, and that was very enjoyable. I climbed Pike's Peak in Colorado in the back of a 15-passenger van and got altitude sickness. Most of the mountains I ascend have handy ski-lifts installed on them.

10. If you could be a character in a movie, who would you be and why?

10. What do you mean, IF I could be a character? I already am! Well, in my brain, at least. I could fit a lot of different roles, and I really think I could be good. I love acting, which isn't hard to see if you know me or anyone else in my family.  *coughShelley coughShelby coughShane coughcough* In all reality, I could see myself as a cross between Jim Carrey, Jon Heder, Jack Black, Matt Damon, and Liam Neeson. Okay, so I may have just listed some of my favorite actors. But I like their roles...

11. What is the most interesting book you have read recently?
11. I'm currently reading several books. The Shack, by William P. Young, is a very fascinating read and should be sought out immediately. The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks is also fascinating in its own fictional way. As I read it, I can see myself using some of the tips while dealing with my siblings.

12. If I gave you three bucks to spend at the dollar store, what would you buy?
12. I don't think I've ever been to a "Dollar Store", so I will list what I'd use $3 on in various locales.
Walmart: 2/3rds of a 12-pack of Diet A&W Cream Soda
Goodwill: Some cool little plastic toys or several t-shirts, since you can never have enough grungy t-shirts with which to do yard work.
McDonalds: Either a large french fry (totally my Kryptonite) or 2 McDoubles without the bun and a small fry (mini version of my Kryptonite).
BestBuy: PBBPTPTTHPTHTBBBPTH! That was me spitting in mirth. $3 at BestBuy is about as useful as an oar on a battleship.
Central Discount: I could probably get a shopping cart of goodies for $3 at our local "Amish Walmart". I love everything about that place, except for the other customers, who not only take the last items I want, but also eyeball me up and down like I'm going to take items out of their cart. (Which, honestly, I have considered. Seriously, do they need TWENTY boxes of the only cereal I wanted?) Do I want 25 lbs of chunky peanut butter? Check. Enough baked beans to feed the French Foreign Legion? Check. Pickled Cactus in Light Brine by the gallon? Check. Dented bottles of Gatorade? Obscure barbecue sauces? Bacon & Cheddar chips in family-sized bags? Pudding and candy bars way past its Sell-By date? INDEED.

13. Tell me one thing about yourself you wouldn't want me to know.

13. There are many things I don't want you to know about me, but since you said "one", I get to choose. (I see what you're doing here, by the way. If I didn't want you to know it, I just wouldn't tell. But again, I have a broad comfort zone in conversation. This has led to my downfall/embarrassment several times.) There is a mole on my chest that has recently changed from an endearing light brown color to a scary, not-so-endearing red color. I'm sorta worried about it, and I should probably have it checked since I've read about moles and if they change size, color, texture, location, hair density, itchiness, etc, I am to notify a doctor or physician STRAIGHT AWAY. (I hope you're happy, Ms. Smucker. You have brought this dreadful information upon yourself.)

14. What is your biggest fear?

14. As a Christian, I know that God has not given us the spirit of fear. I pride myself on my lack of fear around reptiles and (most) spiders. There is a small hive of wasps building a military complex on the sill between my front door and the screen door. I am not worried. (I am also lazy, and haven't got around to killing the buggers.) I'm also a huge fan of precarious heights. I love towers, silos, grain elevators, ladders, balconies, etc.
  But I'm afraid of deep water. Especially deep, murky water with a history of containing large animals that snack on humans. When I say deep I don't mean "Ohmysakesalive I caannn't touchhhhh the bottommmmmmmmm!" I mean 40 feet or deeper. That's scary. If I had a SCUBA tank at my disposal, it would be an entirely different matter. If it was 10 feet deep with a strong current, I'd be a little worried as well. If I was in one of those shark feeding cages with a giant chunk of meat and a SCUBA tank, I would be wetting my wetsuit not in fear, but in total excitement. So If I boil all this down, I think I fear being unprepared. And that's pretty much where most boys get scared, right?

15. Do you like tea parties if they are manly enough?

15. BRING ON THE TEA! I'd totally dig a tea party. I like to dress up if what I'm dressing in cannot be described as "delicate" or "frilly".

16. Who is someone that you Facebook stalk and wish you could meet?
16. If I come across a Facebook Friend that I don't really know and haven't met in real life, I tend to unfriend them. But there's a dude named Dan McClanahan that I would love to meet. Him and his wife are photographers and they do excellent work, while also being the funniest couple alive.
  I bet you were hoping I stalk GIRLS and want to meet them in real life. I am sorry to disappoint you. I'm currently being stalked by a bevy of 14 year old girls and I'm considering adding that situation to my list of fears. Why don't girls MY age behave this way toward me?

17. What is the weirdest food that you love?17. Being a celiac, I eat a lot of food that other people do not. There are these Oreo-like cookies made by Kinnickinnick that I really love, but other people have nearly died tasting them. I can't really count that kind of food though, since almost everybody loves Oreos and I'm just in love with a cardboardy, aftertasty, dust-in-the-mouthy wannabee cookie. So as for weird food that anybody could eat, it would have to be mountain lion meat. I love it. Or deer heart, which is fantastic. My roommate [Victor] has got me hooked on barbecue bacon, which is simple and delicious. Pour barbecue sauce on bacon as you fry it. The slimy, greasy awesomeness that results is most likely a one-way-ticket to heaven. So, win-win. Or, lose-win-win, the "lose" part being that I'm now really hungry thanks to you, and there's no bacon within reach of my seat.

18. What do you want written on your tombstone?18. A limerick. I love limericks. Perhaps something along the lines of
"There was an old geezer from Perth
Who was born on the day of his birth
He was married, they say
On his wife's wedding day
And he died when he quitted this earth."

19. Describe the worst first date you can imagine.19. Going into a diabetic coma during the date would be pretty horrible. The quickest way to revive someone that has collapsed into a diabetic coma is to administer a giant dose of glucagon by injection. The glucagon instructions direct you to inject the dose into the buttocks. Now, the needle is large enough it can be injected THROUGH clothing but I don't wish to have a girl I hardly know inject glucagon into my rear. This is a serious issue, because dating makes me nervous enough, so I wouldn't be able to distinguish the difference between "first-date shaky hands" and "low-blood sugar shaky hands". Unless the date was going bad already, then a diabetic coma would be a handy escape. "I'm really sorry about dumping all that coolade on your favorite shirt. Please continue talking about your 60 zillion cats that live inside your house!" *thud*

20. In closing, give a nice closing-worthy piece of advice.
20. There are some people that go through life asking "Why?" when various situations come up. If you look at situations and say "Why not!" instead, you'll find yourself getting a lot more excitement and a lot more trouble in your life. So I don't necessarily encourage you to say "Why not!" to everything, but if it passes a few qualifications (such as, Does this activity hurt/offend others? No. Does this activity go against teachings in the Bible? No.), then by all means. Go flood-mudding! Go sleep on a sandbar! Go snatch your friend's vehicles and relocate them a few blocks away when they're getting ice cream!
-Shawn Graber, famous person

That concludes today's edition of "Who is this questionable Momentary Logic author?"

What are your answers to these questions, dear readers? I'd like to hear them.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Working for my father's small family business, I've occasionally had to remind myself "The customer is always right, even when he's completely wrong."

Others have joked, "Work would be awesome if it weren't for all the customers."

Jokes about customers aside, I love working with people. There's a lot of satisfaction in doing my work well, especially when the homeowner is watching me like a hawk. Customers call us with a specific need, and our job is meeting those needs as quickly as can be done without breaking the laws of Physics. When I get frustrated and mutter unkind things about customers, I have to take a step back and realize that I myself am a customer.

The amount of shopping I do could be described as "paltry". I don't shop very often, and when I DO need something, I look for it online.
College textbooks?
Computers, electronics, accessories?,
Work clothes? Duluth Trading Company.
Everything else possibly imaginable: Amazon.

Adult-sized footie pajamas?
In stock
Gluten free mac & cheese?
Would you like that by the pallet, or just packs of 12?

Sugar-free gummy bear laxatives?
We've got a 5-pound bag of these little intestinal rockets with your name on it, buddy.

Everything indeed. Lately, I've found myself drawn more and more to Amazon's website.

Amazon's motto is "We're Building Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company", which sounds like something nice and smarmy that any global enterprise would laser-engrave on their building. But Amazon actually backs that up. In fact, I had no idea it was their motto until I saw it in the email they sent me regarding my return.

Oh yeah, I need to back up a little bit.

I bought an iPhone 5c recently. Smartphones are nice, I guess. My wireless carrier shouts how customer-friendly they are in every advertisement and then exert every possible muscle to contradict that statement when you arrive at their store. I called in and asked if I could upgrade my phone on our family plan without making Mom come up and sign a bunch of papers. The helpful employee declared "Yes, that's fine. We'll have to notify her of some changes to the family plan, though." Sure, that's alright. I drive 20 miles to the store only to be told that I can't so much as BREATHE on a new phone, much less put a grubby finger on one until their policy updates get signed IN PERSON by the head of the account. Frustrated, I asked Mom if she'd come up and sign, which she did. She was upset about having to come out, but recalled all the hassles she suffered when Dad was the head of the account and she'd have to make him run out to sign things.

So I got my phone. The helpful staff tried to transfer my 300+ phone contacts and succeeded in transferring about 50 of them, in no particular order. The helpful staff told me something to the effect that "We just don't have the right equipment to work with the new iPhones, sorry." So I had to manually go through my old phone and transfer every number that didn't make it. It only took 12 hours over 2 days, but sakes alive, I got 'er done. (I think. I may be missing your number and ask who you are the next time you call me.) I thought smartphones were supposed to make my life easier!

I drop things frequently, so I set out to purchase a case for my new phone. I didn't even glance at the phone cases available at my wireless provider's store, knowing their markup was astronomical. I rushed home and bought one off Amazon.

Magpul is a company that was previously based in Colorado. They make one of the finest polymer AR-15 magazines in the world, called "PMAG's." Some of you may have no clue what I'm talking about.

This is a PMAG. The standard-capacity PMAG holds 30 rounds of ammunition. Because of the recent school shooting, the media has declared that this chunk of polycarbonate is the REAL heinous criminal, conspiring to harm all innocent human beings. Just look at it sitting there, plotting violence.

Colorado has recently decreed that 30 rounds in one device will be considered "high-capacity" and heretofore completely banned. This questionable process has caused Magpul, a fantastic company that employs 600 and brings in roughly $85 million yearly, to become orphans.

Magpul responded to Colorado's silliness by hosting a Free Magazine giveaway (since the SALE of their magazines were banned, but private possession was not) and offering a new 40-round magazine, just because they can. The 40-round magazine can be purchased where lawful, which excludes places with kangaroo courts like those found in Washington D.C., the State of Colorado, the State of California, the State of New York, and the State of Chicago. The company is currently planning to move the entire operation to a different state, with Texas, Montana, and Florida shouting "pick me, pick me!".

The founder, Richard Fitzpatrick, stated this: “It is heartbreaking to me, my employees, and their families, to think that we will be forced to leave, but if HB13-1224 passes, we will simply have no choice.”

Read more stuff about Magpul here.

Amidst all this, they recently decided to branch out product-wise and make iPhone cases. They come in all sorts of colors and the ribbed design is very similar to their ammunition magazines. I made sure to order their "light blue" case (see above picture) so I wouldn't become confused in the heat of Squirrel War III and try to jam my phone into my rifle.

While I waited for the case to arrive, I protected my phone like a mother hen. I carefully placed it out of harm's way. I went a WHOLE WEEK without incident.

My case arrived, and I tore it out of the packaging. No longer would my phone ride in my pocket naked and defenseless! I slapped my phone into it and, huh, wait. It doesn't quite fit. Did the rubberized shell shrink a little in the cold? I checked the packaging to be sure I bought the right one "FOR iPHONE 5!" it cheerfully shouted. That shouldn't be a problem, after all, all the new iPhones are the same size, right?

After an evening of use, I realized something wasn't quite right with the case. It didn't seat on the phone properly, and the buttons didn't line up with the insets. I hopped on to Google to sort out the conundrum.

"Will iPhone 5 cases fit the iPhone 5c?" I asked innocently.



"Nope." The internet responded.

Left: iPhone 5. Right, iPhone 5c. 
Notice the rounded corners on the 5c that prevent Case Interchangeability.

So I pulled the case off the phone and tossed it back into its packaging. "What's the big deal, I've survived a whole week without a scratch! I can do this."

The very next day, I dropped my phone. I was working on a condensate line and leaned over juuuust enough to let the smooth phone slide out of my shirt pocket and fall 3 feet to the concrete floor.

The phone survived the drop with a small indentation on one corner complete with a matching scuff-mark.

I survived a major heart attack without the use of defibrillator.

In a panic, I called up my wireless provider and asked if they had any available Otterbox phone cases in iPhone 5c. Forget a tiny rubber pad, I needed a bank vault PRONTO. They replied that their stock was limited, they only had one. Well I wasn't looking for four of them, so that suited me just fine. Late for a Lennox training seminar in Des Moines, I stopped in to purchase the overpriced case.

They didn't have it in stock.

I had just called TEN MINUTES AGO HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?! The employee that answers the calls at [Wireless Provider name redacted] frequently tells me things that are not true. Twice in one week is pretty frequent. I will allow for the off-chance that a customer snuck in and bought the case in the 10 minutes it took for me to get there, but there's no excuse for the whole account signature snafu I mentioned previously.

It dawned on me that I put my customers in similar situations. I realize that the iPhone 5c is not the only phone my wireless provider sells, nor is it the only phone they carry accessories for. My customers will often display shock and dismay when we tell them it will take 2-3 days to get that obscure part for that one odd furnace model. HOW COULD YOU NOT HAVE IT IN STOCK?? THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

So I left, carefully cradling my phone like Sudden Calamity could visit it at any moment. On the drive up to Des Moines, I was brooding about customer service. Meanwhile, I had the business phones transferred to me. A few customers called to set up a furnace inspection, another customer asked about some estimates he hasn't received yet, and one customer called three. times. to tell me that my father (Barry) had "promised to pick up a giant entertainment cabinet that's in my way and I desperately want to get rid of it and why didn't he pick it up on Monday after all it's in great shape and the new TV stand is coming tomorrow and the movers will take this old stand but I think they'll just destroy it and it's such a nice stand do you want the old 600-lb TV as well?"

Dad had been there earlier this week to check her furnace, and while he was there, she mentioned that she was looking to get rid of a cabinet and TV. Dad said something like "Sure, I could use that cabinet. I'll swing by and pick it up sometime." But what the customer heard was "I WILL MOVE HEAVEN AND EARTH TO PRESERVE YOUR FURNITURE. DON'T BLINK, I'LL BE RIGHT BACK."

I told her the current situation, "Ma'am, I apologize, but we're swamped with work. You know, because some people have no heat and their houses are getting cold. We'll try to pick it up as soon as we can." She responded like I had just yanked her favorite family heirloom rug from underneath her feet while she was standing on the edge of a cliff. "But, I just don't know what to do. This is such a predicament. This furniture is in my way, and my son said he'd come but he has some meetings and Barry said he could come tonight but he'd need help lifting. Can you come?" "No, I'm headed to Des Moines and I won't be back until 8pm or later." I replied, feeling defensive that I'd have to explain my travel plans with a customer. She huffed and said "My son has to go to Des Moines too! You...boys. Isn't there anyone else that can help Barry??" She said "boys" like her son and I were conspiring to develop a new cancer, a specific strain that makes life difficult for mothers and customers. She asked "Isn't there anyone else..." as if she was asking if the sinking ship had any remaining lifeboats.

So let me get this straight. Customer has a cabinet and 32"-screened CRT heavy-as-a-rhino TV. I know how heavy they are, because I own one. She wants them out of her way. The new TV is coming and the deliverymen have offered to take the TV and cabinet for her, but she suspects they will just throw them away. Customer wants to save the cabinet by giving it to us, but now there's a time crunch because the deliverymen are coming in the morning.

Graber Heating, Air Conditioning, and Furniture Saviors, Inc.

I went to the seminar and put that customer out of my mind. I learned all sorts of new things (the future of air conditioning is ridiculously cool), and then returned home. I logged in to Amazon and found the exact case my carrier supposedly had, but for $30 cheaper. Literally half the price. Before I purchased the case, I set about processing a return for the other one. If I got my $12 back for the original case, then I'd essentially have a $18 case that's built like Fort Knox. That is, if Amazon allows returns.

Do they ever! The returns process was the most hassle-free experience I've ever had. They processed my return (mentioning that it would take a day or two for the funds to show in my account), and then said, "There's no need to return the item. You may keep it." On top of that, they refunded me the shipping charge. THE SHIPPING CHARGE. So they sent me $18.18 for a case they paid to ship me, and they're letting me keep it.

Perhaps it's because I've been a customer for many years and I've spent hundreds of dollars purchasing items from them, but I doubt it.

Perhaps there's a catch in the fine print that I've missed, but I doubt that too.

Perhaps they knew I'd write nice things about them? Hmmm, doubtful.

Perhaps Amazon is at the forefront of customer-centered commerce, and they are stinkin' good at it.

With that squared away, I set out to buy the Otterbox. There were additional savings available to Amazon Prime users. One of my friends lets me use his Amazon Prime account occasionally, so I quickly borrowed his username and password, logged in, and bought the case. I have my bank information and shipping address already saved in my friend's Prime account, but I completely forgot to select it. Moments after purchasing, I realized I had used my friend's debit card AND MORE IMPORTANTLY it was going to ship to his house.

Amazon to the rescue, I was able to change the payment type and the shipping address after I bought the item. That's just downright handy.

So when customers frustrate me, I'll keep Amazon as my benchmark of customer service. If they can graciously put up with my erratic shopping, I can handle that one customer that disliked her thermostat and has us change it, only to decide she loved her old thermostat THE MOSTEST and wants it back.

Just so I don't leave you hanging, Dad took my brother Shane to pick up the furniture cabinet last night and totally saved that customer's day.

Occasionally, I get calls from motorists claiming that someone from my company is driving like a maniac, endangering lives. Upon receiving these calls, I'll call up Dad and tell him to slow down.

"Well the guy in front of me was yakking into his phone and wouldn't even go the speed limit!"
"Dad, he was on the phone with me, claiming you were tailgating him."

5 minutes ago, a woman called and roared at me about how dangerous my company is. "I thought companies were all safety-minded!" she shouted. She claimed that she was minding her own business, trying to slow down to turn left on a gravel road, when this horrendous Graber Heating van from the depths of Hades came shooting up behind her and passed her on the right-handed shoulder. It was close enough to cause her to fear for her safety. I thanked her for bringing this to my attention, and of course we don't want anyone to get hurt. She acknowledged my apology and announced she would never use our company. Good grief.  Dad tailgates people occasionally, but today he picked the most outspoken OSHA-promoting driver on the road. I need to remind Father what he once told me, "If you're not going to drive safely and responsibly, then take our company name and number off the vehicle."

After the woman hung up on me, I called Dad. "Oh, she was upset? Well she cut in front of me and then hit the brakes to make her left-hand turn, so I just passed her on the right." I have a few choice words that come to mind when drivers do that to me, so now I'm on Dad's side. But those drivers are potential customers, so that makes them potentially right.

Oh well, "Live and learn." "Another day, another dollar." "[Insert overused homily here]". But now I ask myself, "HWAR?" "How Would Amazon Respond?"

P.S. I have an out-of-the-box-for-one-day blue iPhone 5 case for sale, in case you were in the market. See what I did there?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Might-Shave November

Yesterday, my phone alarm impatiently reminded me to check my watch. I had set the alarm so I wouldn't miss the tenth second of the ninth minute of the eighth hour of the evening. After all, the time and date was 08:09:10 on 11/12/13 and that sort of thing floats my boat.

I set my alarm for 8:09pm exactly because it doesn't take more than a few seconds to look at a watch. I silenced the alarm while quickly glancing at my wrist. To my dismay, I witnessed 08:09:12, 13, 14, 15. I suppose that's what I get for not synchronizing my watch with my phone.

The tenth second was more that just a cog in an orderly string of numbers. It marked the close of an auction I held on my Facebook wall.

"What on earth were you auctioning?" You might ask.

"Oh, you know. Nothing strange. Just my facial hair." I'd reply.

Most of you, dear readers, are already friends with me on Facebook. But some of you are not, so I'll recount the details of the auction.

On November 10th, I posted this photo on my Facebook with the following caption:

"I can't decide whether I want to shave this month or not. I participated in No-Shave November in 2011 and 2012 and during both scruff-tastic events, I harvested a very questionable lip-weasel. This year, I'm giving my Facebook friends the power to end the madness. You heard me correctly, I'm auctioning off my decision to participate in "Movember". Comment on this photo with your auction bid and whether I should shave or let my face resemble a National Wildlife Reserve. Bids start at $0.05 and must be increased by at least two pennies. All proceeds from the auction will be donated to a worthy cause, e.g. the Bacon Jar."

Like I had hoped, my friends enthusiastically began to bid. But did they stay within the parameters of the auction? Of course not. These are my friends, after all, and they're nearly as crazy as me. Posted below is the comment thread for the auction. To preserve the quotations, I have not altered spelling or punctuation. (At least I've tried not to. Sometimes my Grammar OCD flares up uncontrollably.)

"I'll raise it to 0.10 let it grow" 
-Dan Borntreger

If I give you 2 dollars will you shave rap lyrics on your head" 
-Josiah Stone

 "Nevin said he will give you $5 if you shave everything BUT the lip-weasel. :)"
-Natalie Bontrager

"Clean shaved is the way to go! That's my 5 cents."
-Rosey Nisly

"Josiah, that's a tempting offer. $2 is serious cash. Rosey, does that mean you're willing to bid $5.05 to beat Nevin's ridiculous-yet-exceedingly-delicious offer?"
-Shawn Graber

 "Yep, what Natalie said is true. Keep the weasel!"
-Nevin Bontrager

"It would be well spent..."
-Rosey Nisly

"Is it worth $5.10 to you, Nevin? Because that's what you'll have to bid in order to preserve the Weasel Stache."
-Shawn Graber

"I will bump Nevin's to $5.10 if it includes shaving your eyebrows."
-Jordan Shebek

"How long does the bidding go? Will $5.25 keep you from shaving your head?"
-Rosey Nisly

"The top bid gets to determine the fate of my facial hair, not my head hair. I'll be leaving those attached. Bidding goes until 8:09:10pm tomorrow, because that will go nicely with 11/12/13. Jordan, shaving my eyebrows would effectively remove 92.6% of my facial expressions and scare off all of Graber Heating's faithful customers, so I'll pass."
-Shawn Graber  

"But that's cheating! Eye brows are totally facial hair.
Besides!! You can just where a hipster beanie over your forhead when seeing customers.
OR you can say you encountered crazy things in Africa
Or tell them someone payed you to do it
Or say you're raising awareness for cancer patience who have to lose their eyebrows in chemo
Or you can tell them you didn't get to properly enjoy the scariness of halloween and thus you must participate now
Or you can shave them off and paint them on with a permanent marker when you visit your customers.
You have no excuse."

-Fern Kohl 

"Don't forget my eyelashes. I obviously have no excuse to keep them, either.
'No-Shave November' encompasses the beard, soul patch, mustache, and sideburns. Those are considered "groomed facial hairs." Nobody says, "FOR THIS MONTH, I WILL GROW MY EYEBROWS TO RAISE AWARENESS FOR CANCER." Although now that I think about it, we could totally make a sweet event about it. "Raise Your Eyebrows for the Cure." 
My eyebrows are free spirits; little wooly mammoths that roam the northern plains of Mt. Shawn. They shall not be poached."

-Shawn Graber

"Wooly mammoths were created to be poached. Obvs it was God's will because they are now extinct. I vote poach the eyebrows."
-Fern Kohl

(Upon receiving this comment, I sent Fern this link.)

"Please do not use God to invoke poor logic. Also I have seen a number of people with drawn-on eyebrows, but shave as you please"
-Jordan Shebek

"Dudes. Ladies. Listen to me, Having recently received my doctorate in Beardology, I now plead my right to opinion? What does the Bible say, anyway? "I will shave with a hired razor..." Obviously, the beard has to go. And uh... Shawn? You can hire the razor for $5, plus shipping and handling. It's a great deal, trust me."
-Hannah J. Alexander

"Shawn, stay true to no shave November. For principle. $6."
-Jon Horst

 It was looking like Jon's bid was going to be the last one, and I was all on beard, er, board with him. Finally, a sensible offer! His poignant statement drove the eloquent declaration: "If you can't stay true to the manly traditions passed down over the generations of faithful beard-growers by principle alone, at least accept this phenomenal bribe." 

Yesterday evening, the auction was drawing to a close. I was hosting my Men's Bible Study at my place. In an unforeseen move, Nevin quickly placed a final, verbal bid. Because it was witnessed in the company of Bible study, I counted it as legal and added it to the auction commentary.  

"This auction has drawn to a close. Thank you all for participating! Moments before 8:09:10pm, Nevin Bontrager submitted a private bid (since he's currently sitting in my living room).  

His wager: $7.00 to shave everything 
BUT my mustache for November.  

His bid was witnessed by Ryan Bacon, Jordan Shebek, Kendal Schlabach, and Christian Miller.

Thank you, my crazy Facebook friends, for making this so enjoyable. For those of you who did not win the bid, please feel free to send your spare change to me anyway. :)"
-Shawn Graber

I thought that would be the close, but an hour later, there was a frantic reply. 

 "Wait, wait, PLEASE don't shave your head. I will send you 10.00 seriously, and the look on your face says you really don't want to do that. I know I'm probably to late. Lol !!!"
-Natalie Kauffman (not to be confused with Natalie Bontrager)

And then, minutes after that: 

"Oh good looks like the hairs on your head are safe. Sorry I missed the post about keeping the hairs on you head."
-Natalie Kauffman

Our Bible study came to a close and I promptly shaved everything but the little mustache seedlings hiding under my nose. Nevin left before I finished shaving, so he hasn't seen the fruits of his crafty bidding yet. I have yet to receive his $7, but in the remote chance he does NOT pay, I'll just shave my little nostril sweater off and go clean-shaven like I planned in the first place.

Thank you, dear Facebook friends, for humoring me. I had way too much fun with this.

For you men (and women?!) growing your hair for No-Shave November, I commend you. I might be a wee bit jealous of your beard-growing capabilities. (Honestly, some women are able to grow beards better than me.) Someday my face might wake up and say, "Oh yeah, I'm supposed to grow hair or something!" But I won't hold my breath.

Buzzfeed's title-heavy article "19 Painful Truths Only Guys Who Can't Grow Beards Will Understand" explains my situation very well. The article has some coarse language in it, so I won't post a link to it. 

I'll end this post with a few photos, for posterity's sake.

Well, only 17 more days to go before I can stop frightening children.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ghana Update: Thursday, Day 10

This is the final update, which we sent from an airport on our return trip. Thank you for reading these! Normal blogpostery will resume shortly.

I can't thank you dear readers enough for all times you prayed on behalf of our team. Visiting Ghana was a truly phenomenal experience and I'd heartily recommend traveling there with Crusades for Christ. Just be sure to take along some beef jerky for Pastor Isaac.

Day 10

Today was bittersweet.  We started out by packing up this morning.  Shopping was on the agenda as well and we all piled into the bus after devouring breakfast pizza and pineapple.  The first market we went to was called Wild Gecko and the prices were set so we didn’t have to worry about haggling (or we didn’t GET to, depending on who you ask).  The prices were quite a bit higher too so most of the actual purchasing was done later.
Next we drove to a very large open air flea market with rows of stalls and shop owners standing out front inviting us in.  Actually, it was more like urging or demanding.  They could get quite aggressive and more than one team member became frustrated with the African system. It seemed that “just looking” was not an option and even casual interest prompted much pressuring and begging and bartering directed toward us unsuspecting Americans. Some really enjoyed bartering, however, because there’s just something satisfying about knowing that you got a good deal.  Or at least thinking you did. =)
Quite a few people purchased drums. The quality of the drums made them a great purchase, and the price was very reasonable.  Jon had talked with the shop owner and said that he promised to bring back more buyers if he gave us a special deal.  I bought a medium-sized drum for about twenty dollars; much cheaper than anything for sale in the states and authentic too.  Other popular purchases today included figurines, dresses/shirts, paintings and baskets.
After the market experience we were hot and tired and very sweaty so we headed back to Leon and Barb’s for a light lunch.  All of us, that is but Shawn and Jared and Jaxon.  They chose to have an adventure of their own which I will not attempt to recount.  We heard the full story when they finally did return, just shortly before we were scheduled to depart for the airport.

-The Scribe

Jared, Jaxon and I had quite the adventure indeed.  But I’ll begin with some background information. 

“Shawn, I haven’t forgotten about Tema.” Jon said as he greeted us on the day we arrived.

Our earth is tidily organized by coordinates.  Zero degrees latitude puts you right down on the equator.  Zero degrees longitude places you on the vertical equator:  the Prime Meridian.  This imaginary line was cooked up by the British when they devised the coordinate system.  They had to place the beginning point SOMEWHERE, so why not straight through London?  Follow that line perfectly south, and you’ll soon end up in Ghana.

Ghana is the closest country to the intersection of the equator and the Prime Meridian.  The exact intersection is in the ocean roughly 400 miles below Ghana.  When I visited Ghana last year with a work project team, I discovered that the Prime Meridian runs right through Tema, a town located only a handful of kilometers from Accra.  I had wanted to go visit the line so I could stand in two hemispheres at the same time, but the rest of the work team didn’t share my enthusiasm for the detour, so I didn’t go.

“If you ever return to Ghana, we will be sure to take you to Tema.” Jon said.

Good to his word, Jon organized my little side quest.  The only time it worked to go would be while the group did their shopping in the marketplace.  The group needed Jon’s honed bartering skills so he stayed behind with them and ordered a taxi to take me to Tema, a large town roughly 30 minutes away from our shopping area.  Jared Bontrager and Jaxon Weaver offered to accompany me on the trip.  We hopped into that taxi and took off, planning to rendezvous with the team an hour later at the marketplace.  Jon had loaned me his cell phone for the trip, to help with navigation but also provide a means of communication.

We cruised halfway to Tema before hitting the first traffic jam.  Roundabouts are common in Ghana and they seem to work fairly well in comparison to normal intersections with traffic lights.  But cram enough vehicles into one and nightmares get crafted real quick.  The road to Tema had four roundabouts, and each one was completely wedged bumper-to-bumper with cars, trucks, vans, semis, and motorcycles.  Each access road was packed as well, so we would crawl along as we jockeyed for position.  Our 30-minute schedule was out the window before we had gotten through the first roundabout.  But our spirits were still high, because we were about to go witness one of the most significant manmade boundaries ever devised.

We got to Tema after sitting on the road for two and a half hours.  During that time, we witnessed some of the most astonishing feats of driving prowess I’ve seen in my entire life.  We snuck past vehicles with precious few inches to spare.  Semis made alternate lanes for themselves by driving over medians.  Motorcycles were getting shoved around by the merciless stream of vehicles, but getting their revenge later when they zipped between vehicles during traffic jams.  Pedestrians were leisurely crossing the street in front of cars and trucks traveling at high rates of speed.  Meanwhile, we cooked.  The sun was out in full force as we sat in a small taxi with no air conditioning.  Jared and I got unique tans on our right arms since we sat with our arms draped on the window sill for 2 hours.  At certain points, we could have gauged our progress by measuring beard growth.  To break the monotony (and to capitalize on a captive audience), sellers ran up and down the road to offer snacks, toys, and beverages.  Jaxon bought a chicken gizzard kebab, Jared bought a bottled beverage, the taxi driver bought some biscuit-like cookies, and we all bought some bags of water. (Except for the driver, who claimed he could drive all day without drinking water.

Once we got to Tema, I directed the taxi driver to take us to the Meridian Hotel.  From what I had researched online, the hotel had an engraved line in the ground where we could take our photos.  But when we got to the location, there were only unfinished buildings and a vast construction site.  We asked some locals, who kindly informed us that the Meridian Hotel had collapsed years ago.  Evidently no one had thought to insert that nugget of wisdom in the hotel website biography. “We’re located in beautiful Tema near the Atlantic Coast. Oh, and our building collapsed years ago and we’re out of business.”  
I had been hoping for a well-marked Meridian line, like you can find in England.
But I would have settled for a signpost.

We asked some locals if they knew where to find the Prime Meridian.  It took a bit of effort to explain what the crazy American tourists had in mind. The locals understood what we were after and said that there was indeed an engraved line for the Prime Meridian.  It could be found in the Meridian Plaza, only a few blocks away.  We journeyed uptown to the plaza and searched around for a bit before we asked some locals where the line was.  They stated that in order to see the line, we’d have to travel to the Meridian Hotel, the location we had just come from.

At that point, we gave up.  We took a few photos in the area we suspected was near the line, but we had no way to check for sure.  The line is very, very close to where the hotel had once stood.  Within 20 feet, said one source.  During our treks across town, we crossed the Prime Meridian multiple times, so we called that good. 

After they heard we were stuck in traffic, the group didn’t wait for us at the marketplace.  So we instructed our taxi driver to drop us off at Leon’s.  We were snarled in traffic a few times but the return trip was definitely quicker.  We got back to Leon’s and scarfed down a quick supper while double-checking that everything had been packed.  What had been planned as a one-hour trip had devolved into a fairly-disappointing four-hour detour.  I felt like I had thrown an unnecessary wrench into the team’s gears. “Ah well, that’s okay. We had no idea the traffic would be bad. Besides, we’re still on schedule, so you’re alright.” said Jon, Barb, and Leon, trying to cheer me up.

I learned a lot from the trip, and I was grateful for the opportunity.  Ghanaians live busy lives and adequately marking the location of the Prime Meridian is very far down on their to-do list.

When we had been stuck in traffic, I had been praying for deliverance.  “God, please just get us there quickly.”  After we returned and I was reading the daily letter sent to me by Joy Gerber, I was shocked to see her letter matched what I was experiencing exactly:  selfish prayers asking for immediate deliverance from troubles don’t teach us anything.  Alternatively, realizing that God is with us and has a plan for each circumstance helps us to grow in our relationship with Him.

Thank You, Father, for giving me opportunities to grow in my relationship with You.

-The Scribe’s Proofreader