October 19, 2012

Tightrope…

Category: News — admin @ 6:53 pm

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What have you given, incredible mirage of all our million
shining hopes, to those who wanted to possess you wholly…
from whom you took the strength, the passion, and the
innocence of youth?

Gigantic city, we have taken nothing – not even a handful
of your trampled dust…and left not even the print of a heel
upon your stony-hearted pavements.

—Thomas Wolfe
________________

The email was waiting for me when I got to work one morning earlier this year. It was a grand little email, I thought. Dear Ira. I’m a producer for so-and-so (big-name TV show host in NYC), and we’re doing a segment on the Amish. I found your book, then your blog. Would you be interested in talking?

There was a time when I would have practically swooned at such a message. Or maybe danced around the office a bit. High-fived someone. The big boys from New Yawk City. They want me. Oh, boy. Yes, yes, I’m all into talking. Any time you want, for as long as you want.

Such a time was in the past, though. This time, I read the email, dubious. Doubtful that anything would come of it. Well, sure, I’d be interested. So I emailed back. Sure. Here’s my number. Call me any time. Within minutes, the phone rang. The producer from the big bad city.

“Here’s how it is,” he said. A young guy, from the sound of it. He was friendly and outgoing, like they all are. “We’re interviewing some ex-Amish people, and wanted to round out the group. I found your site. Looks pretty impressive. Any way you could make it on an early train day after tomorrow, for the show?”

Sure, I can make it. I chuckled. Look. I’ve talked to producers before. You promise the world. So far, your record for actually coming through has been pretty abysmal. Sure, I’d love to come on the show. I’m here. You figure out if I’ll make it, and let me know. I’ll be there if you tell me to be.

“I’ll let you know one way or another,” he promised. I only half believed that. From past experiences, they just vanished without a trace, producers like him. But he called a couple more times that afternoon with specific questions. He was hopeful that I’d get to go. And then the next day he called again. True to his word. Told me ruefully. It hadn’t worked out. His bosses had decided against his recommendation. That’s fine, I told him. Email me your address, and I’ll send you a copy of my book anyway. He did. And I did. Who knows? Spread some seed for down the road.

One thing I’ve learned in these past two years. Especially concerning the TV film people. Whatever promises they make, whatever breathless scenarios they throw at you, don’t ever, ever expect a thing to actually come down. Never. Not until it really happens. And by “really happens,” I mean when your segment appears on the TV screen in your living room. Because most of the time, it won’t. It’s nothing personal against me, from their perspective, I’m convinced. As it’s nothing personal against them from mine, either. It’s just the nature of the business.

I’ve always said I will go anywhere, on any format, I mean, to talk about my book. Not necessarily any physical location. But on any channel. Any station. It doesn’t matter. And I’ll scheme and plot and plan and connive to get my book into the hands of influential public figures. That’s just part of getting your stuff out there. And I’ll still do it. In the past month, I’ve had friends personally hand a signed copy of the book to one of my greatest heroes ever, Lew Rockwell. And a signed copy to Willie Nelson, handed to his personal assistant. And last week I mailed a copy to Oprah’s fan club.

Way more likely than not, I’ll never hear a peep from anyone from the production of all that effort. But it’s part of the seeding, that effort. Throw your stuff out there. Like the Bible says the sower did. Some of it will fall on rocky soil, sure. Some of it will fall among thorns and choke to death. And some small remnants might just sift through somehow to some patches of fertile soil. And sprout and grow and bring forth a thousand fold. You never know. So you just keep seeding.

Back in the heady days of mid-2011, Debbie Lykins, the extremely competent independent publicist hired by Tyndale to promote my book, lined up a ton of radio interviews for me. At least thirty, maybe forty. And they all came off as scheduled. A few minutes before the appointed time, I would head upstairs to an unused office at work. Sit there, until the call came through. And they always came. Ten minutes, some of the interviews. Most were more like twenty, or half an hour. A few lasted a full hour. And I was fine with all of it. I didn’t have to study for anything. I knew my subject matter. Radio was cool, and I enjoyed it. And when they scheduled me, the radio people, they always called as promised.

Not so the film people. Sure, they called and bugged me several times. Way early this year, I got a call from a young female producer from NYC. She was working for a big-name guy who has a daily cable show. And she was right here, in Lancaster County. Scouting for some real Amish people to talk to. I felt sorry for her. She’d been thrown out here, told to come up with something. Talk about pressure. Sure, I said. I’ll do what I can. Stop by. And she drove right on over to see me. I chatted with her for a few minutes, to see what she really wanted. Her cell phone kept interrupting us. Calls from her office in the city, I figured. She wanted to talk to some real Amish people, that’s what she said. So I called in some favors, pushed my limits way out there. Bothered some friends who don’t necessarily care to be bothered. And I got her connected with a young Amish couple that very day. She thanked me profusely and rushed off. She met my friends and spoke with them. Would they consider being interviewed off-camera for the show? I never asked, but I think my friends agreed. And the young producer headed back to NYC and was never heard from again. Because the idea for the segment was scrapped. After all that running, after all that bother. That’s just the nature of the business.

But still, it’s irritating. They come in and spout some big shot TV name and expect you to fall all over yourself. Expect you to help them out. Which I’ve always done, or tried to do. The lure of mainstream exposure is just too strong to resist. However irritating.

But that young producer from NYC was far from my worst experience. A little over a year ago, Debbie got me hooked up with one of the major Christian TV production companies in the world. And these people actually planned to come out and film me. I did the interview on the phone, with the intake lady. We got along fine. And about a week later, they showed up, a producer and two cameramen. For two days, they were around. I showed them around the area, and they shot a great deal of film footage. I even coerced one of my Amish yard guys to take me on a buggy ride. One of the camera guys sat in the back and filmed. We did several hours of filming in a real Amish home. And great grand promises were made, oh yes, they were.

The segment would run on the morning show, and it would be seen by millions of viewers. Sometime in October of last year, that’s when it would air. I met the filming crew for the second day for a few hours. In my home. And then they were off, with many blessings bespoken from both sides. I eagerly anticipated the actual airing.

And October came. Then went. My segment never aired. No word, from anyone. I stressed a little. But really not that much. I figured it would come, sooner or later. But if it didn’t, it just didn’t. By late November, I nudged Debbie the publicist. Can you check it out, to see what’s going on? She sent a query. If she even got any response, it was a mumble. Or maybe a grunt.

And the segment never aired. Never. Not after a film crew was sent to interview me for two days. And all the expense involved with that. Not after all those shining glorious promises. I can honestly say this, though. Through it all, I let it rest, in my mind. Sure, I fretted a bit. All those “millions of viewers” would have purchased a good many books, I figured. But there was nothing I could do, to make it happen, to make the film air. That’s what I realized. And the whole thing just kind of slipped away in time.

Then, in late February, my Google alert snagged an interesting link on YouTube. I pulled it up and clicked to watch. Then I posted it on Facebook. It was me being interviewed by the film crew that had spent two days with me. Six plus minutes of professionally edited footage. Beautifully done. And then it just cut off, ended abruptly, right in mid sentence.

The project was never finished. No wonder it never aired. And I wondered why. Why go to all that expense and effort, then just pull out? Why not finish what you started? None of that makes a lick of sense to me, but it doesn’t have to, I guess. I chalk it down to “the nature of the business.” And try not to think of what might have been.

The footage had been released by mistake, and within a few days, it was pulled back. By that time, though, someone else had downloaded it. And when the link disappeared, that someone threw it right back out on the web.

In all my experiences with film crews, there was one that stood out, one little group that actually kept its promises. All the way. And that was Mose Gingerich and his producer, who were in the area at exactly the same time as the other film crew. Those were hectic days for me. Mose came to my workplace and we talked. That night, they came to a book talk I had scheduled with a group of campers in a local campground. His producer filmed and filmed and filmed. They didn’t make a lot of hype about anything. But when the hit show, Amish Out of Order, aired on National Geographic earlier this year, there I was. In one episode, in a very cool five-minute segment. From all the talking and filming, they could have chosen to make me look good, or make me look bad. They made me look very good indeed. So that was the one very positive experience I’ve had with the film people. Don’t know why a few more of them couldn’t have been like that. It’s the nature of the business, I suppose.

I’ve called it a wild and beautiful road, certain stretches of the past year. As it was, and continues to be, now and then. But it’s kind of like walking a tightrope, too, sometimes. As in trying to keep your balance. To not freak out at times. To stay focused on living and letting it all come down as it may. To not let all the noise get to me, to not get bogged down with what might have been. Or what might yet be. To rest, emotionally. To trust God, to know He’s there, when faith is hard and distant. To let go of things, when I need to. I sway a good bit sometimes in the winds. But so far, I’ve managed to keep walking the wire without losing my balance or my mind. I think. I try hard to be who I know I am. Sometimes it’s tough to tell just exactly who that is.

The book will have to stand on its own merits. Overcome any roadblocks on its own. Move along, regardless of what happens or doesn’t. Regardless of what promises were kept or broken. That’s what I think. That’s what I believe.

And I’ll still respond, when some young producer calls or stops by, frantic for information or connections. Sure, I’ll meet with you. Connect you. I’ll do what I can. Some day, some time, it will all come together. It will all work out, I think.

Last Saturday afternoon, I fetched my mail. Usually it’s just junk stuff. That’s what the post office delivers now, mostly. Junk. But that day, there was something more. A letter from Tyndale. A nice oblong white envelope. I walked into the house and opened it. Read the greeting. Stared at the subject matter line. And I looked to the heavens with a grateful heart.

The wind is calm, up here on the tightrope. And the wild and beautiful road rolls on.

***************************************************

I have never attended a writer’s conference. Never. Someday, I may expound a bit more on why that is. For me, it boils down to something like this: If you’re the social/networking type that enjoys that kind of thing, cool. Go have fun. But if you have to go to a writer’s conference to “learn” anything, well, I should probably just bite my tongue. But, ah, what the heck? I will say this much. Too many writers, I think, are so busy running around connecting with each other and lapping up the lectures at conferences that they forget what it is to live. And if you don’t live, you’ll have little to write that’s real. By “real,” I mean the stuff that’s in your heart to speak. The stuff you would throw out for free, even if you knew that few or none would ever read it. There’s nothing real in formulaic prose that anyone else who attended a writer’s conference might have cranked out.

Forget the formulas. Forget the “ten steps to writing a bestseller,” or whatever steps to whatever goal they’re pushing these days. And just write your heart. Trust it. Speak it honestly. In all its doubts and fears and rage and pain. And in all the good things, too, the gratitude and joy. Say it like it is, in the moment. Live. Write. Develop your distinctive voice. Don’t overstress the rules of grammar. Be who you are, with all your flaws. Let it take you where it will, your writing. All that is probably not stuff they’ll tell you at any writer’s conference. But that’s the way I see it, so I’m telling you here.

And that little lecture was triggered from trying to get to saying this. I’m a loner, mostly, but I do enjoy hanging out with other writers now and then. And when my good friend Shawn Smucker recently invited me to a local writer’s breakfast, I accepted without hesitation. So it’s all happening over at Angela’s Cafe in Gap on Saturday morning, Nov. 3, from 9:30 to 11:30. During at least part of our time together, Shawn will interview me about my journey from writing a simple weekly blog to the great shining city that is Tyndale House.

The event is open to the public. And you don’t have to be a writer to attend. The only cost will be the money you spend on coffee and food. So if you can make it, I’d love to see you there.

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October 5, 2012

Customer Service…

Category: News — admin @ 6:52 pm

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For he had learned some of the things that every man
must find out for himself, and he had found out about
them as one has to find out — through error and through
trial, through fantasy and illusion, through falsehood
and his own damn foolishness, through being mistaken and
wrong and an idiot and egotistical and aspiring and hopeful
and believing and confused.

—Thomas Wolfe
_________________

The customer is always right. Of course, we all know that. It’s, like, written in the Constitution or something. At least, one could think that, from the incessant recitation of the phrase. The customer is always right. No exceptions.

In the past month or so, I’ve checked out that little truth from both sides. As a customer dealing with a vast faceless company. And as a vendor dealing with an irate customer. And from those two experiences, I guess I’d reword the phrase into something a bit longer and more cumbersome. But more true. Your customer is always right. Except when he isn’t. But even when he’s wrong, that doesn’t necessarily make you right, either.

Way back in 2007 when I launched this blog, my only home computer connection was through the phone line. Dial up. I shudder when I think of how it was. Ancient, slow, decrepit. Within weeks, after much frustration, I realized something would have to be done. So I called Verizon, and chatted with a friendly sales lady. I signed up. A nice man came out and installed DSL service and connected it all to a little modem under my desk. I felt very liberated. This was cutting edge stuff.

Within months, though, there were issues. Whenever it rained hard, I lost the internet. Verizon sent out a tech now and then, after much hollering from me. And they always got the system cobbled back together. I needed new wiring in the basement, one of them told me. And that service wasn’t included in my contract, so there was nothing he could do. Hm, I said. You know, I’m seriously thinking of calling Comcast. And he suddenly located some “old” wiring in his van and installed that in the basement for me. The connection was saved. As was my relationship with Verizon, at least for the moment.

They were mostly good guys, the techs. Cheerful. And so it went, mostly OK, for the past five years. But about once or twice a year, the modem had a temper tantrum. Its little green eyes would blink balefully. Open and close at random. And my connection opened and closed with the evil little eyes. I grumbled at Verizon. And now and then, they sent out a new modem, and things would roll along again for a while.

Lately though, the connection has been abysmal. Even when the modem eyes shone bright. I’d click on a link, and the little connection wheel sat there and spun and spun. Increasingly the service got worse. Then about a month ago, the modem went haywire again. Kicked off on a great fit of random blinking. And one night late, as I sat there seething, I googled Comcast on my iPhone and called the number. A nice man from another country seemed very excited to hear from me.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “We can fix you up with high speed internet and cable. For much less than you are paying for Verizon and Dish Network combined. And yes, you can keep your phone number. No problem.” It’s very important to me, to keep my old number, I said. “No problem at all,” he reassured me. OK, then. I’ll bite. The nice man from India congratulated me with such elation that I figured I’d won the lottery, almost. Then he signed me up. Soon the vile little green modem eyes would mock me no more.

And two days later, an installer showed up. An energetic guy in a tiny little pickup sagging under racks and great long ladders. “I’ll have you hooked up in an hour,” he promised cheerfully. Oh my, how cool, I thought. An hour. That’s fast. He strung up a long extension ladder on a nearby telephone pole, climbed up and opened a mysterious box and fiddled around with whatever was inside. I watched. He then came inside and strung cables and wires throughout my house. Drilled a hole through my floor into the basement and yanked up a cable from below. He smiled and chatted right along. And then it was time to hook everything up. But strangely, nothing worked. The guy seemed perturbed. Yeah, that’s how it goes, I thought. It won’t work here, at my house, because, well, that’s just how things tend to go.

He walked outside and called his supervisor. They talked quietly and seriously for a few minutes. Then he approached me. They’d have to give me a temporary telephone number, to get the internet hooked up. But it wouldn’t be a problem. My old number would be transferred back within a few hours. Uh, I’m dubious here. That was a promise, I said. That I could keep my old number. He smiled. “Yes, yes, you will keep it.” OK, then. Hook it up with the new number. And he did. Within minutes, I had cable TV and high speed internet, right on my PC. Right in my house. Woo, Hoo. I thanked the guy. Shook his hand. And gave him a signed copy of my book. He smiled some more and promised to read it and tell all his friends. And then I went off to work.

And, of course, when I called in later that evening to get my phone number switched back, it all morphed into la la land. I dialed 1-800-Comcast, like they had told me. Punched in my account number, the last four digits of my social security number, my life history, and so forth. And then stayed on hold. On hold. On hold. Then, a lady’s bright voice. From India, I’d wager my house. I told her what I wanted to do. Switch back to my old phone number. She was very sympathetic.

“Oh, I am so sorry you are having a problem,” she said. Yes, yes, keep reading the script, I thought. All I need is someone who can speak to me and help me. “Let me see what I can do about that.” Great. She punched around on her keyboard, checking her list for more wide open, generally asinine questions. Finally, she conceded. “I’ll have to transfer you to the next level. I’ll put you on hold.” Music. For minutes. Another lady’s bright voice. “Oh, I’m so sorry you are having a problem.” Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you are. I appreciate that. Just get me some help here. I didn’t say that, just thought it. “I’ll transfer you to the tech department,” she said. Music, then. For minutes. Then, suddenly, deadness. Nothing. I was disconnected. Gaaah. Now I’d have to jump through all those hoops again.

The next day, I jumped through the hoops and spoke with a nice lady from York, PA. Practically next door. She told me she wasn’t sure I could keep my old phone number. “That’s now a Leola number, and you live in New Holland. It might not be possible to get it switched back.” It was a promise, I said. “I’ll see what I can do, I’ll fill out the request,” she replied. I’m leaving for the beach for a week, I said. When I come home, I want it to be fixed.

It wasn’t, of course. And I decided to unlimber the big guns. I called again, the Tuesday after returning from the beach. This time, the call went overseas again. A lady answered in almost good English. Almost good, but still from India, I figured. I need to get my old number switched back, I said. I’m an attorney. I was promised I could keep my old number. It’s important.

I rarely, rarely play the “attorney” card. Almost never. Only when it’s absolutely necessary. As this now seemed to be. The lady from India stuttered a bit, then said she’d transfer me to the right department. Music for a minute. Then two. Then a clear American English voice. “John speaking. How can I help you?” I didn’t mention anything about being an attorney. Just told him I’d like my old phone number back. It’s important. I got it printed on my business cards. “That should be no problem. We can port it over,” he said. “Give me four business days.” That’s great, I said. Can you send me an email to verify our conversation? Yes, he could. And he did.

It took more than four days. But after a nudging email from me earlier this week, in which I did mention the word “attorney,” John got it done. My old phone number is still my phone number. It took a bit of work, but I can’t complain much about Comcast’s customer service. It’s a labyrinth, sure, and you have to figure it’s going to take a while to get anything done. But I can’t complain. Not much. Not so far.

Back a month or two ago, I saw it from the other side. Well, I see it from the other side every day, really. But not usually from an irate customer. The situation just slipped in on me, totally unexpected. And it spiraled right on down into a dimension I had never seen before.

Graber is a quality company. We take pride in our identity, take the extra step to ensure customer satisfaction. We always have. If I can’t work it out with you, well, that’s not an option. I will work it out. Somehow. And then, that day came a test.

It was about twenty til five. Almost closing time. It had been a hectic day. Dave and Eric, the other two sales guys, had already left, for one reason or another. Rosita and I were winding it down. The phone rang intermittently. And then it rang again. I listened as Rosita talked to the person on the other end.

“No, Eric’s on the road.” A pause. “All right. I’ll transfer you.” And my phone beeped. I answered. “Some guy wants to talk to someone in management,” Rosita said. A red flag waved in the distance, in my head. Management. He asked to speak to someone in management. OK, I said. And she transferred the call.

“This is ‘Ray’.” The hostile voice came through my headset. “What’s your position at Graber?” It was an attack, the way he asked the question. I’m a manager, I answered politely. What can I do for you?

And Ray explained, fairly coherently. He lived in upstate New York. A few weeks back, he’d bought some metal roofing from us. A small order. His friend, who lived in our area, had picked up the order and delivered it to him. Good so far, I figured. But we had sent only half enough screws to attach the metal. He had half his roof on. Now he needed some more screws. His friend was coming back up this weekend.

Well that’s no reason to get hostile, I thought. I chuckled into the phone. That’s no problem, I said. Just have your friend stop by, and I’ll gladly sell him another bag of screws. He can bring them right up to you. No problem at all.

But it was a serious problem, in Ray’s mind. “I ordered the metal. You didn’t send me enough screws. I want you to give them to me.” He sounded old, cantankerous and mad. I shouldn’t have done it. But it was late, almost closing time. And I couldn’t stop myself. Or wouldn’t. I flared. Look. I’m not sending you any free screws. That’s not how it works.

Ray was a practiced hand at harassing customer service reps, that much became very clear in the next few minutes. “I ordered the metal. You should have known how many screws I needed,” he said. “I want you to send them to me free. You owe them to me.”

How dense could the guy be? Look, I said impatiently. I didn’t take this order, so I don’t know what was said or wasn’t. But even if we figured the amount of screws wrong, had we figured it right, you would have paid for them. You would have spent exactly what they cost you. So you’re short right now. But you will have to pay for the screws. It’s one bag. 250 screws. That’s fifteen bucks. That’s all I can do for you. But you aren’t getting them for nothing. I will not do that.

He was an old practiced hand at this game. He’d gotten away with a lot, in his lifetime, harassing customer service people. With oily ease he shifted, like he was reading from a script. “I want the name of your supervisor.” Smugly, like he expected me to wither.

This is as high as it goes, here, for you. I shot back. “Then I want the complaint department,” he said next. I am the complaint department, I said. And back and forth we went for another minute. Then, “I want the full address of your corporate office, and the name of the public relations person.” I’m sure he’d sent many a customer service rep dashing for cover in the past with that demand. But not this time. This is the corporate office, I replied. Like I said before, this is as high as it goes for you. Look. It’s almost five, and I got things to do. And again he came back, hedging for time. “Then I want the mailing address for your office.” It’s on your invoice, I said. “I don’t have that with me right now.” Find it, I said. The mailing address is right there at the top of the invoice. Feel free to write.

Silence, then, as he absorbed my words. He wasn’t done. One more shot. “I don’t like your attitude,” he huffed. Nope. I’m not going down that bunny trail. I was done. Suit yourself, I said. And then I did something I have never done before. Ever, to anyone, in all my life (except the occasional pesky sales person, but that doesn’t count). I hung up on the man. And I sat there, seething and drained.

The next morning, I checked it out with Eric at the office. Ray had called, I told him. And I told him how it went. It turned out that Ray’s local friend had ordered the metal and the amount of screws. Eric had just taken the order over the phone and written it up. Ray may or may not have known that. Chances are, though, that he had tried to pull a fast one on me.

But still. I was highly irritated at myself. I don’t lose my cool like that. Don’t lose control. Not like that. Not to where I hang up on a customer. That’s not my heart. I could have handled it calmly. I should have. Sure, it was late in the day, and I was frazzled. Not prepared to be attacked. But my reaction was wrong. Way, way wrong.

The problem is, you have to be prepared, mentally and emotionally, all the time. You can’t ever let your guard down. Because you never know when the doors will open and the crap comes pouring in. When some irate person will come at you, right or wrong. That’s just how it is. Not just in sales, but in life as well.

Some “Ray” will assail me again, for reasons that make no sense to me. That’s a given, and it’ll happen soon enough. And I don’t know if the outcome will be different. But I think my attitude and my reaction will be. I can’t know for sure until it happens, I guess. But I know where my heart is.

****************************************************
My book talk at Grove City College came down last Friday evening. And, in retrospect, the whole trip was one of those experiences that will always stay with me. My good friend from our Bob Jones days, Dr. Mark Graham, got me into the place. I mean, how many authors get to go to any college and talk about their book? Mark and I were classmates during my two years at BJU, and I last saw him and his wife Becky eighteen years ago when I was a groomsman at their wedding in Rhode Island. I wore a tux for the first time ever that day.

Mark always spoke and breathed history, back in those days. A doctorate in history is kind of like an English degree of any level. With it and a couple of bucks, you can buy yourself a cup of coffee at most gas stations. Mark is one of the very few people I know who pursued his passion and is doing exactly what his heart always called him to do. What he’s always known he would do. Teaching, breathing and writing history.

Mark met me when I arrived at the campus, and we picked up right where we had left off, way back. I could still see the eager young student in him, back in the classroom. We talked full speed as he showed me the college grounds. Beautiful place, Grove City. Had my life taken a slightly different curve along the tracks, I could easily have attended there as a student. Mark proudly regaled me with the history of the place.

And later his wife Becky, looking young as ever, smiled and greeted me with a hug. Introduced me to their three well-mannered daughters and their youngest child, four-year-old Ira. No, I wasn’t his namesake, his great-grandfather was. But I told the boy, who has an orator’s voice if I ever heard one in a child so young, to always be proud of that name. There aren’t many of us out there.

After dining with Mark and a small group of his colleagues and friends, we headed on over to the hall where I would speak. A beautiful, brand new building. This was the first such event to be held there, Mark told me. They had set up 150 chairs. I seriously doubt that many people will show up, I said. A crowd of 25 or 30 is more than respectable.

I didn’t have much time to get nervous. A few outside people trickled in, including an old law school friend from way back. Kelly Tua Hammers and her father drove the two hours from Latrobe, over close to Pittsburgh. Kelly and I were in the same study group through three years of law school. We became close friends. Such bonds are never forgotten. She hugged me and showed me pictures of her husband and two beautiful children. And I seated her and her Dad right up in the front row.

At about 6:25, the doors opened and students poured in by the dozens. All the chairs were grabbed in about two minutes. Standing room only. And still they came. After 250 people crammed the room, the doors were shut. No more were allowed in. My friend Mark must have really harassed his students to show up, I thought.

Then it was time. I’m not a public speaker, not used to talking to packed rooms. But somehow, after a few nervous moments, it all came down OK. I spoke for 20 minutes, read a scene from the book, and then took questions from the audience for the remainder of the hour. The students asked thoughtful, intelligent questions. It was a lot of fun. And then it was over.

Turned out there was a reason the students had flooded my event so enthusiastically. It’s just funny, really. At Grove City, you have to attend a certain number of chapel services each semester. Fourteen, or some such small amount. Which would just appall the Bob Jones people, but seems perfectly sensible to me. Anyway, somehow my book talk was credited as a chapel attendance. So it was an easy credit to any student who wandered in. Which they did, in great numbers. So that’s why the room was so full. But hey, it was all just part of a great experience. I’m grateful for any audience of that size, even if a little “coercion” was applied.

The next day I headed east and south for Carlisle, PA, for the fifteenth reunion of my law school class. The first such event I’ve attended in fifteen years. I don’t usually pay any attention whatsoever to what’s going on back in the schools I attended. It’s not that I have anything against the schools, or against such events, it’s just that I don’t want to be bugged by Alumni Associations. First you attend, next thing you’re being dragged onto some committee, and of course, there’s always the delicate matter of raising funds. It’s all such a wearying of the mind. It’s better to just make a clean break.

But this year it worked out, because I was on the road anyway. So I went. And it was great. I reconnected with friends and classmates, many of whom I had not seen since graduation. There was a reception, a brief speech, and a nice banquet. Then a bunch of us headed over to The Gingerbread Man, a local watering hole, and hung out until the wee hours. Shooting pool and just generally having a grand old time. Some things never change.

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