(What am I pretending not to know? What in the world does that mean? What’s the context? What am I pretending not to know about WHAT?)
It was one of those perfect moments.
I’d had a blog post all prepared, but was hanging onto it for some reason instead of publishing – didn’t know why. Then Jerry and I were out running errands and stopped at the local Chinese buffet for lunch.
Jerry likes Chinese. I can take it (no pun intended) or leave it. The food tastes good, but there are a lot of dishes that have onions (which I’m allergic to) so my selection is usually pretty limited. S’okay, though; I’m rather fond of sweet and sour chicken. This place in town is a nice one; small, friendly atmosphere, cheerful waitstaff no matter who’s on duty. Today there were some folks chatting when we arrived. It was pretty obvious that these two groups had only just met; they were talking about “getting to know you” stuff – profession, families, where they live, the price of farmland, that sort of thing.
Now, I’m generally very… courteous, I suppose would be the word. If people are having a conversation in a restaurant, I assume their words are not for all and sundry and I turn a deaf ear. Granted, a restaurant is a public place, and granted that for some folks their normal speaking volume really carries. But that’s no reason to listen, and doubly no reason to remember what I hear.
(Reading obituaries? Well, that’s a little macabre, isn’t it? I suppose it might be an exercise in learning what others have done with their lives – how they’ve filled in the “dash” on their tombstone, whether or not they’ve made their own Hero’s Journey or spent their lives encased in the cement – but how can a published paragraph or two paid for by the word possibly give the true measure of a person?)
This older gentleman, though, was talking about his kids – he has three, one of whom is a Master Sergeant in the Air Force permanently assigned to the National Guard Armory in Hastings. The talk moved on to retirement and finances, and he said something to the effect of “We’ll never be rich, but we’re not poor, and we can do some of the things we always wanted to do.” And I found myself wishing there were something I could do, some way to have a conversation where I could bring the talk around to offering him… something, anything, to change that accursed resigned acceptance of less than.
(Service, schmervice; chores, schmores. Don’t care what word it’s called by, it’s still doing things I don’t want to do for other people who nine times out of ten either won’t say ‘thank you,’ or will use my generosity as an excuse to treat me as a doormat. That’s always the way it happens, calling it a service doesn’t make it any less an imposition, and I resent being forced by Universal Law to sacrifice myself in such a fashion!)
The five of them were engaging in a Minnesota goodbye; saying farewell, mentioning they had to go, then starting a new conversation.
I might have mentioned a time or two that I come from a family with strong military ties. Among other things, that facet of my life grants an almost automatic kinship with other military family members. I wasn’t thinking of my Franklin Makeover virtue for the week – courage – or about that half-formed thought I’d sent into the universe, or even about the conundrum that revolves around the Law of Giving, the Law of Compensation and the principles in the Strangest Secret – specifically, “give more get more” yet we are to give without expectation of reciprocity even though just being conscious of the dynamic involved means we can expect to be given to as we give. It’s a puzzle in logic that I play with (and yes, I do actually know what the answer is, it’s just more fun to toy with the question).
(Mmm, hero’s journey. Every High Fantasy series ever written is the hero’s journey – the innocent hero, the wise mentor, the helpers along the way… and the Quest for the Magical Object – a person’s Authentic Self, in this case. Don’t know that I like the fact there’s a built-in ‘get out of jail free’ card for the teachers, though – where’s the check and balance, if they can simply say that a person has failed to heed the herald’s offering of the quest and then ignore whatever the objection was that caused those folks to drop out? It was a pretty interesting parallel to the Stages of Grief… though if Mark was talking the Kubler-Ross stages, he missed “Bargaining.” Should probably listen to the webinar again.)
So I got out of my seat and went to tell him, “Thank you,” for his part in raising a Master Sergeant as he was waiting for his folks to finish their farewells. He said he hadn’t done much, and mentioned he also had a daughter in the service (a Captain in the Air Force), and I mentioned my brother who was an E-6 before he was honorably discharged, and we got to chatting.
Then he asked what it was I did for work, and I told him I was a writer. It came out smoothly, automatically. And mind you, this is one of those questions that I’ve had trouble answering in the past; it’s true in my head, but it’s also not how I earn my living… yet. So as a part of my mind was wondering why in the world I just said what I’d said, he said, “Really? I’ve got this great idea for a story…”
(And all around the MKMMA, other writers are cringing. Ideas are a dime a dozen; so many times people offer their ideas for us to write up and then believe it’s a 50-50 proposition and the profits should be split evenly.)
Well, we both laughed about that, but turns out he has a brilliant idea for a niche website. See, retired military and the immediate families of active duty members can rent rooms on bases around the country, rooms that would ordinarily go empty. It’s a win-win; families and retirees get basically hotel service in a secure area, and the base gets the funds for what would have been wasted space. Prices have gone up over the years – used to be $20 a night, Steve was telling me – but now it’s comparable to or maybe a bit more expensive than a Motel Six. Well, some years back he and a friend thought that it would be nice to have one place where a person could go for information on the base housing – prices, locations, and the quality of the place. Because apparently bases vary wildly in those categories; some, he says, are finer than 5-star hotels; others are real dives; and still others are clean and amenable but constructed along institutional lines – ‘institutional’ as in a mental hospital. But he’d convinced himself that nobody would be interested knowing things like that, and honestly where would you publish those kind of articles anyway? So the idea remained dormant.
And I said, “I would be more than happy to help you out with that.” Because writing, after all, is what I do. And while I resent ‘being of service,’ I LOVE ‘doing favors.’ And I have some small experience with passive-income niche websites – which I suspect Steve doesn’t know anything about. And there’s no denying that knowing what style and quality of base housing is available would be valuable to military families who want to visit loved ones, or just take advantage of some of the travel perks. And I can think of so much that could be added to the reviews of the bases! What’s nearby, for example, both for dining and activities. The best travel routes – not everyone has a GPS. Base events that visiting families could attend. I mean, seriously, I’ve already started to organize the website in my head.
There are details to work out, for sure. We exchanged contact information and I’m to call him in a month. The tentative idea is for him to provide access to the bases, and I’ll write the articles and take the pictures – and more than likely transcribe some of his stories…
And once the website has a solid followership, gift that passive income stream to him so that his own travel and experience then become self-sustaining.
How cool is that?