I called my buddy Ron at work yesterday and without really asking if he were busy, blurted out, “70! 70! Guess what that means to me today!”

Ron reflected for only a second and said, “Number of emails you answered?”

“No. Guess again.”

“Temperature outside?”

“Wrong! Guess again.”

“A Weight Watchers goal?”

“Please. I’d be emaciated; I’d be all skeletal. Try again.”

Ron’s tone changed slightly. “I’m kind of in the middle of something here at work…”

Oh, right!


Apparently, I forgot what it’s like to have a job.

And it’s not just a job for Ron, he’s a young VP of a big-ass international firm, so he’s got some senior responsibilities as a financial analyst and a highly-sought, creative problem solver. Sure he could gently close the thick door to his carpeted office and gab with me for the next hour, but Ron is one of those guys who actually tries to inspire people at work by setting a powerful example.

He’s smart, of course. (Duh.) But he’s also insightful about people, seeing their strengths for about six months before they recognize it themselves. At work, he prefers to mentor first-generation minorities because he thinks it sucks when nobody tells you how things REALLY work around here.

Twice he has helped mentees find better paying, higher responsibility jobs outside his company because it better fit their personal career goals. He would prefer it if everyone actually enjoys what they do for a living.

He’s inclined to gossip a bit, but only about peoples’ sterling qualities. I’ve heard him argue passionately on behalf of transsexuals and their workplace rights. When shyly nudged the topic towards potential upcoming trips to Amsterdam and significant life changes in his future, he laughed and said, “No, no…I just think they’re courageous.”

He could also gossip about the darker stuff if he wanted, but I think this bores him. He’d rather talk about something juicier:   kindness.

For years he coordinated massive charity efforts within his organization. He does New Warrior community service regularly. Earlier this Spring we spent a Saturday afternoon at a costume shop because Ron thought he might like to rent a chicken suit and then walk around downtown Minneapolis. No reason.

Just thought it might be funny.

Unfortunately, it was raining hard all afternoon so we went and saw Iron Man instead. I always liked Robert Downy Jr. He was really good in an early movie called Heart & Souls. Overall, Ron and I decided Iron Man was quite awesome. The chicken suit can wait for another day.

Two weeks ago I called Ron (yes, probably in the middle of his work day again) to bitch my frustration with a hard-headed friend. Ron chuckled that my complaints sounded pretty legitimate and he empathized with my plight. Then he paused and said, “I bet it’s tough for your friend to go through life being that prickly and stubborn. I bet it’s a hard way to live.”

Of course, Ron was right. I instantly melted to that place where I could see my prickly friend’s true face and I felt the compassion I had wanted to feel. A few of Ron’s well-chosen words can remind me of who I would like to be in this life.

When I call Ron at work and I make him guess questions about the number 70, and Ron says, “I’m kinda busy right now,” I imagine he’s literally in the middle of a Board of Directions presentation. I like to picture them all frowning at their agendas while Ron steps away from the table and pleads, “Just a second.”


As a courtesy yesterday, I gave him the option to continue guessing about the magic of “70″ or I could just tell him the answer if he really was in a bit of a hurry. (Notice I did NOT suggest, “I could call you back.” No, no. My news was important enough to keep him a few minutes longer. He would want to know this.)

“Tell me.” he said. As an afterthought, he added, “Is this about your raspberries?”

“YES!” I cried. “I just picked 70 raspberries in the back yard! I am not shitting you – there were 70 ripe ones today and I picked almost that many yesterday. These are just the ones ripened overnight! Isn’t that amazing? There were 70 of them!”

Huh. Maybe I really have forgotten how to have a real job.

I always get a little excited about the raspberry bushes in my back yard. I love plucking that tender fruit and squishing them in my mouth. When there’s enough berries, I make bright red jam to give as gifts. Raspberries are like magic to me. I do nothing to encourage their growth and they still expand like weeds. Hell, they kick the weeds’ asses and weeds are pretty tough customers. My raspberries bloom twice, Spring and late Summer, making their magic trick even more impressive.

A year or two ago, I remember calling Ron one Spring day and in the middle of our conversation, he said, “Excuse me?”

“What?” I asked.

“You just said the number 47.”

“Oh.” I said. “Busted.”

I happened to be in the back yard picking raspberries at the time we were on the phone. I was holding a plastic tub and moving the bee-heavy branches with my giant grill fork, bluetooth gardener that I am. I explained how I often count the raspberries as I’m plucking them; I think it’s exciting to have a daily grand total. For the rest of that Spring and Autumn, I would call Ron and tell him, “You are NOT going to believe how many today! Guess!”

“You didn’t break 118, did you?” he’d gasp, genuinely, sincerely interested.

Over the intervening months, he apparently had forgotten about the raspberry count. Yesterday we chatted about the 70 raspberries and how I predicted double that number in the peak weeks ahead. I described the picking conditions and the number of fat bumblebees busily working on tomorrow’s harvest. Ron asked a question or two and then reminded me he really did need to get off the phone.

Oh right. Work.

I know he’s wearing an expensive tie while we’re chatting, a sharp linen shirt, and this pleases me to interrupt his powerful executive world with the status of things in my yard. Really, it’s a very exciting lawn.

Before we got off the phone, Ron reminded me that I’m coming to dinner Saturday. Did I mention he’s an amazing organic chef who once studied the culinary arts? Every now and odd Sunday, Ron teaches me how to cook mouth-watering veggies. I have befriended several green things with Ron brokering the introduction.

Like those damn raspberries, he keeps blooming in the most surprising ways.

Some days he’s actually very busy, maybe mentoring someone or trying to help one of his employees rediscover how to creatively love their work. Even on those days, I often get a few minutes of his time. I imagine him deflecting several impromptu hallway briefings as he heads towards his office.

“Can’t talk right now.” Ron tells them, putting up his hand. “I have to take this raspberry call. Third quarter numbers are coming in and I’ve got to keep on top of this situation.”

Saturday has arrived. Tonight at dinner I’m going to tease him with today’s grand total. Here’s a clue:   More than 70. Guess!

He’s going to be so excited.

One Response to “Guess!”

  1. Edmond Manning » Blog Archive » Monsters Says:

    [...] Over the years, Ron taught me to cook vegetables and appreciate homemade pesto. He’s quiet and thoughtful. Around him, I feel calmer. I take deeper breaths. Despite his mild-mannered banker exterior, he’s goofy and angular, regularly in touch with his inner, mischievous child. For two Halloweens, he transformed his own flesh into the living dead, believable enough that I stand as far away from him as possible. Last year, Ron improved on the original, creating gaping flesh divots on his face and neck that bled whenever he squeezed the flaps, like a zit. [...]

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