Thursday, March 18, 2021

Remnant: Personal space

Jarrell found himself with a problem he had never experienced before.

Melody liked to hang-out with him.

It is not that she was clingy or demanded attention. She just kind of tagged along and found things to do when Jarrell was busy.

Jarrell and Junior were looking over the oven at Elsie’s pizza. No natural gas. No heat. No heat, no bread.

They were talking over trying to flip it over to LP which could still be found in relative abundance but Junior knew enough about the two fuels to realize that the nozzles had to be changed. LP had a different amount of heat and the controls would struggle to control the temperature and the air/fuel make-up would be wrong.

Melody was playing on her smartphone while the two men went around-and-around-and-around trying to figure out what they were going to do. 

Jarrell did not realize it, yet, but one of his strengths was that he listened to everybody regardless of their "status" or position on the org-chart. It never occurred to Jarrell to do otherwise. From his perspective, everybody had two eyes, two ears, two hands and a brain. Why wouldn't you listen to them? They might have flawed interpretations about WHY things turned out the way they did, but their observations were likely more valid than his own.

Jarrell was in favor of just piping in the different gas and letting it rip. Junior, who would have to clean up any messes leaned strongly toward “doing it right”. Furthermore, he didn’t want to destroy the equipment.

The staff stood around while the two men attempted to thrash the problem out. They didn’t have anything else to do. They were there to bake bread and the oven didn’t work.

In a lull when Jarrell and Junior, the old-timer were taking a breather before another go-round, Melody cleared her throat. “You know, when my dad installed the range at our house he taped the extra nozzles to the back of the oven near the bottom.”

“He couldn’t bear to throw anything away and he said ‘You never know when you might move and the new house might not have natural gas.”

Jarrell looked at Junior. Junior found a screw-driver and took the panel off that closed out where the gas-line was hooked up to the stove. There, on the inside of the cover plate, were a set of nozzles with “LP” stamped on the flats of the compression fittings.

Jarrell was used to thinking of himself as being the smartest guy in the room. And he may have been. But Melody wasn’t a guy.

It was not a fluke.

The Mayor put Jarrell in charge of figuring out how to bake enough bread with only one generator on-line. Richards had been unable to get the second diesel engine flipped over and had ten-of-twelve cylinders firing on the one, running engine. That meant they had about 40% of the electricity available compared to both engines cheerfully chugging away on natural gas.

Like most kludged-together processes, the emergency bread-baking plan in Eaton Rapids was not very streamlined.

The grocery store had industrial kneaders for their bakery. Those kneaders ran around the clock. They were three-phase, induction motors and as long as the transmission was bathed in the correct kind of oil they could run for years without attention.

The kneaded dough was extruded and cut into loafs. Then it went into a “warm-room” to rise. After rising and proofing, the dough went out to the two pizza places and the submarine sandwich place for the remainder of the baking process.

The issues were that the warm-room was heated with electricity and so were the ovens at one of the pizza places and the submarine sandwich place.

The Mayor gave Jarrell the job of smoothing things up and reducing power usage.

It did not go well. The grocery store resented the lost profit of “giving” dough to their competitors. The two pizza places and the submarine sandwich place found snarky things to say about the quality of the dough they received.

It felt hopeless to Jarrell as he negotiated serially with each stakeholder, attempting to find energy savings or production efficiencies to increase the loaves of bread-per-kiloWatt hour.

Melody tagged along. She really seemed to dig “touching” Jarrell. That was a novel thing for Jarrell. He was used to Ashley. They touched when they had sex but other than that they both had a high need for space. At least Ashley did. Jarrell figured he did as well.

Melody was different. She confided that she thought she must have been Italian in a previous lifetime. Jarrell was still trying to figure out if he liked it or not.

Sometimes he did. It was a comfort. Melody’s touch had no implied demands. It was reassuring.

Other times he was not so sure. It seem...well, creepy. A part of him kept wanting to know “What does she want?” It seemed much too simple of an answer that maybe she just wanted to be close to him. That she found pleasure in just being close and touching him.

So it was no surprise that Melody overheard all of Jarrell’s fruitless discussions with the grocery store, the pizza places and the submarine sandwich shop. Jarrell had a great deal of “stubborn” in his make-up but he was starting to feel beaten down.

It was on one of those half-mile walks from the grocery store to the submarine sandwich place that Melody shared a thought she had with Jarrell. They were sauntering down the sidewalk. Melody had her left hand in the back pocket of Jarrell’s jeans. Jarrell had his right arm gently hooked around Melody’s waist.

It was not an arrangement conducive to rapid locomotion.

“You know, I had a thought” Melody began.

In spite of himself, Jarrell was savoring the warm, spring afternoon. What was not to like? A VERY pretty girl hanging on his arm. Work that was rewarding even when it was frustrating. People greeting him by name. And springtime, when young men’s thoughts turn to yada, yada, yada….

“Hmmm. What was that...” Jarrell asked.

“Flat-bread” Melody said.

“How’s that again?” Jarrell asked.

“Every culture where fuel is scarce bakes some kind of flat-bread. East-Indians bake Naan. Bedouin bake Pitas. Mexicans bake the flattest bread imaginable: Tortillas” Melody said.

“Maybe we don’t need to reinvent the wheel” Melody said. “Maybe the answer has been sitting in front of our nose the entire time.”

Then she dropped it. She didn’t say another thing about “flat-bread” for the rest of the time they strolled the half-mile.

Entering the submarine sandwich place, Jarrell looked at the menu. His memory was correct. Any of the business’s sandwiches could be had on flat-bread.

“So, tell me” Jarrell queried “does flat-bread cook faster than your foot-long loaves?”

“Oh. Absolutely” came the answer.

“How much faster?” Jarrell asked.

“It varies” came the answer.

Jarrell frowned. That was not an answer he expected.

“Why does it vary?” Jarrell asked.

“Well, flat-bread cooks so fast that the operator’s ability to shuffle sheets of flat-bread into and out of the oven becomes a significant factor. An extremely agile operator might be able to cook five times as many flat-breads-per-hour as loaves while a klutz might only be able to manage three times as many.” the store manager admitted.

To his credit, when the Mayor praised Jarrell for increasing the productivity by a factor of three, Jarrell turned and pointed to Melody. “It was all her. It was her idea. She figured it out. After that, all I did was listen and ask questions.”

Jarrell’s career in Corporate America had shattered due to countless factors beyond his control. But he learned from the experience which set him apart from thousands of others. He learned that lightning rods for praise are lightning rods for blame. He learned that sharing honestly-earned-praise eliminated the incentive for coworkers to throw him under the bus.

Melody was both surprised and gratified by Jarrell’s shifting of praise in her direction.


  1. Affectionate human touch is a galvanic connection that feels so good, but, so rare it seems.

  2. "...lightening rods for praise are lightning rods for blame". is a great saying. That I will remember. It sure does apply to politicians. ---ken

  3. Hmmm, for some reason I'm thinking about burritos . . .

  4. Good bosses take the heat and spread the praise... And yes, human touch IS a good thing.

  5. Physical touch
    Acts of service
    Quality time
    Words of affirmation
    All of those are 'love languages'.
    I can't recommend the book 'The 5 Love Languages' enough. Get it, read it, apply it. The knowledge in that book changed EVERY human relationship in my life.

  6. Physical touch
    Acts of service
    Quality time
    Words of affirmation
    All of those are 'love languages'.
    I can't recommend the book 'The 5 Love Languages' enough. Get it, read it, apply it. The knowledge in that book changed EVERY human relationship in my life.


Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.