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Funny Papers Again Column | What Is the Problem With No Problem?

Steve Wilson

I have always been a reader. Back in the Paper Age people had a set of books in their homes which was known as an encyclopedia; comprised of two Greek words meaning “complete education.” They were a very comprehensive resource used by millions for research and study.

I remember when my family got our set of encyclopedias, they were Collier’s and came with a bookcase. Also included, or paid extra for by my parents, was a set of biographies of famous Americans, which I devoured while the family watched TV. This would be a practice continued throughout the years, an act my father would often marvel at: how could I completely block out “Bonanza” or “The Untouchables” while reading about Nathan Hale?

(Nathan Hale was the only spy during the Revolutionary War we learned about, he was captured in British held territory and hung. His last defiant words, “I regret I have but one life to give for my country,” became a rallying cry for General George Washington’s struggling army. All true, but incomplete of all facts. While considered a promising young officer at 21 years of age, Lt. Hale volunteered to assume a Loyalist persona and gather pertinent information about British military strength on Manhattan Island, making his way there via Long Island. Problematically, he knew nothing of the terrain or villages of Long Island and as consequence his charade lasted only nine days. He was taken to Manhattan and hung 12 hours after arrest. His famous last words were not uttered at hanging but in a letter written to his mother prior to departing on his ill-fated mission. But I digress.)

I point out my reading not to indicate intelligence but rather boredom with television re-runs. While I did very well in spelling and grammar, there were some sentences that just did not make sense to me. One such example is lyrics from a once popular American folk song. I knew the meaning of the word “seldom” but failed to see how it could cause a person to become discouraged: “Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word.” I use the word today and never feel discouraged by it.

And while I am on lyrics, here is one that baffles even wordsmiths, this from the song “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull: “Sitting on a park bench, eyeing young girls with evil intent.” We have two possibilities, quite opposite. Is the lecherous old man on that park bench harboring immoral or indecent plans for young innocents unaware; or is he a vulnerable senior citizen now the target of some female juvenile delinquents who are intent on doing him harm? To this day, I don’t sit on park benches for fear of any misunderstandings. (That last sentence a poor attempt at graveyard humor; I am sure you all understand confusion came about by the grammatical error of placing a comma in the middle of the sentences where none existed before; which reverses each statement’s meaning.)

There is one usage heard on a daily basis that baffles me no end. What I am referring to is the employee-to-customer-response “No problem.” How many of us have gone into a business and upon completion of the transaction, no matter if the transaction is a sale or asking an employee for directions, when we say “thank you” the response is “no problem”? Just what in Sam Hill does that mean?

Does it mean, regardless that you were getting paid wages, if you considered my transaction or question a problem then you weren’t going to wait on me? Or did it mean, at that particular moment, that doing your job did not present an insurmountable problem for you? Or does it mean that doing that specific task, operating a do-it-all-for-you cash register or pointing out an aisle number, would have been a problem for others, me included, but not for you? Or does it mean “not a problem this time but next time it may be”?

I ask again; what do you mean by “no problem”? Here is a friendly tip: if you are an employee to whom I say “thank you,” if you say “you’re welcome,” we’ll both walk away with a positive experience. And that really should be no problem.

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Some time back while biking on Mildred Avenue I stopped briefly to watch some of the opening ceremonies of one of Sun Street Centers’ newly refurbished buildings. In the middle of the dignitaries was King City Councilmember Darlene Acosta, a tireless worker for youth for over 30 years, nine of those years with the Center. As I went on my way eastward on Broadway, I could not help but flash back to when one part of the facility was once a small restaurant named “The Little Corner.” It was in the rear dining area of this place where I first became aware of Darlene Duke; that was back in September 1966.

We would cross paths occasionally over the next couple of years at those parties that were popular in the ’60s and ’70s. Her brother Dennis later married a Greenfield gal whose brother was a friend of mine, so sometimes Darlene was at certain Greenfield events. Our paths did not cross again until September 1990, when I was writing for the Greenfield News and Dee was seated on the city council. Sometimes we were on the opposite sides of city policies or actions, sometimes on the same side.

Darlene and her husband, a Greenfield boy I’d known for decades, and I worked together on what would be Greenfield’s last Broccoli Festival in 1997. Darlene and I have greeted each other at events over the past decade and at her brother’s funeral; the communications always positive. And while we never discussed the now distant rocky roads behind us, she knew about turning one’s life around and then seeking to add to society, and in that we were kindred spirits. It was an honor to know her.

Take care. Peace.