April 11, 2008

Mistaken Identity

Her Spearfish neighbors just can’t keep a secret about writer Lorraine Collins, whose talents reach beyond classy narratives and into the realm of neighborhood “handyman,” or so we thought!
By Lorraine Collins

Recently I received a remarkable invitation. I was invited to join The Handyman Club of America. I was “chosen from thousands of handy people” to become an official product tester. They wanted to send me a circular saw to try out. After I tried it, I had to send in a report of what I thought of it, but I could keep the saw. As I read on, I wondered why I was chosen for this job of “testing home improvement products around your house and keeping them for free” but my question was soon answered. “Why you?” the letter asked. “Well it’s no secret among your friends and family that you are an outstanding handyman.”

I looked at the mailing label again to be sure this letter had been sent to me, and it was. But the thing is, it’s no secret among my friends and family that you really don’t want to trust me with any sharp object. When I pick up a pair of scissors to cut something, anyone nearby leaps up to say, “Let me do that!” I’m probably most famous for stabbing a refrigerator to death trying to dislodge a frozen salmon. However, I have also punctured soda cans trying to open up one of those refrigerator twelve-packs, and anyone who has seen me trying to open up a childproof lid on a bottle containing a drug or cleaning product knows that whatever else I may be, I’m not “handy”.

I don’t know how I got on the mailing list of the Handyman Club of America, though it might be because I ordered something from a tool catalog for Christmas. This has made me think about how people sometimes do get labeled or identified on the basis of flimsy evidence, and also about how easy it is for con men or scam artists to fool us into believing they are someone they are not. Both of these situations are especially pertinent in an election year.

To begin with, I think many of us do use a kind of shorthand to identify who people are, and we make certain assumptions about them based on their political affiliation, what their job is, where they live, what church or civic organizations they belong to, and so forth. We tend to think we know people based on such things, but as political candidates have sometimes discovered, such assumptions can be wildly wrong. More than one candidate has been baffled at losing what was supposed to be a safe seat. It doesn’t pay to underestimate the diversity of opinions and experiences within any demographic group. Folks just don’t like to be labeled. And we don’t want to be taken for granted, either.

At the same time, we in the electorate have to remember the times we or our neighbors have been fooled by somebody who showed up at the door with an offer too good to be true. By now we may know that somebody in Nigeria really isn’t going to make us rich if we just give them our bank account number, and we know that any plan to make thousands of dollars in our spare time at home probably isn’t as good as it seems to be. But we may still be vulnerable to political candidates who look and act like the people we want, who say the things we want to hear, but who may also be offering us something too good to be true.

We in South Dakota are on the cusp a very interesting political season. We not only have several candidates, but there are also numerous ballot issues to consider. I hope we examine those issues as carefully as we do a contract to fix a roof or the latest offer from a credit card company. Things are not always what they seem there, either. Just think of the possibility of my being a member of the Handyman Club of America, and you’ll do the right thing.

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