I just returned from a week in the Big City, peddling our wares. For purposes of illustration, our wares consist of a series of hardwood drinking tankards. Like beer steins, made of wood. (Hey, someone has to do it.)
It was during the span of this four-day crafts fair that I once again encountered the ubiquitous Armchair Quarterback. You know the type I mean. They’re the ones who know more about how to run your business (or raise your kids, or live your life) than you do yourself. They’re everywhere, and a special curse of craftspeople. Because you’re manning your booth, you’re a captive audience for whatever know-it-all crosses your path and parks himself (it’s usually a “him”) in your spare chair for an extended period of time. (Some crafters refer to these as “homesteaders” because they just stay and stay.)
Armchair craft quarterbacks come in two categories. The first is the Critic. He delights in finding every last flaw in our product or booth. A thread is dangling. A letter is askew on a sign. We should be displaying our items in a different fashion, in accordance with his recommendations. Our shelving units are wrong. Our layout is not attractive. Our products are too big / too small / too expensive (but rarely too cheap).
I’m never certain if this type of person is just trying to dicker down the price of our products by pointing out how flawed everything is, or whether he is just positive we’re pathetically unversed in the intricacies of crafting. Whatever it is, it’s almost guaranteed he’ll never buy anything and instead will divert our attention from other customers.
It’s harder to ignore the Nice Guy, the one who just wants to help, the one who is genuinely concerned that we’re mismanaging our business, the one who is positive that we’ll make a million if only we would stop making these silly tankards that we’ve been wasting our time with for seventeen years. We shouldn’t be making wooden beer steins, we should be making wooden trivets if we really want our fortune to be assured.
This actually happened. A very Nice Guy came into our booth and somehow made the extraordinary mental conclusion that we were wasting our time making steins and instead should be making wooden trivets “just like grandma had.”
Trivets, for the pitifully uninformed (and don’t worry, I had to look it up myself) are criss-crossed wooden supports upon which you rest your hot pots and pans so they don’t burn your kitchen counters or tables. And wow, we could become rich making them!
This guy believed it. I mean he honestly believed we could become millionaires (yes, that was the term he used) by making trivets. He talked endlessly about their benefits, beauty, and versatility. He even returned the next day with a well-worn trivet (Grandma’s, apparently) to show us the superiority of his own product idea over ours. It took some doing to convince him we weren’t interested… or that perhaps HE was the best-qualified person to launch the million-dollar empire. (He didn’t take the hint.)
Then there was the Nice Guy who was ready to set us up in the potpourri-burner business. Hmmm, let me get this straight. He was suggesting we heat a bowl full of water and rose petals held in a wood frame containing a burning candle. (What’s wrong with this picture?) Perhaps this Nice Guy was an out-of-work firefighter, or perhaps he was one of those folks who enjoys a good inferno (who doesn’t?). But more likely he was just your standard Armchair Quarterback.
This tendency toward armchair quarterbacking isn’t limited to crafters, of course. It applies to just about everything, up to and including the Presidency of the United States.
On our own modest level, we get a lot of armchair quarterbacking from visitors about our rural lifestyle.
“If I were you…” “Why don’t you…” “Have you thought about…” These are the usual lead-ins for whatever magnificent suggestion the visitor may have.
“Your fences look terrible! Why don’t you buy some good sturdy cattle panels and fence your property with those?” (Estimated cost: $10,000.)
“You mean you tarp your surplus hay outside on pallets? Why don’t you build a haybarn?” (Estimated cost: $25,000.)
“Your garden failed? Really? Gosh, mine is doing great.” (These folks live in the lush croplands of Virginia, not the harsh climate of northern Idaho.)
It’s even more fun to hear armchair quarterbacking about how we’re raising our kids.
“Really? You homeschool? Aren’t you worried about socialization?” (This from someone whose fourteen-year-old daughter slouches, has a nose ring, texts constantly, and has no idea who fought whom during World War II.)
“Really? You live in the country? Aren’t you worried about rednecks?” (This from someone whose kids regularly hang out at the mall, doing nothing more productive than learning new and creative language skills.)
“Really? You spanked your kids when they were little? Isn’t that child abuse?” (This from someone who doesn’t even HAVE kids.)
So I’ve decided it’s time to turn the tables. The next time someone tries to armchair quarterback me, I think I’ll quarterback them back.
“Really? You’re CEO of a bank? What a waste of time and talent. Why don’t you start a business making wooden beer steins instead? That way you could work at home and not commute.”
“Really? You live in the city? Why don’t you sell that crackerbox apartment and buy a farm? That way you could enjoy the invigorating exercise of cleaning the barn instead of wasting time jogging or walking on a treadmill.”
“Really? Your kids go to public schools? Why don’t you homeschool them so they’ll grow up with more social skills than a tick?”
Nah, on second thought I think I’ll just keep my mouth shut. It’s more than the quarterbacks do.