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I was rushing through the white-tented terminal building at Denver International Airport when my attention was diverted ? as if often is -- by a storefront massage business. Checking my wristwatch, I calculated I had just enough time for a 20-minute chair massage.
I settled onto the light gray vinyl chair and placed my face inside the cushioned headrest. The massage therapist introduced himself. "I'm Lee," he said. "But you can call me Sawbones."
He must have seen the cartoon question mark floating above my head in an imaginary white bubble -"Sawbones?"-for he went on to tell me about himself.
Digging his thumbs into the back of my neck, Sawbones explained that massage was a new line of work for him.
"Do you like it?" I asked, my words muffled by the cushioned face rest.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, revealing a slight rancher's drawl. "I get to meet interesting people, especially here at the airport. A few weeks ago, I massaged the lawyer for the Oklahoma City Bomber. He was on his way to his client's execution." Sawbones paused, as if remembering the occasion. "He was a little tense."
Although his comment demanded a sarcastic response, I couldn't think of one fast enough. Instead, I asked Sawbones if he worked only at the airport.
"No, ma'am. I also have an office by the Stock Show Complex."
"The Stock Show Complex?"
"Yes, ma'am. That's because I have another business. Custom cowboy hats."
The cartoon question mark re-appeared. "Cowboy hats?"
"Yes, ma'am. I sell them at the Grizzly Rose, the country-western bar north of downtown."
I inhaled the rosemary scent of the massage oil and debated whether to prod Sawbones for more information. Since I was unlikely to meet another cowboy-hat-making-masseur in the near future, I asked him if his massage business was growing.
"Yes, ma'am. See, I do horses too."
"Horses?" I asked, feeling like I was being sucked down a conversational rabbit hole.
"Yes, ma'am. Horses like massage. They can get testy though."
"I'll bet." I pictured a blonde Palomino lying hooves up on a massage table.
As Sawbones kneaded my upper arms, he asked what I did for a living.
"I'm a writer," I said. Actually, I didn't say that, because just then, Sawbones' fingers pushed my head into the headrest making my answer sound more like "Imamiffer."
Sawbones was unfazed. "Really?!" he exclaimed. "I'm a writer too!" He said this as if we were distant cousins meeting at a genealogy conference. "I write scripts!"
"Yes, ma'am. See, I also perform in Wild West Shows."
The rabbit hole was getting deeper by the second. "What kinds of things are in your shows?"
"Shoot-outs. Stuff like that. I have a friend who looks like Abraham Lincoln. He's gonna be in our show tomorrow night."
Now, I've never been that great at history but I've never really pictured Abe Lincoln in a shoot-out, except, of course, for the incident at Ford's Theater. I was about to ask Sawbones how Abe figured into his act when he pulled my arms behind my back and away from my body as if dressing a chicken. "You sure got some knots under here," he said, poking underneath my shoulder blades. I began to comprehend the testiness of his equine clients.
Soon, our 20-minutes was up and Sawbones handed me his business card. "Massage," it read. "For Horses and Humans." "Just for future reference," he added, "I also do home massage. It's only 50 bucks and I bring my own table, oil, and CDs." I accepted the card graciously even though I was fairly certain I'd never pay a man named Sawbones to tote oil and soft music into my house.
It's been a week since my encounter with the custom-cowboy-hat-making, wild-west-show-performing, horse-and-human massage therapist and I can't get him out of my mind.
Now, I know there are people who might find Sawbones a little low brow and unfocused. These people would assume Sawbones was a drifter who hadn't found his true calling. But to me, Sawbones is wise. He can work indoors or out. He works with his hands and his mind. He also has built-in job security. The bottom could fall out of the cowboy hat market and Sawbones would still make it in the world.
Furthermore, Sawbones has already figured out what many of us spend our entire careers learning: How important it is to try new things. "Ma'am," he said, "I do all these things because I promised myself I would never do the same boring thing all day long."
Many people I know have said this same thing to themselves at one time or another. But the difference between Sawbones and most people is that he is not afraid to tackle new challenges, even if those challenges involve tense attorneys and testy horses. So think about Sawbones the next time you're confronted with a new opportunity. Even if the job or project doesn't work out the way you expected, you might end up with good fodder for airport conversation.
Copyright, 2005, Shari Caudron.
Shari Caudron is an award-winning columnist, writing coach, and author of "What Really Happened," a collection of humorous stories about the lessons life teaches you when you least expect it. Shari regularly delivers speeches to women's groups about how to transform ordinary experiences into opportunities for personal growth. Website: http://www.sharicaudron.com e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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