Duct Tape Diva

I love the old story about how a guy needs only two things in his tool box, WD-40 and duct tape. The story goes: If it doesn’t move and it’s supposed to, use the WD-40. If it moves but isn’t supposed to, use the duct tape. Any guy worthy of the title of “guy” will go along with that.

Duct tape has a lot of uses not related to ducts or ducks , as is sometimes erroneously thought. There are contests to make clothing out of duct tape. I think I remember two kids who made their prom gown and tux from the stuff. Another story tells how some guys were flown in to a remote lake somewhere up north and they left food in the plane. A bear tore it apart. The rescue team brought a case or three of duct tape and the whole fuselage was covered and that allowed them to fly the plane home. A friend gave me a cool wallet made from duct tape and I thought it was so cool I bought myself another one when the first one dissolved into sticky strings.

But the most amazing use of duct tape is one that I saw about 40 years ago, and a form of it is still in use today. Annabelle and Cliff Bollinger had just set up the “ARC Workshop” in a storefront on lower Conewango and Ed Place ran it. (The facility evolved into Bollinger Enterprises, Inc.) He found ways to help even the most disabled among us to be productive. There was this table with six squares of duct tape on it.

The ARC Workshop had a contract with a company in Clarendon that made mud flaps. Each set came with a tiny envelope of screws used to fasten the flaps to the car. Someone had to put those screws into those envelopes. Ed taught a very developmentally disabled young woman to take screws from a big box, put one on each piece of duct tape then pick the screws from the squares of tape and put them into the envelopes. She learned to count, at least as far as she needed to. She made a few dollars, and I don’t think she ever made a mistake. More importantly, she loved her job, was proud of the work she did, and loved to demonstrate her proficiency.

The point of this story has less to do with duct tape and more to do with who we can learn from. It’s tempting to think we need to go to prestigious colleges or attend workshops led by people famous for something or other. Certainly lots of learning can occur in those places. But there are so many other opportunities.

The woman counting the screws, who could easily dismissed as “challenged,” or “disabled.” or “low functioning”, or even “retarded,” taught me very important things that have stayed with me for 40 years. Among them:

– Love your work.

– Do your best, always.

– You don’t have to be in charge to make a contribution.

I think of that woman whenever I rip off a piece of duct tape. I do that a lot as a stop-gap measure or a “quick fix.” That reminds me that I’m really not as neat and efficient as she was.

Yogi Berra supposedly said: “You can observe a lot just by watching.” He’s right. You can observe and you can learn all over the place every day. Then you just have to flip those observations into actions. Then you ought to pat yourself on the back and say: “I learned something new today!” And you never know who the teacher might be.

Gary Lester directs Leadership Warren County and is a counselor with Family Services of Warren County, a charitable agency that provides counseling, substance abuse services, and support groups.