Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Black Belt

Prager Port Works, St Helena, California, USA

February 2, 2013



"One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised." ... Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist

This essay, Black Belt, is the companion piece to Black Brick.

It is also the sequel to See A Chance, Take It.




"I'm calling to apologize" I told him. There was a sudden silence at the end of the line. I thought we had been disconnected. Then he said "You're what?". "I'm calling to apologize" I repeated. There was another silence ... until he said (with no sarcasm in his voice - rather just skepticism and disbelief) "No  one ever calls to apologize. People only call to complain.".



A Clear Case Of Theft



It was a nice hotel. Nothing fancy. Just ... nice. The room was comfortable, clean. There were plenty of fresh towels. The TV had a dozen or more movie channels. Oh and yes, it was just a few miles down the road from some of the most amazing waves  on the planet.

I'm a creature of habit. In every single hotel I stay in, I unpack in exactly the same way. While the layout of each room is obviously different, I unpack my bags and place my belongings in the same configuration, if you will, regardless of the room's layout, drawers, or furniture. This way, without thinking I know where everything is, I can find anything in the dark, and I never leave anything behind. That's how it was when I came back to the room after a quite fantastic afternoon's surfing, showered, and started preparing for the evening. I laid a clean shirt, slacks, underwear, and socks neatly on the bed, and a pair of brown loafers on the floor beside it. Then I looked for a belt ... and couldn't find one anywhere.

"That's odd  ..." I thought. I knew I'd brought a belt with me. I even remember carrying it out from my home to the trunk of my car with my other belongings. I looked through all the drawers. It wasn't there. I looked under the bed. It wasn't there. I looked in my suitcase. It wasn't there. So I walked out to the parking lot, carefully retracing my steps in case I dropped the belt along the way (it wasn't there), and back to my car. I looked in the front and in the back and then in the trunk. The belt was nowhere to be found.

Slowly it dawned on me (and it's a thought I quickly didn't want to be having): someone stole my belt from the room while I was away at the beach.

It was just a belt. It was just a plain black belt  which goes well with my slacks. I can replace it easily enough. But (as they say in the classics) it's the principle  of the thing. Someone, probably a housekeeper or a maid, came into the room to clean it and make the bed while I was out, then took the belt ie stole  the belt. They no doubt thought it wouldn't be missed - or it wouldn't be missed until it was too late. The trouble is I did miss it - and I missed it immediately.

My inquiry "Is this really worth making a fuss over?" quickly ended with a resounding "No.". Nonetheless, I picked up the phone on the bedside table, called the front desk, and asked to speak with the manager.

I told him what had happened. I told him it wasn't a big deal, really ... yet it was. I felt violated. My trust was betrayed. But given it was just a belt, I told him I didn't think anyone should get fired  over it. I did say, however, that he should ask the housekeeping staff, casually, if anyone saw a belt which was reported missing from the room. That way he could watch for any tell tale  facial signs of embarrassment, signs of guilt  of being unexpectedly caught out for theft.

He said he would do so. He said he would get back to me once he'd spoken with his staff. He never did.

I tried to envision, once or twice, what I would have seen on the guilty face if I was him, asking his staff if anyone had seen a missing belt. It was only a belt, an insignificant black belt which wasn't very expensive to replace. Yet I had  to bring it to his attention. Someone stole it from my room while I was out. It was the principle of the thing.

* * *

At the end of my stay, I packed my belongings and left. Three days later I bought a new black belt to replace the stolen one. I didn't like the new one as much as the original. That said, I didn't think about the incident again after that ie I didn't think about the theft  again after that.



A Crooked Mat



It's been seven months since those most amazing waves. I return to my car in the parking lot of my gym, having just completed swimming two miles. I open the trunk to stow my swimming gear, and that's when I notice the mat on the floor of the trunk is crooked. I try to straighten it but I can't. It's weighed down and held in place by a box of tools and an emergency reservoir of water sitting on top of it. I could ignore it and leave it crooked the way it is ... but I don't. I don't like crooked.

So, right there in the middle of the parking lot, I set my swimming gear on the ground. I unload the tool box and the water reservoir which I place on the ground next to the swimming gear. Then, as I'm straightening the crooked mat, I notice there's a trunk liner under the mat, which is also  crooked.

Having come this far, I'm not stopping now. Out comes the crooked mat which I put on the ground. Out comes the trunk liner which also goes on the ground, and now the metal of the trunk compartment is completely bare and exposed. The spare wheel is revealed in a well in the floor of the trunk. I may as well now also clean around the spare wheel, which I start doing ... and that's when I suddenly see what looks like a hidden, crammed piece of something  which I reach for to dislodge, and ... Oh ... my ... God!  ... could it be? ... it's a black belt, a very familiar looking  black belt, neatly coiled, hidden just out of sight behind the spare wheel.

* * *

It's not that I know how it got there. I don't. Yes I brought it out from my home to my car and put it into the trunk. But I didn't cram it under the mat next to the spare wheel. Yet reality doesn't lie. Somehow  it got there. There it is. It's been underneath the mat, the erstwhile crooked mat, all this time. The black belt has been there all this time. The black belt - the stolen  black belt.



A Call Back



Making the definitive statement, I remove the belt I'm wearing and replace it with the black belt. I put the trunk liner and the mat back in the trunk, both perfectly straight this time, then the water reservoir and the toolbox and my swimming gear on top of the mat. The project to straighten the crooked mat is now complete, right here, right now, out in the open, surrounded by all the other cars, in my gym parking lot. With this completion comes the awful resolution of the "clear case of theft" affair: it was I who left the black belt in the trunk of my car, then accused a hotel housekeeper and / or a maid of stealing it.

Mortified, yet setting my outright sheepishness and feeling totally stoopid  aside, I know there's one thing left I had to do: I have to call the hotel, let the manager know what happened, and apologize - to him, and through him, to the housekeeper and to the maid.

I call the hotel and ask to speak with the manager. I give him the exact dates I stayed at his hotel seven months ago, and the number of the room in which I stayed. "What can I do for you?" he asks. I tell him the whole story. He remembers me. I remind him I suggested he ask the housekeeping staff, casually, if anyone saw a belt which was reported missing from the room, so he could watch for any tell tale facial signs of embarrassment, signs of guilt of being unexpectedly caught out for theft. "So I'm calling to apologize" I tell him "for accusing your staff of theft when clearly there was no theft at all - actually it was I who simply, stoopidly misplaced my own belt.".

There's a sudden silence at the end of the line. I think we've been disconnected. Then he says "You're what?". "I'm calling to apologize" I repeat. There's another silence ... until he says (with no sarcasm in his voice - rather just skepticism and disbelief) "No one ever calls to apologize. People only call to complain.".

* * *

He promises he'll let the housekeeper and the maid know I called, what I explained happened, and that I apologize to them, the ones who serviced my room on the dates I gave him. I thank him. He thanks me. We both hang up. A clear feeling, a lightness  comes over me, like I've done something awkward and (given my propensity for self-righteousness, self-preservation, survival, ego, and arrogance) slightly unnatural - which is only available through playing big.

I like the feeling. No, it's more than just liking  the feeling. It's the feeling is divine, sublime  - like an elephant just crawled off my back.



A Conclusion



I'm a bigger man, a black belt karateka  if you will, when I make a mistake then clean it up, than if I never make any mistakes at all.



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