A Lick and a Promise

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday, the day you never know what you’ll get.  Today’s post is a departure from the usual.  Usually, I tackle a research project of sorts.  Today, I want to talk about an experience I had that made me think about the effort I put into things.


The weather here in Texas has gone from really, really hot to hotter than Hell.  I no longer want to sit around in the evening wearing my pajama pants.  It’s too durn hot.

I decided I needed a pair of stretchy shorts for loungewear.  During my regular stop at Walmart–which I sometimes refer to as the ninth cone of Hell–I made a point to search for lounge shorts.


My requirements were pretty strict.  The shorts had to have some give, yet they had to be cute enough not to cause my husband to want to claw out his eyes.  So I found the perfect pair of Beavis and Butthead shorts.  They were made out of t-shirt material and had a nice elastic waist.

The only problem was that the shorts didn’t have any sort of price tag on them.  They were on the $8 rack, though, so I thought it would be okay.  At worst, the cashier would ask me the price of the stuff on the rack where I got it and have to manually key in the price.  Right?  Wrong.


The cashier got to the shorts.  Seeing they didn’t have a tag, she typed the number off the fabric tag the manufacturer sews into clothes.  This, of course, didn’t work.

I told her the shorts had been on the $8 rack.   She ignored me and continued typing in the number from the tag.  Repeatedly.  I shut up, figuring she was following policy.

After several more–like 10 or 12–tries, the cashier said, “I can’t get it to enter. I’ll have to call someone.” Then, she just stared at me.


While this whole scenario played out, a line had been growing behind me.  I knew my upper limit on the Beavis and Butthead shorts was $8.  If a manager came over and declared they were $16, I was going to decline them.

So, out of respect for my fellow shoppers, I said, “Okay.  Since there’s a line behind me, I just won’t get them.  I don’t want to make these people wait any longer.”

The cashier shrugged and dropped Beavis and Butthead in a box at her feet.  At that moment, I knew the future of those shorts.  They weren’t going to Customer Service to get re-tagged.  No, no, no.


Those shorts were going right back out to the same rack from which I plucked them.  The entire scenario would play itself out at least one more time before somebody bought the blasted things.

[Note: I am not critiquing the way the cashier handled the situation.  I am sure she was following policy.  And, for minimum wage, I’m sure she doesn’t care if anybody ever buys those stupid shorts.  Her job is the same one way or the other.]


As I thought about the fate of the shorts, I remembered a similar scenario a couple of years ago at Bed Bath and Beyond.  I had bought a coffee cup.  When I got home, I realized the inside of the cup had a hairline crack.  Armed with my receipt, I returned the cup to the store for a refund.

The girl running the customer service desk dropped the cup in a box of items on the counter beside her.  As she counted out my change, another Bed Bath and Beyond employee stopped by and asked her if there were any items to be put back out on the floor.  She pointed at the box where she’d dropped my cracked coffee cup.

Though I was tempted to ask if they intended to put damaged merchandise back out on the selling floor, I did not.  I figured whatever exchange I engaged them in would only infuriate me.  Instead, I made a personal vow to examine things more closely before I purchased them.


Still, I wondered what became of that cup.  Did the next person who purchased it while paying less than perfect attention keep it thinking they had done the damage?  Or, conversely, how many times was it returned?

[Note: Again, I want to be very clear that I am not blaming the Bed Bath and Beyond employees. I am sure they were either following policy or taking the path of least resistance.  And, for the amount of money they make, I don’t blame them.  If that same coffee cup is purchased and returned ten times, their lives won’t be any different.]

The whole process reminded me of the phrase, “a lick and a promise.”  The American Heritage dictionary defines this phrase as “a superficial effort made without care or enthusiasm.”  That about covers it.


Believe me, I do understand applying a lick and a promise when you don’t give a damn and it doesn’t matter one way or the other.

But I ended up thinking about often I have shorted myself by failing to put forth my best effort.  My laziness almost always costs me more effort in the long run.  Sometimes, I missed out on opportunities that would have made life easier.  Other times, the mess I had ignored just grew until I had to spend many hours correcting it.

I have plenty of experience with a lick and promise.  I learned the practice with school work.  I mastered it with jobs.  And, for a long time, I applied a lick and a promise to my writing.


One day, I woke up and realized that if I ever wanted to do anything worthwhile with my writing, I was going to have put my whole heart in it.  Since that day, I always stop and think before I give anything a lick and a promise.

Sometimes it matters.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

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