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Thanks a Hundred

Thanks a Hundred

Most writers, I suppose, have a book they never wrote—the one that was fun to ponder and exciting to plan but that never seemed to happen. I have such a book, and for years I’ve clutched it to my chest like a secret treasure.

The book is Thanks a Hundred: Faint Praise for All Occasions.

It began years ago in the 562nd Forced Air Band, which is what the Air Force National Guard Band was called by those of us who signed up during the Vietnam War. The group consisted of L.A.’s top jazz, rock, symphony, and studio musicians, plus one or two ringers like me. Besides being perhaps the greatest military band ever assembled, it was also the funniest.

One day during rehearsal, someone called out, “Really great, some of you guys.” Later he told the group, “I love what you’re trying to do.”

An idea was born—not just a thought but a new genre of insult. Seated at the back of the trumpet section, I excitedly scribbled down the comments, along with a term to describe them: faint praise. Faint praise was a backhanded compliment, a passive-aggressive kudo, a stealth insult. Starting that day, I began collecting examples to use in a book I would write.

Thanks a hundred.
You look great for your age.
Almost all my friends like you.
That was incredible. There’s just one thing…

Every so often I would pull out my list and add a new example or two. This went on for years. Most recently, when my daughter Maggie was away at college, she called one day and asked what had ever happened with that book I was going to write. It seemed she had mentioned it to her sorority sisters, and they loved the idea. I gladly willed it to them, eager to see what they would do with it.

Nothing happened. They got as far with it as I had.

It seemed that faint praise was great but, perhaps fittingly, the idea inevitably faded out. There wasn’t enough of it for an article, let alone a book. And, as you can see, there is barely enough for a blog post.

Eons have passed, and finally I’ve made a decision. I’m releasing the idea, like a wounded bird, to fly into the world. Or possibly crash. It’s out of my hands. If you like the idea, it’s yours.

After all, as my friend in the Guard Band might say, I have great confidence in you, and very little of that.

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