Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Joe's Neighborhood

Removing the sting

9/4/2013

Here’s a novel thought — people make mistakes. Usually not big mistakes. But mistakes, nonetheless. Frankly, I’ve made one mistake already this morning. (Was I really just rude to a hard-working guy downtown trying to do a survey at the market?) Heck, it’s not even 10 a.m., and I’m off and running. When it’s a politician’s mistake, it’s great fun for all sorts of reasons, one being that we’re just happy that it’s not us. But, even for politicians, the mistakes usually start out small and ordinary, and then get worse. Why? Because they adopt the strategies we all adopt. “I didn’t do it.” “He did it.” “Let’s pretend nothing happened.” Denial, blame and silence. Not good strategies. And once you adopt these lame approaches, there’s no going back. Suddenly you find yourself hiring a former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice to defend your honor. “I am really, really, really a good guy. See, the judge said so.” Are you kidding? If that technique didn’t work on the playground, it won’t work in real life. Trust me.

What to do instead?

In the criminal prosecution world, there is a strategy for dealing with a mistake made by a witness. It’s called “removing the sting.” It is amazingly simple. You bring the mistake up with the witness on direct examination before the defense counsel even has a chance to point fingers. Then you have the witness admit the error and take responsibility. That’s it. You remove the stinger before the defense counsel paints the witness as a bad guy who made a bad mistake. Yes, it seems counterintuitive for a witness to admit he or she messed up as a method to get the jury to believe the witness. But it works. I’ve seen it dozens of times. Just take out the stinger and the jury forgives.

Naturally, I’ve consulted an expert in this area.

Lawrence Soder is a fourth-generation bee keeper who has a stand in the Downtown Farmers Market, Soder Apiaries out of Saint Charles. He’s selling amazing honey for money and giving away advice for free. Yup, that’s a bee outfit.

Martini Fest

joes1Soder is a strong, big-boned man. Tough, weathered skin. Slightly squinted eyes from working outside. And a boxer’s hands. A man you’d like in your corner. Besides being an expert on bee keeping, he is also an expert on the deadpan delivery.

“My ancestors were all carpenters,” he says. “Being Swedes, as cheap as they are, they took the extra wood from carpentry and they threw it into bee-keeping equipment. That’s how we became bee keepers.”

Is he serious? Should I laugh? Not a muscle moves in his face to give me a clue.

Why is he a bee keeper?

“Guilt. I’m trying to make up for my childhood,” he says, no smile. This interview may be taking a turn in the wrong direction.

Are there health benefits from bee stings?

“My wrist sounds like a bag of peanuts,” he says. “I’m stung on the arm all the time. Can you hear anything?”

He cranks his wrist up and down and looks at me expectantly. Is that a grin? Am I being filmed?

How does the beehive work?

“Every October, the worker bees gather up all the drones in the hive and drag them to the entrance to kick them out. The drones’ slogan should be: ‘I’m here all week except in October.’ ”

Finally, I see the squint in his eyes becomes tighter. Is that his sign for uproarious laughter?

Let’s get to our point. What about stings? Does he ever get stung?

joes2“If it’s a really mean hive, or one you bumped, when you open it up about 15 bees will hit you smack in the face,” he says. “But, every time you open a hive, you’re going to get stung. When I was working yesterday, I got about 10 stings. Honey bees have a barbed stinger. There’s a pulsing vein that puts the rest of the venom into you. You have to scratch that out. You’re a lot better off if you scratch that out as soon as you can.”

So, Soder takes me to his farm six miles out from Saint Charles. Bees swarm and buzz in the hot sun. White sheets on the clothesline snap in the wind. Freshly bailed hay sits in his field. And ripened peaches hang heavy from the trees in his small orchard. Iowa Paradise.

He gives me an oozing honeycomb to eat, perhaps to make me more delicious to the bees, and then he opens up a hive.

Hold it! Where’s our bee gear? Where’s our protective masks? Where’s our smoke machines?

Apparently I’m not sweet enough for even a nibble.

“And, heck, if you do get stung, you just scratch the stinger out and the pain goes away in 10 minutes or so,” he offers.

Good advice. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

Iowa Wild