Is that all there is? When songs ruin lives …

Tara Flanagan, columnist

Back then, there wasn’t such a thing as karma. In Midwestern Catholic high school parlance, our deeds pointed us to heaven or hell, with a little JC dangled over our souls to give us hope. Anyway, my pal Nape and I used to take great delight in messing with people’s heads, and one of our favorite methods was to go out for Friday fish fry with her parents. While Fred and Marge were draining down a gin ricky in the dining room, we would sneak out to the bar with several fistfuls of change and plug the jukebox (this is where the heaven/hell thing comes in). At first, we just played the worst songs we could find, such as “McArthur Park” and “Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald,” but after a while we figured there was probably someone in the restaurant who actually liked those songs. So we kept scanning the selections and landed on Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” If you haven’t heard it, it’s the epic song about life heading south. If you hear it once, you might like it. But Nape and I filled the jukebox with three or four hours of music at a time, all of it being “Is That All There Is?”

I’m surprised the owner of the place didn’t sue us, as it is likely that half his customers went home and broke down after Friday fish fry, not quite knowing what it was that put them over the edge. It was funny, too, because nobody really complained about the music; when Peggy kicked in for the 35th and 40th times, the customers just looked up in that Wisconsin way of acknowledging something being askew, then went back to the cole slaw.I digress. I was talking to a local business owner the other day, and we were discussing the supply of quality employees in the county (yes, this eventually ties in to the jukebox story) and how busy the winter’s been – things that get discussed 47,000 times a minute in the High Country. This turned out to be one of those stories that stuck in my head.She’d found the perfect employee. Just out of school, really wanting to work, full of good ideas, punctual. To keep this employee happy, the business owner paid her a good wage and thanked her many times for being here. For a short time everything in the universe was good. But then things started heading south. The employee had found housing with several others, and for a while it seemed workable. But she discovered that most people her age were not here to work as much as they were to have fun. And fun is good.

But pretty soon, there were other people coming to the house to have fun, which was OK, except they never left. She’d get up in the morning to go to work and have to step over the roommates’ friends’ friends on the floor, dodging beer cans and the occasional pizza box. She complained about the situation to deaf ears, because she was the only one who was here for reasons other than having a good time for a short time.Long story short, the landlord threw out the whole batch, and our business owner saw a good employee hit the road.”It’s just not what I thought it would be here,” the employee said upon leaving. I thought about it, and “Is That All There Is?” came back into my head.

I can’t begin to say what the solution is to the Peggy Lee syndrome, but we’ve all seen good people with high hopes go sour on this fine place. For some it’s the end of the road, for others it’s a cautionary tale early in life – a story that might send them to sell insurance in Tulsa for the rest of their lives. To quote my friend Allen Best: “Sometimes you have to eat that scenery with a pretty big spoon.” That said, have a ball.Tara Flanagan writes a Wednesday column. She can be contacted at

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