Woodworking again: No good deed goes unpunished

By Dave Wood
Posted 1/10/24

“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

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Woodworking again: No good deed goes unpunished


“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

                              ~ Gustave Flaubert

That’s for sure, Gus, but you’re not the only prognosticator who was fond of saying this well-worn aphorism. Architect Mies van der Rohe said it all the time. And an acquaintance of mine often used this depressing expression of human frailty.

But my acquaintance didn’t use it in the sense that Flaubert and van der Rohe did. For he was a Twin Cities banker and used it as a weapon when his own good deeds went awry. That was the case when one of his acquaintances asked him for a loan. “Gladly would he loan,” and “gladly would he render the worst to them” in the form of severe interest rates when they defaulted.

Recently, my beautiful wife and I have come to discover our own form of retributive punishment, after we’d done what we thought was a good deed.

This misadventure began last summer when B.W. worked her tail off improving the looks of our front yard, trimming bushes, laying tile, hiring a handyman to edge our sidewalks. I sat on a lawn chair and watched the whole operation. I’m crippled up and cannot stand without a cane (some friends have suggested that I pretend I can’t). 

Back to the beautiful edging of our sidewalk. No, no this will not be a diatribe about the city and one of its and the sidewalk’s crumbling condition. I’ve sworn off on that route, resigned to God’s will. This problem arose when students returned to the University this fall. After I saw an elderly woman trip and fall onto our asphalt driveway, B.W. worried about the dangers of tripping on some of the sorest spots–though we were glad to see a student help her get up, a classic good deed if ever there was one. Would he be punished? I hope not, but I don’t feel quite as generous toward what we assume were some of his fellow students coming home from a night downtown after attending a prayer meeting or some other extracurricular activity.

B.W.’s concern for the safety of students (and elderly folk, like me!) prompted a trip to Ace Hardware to buy solar lawn lights, clever little devils mounted on spikes.  She inserted them at danger spots into the lawn, adjacent to the scariest sidewalk passages, where the concrete slabs don’t match.  If it’s dark and pedestrians can’t see them, even able-bodied kids will fall down and go boom.   

These solar-powered little lamps were a wonder for a day or two, casting dim lights on the concrete, and a host of heavy hearts were happy. But one Friday night when we returned from a delicious fish fry, the lamps were gone. Only one remained, and that was smashed to a fare-thee-well, its shards scattered on our driveway, as if someone had kicked it and stomped on it.

To cheer up B.W. I clipped out a story on charitable giving which includes a poem about the fact that we give and give, come what may, by Arizona’s first poet laureate Alberto Rios:

“Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,

Big though small, diamonds in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages, too,

But we read this book, anyway, over and again.”

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

good deeds, Woodworking again, Dave Wood, column