Envy and Yogurt Covered Pretzels

Friendly’s has six menus, and one of those menus is dedicated to appetizers and entrees whose principle ingredient is melted cheese. Why they need the other five is beyond me, but my best guess is that we need other food items to help us understand how the absence of melted cheese can sadden and dismay a restaurant goer.

I, and I imagine many of you, struggle daily with trying to eat not-terribly-unhealthily. I tell myself that I’m not doing a bad job. I’m right in the median weight for my height, people don’t get panicky when I step onto elevators with them, their heads jerking around looking for the maximum weight capacity.

No, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a reasonably trim fellow, and when I successfully hide the fact that walking up a long flight of stairs has me breathing heavily, I can often fool people into believing I’m even in fair shape.

But then from time to time I am reminded just how far behind I am lagging.

Today, for instance, I am on my way to the University of New Hampshire to give a talk up there. The HarperCollins Speaker’s Bureau arranges all the logistics, and anytime it’s possible I request a train over a flight. That’s how I found myself at 7 a.m. kicking back on the Acela train to Boston, together with what I considered my fellow sophisticated travelers, businessmen and women who preferred to work in a civilized atmosphere of a train.

I nodded to them as I passed, indicted that I, too, abstained from air travel when possible. I opened my own laptop and set to writing, which lasted all of eight minutes until I fell fast asleep and woke a few hours later, realizing I had dozed off and that we had just pulled into Boston, where I had to transfer, and I scrambled out of my seat as if it had just caught fire, yanked my bag out of the overhead bin without closing it and literally ran down the aisle, bonking people on the head as I went until I leapt out the train door, only to have the train stay there for several more minutes.

That’s how I found myself in Boston, where I would be changing trains. And as it was almost 11 a.m., I was hungry.
I figured I’d have lunch when I got to Durham, so I went to the convenience store to find something light and healthy, a snack to tide me over until then.

That’s when the stress levels began peaking. The aisles are tight in these little kiosks, and I insist on picking up each product and investigating the caloric value and the percentage of fat in them, hoping against hope that the bag of pizza-flavored Combos will somehow be the nutritional equivalent of a Nutri-Grain bar. I had ruled out candy bars all together, knowing that I would only be disappointing myself. I thought that perhaps the TGIFriday’s brand Cheddar Loaded Potato Skins might be somewhere in the ball park. But they were not.

Then the decision became – do I need to eat healthy? Nobody’s going to see me. I’m not trying to impress anyone here. And if I was ever going to eat a big bag of chips it would be in Boston’s North Station, with Bruins Stanley Cup gear everywhere you turned. But still, I just couldn’t. Not after I’d visited Dunkin’ Donuts that morning at 6:30 and wolfed down a few doughnuts before my guilt mechanism was fully awake.

I settled on what I thought was the perfect compromise. It wasn’t that yogurt-covered pretzels are at all healthy, but the packaging was so enticing. First, it was called Healthy Life – so there’s that. Second it had a picture of a mountain on it – one of those rolling purple mountains, and you can’t put that on something un-healthy or you could get sued. I took it up to the cashier, feeling pretty good about myself.

I saw the product on the cashier’s table before I saw the guy – the product was called Muscle Milk. The hand that reached for it was attached to a heavy muscled, heavily tattooed arm that, in the words of a friend of mine, would have ripped the sleeve off anything I owned. He handed he woman a twenty dollar bill, and picked up the Muscle Milk, and – I kid you not – downed the entire thing literally before the woman had time to hand back his change. She gave him his sixteen dollars and he gave her a crushed Muscle Milk bottle and asked if she had a trash can.

And for that moment, I have to admit that really wanted that guy’s life. I wanted to look down at my forearm and see the elaborate tattoo of a shark snapping in half a giant Sequoia, or the tattoo of the voluptuous mermaid princess – herself tattooed – riding a leopard, leaping over the colossal valleys of Jupiter in a single bound. I wanted to know what it would be like to see an entire shelf dedicated to Keebler and not even hesitate as I reached for a whey bar. I wanted to know what it would be like to punch through a cinder block.

I do that all the time, you know – I covet other people’s lives. I want their cars and their houses and their jobs and their four already grown kids and their vacations and their brains and their initiative and their work ethics. It’s amazing how much of my life I spend wanting those things.

But the other side is that it fades pretty quickly, and almost always at the exact moments. (Because it is too sacchariney, I’ll refrain from telling you that those moments have everything to do with my wife and my children.) Because aren’t those people who I’m jealous of, aren’t they jealous of other people too? It just seems so useless to me, envy, yet I suffer from it, stupidly and repeatedly.

So I fight the good fight against myself. I got my yogurt-covered pretzels and I got on the train to Durham, NH, where I am right now, happy and blessed that I just got a sweet email from my wife, that the wallpaper on my iPhone is my favorite photo of all time of my 5-month-old daughter Lucy, and that I’m traveling because I’ve been invited to share the story of Next Generation Nepal and Little Princes with a great university. That’s amazing to me.

I’ll be fighting that envy again in the next few hours, to be sure, but at this moment, I’m content, and even feeling happy for that Muscle Milk guy, who’s probably on the streets of Boston at this very moment, lifting up cars and tossing them over houses.

By | 2018-01-19T21:06:26+00:00 September 14th, 2011|32 Comments


  1. Carolyn Ruch September 14, 2011 at 8:49 am - Reply

    From one envy fighter to another, thanks for the humorous look at what we all deal with every day. Love your honesty. It’s refreshing.

    • Conor September 14, 2011 at 9:16 am - Reply

      Some people fight it better than others. I’m guessing those people have tattoos…

    • Kim Carlin September 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      HYSTERICAL….love your view on things…. Participated in my first triathlon this weekend with my husband and in our race bag we each got a Muscle Milk bar (chocolate toffee something or other). Yesterday we went for a bike ride on the local rail trail and at the turnaround point (7 miles) we decided to share the bar for some calories for our ride back – IT WAS DISGUSTING – we both put half in our mouth – chewed a few times and I needed to spit it into my hand and chuck it into the woods….good to know we’re not missing something with the whole Muscle Milk thing…ha ha

  2. Toby September 14, 2011 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Grennan, another fine blog. Next time you are connecting through Boston, let me know and I will come meet you to share some yogurt covered pretzels and Muscle Milk. Enjoy Durham.

    • Conor September 14, 2011 at 9:19 am - Reply

      Hey Jesson – dude, I saw all the Bruins wallpapering everywhere holding up Stanley Cups and thought that this was just about the perfect city for you. That and your crazy Boston accent, of course.

    • Charlie September 14, 2011 at 10:30 am - Reply

      I’ve always thought that Boston would be the perfect city if it weren’t for all of the Sox fans.

  3. Amy Krahn September 14, 2011 at 9:12 am - Reply

    If not for the age difference, I’d swear we were twins separated at birth. Love this story.
    p.s. I want to shop at this kiosk. He gave her a ten and she gave him 16 dollars in change?! That’s a way better ROI than I could get anywhere else. This could be my new retirement plan…Plus, he got free Muscle Milk. (Although I think the clerk would fall over laughing if I came up to the counter with a product called Muscle Milk.)

    • Conor September 14, 2011 at 9:20 am - Reply

      Ah yes – like my son Finn, I often get confused between the numbers ten and twenty. Unlike Finn, I never believe that the word “octopus” is the number that comes after twelve. Correction made!

  4. Lindsay Anderson September 14, 2011 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Love when your articles pop up on my facebook page. I commented a few months ago mentioning that we were taking our four children to Africa (Ghana) for a month of volunteering – no program – just went on our own. I was inspired by Little Princes to do something like that. It was an amazing, terrifying, joyous, horrific experience that I would not trade for anything— I can say that now that we are home safe and sound! So glad you are kept busy with speaking engagements and would love to sit in on one.
    If you ever have a minute (on a train or plane) you might enjoy this little music video I made with some footage of our favorite memories in Ghana – thanks for your encouragement and inspiration! Here’s the link:http://youtu.be/uG9hFv3CfZc

    If nothing else I know you will love, love, love the song I chose to go with it…..

    • Conor September 14, 2011 at 12:24 pm - Reply

      Very cool! Thanks for sharing that video, totally awesome. Welcome back!

    • Kim Carlin September 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm - Reply

      I just watched your video of Ghana – what an amazing experience for you and your children. I hope to one day be able to do the same.. thanks for sharing your video Lindsay.

      • lindsay September 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm - Reply

        thanks Kim – I love sharing our experience – especially with people who think they might want to do something similar. It was soooo worth the hours of planning, prepping and saving!

    • Liz Grennan September 15, 2011 at 10:15 am - Reply

      Hi Lindsay! So appreciated that video from Ghana, and yes – loved the music!! The Chris Rice is a long-time favorite, but what’s that first one? So good!!

      Conor’s wife Liz 🙂

    • Sarah September 18, 2011 at 10:21 am - Reply

      Very inspiring video of your trip to Ghana. Beautifully done. What an amazing trip you took. I can see you made a difference in those kids lives.

      • lindsay September 18, 2011 at 8:40 pm - Reply

        Thank you Sarah, for your kind comment. I love sharing our experience … it really was nothing like I could have ever imagined!

  5. Taras September 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    I’m envious of all my former students and colleagues at UNH because they will get to hear you share your story.

    • Conor September 15, 2011 at 12:11 pm - Reply

      We missed you up there! It was an awesome time indeed..

  6. Ally Foy September 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    Hi! I am a freshman theatre major at UNH currently, and I saw your presentation last night, and I am amazed by your story! And yes, I was forced to attend for my honors english class, but yes, I also really wanted to go, too…I am about three quarters of the way through your book right now and loving it. So I decided to look up your blog that you mentioned, and here I am. And now I have a question…not only are you funny in your writing, but you were also really funny in person. Had you ever done theatre, or comedy, or anything that had to do with public speaking before you went to Nepal? Or since then? I found your presentation very engaging and you had great stage presence, which is not something I generally notice with authors (though I know you said that you do not consider yourself a writer). I just wanted to know if you had any experience in that area, or if public speaking/performing was new to you after you published your book.
    Thank you very much for coming to my school! I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and you have really inspired me with your story. I had a great time.
    – Ally

    • Conor September 19, 2011 at 11:55 am - Reply

      Hey Ally, thanks for coming, and thanks for reading! I had a great time up at UNH – awesome school, beautiful, and wasn’t torn up by the hurricane. All good things.

      And my acting has really mostly been done at home, dramatically, for the benefit of my wife and children, who pretend they don’t like it but you know they totally do.

      • Ally Foy September 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm - Reply

        Oh I totally understand. Well in that case, I’m very impressed by your public speaking. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much at a book signing/presentation as I did at yours.
        And about good old Irene…the best part is that UNH canceled classes the first day of school and shut everything down…and then it ended up being a beautiful, sunny day 🙂
        Lastly, I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story. I am a Christian, and have always really wanted to travel and do missionary work (especially to the Philippines, where my grandfather came from), and you have really inspired me and shown me that it is totally possible for anyone to do this.
        So now I have to get back to writing a paper on your book…best wishes for your future travels!

        – Ally

        P.S. You probably don’t remember, but I’m the one who asked you about the book cover, and whether you actually took the photo, or if it is a random…

  7. Marcy Prager September 18, 2011 at 6:34 am - Reply

    Once again, Conor, you made my Sunday morning sunny! The description of Muscle Man made me laugh out loud! Next time, pack a box of Kashi bars, and have one when you’re hungry! Better nutritional value than yogurt pretzels.

    • Conor September 19, 2011 at 11:55 am - Reply

      Even the name Kashi sounds healthy.I’ll have to eat a dozen of them.

      • Pat Malcolm September 19, 2011 at 1:50 pm - Reply

        You know, Conor, if you’re getting out of shape, it may be time for another trip to Nepal for, say, six months or so! Better than a gym for whittling you down to size!

  8. brnoze September 19, 2011 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Conor, As soon as you hear from Nepal, will you post on the conditions and needs after today’s earthquake. I know that the remoteness of the villages will make this tragedy a nightmare in terms of communication. My prayers are being sent as of this very moment.

    • brnoze September 26, 2011 at 7:13 am - Reply

      The Little Princes is listed as #47 in the top one hundred books listed on BookMovement. This is a site that gives recommendations to book clubs for future choices. To find the book and reviews you have to scroll to the bottom and click on the link to show all 100 books for this week. It changes every Monday.
      Also, I noticed that Amazon has the paperback copy of Little Princes coming out in December of 2011. I had hoped this would be before Christmas, but it looks like it is after. Amazon uses readers reviews to give ratings and Little Princes has been consistently getting 5 stars since it was published. This is a well deserved accomplishment. Congratulations, Conor.

    • brnoze September 26, 2011 at 7:23 am - Reply

      Check this out! Look what Conor inspired! The students were asked to read Little Princes and the following 20 essays are posted showing how the book inspired them. Interesting reading.

  9. zmy cheney September 21, 2011 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    I am in complete and utter awenvy (awe/envy) with your writing. so much so that I am completely dysfunctional.

    • Conor October 3, 2011 at 6:16 am - Reply

      A partner in dysfunctionality! I love it!

  10. Allyson October 2, 2011 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Hello Conor (note: imagine this said in low but loud voice, while flexing my [non-existent]muscles)–I laughed out loud over this blog and am delighted to have discovered it. I am listening to the audio version of “The Little Princes” at my sister’s insistence. She is right: I am sure that “just” reading your wonderful book would have lost something. I love it, and I looked up your site in order to make a donation to your work with Nepal (just did). I stayed on to read your blog and to enjoy your answers to your commentors. I am impressed that you take the time to do this (and yes, I’m looking forward to having my own Conor moment in reply). I wanted to share that I teach with Fairfax County Public Schools, the same Fairfax where you recently spoke as part of the Fall of the Book. I was DEVASTATED that I couldn’t attend. That same evening, I had Back-to-School-Night where I teach. At least parents did show up and that was all good. If no one had come, I would have been a screamin’ meemi that I’d missed your talk for “nothing.” At any rate, I do hope that at some point I have the opportunity to hear and see you in person. I know that it will be a most rewarding, engaging, and fulfilling experience. Namaste, Allyson

  11. Conor October 3, 2011 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Hi Allyson! Thanks so much for your donation – that’s the reason we do everything we do, to try to raise awareness and support. So: score!

    The Parent Teacher meeting is probably at least reasonably important. It certainly gets more so as my two children edge away from play pens and diapers and toward school. Not sure how they’re ever going to get that old, but they say it’s pretty much inevitable.


    • Allyson October 3, 2011 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your reply, Conor. I’m sitting here grinning that I, in Northern VA, am corresponding with the man who worked with the orphans in Nepal, wrote about it, and now has touched so many lives. As my kids and students say, Way awesome.

      BTSN is important, and I’ve never missed one as a parent, much less a teacher. But what a conflict! And the week before, when I also had to be at school for the 7th grade BTSN (you conflicted with the 8th grade one), my husband was speaking on a panel at GWU of four people who have written books. His book is coming out next year (University of Mississippi Press), and it’s been quite a labor of love (13 years in his “free” time). I was so disappointed not to be there, but my sister and friends were and told me all about it. But, as you can see, my school’s BTSN has some sort of psychic gift to get in the way of authorial events!

      Your kids are so lucky to have you for a dad.

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