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Written by Rick Archer, July 2007

When life tosses you a hand grenade, throw it back.


Rick Archer's Note: This is a very intense story.  I must warn you there are many times when I will not look very good.  

However, if I am going to write about the mistakes of others, my sense of fair play suggests I should share some from my own closet as well.  Besides, I didn't look too sharp in the previous two stories; why start now?

This story serves as a powerful lesson on why all people need to learn how to control their temper, especially in a public setting such as your own place of business. 

In addition this story serves as a positive lesson on what to do AFTER you mess up.

is the name for the horrible Temper Tantrum I threw at the studio one night in April 2000. 
I suffered a complete meltdown that I have regretted ever since.  I have always referred to this unpleasant moment in my life as 'The Vesuvius Incident'.

Two students, Roshan and Kathy, cornered me 30 minutes after their class had ended to ask for a Refund. Their demand came at the exact moment I was about to begin a private lesson. Desperate to begin the private lesson, I was not in the most patient of moods. Nor did I think they deserved a refund. But they refused to take 'no' for an answer.

What ensued was the most bitter argument I have ever had with a dance student. The argument did not become physical, but it was heated. At one point, Roshan and I were nose to nose in anger. Eventually I gave in and gave them the Refund. That private lesson was still waiting for me and it looked like I was going to have to give in to break the impasse. 

This is when I completely lost my temper.

Even though Roshan had received a Refund he didn't deserve (in my opinion), now he wanted to punish me for my temper as well.  He decided to exact a strong measure of revenge by trying to hurt my business.

After he got home, Roshan wrote an incredibly damaging email about the incident and forwarded it to 50 SSQQ students.  This email was well-written, but (in my opinion) deeply biased.

The email ended with the suggestion that everyone join Roshan in finding a new dance studio to attend.  Roshan's email had the power to effectively gut my entire Country-Western program.  

This was the email equivalent of a live hand grenade.

Just what exactly did I intend to do about this crisis?



2000 in general was without a doubt the toughest year of my entire life. Even though 2000 was the biggest year in SSQQ history, our success caused so much over-crowding that I had to deal with constant complaints and headaches.  With Y2K problems, Living la Vida Loca, and Bush-Gore struggles as the backdrop, 2000 started out terrible for me.  Twelve months later it ended the same way when  when my second wife Judy asked for a divorce on Christmas Eve.

In addition, one day in particular - April 30 - takes the cake as the absolute worst day of my life.

In order to appreciate the horror of this day, at least some background context is required.

February 2000 marked the first horror story of 2000.  It involved a lawsuit threat from powerful and deep-pocketed Texas A&M University. These people sounded serious! A&M was definitely not on my list of organizations I wanted to take on in a court of law.

After the dust settled, this became a very funny story, but for a while there I was scared out of my wits. 

My crime was teaching a crash course on a Houston-area club dance that had long been known as "Aggie Jitterbug".  I really wasn't trying to step on any toes.  That was what it was called!  Nevertheless, I became ensnarled in a bizarre argument with Texas A&M University over whether I had the right to teach the class under the name ''Aggie Jitterbug".

"Should you not refrain from using the trademarks, quite honestly, I (and I’m sure many other Houston area Aggies) would find it a blatant act of greed on both the part of SSQQ and Leisure Learning magazine and rather disgusting that you would contribute to end the noble act of raising scholarships for worthy students."

"You have not received consent or approval for the use of marks exclusively licensed to Licensing Resource Group. Therefore, your use of “Aggie” is a direct infringement on the rights of Licensing Resource Group. We consider your infringement to be a serious intrusion on the rights of our client."

Do you believe me now?  Although this one-night class consisted of just 10 students, TAMU obviously took the alleged infringement seriously.

For a while there, 'Forbidden Word' and 'Shaggie Jitterbug' became well-known catchphrases here at SSQQ.  This argument was so ridiculous that it bordered on satire.  Thinking the Houston Press would be amused by a story this silly, I approached them with the details.  Sure enough, the Houston Press was delighted to help any way they could. Shaggie Jitterbug

One thing led to another.  During my March 2000 interview with a Houston Press reporter, by coincidence I made a discovery that raised a cloud of suspicion about a controversy from the previous year.   The 1999 Houston Press Best Of Houston issue had named some obscure gay bar that went out of business a month later as the "Best Place to Swing Dance".  The gay bar had swing dancing all of one night a week that was poorly attended.  The whole thing had a bad feel about it.

During my face to face interview, the reporter said SSQQ was the actual winner of the 1999 Houston Press award for best Swing Studio (for the second year in a row).  And I received a plaque to prove it.  HSDS Controversy 2000

Naturally I wanted to print these new results in my April 2000 Newsletter, but Judy Archer raised objections.  She was uncomfortable that I wanted to revisit some old grudges as part of the article.  So I allowed Judy to read the article before I published it.  I squirmed as she changed several passages, but was thrilled to finally get much of the story about the HSDS-SSQQ Controversy in print for the first time.  HSDS-SSQQ Feud

My article about HSDS painted a very poor picture of this organization.   In particular, it chronicled SSQQ objections regarding the Harvest Moon Ball  incident.  This part of the story stirred up a lot of old demons.

Every action has a reaction.  On Friday, April 28, 2000, I received an email  from our perpetual HSDS nemesis Carnell Pipkin.  Carnell had emailed me to respond to my April Newsletter article. 

Judy and I immediately began to argue on how to respond to Carnell's letter. The argument started tense and grew worse quickly.

This same argument been floating through our marriage like a recurring nightmare for some time now.  The argument had begun in 1997 when HSDS confiscated Judy's first Swing team and lured Carnell away from SSQQ.  Judy and I disagreed strongly on how to handle those problems. Back then, at Judy's request, I had backed down and let Judy handle things her way.

The argument grew much more intense during the Harvest Moon Ball incident in October 1998.  Again Judy wanted to handle things her way, but I reminded her how poorly things had turned out in 1997.  Nevertheless Judy prevailed again.  And again things turned out very poorly.

So when I made my Houston Press discoveries in April 2000, I had pretty much had it with HSDS AND JUDY.  I was going to write the story whether Judy liked it or not.  Judy's constant refusal over the past three years to allow me to simply tell the SSQQ side of the story left me deeply frustrated with both her decisions and with the outcome of each event.  Like Lieutenant Gerard trying to catch the Fugitive, several times I felt I had HSDS in my grip only to have Judy help them escape.

Now in March 2000, Judy was not at all happy with my decision to print a story whether she liked it or not.  As a compromise I agreed to give her some editorial control.  After a few deletions here and there, Judy reminded me I was publishing this story over her objections, but that I had her tepid blessings to do what I had wanted to do for the past three years - PUBLISH THE STORY OF THE FEUD. 

Even watered-down, the April 2000 SSQQ Newsletter story was not flattering to HSDS or Carnell Pipkin.  He took exception to many things I wrote.  So now on April 28, 2000, Judy and I stared at Carnell's  reply.  

Carnell's inflammatory email letter had the predictable effect of reigniting the same bitter argument between Judy and me on how best to deal with HSDS - attack (Rick) or hide (Judy).  

Judy immediately began the 'I told you so' routine.  Look what you've done, Rick!  She pointed out my story had brought this ancient enemy back into our home... and she had warned me this might happen!

Now that the wound was reopened, all the pain from three years of disagreements over HSDS came flooding back in.  However, there was a new twist to our fight - this time we had done things my way.  Not surprisingly, I saw things different than Judy.

In my opinion, we had lured Carnell back into the open. He had given us a fresh opportunity to give him the comeuppance he so richly deserved. 

Judy said absolutely not.  No more stories!  She wasn't going to let this thing escalate and hurt her.  She had suffered more than enough already.  Judy had agreed to allow me to write a Newsletter article against her better judgment and now her old nemesis was knocking on the door.  She didn't want any part of new controversy.  Leave Carnell alone!

I disagreed. Carnell's email was proof that my approach had worked.  We had smoked him out in the open!  We had him in writing saying several very ugly things and several very inaccurate things.  Untie my hands, Judy!  Let me go to work.  

Judy said she would think about it.  I left Judy alone for the next day or so while Judy made up her mind.  However, I wasn't very optimistic.  There was a great deal of dread in the Archer house that weekend.  Carnell's email meant big trouble.

On Sunday morning, April 30, 2000, I received the following email from Judy:

From: Judy Archer
Sent: Sunday, April 30, 2000  9:48 AM
To: 'Rick Archer'
Subject: HSDS


This (letter from Carnell) makes me sick to my stomach. I have waited a long time for this controversy to die down and for HSDS and SSQQ to simply go their own ways, but now it's really hit the fan. You may thrive on this sort of thing, but I'm not cut from the same cloth.  Did HSDS do us wrong?  Yes.  Can we get over it?  I sure as hell hope so.

I even softened your statements as much as I could and asked you not to do this (i.e. print the first April story about the HSDS/SSQQ bad blood) but you did it anyway and now I'm once again victimized with no recourse. 

Maybe it's time I got out of the dance game altogether; my life has more than its share of unhappiness and strife, why go looking for more?


HSDS used SSQQ, then went into competition with us. So did Debbie Reynolds (an ex-teacher who left the studio) but what are we going to do about it? Lindy has brought me extreme joy and extreme sadness. I've lost many friends because of it. I'm tired of it all and I wash my hands of it. I guess my fun trip to Dallas (a Swing Event) is off since I'm not willing to travel there and confront Carnell alone and his gang alone. 

Thanks, Rick.

Now you and I will fight (AGAIN) because of this thing. My life sucks.


Just the fact that Judy had emailed me instead of coming to my office to talk some more gave me a bad feeling.  Email is a lousy way to settle personal differences.  Email may be good for information exchange, dentist reminders and bloodless sparring, but it doesn't handle emotions well.  I have never seen an email heal any hurt feelings.

Judy's email shook me up something fierce.  

After I finished reading Judy's email, I was pretty worried for several reasons.

First, I could not understand Judy at all.  She said she hated being the bad guy.  Okay, that I can relate to.  Except that Judy wasn't the bad guy.  I had never seen Judy do one false or unethical thing in my life.  Judy 's integrity was unquestioned.  How could she be the bad guy?  If she would simply let me tell the story and do things my way, Judy would come out looking just fine.

It was Carnell who should be worried, not Judy.  After all, for three years, Carnell had been fortunate to be spared any serious counterattack.  The man had taken some serious risks and miraculously gotten away with them thanks to Judy's inexplicable reluctance to set me free on the computer keyboard. 

Now with his April 2000 email letter, Carnell had made some pretty bold statements that could be easily refuted.

It looked to me like Carnell had taken yet another big chance by offering to cross swords with me.  And why not?  As long as Rick was chained up, Carnell had little to fear.  But that was my name under the recent article.  Didn't it cross his mind that maybe Judy had loosened the chains a little?  

But Judy, listen up - no guts, no glory!  Did Judy seriously expect there would be no repercussions to my article?  I explained to Judy that this was simply Round One.  Most battles worth fighting are not won or lost on the first or second move.  We would have to likely have to turn this into a campaign stretched over a series of email exchanges.  Otherwise we would lose a golden opportunity.

That is where we had left it while Judy was mulling it over.

Now as I read Judy's email response, I sighed.  My words had fallen on deaf ears again.  Today's April 30 email from Judy made it likely that she would not allow me to write a response to Carnell.  This meant yet another opportunity to strike back at a person who had caused us nothing but trouble would again be missed.  That same cold rage at my inability to convince Judy to let me do things my way swept over me again.  It was an eagle talking to a turtle... we just didn't share the same philosophy.

Judy was terrified of public controversy.  I knew this was true, but I couldn't stand it!  Sure enough, at Judy's verbal request later the same day, I promised her I would not respond to Carnell's email. 

Her decision was not a surprise to me, but a cold chill came over me.  I had just realized that I didn't see how this marriage could continue much longer.  This moment meant we had probably reached the point of no return. 

A stiff truce ensued.  Things between Judy and I were never the same.  We continued to treat each other with respect, but our relationship became increasingly formal and businesslike.

To be sure, the problems with HSDS had exposed a fundamental 180 degree difference in our personalities that simply could not be mended. The frustration of losing one battle after another to HSDS combined with the pain of our constant disagreement on how best to handle our worst nightmare (HSDS) drove a bitter wedge between us so deep that our marriage became colder than the Ice Age. Seven months later on Christmas Eve,  we gave up. 

Indeed, my foreboding on April 30 had been frighteningly accurate.  That moment had been the Beginning of the End. 



Judy and I took two cars to the studio that afternoon because it was my Late Night, but not hers. I was scheduled to stay for Practice Night later on.  On the way to the studio, I wondered about a guy who recently told me that dance teachers had the easy job in the world. 

Through my pain, I smiled ironically at that thought.  I was getting ready to teach two classes and stay for Practice Night as well. I was looking at a seven hour work shift on a day that I was already exhausted.  I was not even remotely in the mood to go to the studio, but I did anyway. It's called being a professional.

Sunday, April 30, 2000, was the first day of the May Dance Semester here at the studio.  First days are always hectic.  People can't figure out what class they belong in, what room they belong in, they change their minds, and are full of anxiety about keeping up with their new instructor.  First days are a pain the butt sometimes.  This one was no exception.  I went through my paces and taught both two hour classes.  Now it was 9 pm and I had a date with destiny.  Judy was long gone.  So were the other instructors.

A woman named Marla Jennings had been the Late Registrar that night.  She was paid to wait at the studio till classes ended 9 pm in case anyone wanted a Refund.  You might be surprised to know that Refunds are pretty rare.  Tonight was no exception.  There was not a soul in sight, so Ms. Jennings put away the money box away and left the building around 9:12 pm.  We made eye contact as she left, but the moment was too unremarkable for more than a smile and a glance.

Now my attention drifted to the antagonists of our drama. 

I had never met Roshan and Kathy before.  In fact, the first time I ever noticed them was at 9:10 pm that evening.  As I was to learn later, Roshan and Kathy had been at the studio that night to take Marty Shea's Ghost Town 5 from 7-9 pm.  In order to take Ghost Town, you had to complete at least four or five months of preliminary classes.  Although I did not know them, these two people were certainly no strangers to the studio.  They knew the drill at Practice Night.

The Sunday evening Practice Night had begun at 9:10 pm.  The reason I had my eye on Kathy and Roshan was that I was suspicious.  They had not bothered to pay for Practice Night  (back in those days, we used to charge for Practice Night.  Sunday Practice went from 9-11 pm. It cost $3 a person).   In fact, it looked to me like they were trying to avoid paying!

I had my hands full with running my end of Practice Night. Those were the days before Hall Monitors.   I was both the DJ and the person responsible for collecting money.  I wasn't completely alone; while I collected money, Marty Shea was down in the Drink Room cooking popcorn.  

There were 40 people milling about in Room 2 waiting for Practice Night to begin. Using the map for reference, I was standing at the door between Room 1 and Room 2. As the crowd approached me to give me their Practice Night money, something odd caught my eye.  40 people were moving into Room 1, but two people were moving in the opposite direction towards Room 3.

I stood by my post at the door to Room 1 for ten minutes.  From that vantage point, I had a limited view through the door into Room 3.  That wasn't good enough so I walked over and peeked.  Sure enough, Kathy and Roshan were dancing in Room 3.  They appeared to be practicing the Ghost Town moves they had learned that night in class. 

When Marty Shea finished with the popcorn, Kathy and Roshan stopped dancing and began to chat with their instructor.  They were standing near the doorway so I could actually see all three people talk. 

I had nothing else to do as I stood at my post so I continued to watch from a distance.  Marty seemed to be explaining something.  Then he demonstrated a Ghost Town pattern. Obviously Marty was giving them some extra coaching. 

Marty appeared to be showing the couple what they were doing wrong on the pattern they had just learned in dance class that night.  I surmised that Roshan and Kathy had gotten confused on a move, so they stuck around to get some extra help from their teacher.  Judging from the smiles, Marty, Roshan and Kathy had bridged the teacher-student gap and were now friends.  I rolled my eyes at Marty.  I had specifically asked my Staff to refrain from teaching at Practice Night.  However this was too picayune a rule to actually bother to enforce.  Even to this day I rarely say anything.  We are, after all, in the business of helping people. 

However I felt myself growing increasingly irritated at the couple because 20 minutes had passed and they still had not paid for Practice Night.  Time's up.  So at 9:30 I walked across Room 2 and entered Room 3.   I went up to Roshan and Kathy and asked for their Practice Night money.  They replied they said they were not going to stay.  Whenever someone says this, I back off.  It is my policy to give people five more minutes to make up their minds, then go ask them a second time.  So even though they had already been there for twenty minutes, I left the room without collecting money.

I never actually got around to asking Roshan and Kathy for their money a second time because I became preoccupied with an unexpected problem.  A young couple was still sitting on the couch looking pretty worried about something.

This couple had been on my radar for twenty minutes now.  Besides my issue with Roshan and Kathy, once the Room 2 had cleared, I noticed the young couple - college age around 21 - sitting on the couch in Room 2.  I had never seen this couple before.  They seemed completely lost sitting their on the couch.  They were looking every which way.  Maybe they were waiting for a dance teacher and didn't know what the instructor looked like.  That was probably it.

I decided they were waiting for a teacher to give them a late Private Lesson.  Having identified them as harmless, my attention left the couple on the couch as I continued my duties of taking requests for certain songs and collecting money for Practice Night (people came late all the time, so I had to hold my post).

At 9:30 pm, Kathy and Roshan told me they were about to leave.  As I returned to Room 2 around 9:32, I noticed the young couple was still sitting there on the couch in Room 2.  By my estimate, they had been waiting close to half an hour.  They looked pretty worried about something and I had a pretty good idea what the problem was.  So I approached them to ask if I could help.  As I had guessed, they were indeed at the studio waiting for a Private Lesson, but their SSQQ instructor had not shown up.

They were getting married in six days.  They ruefully admitted they had waited till the last minute to learn how to slow dance to the first song at their wedding.  They were in bind because they were leaving on a plane for their wedding in Michigan in the morning.  And yes, they had never danced in their lives.

No wonder they were worried!  Without help, they were up a creek without a paddle.  They were down to their last chance to prepare.  So I went into the office to call the instructor.  I got no answer.  I was frustrated because I knew the only instructor left at the studio who knew how to teach Slow Dancing was me.  Unless I wanted to be a complete jerk and ignore them, this couple had become my responsibility.  I was literally their Last Chance to be able to dance gracefully at their wedding.

I did not actually wish to teach them.  I was very tired and very grouchy.  At 50 years of age, it was no picnic working a 7 hour day, especially not when you have a failed marriage on your mind. 

I had promised to dance with my students in Room 1 during Practice Night.  But that wasn't going to happen if I had to teach this Wedding Lesson.  I was doubly upset because this was the same instructor who had stood up some different students a week before.  I dialed her phone number.  As I listened to the phone ring continuously to no avail, I was already fuming to myself at being forced to clean up for the instructor's negligence. 

Yeah, sometimes things like this happen, but I didn't have to like it.  Just add it to the list.


That's when I heard a knock on the door.  I said, "Come in".

Roshan and Kathy entered the office.  They said they were there to ask for a refund. They said they wanted their money back so they could use it to take Private Lessons from Marty instead. 

I looked at them incredulously.  Marty of course was the instructor who was their Ghost Town teacher and the same man who had been giving them extra coaching during Practice Night. 

I was definitely caught off guard.  No one had ever waited this long to ask for a Refund before.  There was one thing I was sure of - their reason for wanting their money back half an hour late evoked no sympathy.  

I just stared at them flat-footed for a moment.  Meanwhile my mind was racing.  Marty was a friend of mine and I trusted him completely.  Although I never actually asked Marty for his side of the story, I doubted seriously he had a hand in this.  Marty couldn't have cared less about the money.  He was a medical researcher who taught dance lessons for the fun of it.  It was just a lark for him; I couldn't see this big friendly guy chasing down private lessons for any reason other than to be helpful.

I guessed this Refund idea was a spur of the moment decision. While Marty worked with them in Room 3, they realized they could learn faster and better from Marty one on one, so they decided to dump Group Lessons for Private Lessons.  In other words, they had changed their mind about the Group class.

Refunds are actually not very common at SSQQ.  Our statistics show that one person in two hundred asks for their money back.  Our system works like this - A student pays up front, takes the class and decides during their First Class whether they like it or not.  If they don't like their class, they go back to the Registration Desk, get their money back, then leave.  We don't argue with anyone, we don't make them feel bad and we don't play games. 

But once their first class is over, in our eyes they have committed to their class.  Refunds are out of the question.

This couple's first class was over half an hour ago.  It should have been cut and dry.  But what made this case unprecedented was they were the first happy customers in the history of the studio to ask for their money back for a class they appreciated.

Refunds are requested by Unhappy Customers, not two people who had been laughing and smiling all night long! 

For starters, Roshan and Kathy had obviously benefited from the class.  They had been practicing their moves all night long.  In fact, they liked the new patterns so much they hung around to try to perfect their moves with Marty's help. 

Nor did the irony of the unpaid Practice Night escape me - while they were busy avoiding paying for Practice Night, Marty was giving them a free lesson.  That's when they decided they liked Marty so much it would be more fun just to take the lesson directly from him and skip the Ghost Town class.  So in that sense, no good deed goes unpunished.  By letting them stay as long as they wanted, now I had them on my doorstep demanding a $60 Refund! 

But I didn't want to give it to them.


I realize that some businesses bend over backwards to cater to their customer's every whim, but that unfortunately has never been my style.

We are not like Macy's where we sell merchandise that can be returned.  How were Roshan and Kathy supposed to return two hours of dance patterns?  Are we going to put their patterns back on the shelf?  Besides, the patterns were already used!  (sarcasm alert)

The major problem for my particular business is that I sell a service that no one needs.  Dancing is fun, but it is not necessary to sustain life. 

Dancing is entertainment, plain and simple.  When something more urgent or more entertaining comes along, people will drop social dancing without the slightest hesitation for the simple reason that it is expendable.

I have learned to live with people who change their minds.  What I will not do, however, is give back money every time someone changes their mind. 

If something more important comes along, then I say okay, I understand that you can't finish your class at this time.  When you are ready, come back and take the class at a later date.

People change their minds ALL THE TIME!  But every time they do, don't come to me and expect me to jump through hoops to accommodate them.  I understand that customer service is important, but there has to be a limit.

Somewhere along the line I decided my students had two hours to make up their mind (later changed to one hour.)  Once that class was over, I had the right to say the student had committed to that class.  From that point on, if they changed their mind, they were not going to get their money back.

Kathy and Roshan had changed their mind.  But they weren't going to get their money back.  Their first class was over.  They were too late.  The registrar was gone.  Go home.


As I hung up the phone to the missing dance instructor, I looked at the clock on the wall.  It said 9:40 pm.  I was already in a very bad mood.
  • I had a marriage on the rocks.
  • I was exhausted.  My work day had started at 4 pm that afternoon. I had taught two classes and now it was my night to take of Practice Night too.
  • I was frustrated because one of my instructors had dropped the ball with the Wedding Couple. This was the second time this instructor had stood someone up.  I was tired of covering for her irresponsible behavior.
  • I was already angry at this Refund couple because they had loitered around the building for half an hour without paying.
  • I was deeply preoccupied with my need to get started with the Wedding Couple.  More than anything else, I was impatient with the Refund couple because I had something more important to do. The social worker side of me insisted I go rescue that young couple before they have a nervous breakdown. 
  •  Furthermore giving Refunds was not my job.  I was frustrated because the woman hired to handle Refund problems had left the studio over half an hour ago. Here was another headache to handle because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  
  •  I was angry at this couple for asking for a Refund 30 minutes after their class ended. Not only did I think they had a lot of nerve, I hated being forced to waste my time and JUMP THROUGH HOOPS at their whim. But what choice did I have? 


I told Kathy and Roshan that a Refund was not called for in this situation. Their class was over; that was the cut-off for Refunds.  They replied that they disagreed.  Till now they had just poked their noses in. Now Roshan moved forward to block the office doorway.

I can read body language.  It was obvious he and Kathy were not leaving until they got what they wanted.

Well, I didn't want to argue.  I had a wedding lesson to get to. 

I was short. I said, ""C'mon guys, class ended 30 minutes ago. Furthermore I have a private lesson waiting for me. The woman who gives Refunds left a long time ago.  And I don't have time to argue." 

There was an exchange of words.  I could see this conversation was going nowhere. 
So I decided to try to end it without ending it... just walk away.  Before the conversation could develop any more momentum, I excused myself for a moment to go to the DJ booth to get my CD collection of Slow Music for the Wedding Couple.  Roshan didn't budge from the office door. 

So I stopped and looked him in the eye.  "Excuse me, I need to go to the DJ booth."  This time he yielded. 

Now that I had escaped the office trap, I went over to speak to the couple sitting on the couch in Room 2. 
I couldn't help but notice they were very worried. So I tried to reassure them.  "It doesn't look like the instructor is coming, so I will help you instead.  Excuse me a minute, I need to go get some music and I will be right back." 

As I walked away, I could see that Roshan and Kathy watched me like a hawk. By their crossed arms and their faces, I could tell they weren't going anywhere nor were they going to let me out of their sight. Who were these guys, anyway? 

While I was in the DJ booth, I had a chance to collect my thoughts.  I felt taken advantage of.  The Refund Policy was clear - ask for your money back before your first class is over or forget about it.  Their class had been over half an hour ago.  They had a lot of nerve!

Why had they waited so long!?  That thought kept racing through my mind. If they had simply asked for a Refund at the end of the class like EVERYONE ELSE HAD BEEN DOING FOR TWENTY YEARS, I had a lady sitting at the Front Desk waiting to process refunds.  They would have gotten their Refund automatically. 

Instead they wandered into Room 3 without paying for Practice Night.  I could just feel the anger rising as I returned to Room 2.  I knew I had a confrontation waiting for me back in Room 2. At the time I wondered why they felt so justified in their Refund request to stand their ground like that.  People don't fight that hard unless they are convinced their position is rock solid.  I could not come up with an answer to that question. All I knew was that I had no choice but to accept that they were deeply committed to their position.

As I walked back to face the music, I wondered, 'Who are these guys?'  Later I was to find that they were both Rice students.  Roshan was a graduate student in the Engineering Department.  I believe Kathy was a Senior and a star rugby player.

They were obviously bright, that was for sure.  And they were also obviously used to getting their way. 


I was gone three minutes.  When I returned, Roshan and Kathy were there waiting for me and so was the Wedding Couple sitting on the couch 15 feet away. Immediately Kathy and Roshan made a beeline to intercept me so Round Two of the argument could start. 

"We want our money back and we aren't leaving till we get it."

"You should have asked for your Refund 30 minutes ago. Your class is over."

So right there in Room 2 we went back and forth. I could see the wedding couple looked distinctly uncomfortable at the sight of the three of us standing there arguing.  They looked at each other. What on earth had they gotten themselves into at this bizarre dance studio?

I did not appreciate this argument one bit.  I was definitely not in the mood to argue about a Refund for a class that had ended 30 minutes earlier. I impatiently explained that my Registrar had been there until 9:10 pm, but that she was gone now. That was the cutoff. They would either have to finish taking the class or convert their money into Credit to be used at a later date.

This is not what they wanted to hear. Roshan and Kathy weren't going to take "No" for an answer.  Roshan was a very big man, perhaps taller than I am. As I moved to go to the couple on the couch, he blocked my path. By running interference and stopping me, this allowed Kathy to continue to argue with me. 

When Kathy tired, then Roshan started to argue with me. The entire time this Wedding Couple was staring at me in horror.  I was fit to be tied!  Each time I finished answering one person, the other came at me with another point or argument.  This two on one tag team stuff was wearing me down.  Plus they were a lot younger than I was.  Their intensity was something to behold.


At the ten minute mark, I could feel my frustration escalating. There was no movement to this argument.  This disagreement was turning into a Royal Impasse and a Royal Pain in the youknowwhat. There was no end in sight. What was I going to do?

Do you ever ask yourself, "If I had to do it over again, what would I have done differently?" 

For the ensuing seven years, I honestly had never thought of any way out of this trap other than throw in the towel early and get on with it.  But then giving in isn't my nature, is it?  

As I typed the 2007 update to this story, it did occur to me to go get Marty to either intercede or at least stand by as a witness and a peace officer.  Why it took me seven years to think of this obvious solution is beyond me. I really could have used some back-up. 

I suppose I could have asked them to pay for Practice Night.

Or since they were still on the premises illegally (had not paid for Practice Night), I could have ordered them to go home.  Now that would have made things interesting. 

But I was too worn out from the day's events to be creative.  So I stuck to the one strategy I had left - hang in there. 
Round and round we went.  I had already repeated every argument, but here we go again... they were 30 minutes late and the Registrar lady with the cash box had long since left the building.  Blah blah blah.

The more I listened to them argue, the more amazed I was at their persistence. I cannot even remember what their reasons were that I owed them the money.  Roshan and Kathy would not take 'no' for an answer.  Just give us the money and we will go.

It was simply all night long with these guys.  It really didn't matter what I said or they said... like a boxing match, they were going to let me keep exchanging punches until I wore out. They were willing to stand there wearing me down until they had their money. 

They were going to argue until I gave in.

On the other hand, I knew that every minute I stood there arguing with these Rice graduate students, in the back of my mind I knew I was keeping the Wedding Couple waiting.  My guilt was kicking in from the other side of my brain. I wanted to start their lesson because they were deeply worried. 

No good deed goes unpunished.  My concern for them seriously undercut my position. 

On the other hand, Roshan and Kathy seemed to have nothing better to do... in fact I think they enjoyed taking turns messing with me.

But I didn't want to give in!!  I didn't think they were right.  Unfortunately a house divided is weak.  One side of me wanted to argue, the other side was impatient to help the Wedding Couple.  My lack of patience was working against me. I needed to end it quick.


Finally I seized on an idea - I remembered I had the Refund Rule in writing!  Why not show Roshan and Kathy the Refund Rule?  This might be my best chance to end this argument once and for all!

The Refund Rule was posted on the wall in Room 6, so we moved from Room 2 over to Room 6.

I pointed to the wall. "Ask for your Refund before you leave the building. Once you leave the Building, we will give you Credit, but not a Refund".

In the twenty years (1980-2000) this policy was posted, this Rule had always meant to ask for a Refund during class or as you were leaving class at the end of the night.  In other words, once your First Class is over, don't come back and expect a Refund after the fact. 

So for 20 years, that's how it had worked.  That's how it had worked, that is, until now.

Kathy read the sign and immediately began to smile.

Kathy said, "This sign says 'once you leave the building'. Well, what's your point, Rick?  We haven't left the building."

Roshan and Kathy had never seen this sign in their life.  They had no idea it was even there.  But once I led them right to it, it only took Kathy 15 seconds to make a mockery of it.

What?  I read the Rule myself. Then I read it again. 
Oh damn.  She was right!  Why hadn't I noticed that? 

The Rule wasn't supposed to mean that, but that's what it said.  I must have had some sort of blind spot. Even though I wrote it myself, that particular interpretation had never occurred to me to before. 
Nor had anyone else caught it either.

Why not?  For the simple reason that we had never had a happy customer ask for a Refund before.

For 20 years, people who wanted Refunds couldn't wait to get out of here!!  In all these years, we had never had someone stick around after class to have more fun, then suddenly decide to ask for a Refund.  How utterly and absolutely absurd. Our happy customers had always stayed happy. 

But there it was in black and white. Kathy had spotted a loophole even an Elephant could fit through.  I felt sick inside.  I had just read the writing on the wall, literally as well as figuratively. With the realization that I had probably lost this argument, that awful sick feeling grew.

I wasn't giving up yet. It ain't over till it's over.  I fumbled desperately for a comeback. 

I said the rule meant that once the class had ended, their chance to get a Refund had passed.  That's when the argument heated up past the point of no return. "You have got to be kidding.  You owe us a Refund!"

I stuck to my guns. I said the Rule means when your class is over and the Registrar goes home, you can turn your tuition into credit, but not a Refund.

Roshan and Kathy took turns shooting holes in this argument. 

Finally Roshan got fed up. He got up in my face.  We were toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball.  "I don't care what you say it means.  I can read.  It doesn't say, 'when your class is over.'  It says 'when you leave the building'!!  Why won't you honor your own words?  We aren't leaving this building until we have our money!"

I said he had better back off of me or I was calling the Bellaire Police.  Roshan took a half step back, but Kathy saw the opening.  She immediately got right in behind me. 

Kathy started needling me, "Rick, you aren't even good for your own word.  You are a greedy arrogant jerk who doesn't have the guts to admit when you're wrong.  You are just a hypocrite who pretends to care about his customers, but in reality just wants to hang on to every last ugly dime."

Crossfire. I was getting hit from both directions. That did it.  Roshan was in my face, Kathy was calling me a corrupt businessman, the Wedding Couple was looking scared out of their wits, and the Refund Policy on the wall had proven to be of no help.  There was no end in sight.  No one was coming to my aid and there was no way out.  I was finished.

I was so mad at them I could explode! I hated giving in to these two people!  But it looked hopeless.  They were getting stronger and my resolve was fading.

And to think they had won because I was too stupid to write my own Rules correctly.  That was the most bitter thought of all. To think I had lost this argument due to my own stupid mistake was more than my bruised and battered ego could handle at that point.

I had fought these two bullies for thirty minutes to a standstill only to sabotage my own position.  The realization that I had been defeated by my own words was pretty hard for me to bear.

That's when I snapped.  A flash of anger came over me. I went Total Vesuvius -  I was red hot in an instant.  I turned crimson.

I had about two hundred dollars in my pocket collected from Practice Night. I grabbed the whole wad out of my pocket and threw it on the floor. "There's your damn money. Take it all. I don't give a damn! Just take your damn money and get out here." 

There were fives and one dollar bills scattered all over the floor. Kathy bent down to retrieve her money, but Roshan told her to step back.

Roshan got right back in my face and said, "Now pick it up, Rick.  Pick up the money and count it out.  Count it out very carefully and give us the correct amount."

Seething with anger, I got down on my knees and collected the money off the floor.  Kathy left the room, but Roshan stood over me appreciating the moment. The symbolism of the conqueror standing above the vanquished was readily apparent.

He had just kicked my ass.  Waves of humiliation rushed through my shaking body.

With resignation, I slowly collected the money, went back to the desk, counted the correct amount and gave it to him.  He accepted the money and left.  It was not a pretty sight. 


After Roshan and Kathy left, I gathered myself as best I could.  I could see there were a few people left in the building, but they gave me a wide berth.  I went into Room 2 to collect my Wedding Couple, but first I went to the office to take a deep breath.

When I came out a minute or two later, I wondered where everyone else had gone.  Where were the 40 Practice Night students?  Where was Marty?  That's when I figured out that most students from the Practice Night had left ASAP when I went into the office. 

I never saw any of them leave.  I had no idea how much my students had seen or what they thought, but maybe it was best that they left me alone to save face.  This fact that they had been there at all left me deeply embarrassed and depressed.

Certainly no one had rushed to my defense.  I was the Solitary Man.  Well, not exactly.  There on the couch shrinking in horror was the Wedding Couple.

If you appreciate dark humor, just imagine what was running through their minds. 

They were alone in this immense studio with the mad man. 

Yup, we were the Left Behinds.  The three of us were alone in the building now, a fact that I am sure was not reassuring to the Wedding Couple at all.  This could be the dance studio equivalent of Bates Motel and I was Norman Bates.  I could stab them to death and no one was there to come to the rescue.  Maybe I should go get my Psycho wig.  I knew just where to find it...

If anything, the fact that the Wedding Couple was still there is powerful testimony to just how desperate they were.

I could see they were in some sort of shock.  Hmm.  Welcome to the club.  To ease their minds, I suggested we to go Room 5.  This room had a huge window plus an exit door to the street.  Completely conscious of their fear, I deliberately avoided ever getting between them and the door.  Was this a fiasco or what?

Slowly but surely, they came to realize I wasn't really a monster after all.

The two of them stayed petrified of me for some time, but they eventually relaxed enough to learn what they had come for. I think at one point they even shared a laugh with me.

Sorry to say, they weren't fast learners. This took a long time.  But I was determined to see this through. We were there till nearly Midnight.

After I finished working with them, I refused to accept any money.  I told them my self-esteem needed a boost, so please accept my wedding gift.  They seemed to understand where I was coming from, so they left with a hand shake and a quick hug for the dancing ogre. 

No, they didn't run to their car in the empty parking lot.  Out of morbid curiosity, I watched from the doorway.

My own ride home was a lonely one.  I slept upstairs that night and licked my wounds in private.  This had been the worst day of my life.  Little did I know tomorrow would be almost as bad.



When I turned on my computer the next morning I was greeted by Roshan's poison pen email.  Another student had forwarded it to me.

I shook my head in disgust.  What was this guy made of, anyway?  It wasn't enough for him to bully me into giving him a Refund he didn't deserve.  Nor was it enough for him to tower over me as I groveled at his feet picking up one dollar bills.  Now Roshan intended to rub salt into the wounds and sabotage my business.  I had not seen ruthlessness of this magnitude since... well, I could name a couple people... but I won't.

I took a deep breath and started to read.  The first thing I noticed was that Roshan had sent this email less than an hour after he left the studio (he left around 10 pm. His email went out at 10:37 pm).

To save time, I will highlight the passages that raised an eyebrow.

From: Kathy R and Roshan K G
Sent: Sunday, April 30, 2000 10:37 PM
To: Tonia Bagley and 50 other SSQQ students
Subject: SSQQ Customers - Please Read - Thanks

Some of you may not know us, but I think we took Advanced Western Swing with most of you. Up until tonight we have enjoyed greatly our time at SSQQ. But an episode tonight changed our minds. We hope you will take the time to read what happened and rethink giving your business and hard-earned money to this man.

Kathy and I started to take Ghost Town 5 tonight (Sunday).
We decided at the end of class that it was kind of crowded and that we wanted to take private lessons with Marty Shea instead of continuing the class. So, after class we went to talk to Marty to set up lessons and find out what we needed to do. Afterwards, we found Rick to try to get a refund on the Ghost Town class.

His behavior was outrageous. We found him in the office. Kathy explained to him that we decided we wanted to take private lessons and we were wondering how to get our money back for the Ghost Town class (as most of you know, the policy is that you cannot get your money back after the first night).

His FIRST response was to scream at us, "
C'mon guys, class ended 30 minutes ago." He then said something about not having music and went into the party room. When he came back, he asked us "what our deal" was.

We then explained again, and Rick continued to yell. He finally took us to the front room (Room 6) where you pay and tried to read off the posted sign which says that you can not receive a refund after the first night. We explained to him that it was the first night.
At this point, he started to yell at us and threatened to call the Bellaire Police.  He continued to scream at us and finally ended up throwing all the money in his pocket on the floor after slamming his CD case on the table.

He finally counted out my refund and told Kathy to count her money from the money lying on the floor, all of this while screaming at the top of his lungs. He then went back to the office, and I went to talk to Marty.

Rick came back to me and started yelling things that I do not want to repeat in this letter, let alone things I would ever say to any one of my customers. I tried to look for Kathy on my way out, but Rick continued to yell at me. I found Kathy outside in tears - she later mentioned that she had feared that Rick might strike her in his ridiculous and unnecessary rage.

I know many of you are faithful customers, but I would like you to reconsider the next time you open your wallet to this man. I know many of you were there, so you possibly already heard what happened. Anyway, we will miss taking classes with you all and with Marty and Kimberly, but there is no way that either one of us will give another penny to this man who could treat his customers so poorly. Kathy and I will be looking for another place to take lessons, so if you are interested in joining us, please let us know. You can email me at "" or Kathy at "". Also if you want to ask me for more details about what happened please feel free to call me (Roshan) at

Thanks for your time and sorry about this long email. We hope to hear from you.

Roshan and Kathy



Roshan's poison pen email scared me to death.  As I pondered the ruinous implications of this email, it took my breath away!

This was the first time I had ever considered the potential power of the Internet to reach large groups of people swiftly.  Let me tell you, I was terrified. 

I noticed that Roshan had included the names and email addresses of 50 SSQQ Western dance students.  These people were the most experienced Western dancers at the studio, the 'Elite' if you wish. This Nifty Fifty was the Studio's Western In-Crowd of the day.  The ties that bound them extended weblike to practically every Western student we had.  Everyone knew someone.  If these people sided with Roshan and kept forwarding his email, the studio's vibrant Western program would be reduced to rubble.  Maybe we could save a few students taking Beginning Twostep, but that was about it.

I realized that with a few minutes of work at his typewriter and one little click of his mouse, Roshan had sent his letter flying to 50 of my top Western dancers.  If the Nifty Fifty in turn continued to forward the email, pretty soon news of my temper tantrum would be city-wide. Roshan wasn't content to get his money back and humiliate me in the process; now he wanted to cripple my business too.

Roshan was aiming for my jugular. 

It was obvious to me that Roshan wasn't playing fair.  He was playing fast and easy with the facts.

  • We decided at the end of class that it was kind of crowded
    His dance class wasn't crowded. The class was in Room One, our largest room.  Roshan was just trying to think of some face-saving excuse behind their ridiculous Refund demand when he wrote his email.  The truth was he didn't have a reason to demand a Refund other than he wanted one.
  • His behavior was outrageous.
    Yes, my behavior was outrageous.  So was his, but why bother adding that detail?  My behavior was no more outrageous than Roshan's.  My voice was never any louder than Roshan's except when I finally snapped. 

    Actually we kept it pretty clean.  There had been no fisticuffs or curse words other than my 'Damn' when I threw the money on the floor. Yes, we had both raised our voices, but I had never once balled up my fist or threatened to punch him. Nor did he.  Neither of us ever touched the other person. 
  • At this point, he started to yell at us and threatened to call the Bellaire Police.
    The confrontation was very aggressive at times.  All told, Roshan physically blocked me twice and got in my face twice.  He suggested that I had been aggressive - and yes, I was - but in reality he was even more aggressive. 

    Right at the end, Roshan had threatened me by getting right in my face.  Rather than push him away, I threatened to call the police if he didn't back off. 

    His words made it sound like I was going to use the Police to get out of paying the Refund.
    Not true. I fight my own battles.  I just wanted him to back off. 

    This move by Roshan was pure Spin - a careful manipulation of the facts.  I certainly did not appreciate having him manipulate this detail in his Spin.
  •  "Rick came back to me and started yelling things that I do not want to repeat in this letter
    I don't remember this at all.  It has been seven years, so I admit it could have happened.  But I doubt it.  I was in too much of a hurry to the Wedding Couple to waste any more time on a lost cause.
  • I found Kathy outside in tears - she later mentioned that she had feared that Rick might strike her in his ridiculous and unnecessary rage.
    This was Roshan's master stroke.  Roshan had the nerve to tell 50 SSQQ students that Kathy had been in tears and in fear of being hurt by me.  In the process, Roshan told a bald-faced lie. 

    Kathy was a powerful woman, 5' 9", 150 lbs, a rugby player on the Rice Varsity for crying out loud, certainly no trembling faun in the forest.  Roshan was bigger than I was.  Two of them, one of me. 

    Kathy was worried I might hurt her?  Oh sure... and have Roshan's hands around my throat in an instant.

This guy had no conscience whatsoever.

But how was I going to prove that to my students?

I had no choice. I had to respond to my accuser.



I had caught an enormous break. Roshan had posted the email addresses of every person on his list where I could see them. This was a huge mistake. 

Or maybe he did have a conscience - a guilty one. If so, his guilty conscience caused him to slip up.

This meant all I had to do was hit 'Reply' and my response would be sent to the Nifty Fifty as well as to Roshan and Kathy.

Once everyone saw there was another side to this story, they would be forced to think twice.  I had just caught a lifeline. 

30 minutes later I posted an email of my own to the Nifty Fifty .

--------Original Message---------
From: Rick Archer
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2000 11:41 AM
To: K Rivera, Roshan K G
Subject: I am sorry

Kathy and Roshan,

First of all I would like to say I am sorry I lost my temper last night. I was out of line.

There is no question about it - I snapped. I was so mad at you I could barely see straight. The reason I was angry with you was that I felt you clearly took advantage of my studio.

I don't think you were entitled to a Refund. I still don't.
Class had ended 30 minutes earlier. The spirit of the Refund Rule is to make up your mind while class is in session or immediately afterwards. You came to my place of business, you took my class, and judging from the moves you were practicing after class, you appeared to appreciate what you learned.

You basically appeared to want something for nothing.

I might add, Roshan,
I see you take liberties with facts. If you are going to do a hatchet job, you could at least invoke a sense of fair play.

For example, I see you have
complained about the room being crowded as your reason for wanting your money back. Please. Your class was put in Room 1 - the biggest room we have. There was plenty of room. If you were so upset about the crowded conditions, why didn't you get your money back at Break? Or why didn't you come to the office after class was over? Instead you and Kathy stayed in Room 3 and practiced the moves from your class.

The truth is you only wanted your money back after you decided 30 minutes after class ended to switch to private lessons instead.

I felt taken advantage of.

I might add, Roshan, that I lost my temper when you ordered me to give you a refund whether I liked it or not. You got right in my face and told me you weren't leaving till I handed you your money. Yes, that is when I lost my temper.
No one likes being pushed around, Roshan, especially not by a big guy like you. I threw the money on the floor instead of shoving you in the chest to get you to back off.

Then I picked the money up and you both got your refund. It wasn't pretty and I am not proud that I lost my temper at you.

Roshan, I am sorry I lost my temper. I have heard you are actually a nice guy. I am usually a nice guy too, but you were quite effective at getting under my skin. I might add you raised your voice too. Your advantage was that you had Kathy to calm you down plus continue the argument while you regained control. In sports that is known as "2 against 1".  Nice job of tag team wrestling.

Now Roshan,
please spare the stuff about Kathy fearing I might strike her. You are again playing to the crowd. I never threatened her. It was you I was mad at and you know it.

Now that I have had my say, I would again like to apologize to both of you for getting as angry as I did. I agree I was over the line.

I would like to add that if you will forgive me, you are welcome at my studio any time. And if I ever do see you again, please allow me to shake your hands and tell you in person I am sorry for my poor behavior.

Rick Archer


The first thing I had to do was tell the truth even though it hurt.  I had to admit for all the world to see that I had out of control.  Yes, I definitely lost my temper. 

Then I apologized.  Once. Twice.  That helped a lot.  People make mistakes, but they don't always say they are sorry.

Now I began to dissect what Roshan had said.  The place to start was exactly where the argument had started the night before - 30 minutes too late

Then I pointed out what the Rules were -
The spirit of the Refund Rule is to make up your mind while class is in session or immediately afterwards.  (Notice I said 'spirit'.  I was still licking my wounds on that issue.)

One person said the key for them was when I confirmed it took 30 minutes for Roshan and Kathy to get around to asking for their Refunds.  It turned out I won this argument because my students knew exactly what the rule was supposed to mean.  Roshan and Kathy's 'first night' technicality may have won them their argument and their Refund with me, but it didn't win them any support at all among their peers. 

In fact, it turned out everyone in Roshan's group understood the Refund Rule the same way I did - get it when your class is over IMMEDIATELY, not when half the studio is getting ready for bed. 

Everybody lined up behind me on that one.  Roshan and Kathy didn't lose credibility, but they did lose a lot of sympathy.  Roshan and Kathy had violated the sense of the Rule.  The Jury of Public Opinion agreed Rick had every right to stand up to them.

Roshan and Kathy did however lose credibility with their lame excuse for why they asked for the Refund.  That nonsense about crowded Room 1 did not hold any water. That was a mistake.  Roshan was emailing the same people who had been in that room same night.  They didn't need me to say a word.  All these people knew better already.  There was plenty of room for their class. 

That may have been the biggest mistake in his letter.  It cast serious doubt on what Roshan was saying.

Besides all that, these same people knew that Kathy was no shrinking violet.  Once I accused Roshan of fibbing about that issue, Roshan's nonsense about Kathy's tears and fears did not pass any credibility tests.  I scored a big point there.

Now that the honesty of the poison pen writer was called into question, everything else - the Bellaire Police mention (which was bogus, by the way) and the descriptions of my mad man behavior (which was exaggerated) - lost their power.

I had succeeded in putting doubt in people's minds as to Roshan's credibility.

My quick response had worked absolute magic.  It stopped the crisis cold in its tracks. 

Ultimately, Roshan and Kathy were seen by their friends as bullies for relentlessly intimidating a man who was guilty mostly of sticking up for a principle they all agreed was fair. 

Too bad about the temper tantrum, but under the circumstances my behavior was easy to forgive.  Some people even suggested they would have lost their temper too under similar circumstances.

I had expected at least some damage, but to my surprise, there were absolutely no negative consequences or fall-out from the email hatchet job.  I don't remember losing a student.  To my amazement, I was completely forgiven. 



Spin when practiced by professionals is called Public Relations, Media, Politics, and Law.

But the place where Spin is practiced the most often is in Everyday Life.  Spin when practiced by normal people like you and me is called 'Your Side of the Story'. 

There are simple events every day where something happens and people immediately try to put the best face possible on their version of what happened.

Picture this: two basketball players wrestle for a loose ball on the floor. Hands are flying everywhere faster than the eye can see.  Suddenly the ball goes out of bounds.

What happens next?  

Both players immediately look at the Referee and point to the other guy:  He knocked it out, not me! 

They know that the Referee is quite possibly unsure exactly who hit the ball out.  He is trying to make up his mind, so they try to manipulate his decision. 

This is called 'Working the Ref'.  Every Ref makes an occasional mistake because he has to make split second decisions on situations that actually require a camera, not the naked eye.  That's part of sports!  And every player knows his vulnerability.

'Working the Ref' is a skill every player learns early in his or her career.

In Life, we all take turns. Sometimes we are the Ref and sometimes we are the player.

If you are concerned about your Reputation, then Learning to Work the Ref becomes a major survival skill in today's world. 

When it comes to the Court of Public Opinion, the Spin Doctor has three advantages

 1) The Spin Doctor presents his side of the story first (a huge advantage)

 2) The Spin Doctor forces the Responder to refute the charges or automatically lose.

 3) The Responder doesn't know exactly who Dr Spin has talked to

One: The Spin Doctor presents his side of the story first

In the Slapping Incident - Trilogy One - Pat had an entire week's head start to get her version what happened in place.  Just like concrete, the longer you leave it alone, the more powerful it gets. 

By the time I realized what Pat had been doing, her version was the equivalent of the Ten Commandments burned in stone.  

In the Harvest Moon Incident - Trilogy Two - Carnell not only got his version out first, he got it out there in two places.  Carnell formally charged Judy and me with snobbery, snubbery and possibly racism.  But in addition someone leaked his charges to the street as well.  Thanks to Ann Pan's phone call to Judy, Carnell's official complaint was invalidated, but the Street Version was the one that did the damage.  If the right hand doesn't get you, the left one will.  

The SSQQ response - Judy's letter - was only seen by two people in 1998.  A lot of good that did us.

In the Vesuvius Incident - Trilogy Three - Roshan had a head start of only a couple hours. Although he had sent out his email the night before, most people were reading his email the next morning. 

My email showed up at most an hour or so later for many people.  By answering as fast as I could, my quick response at least neutralized his head start advantage before it could get much momentum.  In other words, I messed up his cement before it could set in.

Two: The Spin Doctor forces the Responder to refute the charges or automatically lose.

In the Slapping Incident - Trilogy One - I only responded in detail to one human being.  This gentleman not only asked me not to mention his name in the story, he said he was going to stay neutral.  Since he wasn't prepared to say anything of value like "I saw Rick put down his coffee.  He never threw it at Pat" or something equally valuable, I didn't see any point in dragging him into the fray against his wishes.  This effectively meant that I never refuted the charges at the time.  So I lost.

In the Harvest Moon Incident - Trilogy Two - Carnell won this one easily because we never mounted any kind of defense.

In the Vesuvius Incident - Trilogy Three - Roshan forced me to refute his well-written letter.  By accentuating my bad behavior, Roshan attempted to distract people from the facts surrounding our confrontation.

I was forced to defuse the bad behavior angle by admitting it was true, apologize, then explain WHY I was angry in the first place.  This was where Roshan lost the battle.  It turned out that my students agreed with my position - ask for the Refund immediately after class like everybody else does.  What makes you so special that you can wait half an hour?

But I did make errors in my response letter, several in fact. 

1 - Roshan misled people on my Bellaire Police remark, but I failed to refute this very powerful allusion to cowardice. 

2-  Nor did I point out in any effective way how this privileged pair had acted like spoiled brats.  I was too busy defending myself!   And that's the point.  The person who hits first makes the other person play defense.  They put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of someone like me.   And that pressure may create mistakes. 

3 - As I was writing my first draft in my response, I completely overlooked that Roshan had written, 'Class ended 30 minutes ago.' 

His FIRST response was to scream at us, "C'mon guys, class ended 30 minutes ago." He then said something about not having music and went into the party room. When he came back, he asked us "what our deal" was.

How did I ever miss that?   I must have had some sort of blind spot.  I crafted my first draft around the fact that Roshan had DELIBERATELY tried to mislead people into thinking he was playing by the commonly accepted rules.  I caught my mistake at the last second .  My finger was literally on the "SEND BUTTON" when I caught that blunder during a final check. 

As I completely rewrote my letter to take account for the correct facts, I wondered how I could make a mistake like this.

I decided that I was so emotional from Roshan's attack that I was not thinking clearly.  I nearly sabotaged my entire case right there.  Roshan had put the pressure squarely on my shoulders and the pressure almost caused a huge blunder. 

Three: The Responder doesn't know exactly who Dr Spin has talked to

In the Slapping Incident - Trilogy One -  I knew exactly who Pat's target audience was, however I had waited too long for it to do any good.  To clean up the damage meant chasing down at least a dozen key people - none of whom wanted to talk to me.  This meant playing phone tag.  Since they didn't want to talk to me in the first place, this would have been a big headache.  Then I would have had to beg them to listen to my side of the story and try to persuade people who didn't like me very much at the moment that my version was the correct one.  Pat's version was set in stone. Talk about an uphill struggle!

In the Harvest Moon Incident - Trilogy Two - Carnell's official version was neutralized by Ann Pan.  But his street version ran amock.  It is quite unlikely that Carnell's official version made the slightest reference to race, but the street version certainly did.  The Rumors killed us. 

I had a fully-functioning web site.  I had an excellent letter from Judy.  I could have neutralized most of the venom had I obtained permission from Judy to proceed.  At the very least I could have removed the Race issue from the Rumors and cut the venom factor in half right there.  This incident leaves me with a huge sense of regret.

In the Vesuvius Incident - Trilogy Three - This was Roshan's biggest mistake.  By listing all the email addresses in plain sight, it was effortless for me to piggyback his poison pen email with my rebuttal just hours after his.  I was able to address the exact same people with my side of the story and stop all rumors right in their tracks.

Had he not been so stupid, I would have been forced to put a letter on the web site.  That would have exposed my own bad behavior to the ENTIRE STUDIO AND TO THE ENTIRE CITY!  As it was, I only had to write a letter to the select Nifty Fifty.

Big difference.  No, make that a VAST DIFFERENCE.  In other words, I got lucky.  But at least I knew what to do once I caught a break... 

Plus I had an angel.


By chance, in response to my rebuttal of the events, out of nowhere an Angel of Mercy appeared on my doorstep.

Kimberly Lopez had just finished her first night as a Volunteer in Marty Shea's Ghost Town class.  Kimberly also happened to be on Roshan's original Nifty Fifty Group Email List.

After Kimberly read my response to Roshan's letter, she decided to email me.

Here is what Kimberly had to say to me after she read my apology to Roshan and Kathy.

From: Kimberly Lopez
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2000 2:48 PM
To: ""
Subject: I am sorry

Rick - I had on my "To Do" list to butt-in and drop you an email about this incident.

Last night was the first time I had an opportunity to help out in Marty's class. The class was excellent so I am glad that Roshan and Kathy did not have any complaints about Marty's instruction.

I think your analysis about switching to privates is accurate.  They should have asked earlier.  I can't imagine how many different personalities you must have to deal with at the studio, but I wouldn't worry too much about it!!

Kimberly Lopez

After I forwarded Kimberly's email to the Nifty Fifty, all remaining tension was diffused.  By siding with my version of the events, Kimberly's email effectively ended any remaining doubts caused by my volcanic eruption. 

This leads me to my final point - Can you get a witness?  

In any ambiguous situation, having someone rush to your defense could make all the difference in the world.  The more I think about these Trilogy stories, the more they remind me of movies about highly-contested legal cases. One person's testimony often contradicts another's testimony.  Who knows what the verdict will hinge upon? 

In this case, having a solid witness like Kimberly ended the entire incident.  Case Closed.  In fact, by putting all remaining fires to rest, Kimberly's help opened the door to an entire new direction for SSQQ. 

As you will see, her intervention made a huge difference .


"A good reputation is more valuable than money." - Publius Syrus (42 B.C.)

Just to give you a deeper understanding of how valuable the Kimberly Lopez email was, let me share a story. 

The same morning Roshan's poison pen letter was distributed, I received a  phone call from a woman named Adriana.  concerning my Vesuvius moment.

Adriana was a poised and outgoing dance student I had met at the studio.  Because Adriana and I were about the same age, we developed a quick rapport.  Once I discovered she was a travel agent, I told her how the first cruise I had organized back in 1998 had not gone as well as I hoped.

As she listened to my story, Adriana made the connection immediately.  SSQQ was a travel agent's fondest dream.  If a trip was planned and promoted correctly, the numbers would be impressive. She suggested I give the cruise idea another try.  In fact, Adriana was about to set up a meeting between her boss and me when the Roshan incident broke.

Adriana was appalled when she received Roshan's email.  Then she received my follow-up response, but it wasn't enough.  Even after my explanation, in her eyes, I was still at fault.  Adriana said she was stunned at my outburst.  It called into question my maturity and my self-control.

Adriana held me to a higher standard for two reasons.  One, she was about to do business with me.  Two, it turned out she knew Roshan personally from dance class and liked him.  Her impression of Roshan was "what a nice young man he is. In fact, he is so quiet I can't begin to picture him arguing with you like that!"  

Adriana went on to say that she had given Roshan her email address because she trusted him.  Roshan was trying to organize a group from SSQQ to go dancing after class.  Now his account of last night's argument between us left her deeply confused.

As I mentioned, Adriana had been about to set up a meeting between me and her boss.  She was calling me because now she wondered if maybe that wasn't such a good idea.  Even after I told her my side of the story again over the phone, Adriana remained skeptical. 

I was determined to find a way to repair the damage.  As Adriana and I engaged in phone debate, by chance, the email from Ms. Lopez popped up in my In-Box. 

I read it and decided to forward the email to Adriana immediately.

This brief, relatively simple email from Ms. Lopez made an incredible difference.  After she read the email from Ms. Lopez, Adriana finally began to believe that I had been provoked.  Yes, I had lost my temper, but maybe that 'nice quiet young man' Roshan had contributed to the problem after all...

Now Adriana's confidence in me was largely restored.  The connection between Adriana and myself was left intact. 

As of 2007, my wife Marla has organized 9 cruises under the sponsorship of Adriana's travel agency. At this point, SSQQ has taken over 1,000 passengers on one wonderful adventure after another.  And to think how close this came to being a road not traveled because I made a near-fatal mistake...

By fighting to save my Reputation, I kept open a door that would eventually lead to the most important new direction in my career - the SSQQ Cruises.



 If you recall,
Spin is defined as a careful manipulation of the facts. 

Spin is effective because it presents only one side of the story.  This shifts the responsibility for getting the entire story out to the other person... and if they fail to respond you have an easy victory.  However Spin can backfire - if the other person DOES RESPOND and can prove you have manipulated the facts, you have given them a huge opening to damage their credibility.  So you still have to be very careful what you say.

As I wrote this article in 2007, I took another look at Roshan's letter.  Roshan's letter was actually pretty good.  And it should have been - with my temper tantrum as a starting point, he had a lot of material to work with!

Then I compared Roshan's effort to Pat Archer's Spin Version of the Slapping Incident back in 1986.  In my opinion, Pat had less to work with.  If you remember, I said Pat was completely in the wrong.  On the surface, she had hit a defenseless man.

Here is my point -

I won the Vesuvius Incident even though I was essentially in the wrong with my totally unprofessional behavior. 

But I lost the Slapping incident even though Pat was guilty of the outrageous behavior.

I lost the incident where I was largely in the Right and I won the Incident where I was largely in the Wrong.

Now isn't that curious? 

The answer lies in the Spin, i.e. the ability to take the details of an ambiguous event and work them to your advantage.  Spin is like the Magic of Illusion.

In the story of the Vesuvius Eruption, thanks to my succinct and timely response, Public Sentiment swung completely in my favor.  Yes, I had behaved poorly and, yes, I made a mistake, but I was provoked. 

Once I explained carefully 'why' it happened, people forgave me.  I was amazed at the number of people who rushed to my defense.  Case closed.

Fourteen years earlier I had been thoroughly outclassed in Spin Control by my former wife Pat in the Slapping Incident from Trilogy One.  Yes, Pat hit me, but she convinced everyone it was she who was provoked.  I lost, but I paid attention.

I was forced to witness a similar lesson in the Harvest Moon Incident.  Because I permitted my former wife Judy to tie my hands, I had no choice but to watch helplessly as a Smear Campaign successfully devastated my studio's reputation in the Swing Wars.  But I can assure you I was taking notes.

Now after two brutal experiences with failure in the Court of Public Opinion, the Vesuvius Incident proved I had learned my lessons well - Respond swiftly, tell the Truth, Explain Why you behaved poorly, and definitely be sure to apologize.  

And guess what happens?   Presto!  Poof!  The damage disappears.


OUR NEXT STORY: SSQQ Reputation on the line

Is the 2007 SSQQ Salsa Program mediocre?

Are the 2007 SSQQ dance instructors a bunch of charlatans?

Does Rick Archer fire his instructors at will?

And why did dance champion Bryan Spivey mysteriously quit his job at SSQQ?

It is time to put the Principles of Reputation in action.  We will answer these questions and more in our next Chapter our study on Reputation.

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