birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Lip Balm

Walking zombie-like in the early morning of a Monday last January down a sparsely-populated airport concourse, I contemplated the week ahead of me. Four full days in Las Vegas attending the country's largest trade show. I do few things with an elevated pulse, but I hated this trade show with an irrational passion once reserved for Hatfield and McCoys. And I've been attending it for the past 18 years. This particular show combines the sleazy fakery of Las Vegas with the even sleazier fakery of the consumer technology industry.

Sure, there was a day, and there continues to be the rare day, when a new consumer technology would be more than a curious doo-dad, when they would actually make a modest improvement in people's lives. But for every iPhone and Gmail, there are thousands of apps that mimic a fart and Internet-connected artificial candles.

My role in this industry has generally been to say, "That's crap." And then the company would go on to get tens of millions in venture capital funding or spend hundreds of millions on developing the crappy "solution". My role in a cosmically insignificant industry has been cosmically insignificant.

So as I plodded down that concourse, coffee in hand staring blankly at the carpet ahead of me, I dreaded the four days I was about to spend being bombarded by public relations pitches on why people need their kitchen appliances to be Wi-Fi-enabled, a pitch I had heard dozens of times before over the last decade. And then I saw a small tube. I bent down to pick it up, careful not to spill my precious cuppa, the only thing that promised to bring me joy that day.

It was a tube of lip balm, decorated by a Disney princess of some kind. I glanced around, and saw a woman with three young girls, presumably her daughters, prancing around the rows of chairs in a near-empty gate area. I stepped towards them, putting on the kindest smile I could manage at that hour. "Is this yours?"

The woman looked up at me, first with the caution of a mother being approached by a deep-voiced male stranger, and then with a smile. "Yes! Oh, thank you. We didn't miss it yet, but we definitely would have in about an hour. Thanks!"

She gave it to one of the tow-headed, curly haired girls, who looked to be about five. She lit up and gave the genuinely grateful smile of the innocent. "Thanks!" she beamed.

And just like that, a 6 a.m. cross-country flight became that much more bearable. I knew that the rest of the week I would not do anything more useful than what I had done just then, and I wouldn't receive a more meaningful thank you than what I had just been gifted.

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