Herb's Plan to Become a Better Person

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write a story about a character who is trying to become a better person.... view prompt


Funny Inspirational

Herb’s Plan to Become a Better Person

“If you’re trying to find yourself , a good place to start is where you were yesterday.”                                                                

                                                                                                       -Old Iowaism

Herb’s midlife crisis was a tad closer to a midlife catastrophe. He didn’t like where he was in life, he didn’t care to reflect back on a disappointing past, and his future appeared to fall somewhere between bleak and scary. Distraction was his go-to elixir. The TV was on morning, noon and night. Content was irrelevant. It didn’t matter what was on TV, as long as the TV was on.

“What did you do last night, Herb?”

“Oh, I just watched a little TV.”

“What are you doing tonight?”

“I dunno. I’ll probably watch a little TV.”

Maybe there is nothing wrong with a dulled mind, free of ambition, anxiety and worry. Content with whatever is. A peaceful, undisturbed state of blissful inertia.

And Herb might have stayed just as he was, perhaps for the duration, had he not lacked the energy to reach for the remote at the conclusion of a rerun of Gunsmoke. Some motivational speaker was on TV preaching the potential that lurks deep inside all of us, especially in those dissatisfied with their lives. Perhaps it was the message, or maybe the powerful delivery, but the words hit Herb with enough power to ignite a reaction within the recesses of his brain. It was The Hulk getting angry, Popeye downing a can of spinach, Batman suiting up.

 It’s in you Herb. You were only a listless loser on the outside. You have it in you. It was always in you. You have great potential. It’s a state of mind. Attitude is everything. Be all you can be, Herb.

Herb was on a mission. In order to improve himself, Herb figured he first needed to establish his starting point, a baseline. Who are you Herb, and how did you get here?


He had a good childhood home life, a good mom and a good dad. His siblings were exceptional, perhaps too exceptional. It is likely that is where his self-esteem started its downward trajectory.

“Tommy! Great game last night! I think you’re going to be getting even more college offers.”

“Jill! You were spectacular in the lead role. The audience loved you! And valedictorian! Your Dad and I are so proud of you!”

“Oh, hi Herb. Did you pick up all the dog poop in the backyard?”


Herb was a straight ‘C’ student in Grade School…literally. As far as the teachers and principal knew, it had never been done before. First Grade through 8th Grade, solid ‘C’s in every subject. He came close to a ‘B’ once, but he failed to notice the bunny of a question on the back page. He still beats himself up over it. School historians still question whether his 8th Grade teacher, the aging Miss Barnes, jacked up a well deserved ‘D’ in math to a ‘C’ his last semester just to preserve his record and to preserve the humorous commentary she had planned for the graduation ceremony.


For reasons no one understood, Herb went out for football his first year in High School. The low budget Catholic school was short a tackling dummy so the Coach was able to find a use for him. Herb would just stand there like a goof for half the practice while the first team offense polished its plays. The unwelcome nickname TD, not for Touchdown but for Tackling Dummy, stuck with him for all 4 years.

High Schools have their clicks- the popular kids, the jocks, the brainiacs, the nerds, and then there’s the Herbs, kids so lacking in characteristics that they defy description. They were just there.


Herb spent 25 years working for a small plumbing company where he was known as “Buttcrack” to his co-workers, as well as to many mildly disturbed customers. Pipes and leaks, fast food and TV accounted for most of Herb’s waking hours.

“Ordinary”, “Nondescript”, “Plain”, “Blah”- take your pick. That was Herb as he started his “find his inner power” journey.


“The mind is everything. What you think is what you become.”


Herb had never read book that he didn’t have to read. Even then, school assigned readings were usually absorbed through the use of a student’s best friend, Cliff Notes.

Herb did have enough of a working knowledge of the subject that he did know where he could find books. With the wind in his sails, the new Herb headed for Barnes and Noble.

“Wow, you sure have a lot of books here.”

“Yes, yes we do. Can I help you find something?”

“I need a book that will make me a better person.”

“In what way?”

“Every way, I guess, you know, kinder, smarter, more charitable, more confident, successful, maybe a little spiritual, oh…and physically fit. And maybe a bit of a makeover, nothing too drastic, just a little something for the ladies, you know. A little bit of everything. Do you have a book like that?”

“Well, that’s a tall order. Let’s head over to the Self-Help section and see what we can find.”

“Self-Help, I like that. I feel better already.”

“Now, to cover all those basis, you will probably need several books.”

“Uh, no…I just want one. Didn’t anyone write a book that covers everything, sort of like Walmart. You know, everything you need under one roof.”

“I don’t believe so.”

“That’s dumb. You really should have a book like that. It would make things a lot simpler.”

“Well, maybe when you finish all the self-help stuff, you could write one.”

“OK, if I got just one book, which one do you think is best?”

“Well, this one is popular, ‘Reach for the Stars’. Very inspiring.”

Herb took hold of the book and flipped through the pages. He appeared unsettled.

“That sounds awesome. But this book is pretty thick. Do you have a thinner book that covers the same stuff, maybe with some pictures in it?”

“Well, we do have ‘The Little Engine Who Could’ in the Children’s section, but you might be a little too old for that. Why don’t you just browse around? Call me if you need me.”


“Excuse me, sir, we’re closing now. Did you find everything you need?”

A very frustrated Herb grabbed the thinnest book he could find on the shelf and took it to checkout.


Well, Herb got the horse to water, but could he make him drink? Herb looked at the book, aptly titled “10 Steps to a Better You”, before dinner, during dinner and after dinner, but he couldn’t get himself to pick it up. Herb hadn’t considered that he might need a little inspiration to even start reading a book on how to inspire himself. Herb hadn’t done anything constructive for so long that he was having trouble taking that first step. Herb was a pump that needed priming.

Herb had once heard of a technique called ‘visualization’. He popped open a cold one, turned off the TV, sat down in his easy chair and imagined himself reading a book.

His eyes drifted over to the TV. No Herb, don’t do it. It had only been an hour, and Herb was going through serious withdrawal. It was 7 o’clock. Herb wondered what was on TV. Crap! The Bachelor! His favorite. Oh why did he have to start this ‘be a better person’ business the same night The Bachelor was on? Oh no! This was the 2 hour special where they bring in the rejects to talk about why they got the ax.

Herb was struggling. Maybe another beer would ward off the demons. His eyes darted back and forth to…the TV…the book…the TV…the book…the TV…the TV…the TV. Herb caved. Two hours into his reformation project and he strayed.

Rationalization, the second strongest of human drives. If he would watch The Bachelor, he would free himself of the anxiety of missing his favorite show and be more focused on the lessons to be learned, more ready to take the first few steps to a better Herb. A couple more beers would probably also help.


“I can’t freaking believe it! How could she not get a rose?! For God’s sake man, she even got naked in the hot tub! What the hell is wrong with you?!”

Herb didn’t yell at the TV too often. He was too easy going…well, more like laid back…well, more like lethargic…well, more like sluggish…well, actually more like inert. Herb was not phased easily, but giving buxom Jenny the ax was almost too much for a healthy man to bear. Now he was too upset to read. He was tired. He couldn’t focus. It’s ok, Herb. Postponing the journey one more day can’t hurt. Herb would get up early tomorrow and dig right in.

Herb set his self-improvement book on his nightstand, just 2 feet from his head. He could feel the vibes sinking in.


Herb didn’t get out of bed. He sprung out of bed. Herb grabbed a cup of instant coffee and plopped himself down on the rocker on his front porch. They say the hardest step in any journey is the first one, but Herb was up to the challenge. He flipped open the book cover and felt the momentum building inside him. The opening salvo was the exact push he needed- “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

This was such a welcome greeting that Herb eagerly turned the page to learn what next lie in store for him. The preface suggested that he find a quiet, secluded place where he could get in touch with his inner peace as he…

“Hey Herb! We have to move Grandma upstairs again! She says it’s too lonely in the basement. Can you give me a hand later? I think all she does is eat down there. I can’t do it myself. I’ll make sure she keeps her nightgown buttoned this time.”

Oh my God. You’ve got to be kidding me. Can’t you hook up a pully or something? Herb would rather spend the day in a dentist chair than move Grandma again. The images still haunted him.

“Sure, just let me know when.”

“It will probably be an hour or so. We want to clean her up a little first. It’s getting a little funky down there.”

Oh my God.

“Yeah, that’s great, Fred. Thanks. Give her a good scrubbing. Good idea.”

Clean up Grandma? What the heck? That’s just what I needed today.

For the moment, the memory of Grandma’s ‘Grand Opening’ overwhelmed the immediate prospects for self-improvement. Herb would set the book aside until after the move.


Herb didn’t trust the buttons on Grandma’s nightgown. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on the ceiling. Fred had hit her with a couple shots of Glade so the whole ordeal went pretty well.

He needed that quiet, secluded place in order to read, absorb, and think about those 25 steps. The County Park was perfect.

Herb found the ideal spot for meaningful reflection, a picnic table under a large oak tree, a view of the river, and far from the usual picnic areas and outdoor games. His mind was free to take it all in.

‘Relax, take deep breaths, clear your mind of all negative thoughts, feel the peace, feel the…’

“Buttcrack! Hey Buttcrack!”

Shouts of “Buttcrack!” do not blend well with concepts of inner peace and feelings of serenity. Herb set the book down, and looked about A man, a woman, and 3 small children were passing by.

 “Buttcrack! Remember me?! You put a garbage disposal in for us like 10 years ago. Honey, look, it’s Buttcrack!”

Oh my God. Why don’t you yell a little louder? I’ll bet there are people in the park who haven’t heard you yet.

“Uh, I’m not sure. I really don’t remember. A garbage disposal?”

“Well, you may not remember, but we sure do. We still talk about it. Kids, you remember Buttcrack, don’t you?”

 “Oh yeah! That was the funniest thing I ever saw! We sure got an eyeful.”

  “It was so gross.”

“Are you sure that’s him, Dad. I never saw his face.”

“Stop it, all of you! I don’t like that word, ‘Buttcrack’.”

“Oh, come on, Betty, you got a kick out it too. Buttcrack, could you bend over and take us on a little walk down memory lane?"

The laughter of little children is joyful to the ears…unless it is directed at you.

“Well…nice to see you folks again. Have a nice day. “

“Buttcrack…can you believe it, kids? All the times we’ve talked about him, and then we run into him. Well, you have a good day too, Buttcrack.” 

Herb had taken a couple steps forward. The humiliating chance encounter kicked him 10 steps back. Had he been kidding himself? Maybe that’s who he was- Buttcrack, and the best he could hope for was a better Buttcrack? Herb picked up the book and went home.


Herb was bent, but not broken. He was not ready to give on his goal of becoming a better person. He still had the will; he just needed a better place.

 A quiet, serene place suitable for reflection and a little soul searching. Think, Herb, think. Bingo!

Herb hadn’t been to church for years, but as in the case of the bookstore, he knew where it was. He had been there alone at night once before, the night before that first high school football practice when he sought the courage to try out for the team. He remembered the absolute quiet, the feeling of awe being in that space, the flickering flames of the votive candles dancing along the walls and on the faces of the marble statutes. If Herb couldn’t feel the power within in a dimly lit, quiet church at night, it likely wasn’t there.

The front door was locked, a sign of the times. He would find himself and start his march to a new improved Herb in the 24 Hour Chapel.

As long as he was in a church, Herb figured he’d start his journey wit a prayer.

“Dear God, I just need a little help to get started. I don’t think I’ve done enough with the life you gave me. I never had much ambition, and I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished much of anything. I sucked …oops, sorry, I stunk in school, I washed out in sports, the only thing I have to show for my career is the nickname ‘Buttcrack’, and all I do is watch TV, drink beer and eat pizza. Sorry. I want to do more, be more. Please give me the energy, the strength and the inspiration. Thank you, God.”

Herb waited patiently, quietly for the Spirit to touch him. He glanced at the book laying on the pew beside him, and waited.

He expected a Knute Rockne style pep talk; instead, he got soothing, soft, peaceful, serene. Herb’s mind cleared, his body relaxed. He was not even aware of his own presence. Thoughts slowly began to swirl.

How can I improve myself? What steps do I take ? What do I need to improve on? What do I need to do? Where do I start? How do I become a better person? How do I change? Why do I need to change? Oops, how did that get in there? Why?

Herb had been so focused on the “how” that he had skipped over the “why”. The Spirit was moving.

Where the heck did Father Mel come from, and why speaking to him? He was standing in front of the world map in his 5th grade class. Herb had been listening for once.

“We are all made in God’s image. Tall, short…big, small…boys, girls. God loves all of us, just the way we are.”

Just the way we are. Made in God’s image. He loves me…just the way I am.

Herb dropped his barely opened book in the St. Vincent De Paul donation box on the way out, and left a new man, actually the same man but with an improved outlook.


Miller Lite, Mama Cozzy’s pizza, an Andy of Mayberry rerun…and Herb. It doesn’t get any better than that. God must love it.

August 12, 2022 16:52

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