Alan Culler

4 years ago · 8 min. reading time · visibility ~10 ·

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   Image from: 2017 BMW X3 xDrive 28i Commericial, For the Fun of Doing, Song by Blur

“Remember when everything you did was for the fun of doing it?”

Recently, I was struck by these words coming from my TV. I was engaged in the very American pastime of ignoring commercials while waiting for a show I was watching “live,” (as opposed to our usual speeding through the commercials on the DVR.)

“Remember when everything you did was for the fun of doing it?”

It was an advertisement for a BMW X3 series sport with X-drive. The ad obviously works; I remember the car make and model. I am not in the market for a car. I drive a 14-year-old BMW 5 series, which only has 60,000 miles on it and works just fine for grocery store runs and the occasional road trip. The car is still fun to drive; it has a “feel of the road” that I still find enjoyable after, lo these many years, since buying it. I was stuck on the opening line. I rewound the DVR.

“Remember when everything you did was for the fun of doing it?”

This line set me to thinking about fun. Maybe it’s because my vacations of late have mostly been about visiting family. Maybe it’s because I’m tired of shoveling snow. Maybe it’s because I feel overwhelmed by the constant state of chaos and vitriol in the world. Maybe I’m missing fun.

So what is fun? “Enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.” “Play” “Humor” “Diversion”

Aside from these general definitions, the answer to the question “What is fun?” is a very individual one.

For me, in winter, the answer might be: “skiing!”

I asked my wife what was fun for her and her immediate answer: “genealogy!”

I haven’t skied this season and Billie, who is writing a book, hasn’t had much time to pursue her passionate interest in tracking her family tree. Perhaps fun is what you once enjoyed and wish you were doing more right now.

As a couple, we enjoy going to garage sales. For us, it’s about the bargains, like the Stickley Brothers chair we bought for $75. My sister-in-law also thinks garage sales are fun, but she likes to talk with the sellers about where they got certain things, and why they are selling. For Carol, it’s about the stories and so when we go together we often wait in the car while she has her fun.

Carol always returns to the car with the sellers’ life histories. Once when she expressed amazement that we didn’t stay to listen to the fascinating details of these suburban lives, Billie joked, “Carol, we’re not looking for friends; we just want their stuff.”

My ten year old self wouldn’t understand my ponderous pondering of fun. Fun just happened to us. My best friend, David Cooper and I went to a Saturday matinee of the movie “The Vikings” with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and spent the next week pretending to be Vikings. We invented our own fun, whether cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, building forts, racing bikes– whatever struck our fancy at the moment became our fun. It was adapted to whomever else from the Lincoln Street boy-pack was around and in the summer it went on and on– till we changed our mind – sometimes hours later – sometimes days.

One hot, hot summer day in July or August, at about 10 AM, I remember us in fun-invention mode:

“We could go down to the park – see if there’s a game we could get in”

(David was better than me at baseball. He easily made Little League. I could hit and catch flies, but generally sucked at picking up grounders, especially on my right side - a fact most everyone knew and which I didn’t understand until, at age 23, I discovered that my vision in my right eye was 20-300.)

“Nah, too hot.”

“The pool.”

“’S all lessons till 3. – the Res?” (The ‘Reservoir’ might have been a reservoir for the town of Lexington at one time, but then was a dumping ground for trash and glass. It still served as a swimming hole in the summer.)

“Hey, I think my Dad has an inner tube lyin’ around.”

“I think we got one too, if it’s not all cut up into slingshot bands.”

My father showed me how to make a slingshot with a Y-forked tree limb, two bands cut from an old inner tube, an old leather shoe tongue and some twine. He probably regretted that lesson as he often has to threaten “the belt” to get me to clean-up bottles broken in target practice and hide his good shoes to protect against the “shoe-tongue robbers” that seemed to sneak into our house. He also had to teach me how to glaze windows, which skill has come in handy as a homeowner, father, and grandfather.

I don’t remember thinking through our fun-invention in much detail that day. David got his father’s spare inner tube and we headed to my house to get ours. Then we headed for “Five Forks.”

Five Forks was at the West end of our section of Lincoln Street where it met and crossed Marrett Road. School Street came in from the North to form the “five forks.” Not that any of us kids ever thought about the geography. To us Five Forks was the Shell gas station and store run by Frank Lowry. The boy-pack called him Frank to his face except when our parents were around. Frank was 50ish, a little older than most of our parents, bald except for graying fringe and most often had a big smile for us boys. I only remember him getting angry when some kids shoplifted candy.

The store was where we cashed-in bottles and spent whatever cash came from our return-deposit-treasure hunts on Cokes (10 ¢) and our favorite candy bars (a nickel) – David liked jawbreakers, my favorite was Three Musketeers – a chocolaty whipped nougat bar covered in milk chocolate, made by Mars, that I can’t even stand to look at today. Five Forks is the reason that virtually every tooth left in my head has at least one amalgam filling in it.

Frank’s business probably included car and tire repair revenue streams as well as gas at 22 9/10 ¢ a gallon. I’m also sure that candy and Coke sales made up a significant part of his revenue. He was very nice to us kids. Maybe he was just nice – seems like a lot of adults would smile when parts of the boy-pack would arrive.

On that hot summer day I remember Frank asking when we went to use the free air pump –“Whatchoo boys plannin’ ta do?”

“Goin’ ta the ‘Res.’”

“Good day fer it.”

I remember one of the inner tubes had a leak and Frank took out a patch kit and fixed it for free and asked “how’re getting’ these things down there?”  We had ridden our bikes down to Five Forks, not thinking how we’d ride a bike with an inflated inner tube.

“Walkin’ I guess.” We walked the bikes to my house carrying the inner tubes over our skinny arms.

By then it was almost 10:00, and already really steamy. I remember complaining about how hot it was and kid-fantasizing about the cool water of the Res. It might have been a Saturday, or maybe when my Dad had a different day-off, or when he worked nights or something, but he was home.

My Dad had the old gray ‘53 Willys out and was washing it in the driveway. Soapy water was running down the 30% grade of our 150 foot driveway towards Lincoln Street.

“Where you boys been? And wheredidya get the inner tubes?”

“Er, Five Forks.” I said quietly, suddenly very nervous because I hadn’t asked for the inner tube; I’d just taken it.

“I got mine from our house.” David said. “It’s from our old car.”

“I got this one from the garage. I forgot to ask. Is it OK?”

“That one was from the ’48 Chevy. I was savin’ it to make slingshot bands. Y’know it’s got a hole in it?”

“Yeah, but Mr. Lowry patched it for us.”

“Well, don’t that beat all! Have to thank Frank for that. What’re gonna do with ‘em?”

“Dunno. Take ‘em to the Res maybe.”

“By themselves? Why don’tcha make a raft?”

Now my Dad joined in the fun. He had a way of suggesting stuff that made it seem like it was your idea. We got a piece of quarter inch plywood he had laying around. We found some rope, tied the tubes together. He showed us how to work an old brace and bit drill and we drilled holes in the top and tied the tubes to the “raft deck.” We were ready to go.

“How’re ya gonna paddle?”

His question stopped us for a minute, but soon we had a piece of 1x2 with two shingles nailed to either end and were walking down Middleby Road towards to Res with the “raft” on our heads and holding the paddle with our free hands. And man, we had fun.

Seemed like the fun went on for days – paddling while seated, paddling while standing, standing up while David paddled, (not an easy task) fishing from the raft, bringing 2, 3, 4 5 others on board the now partially submerged and very unstable raft.

We found with a third tube stacked on top of the deck in the back we could get more leverage for paddling and carry three kids.. David’s brother, John joined the fun. Soon others in the neighborhood boy-pack made some other rafts.

We had jousting matches. A jouster would stand on the front of the raft with a paddler in the rear. The jouster would carry a “jousting lance” – a 4 foot branch with a towel tied around the end. The rafts would come towards each other and the jousters would try to knock each other off the rafts. This was great because the most fun was falling off the raft into the cool water. (Did I mention that it was hot?) Our towels got wet of course, but that was never a concern for 10 year-olds.

Fun went on for days. My Dad did what he always did – took pictures, lots of pictures. I still have a few of them.




I relived this story to examine what is fun for me. So here are a few of the elements that made this day or days such fun that it stood out from my boyhood:

Fun is very often physical for me. This adventure involved swimming, paddling, some later jousting. We were definitely tired at the end of the day. I think skiing in the winter is fun. I think riding my mountain bike is fun in the summer. I used to think running was fun before age and injuries made it significantly less fun. Listening to music is fun, but dancing is much better for me – a fact that embarrassed my children to no end when they were teen-agers. Hopefully today they all “dance like no one is watching.”

There is usually some learning involved. Learning how to drill, master the kayak-like paddling, standing on the raft and keeping my balance, and staying onboard while jousting. The first time I see something, or do something brings the magic of wonder, followed by a desire for greater understanding or skill to be developed.

• Fun for me very often includes making something. In this case we made the rafts. The great sled run was an engineering wonder .I would make my own props for cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. Working in theatre in college I not only built characters as an actor, but I built sets and ended up as scene designer/tech director in my senior year.

There is often an accomplishment involved. There is always an element of problem solving or puzzle to figure out. In this case we invented our own fun –we were proud of the raft that others in the boy-pack copied. My running led me to complete two marathons in my forties. My time in the theatre involved performing well and, of course, I was rewarded with applause.

• There is usually a team, a group, another person to share the fun with. My most fun memories involve other people. Laughter is contagious. And, while I can have fun by myself, skiing, running, hiking, and, yes, even writing these stories, it is much more fun to share the adventure.

What about fun at work?


I will admit to being enough of a cynic to occasionally have defined fun and work as polar opposites and to sneer when some boss dared to suggest that we have “fun together.” But, truth be told, I have had fun at work.

Participating in the British Airways turnaround from 1984-1987 was fun. It was my first real change project and I was continually learning from leading lights in the field. I wrote the opening cases for Managing People First, the leadership training for the top 1000 and developed and produced the Climate Lab for the Seeds program.

I still remember the team – we were many of us runners –so were share recreational fun as well as work fun. That was also true at Toronto Dominion Bank, and Royal Bank of Canada and is true at my current client though I‘m speed-walking these days and not running. Sigh.

The accomplishment in my work is helping others to change. Sometimes I have to design and build training or leadership workshops and it’s always more fun to facilitate something I’ve designed and developed than someone else’s work.

And the best part of every engagement is the entry phase, when we are immersing ourselves and learning the company, the industry and the culture. Fun!

“Remember when everything you did was for the fun of doing it?”

I hope so. Thanks for joining me on this exploration of fun. As we said, what is fun is individually defined. What is fun for one isn’t the same as what is fun for another.

Physical – Learning – Creative – Accomplishment –Shared - this is what is Fun for me.

What is fun for you?

And how can you get more of it in your life?

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Alan Culler

4 years ago #2

Thank you Ali Anani I greatly appreciate your engagement with these ideas. I think fun can be a part of work as it is a part of life -but an attitude of "employment" -being used by another for their ends, gets in the way for many. I've found definitely more fun opportunities while working for myself and working with others than in working for others. Thanks for your comments. Alan
Thank you Alan Culler and I enjoyed reading your buzz and your conclusions immensely. You mentioned that fun and work are seen as polar ends by many people. This is sad as we spend more hours at work than at home. To be productive and enjoy going to work having some fun is important. I wonder why then some people look funnily at others who call for some fun at work! Shared

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