The expression “No good deed goes unpunished” recently became relatable to me. I always thought it was a cute saying until I got a taste of it last week.
It began with my penchant for writing and making rhymes. What I write has been called poetry, but personally I think it is similar to a Dr. Seuss book. However, I am occasionally asked by friends and relatives to do some ghostwriting. It might be for a birthday greeting or a speech at a party or a reunion. Last week, my punishment resulted from a reunion speech that I had written for a friend.
Today, many people are enjoying in-person meetings, but back in June, most events were held on Zoom. A longtime friend was determined to deliver a few words when she attended a class reunion on Zoom. I agreed to help her, but it didn’t occur to me to ask if she was going to pass the words off as her own. I should have!
Last month, this friend called to tell me she had a problem. Little did I know that her problem was about to become my problem. Apparently, those who attended her Zoom reunion assumed that she had written her speech, rhymes and all. A former classmate called her to say that she was expected to speak at her father-in-law’s 90th birthday party.
Because many years have passed since these people were in school together, most of them did not remember that she was not good at speechwriting, much less rhyming. So it had not occurred to them that somebody else had written the words she had delivered at their reunion. In short, I had been her ghostwriter and now, because she didn’t want to acknowledge that she had not written the words she delivered, she begged me to do this for her—or, rather, to do it for her friend who was asking for her help. Because I was amused, and because she sounded so frantic, I agreed to do it. She provided me with the pertinent information and I went to work on it, thinking that it was the end of my involvement. How wrong I was!
A few days ago, I received another call from my buddy. Another of her former classmates also had a problem, which meant I would again be doing the favor. This time it was a fellow who was invited to an outdoor anniversary celebration and, remembering how terrific my friend’s rhyming was at the reunion, he asked if she would be kind enough to do that for him. I was thunderstruck.
My hesitation lasted only a minute before I lowered the boom. If I didn’t want to be stuck doing this writing for the rest of my days—and I definitely did not—she would have to come clean. I tried to remain calm as I explained to her that she had options. Option one was that she could confess that she had not written her words, and option two was simply to say that she is getting forgetful. That would not be a lie. She is. She could also say that finding words has become increasingly difficult for her. That would not be a lie either because she is having a bit of trouble with words these days.
The omission of a confession now does not constitute a lie. The lie occurred back in June when she decided to let everyone think that the words she spoke were hers. My friend was not happy with either of the options I presented, but it was the best I could offer.
In the future, I will caution all those who ask for my help to be aware of what might happen when they have somebody do ghostwriting for them. No subterfuge here—the “somebody” I will be thinking of is me. This is how I relate to that clever expression that no good deed goes unpunished. That’s just the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435. Read more of Hannah Berman’s articles on 5TJT.com.