Saturday, February 18, 2017

WHO'S SORRY NOW?

Since we're a month or so into the new year, with resolutions that may already be fading, let's talk about guilt.

It's one of the most powerful---and sometimes destructive---emotions we can experience. Often it comes from others, but sometimes it's self-inflicted, and can encompass unrealistic demands on oneself as well as regrets.

Guilt and regret are really two sides of the same coin. Guilt is imposed on you by others---social conventions, political correctness, etc. Regret is the guilt you impose on yourself, often serving as your worst, most unrealistic critic. (Oh, those painful  "Would-haves/Should-haves"!).

But it's debilitating, whatever form it takes. And perhaps, if we recognize it in its many manifestations, we can shake off a bit of its negative burden on our lives, both in how we react to it, and in how we unconsciously use it on others.

Mother Guilt, of course, is the ne plus ultra of guilt. It's a way to make kids behave, and it starts early. "Clean your plate, because children are starving in . . . wherever." And the child learns to overeat, so as not to disappoint Mama. And gets obese down the road because he/she has learned to let his/her emotions rule at the supper table, instead of his/her stomach.

My nutty mother (see JUST FOR FUN) had a difference approach. She never put too much food on our plates, telling us we could always take more if we wanted. And her mantra was: "Eat what you can, and what you can't we'll can." She was a remarkably non-guilt-inducing mother, for which I will always be grateful. We obeyed because she made it fun, or because she was firm in her demands, NOT because she made us feel guilty.

Keep that in mind when you're raising your kids, people. If they tend to say "I'm sorry" too often (even when it's scarcely necessary), it may mean that you're burdening them with lifelong guilt.

But of course just being a parent comes with its own brand of built-in guilt. If the child screws up, did we do the wrong thing? Was it somehow our fault? Makes for many sleepless nights, even if we are realistically "not guilty."  And of course, in today's households, where both parents often have outside jobs, the guilt is multiplied. So we coddle our kids, buy them too much stuff, let them get away with all sorts of errant behavior. And then feel even more guilt, seeing the self-involved, thoughtless children we've created!

(Note to first-time new mothers, or mothers-to-be----please DON'T feel guilty in the first few weeks with the baby, when you're not getting enough sleep and the kid won't settle down, etc. Feeling overwhelmed and a bit pissed off is NORMAL! You look at the kid through bleary 4 A.M. eyes and wonder why you ruined your life. Trust me. Around three months, when the kid smiles at you and is suddenly a human being not a noisy blob, you will know exactly WHY you're happy to have the kid!)

But the sense of guilt manifests itself in the larger social world, as well. Because of Political Correctness, a lockstep code of conduct largely unknown in former times, we don't want to appear judgmental. We don't want disapproval FROM others, so we don't want to disapprove OF others. We don't want to get sued. So---social cowards that we have become---we tolerate all kinds of anti-social behavior that our forebears would not have endured.

Political Correctness is really a passive/aggressive guilt trip. With a dual purpose. We not only make others feel guilty for saying/doing/expressing the WRONG thing (as we and society see it, of course), we get to feel so very noble that WE are in the right and they are not! And the hypocrisies abound. Smoking a cigarette is not only unhealthy, it's proponents are somehow EVIL. However, it's fine, and even cool, to smoke pot. Ugh!

And, these days, being "wrong" in society's eyes even extends to guilt by association! So if you express approval of someone on the WRONG side, you are equally guilty. Double Ugh!

I guess the life lesson of this blog is this: Regrets and guilts are wasted energy, and ultimately destructive

Learn to recognize when others are trying to use it on YOU, and refuse to be intimidated.

Make a conscious effort to note when YOU use it on others, and try a more positive approach.

And, most important of all, people, be kind to yourself! Don't take on needless guilt (unless you have a secret desire to be a martyr!). Don't burden yourself with imagined guilt. And if there IS something you're genuinely sorry about, resolve to do better next time.

Just don't use guilt as a crutch or a weapon.

Since I usually have a few silly anecdotes to accompany my blog entries, I thought I'd close with a couple of old memories.

Late '60s. We were wearing polyester. Also, newly invented pantyhose. I am in slacks. Polyester. Plus full pantyhose underneath (knee-hi's hadn't come along yet.). Sitting with the family in IHop. Eldest son, 10  or 11, sitting across from me. Usual large pot of coffee on the table. (Don't know whether IHop still does this, but it was a staple on every table in those days, without being ordered.) Woman with large shoulder bag passes our table and turns. Bag knocks over coffeepot, spilling it onto my lap. I am in extreme pain, because it is hot as hell. Jump up, run to ladies' room, pull down slacks and pantyhose. Really too late, because two layers of scalding hot polyester on my thigh have already kept the coffee on my skin long enough to create second-degree burns. (Large blisters for a week or so.) Off to hospital with husband. Leave kids at IHop to eat meal. (Eldest very responsible---had already allowed him to take care of brothers for a few hours at that point. And small note---husband took me to hospital, dropped me off at home after I was treated, and went to pick up kids. IHop had already presented boys with the bill for the food!!!)

The guilt part came when son, suffering from "should-haves", told me that he immediately thought to toss a glass of cold water on my lap, the minute the coffee hit (which of course would have negated the serious burn!). So why didn't he? Because he felt guilty about throwing something at his mother! (Of course we reassured him, and loved him all the more for his sensitivity.)

Final guilt memory. I was, for many years, strictly a night person. (Probably still am, but I've learned to adjust to my daily schedules.) Also had low metabolism and low blood sugar. Could barely function in the morning until I had my cup of coffee.  Kids knew to sort of keep out of my way until then, because Mom was sort of scary before the coffee!.

One morning, when youngest son was about four, I staggered into the kitchen. Son rushed to the stove and turned on the burner. I saw a mug next to the stove, half filled with instant coffee and the rest with sugar. Almost to the top! He had even managed to fill the kettle with water. Talk about feeling guilty! From that point on, I managed to be a little more human to my kids, even before the coffee!

Guilt can be helpful, but more often destructive, Be aware of it and deal with it.













Saturday, December 31, 2016

A VERY PERSONAL NOTE . . .

. . . BUT ONE THAT GIVES ME GREAT JOY TO SHARE.

I minored in French Lit at Brown University, and one of my favorite professors was a young man (just out of the Navy from WWII, as I recall). He was handsome, accomplished, charming. And wonderfully gracious. He and his wife would often invite batches of his students to dinner. They were the parents of twins (?---again, can't remember for sure).

And the evenings in their house were what we, as young women, dreamed about for our perfect futures. The inevitable and delicious tuna casserole, the daddy going upstairs to read a bedtime story to the kids, the immaculate little house. We drooled with envy. (Please don't get yourselves in a snit, people---this was the '50s. We were the first generation of women to even go to college in large numbers, but our models were our home-bound mothers.)

Because I had taken several courses with him, and was an avid pupil, he and I became a little more than student and teacher. Not equals, given the formal relationship between students to teachers in those days, but certainly a budding friendship. And after I graduated, and my husband and I returned to Brown for a reunion (which was often, since my husband had also gone there and three of our siblings and two of our sons followed), we would be in touch with him, and sometimes meet for coffee with him and his wife during reunion weekend.

When I wrote my first book ("Marielle"), a historical romance set in the France of Louis XIII, I sent him one of my first printed copies. I had slaved over the research---the historical personages, the battles, the politics of that turbulent time. I smugly challenged him to find anything inaccurate in my book.

His letter in reply said something along the lines of: "I don't think a Frenchman of 1629 would accuse someone of being "as treacherous as a rattlesnake", a New World snake, barely nine years after the Pilgrims had landed in Plymouth! "An adder, maybe," he suggested. One word to carp over, but otherwise he found the history to be spot-on.

I laughed ruefully about that for a long time, but, thanks to him, it led me to check any questionable word I wrote from then on, to be sure it was appropriate for its time. (I have lots of dictionaries, which help me on that score.)

 But that correspondence deepened our friendship immeasurably. After that, I sent him every book of mine as it was published. (I wish I'd saved his letter about my book about French strolling actors---"Dreams So Fleeting" by Louisa Rawlings---who meet the great Moliere on their travels. We had read Moliere in class together, and I swear that his letter in comment of the book had teardrops on it!)

. From then on, when my husband and I came for reunion, he and his lovely wife took us out to dinner, sometimes even picking us up on campus to drive back to their apartment. (He had retired at that point to a near-the-campus  retirement complex, where many Brown professors lived.)

It became a joke, every time we came for reunion---and as he and his wife grew older---for him to say, "Don't wait another five years! I'm xxxx (whatever his age was at the time)." And five years later, I'd write or call and say, "I'm still here and so are you! See you at the reunion!"

I missed my 60th reunion last year, because I was in the middle of a move. I had hoped to visit him and his wife---perhaps over the summer. But then his dear wife passed away and I got frazzled and busy with the move.

The whole point of this is to tell you that, as usual, I sent him a Christmas card. I'm crying as I write this, because I just got a card back today, with a long, chatty note in his distinctive handwriting. He is alive and well and just turned 96 (!).

I am so grateful for this. I will write him back. If I could send hugs through the mail I would. I'm determined to visit him next year, even if it isn't during graduation. I can't begin to describe how happy and grateful I feel at this moment.

Thanks for listening, people. Just had to share.

P.S.  Had a sudden memory after I published this: He smoked a pipe. (Very sexy, in those days.) And he always came into class with the pipe in his mouth. He would go to the window, open it, and tap the ashes against the outside wall to empty the pipe. It was such a graceful, masculine gesture that I found it entrancing. And many, MANY years later, I had my hero, in "Autumn Rose" by Louisa Rawlings, do the same thing!








Friday, December 16, 2016

JOY TO THE WORLD

No, this entry isn't really about Christmas or the holidays, though one can hope that this time of year makes us stop and reflect for a bit.

I want to talk about JOY---giving joy to others, receiving joy in return. It so often comes from the unexpected, from someone going above and beyond the norm, reaching out, sometimes only in little ways, to do something kind, when they don't have to.

This thought came to me when I saw an item on the news recently. A young man, who had been in a car accident and was now in an arm sling, nevertheless had returned to work at a fast food establishment. The YouTube picture of him at work, even though he was somewhat disabled, went viral. When asked why he continued to work, he said that he needed the money to pay his bills, but also to purchase food and supplies to the homeless people in his town, which he did regularly. Someone else, moved by his selflessness, set up a GoFundMe page, and he has collected a great deal of money, which he intends to use for the homeless.

Think of all the JOY in that story! His ongoing joy in being able to help people, the joy of the people who heard the story and had the satisfaction of being able to contribute. The joy of the homeless, who know they aren't forgotten.

How often do we stop to think about doing something special for someone else? I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that I like to compliment strangers on the street if they're wearing something that makes them look good. "Oh, you ought to wear that color all the time!" I'll say to a woman in a bright coat, and watch her beam in pleasure. But I also take joy from making her feel more attractive. No big deal for me to do---takes a second or two out of my day.

I had lunch the other day in a local restaurant. The waiter has helped me before, but in a professional way. I ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich. He walked away, then came back, opening the menu. It seems that the sandwich I had ordered (a fish fillet) could be had on a platter as a lunch special, with coffee included. He told me he could arrange to have it as a sandwich, but he would charge me the lunch-special price, which was cheaper, since the coffee was free. Now it didn't really amount to a big difference, but he was so pleased that he could do this for me. It brought me joy to see the joy on HIS face! As I drank my second cup of coffee, we chatted for a bit---two human beings making a connection where none was necessary or expected.

Think about how little effort it takes to do a good deed, people. So why are we so wrapped up in our own worlds that we forget to reach out to others? And the satisfaction ISN'T a one-way street. Both the giver and the receiver get joy.

Many years ago, we took our three sons on a Massachusetts vacation, visiting all the historical spots. (They were probably 11, 13 and 15 at the time.) In Boston, we visited the old North Church, where Paul Revere's friend had set the lanterns to warn Revere of the British soldiers' plans to attack Lexington and Concord and arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. When we entered the church, we saw that there was a workman carving something into a marble plaque on the wall. It contained the names of all the churchmen who had served in the church from its very founding in the 18th century. The artisan was carving the name of the most recent appointee, a tall man resplendent in his vestments, who watched the process with a pleased look on his face.

And he was someone I had gone to high school with! I immediately recognized him and said hello, congratulating him on his honor. Can you imagine his joy? To be able to share that special moment with someone who knew him? And we were able to share in his joy!

He greeted my husband and our sons, then told them that Paul Revere had been a bell-ringer in that church as a young boy. He explained that the steps to the belfry were old and rickety and in need of repair, so tourists were not allowed on them. But he would make an exception for us. We carefully made our way up to the belfry, Then he handed the bell rope to each boy in turn. "Would you like to ring the bell that Paul Revere rang?" he asked. The joy on our sons' faces still brings tears to my eyes.

Incidentally, that minister, my old friend, had the honor of escorting President Gerald Ford to the belfry to ring the bell in 1975, the Bicentennial anniversary. His picture was on the front page of the New York Times. We were all thrilled to see it.

One of my favorite "joy" stories involves a bride at the Bridal Salon, some years ago. A young woman came in, halfheartedly looking for a wedding dress. She was tall, a bit "solid" and heavy-set, though not really very overweight, but clearly unhappy with her self-image, in spite of a lovely face. She told me that she was in the process of losing weight, but just wanted to look at dresses. I think she might have been happy with a dress that made her look okay, and nothing more. I assured her that she was fine the way she was, and that I had a dress for her. (I've spent enough years sewing my own clothes to be cold-blooded about body types, so I can usually scope out a bride and figure out what would look good on her shape,)

I found the perfect dress, laced her into it, put on a veil and a tiara. The expression on her face as she looked in the mirror was well beyond the OMG moment I'm used to, when the bride know that THIS is the dress! Her face expressed wonder, astonishment, disbelief that she could look beautiful. "I want the whole package," she whispered.

I grinned and said she'd have to look at herself a little while longer, while I went to get the paperwork. She said she had to call her mother in Boston. (I believe this was long enough ago so cell phones didn't yet have cameras.)  When I came back, she was sobbing into the phone. Not happy little tears, but huge sobs of relief and wonder, as she explained to her mother that she looked beautiful. She hung up and tried to apologize.

"Nonsense," I said. "This is a special moment, and your mother is far away. Look," I added. "I have four kids and a mess of grand-kids. Do you need a 'Mom' hug?" She fell into my arms and cried a few more grateful tears on my shoulder.

After she had paid for the whole package and left, my manager at the time congratulated me on the sale. "You'll take home a good commission for THAT!" she said.

"No," I said. "That's not the gold I'm taking home tonight."

It's moments like that, filled with shared joy---given and received---that send me happily to work each day.

Try it. Stop to give a bit of joy to someone, and see how your own heart swells with the joy of their happiness.


P.S. As has happened in the past, I'm getting emails from friends who want to post a comment, but can't figure out how. I think I've finally figured it out myself!

1. Go to bottom of blog entry you wish to comment on, where it says "Comments" with a number, or "No Comments"  Click on.
2. Write your comment in the space provided.
3. In "Comment As" spot, scroll down to AIM and click on.
4. It asks for a "User name", which will allow you to put in anything you want.
5. Publish your comment.







Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SUGAR AND SPICE

This is a delayed blog entry, I know. Sorry about that. Have been busy on my days off with routine medical tests and getting ready to visit my daughter and her family in California.  (Most important to arrange for my lovely cat, Mr. Magoo, to be fed while I'm gone!)

But also feeling a bit guilty about my REALLY negative last blog entry, AARGH! So I thought I'd focus this time on good stuff, sweet things, unexpectedly delightful and amusing things, etc. Incidents of kindness, thoughtfulness, uncalled-for but lovely behavior and goofy moments!.

A recent incident immediately came to mind. I had a movie date with a friend---very much younger than I---a talented professional actress and a delightful companion. We were having a late lunch, before the movie, in a nearby casual restaurant. As is our wont (I was only an amateur actress in my youth, but I definitely have learned to be a "drama queen"!), we were having a very lively conversation, with much exaggerated emotion and laughter.

At a table near us sat a couple of young men (her age, I should guess---certainly not MINE!). They got up to leave. As they passed our table, they turned to us and one of them said, with a hopeful note in his voice, "Are either of you ladies attached?"

She answered, "Sorry, I'm seeing someone."

I answered, "I'm old enough to be your Mom, dear. But thank you SO much!"

I grinned at that unexpected affirmation of my "female-hood" for the rest of the day!

Children provide so many sweet "Aw shucks" moments of laughter and joy. A favorite story of mine concerns one of my grandsons when he was just a little boy. (Maybe 3?) The family had a cat named Norman, usually called Normie. (Just recently put down after many years, alas---and sorely missed.) My grandson loved to lie down on the floor next to Norman, spread out beside him, and put his head on the cat's belly to listen to him purr. On this particular day, he suddenly lifted his head from the cat's body and looked at us with dismay on his face.

"What's the matter?" we asked.

I thought he'd burst into tears. "Normie is EMPTY!" he cried.

Another delightful children's story goes back many years.

I know I've mentioned that my husband was drafted during the Korean War and was sent to
Germany right after our honeymoon. Not wanting to stay home for two years with my parents while he was in service, I followed him to Germany.

Since he was only a private, we couldn't live on the post, but lived "on the economy", as it was called. We lived with German families.

We rented a furnished room in a lovely old brownstone (in Bad Nauheim, a hospital town that had been untouched during the war). We shared kitchen and bathroom with our landladies, an elderly grandmother, her daughter, and her two young children. The little girl was barely a year old. The boy perhaps 2 and a half or so. There was no man present. The children's father, we were led to believe, was an American GI who had abandoned his family. Thus, the little boy had had little contact with males. And the women had felt the need to rent out the room to make ends meet. (The house was owned by a doctor, a relative, and our landladies rented the third floor, where we all lived, from him.)

My husband was in the habit of coming home from the army post at 6 or so and hopping into the shower. The bathroom door had two small holes drilled near the bottom for ventilation.

One evening, busy preparing supper as my husband showered, I passed the bathroom door on my way to the kitchen. I saw the little boy on his stomach, his face pressed up against the bathroom door, his eye against one hole. Just then, his mother came into the hallway and spoke to him. He jumped to his feet. (She probably said, "What are you doing?" My German, at that point, was not very good!)

Then my husband came out from his shower, a towel wrapped around his waist. The little boy ran to him, pounded on his hand, and cried out something in German, barely able to contain his excitement.

His mother turned red. When we pressed her on what the child had said to my husband, she reluctantly confessed that what he'd said was, "Show it to Mama!!!"

One more "kid" memory: When she was probably 9 or 10, my daughter had read an article that said that children needed at least 12 hugs a day to be okay. So, in the middle of whatever I was doing, she would come up to me, tap me on the arm, and announce, "I NEED it!" (Of course she got her hug at once!) It became a longstanding joke between us. Even now, many years later, if one of us is mildly down, the other will ask, "Do you NEED it?"

Another delightful memory. My husband and I were celebrating a wedding anniversary. We lived in a New York suburb, but Manhattan was always a treat. So I picked him up at his job (he was an assistant district attorney in our borough at the time) and we drove into the city. We wandered around in Greenwich Village until we saw what looked like a charming Italian restaurant.  It seemed like the perfect place to splurge on our anniversary.

It turns out, the place had just opened, and we were among its first customers. It was a lovely early summer evening and they had a sweet outdoor garden in the back, so we decided to eat there. We were the only ones in the garden.

For the restaurant and the people who worked there, it was clearly VERY new and exciting. Our waiter (who turned out to be the nephew of the cook, and the owner) had never opened a champagne bottle before. (My husband had to sort of show him how to do it.) And when the cork popped and flew to the other side of the garden, the young man retrieved it and asked us to allow him to keep it as HIS souvenir of his first bottle!

But the clincher came later on in the evening. The food had been delicious, the portions generous, with far more on our plates than we could handle by the time we came to the last course. The waiter took our plates away, at our direction, still half filled.

Instantly, an irate, heavy-set Italian woman came storming out of the kitchen, shaking a large serving spoon in our direction.

"Whatsa matter with the food?" she cried in an aggrieved voice!

We had to reassure her that her cooking was delicious, but that we simply couldn't eat another mouthful! She was mollified, and we even got hugs before we left.

But surely it was one of our more memorable anniversaries!

Another silly story from our Germany days. I had become pregnant. At the same time, my husband had taken up cigar smoking. (Don't get into a Politically Correct snit, people. In those days, smoking was normal. I smoked cigarettes through several of my pregnancies, and drank wine also, and it was considered normal---and my kids turned out fine!) But cigar smoking was a different story, since many pregnant women found the smell of cigar smoke nauseating. So when family and friends learned that he had started on cigars, they were semi-scandalized. How could he do it?

The story behind it is delightful. It was January in Germany. For two weeks, the temperature had dropped to below zero, a very unusual occurrence. A few days were as low as 15 degrees below. The pipes froze in our little rented apartment (my husband had been transferred to a different city, and we had a small space with our own kitchen and a bathroom that we shared with another GI couple). We had to lug in pails of water from the next door neighbor.At least I did---pregnant belly and all.

My husband, on the other hand, was out in the field on maneuvers. Sleeping in tents in sleeping bags, and mostly freezing! One evening, he was assigned guard duty. After his hours of standing in the cold, he headed for the large tent where the troops gathered. There was a pot-bellied stove in there, and he was looking forward to warming up.

Alas! The tent was so crowded that he couldn't get anywhere near the stove. Just then, a buddy held out a cigar and asked, "Want it?" My husband realized it would be warm in his hands, so he took it! And that's how he got to smoking cigars. No insult to my condition intended, as some of our friends suspected!

And talking of natural occurrences, like weather, one more anecdote. Comes from my work in the bridal salon. Sometimes, when the bride is climbing into a dress, she needs my help to support her. I stand behind her and put my hands around her waist to keep her steady. Sometimes, if her balance is not strong, we wobble together. A couple of years ago, in the summer, the bride and I wobbled a great deal. I didn't think anything of it, only that her balance was really not very good.

Then we walked out of the dressing room to her waiting mother. Much to our surprise, the woman was pale-faced and looking very disturbed. "What is it?" I asked. "Did you feel the earthquake?" she said. "WHAT earthquake?" we asked.

Seems there was a mild earthquake a couple of years ago here on the East Coast. But we had been wobbling at the EXACT moment of the quake, and didn't know it!

We all had a delightful laugh about it.

So what's the Life Lesson here? Maybe it's this:

Often, we realize in retrospect that bits and pieces of our days have unexpectedly produced happiness and joy and laughter. And especially when we forget to consciously try to be "happy", which too many people seem to think they must concentrate on.























Sunday, July 31, 2016

UNDER MY SKIN---AARGH EDITION

As I grew older, I often said, "I can either be mellow or bitchy. And mellow doesn't make as many wrinkles."

And so (despite the title of my blog!), I've usually ignored unimportant, minor incidents, let them pass, and stayed on an even keel. But this has been a hot, uncomfortable summer so far, and I've gotten prickly, more aware of small aggravations than I usually am.

So this entry is a catalog of some of the things that have momentarily pissed me off. (Feel free to add some of your own!)

Most of these negative entries can be attributed to immaturity, selfishness, narcissism. We no longer teach people thoughtfulness, courtesy, respect. It's all about "ME"!

I work in a bridal salon. At our department entrance, we always have two sample dresses on mannequins. Prices of those dresses usually range from about $1,500 to $3,000. And every single day, almost everyone who passes thinks it's fine to paw the dresses, to lift the skirts to see what's under them, to let their small kids play hide-and-seek around them. Half the time, the customers aren't really interested in buying a wedding dress. They're just curious. Sometimes they check the price tag (understandable), but then they start grabbing at the dress.

I've never seen people pawing at mannequins in other departments. They usually look at them, maybe check the price tag, then look for the same outfits hanging on hangers. So why do they think it's fine to do it at the bridal salon?

Though I usually politely ask them to move their kids away, thoughtfully warning them that the mannequin could fall and hurt their child, I REALLY want to ask, "Would you go into Tiffany and manhandle a $3,000 piece of jewelry? So why do you think it's OK here?"

Aargh!

And of course the subway, as I go to and from work, is rife with instances that piss me off.  The other day, across from me, there was a young woman sitting with an older woman and a small child, but on the other side of the vertical pole. A rather large (the hell with political correctness, he was FAT!) teenager sat down next to her, sort of squashing her toward the pole. She silently put up with it. But then the kid's friend incredibly sat on the fat kid's lap, further squashing the poor young woman. She endured it for a few minutes, then got up. The friend immediately took her seat, then looked askance at her, as though he wondered why she'd gotten up.

I smiled across the aisle at him (remember always to SMILE when you're telling someone off. They can't easily fight back!), and said, "She got up because you were squashing her. That was incredibly rude of you!" He didn't even flinch, nor did he get up and give her back her seat. Shame on that boy's parents, for producing such a thoughtless little shit!

Aargh!

But why didn't she speak up for herself? That bothers me as much as the rudeness. I've been on elevators where selfish little twits were near the front, busy texting on their iPhones, though there was room toward the back. The door opens, and the new people can't get on, because the iPhone users are too busy to notice and move back. The door closes, without any new people getting on. I don't know what annoys me more---the selfish pricks who couldn't move back, or the spineless wusses who couldn't ask them to move!

Though that can be dangerous, if truth be told! Check out the recent news story of a man in a movie theater who got annoyed at the kid behind him who kept kicking his chair. He complained, and the kid's father pulled a gun on him! But kicking kids are a menace---in theaters, on buses, on airplanes. Since the stupid parents seem unwilling or unable to control their little monsters, maybe there should be public signs in these venues, saying, "Please don't kick the seat in front of you!"  Stupid people sometimes need childish instructions!

Aargh!

And of course iPhones lead me to a more subtle form of rudeness. (I have a particular antipathy toward the gizmos, as you may have noticed. See my very first blog entry, PUT DOWN THE DAMN I-PHONE!) That's the rudeness of people to one another.

I stopped for lunch the other day in my neighborhood. I chose a nice venue. Casual burger joint. You order food, sit at a table and wait until they call you to pick it up.Three men sitting at the table next to me. All three on their devices. Even when they went to get their food and sat down to eat, they still stayed glued to their screens. I wanted to ask why they even bothered to go out together! Self-absorbed, thoughtless "friends"! Why don't they just stay home and text their friends? It's so much easier than having to make a genuine effort to relate to the people around them!

Aargh!

And, back to elevators---people who are so anxious to save a few seconds that, when the doors open on a floor, they immediately press the CLOSE DOOR button. I've seen new riders nearly get squashed as they tried to enter, because the door was closing so soon! And how about the ones who push past the people with baby carriages or invalids in wheelchairs, just to be sure THEY can get on the elevator! Selfish little entitled twits!

Aargh!

Subway again. This afternoon, on the train, the woman next to me was going through her mail. She read the store flyers and theater promotions, the junk mail offerings, etc. She tore things up, seemed to be ripping out her address from all the mailings, etc. I paid little attention to her, but when she got up to leave, I saw that she had left on the seat a large pile of garbage, all her paper discards. Why the hell couldn't she take them with her and find a garbage pail? There are plenty of them in every subway station! She clearly had taken the address labels, which, I'm sure, she intended to throw out later. Thoughtless, lazy creature! (As for her discards, I put them in my tote until I could find the nearest trash can.)

Aargh!

And how about important messages on the subway? How many years will it take for the MTA to figure out that the PA system in the stations is so filled with static and back-echoes that no one can ever clearly hear what is being said? And make an effort to upgrade their equipment? (And train their personnel in how to speak clearly!) As for the messages aboard the train---the guy who comes on the PA system to explain things always sounds as though he's really too uninterested to make much of an effort. He sounds bored, annoyed that someone gave him this chore, indifferent to the riders who are depending on his words. So he speaks softly, far too quickly to catch what he's saying, and in a tone that implies that he would much rather be home watching a ballgame on TV than having to help the subway riders!

Aargh!

Most of these annoyances are associated with work and getting there, which is natural, since most of my interactions with people involve those days when I'm working and going to work.

But lest you think that I condemn mostly customers and USERS of services, I can assure you that GIVERS of services don't score much higher on my thoughtfulness scale! The service industry, in this day and age, mostly sucks! Clerks in stores can barely be bothered to be helpful. And if they manage to make the effort, they act as though they are doing YOU a favor! (I'm old enough to remember when "service" meant SERVICE! My customers always thank me for doing what I'm SUPPOSED to be doing, which always astonishes me.)

Far too many service people seem to hate their jobs, and it shows. (See my old blog entry, PLAY THE GAME OF LIFE WITH THE CARDS YOU'RE DEALT.) They're miserable, so they don't mind sharing their misery. Chatting with one another and ignoring customers, vaguely indicating a direction when someone asks them where to find an item, instead of going there themselves and finding the item, I've been in stores where the clerk was on the phone while he was waiting on me---and unable to answer my questions! And where is a manager in many stores (drugstores especially, as I've noticed), who sees the need to open up more check-out spaces because of the long waiting lines, and actually does so?

And of course the whole subway PA announcement debacle is a classic example of shoddy customer service. As are the grocery store shelf-stockers with their carts of boxes who expect the customer to get out of the way for THEM!

Aargh!

And don't get me started on waiting times in doctors' offices! Do they think THEIR time is more important than ours? And more than once, lately, having waited to see the doctor, I was seen by a physicians' assistant! Is this what I'm paying all my health insurance for?

And a recent aggravation---I was scheduled for a specific exam at a distant health facility. The facility was sending a car to pick me up. (They were paying for the car service.) About a half hour before the car's arrival time, the facility called me to confirm the appointment and tell me that the car would arrive earlier than scheduled. I was fine with this.

I was picked up shortly thereafter. Three-quarters of an hour later, the car having crawled through rush-hour traffic, I arrived at the facility. "Sorry", I was told as I tried to check in. "The machine is down. We'll have to reschedule you."

And they couldn't have told me this when they had called less than an hour before, to confirm a useless appointment? It took ages before they could arrange a return pickup, followed by the long ride home. And half of a precious day off blown to hell! (And they hadn't pre-arranged payment with the driver, so he casually locked me in the car until he got them on the phone and straightened things out!) I guess old ladies look like thieves!

Double Aargh!!

I haven't included any long-ago anecdotes to this entry (which I usually do, since the topics always jog my memory!). So I'll conclude with these two recollections. And maybe if more of us reacted like this, we would get better service!

My father was a very successful businessman. He was also a superb dresser, with every detail just perfect. Custom-made suits, shirts with his monogram on the cuff (long before it was fashionable), accessories just right. And he had a strong presence, which commanded respect from others. But if he didn't get it, he would certainly let them know!

He had walked into a very posh small men's shop in New York, looking for accessories, perhaps. (Don't really know.) Several clerks were chatting together, at some distance. Not one of them made a move toward my father. They smiled at him, said "Yes?" in a questioning tone, but no one moved.

My father smiled back. "Are you busy?" he asked.

"No, sir," said one of them. (Still no movement toward my father.)

"Good!" he exclaimed, and swept his arm across the nearest counter, pushing all its contents to the floor. "Then you can pick this up." He smiled again and stormed out of the store.

The other recollection is a bit more personal. I had gone to a department store to pick up something for my then-husband. I was in the men's department. I started to speak to the clerk in front of me, pointing to the items in the case below. He was suddenly called away to the back. Apologizing profusely, he looked to the end of the counter, where a young man was riffling through some papers on his clipboard.

Bill," he asked, "can you help this customer?"

Bill looked up. "Certainly. May I help you, ma'am?"

I started to point down to the case in front of me. Then I  realized that Bill hadn't moved toward me. On the contrary, after riffling through his papers again, he looked up at me once more, and said, in a rather peeved tone, "May I help you, ma'am?"

I'll be damned!, I thought. I'm the client, he's the salesman. I'm also a woman. He's a gentleman? I'm older than he is! The stuff I want is here! And he can't move his ass to come to ME?

I smiled sweetly.(Remember that!). Then said in a voice that carried to all the other customers in the department, "Certainly, young man---if you're not nailed to the floor!"

He flew to my side, red-faced.

Sometimes it pays to deal with the Aargh! moments with a little backbone.


ADDENDUM:

In all fairness, I have to add this and apologize. Went to my rescheduled lab test this morning. Everyone was wonderful---helpful, efficient, thoughtful. I apologize again and take back my AARGH from the last entry (though maybe not for the driver who insultingly treated me like a potential criminal!).  

















       






















Monday, July 4, 2016

MY HALO IS BIGGER THAN YOUR HALO

Did you ever notice-how noble "causes" are so often passionately promoted by people with no real skin in the game?

I suppose this has always been so, though I don't remember it being so noticeable in my younger days. Perhaps the advent of 24-hour news cycles, Facebook, tweeting, Snapchat, and widespread social networking in general, have given larger platforms to the "Do-Gooders" and revealed more "causes" to be championed and exploited. To make smug sanctimony and show-offishness a virtue instead of an unhealthy preoccupation with oneself.

There's something so self-reverential and narcissistic about it. "Look how wonderful I am!"

And it's not enough to have a "cause." We have to announce our wonderfulness to the world. Flag pins, wristbands, colored ribbons and other assorted paraphernalia. "Save the Whales" bumper stickers. T-shirts with slogans. A well-known (and favorite of mine) political writer has called it "virtue-signalling."

And of course the less the "cause" directly affects the supporter of that cause, the louder the voice proclaiming his/her nobleness!  (I doubt any big-shot is going to install a large swimming pool in his/her backyard for Willie---not this year!)

Oops! When I wrote "swimming pool" above, it unexpectedly triggered a very old memory, putting the lie to my second paragraph.

It probably would have been in the early 1970s or late '60s. My three boys were in the age range of perhaps 8-12, or 7-11. Can't really remember now.

But New York City had decided to start busing kids around in the school system. That meant bringing in a lot of children from troubled city neighborhoods into our relatively stable school district. There had been a lot of problems with busing in other states and communities, and we were uneasy at the prospect. (Not without some foundation in reality. By the time our daughter was in public school, the teachers were locking classroom doors to keep out marauders, and I had to watch my young daughter, very scared, nervously scoot into her classroom and safety. Despite the cost, we were eventually forced to move her into a private school.)

But while implementing the policy was still under discussion in New York, a college classmate of mine invited our entire family to a day at her home in Connecticut. Her husband was quite well-to-do. They lived in a tony neighborhood, with an excellent suburban school. (And if it hadn't been good, they would clearly have been able to transfer their kids to a private school.)

We had lunch first, around the swimming pool, chatting all the while. But when the talk turned to our busing dilemma, our host was filled with righteous anger at our concerns. Clearly we were class snobs, bigots, intolerant elitists, etc. How dare we deny poorer children the rights that our children enjoyed?  Stunned, since we had merely expressed our concerns, not any outright rejection of busing, my husband and I exchanged looks and quickly moved on to other topics.

Then it was time for the kids to swim. (Remember how old my kids were---and obviously sensible.) Our host called over our kids, and in a condescending tone, announced to them that there was a chemical in the pool. If they peed in the pool, it would turn red. Frankly, I was shocked that he would think so little of our children's upbringing or our parenting. Moreover, that he would put the "sanctity" of his damn pool above common politeness to his guests.

I remember thinking at the time, "You son-of-a-bitch. Invite the (lower-class) Boys' Club of Bridgeport to swim in your pool before you lecture US about school busing!"

Of course, if it happened today, I wouldn't just THINK it, I would have said it to his arrogant face! (One of the nice things about getting older. And I HATE wussy older ladies. We've earned the right to say what we're thinking!)

But back to today's Do-Gooders. All too often, they are rich celebrities, politicians, business people, well-compensated Media pundits. Folks who are untouched by the causes they champion. And their degree of positive sanctimony is inversely proportional to the negative effect it has on the lives of people who are directly affected.

The mega-rich tycoon who rants on about open immigration for all,  but is building a six-foot-high wall around one of his properties.

The media, political and celebrity gun-control advocates who don't go anywhere without their coterie of armed bodyguards.

The famous star who is big for Climate Change, but insists that all her various houses be kept at 68 degrees, even when she's not there.

The Climate Change politician who has made a fortune on his cause, but uses more electricity and power for his home than half the people in his state. And travels by private jet, sanctimoniously insisting that he can balance off  his effect on the environment by buying climate offsets.

The politicians who can afford to go to a gym to lose weight, mandating that fast-food places post calorie counts, which will inevitably drive up the prices for people who CAN'T afford to go to gyms, but can only afford to eat fast food.

The politicians who scream about "Soak the rich!", "Let them do their fair share"---noble phrases---all while living off the freebies, trips and perks of their office (paid for by the poor taxpayers!) and angling to get as rich as possible as fast as they can! (Check out how many Senators and Representatives in Congress are millionaires. Doesn't anyone ever wonder how they got there on their modest salaries?) Sometimes I think that the "Soak the rich" rhetoric merely disguises that ugliest of all vices---envy.

The "Rape Justice" crusaders, so enamored of their cause that they can create victims out of questionable reports, and can't even change their tune if the report turns out to be false. (Mattress, anyone?) And the lives they may have ruined? Doesn't affect THEIR lives, so who cares?

Don't be silly! If you are against the cause, you are not only wrong. By today's standards among the elite, you are EVIL!

And that's the other point that bothers me. Today, we can't just have differences of opinion. We must shut down all debate by demonizing those who disagree with us. (Well, it's easier than defending your position with reasoned arguments. And in our adolescent culture, we really don't like thinking hard, more than we have to!) So much easier to shut down your opponent with a patronizing sneer!

Part of this, I'm convinced, is the dumbing-down of Academia. It's all about how we FEEL today, not about how reasonable we are. When I was growing up, the perceived wisdom was: If you're an idealist in your twenties, that's natural. If you're still an idealist in your thirties, you haven't grown up.

Well, half our culture is at that sticking point right now. So professors, who are supposed to teach reason and logic, yammer on about Safe Spaces and Micro-aggressions and "feelings", to protect the semi-babies under their care!

Ugh!

Yes, there was some of it in our day, but not nearly to the extent it is now, as it warps our thinking and our collective maturity today.

This current rant triggered another couple of memories before I sign off.

It involved the new middle school in our suburban New York neighborhood that an elitist architectural critic from a prominent magazine thought was wonderful. At the time, I wrote to him with all the points below---never heard back, nor did my letter appear in the magazine. (Surprise!)

It was during John Lindsay's tenure as mayor of New York City. Our suburban community needed a middle school. The mayor had dumped the city's architects, who had been turning out graceful, functional school prototypes for years---which worked! An early self-righteous "do-gooder" and elitist snob (he created The Big Apple concept, which focused almost exclusively on Manhattan, as though the other boroughs didn't exist), Lindsay hired an independent architect, who basically created a beautiful building. Except that it was suitable for an industrial park in the middle of an open field, and meant to be used by adults, not by kids ages 11-14 or so!

It was built like a dark gray fortress---3 stories, pentagon shape. No accident that the photo in the article was taken from a helicopter---that was the only way you could see the thing whole. You'd only catch gray slab pieces of it as you looked down the nearby streets.

Barely visible narrow slits for windows on the outside, which is where the classrooms were located (the rooms were weirdly trapezoid in shape, given the shape of the building!). Therefore, all classrooms had to be constantly lighted with artificial lighting---not enough daylight could come in through those slits. Teachers soon learned that they had to lock the classroom door. Otherwise, some kid would open the door, turn off the lights, and all hell would break loose in the dark.

However, there WERE windows. It was a hollow pentagon, with a large grassy atrium in the middle. So all the inner walls were floor-to-ceiling windows. Unfortunately, those windows were where the corridors were. It soon became apparent that kids of that age were prone to horsing around as they walked to classes. To prevent someone from being shoved through those wonderful windows, they had to install thick plastic sheets over the glass, which severely curtailed the light and the view of the grassy atrium.


And the atrium? Lovely, with a wrought-iron gate leading from the street to a grassy space with benches, etc. Except that local troublemakers would go in there during off-school hours and have access to the school. Solution? Block the entrance to the atrium, both from the gate on the street and from the inner school doors.

But the mayor or the architect didn't have to send THEIR kids to school there! Form over function, and people with little common sense. Or a sense of being so wonderful and perfect that reality never entered their exalted world!

And finally, perhaps to show that human nature doesn't really change that much, and we have always inclined to demonize our opponents:

At the time of this brief anecdote,  I was still in college. The world was consumed by the Red Scare. The McCarthy hearings, the whole Communist question, etc.  I found it hard to comprehend the whole situation from the comfort of our easy American life in the 1950s. (That is, until I spent two years in Germany a few years later as an Army wife, and learned how precarious was my soldier husband's life if the Russians should invade the West!)

But, young and idealistic and ignorant of reality as I was at the time, I expressed to a dorm-mate that I couldn't believe that ALL the Russians were bad. Instead of having a discussion, she said, with a certain degree of contempt, "My God, Sylvia, are you a Communist?"

And walked away from me, obviously convinced at that moment that HER halo was bigger than MINE!

        
















Sunday, May 29, 2016

SO WHERE THE HELL IS MY ROSE GARDEN?

"It isn't FAIR!"

How often have we heard that whine from our children?

We used to respond with: "Life isn't fair!" or "I never promised you a rose garden."

It seemed an appropriate answer to childish or adolescent complaints. But not any more. We are being destroyed by an adolescent culture, by grown-ups who no longer feel the need to grow up. Who think they are entitled. Therefore the concept of FAIRNESS now rules. Everyone better damn be equal---or else!

I remember when I first became aware of the growing trend for FAIRNESS. In the early 80's, I think. The American Scholar magazine had an article about questionable legislation that had just been passed. Don't know where, at this point; don't know by whom. But the writer's main complaint was that trouble begins when FAIR stops being an adjective and becomes a policy. So someone has to pass a law.

And, too often, that law is based on an anecdote, not on sound law. Someone was denied entrance to a public building? (As a random example). Perhaps because they were intoxicated? Violent? Clearly disturbed and dangerous? Whatever. But they complain. And now a law has to be passed, in the name of FAIRNESS, which forbids anyone, ever, from being denied entrance to any public building. EVER! Drunk, disorderly, menacing? Doesn't matter. It's the law! It's being FAIR. (Or they can sue.We mustn't forget how much the lawyers and their propensity for frivolous lawsuits has affected our culture and made cowards of us all.)

I remember reading that article and sarcastically commenting to my husband  that it wasn't FAIR that I was married and had children and therefore I couldn't ever be in the running for Miss America. I insisted that they should pass a law making discrimination against women like me illegal. Because it wasn't FAIR.

Absurd? Not by today's standards!

Did you know that students at a Midwestern college are demanding that the school erase any grade below a C? It's just too difficult for them, when they take time off from studying to attend protest rallies, and it isn't FAIR that others (who maybe stayed in the dorm and studied?) get better grades!

And did you hear about the school system that is proposing to ban tight pants for the girls because the bigger girls were getting bullied when they wore them? And it isn't FAIR! How about---don't wear tight pants, girls, if they don't suit you? But of course that would put the responsibility on the students to be sensible---and that clearly isn't FAIR!

And how about a study on air rage that found that it increased when passengers had to go through First Class to get to their seats. Obviously, it wasn't FAIR that others got more perks than they did! So they had a right to act out on the flight!

And of course the whole political emphasis on "Income Inequality?" Clearly, that isn't FAIR. Why should Nora Roberts make a fortune on her writing and I don't? And don't use words like "talent" or "luck" to me! In our Brave New World of FAIR, everyone has to be equal. Remember? And so we have to excoriate the fortunate, and insist they share with people less off than they are. Because it isn't FAIR otherwise.

You know what I see when I read about or see these complaints? I see selfishness and envy!

When I was growing up, there were rich people and poor people. Smart people and dumb people. Lucky people and unlucky people. Lazy people and productive people. But we mostly didn't know about them unless they were in our immediate circle of friends and neighbors. So we were content with what we had and with who we were.

Then two things happened. Television and the Victim Culture.

TV showed us people in sitcoms and other family shows who were supposed to be just like us, but who clearly lived better than we did. (And don't forget "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.") And because envy is an ugly vice, we had to turn our vice into a virtue. We weren't complaining for OURSELVES, you understand. We just didn't think it was FAIR that others didn't live as well as the TV people did. Obviously, if they lived better than we did, it wasn't FAIR, and we lowly folk were clearly helpless Victims of some vague "system."

And the concept of Victim-hood was seductive, since it meant that nothing was ever OUR fault.  I remember trying to raise four children in the '60s and '70s, the time of the burgeoning drug culture, Every single show with a troubled youth---detective, comedy, mystery, adventure---always showed that the young person's behavior was not his/her fault. It was always the fault of an abusive parent, a drunken parent, a vicious teacher, a domineering police officer, a nasty neighbor, etc. That made it very difficult to raise kids with a sense of responsibility, a sense that THEY were in charge of their behavior and couldn't blame it on others.

(As a sidebar---all four turned out fine. My husband and I, traveling with the kids asleep in the back of the station-wagon, would turn to each other and say with delight and relief, "Four out of four ain't bad!")

And envy, of course, leads to a sense of entitlement ("You OWE me!"), which turns people inward, which leads to selfishness and narcissism.

Moreover, we can't be judgmental. That implies a ranking---THIS is better than THAT, which destroys the insistence on equality. Which isn't FAIR.

So we're afraid to make rules, to rein in our adolescent spoiled brats; we rush to ease the pain of anyone who claims he is offended by ANYTHING! Because it isn't FAIR that something offends someone!

I nearly spit into my coffee reading an article about a professor who is so obsessed with FAIRNESS that he thinks that parents who read bedtime stories to their kids should feel guilty, because of the children who don't have such thoughtful parents! According to him, they are "UNFAIRLY disadvantaging" others.

(As a sidebar---I;m sorry to say that I think much of the pernicious and destructive thinking among the young people today has been fomented by so-called educators, who are, themselves, only half-grown-up products of the '60s. and '70s)

I touched on this briefly in a follow-up note in my last blog, where I said the following:

I think the real problem began in the seventies, with the "Victim" Movement. Nothing was ever one's fault---there was always someone else to blame. An easy out. And of course being judgmental was a no-no. and from that developed the asinine "self-esteem" movement, spearheaded by the schools. If there was no judgement, and everyone was a victim, then everyone was equal.(Trophies for all? Of course!) And if it took phony self-esteem props to make everyone FEEL equal, so be it.

All in the name of FAIRNESS, or course! Not to mention how self-righteous it is to trumpet FAIRNESS---especially if it doesn't affect YOU directly.

So by all means, let's pass laws charging 5 cents for every plastic shopping bag---doesn't affect the politician who made up the law, only the people managing to scrape by on their meager incomes. And it feels so NOBLE to announce such a law! In FAIRNESS to the environmentalists.

We have become a selfish, envious, adolescent, narcissistic culture. I don't want to get sued. I don't want to look "mean". I don't want to be judgmental. I want praise for my sanctimonious moral stance---my emphasis on FAIRNESS. And, in the name of FAIRNESS, I want MINE!

So where the hell is MY rose garden?