Friday, September 1, 2017

D - GAS Syndrome

Who Suffers from D-G.A.S. Syndrome?  (We all do)

“Well, apparently, we’re both suffering from a deplorable lack of curiosity,” was one of the best lines by Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) in the musical epic, The Sound of Music.  It was an admission of lack of emotional or intellectual engagement that is completely applicable to what happened the other night at the Big Box grocery store where I shop. 

Sometimes life just happens in front of me and I am stunned.  In this case, I deliberately put myself in the check-out line behind the Amish family.  I was observing them and asking the question in my head of whether the Amish I read about in the lovely fictitious novels (which have become my steady diet) are the same ones I see around town.  I wonder if the Amish are as thoughtful and religious as the books portray them to be.  I also wonder if they use deodorant, designer shampoo, and other pleasantries that we all get used to in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.  I wonder if they wear wedding rings.  I wonder if the mother made the little boy’s shirt herself, or if someone else in their community did… and where they get that shade of mint green fabric.  I wonder if the wife is from a different location of Amish communities than the husband … and why his features looked more Germanic than hers did.  She almost had olive skin. Clearly, there are lots of questions crashing around in my head.

I was surprised to see so much “Englischer” food on their part of the conveyor belt:  cereals, snacks, and the like.  For once in my life, MY selection of food looked almost healthy!  I know I didn’t expect fruits and vegetables amongst their groceries because they most likely grown their own.  But the amount of almost junk food was startling.  I thought about my own garden that was almost a 100% flop this year.  If I had to grow my own food, I’d starve for sure and for certain.  I didn’t get the corn in early enough and I think it will be mature, oh, in October shortly before the first frost.  My strawberry plants got moved up to the deck and STILL something with small teeth chomped the berries right off the plants!  I think they left exactly TWO berries for me.  “A fine howdy-do,” from the chipmunks I’m sure.  The bean plants produced exactly three beans and I found them when they were shriveled nearly beyond recognition.  At the time, I pondered declaring the year a “seed-making year” and putting them in a baggie somewhere for next spring.  Instead, I lost my motivation and tossed them on the compost heap.  Yet again my chive crop was crazy and has conquered the entire raised bed.  Ask me how many times I’ve cooked with chives in the past six years.  I actually bought cottage cheese at one point, so to have something to fold the chives into.  Did you know cottage cheese turns pink when it starts going south?  I’ve got a renegade population of mint plants – and a friend at work that keeps telling me how I can “make tea” with them.  I roll my eyes – like I’ve got any time to fool around with making teas.  I’m too busy tearing up the mint plants that are threading root runners everywhere and being a general nuisance. 

Amidst my reverie, the dear Amish woman wrote a check to the store.  And the cashier who was so neutral in her interchange with her customers that I wanted to lean over, grab her wrist, and check her pulse, took the paper check without ceremony, and attempted to feed it into the cash register.  In my brain I thought:  Of course she would pay cash or check, if she had a debit or credit card the Amish lady would be participating in an electronic process which is verboden. (forbidden).  The cashier stood back from the machine and the belt and assumed the position pictured in the dictionary next to the phrase “Irritated Cashier,” as she announced, “we might have to check ID because it’s not taking It.”  I watched the Amish woman not flinch.  I watched the husband strain his eyes a bit wider at the mountain of groceries and products in the cart.  “Was the cool whip melting,” I thought, “and does cool whip ever truly spoil because it is so artificial? Or does it all just morph into that crispy yellow form?”

The tiny lad in his Amish green shirt and adorable smoke grey pants and suspenders did not make a peep.  He seemed totally at home with his little dark, brimmed hat resting on his golden hair.  His bangs rested just a smidge beyond his eyebrows giving his face a demeanor of shyness.  He seemed to hover around his father and the edge of the grocery cart like the hummingbird does near my front porch feeder – lightly and quietly.  Will he always remain this secure amidst the two pillars in his life – Maam and Dat – and expand their curious community among us?  They did not have to warn, throttle, chide, plead, threaten or glare at him the way 85% of parents do at this point in the checkout process.  Did I accidentally cross paths with the Two Most Successful or Perfect Parents on the planet?

Suddenly, even though they seemed to be awaiting a manager, the cashier turned back to the machine and pressed a button or two and muttered something about not supposed to do this herself.  The machine chug-chug-chugged the check through its teeth.  She looked in her dis-interested way at the woman and said, “Need you to sign.”  The woman signed the surface of the check screen with the inkless pen.  Did that count as participating with electronics?  The accepted, tendered, and cancelled check was handed back to the customer.  It struck me as an ironic gesture.  Ie.  1) Customer gives check.  2) Customer faced with check not being accepted.  3) Customer must sign screen.  4)  Check accepted.  5)  Customer gets check back, which is magically worth money no longer.  Off they went with their groceries.  I hope they don’t find this cashier was representative of the Englisch culture.

When they were beyond ear shot, I asked the cashier a question although I already suspected the answer:  Do the cashiers at this store get trained on how to work with the Amish and their special requirements?  “No.”  <insert her blank stare here.>  I continued:  “You know for you to ask for ID is going to be pointless because they don’t have their pictures taken.”  She said, “nah, I don’t know about that.” 

I replied:  “I do.  That’s WHY I’m telling you.”  She said, “well, then how’d she get checks?”  Here’s my surprise answer:  “They walk into the bank.”  She said, “Well, I hardly ever write checks anyways.” (I checked back the response in my sarcastic gut:  I’m sorry, did this conversation just turn to be about you, because that wasn’t where I was fixing to steer it… you typical 20-something.).    I wanted to offer her some more information – but clearly her D-GAS Syndrome was kicking in. 

You wonder what D-GAS Syndrome is.  (Mom, stop reading here.)  It stands for Don’t Give A Shit.  This has over and again characterized “some” members of the 20-30 year old population as of late, and it is getting to be a bit old.  In fact it is downright maddening to me.  They are very poor at customer service (see my previous stories about finding a hair stylist), because for the time when they are required to be about the business of work IT AINT ALL ABOUT THEM.  And that takes them completely out of their comfort zone.  It does not make a cheerful or helpful worker.  It does not make them pleasant human beings to interface with.  It is a drain on the soul of the planet and all its inhabitants.  (well, perhaps I dragged their influence too far.)  But I will tell you, when I find helpful cashiers and attentive waiters I just feel like HUGGING them because they MAKE a difference.  I particularly love the two tech guys that have helped me with my cell phone problems lately.

That cashier probably doesn’t realize that with all those groceries, the couple isn’t going to jump in their own buggy and drive away:  they most likely hired an Englischer driver to bring them to the store in a vehicle because the buggies tend to stay off the streets toward the evening (BECAUSE our drivers are so self-absorbed, we tend to hit them, speed around them, or cause accidents.)  Also, when they go to their own home, they won’t be flipping on a light switch – they will be lighting a gas lamp.  If the air is chilly, they will be lighting a kerosene heater or wood stove.  There are a lot of things we take for granted that make it easy to shop for groceries any time of day or night, whenever we want.  

For the Amish, living independently of the electrical grid and certain luxuries of modern American society, makes daily life take more time and effort.  That may seem like a waste of time to the D-GAS generation as they click away on their cell phones and tablets and ipads, etc.  For all the communication tools that the D-GAS kids have, they are getting a lot less true, heartfelt, and community-building communicating accomplished.  They are often self-absorbed and lonely at the same time.  I wish we could declare a social media time-out day, or even week, to try to save them.  

We don’t have to become Amish to realize the Amish have something figured out that we more regularly struggle with:  building stable, loving human community.  Maybe if we pay more attention in the grocery store to the person in front of us, we learn more than we expected we would.  I-GAS.  Do you?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why Can't the English - Part II.

Why Can’t the English…. ??? – Part II.

We are suffering, as a culture, from little errors in communication all the time.  Some of them don’t matter; some do.  But cumulatively, the little errors are leading us to the deterioration of the language system as a whole.  It works like this:  Every interface is an opportunity for one party to Encode a message, attempting a delivery; and the second party to Decode the message, attempting some sense-making of the words.  Sometimes all it takes is the removal of ONE WORD from the sentence and it changes the meaning.  The new meaning can cause trouble.  The MEDIA in the United States KNOWS this and is capitalizing on this to cause deep turmoil in our culture. 

When we read articles or listen to news pieces, we can miss a critical word, or it can be removed on purpose at the delivery of the message, and there are important ramifications.  For instance, when we are talking about drugs – one word may change the value of the message:  legal.  A legal drug can be a prescribed pharmaceutical substance that can heal someone.  Granted, in the wrong hands it can become illegally used by someone to whom it has not been prescribed… or perhaps worse it could fall in the hands of a child or mentally compromised person and have tragic results.  But the word still matters “legal.”  “Legal” is an important distinction from “illegal,” in a sane world.

Words paint a picture.  The media has been playing a colossal word game, at least since 1973, which is about as far back as I am able to remember.  When the country became divided on the issue of abortion, the media began crafting words to sway public opinion.  “Choice.”  Every American soul rallies to the sense of entitlement to be “master of my own ship, captain of my destiny.”  The word “choice” deeply resonates within us.  But we forget that choices can be morally good, or morally evil.  When my choice eclipses someone else’s choice because they cannot speak for themselves, that is a significant problem and a grave injustice.  When we strip the word “choice” of an adjective that defines the morality of a choice itself, we do no one any favors…. Not the woman who undergoes a mechanical rape, not the child who is removed from the safety of the womb, not the culture amidst a war of words.  Instead of us as an entire culture, striving to support women in making better preliminary choices (ie. chastity outside of marriage), we deify the choice-making machine itself, and the social problem continues.

Here’s another example of the value of one word.  A couple of years ago, I sat in a very important meeting of parish leaders in a community.  I said to them:  “I refuse to teach an irrelevant Catholicism.”  The woman next to me shouted:  “Catholicism is not irrelevant!”  I replied:  “That’s NOT what I said.”  She only heard part of the sentence, where the descriptive article “an” was removed.  She came away with an entirely different message than I delivered to her because her pre-existing bias blocked her ears.  I see the same thing happening in the media today.  I see it primarily on Facebook where people react, react, react.  So much of Facebook users’ weighing-in on political news-pieces is a reaction.  We lack the intellectual thoughtfulness to craft a better response when we let the knee-jerk typing take over.  I know.  I’ve done it myself a couple of times.  Then you ask yourself, “at the end of the day, did I share something that really mattered, or did I just vent?” 
I look at how the conversation-based interview shows go on television and I can only tolerate a few minutes.  You can begin with the presumption that, like most everyone else, I am tuning into shows that are of particular interest to ME for some reason… and yet I can hardly tolerate listening to the interface.  How I HATE interruptions!  And yet, most of these talk shows are bantering without allowing one person to fully complete a thought before there is a response. This is just very, very bad communication technique that leads inadvertently (I think) to the wholesale breakdown of communication.  It is how teenagers sometimes deal with parents – the “but’s and the and’s” and the attempting to talk over the adult’s A-to-Z monologue about whatever.  It really terminates any sort of true communication.  I am seeing this more and more in the routine of daily interactions.  It is going to bring us to a very bad place.

You may or may not have heard of St. Thomas Aquinas but I think his method of explaining would be a useful guide to all of us.  I believe he borrowed his technique from St. Albert the Great who was very big into the sciences.  And some may recall how back in our own educational days we learned the scientific method.  You would have a hypothesis, proofs, and conclusion.  Aquinas actually took that and applied it to his theological study.  He began with re-stating the question of his intellectual opponent in a way that led you to conclude he had listened carefully enough to understand it, and therefore he would be able to competently address it.  He then undertook to present logical proofs or statements to either support a position or prove its non-sequitur (“It does not follow” ie.: it’s nonsense).  Think of the possibilities if we took this technique into our classrooms, our business dealings, our marriages, our friendships.  How much conflict could be alleviated!  Yes – it DOES take longer to get to where you are going with this method, but it provides a clarity that we cannot live without.

Back in the 1970’s, the Psychological world was teaching us a method of this in conflict resolution.  Condensed, it goes like this:  Person A says something.  Person B responds:  “What I hear you saying is < and repeats what A said>.”  Then Person A can say, “Yes, that is what I meant” or “No.  Let me re-state that more clearly.”  Nowadays, we just call the person a name or slap on a derisive label and move on.  The lack of respect for both people and the process breaks the whole system of communication itself down.  This has an impact on the wholeness/integrity of culture itself.

Can we afford a society of babbling imbeciles?  Ooh. I’m sorry did I say that too clearly?  Can we afford to keep the divisive rhetoric going, at the expense of PEACE within our culture?  Should we continue to let the Media hold the baton and call the moves for how we relate as a people who live in the Nation with the very greatest opportunities to be excellent in so many ways? 

In the classic movie “My Fair Lady,” Rex Harrison sang a song that encapsulates the importance of the use of good English diction but I would propose that it also relates well to my point on content and culture.
                “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? 
                Norwegians learn Norwegian.  The Greeks learn their Greek.
                Use proper English, and you’re regarded as a freak …
                Oh why can’t the English?!  Why can’t the English?  Why can’t the English
                Set a good example ….”

Yes.  Why can’t the English …. And the Americans as well …


Why Can't the English - Part I.

Why Can’t the English…. ??? – Part I.
Every year communication gets worse.  There is a plethora of words, and yet communication is more scant.  People, if listening at all, are mostly half-listening.  They are simultaneously listening to music in their ear buds, a television blaring in the background, or looking at their cell phone’s screen scrolling absent-mindedly with one finger.  I fully anticipate in the future that we will no longer be able to utilize the index finger for police fingerprints because the unique ridges will be worn off by scrolling on the cell phone and ipad screens.

Even when they really are listening, they aren’t hearing or comprehending.  For that problem, I can make no polite diagnosis.  Here’s the case in point:

My friend and I were haunting the Mall last week to get some hair-related procedures done in the absence of our good friend and hairdresser who is vacationing in China.  This is probably one of the biggest Malls in America; I’m just saying.  We went to no less than FIVE different shops before we found someone who could see us.  This was a “girls’ afternoon out” so, obviously, we wanted to be worked on simultaneously so we could visit and not die of boredom getting our hair done.  The first place we went was booked solid.  The second place we went had only one girl working.  She told us that she was booked for the rest of the afternoon & evening, but the next day had time for walk-in’s.  Really?  And if we walk in seconds after someone else walks in first, then you won’t have time for US as walk-in’s.  (Mensa Conclusion: This is the risk you take when you don’t make appointments in advance:  she loses business that she can’t fit in; meanwhile, I am walking around with roots advertising that I am no longer 28 years old!) 

The third place we went to was a “beauty products” store with a sandwich board in front that listed the prices of their salon services.  I walked up to the girl at the counter who appeared to be dressed for a funeral.  I apologize.  I get distracted with our current fads and styles – back in my day, only farm animals had piercings in their noses.  Blame it on my lack of multi-cultural upbringing, or whatever, but it aint my bag.  I was, nonetheless very polite in my request:  “Hi.  I need a color; and my friend needs a permanent.”  She looks at me with “????” going across her face.  I repeat myself.  She starts to walk away from the cash register, pointing to the products, and is talking to me but not looking at me (and that is ALWAYS bad customer service manners.) “We have boxed color over …” and I feel my midlife angst surge, I make the Time-Out gesture with my hands, and call out:  “Stop.  Right there.  You don’t understand me.  I am asking about your SALON SERVICES.”  Then my friend says over my shoulder, “I need a perm.”  Somehow the word “permanent” did not seem to be the logical rootword of the shorthand “perm,” which is why she wasn’t getting it?  The clerk said very nonchalantly, “oh, yeah, we don’t have anyone working back there now.”  End of vignette.  I walk out raising my eyebrows and shaking my head.  No apology.  No attempt to re-schedule us so they would have future business.  No nothing.  Argh.  The fourth shop was a repeat experience of example #2.

The fifth place was like how many xx’s does it take to screw in a light bulb.  It took three people looking at the appointment book to see if/when they could fit us in.  Then they decided, rather apologetically, “Well, we could take you in 15 minutes.”  They were apologizing for minutes?  Hey, no problem – I feel like I spent hours walking around the mall already.  Then the fun begins.  I step outside to wait in the lobby that has massage chairs.  What the heck, why not?  I will tell you why not:  the inflatable compression on both sides of the calves of my legs scared me more than the automatic blood pressure cuff in the drugstore does.  It KEPT INFLATING.  I yanked my legs out before they were exploded.  The electronic pummeling on my back was so intense, I think I lost weight on the front of my body.  Not to mention it rattled my whole body so bad, it must have been obscene for onlookers to behold.  One minute into this torture, my stylist looks out and calls me inside.  I turn to my friend:  “Take the chair.  It’s got a minute left on it.”  The stylist says, “Oh, we would have waited for you.”  No problem –trust me – I think I am done with those chairs for quite a while.   Two stylists ended up working on my friend and I simultaneously, the pop music bopping in the background.  A Latino man in his late 30’s comes in pushing his mother’s wheelchair.   She transfers to the stylist’s work chair, and he transfers to a nearby chair to wait and scroll the cell phone.  And then it happens:  “Despacito” comes on the radio.  I comment out loud, “Ah, Despacito, it’s been #1 on the pop charts for eleven weeks, easily the new Macarena.  But the lyrics in both are kind of racy.”  And then the Mother and Son began singing:  “Poquito, poquito …. Despacito.”  You think I make this stuff up.  I don’t.  I just smiled to myself and let my Magician keep making the aging-look disappear from my hair.  She did a nice job.  I tipped her fairly.  It ended well…. But it was too much of a communication Odyssey getting there.

Hey, I just want people to LISTEN to each other.  We will get much more accomplished if we pause to absorb the entire picture as someone speaks:  the verbal and the nonverbal both matter in the presentation of data.  This isn’t merely a customer service issue.  This is a whole world issue.  Read on… to the next blog entry… 

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Whole New World

A Whole New World

For a brief moment, I felt an energy go through me like a child who stands at the gates to Disney World for the first time.  I felt joy.  My heart swirled.  I smiled without effort for the first time in a long time.  My mind felt fresh like the way you feel when someone opens a window to let in fresh ocean breezes to a stuffy cottage.  If I had to replicate the scene in a movie, I would have me looking up and around and spinning in a circle.  Wow.  Over 250 cookie jars perfectly aligned on shelves – no dust – arranged in groupings:  polar bears with soda bottles, cottages comprising a village, kittens, designer bears, cartoon characters … the list goes on.  Not only that, the room was knotty pine – and that in itself is glorious to me.

The lady showed me this room of treasures and smiled cheerily, knowing she had found a friend in me.  I understand what it is that makes someone a collector.  For the record:  Collectors are different than hoarders.  Collectors have a purpose – be it having a complete set of something vintage, or gathering to re-sell at a later date, or some such thing – and collectors put order to their treasure trove.  They care for it, keep it orderly and in tip-top shape.  And then eventually they realize when it is time to shift gears and move forward.  It is unfortunate that in our television culture we are so quick to presume that just because a person has more than one of something that he or she is a hoarder.  It just ain’t true.

My friend is a crafter and she has painted and done ceramics, and I’m sure a whole host of other occupations that I am unaware of.  She came to have this collection over time, and then when it was the season for change in her life, she knew that the cookie jars and all the craft supplies would move forward – I assured her that I would buy a few of them as Christmas gifts for children in my life that would enjoy them and take good care of her prizes.  The sentiment seemed to please her.

So I went into the Estate Sale and picked out nine good designs, and one vintage.  (Vintage means it is kind of homely and worth more money than you’d think it would be.)  I thought I was done, because the sellers were in a hurry to close shop at 3pm and they gave me the bum’s rush out the door.  I got home and washed up the jars, setting them to dry on the kitchen table prior to storing them for gift wrapping later.  I made a list of who was going to get which jar, and realized I could do better.  I reached out to the selling company and made an appointment for a second visit.  It was different than the first.

They weren’t watching over my shoulder like the first time because they knew I was a buyer and not a scoper or a thief.  They let me browse.  I had time to think, to inspect, to imagine:  I picked out seven more.  That’s the thing about my personal browsing/buying habits – a smart salesperson will just hand me a box and leave me to my own devices.  The minute someone starts hovering in my zone I get edgy and can’t think straight.  I need my mental space.  I credit this quirk to an artsy, and inexplicable streak of independence in me.  I don’t like working in groups when I do art or planning d├ęcor for my home.  I don’t even want a radio on.  My brain gears shift more smoothly when I am surrounded in a blanket of monastic silence… well, with the exception of the slight “huffs” that dogs sleeping at my feet make. 

So now I have these fun cookie jars and will be packing them into boxes for Christmas presents.  I will be sorry to see them go – like when you meet new friends at a conference on a weekend and you know that most likely you will never see them again:  they are in my life for a brief moment, and then onward they go.  I look forward to seeing the expressions on the faces of the people who will give them their new homes.  In the meantime I have been bitten by a bug that has changed my chemistry:  I believe I am going to get more into estate sales and re-homing items.  I really like it.  I like knowing that someone’s treasures will brighten the day of yet another person.

We may not lay up our treasures on earth where thieves and rust destroys, as the Scripture says, but we can certainly borrow them for a time.  In another passage it says:  “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.”  Well, maybe Heaven has a 24/7/365 yard sale going on – won’t that be fun?!

 The Miss Muffett jar & Sleeping bear jar are both for sale.
Contact me if you are interested.  They are vintage jars.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Hand Me Another Grapefruit

Hand Me Another Grapefruit

To My Friends & Relatives:

When I am old in a nursing home, be sure to bring me fruit.  Bring me a fruit arrangement so that I can snack on it.  I will eat the strawberries, and probably every other pineapple piece and throw the darned cantaloupe pieces on the floor.  Cantaloupe is just filler because the real fruit is too expensive, and someone, somewhere is worried about their Profit Margin.  Then bring a bowl of fruit so I can throw grapefruits at the television… because when you are old, you can do these sorts of things and people will pat your arm and go, “there, there, now why are you doing that?  That’s not nice, to throw grapefruits at the television.”  And I will laugh and say:  “I’ve spent most of my life trying to be nice (with varying results) and now I’m just being honest.  Hand me another *bleeping* grapefruit.  This show is written by idiots who think we are idiots.”

Also, buy me a shirt that says, “Rage against the machine.”  I will wear it when I watch television and the aides are too busy with someone down the hallway to change my channel to something intelligent.  I’ve spent my whole life reading intelligent or entertaining and sweet things… because the rule for your mind is the same as for your body:   “you are what you eat.”  And I want to be intelligent, entertaining and sweet (again, with varying results expected relative to circumstances.) 

The worst imprisonment I can imagine is not wearing Depends and eating soft foods.  It is having nothing else to do but watch the Idiot Box for my final days, ad nauseum.  Then, when I show up at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter will be paging through saying, “What the heck happened to you?!  You used to be very engaging.  Most recent entries on your behavior seem to indicate you were a bit testy at the Daisy Hill Home for the Aging and Infirmed.  Did you snap?” 

My reply will be a bit direct, I imagine:  “Just let me in, Pete, you have no IDEA what I’ve been subjected to for the past few years.  If the bane of trash television wasn’t enough, they only brought the Therapy Dogs in to see me once in a blue moon, and I’m utterly deprived of my dog-fix.”  He will look at me sympathetically and say, “Poor dear, come right in.  But wait for two seconds I’ve got to send a bunch of Hollywood writers through Purgatory first, we’ve got to give them time for feeling truly sorry for what they’ve done to the minds of the world.  And I’ve got to send a few Hollywood producers a little further down South to the no-return zone.  They’re inexcusable.  If they produced one more profanity, the Boss would have smote them personally.  Honestly.  And they were so gifted, initially.  Such a pity.”  Then he will add, “Oh, and while you wait, can you feed some of these dogs hanging around the gate, they’ll be coming in right along with you.”

If you are reading my column and are unfamiliar with dry wit & sarcastic humor …. Build a bridge and get over it.  I don’t need counseling for anger issues.  Yet.  I’ve only had television service for a week after a 30 year hiatus.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Very Last Priority: TV

Welcome me into the Third Millenium.  After 30 years, I finally got television- cable service hooked up at my house.  It took them thirty years to come down to a reasonable price.  I will miss the fun I used to have with the Dish TV and Satellite guys at their table displays in the Big Box stores.  When they’d ask me how my cable provider is working for me.  I used to say:  “They’re not because I don’t have cable.  Do the math:  multiply what I’m saving per month, times 12 months, times 30 years.”  Well, it’s not that I saved money; really my budget just re-directed it elsewhere.

I also remember the era of shopping for landline phone service.  Back in the day, we’d switch from AT&T, then to Sprint, then finally to USA Datanet.  And the latter drove my long distance bills right down to a do-able cost.  Ultimately, everyone realized they could do better and now everything is rolled-in or bundled or whatever we are calling that kind of extortion now.  It seemed like only yesterday that my grandmother would say to me, “Call me from College and just reverse the charges.”  This generation would not even know what that language means.

So here I am, probably the last of the dinosaurs to jump on board with television.  Yet after 30 years of not having one I find it very funny that I can’t fit watching programs into my schedule.  I have gotten so used to yard work, reading books, washing dogs, etc. that I might just have to plan when to watch “the tube.” 

My mother asked me the other night how I was enjoying television.  It’s only been activated for one week.  I had managed to see one program.  I winced for most of it.  It was on the network – which shall remain nameless – that is known for programming that casts men in the worst possible light.  I was only watching it because the story line was intriguing to me.  The main character was a woman who found herself in Belgrade as an expert in using computer hacking to the service of Good, when her daughter and friend were kidnapped in a nightclub.  Of course, the intent was that they would be forced into an Off-shore prostitution ring that specialized in providing American girls.  The police chief that offered help was actually covering up for the bad guys, of course.  The renegade private investigator that came to her help enlightened her:  there are two ways to survive in the Force - #1) you turn a blind eye; or #2) you become part of the corruption.  I have to say that although the story line was intriguing, when it was all over I didn’t feel good about men, cops, or Belgrade.  Frankly, in my Real Life, where I lived a week ago before the box got juiced by cables, I liked all three.  I’ve been to Belgrade in 1988 and found the city exciting and welcoming.  I generally think men are decent, with the exception of one or two.  And, I am a shameless supporter of the good men in blue as well.  So, um, yeah, my first foray into the world of the tube wasn’t what it could have been.  It was only loosely connected to my reality.

Saturday night I tried again.  After delivering groceries to two customers in the late morning, and then working in my yard doing what I consider hard labor for about three hours, I thought I could unwind before I crashed.  Nope.  I crashed in the middle of Tom Selleck’s current show.  And if you can fall asleep watching Tom Selleck, you should not be watching television at all, you should be lights-out in your bed with the dogs. 

Last night I thought it would be fun to watch a realtor help a few people who wanted to buy a house at the beach.  At least THAT was something I could relate to quite readily.   When he asked the couple what their budget was, they fidgeted a bit –  the guy squeezed the girl’s hand for assurance – “Oh, say, five hundred twenty five thousand…”  I believe I surprised my dogs with the profanity that came out of my mouth.  It roughly translated to:  “Are you kidding me?”  The only thing Real about that episode was the way the realtor responded:  he went ahead and booked them to look at a house that was TEN GRAND MORE THAN THEIR BUDGET.  That, my friends, is Real Life. 

They walked through the house on the beach and said, “wow, what a view!” followed by, “it’s kind of small, though.”  With 1400 square feet of space that apparently was tall, but not wide, there were no visible closets.  I don’t know what their issue was.  I always look for closets.  I look for a sump pump.  I look for evidence of termites.  I check the color of the water that comes out of the faucets.  And I can absolutely assure you that if I look up and see bamboo paddle fans, I am NOT going to be as excited about it as that guy got.  How weird?! 

Then the realtor took them to look at the house that was a cumbersome fifteen minute drive from the beach.  Really.  And it was in their price range, heaven bless them.  And it was only 4000 square feet.  They had the chance to ask the owner why he was selling and he said he wanted to just take a parcel of the back property and build there for himself.  Right then and there I would have said, NO WAY.  Who would want the pressure of the former owner looking to see if you kept up the shrubs to his specs or stopping by to borrow a cup of sugar so he could see if your furniture came from a designer like his or not?  Look, I forward mail to the people I bought from six years ago and all I can think of when I write their address is, “How the heck did she keep this kitchen floor clean?!  Everything tracks into here” and “They should have put on the disclosure sheet that dusting weekly was necessary, especially after the farms down the street shredded the debris from corn.” 

If anything the couples looking at homes on that program were so far from My Reality, they may as well have been from Mars.  It left me kind of sad.  I don’t want what they have.  I just loved looking at the homes on the beach and am sorry that real estate markets have made it so difficult to own a piece of heaven.  Eh, what can you do? 

Do you wonder what I am watching tonight?  I’ll probably be starring in my own reality show:  Bathing Spaniels and Cutting Hedges.  I cannot tell you which will be more exciting or fulfilling to me.  But I can say that I won’t be falling asleep in the middle of either of those activities.  I wonder when the non-contract runs out in eleven months if I will still keep the cable service, or will I jettison them and go back to crocheting and watching the snow fall?  As they say, “Stay tuned.”


Friday, July 7, 2017

Preach it, Brother!

At first I thought that a radio preacher had taken over the talk radio station I listen to in the morning.  Then I recognized the President’s voice.  I had never heard President Trump like this before and I’ve listened to him a few times in these initial months of his presidency.  But now he was doing something historical – and he was doing it with passion and persuasion with the facts of history in his arsenal of speech-making tools. 

It isn’t the first time I’ve heard a president “go preacher.”  Barack Obama did it in the company of some African American preachers and it was frightening.  It was frightening because he was a man of poise and cultural presence, and tried to put himself in the shoes of preachers who shake, quake, bellow, enunciate, point fingers and sweat profusely.  I watch preachers practically for a living.  And he was as fake as a three dollar bill.  He wasn’t proving he was part of their “culture” because he wasn’t.  They may share a common ethnic heritage, but he didn’t have believability as a preacher.  I couldn’t remember what he said because of the way he was trying to say it.  And as I’ve said to friends on the other side of the political tracks from me, “Don’t tell me he is a great orator, or I will ask you what the content was.”   I found myself asking:  ‘Where’s the beef?’ every time he spoke.

But on this particular morning (6 July 2017), President Trump was giving a presentation in Poland and he was kicking arse.  He had used history and theology to galvanize the opinion of the Poles.  He was reminding them of a history that admittedly they could never forget, and instructing his listeners that were unfamiliar with that significant struggle for freedom.  He was telling the story of how a people hard-working, family-oriented, and faith-filled stood up against an oppressive political system.  I almost drove off the road when he summarized the source of their strength:  their faith.  Since when has a politician ever acknowledged the power of the human spirit as a credible source of motivation? … um, never in the last 54 years that I am aware of. 

He reminded them of that incredible celebration of the Catholic Mass held in Victory Square with Pope John Paul II – “their Polish pope.”  (If you want to melt the hearts of the Poles, just reference their Pope.)  He reminded them of the one cry of the people:  “We want God!”  They did not demand power or prestige from the political system.  They wanted the freedom to be human beings that had a say in their own personal destiny, because it is a God-given right. 

He reminded them of the bloodshed in Warsaw in the 1944 Uprising as Poles sought to hold back the encroaching Nazi-German army.  The people put themselves out there by trying to sandbag against the invaders.  Every time they tried to build up the blockade, snipers would shoot them down.  It was a powerful display of the resilience of the human spirit against the very real physical advancing of hateful ideologies.

He reminded them of the importance of hardworking immigrants coming to a country and the necessity to exclude radicalized terrorism from the gates of any city.  As if he slipped it in, he warned the current country-of-concern (Russia) of parameters.  However, it could be no accident that in a speech to Poland, a nation that had risen from the ashes of persecution and oppression like a glorious Phoenix, he sent a subtle but clear warning to a potentially world-threatening Super Power (Russia). 

He had finally found the balance in presenting a case.  Perhaps President Trump repeated certain words of effect too often for speech critics, and critics will come as sure as the sunset.  Yet he had finally brought forth a connection of the heart by appealing to the human spirit.  He looked at the history of a people and found significant lessons to bring forth.  He tied the issues of the past to the present and he was well received.

Now, to move forward from speech to lived-reality …