An Excellent Memory Is a…Defect?

According to an article I read recently, my excellent memory is not, as one might surmise, the result of careful training and good genes but is, in fact, due to a physical defect. Apparently I am lacking in a specific biochemical which is responsible for sorting and storing memories, relegating recent events to the dusty file cabinets at the back of the brain.  My file drawers hang half-open, it seems, the labeled manila folders within sticking up, where I can “see” many more of them than I should be able to do.

I’ve decided that the information from that article is probably true, for I’ve always had a strange and quirky memory. I can, for instance, recall most of the lines of a ridiculous song which we first graders were taught for a goodbye party, when the Roman Catholic school I attended was saying farewell to one of the parish priests.  “Me and my teddy bear/had no worries had no care/until we discovered Father Sciarria was going away…”  (These aren’t the only lines that I recall, either, but I will not inflict the other trite words on you, the hapless reader.)  I even recall that my mother put a fresh ribbon around the neck of my brother’s carefully refurbished teddy bear for me to carry on this momentous occasion.  Yet a friend who participated with me on that day has no memory of the occurrence, and certainly none of the song.

I also remember squatting with my older brother on the subfloor of the partially-built home my parents were viewing one weekend. My brother and I pushed a knothole out of the wood planks and then dropped nails through the hole to listen for the crash  as they dropped to the concrete of the basement floor below. As to why, in the name of heaven, I recall this, I have no explanation.  I could not have been much above two years old at the time, and it was hardly a stunning or memorable event.  But, there you have it: I remember it, and my brother, three years older than I,  once confirmed the silly recollection.

My fine memory has served me well on many occasions. The ability to recall minute details of specific events and conversations has saved me from many a misunderstanding, made my job easier, or made it possible for me to solve difficult problems.  And I have learned that to recall a joyful incident can be, for just an instant, to live once more in that moment of elation. But, in the converse, being able to recall, in tortuous detail, painful past events is in no way a blessing.  If recalling joy is to rediscover it, then a thorough memory of agonizing occurrences is to fully relive the anguish.

I’ve read, too, that each time we remember an event, we are actually remembering that we remember it.  The memory is, in essence, a watery, beaten carbon copy, growing more mangled and less precise with each repetition.  This causes me to wonder if the details that I recall—such as that fresh ribbon on the neck of the teddy bear—did, in fact, happen. It’s the sort of conundrum which makes eye witness accounts (as so many police departments and courts have learned to their dismay) totally unreliable.  What a witness remembers, may, in fact, not be borne out by the simple expedient of today’s everywhere-present videos.  People remember things oddly, or incorrectly, or that never even happened.

But the simple truth remains: if I remember the occurrence or event—if I recall it, and experience all the emotions surrounding it—then it is real to me. Whether or not I have added or lost specific details—whether or not I recall things precisely as they happened—they exist for me in the reality of my mind.

So I would not, not for any reason, and certainly not to be spared pain, give up one iota of my crazy, quirky, detailed memory. Not one sunset, not one touch of my daughter’s hand, not one friend’s face, nor one moment of awe or surprise or elation or even just simple, everyday life from my earliest childhood to this present moment.

It would seem that I’m not defective in that I have too little of whatever brain biochemical should relegate my sharp memories to the dusty file bins at the back of my brain. Indeed, it seems to me that those who have the “normal” amount of that compound must have far too much of it—and lose so much thereby.

 

 

One of the 7 Percent

I am not on Facebook.

I do not now have, nor ever have had, a Facebook page.

To many people, this is absolutely unfathomable. I have, when stating this fact,  received skeptical looks and even the snarky response, “Everybody is on Facebook!”  To which I respond with a shrug, and the reply, “I guess I’m nobody, then.”  Once, in response to the snotty-voiced remark, “You HAVE to be on Facebook”, my own retort was just a tad snarky: “Ex-cuuuuuse me! I fail to remember that line in the Constitution of the United States which states, ‘Every citizen will be required to have a Facebook page!”

If questioned more politely regarding my decision to eschew Facebook, I simply explain that I had a very bad experience with its predecessor, MySpace, and nothing that I have ever read or learned since regarding Facebook nor its originator, Mr. Zuckerberg, has made me lean toward establishing a Facebook account—especially all the most recent revelations regarding the misuse of user data and egregious violations of privacy.

Leaving entirely aside Facebook’s so-called privacy policy (longer than the aforesaid Constitution of the United States, but obviously not working even half so well), there is the memory of a young Mr. Zuckerberg referring to his customers as, “Dumb F***s”. And though he now claims to have matured beyond such belittling remarks, the recollection of the event does not endear him nor his platform to me.  Then there was the $68 million lawsuit payoff to the Winkelvoss brothers and Divya Narendra for what they claimed was intellectual property theft. Again, this fact does not encourage me to use Facebook.

But, if anything were to convince me to remain one of the anonymous 7 Percent—the Non-Facebook People of the world—it would be the laundry list of promised “I’ll get back to you on that” statements that Mark Zuckerberg made to Congress in the hearings held during the spring of 2018.  I understand that the New York Times noted 24 times–24!–in which Facebook’s originator replied to members of Congress with a remark along the lines of, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”  Some of those questions were extremely serious matters, such as how Facebook handles law enforcement requests, data tracking of minors even when they have logged off, investigation of unauthorized data access, and (most upsetting to me) data points on non-Facebook users.

Of course, I’m pretty certain I know how this works. Much like the biennial reports on vaccine safety that the pharmaceutical industry was supposed to have been producing and submitting to Congress since 1986 (a Freedom of Information lawsuit proved that not one—not even one!–such report had ever been produced, and no one has ever been held accountable for that failure), it’s highly doubtful that any of Facebook’s promised responses to Congressional questions will ever be submitted.  The smoke from this particular fire has dispersed and dimmed, and the public and their representatives have moved on to other, more enticing, matters.

A young acquaintance’s husband explained to me that he established a Facebook page solely for the purpose of looking at photos that friends post. He posts nothing himself, he explained; he makes no status updates; he accepts no friend requests other than his genuine personal friends;  he does nothing but look at family photos.  And considering my actual real-life status as a new grandmother, I’ve considered his viewpoint—especially after learning of  the collection of data on non-Facebook users, and thoroughly considering the general lack of privacy in any form in today’s society.  After all, I tell myself, I broadcast opinions and ideas and thoughts on this blog every week.  So perhaps I should, after all, create a Facebook page….

Nah.

Controlling the Rainbow

(This post was originally published on December 4, 2017, and is now rededicated to Amanda and John. Happy First Wedding Anniversary, my dearest children!  What an eventful year!  And, yes, little Morrigan Lynn, our magnificent miracle–yes, someday you will be a young girl counting on your fingers…but I assure you, your birth was a full ten and one-half months after your parents’ wedding day!)

There was a rainbow on my daughter’s wedding day.

As omens go, that’s hard to beat.

Neither she nor I actually witnessed this phenomenon, but were told about it afterwards by the relatives, smokers all, who had stepped outside to indulge their nicotine habit.

I’d been praying for days—weeks!—for lovely weather to grace the outdoor wedding ceremony of my only daughter. The venue she’d chosen had an excellent hall, and we knew that, if the weather didn’t cooperate, the ceremony could be moved indoors.  But she wanted an outdoor ceremony—wanted it desperately.

And things weren’t looking good.

I began scouring the weather reports two full weeks in advance of the ceremony, constantly checking on my phone, Kindle and computer, comparing predictions that somehow never quite seemed to mesh except for one thing: rain, rain, and more rain. I continually reminded myself that “weather forecaster” is the only job where one can be wrong 95% of the time and still remain employed, but that wasn’t convincing me. So I decided the best thing to do was gather all of my friends and family and issue a request (command!) for prayer.  Prayer and petitions to whatever deity, saint, deva or nature spirit they believed in.  If they didn’t have a favorite divinity, I supplied them with options, using my favorite search engine (NOT Google, but that’s  subject for another blog post).  I tracked down the names and antecedents of every saint, goddess, god or nature spirit said to have authority over the weather.  And there were a bundle of ‘em.

And so the prayers and petitions and appeals and entreaties went up from a dozen hearts and lips. But the weather forecast remained unswerving.  Rain.

However, the forecast began to alter slightly, from rain all day to “rain in the afternoon”. Raindrops, just wait until after 4:00 p.m., I prayed.  That would get us safely through the ceremony and all decamped to the reception hall.

Smaller Walking Up Aisle
Her Dad and I walking our daughter up the aisle at her outdoor wedding, October 7, 2017.

And, in the end, that is exactly what the deities, gods, goddesses, saints, devas, divinities and nature spirits (most likely, heartily sick of hearing so many desperate petitions) provided: The perfect early fall day. A temperature that rose to no more than 80, a light breeze lifting the brilliant leaves of the trees, and fluffy white cumulous clouds cruising through a blue sky…all of it lasting until just that last shutter click as the final formal portraits were taken.  Just at 4:00 p.m., a dark thundercloud rolled over to obscure the sun, and we all made tracks for the reception hall and food, music, drinks, dancing, cake and joy.

And, at some point during the proceedings, a rainbow.

And that was the one thing I’d forgotten about in my desperate need to control every last detail and thereby provide my daughter the perfect wedding day: the possibility of a beauty even greater than clear, warm weather. A rainbow.  The ultimate promise.

Let go and let God. I’m a great proponent of that saying…in theory.  Practice is an entirely different matter.  However, my daughter’s wedding day was a firm reminder to me of that concept.  Another was taught to me by a Hindu friend, who explained that rain on one’s wedding day is considered “a blessing of water”.  Sunshine, warm breezes, trees clothed brilliantly in green and gold and ruby, rain and a rainbow. Every possible good luck omen.  My daughter and new son-in-law got it all—more likely in spite of, rather than because of, all my desperate pleas to the heavens.

Now, though, laughingly thinking of omens, I’m forced to remember my own wedding day to her father, right here in my home state.  Omens indeed!

Indiana had an earthquake.

Handshake, Schmandshake!

I’ve never quite gotten the point of the whole “a firm handshake” deal. Judging a person in this manner has always seemed to me like two little boys playing at arm wrestling.  Who cares whether one’s touch is quote-firm-unquote?  I personally suspect that the whole firm handshake concept (which for decades was an exclusively male prerogative) was just something devised in a homophobic era by men who felt a light touch also indicated someone who was “light in the loafers”.

As a young girl in parochial school, occasionally being taught lessons in etiquette (something which, by the way, I would highly recommend be added to the curriculum of every school today), I was instructed that a man did not reach to shake a woman’s hand unless she first extended her own hand.  This etiquette lesson has gone the way of the dodo, but I preferred it.  I dislike touching or being touched by complete strangers.  No, that’s wrong – I despise touching or being touched by complete strangers.  It feels invasive of my personal space, and it takes away my sense of control about a situation – my right to decide whether or not to be handled.  I wasn’t raised in the “good touch, bad touch” era, but not having the right to decide if I want to grasp the hand of a totally unfamiliar person has always felt “bad touch” to me.  After all, how do I know where that hand’s just been?  Is this a person who doesn’t wash after using the bathroom?  What if they have a cold or the flu? Blech.

For that reason, I’ve devised many a trick to avoid shaking hands. My favorite, when I can do it, is to sneeze.  Since allergies are my constant companions, this often isn’t difficult.  And turning aside to sneeze, carefully covering one’s face with one’s hand, is a wonderfully self-deprecating, “Ohmigosh, I can’t believe that happened, let me get a tissue,” moment.

If I’m unable to rustle up a realistic sneeze, I cough. Coughing is much easier, and it still requires turning away and covering one’s face with one’s hand, thereby making it unlikely anyone is going to immediately grasp that hand.  Both coughing and sneezing can include simple explanation and apology: “Sorry, I’m afraid I have a bit of cold; I certainly don’t want to pass it on to you!”, or, “So sorry; the ragweed is in full bloom, and I’m afraid I’m very allergic!”  All said, of course, with an apologetic smile, sometimes while dashing hand sanitizer over one’s palms – no one wants to shake hands with a glob of alcohol gel.

Actually, I rather enjoyed the terrible flu season of 2009, when experts were recommending that the handshake be foregone in favor of the fist bump. No one can judge the fleeting gesture of the fist bump, and the touch is so brief that it doesn’t feel invasive.  I only wish the fist bump recommendation was in place every flu season.

I might be happier, though, in a culture in which the bow was the gesture of choice for meeting. Besides being a refined and classic gesture, in those cultures in which people bow rather than shake hands, it’s possible, by the depth of one’s bow, to indicate anything from real pleasure in meeting to total rejection and insult.  Now there’s a custom I can appreciate!

But I am most taken with the classically graceful “Namaste” gesture, in which the head is bowed slightly over one’s steepled hands as the word is spoken. “I bow to the Divine within you,” the word and movement say, acknowledging the totality of the person standing before one, recognizing that they are both body and spirit, whole and perfect and complete.

Handshake, schmandshake. One should be judged by one’s stance (confident and self-assured?  Slouching, unable to meet the other’s eyes?) one’s smile (genuine or nervous?) and general neatness.  All the rest – clothing, accent, makeup, hair, and touch – are just window dressing.  In the long run, the immediate judgment we make of another is just that: a snap judgment.  Stop worrying about their handshake and take the time to know the individual.

Studying Geography

In the long-ago era during which I attended elementary school, the study of geography began in the fourth grade. To this day I recall some of what I learned that year, for the wide, fat textbook that we were given was filled not just with photographs but with stories—stories of the people, mostly family units, each in a different country of the world.  The tales described their holidays and customs, the foods they ate and the clothing they wore, how they attended school and worshipped, the strange animals that inhabited their countries and were kept as farm animals or pets, and even a touch of the history of their home territories.  I especially recall my awe in learning of those countries where the sun disappeared for months at a time, swathing the land in darkness, and the joy felt by the inhabitants when the light finally returned.

I absolutely loved it. Geography—how marvelous! I had never heard the song “Far Away Places”, but now I thrilled to them: far away places with strange-sounding names.  There was even a tactile element to studying geography, I found, for one of the globes that we were shown was three-dimensional, with mountain ranges one could touch, and oceans that were delineated with swells and currents.  I was enthralled and fascinated.

When fifth grade began, I couldn’t wait to see what we would learn in Geography class. I remember the anticipation as I opened the book and turned the first few pages of my new geography text.

And then the world, quite literally, crashed down about my ears. I found it hard to believe what I was seeing.  Instead of stories, tales of other lands that drew me in and caught my fascinated attention, there was a dry tome filled with information on imports and exports, language spoken, past rulers and present political tensions, oil and mineral reserves and rights….

I had never been so disappointed in my life. From that point on, I had no interest whatever in geography.  Oh, I studied it well enough; I was a decent student, and I memorized enough information to pass tests, putting forth the minimum of effort to keep a passing grade.  But I never again cared.  For me, the heart, the soul, of my geography lessons had been stolen.  Everything that made learning about the world fascinating—the people, the animals, the customs and foods and clothing and history—all of that had been taken from me, and with it, my curiosity and interest.

With all that we are now learning about the human brain, about its growth and function and development, I look back on my geography lessons and ponder why it should be that we haven’t yet figured out that all brains aren’t meant to learn the same things in the same way. Children are still taught in the manner of the 15 and 1600’s: sitting in rows, obedient (or not) to an authority figure, memorizing for just long enough to pass a quiz, or a test, or a state-sponsored exam.  Wonder, curiosity, creativity are rarely encouraged—are the exception, rather than the norm.

I recall virtually nothing of my geography lessons from the fifth grade onward; become confused, as an adult, as to the placement of countries on a map or a globe.  Yet I can still recall the cultural lore of a half-dozen lands that I absorbed in delight at the age of nine. Are there others of my long-ago classmates who learned nothing of the world during that first year of Geography class, but for whom the following lessons remain clearly embedded in their memories?  And why can we, progressive and innovative, not learn to teach each child in the manner best suited to her or his abilities?

Now, decades later, even the names of many of the countries I once studied are non-existent. Czechoslovakia, Burma, Siam—gone.  Transmuted. Erased from all but history.  The Earth turned on its axis, and those countries, those cultures, disappeared.

But not my memories of everything I learned in that first, delightful year of studying Geography.

Conspiracy Theories

I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories. I find them absolutely fascinating. Not that I am usually persuaded to believe them, but I am completely captivated by the sheer insane dedication to an idea and the endless amount of effort put into creating these wacko scenarios: NASA faked the moon landings.  The Grassy Knoll. (I’ve seen that one worked all the way back to the Prophecies of Nostradamus.)  The Philadelphia Experiment. Paul is dead. (How many people totally screwed up their treasured Beetle’s albums trying to prove THAT one?!)

What I find most intriguing about conspiracy theories is that there is almost certainly a germ of truth hidden somewhere in the midst of the often confusing, usually contradictory web of explanations. The strands of accurate, verifiable fact,  of possibility and probability, and of total misinformation are woven into a whole that veers about 90 degrees north of reality.

And yet… Governments, including the government of the United States, have and do consistently lie, cheat, steal and intentionally harm their own citizenry, often labelling as Top Secret what should have been fully disseminated.  Frequently this is done under the guise of “scientific research”.  Doubt it?  Read about the release of Top Secret documents (following a 1993 story broken by journalist Eilene Welsome, who later won the Pulitzer Prize) detailing the radiation experiments which America performed, without consent, on its own citizenry during the Cold War years from 1944 to 1974.  It’s really not so great a leap from those verified atrocities to “SARS and H1N1 were created as bioterrorism weapons”.

Perhaps the conspiracy theories which most intrigue me are woven about the dreadful morning of 9/11. I’ve read the contradictory accounts of survivors and the statements of witnesses who claimed their lives were threatened if they revealed what they had really seen.  I’ve watched video of experts tracing the path of the jets and proclaiming that events simply could not have happened as they were supposed to have done.  I’ve seen the videos of British announcers broadcasting the bizarre collapse of the untouched Building 7 before it happened.  I’ve listened to architects and engineers question why no forensic evidence was gathered–standard practice at the site of any disaster, yet one which was totally disregarded in this, the face of ultimate disaster–and heard these experts  state unequivocally that the Trade Center buildings imploded in a planned detonation.

And I might have just savored the conjecture and speculation and then dismissed all of it, as I usually dismiss conspiracy theories, but for one thing.

On the afternoon of 9/11, arriving home to find my daughter and her friend sitting in front of the TV, weeping, I heard the commentator discussing the President’s whereabouts. As I listened, he explained that President Bush had been at an elementary school, reading to a group of 7-year-olds, when the attacks happened. And I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s surreal.  That’s like something right out of a Hollywood script!”

Years later, reading the 9/11 conspiracy theories, I suddenly recalled my reaction as I learned of the President’s whereabouts at that fateful hour.

And I wondered.

Nigerian Princes and Dingbats

I was once acquainted with a woman who, although not unintelligent, was somehow still not the brightest bulb in the shed. It was not just that she was lacking in common sense, although that comprised a great deal of the problem; tact was also absent in her makeup, as were diplomacy, tolerance, and objectivity.  Most of the time, though, she simply failed to use the completely adequate brain God had put in her head.  “Dingbat” was probably the most courteous description of the lady, whom we shall, for the purposes of this essay, call “Lorene”.  I added a number of other, less-complimentary labels to my assessment of her character before I finally stopped associating with her, but the Dingbat label still stands out.

Lorene had an on-going feud with her step-daughter, of which she complained bitterly and at great length whenever we were together. I personally witnessed the interaction between the two of them just one time, when invited to a backyard barbecue.  Her step-daughter leaned down, smiling, to Lorene, who was sitting on the back porch steps, to offer her an appetizer from the tray she had carried out.  The look Lorene gave her would have melted steel. The step-daughter quickly lifted the tray out of range and stepped back.  A few days later, I mentioned my perspective on this interaction to Lorene, suggesting gently that she might possibly be contributing to their on-going misunderstanding.  Lorene was genuinely confused.  She hadn’t said anything nasty to her step-daughter, she protested.

After having gotten to know Lorene better, though, I came to realize that the real fault she found with her step-daughter was the fact that the young woman was in an interracial marriage. Lorene was a closet racist, but her mask of “good manners about black people” slipped askew on more than one occasion.  Perhaps the worst of these was when Lorene became the victim of a purse snatching in a mall parking lot.  Her attacker had been black; the detective sent to the site to interview her was African American, also.  As the detective probed for any information Lorene could provide him about the appearance of the mugger, she exclaimed vehemently, “I don’t know what he looked like!  You people all look alike to me!”

When she recounted this conversation to me, I nearly had a stroke. “Lorene, you didn’t!” I exclaimed, and she looked at me in total bewilderment.  After all, she explained, she was merely stating the truth.  Why on earth would the detective get upset at that?

Associating with Lorene, I learned, required frequent infusions of headache tablets.

But never was the Dingbat label more justifiably hung upon Lorene’s brow than when she was taken in by an e-mail scam. This was during the “Nigerian Prince” era of email scams, and one would think that nobody, nobody at all, could have been stupid enough to fall for those badly-written, misspelled missives that circulated so endlessly. One would think…unless one knew Lorene.

One afternoon Lorene proudly told me that she was assisting a woman in a third-world nation to escape a brutal husband. She’d received an e-mail from an overseas support network for just such women, and of course, she’d immediately responded.  They’d asked her to set up an account under her own name, with money they would wire to her.  When the brutalized spouse arrived in the U.S., she would be directed to Lorene, who would then turn over the account to her so that she could have a fresh start .

The whole “massive stroke/fatal heart attack” scenario flitted once more through my body as I choked out the information that, “For God’s sake, Lorene! This is either a terrorist organization or  money laundering scheme!  And soon they’ll have ALL your personal information! They can steal your identity! They can take everything you have!”  As I spun all the other likely consequences of her actions, Lorene’s face went from disbelief to bewilderment to, finally, dismay.

I quickly located a number for a federal agency to which Lorene could report the scam. But now Dingbat was too frightened to take action, so I suggested she tell her husband what she’d done and let him contact the feds.

Accustomed to his wife’s vagaries, her husband thought the whole affair was hugely hilarious. He did, however, contact the reporting agency, who managed to get the account shut down and somehow protect Lorene from identity theft.

These days I think of Lorene each time I read of the newest, more sophisticated way that scammers have developed to separate people from their money. I wonder if she’s ever wired money to a grandchild stranded in another country, or if she’s answered, “Yes, I can hear you” to the unknown caller, or allowed a “Microsoft Representative” to remote into her computer to “remove a worldwide virus”.

If it happened to anyone, I’m sure it happened to Lorene.

Dying to be Seen

I’m told by a friend’s adult son that I (a lot like my current computer) am now a veritable dinosaur, since I embarrassingly expect store clerks or salespeople to be knowledgeable about the products they sell and to attend me when I come to shop in their stores. He patiently explained that “good customers” are expected to do their research on-line first  and then come in knowing exactly what model and brand of merchandise they need, from computers to cars, as well as the price they should expect to pay.  The salespeople, he said, are only there to direct customers and ring up purchases; they aren’t required to have any knowledge of the merchandise.

I found his remarks both dismaying and shocking, yet I couldn’t quite argue. The dictum “the customer is always right” has swung like a pendulum to the far side of the metronome of commerce. And in recent years I’ve experienced exactly the scenario the young man so patiently explained.

Perhaps six years ago, I ventured into one of the big electronics stores to buy a new computer—the very laptop, in fact, on which I am typing this post. And, yes, I had done my research beforehand, and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Speed was not really a consideration for me, as I do not game.  I wanted a full-size keyboard.  My vision is poor, so I preferred a large screen.  But, as I use a computer only for word processing, spreadsheets, reading the news and watching an occasional fluffy-kitten-or-cute-dog video, I really didn’t need anything fancy. Still, I came to the world of computers via typewriters both manual and electric; my understanding of technology is limited. I preferred not to buy a laptop on-line, without first seeing the darned thing and then talking to a living, breathing, knowledgeable human being.

And so, the big box computer store. It was a Friday night, and extremely busy, but eventually I snagged an unoccupied clerk, a young man probably in his 20s, and explained the features I wanted in a new laptop.  He listened impatiently, and then, walking away from me, said, “We don’t have anything like that.”

I probably stood with my jaw hanging open for a full 30 seconds before intentionally closing my mouth and storming out of the store.

In essence, I understood what had just happened. I was obviously not a person highly knowledgeable about technology—not a nerd, a geek—and the young clerk would have been forced to take the time to provide explanations on the features of any computer he recommended.  I was a middle-aged woman, not a hot young chick, so there was no visual compensation for the time he would have to take with me.  I had not mentioned how much money I was prepared to spend, so if he was working on commission, that factor was uncertain.

I was simply not worth the young clerk’s time.

And yet…eventually that evening I landed at another store, where another clerk, just as young but far better trained (or perhaps just in need of that commission), took a great deal of time with me as together we chose just the right laptop for my needs—along with a lot of minor paraphernalia, including case, mouse, surge protector, and software. With an additional fee added for sparing me the trouble of loading programs onto the computer, I went far over my budget, but the young man even downloaded a free antivirus program and presented me with a fully-working, excellent computer.  And though it is now as venerable a dinosaur as myself, I continue to use it.

But I’ve encountered this same experience more times than I care to count in recent years, especially in one large chain hardware store–one which I now refuse to enter, even though it’s conveniently located to my home. As I complained to the manager there after an especially egregious event, I felt that I could have died in the aisle and not even been noticed until the janitors came in that night to sweep my cold, dead body out of the store. (Happily, I will note that I’ve become a customer of a different hardware chain, one where customers are still noticed as well as valued and appreciated.)

Attitudes change. Despite the once-popular slogan, the customer was not always right, not by a longshot.  But it is also true that the customer deserves to be treated with at least a modicum of attention, courtesy, and respect, and to be tended to by salespeople who are at least minimally knowledgeable about the products they are expected to vend.

And no one, middle-aged or otherwise, should have to die merely to be seen.

WE Are NOT Pregnant!

I just heard, for the umpteenth time, the statement, “We’re pregnant!” I gnashed my teeth.  I wanted to scream.

WE are not pregnant. SHE is pregnant. HE is expecting.  THEY are going to have a baby.  She is a pregnant mother-to-be.  He is an expectant father.

I am reminded of an old episode of Bewitched—the one in which Darrin claimed to know everything Samantha was experiencing in her first pregnancy.  Endora took great offense to his remark (well, when didn’t she take great offense to anything Darrin said?) and decided to place a spell on him so that he would, actually, physically, experience what Samantha was going through.

I think of that episode every time I hear the misbegotten phrase, “We’re pregnant”, and heartily wish that there existed an army of Endoras with no job except that of zapping fathers-to-be with just such a spell.

If “we” are pregnant, then how come he’s not losing his figure? Being awakened throughout the night by a kicking fetus? Why is he not throwing up? Why is he not having to purchase a new wardrobe to accommodate his swelling abdomen?  Why are his feet not swelling to three times their former size (and, by the way, never quite returning to their pre-pregnancy proportions, necessitating a farewell to many a beloved pair of shoes).  Why are his back and pelvis not in agony as they struggle to carry the extra 40 or so pounds packed onto his abdomen?  Why is he not spending hours in painful labor, or having a doctor’s whole hand shoved up his inner parts to check dilation?

While I understand the concept of wanting one’s partner to share in the wondrous creation of a new human life which is occurring, to be appreciated for a (minor) role in having begun that new life, the whole phrase, “We are pregnant” seems to me just one more instance of males trying to lay unwonted claim to a whole lot more than their fair share. Already, most women still relinquish their names (and therefore a personal part of their identity) upon marriage.  Their children, even their female children, generally bear the last name of their presumed male parent.  (And, let’s talk turkey here: Guys, short of a DNA test, you are always the presumed male parent.)

But, for the love of heaven, do men also have to lay claim to pregnancy, too? And, if they do, should they not have to actually experience labor and birth?  Should some tech wiz female not be inventing a sci-fi apparatus that would allow a “We’re pregnant” partner to share in each and every labor pain for eight or ten or twenty hours?  To know the exquisitely unpleasant experience of pushing an object the size of a football out of an opening the size of a golf ball?  Or perhaps males should be hooked up to that machine following an emergency C-section, so that they know what it is to have been sliced and diced, had multiple organs moved out of the way, and then to be unable to fold in the middle: to have to clamber out of bed by rolling off the side, kneeling and then pushing oneself up by elbows on the mattress, only to attempt caring for a sobbing, soggy newborn after stumbling through the house with a gaping wound from hip to hip.

No, no matter how popular and fashionable the phrase, I simply cannot reconcile myself to ridiculous statement, “We are pregnant”, for “we” are not. She is a pregnant woman, a mother-to-be, someone undergoing the rigors of creating a new human life.  He may, perhaps, be a supportive husband or partner, but he is not physically pregnant. Like clueless Darrin, he is physically incapable of understanding her experience. He is an expectant father.  And that’s simply all there is to it.

Pennies, Headlights and Bubonic Plague

When I was a child playing Ring Around the Rosie, we always chanted the final line as, “One Two Three, we all fall down!” It wasn’t many years later that I learned different versions of that final line: “Ashes, ashes” , or “A tissue!  A tissue!”  By that time, I’d also discovered the macabre origins of the game as a reference to bubonic plague, so I tend to think of the “one two three” of my own childhood game a sort of cultural evolution.

That was my introduction into the way common sayings transform as the generations pass. Another of these is found pennies.  I remember once finding a penny and hearing for the first time that my penny wasn’t lucky because I’d found it face down.  I looked at the companion who’d told me this and said, “Huh?”  She, younger than I, repeated that my penny wasn’t lucky because I’d found it lying face down.  I looked at her and chanted: “See a penny pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck; see a penny, leave it lie and you’ll have bad luck by and by.”  My friend’s expression was just as “Huh?” as mine had been; she’d never before heard that rhyme.  The lucky penny tale that she had grown up with said that, to be lucky, a penny must be found face up, and then put in her right shoe.  (Why a penny in one’s shoe should be particularly lucky I’ve never quite figured out; it always just sounds uncomfortable to me.)  However, she was pleased with my version of lucky pennies —  they’re all pennies from heaven, no matter how you find them – and asked me to repeat the rhyme so she wouldn’t forget it.

That made me think of the bridal rhyme: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” That was all I had learned, yet my mother’s version had included a final line saying, “…and a penny in your shoe.”  (Again, uncomfortable!)  Another friend was from Britain; her version of the bridal rhyme stated, “…and a sixpence in your shoe”.  (Ouch again.)  Well, I’d had the penny and she the sixpence, and for neither of us, we concluded, did the charm bring any luck to our disastrous marriages.

Other cultural transformations, though, are less benign than children’s rhymes. To me the most frightening metamorphosis of all is the alteration, still unknown to so many older people, in what is meant when the car driving behind them quickly flashes its headlights.  To contemporary drivers, that gesture indicates the demand, “ You are driving too slowly. Get out of my way.  Pull over.  Pull into another lane.”

To an older generation, however, the quick blink of headlights behind them has always meant, “I’m going to pass you; don’t speed up.”   Actually, we were specifically taught that information in my Driver’s Education classes, lo! those many years ago.  If the car following us blinked its headlights, we were to lift our foot from the accelerator to slow our own vehicle ever so slightly, allowing the over-eager car pass us.  Today, though, that misunderstood courtesy of marginally slowing down so that the other car can pass simply infuriates young drivers.  It’s resulted in many an incident of road rage.

It’s odd, sometimes, to look at these cultural mutations and transformations, but, more than that, it’s remarkable and sometimes even startling to consider what they indicate about the behavior of various generations. A child’s game is no longer a macabre reenactment of bubonic plague; a penny from heaven becomes unlucky just because of the way it landed; a courteous gesture becomes an incitement to rage by someone already discourteous.

Things change. And while usually that give me hope, it sometimes saddens me.