Mutton, Craft Beer and Desktops

§   A hive mentality must be genetically embedded somewhere in the human brain, for most of us are heavily invested in trying to force others do things our way.  § 

I have shortcuts scattered all over the desktop of my PC. Shortcuts to documents, to folders, to my blog, to my recipe books, all dot the landscape of my desktop photo. These shortcuts are carefully arranged in very specific order, and in most cases I’ve chosen unique icons for each, making it easy for me to quickly select the correct shortcut. Yet when I visit “how to” computer instruction sites, my habit of strewing my desktop with shortcuts is inevitably disparaged. According to the experts, my “cluttered” desktop is almost an affront.

I shrug. I like it; they don’t.

As I once pointed out in a earlier blog on this site, most of us are heavily invested in trying to force others do things our way, to like the things we like, and vice versa. A hive mentality must be genetically embedded somewhere in the human brain, for this common behavior causes a raft of troubles, from Twitter wars over whether Indian food is terrible,  to political parties, right on up the turnpike to things like Crusades for “the one true” faith.

I recall a friend who, hoping to reenergize her dating life, began spending weekend evenings at craft beer establishments. Urging me to join her in this pastime, she told me that she’d never previously liked beer, but she now enjoyed it. I shrugged. I rarely drink more than the occasional glass of cheap, sweet wine. I have absolutely no palate, and I’m comfortable with that; besides, I’ve always found beer disgusting. I’d sipped a craft beer once and found it no better tasting than the nasty, yeasty drinks that I’d always loathed. I dislike the atmosphere of most bars, as well, so an evening spent swilling down alcohol while having my ears assaulted by too-loud music and attempting to make conversation with total strangers held no appeal. I made it clear to my friend that I wasn’t interested. Yet for months she continued to hammer away at me, hoping to persuade me to join her in one of these outings. “I didn’t like beer either until I tried this!” she repeated ad nauseum, as if by sheer repetition she could convince me.

It was as futile an attempt on her part as those of friends and relatives who try to convert me to an appreciation of Brussel sprouts by dabbing them with olive oil and garlic and broiling them crisply. Underneath it all, it’s still a Brussels sprout. (I understand the British eat Brussels sprouts at Christmas, which along with cold toast explains a lot to me about their culture.)

Actually, a British acquaintance of my mother once mentioned to her that he found mutton inedible. She accepted this and repeated it several times, but not as something her friend described. Instead, she proclaimed, “Mutton is inedible.” Finally, goaded, I asked her, “Uh, Mom, when have you ever eaten mutton?” “It’s inedible,” she insisted. “But how do you know?” I persisted. “A lot of people eat mutton. Just because one person says it’s inedible doesn’t make it so; it’s a matter of personal taste.”  I reminded her of my Grandma Marie’s story of serving roast duck to my grandfather, who loved it, although all the rest of their relatives declared it too greasy a fowl to be edible. “It’s all a matter of personal taste,” I argued to my mother, who shook her head in irritation and informed me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Mutton may very well be disgusting; I would not know, since I’ve never eaten it, nor roast duck, either. But the point at the heart of this matter is, I think, that of accepting individuality: allowing others their preferences. I prefer a PC desktop that is scattered about with carefully arranged, unique icons leading me with a quick click to exactly the documents and photos I want; a computer purist finds this untenable. I can barely swallow a Brussels sprout no matter how cleverly hidden in broiled spices; others devour them in delight and serve them up as a Christmas dish. An Indian coworker served me many of her home cooked dishes, and I found most of them too spicy for my taste and unpalatable. Yet many of our fellow employees gobbled her food with pleasure. Personal preference. Varying taste buds. Perhaps even something encoded into our DNA.

Much like my craft beer-loving friend, my Indian acquaintance never ceased trying to find dishes that I enjoyed. Occasionally, she even succeeded, since several of the foods she served me were at least preferable to Brussels sprouts.

Yet still, I find myself despairing, for when will we each ever learn to just allow others their preferences, and cease urging them to adopt our quirks and choices?

No matter what, though, I’m keeping my icon-bespattered PC desktop.

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Roses of the Soul”,
which you may find in the archives on 12/16/2017)

The Best Revenge (Part 2)

§ At one point or another, we all endure rough patches (or worse) in our lives. No one comes out unscathed. §

Not long after I bought my little condo, I experienced a series of water-themed disasters. First, my dishwasher began pumping water onto the kitchen floor one Saturday afternoon. I frantically called a repairman who quickly located a small piece of piping that had separated, and fixed it easily. Only a few weeks later, though, as I was both running the dishwasher and doing laundry, I heard the toilet in the half-bath begin making disturbing “burps”. It sounded as though a giant with a bad case of indigestion was lodged inside the pipes! A few minutes later, both washing machine and dishwasher began to drain right onto my already-abused kitchen floor.

After another plumber had cleared out the latest problem, I thought all would be well—until the Saturday that I came downstairs from my morning shower to find my unfortunate kitchen flooded once more.

After locating a plumber who actually knew what he was doing to diagnose and clear the real problem, I found myself sitting with my coworkers the following Monday, bemoaning the mess and expense I’d incurred. Some of the women responded with tales of their own home disasters, many of them far worse than mine, and we commiserated. But the woman sitting across from me looked up from her phone long enough to say in a patronizing tone, “Yeah, well, welcome to homeownership.”

I didn’t reply to her snippy remark, but it stung, especially because a relative had made almost precisely the same reply to my tale of woe. I thought at that time, just as I’d thought in response to Ms. Patronizing’s remark, that the comment was not just unsympathetic; it was rude.

Oddly enough, though, when I began to pay more attention to similar situations, I found that uncaring and insensitive remarks were rife whenever a person dared to discuss an unfortunate circumstance in her or his life. And, surprisingly, these snarky statements were most often made by some individual who had endured a comparable problem.

I found this bewildering. Surely, I thought, surely having been in the same position would make one sympathetic to the plight of anyone who was undergoing a similar difficulty. But that didn’t seem to be the case. It was as if many of those who’d undergone a challenging situation seemed to feel that this entitled them to belittle the experience of anyone else who endured the something similiar.  They apparently felt the need to take the distressed individual down a peg.

Unkind remarks and a demonstrable lack of empathy were, I realized, a roundabout way of announcing, “Hey, I’ve had bad times, too. Tough shit. Deal with it. And don’t expect any sympathy from me.”

In one way, I suppose, this makes sense: all of us, at one point or another, endure rough patches (or worse) in our lives. No one comes out unscathed. But while a few individuals will always whine endlessly over their unfortunate events, expecting everyone within range to proffer them tea and sympathy, the majority of us, describing our problems, are just looking for a listening ear, a nod of understanding; perhaps even advice. To be responded to instead with curt, snide comments is distressing. And to be the person making those comments is simply unnecessary–cruel and unnecessary. There is just no need to compound the unhappiness of someone already in distress.

But, in closing, let me return to the memory of those early mornings with my coworkers, wallowing in coffee and gossip before the day’s labors began. A few months after my series of minor household disasters, Ms. Patronizing joined us before work one morning, and, plopping down into her chair, announced that her bathroom shower was unusable. Her adolescent daughter had been dancing in the shower the night before; while flinging her arms about wildly, she’d struck the tiled wall, only to have it crumble and collapse around her. A small, unnoticed leak from the pipe behind the wall had slowly but surely destroyed the integrity of the structure, and the results were horrendous. Shoulders hunched, head in one hand, my coworker moaned that she was looking at major repairs to her bathroom.

I remembered her snide comment in response to my own series of water-related disasters, and considered for just a moment how utterly delicious it might be to fling her words back at her head. But then I took a breath and said gently, “That really just plain sucks. I wouldn’t wish that kind of trouble on anyone. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

Sometimes the very best revenge is simply to do the right thing.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Best Revenge”
in the Archives from February 5, 2018, or “My Nosy Encounter”, May 13, 2020

Aging Is Difficult Enough Without…

§ At least some of the tests on which we rely for determination of diminished brain and physical function are completely, utterly and totally bogus! §

I recently read that an efficient self-test for diminishing brain function was to count backwards by seven. Huh, I thought.

Now, the truth is that I was cutting class on the day God handed out the math portion of the brain, so I can barely count forward by seven. It requires a wrinkled brow and strong concentration, as I carefully add seven to the preceding figure. Seven, fourteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight… Then I run into trouble. That’s because I’ve never been able to recall my “Eight Plus” tables. I have to stop and think carefully, “What the hell is eight plus seven? Oh, yeah, seven plus seven is fourteen, so eight plus seven is….” I realize that, even to those people who are otherwise uneducated, my inability to calculate indicates that I am an idiot born of morons. But in the dashboard of my brain, the trouble indicator light for mathematical functions is always lit.

Language and literature, now, that’s another matter. Except for an occasional need to punch out to a grammar site to determine whether to use who or whom—and then argue with their conclusions–I have a fair degree of literary competency. (How many people, after all, know that might is the past tense of may? Oh, yes, it is! Look it up.)

This literary ability does not, however, extend to reciting the alphabet backwards. Years ago, when breathalyzers were uncommon and police relied on ridiculous “field sobriety tests”, an older acquaintance discussed being stopped by a traffic cop. Stone-cold sober, he was asked not only to do the silly touch-nose nonsense, but to walk heel-to-toe in a line—then given a pass on that one when it was apparent that he would have to use his cane. Instead, he was told to recite the alphabet backwards. At this point he awarded the very young officer a stern look, explaining that sixty-plus years after the first grade, he had never learned nor had any occasion to need knowledge of the alphabet in reverse. (The young cop gave up and let him go, telling him to drive safely.)

But what all this nattering is in point of is that so many of the tests on which we rely for determination of diminished brain and physical ability are completely, utterly and totally bogus. Shoving totally aside the “seven backward and forward” question, the brain function test administered at the doctor’s office to those 65 and older is simply demeaning. Condescending. Belittling. (Of course, after now having dealt with an entire citizenry that endured weeks of pandemic quarantine, the medicos might finally realize it’s almost useless to ask a retired person what day of the week it is. When one is no longer bebopping off to an office every day, that question simply has no relevance. None whatever.)

I once ventured onto a site containing those “Alzheimers Test” questions, and was doing quite well with the test until I came to the question regarding the Prime Minister’s name. Uh… I’m in the US. I hadn’t, unfortunately, realized that I was on a UK site. The best I could answer I could frame was, “Well, it’s not still Tony Blair” (that being, at the time, the last Prime Minister to whom I’d paid much attention).

Then there was the time that I attended a Senior Fair, and was asked to place my hands behind my back, one over the shoulder and one under, and link my fingers. Say what?! This was not something I could have done even in my twenty-year-old heyday, and certainly not now that I’ve experienced a broken collarbone in my time. But even without that consideration, what does this test really say about limberness, or lack thereof? Are the buffoons devising this type of idiocy aware that people’s arms vary in length? So do fingers, for that matter. Not only that, but (having attempted this many times since) I find that I come a lot closer to having my fingers meet using right-arm-over-shoulder/left-under, rather than the reverse.

At the same Senior Fair, I was asked to grip a handle that calculated my hand strength. The problem with this was, though, that in the days leading up to this fair, I’d been doing an enormous amount of work at my computer; my carpal tunnel syndrome was so troublesome that my toothbrush felt heavy. So it seemed to me that what was being measured was not my hand strength or lack thereof, but how close I was to requiring surgery.

There are enough limitations, humiliations and concerns associated with the slow process of aging without being troubled by senseless tests devised by youthful minions who remain quite clueless about the realities of aging until it assaults them.

And, by the way, I’d still flunk that UK test. For the life of me, as I wrote this, all I could think was, “Boris Bad Hair”!

Oprah’s Brown Satin Gown

§ Perhaps it’s not always about race. §

In a recent casual conversation with a friend, we discussed the many over-the-top gowns worn by celebrities at various award ceremonies through the decades. I mentioned that I seemed to recall a dress worn by Oprah, perhaps in the 1990s: the most stunning, classic, utterly gorgeous gown I had ever seen. It was a confection of satin and chiffon reminiscent of a bygone era; sophisticated and elegant. Although I couldn’t be certain,

Brown Satin

I also thought I recalled this to have been the year that the news rags, reporting on the award ceremony the following day, had savaged Oprah’s gown in their descriptions. They disparaged the elegant simplicity of the dress, which stood out in such direct contrast to the exaggerated, ridiculous apparel being worn by other female celebrities that year. Oprah’s superb gown was described contemptuously.

“Well, of course they were rude,” my friend commented. “Oprah’s black.”

I didn’t respond, but I thought to myself, “No, I really don’t think that was the reason.”

You see, in the early 1970s, I’d become heavily invested in reading women’s magazines. I was young and perhaps trying to define a style for myself while overcoming debilitating shyness. Reading articles about dress, hair, makeup and women’s issues became my passion.

Unfortunately, the 1970s, although a turbulent time for societal changes, was also the decade of books such as The Total Woman (yes, after discovering magazine articles about it, I read the absolutely-dreadful book itself. It should have been titled: How to Reverse 100 Years of Women’s Progress in Six Easy Steps). Consequently, looking back now, I can’t say that all the periodicals I read actually did me much good toward my defined goals! But they did, conversely, give me a bit of instruction in critical thinking. During the five or so years that I read these publications, I began to note a relentless trend: the very advice, recommendations, and endorsements from one season or year were totally invalidated in subsequent issues.

I recall precisely when I first noticed this conundrum. I’d read an essay enthusiastically endorsing heavy, kohl-style eyeliner in dark colors of navy blue and black. The accompanying photos were striking, but I, not being skilled at all with eyeliner in any case, and particularly not with heavy liquid eyeliners, quickly dismissed the idea. But in the next seasonal issue of the very same magazine, I was astonished to read a makeup article stating that “thank heaven”, the kohl-lined, Egyptian-style eyes had gone the way of the dodo. Since I had a habit of keeping old editions, I rooted around and lay hands upon the earlier issue. Yep, there it was: praise and approval, advocating thick, dark eyeliner. Yep, there it was again: a whole article devoted to whisper-thin, lightly lined eyes.

Huh.

I began to read my periodicals with a far more critical eye, realizing that, be it fashion, marriage, makeup, dating, hemlines, children, work, or any other aspect of life and behavior that the articles might address, this repetitive conflict appeared. A bold reversal of everything stated one year cropped up the next. Sometimes the instruction changed even between spring and fall!

Of course, in one aspect this made sense: How could the fashion houses keep women buying new clothes and makeup if everything didn’t constantly change? But advice on marriage, children, dating? How could that alter so rapidly? There was, I realized, no logic to the stuff I was reading. Right then and there, I gave up on turning for life advice to whatever nonsense popular journalism was spouting at any particular time. I read for entertainment, not instruction.

I carried this knowledge regarding editorial inconsistency away with me and thereafter applied it critically to every advice book or magazine article I read. So it was in this light that I now considered my memory of Oprah’s gorgeous-but-maligned brown satin gown. For you see, as much as I remembered the articles lambasting her dress, I also clearly recalled what the periodicals said the very next year following that same annual award ceremony. “A Return to Classic Elegance and Timeless Grace!” the reviews trumpeted, one after another, ad infinitum.

Oprah, it seemed, had actually been a trendsetter; a woman ahead of her time. Now every celebrity was jumping on the bandwagon of good taste and sophistication, rather than attempting to discover who could rack up the most points for appearing in a garish, vulgar outfit.

Decades later, not wanting to turn our lighthearted conversation into a deep discussion, I remembered all of this but said nothing about it to my friend.  But I thought at the time, and still think, that it’s not always about race.  Often, yes; even, sad to say, commonly–but not always.  Sometimes it’s just about the way life and the world and the news media machine functions.  Sometimes it’s just about fashion houses trying to palm off new styles in dress and makeup and hair on a foolish public which embraces such nonsense–because if no one buys anything new, they are out of business.

But no matter what the truth of it all, I will never forget Oprah’s perfectly stunning brown satin gown.

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like these posts in the Archives: “The Slave Cabin”,  on 02/28/18;  “Amosandra”, from 06/01/2018; “You Dirty Wop!” , 02/01/2018; “A Bra of a Different Color”, posted 10/02/2019, or “Racism Knows No Logic”, from 06/10/2020 )

Tales of the Office: Under the Weather

§   My scam worked without a hitch. I was excused from work, feeling neither compunction nor apprehension. None whatever. After all, I’d used just one of my accrued store of legitimately earned sick leave days, and I hadn’t lied.   §

A friend confessed to me once that when, during her working years, she wanted to take a “mental health day”, she couldn’t bring herself to lie about being sick. She just knew the Universe would kick her butt for the falsehood, paying her back with a genuine, nasty illness. So before calling in to her boss to request sick leave, she would write “WEATHER” on a piece of paper and hold it over her head. Then she would call her boss and say, “I’m afraid I can’t make it into work today; I’m really under the weather!”

I liked her idea. The occasional consumer myself of a desperately needed illicit day off, and having plenty of accumulated sick leave, I’d made it my mission in life to learn the power of a really good lie, well told. Male bosses, I found, were unlikely to argue with anything that included the words “female problem”. Female bosses were unimpressed with that particular explanation. After all, they themselves had suffered through too many a day at the office while enduring grinding cramps. But they were generally sympathetic to the “stomach flu” routine, since that nasty little bug had a habit of sweeping through offices and was the very last thing they wanted to catch themselves. (There is nothing more accurate, though, then the fact that generalities are rarely true. I had one termagant of a boss who complained that I was “getting this stomach stuff far too often!” Sadly for me I was,  at the time, genuinely ill, having contracted a serious stomach ailment from my mother-in-law, who had carried it home from an overseas trip.)

Nevertheless, despite my friend’s compunctions, and with the exception of that stomach flu debacle, I hadn’t really noticed that my fibs for “Luxury Time”, (as I thought of it) caught up with me. After all, I rationalized, I’d struggled into my job many a day while deathly ill, hoarding my sick leave to cover those times when my child was sick and I had to be at home, caring for her.   Looking after my sick  daughter, I’d  catch whatever bug she’d towed home. Then I’d drag myself into the office to work a full day while feeling so unwell that I wanted nothing more than to lie down and die.  But using my sick leave for my own genuine illness wasn’t even a consideration when I was a young mother. Consequently, it seemed perfectly all right that I now sometimes took a day off when I wasn’t really physically sick at all. It all balanced out, I consoled myself.

Nevertheless, once my daughter was grown, I found myself worrying that payback was in the offing. I no longer needed to hoard sick leave for childcare, but I did hoard it, and my unused vacation time, nonetheless.  Some personal emergency—severe illness, an accident—might occur, and such an event could render me unable to work for a long while. I needed that reserve stock of unused leave days. Besides, the pathetic three personal days doled out annually by my employer failed to cover even a few appointments for doctors, dentists, or ophthalmologists, let alone genuine emergencies (like that slashed tire on the morning after Halloween).  Much of my vacation leave stockpile went to cover those contingencies. But sick leave, ah! Sick leave was there, I reasoned, to be used not only for genuine physical illness but for those days when I was just damned sick and tired of facing one more day in that office.

So, taking counsel from my friend’s shenanigans, I went out and bought a plastic bug. A really ugly-looking, scary, big, realistic plastic bug. And the next time I called in for a Luxury Day, I pulled Big Ugly out of my bedside table and dialed, holding it in my hand. “I’m sorry; I need to take a sick day,” I explained to my boss in my best pathetic manner. “I’ve got a really nasty bug!”

My scam worked without a hitch. I was excused from work, feeling neither compunction nor apprehension. None whatever. After all, I’d used just one of my accrued store of legitimately earned sick leave days, and I hadn’t lied. I really did have a very nasty bug—right there in my hand.

Confiding this ruse to a trusted coworker, she followed suit, selecting her own Big Ugly. And occasionally we even passed our pets back and forth, so that we could change our plaint to, “I’ve caught that bug that’s been going around!”

Big Ugly did not retire when I did; I bequeathed him to a another coworker. I understand he’s been called upon to work his Buggy Magic quite a few times in the intervening years, both for her and for others at the old office.

Works like a charm, every time.

To Wash or Not to Wash: No Question!

§   With all the incessant and frequent handwashing everyone has undergone since the beginning of the pandemic, this post (originally published on July 13, 2018) seemed remarkably timely!  §

The other day I was at my daughter’s home, and she commented that “Puppy” (a full-grown, 40-pound Husky) was in need of  “a spa day pretty soon; she smells like a dog”.

Now, I lost much of my sense of smell–no, not due to coronavirus, but to a sinus disorder many years ago.  Consequently, I could not comment on the problem, despite the fact that my granddog was dancing in front of me, performing her “I have not seen you in at least two days and you’re my favorite person on the planet” act. She might not have smelled like roses, but Puppy’s doggy-odor hadn’t reached offensive levels, I thought.  However, the comment on smell jogged my memory regarding an article I’d read a few months earlier.

The author of the article was a proponent of infrequent bathing. His essay discussed the natural biome of the skin which was, he claimed, destroyed by too-frequent bathing (which, his article seemed to indicate, was basically any form of bathing at all).  The author explained that he no longer showered or bathed, contenting himself with occasionally rinsing off excess sweat, something made easy in the summer months by merely standing beneath the garden hose—especially to rinse off his genital area.

Eeewww.

After I finished retching (and wondering just how active this joker’s sex life wasn’t!), I continued reading to his conclusion that, instead of soap, he “smelled like people”.

As I clicked off the article, I wondered to myself if smelling like people might be somewhat equivalent to smelling like a dog, especially after the garden hose trick. Despite my weak sense of smell, wet dog is not one of my favorite scents.  I’m pretty certain that wet, unwashed people smell pretty similar to that.  And I was absolutely certain that the male author of the “don’t wash” essay had never been (and I speak from personal experience) a menstruating woman on a hot summer day.

I’ve always equated not bathing with, oh, say, body lice and bubonic plague. I’ll take the sheer, unmatched pleasure of soaking in a hot bath with lavender salts, or a steamy shower with scented soap on a “scrubbie” body puff—yeah, I’ll take that any day over any amount of “natural biome”.  And don’t even get me started on the “no-poo” non-hair-washing crusaders.  No-poo-schmoo-poo!  I generally use styling products to arrange my long hair, so unless I’ve not needed to do much more with my locks than brush them (i.e., been nowhere or seen no one for days–which usually happens only when I’m sick in bed),  my hair gets thoroughly shampooed and conditioned every second or third day.  On the rare occasions that I must wait longer than that to wash it, it feels absolutely icky and looks dull and anyone trying to restrain me from the hot water and shampoo had best be armed!  I use a nail brush to scrub beneath my fingernails every morning, too, all the while wondering to myself just what frightening “natural biome” lurks beneath those lovely gel-manicured fake nails I see on every second pair of female hands.

I still wonder how the author of the “don’t bathe” article felt about the CDCs recommendations for handwashing during the flu season. And that causes me to recall another article that I read, this one long before the marvels of instantly available knowledge on the Web.  That article discussed the age-old scourge of the disease trachoma, a bacterial eye inflammation that causes granulations to form beneath the eyelids. The disease is progressive, eventually causing the eyeball itself to harden and blinding the sufferers. Trachoma is a common cause of blindness in third-world countries.  But the researchers had discovered a simple way to reduce the spread of trachoma and prevent re-infection of those receiving treatment.

They simply had the people, either infected or at risk, wash their faces every day.

Natural biomes are not necessarily benign. Queen Elizabeth the First may have bathed monthly “whether she needed it or not”, but I’ll stick to my daily schedule, thank you very much. And enjoy every blessed minute of rearranging the natural biome of my skin.

Proudly a Cynic

§   An open mind is like a window—you have to put up a screen for the bugs. §

I’m proud of being somewhat cynical.

Never did this fact become more clear to me than when it was chosen as part of our weekly topic at the Monday night meditation and discussion group, Many Hearts, One Spirit, that I attend.  The actual point of that discussion was, I believe, to renounce cynicism–something along the lines of becoming as a little child again.

Happily, our open and receptive discussion group (unlike our nation’s current President) welcomes differing viewpoints, calm, courteous debate, and new insights, because, huh-uh. Nope. Ain’t doing it.

I was, for most of my adult life, profoundly naïve and gullible.  And that—trust me on this one—is not a good path to go strolling down.  I have worked hard to develop a healthy skepticism; hence my motto, “An open mind is like a window—you have to put up a screen for the bugs.”

So I heartily admit it:  I am somewhat skeptical.  I am minutely mistrustful.  I am always ever so slightly suspicious.  And I’m PROUD of it.

Taking people at face value, unquestioningly, trustingly, resulted in many a painful moment in my life: the narcissistic friend who played upon my caretaker personality and constantly gave me veiled commands and orders, all careful cloaked in compliments and kudos, so that I would not realize I was being manipulated; the husband who drank, took drugs and had affairs, all the while looking me directly in the eye and denying that any such things had taken place.  The boss who praised me for showing up, sick and bleeding, during the weeks of my prolonged miscarriage—and then denied me a raise by grading me down on my annual review due to the few sick days I’d taken during this devastating personal disaster. The repentant man who had totally screwed up his life and begged me to trust his transformation, but proved to be a sly emotional abuser; a misogynist and con man who preyed quite effectively on my caretaker tendencies and easily-bruised self-esteem.  The woman at my job who smiled to my face while behind my back claiming I’d stolen money from the office sympathy fund that I managed.

Such lessons did not come easily to me, and had to be repeated time and again before I finally learned not to give my trust until an individual had proved worthy of it.  And I simply don’t believe there is anything wrong with that stance: with requiring that trust be earned, rather than freely given.

Perhaps it is unexpected that I find one wonderful thing about being a skeptic, about mistrust, is that I am, happily, often proved wrong.  These are astounding and delightful moments, when my façade of cynicism is cracked like an ugly plaster mold, revealing the shining statue hidden within.  When that happens, it is more than a pleasant surprise; it feels nothing less than a miracle.

But the converse is also unhappily true. The crash of my spirit, the aching disappointment, when I am confronted, yet one more time, with proof that my lack of trust was appropriate–yes, those repeated disappointments are difficult to endure.

Still, my hardened shell of cynicism provides me with some protection.  No matter how great my disenchantment, if the disillusionment was not totally unexpected, it is less painful.  That is, I find, the greatest benefit of being ever so slightly mistrustful: the mitigation of recurring disappointment.

There are qualities of becoming a little child again that I dearly love to evoke in myself: a sense of wonder, for instance, and awe at the unleashed and unexpected beauty not just of the world, but of many of the people who dwell within it.  But the naïveté of childhood is a condition that I gladly leave behind.  I will always strive to remain, proudly and carefully, just the slightest bit a cynic.

There’s Always One

§   Heaven help all of us who have a Looney Tunes neighbor!  §

Everybody has one. A looney neighbor, that is.

The particular thorn in my side, best known to me as The Old Curmudgeon, seemed fairly normal when I originally moved to my small condo seven years ago. Oh, there was the time when he insulted my status as a State employee, but after 30-plus years, I was accustomed to that. People who arrive at a government office to make any one of the many transactions required by official entities think nothing of berating and disparaging the very employees who provide those services.

Despite the insult, I am the sort of person who attempts to be a good neighbor. The Old Curmudgeon was retired; I was still working. I’d often return home on trash pickup day to see that his bin, emptied, was still sitting out near the road. So, after wheeling my own bin back into my garage, I’d haul his up the slight incline of our conjoined driveways and park it in front of his garage door. I never received a word of thanks from T.O.C. for this neighborly act. Perhaps he thought the elves and fairies were doing him the favor.

Our condo association does not trim shrubbery, so I took care to maintain the small bush that was positioned between our two garages, as well, shaping and mulching it regularly. I weeded the area within the low brick enclosure surrounding our mailboxes, then cleared out the overgrowth of wild plants and saplings that had taken root around our  air conditioning units where they sat side by side behind our condos. Again, no thanks were forthcoming, but I reminded myself that I was doing this act as much for my own benefit as his. We had a bit of a tussle, though, over my rotted mailbox post, which the condominium association was supposed to repair (see Laughter in the Midst of Grief, December 27, 2018), but the problem was eventually resolved, and I, in absolute innocence, got my revenge, anyway. (Yes, you’ll really have to read that earlier post!)

And then I got The Letter.

I have The Letter to this day.   The victim of a careless postman who left the mailbox door slightly open in a rainstorm, it is waterlogged and smeared and difficult to read, but basically claims that I had moved my central AC unit closer to his, thereby causing the compressor of his unit to fail, and he was allowing me two weeks to move it back to its original position.

I was flabbergasted. MOVED my central air conditioning unit? That piece of equipment was huge! I was at the time age 61, and asthmatic, but even in the rudest of health and youth, I could not even have shifted the darned thing.

Ever the little peacemaker, I simply knocked on his door and asked what the heck he was talking about. That was when I learned the truth: While having his own AC repaired, he interpreted a “look” on the part of the repairman, glancing between our two machines, to indicate that my unit was too close to his own and had caused the failure. (Six and one-half inches closer than it had previously been, he claimed. I forbore to point out that there was something strangely Freudian about this claim.) Basically, T.O.C. was looking for something to blame besides the age of his AC unit, and hoping to make me pay for it.

I explained that I had not, would not, could not, have moved the machine, but promised to have my own HVAC tech look at the problem during my upcoming maintenance appointment and determine if the units were badly positioned. (They weren’t.)  An exchange of more letters—straightforward on my part, rude and accusatory on his—didn’t really conclude the problem, but it eventually drifted away since absolutely nothing supported his position.

However, inadvertent clues in his letters revealed one thing: Whenever I was outside on my own patio, Looney Tunes was watching me. Keeping an eye out. Running survillance. Snooping on me. Gladys Kravitz, without the comic relief.

This, more than anything, totally freaked me out. (Think: head spinning backwards!) What on earth did he think he would see?! And how long had this been going on? Since the day I moved in?

Terribly disturbed, I began installing a careful shield of garden trellis and ivy to block his view of my patio. Now, years later, with the ivy having grown thick and tall, I at last feel comfortable sitting out on my own patio once more. Look away, you nutcase! All you’re gonna see is a thick veil of ivy leaves.

However, necessity demands that I sometimes step off the patio into my tiny postage-stamp of a yard, as I did recently when an overnight windstorm carried my outdoor rocking chairs out and down the grassy alley to drop them behind his condo. Hurrying out the next morning to retrieve them, I glanced up and saw the faint shadow of what was surely a face peering out his window.

But time has made me stronger and a touch more brazen. Instead of quickly scurrying away with my furniture, and aware that he could not hear me, anyway, I merely smiled and gave a quick little finger wave as my inner rascal took over.

“Hi there!” I sparkled. “Don’t worry! I’m just moving my air conditioner!”

 

Handshake, Schmandshake!

§   I originally posted this essay in September, 2018.  Now, with Dr. Fauci suggesting that we may never return to the gesture of the handshake, it seems a great time to repost it.  Ha!  I was ahead of the curve!  §

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.  Unfortunately, this etiquette lesson has gone the way of the dodo, but I truly 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 completely aside to sneeze, carefully covering one’s face with both hands, 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 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 this aspect of the terrible flu season of 2009, when experts recommended that the handshake be foregone in favor of the fist bump. It’s impossible to 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 introduction. 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 someone to total rejection and insult.  Now there’s a custom I can appreciate!

But I am most taken with the classically graceful “Namaste” gesture (the explanation of which so befuddled the current President after his trip to India), 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. Fluff.  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.

New and Improved Just Isn’t

§  The simple fact is, newer isn’t necessarily better.  § 

I admit it: I truly liked the old-fashioned hand crank windows on cars. They were wonderful. Excellent. Unlike power windows, the mechanism virtually never failed, leaving one to the excruciating necessity of duct-taping heavy plastic over a window to keep out the driving rain or bitter winter winds until time and money finally permitted a trip to the repair shop. And on those rare occasions in which a car became so classic that the crank mechanism did, finally, give way, it was a fairly simple repair. But, more importantly, a person could “crack” the window to just precisely that right point to ventilate a parked car. No pressing the power button up and down, over and over, attempting to get the glass just a smidgen or skoosh further down. Nope. One simply turned the hand crank just a tad until that window was in precisely the right position.

Of course, I am also old enough to recall the miraculous front window vent that was once found in every car. When weather was cool enough to drive with the windows down, passengers in the back seat were never blown right to Oz by a fully lowered front window; one cranked (yes, cranked) the windows down, slid those triangular vents open to a 45-degree angle, and voila! Air circulated around and through both front and back seats without power washing either the  passengers or the driver.

The simple fact is, newer isn’t necessarily better. Take, for instance, heating pads which turn themselves off. Now, having known someone who unwisely used an old-school heating pad without an automatic shut-off—used it overnight and incorrectly, lying on it—and received a bad burn thereby, I understand the sense of the automatic shut-off on a heating pad. The problem lies in the fact that such a shut-off doesn’t allow for personal preference or need. In my experience, just about the time when the heating pad has reached the “Ahhh!” factor, easing a muscle ache or abdominal pain, that’s the moment when the dratted thing powers down completely. And with most models, simply pressing the off button for a few seconds does no good. Nope, a complete reboot is necessary. The user must get up, walk over to the wall plug, fully unplug the cord for at least 60 seconds, and then plug it back in to have the cooled pad start cycling upward to heat once more. That get-up/reach-down/unplug-and-wait motion pretty much undoes any good that the heat had begun doing to a tense or torn muscle. For heaven’s sake, why, oh why, isn’t the user permitted determine an automatic shut-off time that might possibly work for an individual ache?

But then, clothes irons these days operate on much the same principle. (And, yes, unlike the Millies, I do occasionally iron some clothing, especially in the summertime. I appreciate the crisp appearance of a freshly starched and pressed pair of linen slacks or cotton shorts, and a clothes iron wastes far fewer kilowatts of electricity than a dryer cycle.) I understand the concept of not burning one’s house down by leaving the clothes iron on to overheat; I simply don’t comprehend why it must shut off right in the middle of pressing the transfer paper to make a graphic tee.

I had one friend whose country home contained a working, antique hand water pump in kitchen. Although their well-water operated, as most do these days, on an electric pump, the hand pump functioned as backup, and she was not about to have it removed—which proved to be a wise decision during the numerous times that thunderstorms took out the power lines.

Newer is simply not necessarily better—as proven by the reaction every time Microsoft introduces a new version of Windows or Word. People loathe them. They despise them. They hate then so much so that, frequently, even hard sell doesn’t reconcile a tech-battered populace to being forced to learn yet another new version. One site after another pops up online, guiding suffering users to ways around all those irritating and unwanted “new and improved” features. I myself, having upgraded to Word 2016 after years of using 2010, have seriously considered paying a simply outrageous amount of money for a program that will allow me to restore my icons to the old 3-D versions instead of the butt-ugly “clean” icons that Microsoft has now foisted on users. (Where are my “Find It” binoculars? How am I to remember that a right-leaning magnifying glass is “Find”, while a left-leaning one is “Zoom”? How, I ask you?!)

No, newer is simply not necessarily better. And so-called progress is often two giant steps backwards—not one small step for man nor woman, and certainly not a giant leap forward for humankind.