The Dot Principle

Having survived the past four years in this nation, I will never again underestimate the power of The Dot Principle!

In June, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States issued its landmark decision regarding the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry.  This event was a hot topic of conversation the next day at the office where I worked.  At the time, I participated in a walking group; we spent our breaks and sometimes part of our lunch hours getting a bit of exercise by striding briskly through the wide halls and many stairwells of the Indiana state office building, happily (and noisily, according to my boss) gossiping as we did so.

On the morning in question, as it happened, only two of us were walking.  Turning to me with a bewildered look on her face, my walking partner—let’s call her Dot–remarked, “They said on the news last night that gay marriage is now the law in all 50 states.  But what about the other two?”

I was, of course, confused.  “The other two what?” 

“States.”

I’m certain my face  must have done that “eyes-rolling-to one side-lips-twisting” thing which indicates complete incredulity.  “Uh, Dot, there are only 50 states.  Forty-eight contiguous states, and Alaska and Hawaii.”

“But I’ve always heard there are 52,” she persisted.

“Uh, no.”  At her look of skepticism, I continued, “There’s the District of Columbia—DC,” I explained. “It is separate from the States. But not a state.  And there are possessions and territories. Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands…”  I trailed off as she continued to look disbelieving.  “There are 50 stars on the flag, one for each State,” I persevered bravely, finally surrendering as Dot just shrugged.

Dot, a few years older than I (and I was nearing retirement), had, I believe, a couple of years of college under her belt; an Associates Degree, as opposed to my high school-only education.  She’d been born a citizen of the United States.  English was her natal language.

But she didn’t know how many States comprise the union.

I’ve looked back on that rather terrifying conversation many times in the past four years, realizing, “Not only do they walk among us, but they vote!”

I now apply “The Dot Principle” to about 75% of the comments I torture myself by reading at the close of articles when I check the news each morning.  (Do NOT ask me why I put myself through this.  I can only surmise that I am a masochist.)   In any case, I usually peruse the comments.  While doing so,  I remind myself that, not only are the Dots of this nation supremely ignorant, but they are astoundingly unafraid in displaying that ignorance to a cringing populace.  They are utterly confident in the correctness of their outrageous assertions.  No matter what facts are presented, the Dots will not be budged from their convictions, preferring their “alternative facts”.  Ill-spelled, and displaying mangled grammar and mutilated sentence structure, riddled with hateful name-calling and, above all, a dearth of knowledge and factual information, and inevitably peppered with ALL CAPS BECAUSE I’M SHOUTING AT YOU SINCE THAT WILL MAKE YOU BELIEVE ME, they troll the pathways of the Comments sections, providing cheap entertainment when one is not too aghast at the remarks to enjoy the show. 

The Dot Principle provided me just a smidgen of reassurance when I read, shocked and appalled, about the Q-Anon Conspiracy. As much as I enjoy a good conspiracy theory–and I really do enjoy them; some are quite masterful in their depositions, and nearly convincing–as much as I admire the enormous work that goes into constructing these mangled theories that fly in the face of reality and plain old common sense, I don’t genuinely find myself being sucked in.  I tell myself this means I am not a Dot; that I still have a few neurons firing, if not so many as I once had when young.

Having been in ascension for four long, painful years, the Dots of this nation are now stunned, brimming with new conspiracy theories, furious and disbelieving that their construct of reality has somehow crumbled, as that nail-biter of an election finally concluded with the overwhelming popular vote and electoral college selection of Joe Biden as 46th President of the United States of America.  Nevertheless, as I pointed out to a fuming and incredulous acquaintance, one could consider this just the swing of the pendulum.  “Give it four years, and, who knows—maybe you can elect Jared Kushner or Trump Jr. or Eric Trump or even, saints preserve us, Ivanka,” I suggested.  (On the other hand, maybe not, since I devoutly hope and expect that most of that crew of con men/women, slum lords, Hatch Act violators, and tax evaders will be languishing in prison.)

But having lived through the last four years in this nation, I will never again underestimate the power of The Dot Principle.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy the essay, “The Benefit of the Doubt”, which you can locate in the Archives from July 31, 2019.

 

 

 

The Savage Reviewer, Part 2 (or, Revenge Isn’t So Sweet!)

§ Revenge isn’t always so sweet, Author Who Cannot Spell! §

As I mentioned in the post “The Savage Reviewer”, I depend heavily on reviews when selecting the books I read, and return the favor by writing reviews. I was a lot more hesitant to criticize—much kinder, and certainly far more generous with praise–when I was initially writing book reviews. Now, having gotten into the swing of the game, I’ve become far more critical…and a lot more honest.

This all came to mind a few weeks ago as I was clearing out spam from the Comments section of this blog. I admit it with wholehearted shame: I am really, really bad about checking the Spam section and removing comments that have been diverted there! I’m far too trusting of WordPress’s excellent spam filters, which seem to catch most problems. Regular comments arrive in a notification to my e-mail, with a request that they be approved—or not. I rarely fail to approve a comment, since most of my few followers are friends and family members who are actually quite crazy enough to enjoy reading my weekly maunderings.

But an occasional genuine comment gets diverted to the Spam section that I am so dilatory about monitoring. And so it was that a few weeks ago, as I ran a “search and destroy” on the multi-car pileup in that folder, I came across a rather snide remark responding to an older post.

The commenter observed that my essays were “so rife with misspellings that it made what should have been a pleasure into an ordeal”.

Hmmm.

Now, while I’m not precisely spelling bee championship material, I’m can say, in all honesty, that I am “knot to bad” (pathetically poor humor, yes) at spelling. During elementary school, I usually received an “A” in that category on the majority of my report cards. And while my abilities have declined a bit since that long-ago era, I am wise enough to NOT trust the spell-checker. Oh, I rely on it—I just don’t trust the darned thing. I’ve never forgotten that brilliant little poem, Candidate for a Pullet Surprise, by Dr. Jerrold H. Zar, that circulated so constantly several years ago:

I have a spelling checker
It came with my pea sea.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
I ran this poem thru it
I’m sure your pleased to no
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh
My checker told me sew.

But, spell checker or not, since I am editing my own material, an occasional error does slip through. Nevertheless, I felt that “rife” was pushing matters just a bit. So I began to comb through recent posts, coming across a mistake or two here and there, most of them more in the form of a typing mis-stroke than an actual spelling error. I checked with some friends, also, who read my blog posts regularly; they claimed to have rarely found spelling errors. Having satisfied myself in this regard, then, I deleted the obnoxious comment.

Yet something about the remark still bothered me. I finally put my finger on the problem: They were my own words.

You see, the site where I post most of my book reviews has a Profile section. And that profile mentions that I am a blogger and states the title of this blog. Any author whom I disparage–or praise–can run a quick search and locate my blog.

That comment was lifted, word for word, from one of my own reviews–a rather negative review that I had posted about a book I’d tried to read—tried to read, and found painfully unreadable, due to the fact that it was, indeed, rife with errors in spelling and grammar.

I began to regret having blithely deleted the unkind comment without noting the name of the person who’d attempted to post it. As I have, in years of writing them, placed several hundred book reviews on the site, I realized that it would be a complete waste of time and effort to scroll through all of them attempting to discover the author whose work I’d so disparaged.

But I had to admit to a sensation of evil glee as I realized how bitterly furious the resentful author must have felt when the attempt to turn my own (honest) words back upon me failed so completely. Even had their comment survived the Spam filter to land in my in-box, awaiting approval, I would never have permitted it to be posted. By ending up as Spam, though, it caused me to dig a bit deeper, and to come up laughing with snide delight at the failure of the maligned author to troll me.

Revenge isn’t always so sweet, Author Who Cannot Spell. But I’m just rotten enough to admit that having the last laugh surely is!

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to check the archives for “The Savage Reviewer”, posted on 09/02/2020; “Book Reports: Do Kids Still Have to Write Them?, from 09/23/2020, or “To Review or Not Review”, posted 12/13/2017.)

Scrubbing the Sunbeam

§   My favorite of all Grandma’s stories was The White Spot  §

My Grandmother Marie lived in the same red brick house on Southern Avenue in Indianapolis from the time she married in 1928 until her death in 1989.  Despite financial difficulties, she and my Grandfather, Charles Sr., managed to retain their home during the Great Depression solely due to the kindness—or perhaps pragmatism!–of a local bank official.  As Grandma told the story, when “Pop” accidentally met the bank officer on the street one day, he confessed miserably that it was unlikely they could continue making their mortgage payments.  The banker first asked Pop how much he could afford to pay, and then asked him to hand over the passbook that recorded their payments. A bit bewildered, Pop duly handed over his passbook.  Glancing at the payment amount, the bank official inked a line through it, wrote in the affordable amount, and, initialing the change, handed the passbook back to Pop.  I’m sure the bank did not need one more foreclosed home during the Great Depression, but it was a kind act, nonetheless.  So it was that the little red brick house stayed in the family.

The story of The Mortgage was just one of the dozens of tales my Grandmother had to tell me: The Smoke Alarm In Her PurseThe Brains On the Asphalt.  The Irish Catholic Nun Who Hated WopsThe Silk Parachute.  The Clock With Sparklers on the Front Porch. My favorite of them, though, was always the story of The White Spot.

Passionately house-proud to the day she died, Grandma’s home was always beautifully kept: polished, swept, dusted and scrubbed.  So as a young bride, it drove her simply nuts one afternoon to find a white spot on the living room carpet.  She had no idea what it was—flour, perhaps?—but she moistened a clean rag and scrubbed at the spot until it disappeared.

The next day, though, the spot was back.  And the next, and the next.  Like Lady Macbeth bemoaning the blood on her hands, Grandma scrubbed daily at that mark on her carpet:  “Out, damned spot!  Out!”   Frustrated, she could not for the life of her figure out what was being spilt in the same place on the carpet every single day!–until the afternoon she realized that The White Spot was actually a tiny, stray sunbeam, slanted onto the carpet from a miniscule hole in the Venetian blinds covering the window.

That’s right.  Every day Grandma had been “scrubbing” a sunbeam out of her carpet. It disappeared under both the onslaught of moisture that darkened the carpet temporarily and the movement of the afternoon sun.

I never failed to chuckle at this story, told in my Grandmother’s expressive Italian manner, complete with hand gestures, of course.  I’m giggling now, remembering it.

Then one Sunday afternoon at a church service, I listened as a visiting minister from Germany related his own, similar tale.  He called it The Phenomenon of the Black Spot.

Quite a dandy, the minister, Peter, liked to dress well, and he favored white ties with his well-cut suits.  Those ties, though, were sometimes the utter bane of his existence, for he occasionally spilled something—food, ink, dirt—on his tie and had to wear it the rest of the day, stained. And it was inevitable, as he related to us during that Sunday lesson, that at some point during the day a helpful person would say to him, “Peter, did you know you have a spot on your tie?”

An excellent speaker, Minister Peter was able to spin this story into a significant lesson about our human habit of focusing on the tiniest of problems rather than the bigger picture.  While taking the theme of his sermon to heart, I could not help but laugh quietly to myself, linking it to Grandma’s story of zealously scrubbing that damned non-existent White Spot.

I sometimes now look back on both these stories, finding that they remind me to concentrate on the important problems that I encounter, and not, as my obsessive-compulsive personality tends to do, on the minor, easily correctable situations.   But the tales of White Spot and Black Spot came home to me just the other day when I happened to look across my living room to the area rug that rests beneath the long hassock.  Mahogany and cranberry-colored flowers and dark green vines twine across a pale ivory-green background—but the area where my attention focused appeared to have been spotted with fresh blood!  I glanced in consternation at my bare feet, but there was no wound.  Then I jumped up, prepared to check the paws of each of my cats, when the truth came rushing in on a flash of inspired memory, making me laugh aloud.

A ray of afternoon sunlight was slanting between the blinds onto the carpet, turning the cranberry flowers blood red.

I’m sure, Grandma, very sure, that you were laughing, too.

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “And Speaking of Prejudice”, in the Archives from 01/18/2018, and reprinted as “Racism Knows No Logic,” 06/10/2020)   

The Savage Reviewer

§   I depend heavily on reviews when selecting the books I read, and return the favor by writing reviews.  §

The ability to read online book reviews written by everyday readers instead of some pompous newspaper critic has been, I find, a marvelous advancement of the digital age. I depend heavily on reviews when selecting the books I read, and return the favor by writing reviews of every book that I finish (as well as a few books so bad that I do not finish them!)

Recently, I scrolled through the site where I post my reviews, re-reading some I’d submitted when I first began writing them a few years ago. It occurred to me as I perused my earlier reviews that I was a lot more hesitant to criticize—much kinder, and certainly far more generous–when I was initially writing book reviews. Now, having gotten into the swing of the game, I’ve become far more critical…and a lot more honest.

All this was running through my thoughts a few months ago as I reviewed a book I’d selected due to an intriguing plot summary. The novel, the very first by brand-new author, had only 10 reviews, all of them 5-Star ratings. Not being a complete moron, I knew that meant that the book had been reviewed only by loving family and non-critical friends. Nevertheless, the book sounded interesting, so I took a chance. And at first it seemed my gamble was justified; I liked the opening paragraphs; the tale seemed to be well-written–a rarity in these days of self-publishing–and the main character was a likeable woman. (There are few things worse than slogging through an interesting novel in which the main character is an irritating, self-serving asshole.)

Unfortunately, everything went downhill from there. I finished reading the whole the novel, although I have to say in all honesty that I did so only because I need to remark upon ALL the book’s failings, not just those found at the halfway point where I really gave up. No, I tortured myself all the way through the book, feeling I should provide multiple facts to counteract all those glowing 5-star reviews. Yet even as I typed the 2-Star review that I eventually submitted, I felt a current of guilt. Although not so much savage as straightforward, my words were bound to make the inexperienced author cringe, perhaps even cry. I sighed and reminded myself that I was attempting to save other readers from wasting their hard-earned money on this schlock. And, I consoled myself, who knew? If the author took my criticisms to heart, perhaps my honest, unflattering remarks might help her get to her next, much better, book–or even a revised edition of this sad attempt. Or so I told myself.

I was far less plagued by guilt over another very unflattering review I wrote for a novel which, despite yet one more promising plot summary and multiple flattering reviews, turned out to be unreadable. Simply unreadable. And that was a tragedy, because, with appropriate assistance—and if some of those flattering reviewers could have been honest—the book might have been great.

But the novel, a mystery, had been written in English by someone for whom English was quite obviously a second language. And while, technically, the author’s grasp of the language was excellent, well, God is in the details. And the details sucked.

The story began in a snowstorm. I think I finally gave up on the book about the third time I read the repetitive sentence, “The snow was hailing…”. Hailing?  What? Was the snow calling for a taxi? As I pointed out in my review, snow can fall. Hail can fall. It can be snowing. It can be hailing. But the snow can’t hail.

Then there was the fact that the car, a Rolls Royce, was constantly referred to as a Royce. Uh, nope. The casual reference is a Rolls. This minor but irritating error continued for page after page, setting my teeth on edge.

But the crowning blow was the sentence remarking that the only thing the characters could see was a “giant pile of snow blocking the road thanks to the car’s headlights.”

Oh, dear. A host of teachers from my distant past, probably all now long dead, rose up in protest.

As written, the sentence indicated that the snow was blocking the road because of the car’s headlights. I genuinely laughed out loud (sadly) reading that fractured sentence, correcting it in my mind to, “The only thing they could see, thanks to the car’s headlights, was the giant pile of snow…” (I shall I forbear even to mention that a “giant pile of snow” would generally be referred to as a snowdrift.)

Just before writing this essay, I reread my review of that novel. It was, as the title to this post implies, savage. Then, with equal honesty, I examined my own writing in this essay.

Yep, far from perfect.

But I was saved from abject embarrassment by two facts: First, I am not writing for publication, but for my own pleasure; and, second, I am not asking anyone to PAY for what I’ve written.

So as long as authors continue with those two objectives, well, I’ll just continue to style myself  The Savage Reviewer.

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “To Review or Not Review”,
which you may find in the archives on 12/13/2017.  You might also like the upcoming post, “Book Reports: Do Kids Still Have to Write Them?”, to be published soon.)

Folding the Laundry

§ If recognition, praise or approval are the reasons that we are working so hard for others, then we are lying to ourselves. §

A man I once dated was in dire straights. He’d been unemployed for quite a while following a series of life disasters (all, let it be said, of his own making), so he’d been forced to move into his sister’s home. Unable to pay rent to her, he took on (with, let it be noted, no little grumbling) all the household chores—cleaning, cooking, laundry, repairs, lawn care. His sister was working long hours of overtime at her retail job, so the arrangement suited them both. They barely saw one another, yet money was earned and necessary household work got done.

But one weekend Boyfriend needed to attend a meeting, one that he hoped might lead to a job. His sister would not be home, he explained, but his elderly cat was seriously ill and likely to pass soon. He did not want the animal to be alone, so he asked me to come out and look after the kitty for a few hours. I agreed.

Now, I am simply not one to sit idly. Even while watching TV, my hands are usually occupied with some chore—sewing, mending, crocheting, paying bills, or even just giving myself a manicure. So while I sat beside the poor sick little cat, stroking him occasionally and trying to convince him to drink or eat, I cast about for something to do. That was made fairly easy by the fact that several baskets of laundry were sitting there, clean but waiting to be folded.

And so I folded laundry, as I always do: carefully, precisely; sorting it all into categories so that it could be put away easily—socks here, towels and washcloths there, bedsheets and pillowcases in a separate stack. Shirts strung onto hangers with the top button fastened; jeans smoothed into a flat square so they could fit tidily into a drawer. I demolished those four baskets of laundry in no time and set them near the hall door so everything could be put away.

Arriving home in due course, Boyfriend noticed the baskets of finished laundry. He flung a “Oh, good!” in my general direction and grabbed them up to put the clothes away. (And if you’re thinking his behavior says something about the unhealthy quality of our relationship, you would be correct. But that’s a story for another blog post.)

I walked over, thinking I would help him store the clothes…and watched in disbelief and dismay as all my carefully, precisely, beautifully folded laundry was flung haphazardly onto shelves and pitched into drawers. The towels, washcloths, sheets and pillowcases were lobbed into a closet in which the linens were not even sorted by item, where nothing was folded at all, but simply wadded up in piles. The jeans were pitched into a pyramid at the bottom of the closet, and the shirts flung in the general direction of the rod, their hangers tangling together and dangling askew. The socks, neatly matched and sorted between dress and athletic socks, were tumbled together into a drawer atop a mess of other unmatched and unsorted footwear.

Worst of all, not even a word of genuine appreciation—something along the lines of, “It was nice of you to do this”—was spoken.

All my hard work was not only unappreciated, but totally for naught. Quietly fuming, I considered heaving the empty baskets across the room! Only the sight of the miserable kitty lying there on the couch kept me from doing so.

Putting my resentment on pause gave me a moment to reflect, though. I recalled that I hadn’t done this work for Boyfriend’s sake, but for my own, to keep my hands and mind occupied while I sat there sadly with his dying pet.

That incident was, I think now, a metaphor and a warning for all of us who are caretaker personalities; who continually go above and beyond for our loved ones, hoping, yearning for just a little recognition of our efforts, perhaps even a compliment. If recognition, praise or approval are the reasons that we are working so hard for others, then we are lying to ourselves. We are caring for our own needs, not theirs, and we need to acknowledge that fact; to pull back, and find a better way to take care of ourselves, before resentment and bitterness overcome us.

As for myself, I still fold laundry as I have always done, with precision and care. And in the years since my precious granddaughter was born, I have spent many an hour at my daughter’s home, not only folding the endless baskets of clean laundry as I watched over the little one, but washing dishes and sweeping floors; keeping my hands busy while helping my children, who suffer the overload of most modern parents. And each time they arrive home, seeing the baskets of neatly folded and carefully sorted and organized clean clothing, they inevitably say to me, “Mom, thank you so much for folding the laundry!”

(If you enjoyed this post, you might also like
“The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Rose Up to Smite Me”,
which you may find in the archives on 10/27/2017)

What the Very Best Memories Are Built On

§  Pleasant childhood memories come from the most unexpected sources.  §

While talking with a friend not long ago, something I said triggered a pleasant childhood memory for her.  Reminiscing, she told me that her father had been a salesman, on the road sometimes for a week or longer.   Each time he returned from a sales trip, he brought small, inexpensive gifts to her and her brother—things that cost him little or nothing, but simply delighted his small children.  My friend particularly remembered the little paper parasols from fancy drinks (what little girl doesn’t just love those silly things?)

But time passed and she and her brother grew older.  Cheap little mementos no longer sufficed to entertain them, and Dad probably didn’t want to spend his hard-won cash on more expensive keepsakes.  Finally, her Dad warned the two of them, “Don’t ask me what I brought you, or you won’t get anything!”  Of course, my then-young friend didn’t ask…but the parade of little souvenir gifts stopped, anyway.  Such is life as we grow up. But even though there were no more small presents to be had, my friend never forgot the pleasure and excitement of the special things her Dad had brought home from his travels to his young  daughter.

My friend’s memories triggered recollections of my own, things I hadn’t thought about in years.  When my brothers and I were small, I remembered, Dad would often come home on Friday nights bearing a handful of comic books for us.  Probably he had stopped to fuel up the car, and in that era, an attendant would have run out to pump the gas, clean the windshield, check the oil…  In any case, my Dad had time to run inside and grab a pack of his cigarettes, and then a handful of comic books for his children.  But he always chose the good comic books—not just Superman and Wonder Woman, Adam Strange, or The Legion of Superheroes, but many issues of the Illustrated Classics series; even comics that described fascinating times and events in history, such as the rise of the Viking culture.  I loved these beautifully illustrated “serious” comic books, and read them over and over.  Years later, I would be astonished to meet in actual book form the  stories that I’d enjoyed so much in my comic books, when I finally discovered H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

I remember, too, that when we had moved to the then-unpopulated far south suburbs of Indianapolis, there were nearly no restaurants in our little corner of the universe—or so it seemed to my disappointed 10-year-old-self.  There were certainly no movie theaters, and even the local grocery store was a far slog from the house. But there was a Dog ‘n Suds drive-in a couple of miles from our new home.  The Friday night comic book fest changed to the thrilling adventure of sitting in the car, devouring a delicious meal of hot dogs and fries and root beer after Dad got home from work.  (More than half a century later, I still love hot dogs and root beer, and be damned to how unhealthy a meal it is!)

Vacations, too, held memories for me that had little or nothing to do with the actual trips.  Of a childhood vacation to meet all of Mom’s relatives in Kentucky, I recall nothing at all about the people to whom I was introduced  except for one memorable incident with my distant cousins, when they and my older brother and I were chased madly down a country lane by an enraged sow after we’d gotten too close to her piglets.

And the long three-week trek my parents took us on one summer covering most of the American southwest, seeing supposedly-memorable scenery and monuments, still does not bear a candle in my memory to the year that we spent our summer vacation trekking from one State park to another, hiking the trails and feeding the wildlife, riding in surreys and marching cautiously across swaying suspension bridges, picnicking and stopping at country restaurants to eat huge platters of fried chicken served family-style, topped off by rainbow sherbet for dessert.

The most precious memories that children carry away from their childhood may well have nothing at all to do with what we, their parents, hope to have created for them.  The simplest of events and seemingly-inconsequential occurrences, totally forgotten by the adults in their lives, stand out limned in a brilliant halo of shining light in the mind of each once-child.  It is those incidents which become the bricks and mortar from which children build their most precious memories. As the adults in their lives, all we  can do is to provide them scraps of building material, and watch in wonder what they create from that offering.

Happy Almost-Birthday to you, Morrigan Lynn!
I hope the memories that we, your family, are helping you build will be glorious.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Dance At My Daughter’s Wedding”, which can be found in the Archives from May 11, 2018.

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

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.

Second Hand Rose

 §  To celebrate our upcoming Independence Day, I will extol a different way to buy American!  §

One of the worst aspects of the Indiana coronavirus lockdown was, for me, the inability to spend my free time shopping at flea markets and thrift and consignment or charity shops.  Tracking down wonderful and unexpected treasures at these markets has been one of my favorite pastimes for the past couple of decades.

Now, to be quite frank, there was a time in my youth when I would have been horrified at the notion of bringing second-hand goods into my home or wearing them on my back.  Even the name “flea market” (yes, it is unappealing!) sent a shudder down my spine.  That was, however, until one rainy weekend afternoon when I was convinced by an acquaintance to give the activity a try.  With nothing better to do and utterly bored, I agreed to traipse with her through a local flea market, figuring it would at least get my butt up off the couch.

Joining her on that first marketing adventure, I was amazed and astounded.  Yes, the shops contained an immense amount of junk, much of it dirty and obviously unloved, but there were also hidden riches just waiting to be unearthed.  I was astonished and delighted. Shopping at a thrift store or flea market was, I realized, a whole lot like a treasure hunt.  Often I came away empty-handed, but other times, why, at other times I was rewarded with masses of unexpected and unlikely prizes.  My “fleaze” I called them, the lovely things from furnishings to beautiful china and glassware that I delightedly discovered on my thrift shopping trips.

My obsession with second-hand goods has been possibly helped by the fact that my family is in no way pretentious or supercilious about gifts.  Instead, tightfisted and genetically bequeathed with the thrifty habits of our Scottish forebears, we are thrilled beyond measure when the giver, handing us something we really love or want as a birthday or holiday gift, can exclaim in excitement, “I found it at a consignment shop! You wouldn’t believe how little I paid for it!”  Yes, we are definitely all anti-snobs, gleefully gloating over our Scrooge-like frugality.

Some—most—of the furnishings and accessories in my home that I best enjoy have been purchased at flea markets, or at thrift or consignment or charity shops.  My adorable distressed dining room table and chairs and gorgeous antique rocker; the favorite green armchair that comforted me through a bad bout of flu; my converted-from-an-entertainment center china cabinets–all were purchased second-hand, and I genuinely value them.  Recycled goods have also nearly saved my bacon on a few occasions, such as the time when I, newly divorced, had to furnish an apartment for my teenage daughter and myself. I was leaving nearly every piece of furniture I owned behind with my ex-husband. But my sister-in-law contributed a loveseat that had been stored in her mother’s garage, while a friend provided a used entertainment center for our living room. Another friend bequeathed me a cast-off bunk bed for my child, while a neighbor sold me a daybed that she no longer needed.  Without those furnishings, my daughter and I would have been laying our heads to rest in sleeping bags and sitting on the floor to watch TV.

Despite constantly patronizing the second-hand shops and garage sales, I’ve never made so wondrous a discovery as an aunt who purchased a used cedar chest at a garage sale and, upon arriving home with her prize, discovered it had a false bottom where a hand-made antique quilt had been secreted.   I’ve never been that lucky.  Nor do I anticipate ever being one of those fortunate individuals who stumble upon a Van Gogh hidden in a rack of amateur artist’s paintings.  Instead, I’m over-the-moon if I can just find a fine piece of the hand-blown glass my brother treasures to add to his collection.

But perhaps the best thing about buying and using and really enjoying these recycled bits and pieces is that I am supporting the very smallest of small business owners: the little people who scour the moving and garage and estate sales and auctions, and who then rent a booth to peddle items ranging from the odd and unusual to the astounding.  The merchandise they sell, no matter where it might have originated, has been bought and owned and then discarded or contributed; purchased again and then prepared for resale.  And by the time any product has been through all that, been passed through so many citizen’s hands, no matter where it was once manufactured, it is an American product!

So I, proudly and happily, will continue on my treasure hunts to buy American “Fleaze”.