Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In Praise Of Elasticity



Intrigued but not wholly believing, I like to read my horoscope at the end of the day, to see just how accurate the dang thing is. Tonight's reading proved that today's was a bulls eye. It read: "Listen to a conversation on many levels. Look at facial expressions, consider the tone of voice and pay attention to what is not being said. You will see that there are many facets to what you are hearing."

Well, maybe not an exact bulls eye, but the gist is perfect. Without going into too much work detail, today, in my job helping people over the phone, I did a 180 in the space of about five minutes. Despite my best attempts to be non-judgmental and openhearted, I am human with prejudices. Those nasty buggers were getting the best of me at first as I talked to this particular person, but after listening a little more, I was able to dodge them and understand much better the real person I was talking to.

After years of working face to face with people--teaching, retail--I now work almost exclusively with people over the phone. And I love it. Facial expressions, body language, and just general appearances can certainly aid in helping to understand somebody, but they often can be a distraction at least and a mine field for prejudices at worst. I find that I need to--or maybe it's just really that I am able to--concentrate much more while on the phone, which enables me to understand better not only what is being said, but even, at times, what is not being said. Anyway, in this particular instance, and in dozens of others every week, my preconceived notions were obliterated, thankfully, by simply concentrating on what a person was saying.

Even before I read my horoscope, I was thinking about another short, though much more profound and "truthful" piece of writing: the great sentence that Herman Melville writes in his wonderfully compassionate opus Moby-Dick, when Ishmael, previously so freaked out by having to share a bed in an inn with the "pagan" "cannibal" Queequeg, reflects on things after getting to know his bedfellow a little bit: "Be it said, that though I had felt such a strong repugnance to his smoking in the bed the night before, yet see how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love once comes to bend them." Have truer words ever been spoken?

I think of all the things--people, especially, but also foods, music, books, locales, whatever--I've grown to appreciate and even love after first dismissing them, usually out of some stupid fear. I love the elastic metaphor Melville uses to characterize prejudice. What a world this might yet become if everybody could just meditate on that image for a while. We all have prejudices, which should be self-apparent, but the thought that they are so elastic, so bendable, with the instigation of just a little love, love or its vast components--compassion, knowledge, open-mindedness, etc.--is such a comfort.  

St. Herman, the patron saint of elastic.

Monday, April 7, 2014

At Least We Un-Rich Aren't Boring



Some things are so stupid you shouldn't even waste breath commenting about them. But that's what blogging's for, I've discovered, so here goes. I saw a news story (sic) the other day telling the world the five things the rich don't like to talk about. Some tony investment firm (the likes of which I'll never even sniff a business card from) actually commissioned a study to find out the top "don't even go there's" of the hoity toity. Avoiding the obviously only response to this study--who gives a rat's ass, which I obviously did because I read the insipid thing--I love the fact that the study was commissioned by a tony investment firm. It's like the Vatican studying what priests talk about. Open your ears, jot a few notes, study done. Right?

Anyway, surprise surprise, the rich don't like talking about money, politics, sex, religion, and health.

Which leaves croquet and crumpets, I believe.

As Neil Young said, it's a lot more interesting in the ditch. See you there, and bring five bucks if you can spare it until Friday, thanks.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Is The Face Of Menopause Sympathy


Yes, that is my mug above. And no, the comments about a resemblance to Phillip Seymour Hoffman haven't increased or decreased much since his death. They've just gotten a little stranger.

Anyway, is there really anything unusual about my face? I don't think so. And yet, if we were some kind of weirdly obscure scientists and had enough time on our hands, maybe we could detect something in that visage, that benign countenance that might help explain the phenomenon I've recently encountered that has me wondering about my face for the first time in years. You see, totally unbidden (as if one would ever bid for such a thing), various women I know have felt extremely comfortable telling me all about their problems with hot flashes. Two of my most immediate co-workers inform me all the time, and today, as I was innocently getting some coffee and innocently asked another not-so-familiar co-worker, "How's it going," as she passed me at the coffee maker, the response I got was, "I'd be doing a lot better without these hot flashes."

Now I have great respect for women's hormones, and great respect for whatever those hormones do to disrupt a woman's daily enjoyment of life, but--and I mean this in the most respectful way possible--I don't give a damn. I wish women all the best and a life of ease, comfort, and good vibes, etc., but just as I assume they don't really need to know about whatever itch issues I might be dealing with, I assume that I don't need to know about the thermal dynamics going on with them. Am I nuts in this? I mean, what am I supposed to do with this info? Crank a window? Suggest removing a sweater? What? Tell me and I'll do it. I'm seriously thinking of walking around with a ping pong paddle in one hand (the closest thing to a fan I possess) and a spray water bottle in the other--"Well, sorry. Need a spritz?"

I never want to be nasty. I'd like to believe that on the whole I'm a considerate, even kind man. So I don't want to use this great platform to scream, "Stay away from me all you over-heating women!" No, not at all. If, as it damn near is appearing to be, I am destined to be the Statue of Liberty for hot-flashing distressed women ("Give me your sweaty, broiling, dying-for-a-cool-breeze women") so be it. I'll stand there, smile as unweirdly as possible, and say something like, "Oh, I'm sorry. Can I get you some cold water?" I will gladly serve, but until further explanation, I'll do so in sheer wonderment of the twists and turns life provides for us. But beware ladies, sooner or later I'm going to crack, and one of you is going to hear a long diatribe about my 4 a.m. pee break that morning. I apologize in advance.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Holy Chit Chat!



Pope Francis, a true papal mensch, turned heads today when he confessed his sins to what the media called "an ordinary priest" (it's Lent, leave your oxymoron jokes at home), rather than his private confessor. Just another great modest gesture on his part. But one can't help but wonder ...

  • I confess I would have rather met Michelle than Barack.
  • I crave beef jerky on Fridays in Lent.
  • I regret not taking the red shoes. Slick, suave, and quite comfy!
  • Let me off with two Hail Marys and I'll let you call me Frank.
  • Benedict's kind of a bore when he gets talking encyclicals. 
  • In this town, I covet my neighbor's pasta.
  • I merely skim the begat sections in the Bible.
  • I voted for Drew Carey on DWTS. Who I am to judge? I'm the Pope, darn it!
  • I read Angels and Demons. Twice.
  • I bought a bootleg DVD of Noah two weeks ago from a guy on the street.
  • I sometimes sing "Infallible Me" in the shower to the tune of "Embraceable You."
  • Joel Osteen gives me the willies.
  • I love the smell of incense in the morning.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Would You Believe?


  • I've been on a Mormon mission?
  • I forgot how to write?
  • Working on Obamacare rollout?
  • Running the Cleveland Browns?
  • Forgot my password?
  • Been busy metal detecting?
  • Took a wrong turn?
  • Been stuck in a Cleveland pothole?
  • Looking for my golf ball in the woods?
  • Writing songs with Bob Dylan?
  • Comforting Mitt Romney?
  • Spelunking?
  • Winning a grant to write a novel?
  • Writing a novel?
  • I'm going to try to revive this thing once again?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Wide World Of Sports Diplomats


In a world where one of the top stories of the day (okay, yesterday) is that the retiring pope will be sporting brown loafers instead of his stylish red shoes, I guess one shouldn't be too ruffled by the news that Dennis Rodman is among a contingent of basketball players headed to the stand offish global bully land of North Korea on a "basketball diplomacy" mission. Looking past the absurdity of the words Dennis Rodman and mission in the same sentence, the notion is preposterous, isn't it? Three hundred million Americans, one-hundred fifty (million) of whom probably have more basketball knowledge and skills than the average North Korean, and The Worm gets to go? I'm no mathematician, certainly no jingoistic, America is always the best booster, and hardly a Rodman hater--I always admired his rebounding, defensive, and all-around opponent-obfuscating skills and found him mildly amusing and benignly inoffensive--but really, Dennis Rodman, diplomat? It's like casting John Belushi in a Jane Austen novel.

But who knows, fifty years of staid American foreign policy weens haven't managed to dent North Korea, so maybe this is some crazily bright CIA reverse psychology ploy. Come to think of it, maybe we need to see more of this type of thing, sending our crazy sports personalities to all the world's hot spots--not only to get them out of our consciousness for a short while, but also to let them infect our enemies with their own unique brands of lunacy. It might not be Brave, but it's certainly a Ditzy New World out there; let's fight fire with fire. Send Lance Armstrong to Syria, please. If Jim Harbaugh wants to go jaw to jaw with the Taliban and Al Qaida zealots, who am I to object? God only knows if there's a crazed dictator wreaking global hellfire on Easter Island, but the Land of Those Big Heads sure seems like the ideal place to ship Barry Bonds to for a few months. Somehow Atlantis calls out for a visit from Manti Te'o, no? But really, all of this is just prelude, sowing the seeds of America's taking over the world by sending all of our sports idiots to troublesome spots to force the enemy to surrender in madness, to my proposed coup de grace, the sports diplomatic mission that will go down in American foreign relations as the ultimate triumph: I guarantee you, two days of non-stop airing of a Stephen A. Smith-Skip Bayless debate about Dwight Howard, RG III's knee, or Danica Patrick's racing acumen, and the current Evil Empire that is Iran will be reduced to a nation of keening, whining, ready-to-embrace-all-things-West-if-you-just-get-these-ESPN-blowhards-away-from-us-for-nothing-more-than-a-two-minute-station-break capitulants. Any doubters? I didn't think so. Rodman, you're a trailblazer. You go, Worm.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Big Deal, Eskimos, Or, I Bet Quinn Just Said Snow, Or, I'm Sick Of Winter


Let me start by saying, screw the groundhog. By my calculations, it's been 22 days, more than three weeks, since the celebrated beast allegedly didn't see his shadow, thus supposedly sparing us six more weeks of winter. Well, even a generous benefit of the doubt doesn't excuse 22 days, more than three weeks, which is more than 50% of the prediction time, of more winter. Cold, blustery, and snowy--that's the last 22 days--and my handy Internet 10-day weather forecast (which is absurd in theory, but in practice seems to be pretty accurate) is calling for nothing but the same. My usual carefree, live and let live, ambivalence toward rodents is being severely tested by cold gray windy snowy mornings, followed by cold gray windy snowy afternoons, followed by cold gray windy snowy nights. Mr. Varmint, I'm not all right.

But to my point--why the hell do Eskimos get such good, non-damning press? I pondered this should-be-obvious question today when, while reading an otherwise great book, the author made use of that tired old trope, "the Eskimos have x amount of words for snow." First of all, have you ever heard the same number used twice in this claim? Never. It's like asking three conspiracy theorists how many shots were fired in Dealey Plaza and expecting anything like less than six different numbers. Seventeen, forty-three, one-seventy-two. Who knows? How's about one word--balderdash. I'd bet my battery-powered ice scraper that 99% of Eskimos wake up each morning, peak their heads out of their igloos, and say the exact two words I've been saying every morning for months now: "Effing snow!" (Please, don't get me started on igloos. Centuries ago, fine. But tell me now there's not a Loews or a The Home Depot within an easy dogsled ride of any in-the-market-to-build-a-new-home self-respecting Eskimo.) More than roses are roses or cigars are just cigars, snow is snow. There is absolutely no need to get poetic or effusive in your lexical creativity with regards to snow. And if you do, if there are indeed dozens of Eskimo words for snow, than I really pity the Eskimos; just goes to show you what cold redundant boredom can do to an entire race. But really, do we need to revere them so, to say in shaman-like wise hushed tones, "The Eskimos have eighty-three words for snow." Eskischmos, more like it. Show some spunk, people. If they've been that inundated with snow for millennia to the point where they have all that time to come up with new words for snow, how creatively inept can they be? My God, any other people with a decent language--the Chinese, French, English, Spanish, Swahilis, Esperantese--wouldn't have wasted all that time or energy on snow; there'd be scores of great expletives to pick and choose from: Each day of a February like this one could be greeted with a distinct one: Beebing snow, haitching snow, emming snow, dubyan snow. Imagine the fun cussing would be if the Scots lived in the Eskimos' climate. Have you ever heard of any these purported sixty-five words for snow? Didn't think so. If we had, if, on a particularly wet, flaky, blowy morning, we all got up and said, "effing, snow, no, this ain't no everyday snow, this is, as the Eskimos call it, effing groth," then maybe we'd be correct in so reverently saying that the "Eskimos have one-thousand-three-hundred-nineteen words for snow, you know?" But whatever the words are, not a damn one of them is worthy enough for any of us to know it, let alone use it. I mean, you used to hear all the time that Steve Allen had written 1.700 songs, but since you couldn't hum one of them if you had an Eskimo threatening to harpoon your skull if you didn't, you'd never include old Steverino in the same discussion with Gershiwn, Porter, Lennon-McCartney, would you? You ever hear any buzz around Nobel time that this year the Literature committee will probably throw a bone to the Eskimos and select, well, name me just one famous Eskimo writer? Jack London doesn't count. They build igloos, rub their noses, have ninety-three words for snow, and supposedly have good cholesterol numbers. Hey guys, get in line behind the Ancient Greeks for all-time best. I'm no polymath, but from where I sit on this cold night, the greatest cultural achievement of the Eskimos is the way Nat King Cole says, "Es-skee-mos" in "The Christmas Song."

Now I mean no offense. You certainly don't--as a race--need to be creative wizards for me to respect you. I have nothing but the warmest regards for the Flemish. But please, let's not get all mystical and whispery when referring to the Eskimos having two-hundred-and-four words for snow. And by the way, I do my research. Wikipedia claims the Eskimos have more than 1,000 words for reindeer. I think the people need not our reverence, but a one-week cruise in the Caribbean, power optional.