Category Archives: nostalgia
In modern tymes, it is difficult to avoid corporate jargon invented by management smoothies who write books. This invasive lexicon trickles down via Meetings and Presentations to people that have not read the books. Like a parasite, it penetrates each Host and rewires his brain, implanting annoying phrases and replacing perfectly good words with bogus ones, such as “utilize” for “use,” and “impact” (as a verb) for “affect.” A “platform” is always “robust” — when a number of other adjectives would suffice. A “problem,” apparently a dirty word, is reduced to a “challenge.”
I’m not sure why corporate language is grating, but it makes my friends insane. I suppose it’s because the speakers of this terrible language are parroting management smoothies — instead of using their brains – because they think it sounds more sophisticated. Yes, that’s what it is. Dumb, over-repeated phrases are Downloaded, Integrated, and Utilized by the speaker to sound more articulate or techy.
Thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope, and being on the same page, now 20 years old, cease to amuse. But the newer ones, often hyphenated, remain rich. The white space. Multi-tiered. Value-added. Portal-based. Drill down. Impactfulness. Granular.
Hilariously, a founder of Silicon Graphics invented Buzzword Bingo, to be played surreptitiously at meetings where it is likely that speakers will deploy buzzwords or arcane business concepts rather than supplying actual information. Bingo card squares come pre-loaded with corporate jargon, and you get a dot each time some silly lingo on your card is spoken in the meeting. The various ways to announce that one has achieved BINGO are mouth-watering. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in such a meeting, mercifully, but I’d suggest alternate mischief wherein contestants randomly combine buzzwords in nonsensical ways to jar deeply tranquilized meeting-goers out of their fog, e.g., “Drilling down to multi-tiered value-addedness was impactful,” or “His low-hanging fruit is right in my wheelhouse.”
The Corporate BS Generator, a fun online pastime, takes 2 “corporate” adjectives and randomly pairs them with a noun. Synergistic, results-based solutions. Top-down, client-driven transparency. Go ahead, make your own. What’s more fun than spewing twaddle?
I asked some of the brilliant cynics I call friends for their most despised terms. Their choices:
From CT: Alignment – when all divisions of an “enterprise” need to buy office furniture in the official corporate color palette. Branding – see above regarding the color palette. Re-branding – new colors.
From VT: Silos (not the farms). Organic (not the food). Cross-pollination (not the bees).
From NY: Reaching Out – “I thought I’d reach out” rather than “I’m contacting you.” Disintermediation – eliminating the middle man. Multi-sourcing – code for outsourcing. Business Development – a.k.a Sales. Market Development – a.k.a. Marketing.
It makes me wax nostalgic about another form of invasive language, one I welcomed as Host, probably because I was an unsuspecting child at the time. It remains a part of us. Yes, television advertising.
Wessonality. Certs with Retsyn®. Figurines (“Crunch crunch crunch crunch crunch.”) “I’m Rula Lenska.” (Alberto V05). Kind of wow, kind of now (Charlie!). “She conked out, but her hair held up,” (Final Net). “…and my dress is vivid red,” (RCA). I miss the flagrantly untrue, now-illegal product claims (Mark Eden’s “bust enhancement”) as I miss TV in general back then, when snow shoes were always falling out of closets, people were routinely shot out of cannons, and “the old switcheroo” prevailed.
For good or bad, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. Now TV shows are based on doctored “reality,” and the ads are all for prescription medicines (“side effects may include new body hair, sleepwalking, swollen tongue…”), or class-action lawsuits (“Were you or a loved one exposed to…THIS?”). Just as Fab detergent had an intoxicating secret ingredient (lemon-freshened Borax), today the power of suggestion secretly leads us by the hand to litigation and a cascade of daily pills. Well, at least the car commercials remain. A comfort. Until they start driving themselves.
Let’s face it. Sometimes a problem is not a challenge; it is a bloody problem. It may not be fun or solvable. I had so many “challenges” outside my “sphere of influence” recently that in the ocean I was momentarily afraid of my own shadow — thought it was some kind of ray, poised for attack. My advice: when the going gets that rough, get yourself on a robust platform that can withstand the weight of a cannon, get a cannon, climb inside it, ask someone to spark that baby up, and just get the hell out of there. Good day.
*This title written before Harvey hit Houston.
** Cannon photo credit and interesting column here.
I don’t think I can improve upon this old St. Patty’s Day post. It pretty much says it all.
But if you follow me on Twitter (@uvgvt), I’ll retweet the cement mixer parade in Burlington. It’s what we dew.
I don’t know where to begin in trying to make sense out of 2016 for Dear Reader. In my current state of beleaguered puzzlement I am unqualified. It says something about this past year that so many watched Gilmore Girls (fanciful escapism), and guests who said they were coming to our holiday party simply didn’t show (boggled torpor…or home watching GG).
Observing actual, known stars in the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies this year, these oeuvres normally populated by actors you’ve never heard of, I had to wonder: desperate for work or, like most of us, just trying to contribute something positive in a world gone mad while wearing a corrective overblouse* to conceal unsightly swags of waistmeat?
What a year. The departures of Prince, Bowie, Shandling, Frey, Ali, Wilder, Cohen, Palmer, Zsa Zsa, Michaels, Princess Leia and her funny mom, and Wessonality ~ and that’s just the celebrities. Olympic swimming shenanigans and women’s gymnastics gold. Refugees tossed about the globe. The Cubs. A female announcer at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gushing at a Victoria’s Secret model on live television about what an “honor” it must be to wear the Fantasy Bra. Women my age everywhere trotting around in stilettos – an orthopedic surgeon’s dream. Throw in, oh, the election and its aftermath, with the promise of a completely bizarre year ahead, and you have undiluted global befuddlement.
Now I’m not a strict party voter. I vote for the seemingly best candidate. Some of my truest friends are republicans, libertarians, anarchists, apoliticos, and members of the blissful ignorati. I’m not that smart myself. I had no answer when a young person asked at Thanksgiving, “Are there any vegetarian republicans?” I don’t know. Are there?
I don’t trouble myself with politics much because it’s evidently out of my control; at my advanced age I don’t fret about the uncontrollable unless it involves immediate family or friends. I’m old. Not old-old. Not Crazy Old Duffer with a limited range of movement old, not bumbling around Mr. Magoo old. Just tired old. Not-that-hopeful old. Old enough to speculate about some great feat I might accomplish, or imagine some sooper piece of good fortune that might come my way, ponder this notion briefly, and go, “Nah.” I’m pretty much just trying to avoid pain at this point.
Old. I embarrass myself with antiquated references. At work I mention interoffice mail, pneumatic tubes, or Telex… at parties I’ll bring up Schweddy Balls, Lemon-freshened Borax or the Hooterville Cannnonball, exclaiming hilariously, “Book ’em, Danno,” or “Where’s the beef?” while lurching around the buffet like an old jalopy, the young people rolling their eyes — Where’d you dig up this old dino? — as their parents laugh heartily, if not without a certain flushed derangement, at my archaic allusions.
A friend is using paper flash cards to get through school; she has to make them because flash cards are digital now. You can’t find a taxi, what with the Uber takeover, which I wouldn’t mind except I can’t figure out the Uber app half the time. Is a car coming? Did I order one? I can’t tell. I can’t even see my phone.
One excuse for our escalating idiocy is that we work long hours and are routinely exposed to an excess of information. There’s little free time. We end up doing everything too fast. Emails I send are definitely not carefully read by their recipients; if I ask 3 questions, I’m lucky to get 2 answered. I think I read things carefully, but I guess not. I saw in an office notice that some employees will be “executed” where it really said “excluded” (seemed harsh). I interpreted a bulletin board’s “selectboard meeting” as “skateboard meeting” (more fun!). I misread a newspaper headline, Signs of Natural Resources on Mars, as Signs of Human Resources on Mars. (Did they find, like, on the planetary surface, an HR pamphlet, Respecting Other Martians in the Workplace & Grooming Guidelines?) I think I remember everything. Yet a friend insists that “chocolate bedroom antics” is something we discussed recently with big laffs. Zero recollection. Old.
Suggestion for 2017: tune out and slow down. Do less. Device less. Pay attention in conversation. Go to the movies. Read a magazine. Sort a drawer. Take a nap. Love. Do one thing at a time. You might actually remember it. Good day, good luck and – let’s hope – good year.
*Nod to Zora
Twitter handle: @uvgvt.
When I’m not puzzling about our political climate, pondering which mosquito-borne illness is most likely at a particular time of day (West Nile by night; Zika and dengue by day) or fretting about The Really Big One, I’m contemplating the flip side of everything for dear Reader. And as I peripatetically examine Vermont’s many splendours, I collect observations and nuggets of solid gold for your reading pleasure in our dark modern tymes.
Such as this gem during a holiday weekend, from a doctor I met lakeside: “My research is online. Google me.” I’ve never heard the verb Google with me as the object of the verb – brilliant! Let’s say it a lot. The world is a mess. We could use the laffs.
The Olympics upon us, I am unable to wax desperate about world affairs. The sweat of many nations* diverts us, joyfully. From the opening ceremony to the first “On your mark!” to the extinguishing of the torch, we are riveted by the athletes’ discipline, costumes, and youth.
Observation: when I started watching the Olympics (first televised in the US in 1960) in 1968, the athletes were all older then I. Now they’re all younger. Much. And very different from me. As the official slogan for the first Olympic and Paralympic Games in South America says: A New World. A new world I can no more fathom than I can navigate. The technology alone…there are many, many things now beyond our control. With everything from the car to the toaster computerized, we can’t fix anything that’s busted. Our children and grandchildren know more than we do, for the first time in the history of the world. We’re in a weird place because of it. I’m pretty sure that when we were kids, everything was our fault. We were in the way, we were noisy, we broke things, we cost a lot. Now, as adults, everything is our fault. We destroyed the planet etc. etc.
A term we non-Olympians hear only every 2 years is Degree of Difficulty. As my father would agree, the Degree of Difficulty in just plain living has greatly increased in our part of the world in recent years. We are assaulted by information and images of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, and exposed to waves and rays of all kinds. There is too much bad news televised, too many climatic disasters, too much violence and economic upheaval boggling our beans — and that’s not counting the disappearance of products we loved, the prevalence of fakely famous “celebrities,” and horrible fashion trends. No wonder we can’t sleep.
Can’t sleep? Hell, stay up till midnight every single night watching the O’s. It’s where the degree of difficulty is measurable and finite, unlike in the rest of life. It’s the only place you’ll hear caldron in a non-pagan setting, the term aquatic stadium, and podium as a verb, e.g., ”I plan to podium.”
When life’s degree of difficulty proves too much and you hit the wall, achieving the unfortunate state that psychologists call learned helplessness, just pack it in. Leave the dishes in the sink, the bills unpaid, kick up your feet, and turn on the tube. Gaze at the beautiful youth of earth’s many Lands with their crazy-good feats and grace and energy, with compelling close-ups of their unashamed thrills of victory and agonies of defeat.
And the sounds! The parallel bars. The diving board. The thwaks and panting. The excited sportscasting and cheering of the fans will rouse you. You’ll see people going absolutely nuts because they won the bronze. And with today’s high def TVs, you’ll feel like you’re cycling right along with them, swimming underneath them, vaulting through the air alongside them, or falling off the balance beam despite your finest efforts. It’s like when Bugs Bunny was chasing the mechanical rabbit lure at the dog track. You are right there with them. It’s virtual reality and it sure feels good. We have to take advantage of what slim benefits Modern Tymes offer, indeed.
Not into sport? Volunteer or hang out with the YP’s.** Despite the hideosity of the man bun, with its possibly samurai provenance, and their disinterest in anything awkward or random***, the YPs are lovely beings of light, so polite and “Howzitgoing?” and “Tell me what’s good!” and “You’re fine.” With them, bigotry and bias and dependence upon fossil fuels will vanish. Miraculous inventions and ways of thinking will solve climate change, restore the polar ice cap, correct water problems, feed the world, and repopulate vanishing species.
But for now, dear Reader, give up. Recline on the couch and win the bronze. Leave the future to the YPs. Google yourself silly. Everything will be okay. Good vaulting and good day.
DON’T TRY TO GET PEOPLE TO DO STUFF THEY DON’T WANT TO
It’s like throwing water on a grease fire.
SOMEONE YOU KNOW LOVES CHEESE
Show up with a wheel of cheddar.
CAKE BY THE OCEAN
Pretty baby, if they play that song one…more…time….
*Nod to Jon Hayman
***Nod to Adam Gopnik on “The Moth”
A cherished friend left our plane recently, taking his himness with him. His passing leaves a vast hole we look into and ponder. Am I living life as richly as he? Do I spread joy like that? With whom will I now discuss the peculiar appeal of sherry? Prince was not the friend, but he’s also left a giant void.
Fact is, in your 20s and 30s you’re pretty much the same. In your 40s you begin changing. In your 50s: boom. You’re different, inside and out. I told a friend, “Suddenly we’re older than the parents of school children.” His response: “Way older.”
Earth too is rapidly changing, her creatures with it. The YPs (young people) — my lord — they’re self-assured, clever, upbeat. And TALL. Especially the girls. Like herds of longhaired gazelles. Their male panther counterparts greet each other with, “Hey bro, what’s good?” or, “Tell me what’s good.” One parent says that because the world is so screwy, they specifically request good news. I like it. I like them.
As Kanye designs ugly velour tracksuits and Teletubby-like outfits and Taylor Swift’s haircut eclipses real news, I feel like an old dino. But as a Baby Boomer, I am not outnumbered. I enjoy baffling the YPs by singing, “I’m so glad we had this time together,” or the theme to Gigantor. The YPs are like, “Huh?” – a “word” my generation considers gauche, much as our parents did the word “like” as used here.
Try dropping pearls such as “the old switcheroo”; “Oh, Miss Crabtree”; “Your muffler: fix it!”; or “The agony of defeat.” These and the hook used in Vaudeville are lost on the YPs, akin to our parents’ referencing Your Show of Shows. We can’t memorize phone numbers and we know little about social media, gaming, graphics, or the actors with three names, but we remember like yesterday how every time Rob Petrie opened a closet, a snowshoe fell out.
It’s a lot of work to avoid becoming hopelessly out of touch. My chiro’s daughter said recently, “Mom, instead, could you wear, like, leggings and boots?” So twice a week she does. When did pants become foolish? Our mothers didn’t want us to wear pants in public; now our kids don’t. Hell, we fought to wear pants. I’m wearing them. Corduroys, painters pants, cigarette pants … bring it awn. Let’s bring back knickers. Bloomers.
Alas, we’ll have to keep up or give up – in planned communities, retirement villages, or facilities designed for people who can’t climb stairs. Considering this is depressing. But mostly we don’t think about it. Like old jalopies, my People have seen a lot of road and have hit some motherless potholes. So we’re kind to each other. We still see each other as we were: vibrant, sexy, hilarious, relevant. Who cares how the rest of America sees us? Our People’s opinions are what matters, right?
And we’re losing our People. With them goes our inside jokes, our shared memories, who we are. So with the (still many) friends yet here, we toddle off into the future. We’ll floss our receding gums to Physical Graffiti and snort about wattles, jowls, Portosan® waiting line etiquette, air raid drills, Mystery Date, fake ID’s, and Match Game ’76 as we MacGyver our walkers. We’ll know we’ve become pathetic, but we’ll have the sun and the moon and each other. We won’t have to be 5’11”, we’ll be the right height to see each other without hurting our necks. We won’t need mirrors, we’ll have our People’s chortling visages to reflect our own. We won’t even need our minds any more; we have what a friend calls his “external brain”: the smart phone. Or whatever that device evolves into by then. Some sort of implant.
The world seems worsening with miseries, often monetary. Following, dear Reader, are causes for hope: 1. As financial experts report, the market is turbulent during presidential races; after the election, regardless of who wins, the market soars. 2. My hunch is that once the economic inequity that has plagued Earth for so long balances out some, ISIS et alia will wither from lack of interest. 3. As the races and creeds intermingle throughout the Lands, there is ever less fear of Other. The earth becomes more diverse locally, breeding a new level of understanding (the Age of Aquarius, YPs!). When we work or play with someone unlike us, we see them as a person, not a type. This, of course, if there’s any land left after the glaciers melt.
And so, in what time you have left, what do you most want to do? Of your many possible contributions, what is your best choice? What gets your groove on? What will matter in the end? Do that. If you’d like to discuss it over a glass of sherry, ring me up. I’d like that. Good day.
Departed friend, we’ll miss so your wit and empathy, wisdom and cheer. Safe travels.
firstname.lastname@example.org ann.aikens.7 on Facebook. Twitter handle: at @uvgvt.
Some things are perfect. The old tymey songs you sang with your aunt in Bellows Falls, the laughs you had together doing so, and the Easter egg tree on her piano.
No room for improvement.
For decades I bolted out of bed. Now I return from dreamland and marinate in random thoughts awhile. Thoughts like, “I never ran so fast in my life.” That one after a fleeting memory of being in the woods with my rowdy Vermont cousin and his BB gun. Guns were foreign to a suburban girl. My cousin would aim at knots in trees, or critters like chipmunks whereupon I’d yell, “NO!” and give the barrel a shove. Surely kids went blind from those things. Nice toy.
Point is, he once levelled it at a distant object, inhaled, exhaled slowly and murmured, “RUN.” I whispered back what is it? KAPOW. “A hornet’s nest,” he replied. I never ran so fast in my life.
Until the time in our teens when a friend and I were out in the snow at night, as kids were then allowed to be. We thought it a good idea to walk down the hill into people’s back yards. No one had shades drawn. It was pretty interesting. People do a lot of ordinary things at home wearing bad or little clothing. A large, angry man barreled out in his skivvies. “HEY YOU!” I never ran so fast in my life.
When I told my Vermonty college friend, 53, about the bee’s nest, he said without pause, “That’s good fun.” He said it never loses its charm, watching people’s faces as he throws a rock at a nest. Astonished, I asked when was the last time he did this. “Last year.” He’s in better physical shape than most, but still. Well, that’s Vermont for you.
The running memories reminded me of Meatballs, wherein Bill Murray’s pathetic, ragtag camp summer camp unit would certainly fail in a footrace against a rich, athletic unit. For years I’d remembered Murray’s soliloquy as stirring a chant of “We’re number two!” I was wrong. It is, in fact, this chant: “It just doesn’t matter!”
There’s something to be said for lying around thinking thoughts and for enjoying the race when you’re in no position to win. Ours is a competitive society. While I’m all for striving for excellence, and snub the modern “Everyone gets a trophy,” there’s a comparative element that makes people unhappy. Unhappiness does not serve the cosmic soup on Planet Earth.
For example, without sitting on boards or known committees, I have contributed in ways that won’t yield a respectable obit. But my eulogy should be good when I go. And I’d be much happier driving my humble car to a drafty cabin, laughing my face off with my ham-handed monkey boy, than riding in a Maserati with Joe Bucks to an unhappy McMansion and winging dysfuntionally to St. Bart’s. I’m not saying there are no happy McMansionite sports car enthusiasts who totally dig their hedge fund jobs and (accomplished!) families and fancy vacations—because there are—I’m just saying if I had to choose between low-end fun and pricey misery. And that you shouldn’t compare yourself and feel less than. What good in that?
Our high school field hockey team was lucky. We were Title IX girls whose beater, Girls Scout tunic-like uniforms were replaced by smart kilts with turtle necks. As the blue-collar neighbor of rich towns, we’d had no hockey program in middle school thus were three years behind our competitors. But we had mettle and, in spades, humor. On the game bus we’d recite hilariously outdated sexist cheers and make barn noises (our winning football never allowed to speak on their bus). I’d yell during scrimmages to Meg, “Do the crumple!” and she’d collapse realistically, just for kicks. We didn’t have the best record—how could we—but we had the most fun. We somehow made it to sectionals, and lost, but we felt like winners. We’d come a long way, baby.
Go for the silver. Hell, go for the bronze. Everyone can’t win, for God’s sake. Do your best at things you enjoy. Produce a good eulogy. In my rule book, s/he who laughs the most wins. Laughter is money. Good day.
Best Bumper Sticker of Fall, Seen at Farmer’s Market:
YES WE CANNED.
When parents get involved in their children’s projects, a great inequity is born. I remember my friends’ middle school-aged kids’ projects for Science Fairs. They looked, by God, these trifold standup posters explaining the experiment, as if they’d been published by Random House. The other kids’ looked like, well, coloring books. Except for the ones made by their parents.
Girl Scouting was no different. In the 70s you had the laissez-faire parents like mine, God love ‘em, then you had the competitive superparents. They were troop leaders, usually, and their daughters had 200 merit badges on their sashes. My mom was a troop leader, but not the superparenting kind; more the “Look it up” kind. We had to earn our own merit badges, meaning do the work ourselves. Imagine that! We had to actually read the instructions and carry them out. If you didn’t understand something, in your Girl Scout Handbook or math book, a parent would bark, “Look it up!” without glancing up from the stovetop, martini, or newspaper. None of this coddly, “Let’s get going on it, honey … together!” None of this everything-at-your-fingertips Internet business, no sir, not for us.
What if we had to walk around today with sashes pictographically representing our accomplishments? Rich concept, that. Some people would have lots and lots of badges, some would have a few, and some would turn their nose at the “charade” even if they’d accomplished much. The highly competitive would have extra-long sashes trailing behind them like a royal brides’s train, or folded over repeatedly back and forth like ribbon candy, loaded down with those little embroidered circles of merit (crafted by … the children of the fine sweat shops of Indonesia?) The rest of us could fit our sash under a slender coat.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved earning those badges and sewing them by hand (myself! With the skills acquired in Brownies!) to my sash. I feel for the poor troop leader who ordered them, probably with 27-character alphanumeric codes they had to enter on a form and mail in (CANOE999 … FIRSTAID2704 … ETIQUETTE5328 — wait, did the Boys Scouts have Etiquette??? Certainly not HOUSEKEEPING like the early Girl Scout badge).
I could see this being of societal benefit in modern tymes. Like last spring when the months-old layer of snow melted and there was dog do all over town. It was a minefield out there. Maybe if there had been merit badges involved, people would have been more diligent about poopingscooping (gotta be a great German word for that). This got me — and the crazed nutters I call friends — thinking of incentive-based or generally perverse applications of such badges.
Proposed Merit Badges for Adults in Modern Tymes:
Recycling. Putting The Seat Down. Turning In Lost Objects. Moderation in Facebook Posting. Echolocation. Hoarding. Closet Organizing. Image Consulting. Photo Bombing. Comparative Shopping. Lawn Care. Adult Hygiene. Cell Phone Videography. Social Climbing. Commuting. Unfriending. Rabble Rousing. Lamprophony (look it up). Little Sister of the Moon (Stevie Nicks-esque Wicca skills). Little Brother Annoying. Patent Leather Appreciation. Cyber Stalking. Fast Texting. 50 Shading. Hermitude. Internet Bullying. Cellphone Minute Conservation. Hair Extension Weaving. Sleepover Safety. Bad Boy Dating. Texting Shorthand (u 2 want 1). Throning.
A friend asks, “What about a merit badge called Olive Loaf for those of us in the “sandwich” stage, caring for both children and aging parents?” Another writes: “OMG. I’m going to get a good picture of my sash. I GLUED the SEWING badge on the sash. I think I fibbed to ACHIEVE this number of badges … all glued on for speedy sense of ACCOMPLISHMENT and ACHIEVEMENT.
Others suggested: “How about the Aria Stark badge for when you kill an adversary?” Or “The Donald Trump badge for the girl who sells the most cookies? The theme would be twisted of course to emphasize greed rather than ‘do-gooding’ for a cause. The recipient would be all about the prize she wins.”
Feel free to create your own. Achieve! Good day.
Google Autofill of the Month:
When WHY DOES YOUR BLADDER is entered, Google autofills with:
have to be full for a sonogram
ann.aikens.7 on Facebook. Twitter handle: @uvgvt.
My contemporaries and I found Mr. Rogers hokey. Whether it was the sweater or our age or a distaste for puppetry, we didn’t watch. In college, we bandied about the word “special” with great sarcasm, the invoking of “specialness” ensuring snickers. Yet when the anniversary of Mr. Rogers’ testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications
occurred on May 1 and its video made the rounds, his words regarding just that – specialness – had a profound effect upon me that has lasted all month.
Here was a guy who was just, essentially, good. Not only inherently good, he did good. You can be good without doing any particular good, but he was and did — without flash or cloying sentimentality or maudlin pity for those less fortunate. He really felt, I think, that all men are created equal. He talked and walked it without raising his voice.
He recounted, in the 1969 hearing, how when the money ran out, viewers of (then young) PBS from all over said, “We’ve got to have more of this neighborhood expression of care.” He addressed the no-nonsense Senator John Pastore from Rhode Island (formerly the Governor of Rhode Island and the first Italian American elected governor or Senator), urging that non-violent children’s programming was critically important. That “it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger … much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire.”
Fred Rogers humbly explained to the gruff toughie senator (whose mother had supported 5 children as a seamstress when his father died and who was unfamiliar with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood): “This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’” As I watched this gentle man telling a senator over 40 years ago something so simple, arguing for funding to continue spreading his message, I realized what I’d been missing all along in my youthful superiority complex.
In a world consumed by the accumulation of wealth and fine objects, there is a lot to be said just for just being a decent guy. I don’t know if they still give it out, but years ago my friend’s young son in Randolph received an award at school for being a good person. I bawled at the news, overcome that this quality was considered worth honoring, and proud of the boy. I don’t think Mr. Rogers likely made a lot of money. If he did, he didn’t spend it on his clothes; he probably gave a lot of it away. He probably didn’t live in a fancy house or drive a fancy car; most Presbyterian ministers don’t.
Who is more influential, ultimately: a gorgeous actor or accomplished businessperson or a hot heiress or a leathers-rocking NASCAR stud…or an unassuming man who let millions of children know – back when people didn’t say such things to children very often – that it’s okay to feel lonely or angry or scared; it’s what you do with it that matters? And more importantly, that they mattered. Who’s contributing more to planet earth? I guess it depends on who’s judging. My money’s on Rogers.
For me, it’s become, increasingly, quite enough for people to be and do good. We don’t need a sports car or a big title or awards of any kind. I’m happy competing with my friend to see who can immerse self in the river the latest in October. I’m not disparaging those who achieve great things. I’ve known persons who’ve won an Oscar and the French Open and I’ve held Hannah Kearney’s gold medal in my hand; I’m awed by all three. But I’m equally in awe of helpers. Inner city teachers. Nurses. People with disabled children who fight for them and do their best to give them lives with meaning. And people who are good at anything at all. Making a grilled cheese sandwich. Cultivating a flower garden. Fishing. And nutters who amass Certificates … for, like, Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading. Rock on.
Neighbor, please take today to think about your value. The way you make strangers snort at the grocery store. The trash you collected on Green Up Day. The pet you chose from a shelter. The estranged friend you wrote even when it was awkward because so much time had gone by, but you knew he was in a hard situation. I’m not sure what I’ve done with my life. I do endeavor, in general, to make people feel good. And to remind them, while their difficulty, or their friend’s, may have little or no upside, how Mr. Rogers once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I think you’re special. There’s no person in the whole world like you and I like you, just the way you are. Good day.
New Englanders are not sissies. In our winter not as snow-dumped as the coastline’s yet brutal in its wind and crushing sub-z temps, we’ve had to make due. As we observed the recent anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz and current global horrors, we know things could be much, much worse.
And so, because we can, we amuse ourselves in between the complaining. I, for example, unapologetically guzzle discounted Valentine chocolates in bed without brushing. Dreaming is cheap and I go hot places—the Keys, Hell, some award ceremony where I’m burning up under the lights. Others are stoking their woodstoves with such vigor it’s like Havana in there. They’re making dinner in their underwear, as did probably the colonists. Wood heat is sizzling, man; between that and their itchy wool, colonists were surely warmer than today’s oil burning homeowner playing Drop That Thermostat against housemates or sometimes even himself.
As a stranger once advised, unsolicited, during my first icy winter in Vermont: “You have to embrace it.” That year I’d snowshoe in gale-force winds, wincing (passers-by thought smiling?) and willing myself, by God, to embrace it. This year as nutters pass, ice-jogging in shorts … kids with no mittens, no hat, unzipped jacket (hood hanging useless) blowing wide open … I’ve embraced it — not while undulating in a stalled chairlift at 20 below but by reading under a blanket, baking, knitting … with a brief tundra walk daily in a fleece burka to pretend I’m outdoorsy. Others more brave went snowshoeing, skiing, skating and, insanely, ice fishing. They claimed to like it. Stockholm syndrome?
Still, people are getting cranky. Things that annoy have become intolerable. A friend writes:
“If Google is going to track my every move online and use it to serve up ads, couldn’t they at least do it better? Last fall I bought a dehumidifier. Every website I visit is still shows me ads for . . . dehumidifiers. Brilliant. Because really, who can stop at just one? Someday, the technology will advance to the point where The Cloud understands that a person who just bought a dehumidifier is a person who now owns a dehumidifier and as such, is probably no longer in the market for a dehumidifier. Someday, the uploaded consciousness of Don Draper will determine, ‘Maybe the dehumidifier was a desperate act and now this guy could be in the market for, say, a mold abatement service.’ Or the Internet will offer the proud new dehumidifier owner fun accessories like an “I ♥ DEHUMIDIFIERS” bumpers sticker or a cross-stitch pillow saying, “A dry basement is a happy basement and it’s also a perfectly fine dwelling for your brother-in-law until he can get his act together and besides, it’s just for a few weeks, we think.” See guys, that’s the real promise of big data—that’s artificial intelligence; that’s the future. That’s when I’ll know that handing over my last vestiges of privacy has been truly worth it.”
Another crank, a surgeon, explains how he learned to detest the inconsistency of the Automatic world of modern tymes:
“It began while scrubbing at the surgical sink for five minutes. They installed one row of scrub sinks that automatically went on by hitting them with your knee, with another “modern” set that automatically went on by sensing your hand under the faucet. I sustained an Automatic Injury whenever I would hit the bottom of the sink with my knee expecting it to go on only to realize that I was not at the Automatic Sink. It begat Automatic Envy as my knee was hurting and I wished I were at that other sink. Automatic Anger took over as I’d go limping into the operating room. It doesn’t stop there.”
One antidote to automatic envy, cabin fever, and Polar Vortex antics is … music! I sing badly to homemade CDs, playable in my unModern car. Studies show that, of people who do things in groups (sport teams, political clubs, choirs), people who sing together are happiest. And healthier! Some suggest it’s the vibration on the thymus gland improving immune response to biogremlins. I chalk it up to the sheer joy of harmonizing, resonating, and laffs, for all chorale groups snicker together. Who couldn’t, with what the tenors are saying back there?
My republican and democrat friends fraternize, often singing. We red and blue Valley pals have the best time, snorting away—we just don’t talk politics. Or we do and let it go. We know we’re lucky to have heat and power; what’s a little difference of opinion among friends? Little tip for you there, warring peoples of the Land. Warble, harmonize, titter your way to amity. Good vortex. Good day.