Pre-occupied

October 16, 2011

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I spent this past weekend in NY with my wife and a bunch of international people. I love being in NY. The place has an energy all its own, it is unlike any place I have ever been. On this visit, though, I had an experience unlike any that I’ve had before; I found myself in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street protests. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was also quite exhilarating. There were a few minutes when I thought it was about to get violent and I was a little more than scared. My wife was with me, so I mentally started to look for a place to make a stand. That soon passed, however and the message of the protesters began to seep through.

I seriously believe we are in the middle of something big. I hope this does not die anytime soon. We live in a moment of history, where the people ‘in power’ are showing a complete lack of concern or even awareness of  what the people ‘with the power’are going through. This movement, and have no doubt, it is a movement, will force them to sit up and take notice.

It is amazing how clueless official power can make you. So clueless, in fact, that they do not even realize that what started in the Middle East has made it to America. They still believe that they can pay lip service to what people are going through, do nothing and people will just continue to suffer quietly……until the next election.

This protest movement is becoming something the country has not seen in a long time, if ever. Criticisms of lack of a coherent message are just the establishment trying to hold its ground. The message is, “you work for me and you should be working for my best interests. Instead you have taken my vote and you’ve sold yourself to the highest bidder’

I am convinced the next election will bring about a changing of the guard like we’ve never seen. What we are witnessing is the few articulating and giving voice to the dissatisfaction of the many. Rather than attempt to quell the furor, the ones in power need to tune in and start doing what they were put there to do.

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Gift giving made difficult

August 25, 2010

Giving someone a gift should be a relatively straightforward thing. At least that’s the way I feel about it. You find something you think the person would like, you buy it, wrap it (or in my case gift-bag it) and you present it to the person. Seems pretty straightforward right? Yeah….well…… it just seems that way.

As it turns out, I’ve been making a huge mess of the whole thing all along and didn’t even know it. Recently I overheard two ladies talking about a house-warming one of them was invited to that coming weekend. It was at the house of a recently married couple and she was wondering what to get them. The problem, as it turns out, was not so much in the ‘what’, as it was in the ‘how much’. Apparently the people who were hosting the event, had given this lady and her groom a cash gift at their own wedding. The dilemma now was  ‘should I give them a gift of exactly the same value as what they gave me, or should I just give them the same amount of cash……hmmmmm.

This, of course, had me all intrigued, here I was spending my hard-earned cash all ‘willy-nilly’,  and trying to figure out what people liked when all I needed to do was to use the value of  any previous gifts received to determine what to get someone. My gift giving just got way simpler; especially when it comes to that person who re-gifted me that ‘thing’ a few Christmases ago. Technically it didn’t cost them a penny, so guess what’s in your stocking this Christmas.

Of course the conversation got me thinking about how much gift  giving we do in or daily lives and the implications of this practice.

At work last year, for example we had one of those ‘white elephant’ things.  I personally would usually steer clear of these events because they invariably lead to much more confusion than was either anticipated or warranted. Being the new guy though, I figured I’d at least try to be involved. I work with a really nice bunch of people so I had no problem taking part in the activities. I go out, buy my $10 gift, wrap it, then show up to realize the whole  thing is thinly veiled wine swapping party.  I mean, its pretty difficult to wrap a wine bottle to maintain that element of surprise.

Of course, after the fact, is when I get the real history of the white elephant fiasco.  Turns out that people were not very enthused  with the stuff they received so they vowed never to take part again. The blame rested squarely on the shoulders of the ‘white elephant purists’ who went all out to preserve the authenticity of the thing by not spending one red cent and instead gift wrapping a ‘really special piece’. Yeah I always wanted a Buddha with six hands, who wore a  yarmulke over his afro, and went ho-ho-ho when you rubbed his belly. I know just where to put it to………just step a little closer. The result……a thinly veiled wine-swapping party.

Of course, one of the big dilemmas in the whole gift giving thing is the concept of re-gifting; to re-gift or not to re-gift, that is the question. Re-gifting is not a  thing I do (usually), but for some people it offers a means by which they can make a statement by taking something near and dear to them and entrusting  that thing to another human being.  If you believe that, I have some prime swamp land  umm real estate in Florida that I can sell you. The real statement  is ‘yuh know how long I tryin tuh get rid of dis ting, ah doh even know what yuh does use it for’.

This whole process would be much simpler if we as gift recipients would accept gifts with an air of appreciation for the fact that the gift giver invested some amount of time and energy into the selection. It might not be something  that you would have chosen, but, as they say, it’s the thought that counts. We, however, are not generally in the habit of counting thoughts; what we do is use the gifts to somehow reflect the character or status of the gift giver; “dis ting lookin cheap jess like she, she wouldn’t pay ah penny tuh see ah ants wine,what I doin wit dat, anyway, put it dey,  ah have a weddin comin up’………….it’s a vicious circle.

Of course this horrendous attitude causes all kinds of odd behavior. One of my personal favorites is the old ‘put it in a really big box and ‘forget’ to sign the card trick’.  As the name implies, this involves the use of a ridiculously huge box to house a pair of earrings or some other such small gift item. By the time the recipient wades through enough tissue paper to wallpaper a large room to get to the ‘prize’ he/she is too tired to even be upset or to launch an all out investigation into who the culprit is.

The ‘big box’ approach, while it can be effective in maintaining or creating your image as a generous gift giver, must be used very carefully. First,  you have to make sure that the event itself is pretty big so that even your obviously large gift can get lost in the pile.  Next, don’t be overly conspicuous when you walk in with it; this doesn’t mean you should sidle along the walls like some kind of weirdo, it just means don’t make a grand entrance so that everybody sees you. Last, and most importantly,for heaven’s sake, put the box down, BEFORE you pose for pictures.

 They say you have to give to get, but if you only give based on what you get, then maybe you should just keep what you have. I never heard the end of that conversation though, I kinda got sidetracked………..there was this HUGE box just sitting there……..

Driving Miss Crazy?

July 14, 2010

Being a good Samaritan can be rough. A while back. we were at a small graduation celebration for a friend of ours. After the celebrations and cleaning up were over,  I had to drive to Baltimore to pick up our daughter, who spent the day with her aunt.  We then found that there was  a lady there who actually lived there and needed a ride home.Well, the stars seemed to be perfectly aligned here; she needed a ride to Baltimore, I happened to be going to Baltimore and was more than willing to take her along, so I offered; ….that was my first mistake.

Miss Mildred, (the names of the characters have been changed to protect the innocent…….me) however, started to act all cagey about the whole arrangement. She seemed quite disappointed that things seemed not to be going the way she anticipated. The reason for Miss Mildred’s obvious discomfort soon became apparent.  In a ‘sideways, under her breath, jokingly, but not so much ‘  way,  she ‘kinda, sorta, in a manner of speaking, somehow’ let on that she was wary of taking the drive ……..alone with me…….hmmmm.

Now Miss Mildred was probably ‘pushing 60’  (to use a term that my wife regularly employs), and she did not bring to mind the kind of ‘older woman’ that some younger men chase after; I wasn’t Ashton, and she, sure as heck, wasn’t Demi. What I should have done at this point was, rescind the offer, and go on about my business. But ‘good samaritanness’ sometimes chases away all reason and common sense flies out the window. So I shook off the icky feeling and pressed on. …..mistake number two.

 When God opens a window; jump through and stop waiting for double mahogany doors and a red carpet.

 She eventually accepted when my wife agreed to come along. I think I was happier about this than Miss Mildred.

That being settled, I ask Miss Mildred for her address, which I personally thought was a fairly reasonable request; I’m thinking I’ll plug it into my GPS and we’ll be on our way; plain vanilla as they say. Turned out that with Miss Mildred plain vanilla somehow morphed into ‘rocky road’. What I got for my obviously unreasonable request  was another round of ‘kinda, sorta, in a manner of speaking, somehow’ kind of responses. To this day, I do not know Miss Mildred’s address; if knowing this were somehow vital to my existence, I would be up the proverbial creek without the proverbial paddle. 

That icky feeling from before, was now a sinking one.  The kind you get when you know that you should run for the hills at the next opportunity, but, at the same time, you know that when that opportunity comes you’re not going to. So instead of insisting that unless she gives up the address, we were not moving an inch, not even an iota, we chose to rely upon Miss Mildred’s declaration that; ‘ I know the way, I am a driver too’. Mistake number three…..the whole affair was turning into quite the fiasco. 

Anyway, we all pile into the Camry; Miss Mildred in the back seat, in a very festive mood, now that the plans of the ‘sicko with the Caribbean accent’ have been thwarted. My wife and I started to look at the thing in a whole new light. We started looking forward to the adventure that lay ahead of us.  ‘Miss Mildred’ I said, ‘lead the way’. Miss Mildred’s reply; ‘just drive, I will tell you when we’re close’. Hmmmm….here comes that sinking feeling again. The mistakes were piling up now.

So we trundle off to take Miss Mildred home.  Of course, since her address was a state secret, we just took the route we normally took and hoped for the best.  We drove along and chatted with Miss Mildred. She really was a nice lady. About a half hour in, we start to feel like we’re getting close, but we also start to notice relative silence coming from the back seat ; where before there was a happy, comfortable chatter, there was a cold, hesitant silence, which was then broken with a muted, ‘oh you passed on this side, I don’t usually pass on this side’.  I had a Ralph Kramden moment at that point; ‘One of these days…….one of these days…..POW!!!!! Right in the kisser.

I was drawn out of my sweet reverie by Miss Mildred stating in a very matter of fact way; I don’t remember all these green signs, they must be new’.  Lord alone knows how I did not run off the road; green signs Miss Mildred? You mean the exit signs? The ones that have been there (AND GREEN),  ‘ever since’?  The credibility of Miss Mildred’s ‘I am a driver too’ claim took a serious nosedive at that point, and depositing her at the nearest metro just seemed like ‘the right thing to do’….for the sake of my own sanity anyway. I couldn’t do it though, my parents raised me better than that (gee thanks), so, I determined, like the drunk said when he realized the woman he was dancing with was really a man, ‘ah done in it’; I had to see this thing to the end.

By some miracle, my wife was able to coax a street name out of Miss Mildred. It was like a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary world. We immediately booted up the GPS, and, for the first time that night, had some sense of where we were headed. We turned right, when it said to turn right and left when it said to turn left. In my anxiety to be done with this ‘adventure’,  I was driving way too fast, but the end was in sight and it could not come quickly enough. We were only vaguely aware of Miss Mildred mumbling things like, ‘ yes I know that gas station’, or “it’s coming back to me now” (where did it go Miss Mildred?). In a few more minutes we were at our destination experiencing sweet relief.

Miss Mildred thanked us profusely…..then tried to pay us. As I write this, I am chuckling as I remember the scene with her trying to throw the money at us and make a quick getaway. Quick getaways, however, were not in her sphere of expertise, and we were easily able to keep her and her money together. As we drove off, with that warm feeling you get when you  know that  ‘you done good’, a question flickered across my mind…….was Miss Mildred knocking on that door?……..naaaahhh.

Who moved my yogurt?

June 21, 2010

In this time of economic uncertainty, we find that many more people are taking food to work, rather than spend money eating out. The tanked value in the real estate market for residential and commercial properties, has caused a scarcity, and a subsequent rise in value for another category of space….the office refrigerator. For the more economics-minded among us, we say that there is an inverse relationship between prices in the real world real estate market and demand for goods and services that are highly impacted by recessionary events, such as, you guessed it, refrigerator space.

This post all came about because one day I attempted to put my lunch in the company-supplied refrigerator. I usually get in pretty early so the thought that there would be no room for my lunch, did not even flutter through my mind.  Boy was I wrong!!!! When I opened the refrigerator door, I had to shake my head vigorously and look around to make sure I was not in the supermarket. In fact, I knew I was not in the supermarket, because they don’t have that much yogurt there. From the looks of things, people were bringing in yogurt for the month and just stacking them in there. Yogurt must be the ‘on salest’ item on the planet.

Things got so bad that emails started being sent out, asking people to not use the refrigerators  ‘as if yuh in yuh house’ (or something to that effect). A riot almost broke out when someone left a ‘whole heap’ of venison sausage (deer meat for the unitiated) in the fridge.

To make matters worse, people started eating yogurt that they did not ‘deposit’ into the ‘yogurt bank’. Another economic concept soon began to take hold; the concept of the complementary good. This is something that is typically used in conjunction with another product, so if demand for one increases, so does demand for the other. Who knew that permanent markers were a complementary product to yogurt, frozen dinners and Rubbermaid containers. As it turns out though, they are, because when people start eating your food (apparently by mistake), you need to start writing your name on stuff, so the more yogurt you buy, the more permanent markers you wear out. Makes sense huh?

The whole ‘write your name on your food so that no one will eat it’ thing, does have its shortcomings though. One time an email came in entitled “yogurt in fridge”.  Not personally having and “yogurt in fridge’, pure curiosity drove me to open the email. Turns out one of the very people who write their names on their food containers, apparently reached blindly into the refrigerator and pulled out, what she thought was her yogurt. It was only after she was half way through that she realized that her name was not on the container; Oops!!! So, being the kind soul that she is, she graciously offered her own personally autographed yogurt as a replacement…….mmmm I don’t think so. I know the yogurt’s in a sealed container and all, but…well…..you…… well……you touched it. I know I know, that’s a little bit weird, but that’s just the way I am. If I had been the ‘victim’ in this case. I would have just thrown it away. Hey, I’m just sayin….

People even started buying gallon jugs of milk and putting them in the refrigerator because, ‘I bring cereal from home’. Maybe you should also eat your cereal at home, because that’s a pretty big jug and it’s a pretty small fridge. Do you have any idea how much yogurt could fit in the space you’re taking up?

Then you have the whole ‘leftovers’ story; people leaving their half-eaten meals in the refrigerator, because ‘you shouldn’t throw food away’ so instead they leave all sorts of stuff in there, until it becomes completely unidentifiable under all the ‘wildlife’ growing on it.  At this point, you would think that they would have the decency to take their offensive property out. Nope, instead they mount a campaign, complaining about the absolutely disgusting state of the refrigerator and wondering why the cleaning people don’t do a better job.

Last I heard about the whole ‘fridge fiasco’, they instituted the ‘if it’s there. on Friday evening. it won’t be there on Monday morning’ rule, so basically you either stop treating the refrigerator as the overflow for yours at home, or you would find that your food has a diminished shelf life (yeah, use it or lose it, has so many different applications). I’m not sure how that’s working out but I did overhear talk of a brewing confrontation over some missing Rubbermaid containers. As for me, I’ll just bring sandwiches until the economy turns back around.

There are no stupid questions….or are there?

June 8, 2010

Most, if not all of us have heard the old saying, ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question’. I actually agree with that….for the most part. I believe we ask questions, because the answers to those questions, will  have some measurable impact on our lives, or, at the very least,  influence the action we take; ‘excuse me sir, what time is the next bus?’. Stuff like that. The answer to that question could determine whether you sit and wait for the next one, or, if you live where I live and the bus is the R12, whether you just give up and go home because it will be a long time before you see another one.You get my drift, the answer determines your course of action.

Up comes the Gulf oil spill; a very tragic event by anybody’s standards. It is very difficult not to feel the frustration the people on the Gulf Coast must be experiencing. Of course, everyone is trying to do as much as they can to help and no one is doing it fast enough. People have tons of questions, and as usual there are way more questions than answers. I just think that we could go a long way to bridging that gap by being a little more sensible in the questions we do ask. If there is a real benefit to be gained from the answer, (apart from better ratings or political points) then by all means, ask away, if not, then maybe you should leave it alone. We have seen thus far, an amazing capacity for sensationalism in the questions being asked without any real or apparent regard for the consequences of the actual tragedy.

One of the earliest questions; how much oil really is spewing out of the well?  This was, and still is, a really big sticking point. The argument for wanting to know the answer to that question goes something like, ‘well if we don’t know how much oil is coming out now, how would we know when any of the attempts to stop it have worked? Hmmm…well if we can’t figure out when something stopped leaking without first knowing the rate of the leak, then we are in way more trouble than anybody thought. The thing about this and other questions like it, is that they are being asked, apparently,  on behalf of the public at large and, especially , on behalf of those people in the affected areas. Personally, I am not interested in how much oil is spewing out. Besides, I, along with most other people, already know the answer……too much, way too much. A more pertinent question would be, ‘so when do you think  you’ll have this mess cleaned up by?’, or ‘why exactly did you modify the blowout preventer so that it could no longer, ummmm…prevent blowouts?’ The only people who are getting all rabid over the ‘how much’ question are those people who are peddling devices  to be able to measure, well…..how much. The rest of us just want it to stop, regardless of how much it is.

This past Sunday, Bill Nelson, the democratic senator from Florida was on Face the Nation. In an effort to show his constituents that he was ‘getting out in front of this thing’, he declared that he made a phone call and asked, according to him, ‘one simple question, how many boats you got?’. He apparently got widely varying responses to his ‘one simple question’. My thing is though, he’s pretty lucky he got any response. How about asking, ‘what can I do to help?’. Now there’s a question that has the potential to result in a net benefit for the people of Florida. But he didn’t ask that since they might actually find something for him to do and that would not sit too well with him.  Does he have a boat to contribute to the cause? Or perhaps, there is some magic number of boats that will make everything ok. How many boats you got……indeed.

By far  the best though is, ‘what do you mean by legitimate?’. That depends, what do YOU mean by legitimate? I am no BP lover, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist, (or in this case, an oil company executive), to see which way the wind is blowing. People will be crawling out of the woodwork, with all sorts of claims. Next thing you know they’re getting claims for birth defects in people born before Deep Water Horizon even existed. Personally, I think, in this litigious society it is bordering on silly to expect the company to say ‘yeah just bring it on, we’ll pay everything’, without some sort of qualifier. All of a sudden that executive’s words will become some sort of legal, binding, promise on the part of BP to pay everything that has the words ‘oil spill’ on it. It just amazes me that the question was asked in the first place and that it still has so much traction.

Each day I continue to look to the  Gulf for some good news. It seems as if the tide may be turning on this tragedy. I sure hope so. I do not, however, anticipate any decrease in, what I perceive to be, useless questions. After all, how else will the news media survive, and the politicians raise money, if not through the use of the tried and true stupid question?

Is that seat taken?

June 1, 2010

So I was sitting in church one Sunday being all attentive to the pastor as he was preaching and stuff, when at the back of my mind, I keep hearing an insistent ‘is that seat taken?’. There was no need for me to look around, or even waste an entire thought wondering what the muted commotion was about.I already knew what was going on; one of the ‘special people’ had arrived at church.

The special ones are those people who insist on showing up for church at least an hour late every Sunday. Now I’m not talking about people who are visiting and may have gotten the time wrong; no, I’m talking about those who have been members ‘ever since’. They know exactly when church starts, in fact, they have the entire program memorized so they know what happens and when they happen. Basically this means that they made a conscious decision  to show up late and disrupt the service. But maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Maybe every Sunday, the same people get caught in the same traffic jam on their way to the same service…..it could happen; some people are slow learners.

My thing is though, slow learner or not, why do these people harbor the belief that church has assigned seating? Furthermore, why do they not dispense with this belief, when Sunday after Sunday they show up and ‘their’ pew is so crowded,that there is barely room to breathe? Even further, why is it that even after seeing that the pew is crowded, do they not find someplace else to sit? Nope, that would be way too easy. Instead, they literally squeeze themselves into the tiniest of spaces and then do the ‘Holy Ghost wiggle’; a neat little trick which consists of pretending  to get all involved in the preaching with lots of amens, hallelujahs, and hand waving,  all while wiggling your way into position so that you end up being the most comfortable person in the pew. Everyone else, by the way, is on the edge of their seats……..and not with anticipation.

These are the more brazen of the special ones. There is another group that shows up just before offering is taken up and hang around at the door. Then, when people are filing up, in complete obedience to the word and following the guidance of the ushers, these low down sinners, sneak in and steal their seats.  Have you ever come back to your seat after giving your offering and found that somehow, there doesn’t seem to be as much room as when you left? It’s like digging a hole in the ground and trying to fill it back up with the same dirt you just dug out….you just can’t seem to get it all in there. It’s pretty easy to identify the culprit though, just look down the pew for the person who is so intent on ‘their worship’ that they’re completely oblivious to anything or anyone around them.

As if showing up late and ‘discommoding’ (this is not a word, but my mother used it all the time to convey her angst at inconsiderate behavior) other people on your own is not enough, many of the special ones bring friends along with them. Now instead of one person stepping on your toes, you end up with an entire family trampling all over your ‘good shoes’, without so much as an excuse me. And why is it that there is always one in the group who has a weak bladder that starts to act up the second they sit down?

Some of them even send ‘scouts’ ahead of the pack. This person is particularly sneaky, because they arrive all smiling and polite and ask if they can sit there. You get all polite back and make room for them and stuff; then when they’re all comfy, they stand up and start waving at the back of the church. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you find yourself ‘invaded’ by the ‘country cousins’. You know what they say……no good deed goes unpunished, not even in church. Actually especially not in church; look at what happened to Christ, and all he wanted to do was to make things better for everybody.

Then you have the ones who think the usher is just like a Wal-Mart greeter; there to say good morning and hand you a program. These are the ones who blow right by the ushers and insist on finding their own seats. Of course this whole finding your own seat is a drama all on its own, since it usually involves standing conspicuously in the aisle, and spinning around while trying to make eye contact with someone to inquire (in your loudest whisper), as to the availability of the seat next to them. This usually ends up in a major communication breakdown, since, oftentimes, the ‘contactee’ may nod, yes, thinking the question was ‘is anyone sitting there?’ when the question was ‘is that seat empty?’. One can easily see how such an interaction could get all ‘involved’.

Of course this will never change. After all, as my mother used to say ‘monkey know which tree to climb’, so these people can be relatively certain that no one is going call them out on their behavior. It is church after all and ‘church people’ are nothing, if not polite. You can get away with all sorts of stuff at church; they have the whole ‘come as you are, turn the other cheek’ thing going on,  so you’re pretty safe acting like you have no training. People will make room for you and smile benevolently when you step on them, as you squeeze your way through.

This is where some people can learn a thing or two from the monkeys; not only do they know which tree to climb, but they are also keenly aware of WHEN to climb said trees, and this is where many of the special ones fall short. They don’t understand that ‘church behavior’ is an animal all its own, not to be mistaken for ‘regular behavior’, which tends to be a tad more reactionary. Have you ever met someone whose attitude was ‘not me an dem people in dat church nah, dey too hypocrite’?  That, my friend, may have been the lament of one who stepped on some church toes………on a week day.

Some people

May 27, 2010

It’s hard being ‘some people’. I’m not referring to anyone in particular. Rather I’m referring to the ‘some people’ we all talk about; the some people who  always seem to have stuff going on in their lives; things are always happening to them, or to people they know. They go through a lot. They deal with situations that we say (as we sit around in the comfort of our own uneventful lives) ‘no one should have to deal with’. When we say this, more often than not, we mean, ‘thank God, that’s never happened to me’.  At the backs of our minds, we think, ‘they must have done something wrong to have to deal with this’. Hardly do we ever consider that Providence is no respecter  of persons. If it happened to them, it could easily happen to you. Well, last week , ‘it’ happened to my family.

We found ourselves in a situation, that did not creep up on us, but rather it just jumped out at us  from behind a wall as we strolled along in the comfortableness of being us; same effect, just different method of delivery. One moment we were happily dreaming dreams and planning plans, and the next moment we were in a completely alien situation. By the end of the week, we had become ‘some people’. We were in the ever so popular ‘situation’, one that we never imagined we would ever be in. But here we were; some people.

Being some people gives one a whole new perspective though. You go from being the “called upon” to the ones calling and relying on others. You move from that place where you (sometimes with a ‘can’t you call someone else’ sigh) find yourself lending a helping hand wherever you can, to a place where you are reaching for that helping hand. Being some people is a humbling experience. If you ever start feeling a little bit full of yourself and start thinking that you don’t need anybody else, try being some people for a minute.

I know this all sounds like being some people is the worse thing that can happen to you, but it’s not all bad. I will admit that, oftentimes the thing that catapults you into ‘somepeopleville’, is not exactly the most thrilling experience and certainly not something you would want to repeat, nevertheless, it opens up a whole new world.

In this new world, despite how we got there, we made some very interesting discoveries. Our ‘arrival’ inadvertently allowed us to ‘test’ some of our relationships. Test is probably not the right word, because it suggests some level of uncertainty to begin with, which is definitely not the case.  The reality of relationships though, is that you never really know what kind of relationship you have with someone until something not so good happens; until the rubber hits the road; until walks must be walked instead of talk being talked.

There are lots of stories about the moral erosion of our society. I want to believe though that there are exponentially more examples of people helping people. We are, however so preoccupied with sensationalism today, that we prefer to dwell on the not so nice aspects of human behavior. Being some people though allowed us to experience the much more noble aspects of humanity.

This post, therefore, is a thank you of sorts, to those who have helped when we needed it most. To the much-loved “aunty” who stepped in and took care of the munchkin, so that we could be fully focused on  the situation at hand. To special friends, who just said yes even before questions were asked. People who dropped everything and came running; who just asked, ‘what do you need?’ To those who shifted plans and worked through the night so that they could be there for us. To the co-worker who offered to drive miles if we needed her to. To the friend back home who made international calls just to encourage us and to make sue that we were ok. To the anonymous ones who did not need specifics to petition on our behalf in prayer. Thanks is often difficult to say, moreso because although it is the ‘right thing to do’  often it falls way short of conveying the depth of our gratitude. How does one articulate what it feels like, when you truly do not have to worry because you know someone’s ‘got your back’.

Yeah, it’s hard being some people. You don’t want to be a bother to anyone, or interrupt their lives, but one thing I’ve learnt about some people is that their situations, more often than not, cannot be helped. They don’t choose to have stuff happen to them. I told a friend that we were probably being tested; her response,” just sounds like life to me”. Maybe it IS just life. After all, we are not the first ones this thing has happened to, and I’m sure we won’t be the last. There are many things happening to many people every second of every day. The way these are resolved depends to a great extent on the quality of the network. If it is a network of the proverbial fair weather friends, then things may not turn out so well. If the network is “genuine” then the outcome is likely to be brighter, and even if it isn’t, you at least know that you’re not alone.  Truth is, everybody needs somebody, so in some sense ………we are all some people.

A little bit full of yourself aren’t you?

May 18, 2010

I am not a reality tv buff, but I am partial to The Amazing Race and Survivor. The antics of the casts of these two shows kept me intrigued and there were more than enough nail biters to go around. If I were a nail biter, I would be experiencing a serious lack in the nail department right about now.

What I like most about reality shows though (at least the good ones), is the insight they give you into human behavior. Like, for example, why has there never been (at least to my knowledge) a real honest-to-goodness all female alliance in any Survivor season? Or why did the vegetarian sign up for The Amazing Race, when he knew there was a strong likelihood that somewhere along the way, there would be meat involved……and not anything as boring as chicken?

The most recent seasons of these two shows did not disappoint in the “are you kidding me” department.

First, let me preface what I’m about to say by acknowledging that I am sure that we all recognize that there is a large amount of editing that goes on to make these shows ‘ratings friendly’. Stuff gets cut, stuff stays in, all so that we could really get sucked in to the goings on and take sides, and cheer for our favorites. That being said, no amount of editing able to hide underlying attitudes and opinions.

Take, for example, some of the Amazing Race contestants, in particular the dating couple Carol Rosenfeld and Brandy Snow, and the other dating couple, Brent Horne and Caite Upton. Caite was a contestant in a Miss Teen USA Pageant a few years back and messed up big time on a question asked by one of the judges. She sounded like she did not have a clue. Of course, some of the other contestants had a field day with this. They had themselves a good laugh at Caite’s expense. This included Carol & Brandy. It seemed though that they were especially mean. It was no small wonder that when the opportunity arose, Caite took her revenge and u-turned the two, ending their quest for the million dollars. They, or rather I should say Brandy, did not take this very well. She became absolutely caustic. It was not a pretty sight. It became even less pretty at the end of the race, when she was, let’s say, less than sporting in her behavior.

Now I understand her being upset about getting kicked off and all that. What I was a bit confused about though, was how this grown woman could decide to ‘mix it up’ with someone half her age. Yeah yeah yeah, I get the whole ‘she’s over eighteen stuff’ and the ‘we’re all competitors’ stuff, and we’re all equal and so on and so forth. But come on Brandy, she’s a child to you, you were supposedly the adult, and as an adult, you have a responsibility to act like one. Instead you decide to join in the heckling and, in some cases, prolong the teasing. You saw absolutely nothing wrong with your behavior, after all, all’s fair in love and war (and the Amazing Race). Thing is, you made the mistake many of us make when we’re getting all caught up in the moment. You took the whole ‘all’s fair theory” and applied it ……..to yourself…..only. You never thought for one moment the “tiara wearing, dumb blonde’ could possibly at some point have your fate in her hands. Well she did, and she used the opportunity to avenge herself against any real or imagined slights on your part. And we all shook our heads as you cluelessly walked off still ranting against the child who engineered your departure, completely missing the irony in the fact that she was still in the race and you were not. Oh well.

The end of the Amazing Race gave me time to focus my energies on Survivor, another study in human behavior. It was a very enjoyable season, and I saw first hand (at least as first hand as you could get watching tv), the impact of ‘self talk’, or what my wife calls ‘believing your own press’. I saw this by watching two players, Russell Hantz and his ego. Russell convinced himself that he was the best survivor player ever. I’m not sure how he arrived at this conclusion, but he somehow did. From my couch, all I saw was a thug, who bullied his way to the final tribal council. There was no subtlety, no real thought, just mafia style threats and scare tactics. His fellow Survivor ‘Boston Rob’ said it best. Basically he said that Russell was able to play well enough to get to the final tribal council, but not well enough to win. Russell’s response to his loss, was one of his many profound observations (similar to when he hid his team’s machete and blabbered on about creating chaos and other such nonsense); there was a flaw in the game. The flaw was that America did not get to vote, because obviously (to him anyway) there is no way he could have lost. So I am left to assume that the real flaw was that Russell didn’t win. Either that, or he thought all along that he was he was on American Idol.

Even after his loss, he is still clueless; still making irrelevant arguments about changing the rules of the game, and complaining about how much of a toll playing back to back games had on him. Well buddy, did they shanghai you? Because if they didn’t you coulda said no. Instead he continues his rant about how everyone else is wrong, and that Sandra is such a weak player and yada yada yada. Yeah the same Sandra who walked away with ‘your’ million dollars. If you really were the best player, you would have won. The game doesn’t end when you get to the final tribal council, you actually have to get the votes to win. You couldn’t do that, you didn’t even get one vote (not even one dude), yet you are still somehow convinced that you’re the best player. Hmmmm………maybe back to back games is not the best idea.

Yup, I can’t wait till next season of reality shows. Maybe we’ll see Russell and Brandy again; he’ll be on American Idol, so that America could finally have a say, and she’ll make an appearance on Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader. Maybe she’ll actually win……maybe.

Birthers, colonels & harvard law students

May 13, 2010

When I started this blog, my intention was never to spend my time writing about race issues. I figured that while race is still an issue, I should be able to avoid spending too much energy on it. The reality is that, unless you can read minds, you never really know what drives any particular behavior. There are always arguments that cast some doubt over the situation and leave you thinking that maybe, just maybe, this really isn’t about race after all. So I figured I’d just stay away from the whole race thing, and leave that kinda stuff to those people looking for work as civil rights activists. I just want it to go on record that I tried. Its just that some people make it really difficult.

Enter stage left, army doctor, Lt. Col. Terry Lakin, who is refusing to go on his second tour of duty because he has it in his head that the President was not born in the United States. This is not new. Ever since it became apparent that then Senator Obama could “win this thing” the nutcases started coming out of the woodwork (where apparently lots of nutcases reside). One such group of nutcases is the “birther” movement who hold the belief (or at least that’s what they say they believe) that President Obama was not born in the U.S. and so is not legally entitled to hold the office of President of the United States. This would be a huge deal if such claims were not debunked at every turn. His Hawaiian birth certificate was presented and verified, and media investigators along with Hawaiian officials have gone on record defending the validity of the document. The birthers, however, refuse to accept this and insist that the President provide additional proof. Maybe what they’re really trying to say is that Hawaii isn’t really part of the United States.

They have succeeded in infiltrating the ranks of the nation’s military and are apparently intent on undermining the very security of the country they claim to love. They have enlisted the good Lt. Col. Lakin, who, thus far has succeeded only in sullying his own reputation (sounds better than ‘looking like an idiot’ which he does really well by the way). I’m guessing that he thinks he looks all principled and stuff, but to me, when he shows up on national television, with his birther financed lawyer,words like petulant and racist, come more easily to mind. Racist is not an adjective I use lightly,and I sincerely hope that is not his motivation, but I am unable to see any other force behind this movement and behind people like, soon to be ‘Mr.’ Lakin.

He claims (or rather he mouths claims made by the birthers) that there is “mounting and significant evidence” against the validity of the President’s birth certificate. If he were really genuine in his intentions, then he would come forward with this ‘evidence’ and not leave us all in suspense. As for his lawyer, he brings to mind (to my mind anyway) that character in O Brother, Where Art Thou, who takes part in ‘venerated obzoivances’. Not the best choice Colonel.

As if this wasn’t enough, enter Ms. Stephanie Grace, Harvard Law Student, who catapults herself into the national limelight…..via email. In an email she, in her infinite wisdom, and with “grace” overflowing, declares, ‘ I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African-Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent’. I’m thinking I should not feel personally insulted, because obviously Ms. Grace, from within the bowels (yeah, bowels because you know what comes out of bowels) of her lily-white intelligence is fully aware that African-American is a cultural construct, and is not a synonym for Black. As such I have to assume that this genetic defect is peculiar to Black people who are born in the United States.

Let us suppose for a moment that she did mean all Black people. Since ‘racists don’t discriminate’ I believe this is much closer to the truth. Ms. Grace feels that the accident of nature that made her white, also made her more intelligent than Black people. I say Black people, because her email singles us out. It does not give any insight into how she feels about people of other races, so for now, we can’t quite call her a white supremacist…….not quite.

Ms. Grace later apologized and is apparently ‘heartbroken and devastated’ because she did not mean to cause any harm. Are you kidding me? At this point, if I am to follow her own logic, I have no choice but to believe that she herself must be African-American, because only someone ‘less intelligent’ could possibly believe that they could get caught saying something that stupidly insensitive and not expect any fallout. Perhaps she feels a change in the wind and thinks it has suddenly become ok to resurrect ghosts of a racist past. Well at least we know where she stands, which is more than we can say for the others out there.

The scary part here is that Ms. Grace is on her way to becoming a lawyer. Now I have no idea what kind of law she is intending to practice, but I am convinced that, no matter what, it spells trouble for any Black people who come within her sphere of influence, be they colleagues or clients. Black colleagues will know that she is merely tolerating them as one suffers fools, and Black clients cannot expect any fairness or objectivity in her dealings with them. Ms. Grace has unwittingly put a face on the systemic racism that exists today. Heaven help us if she becomes a judge.

Mr. Lakin is portraying himself as principled. I must assume then that based on principle, he has either refused his army salary for the past year and change, or is at least making arrangements to return any funds and benefits received over the past year and a half while the President has been in office. I mean, it’s the principle of the thing…….right? As for Ms. Grace, she is tryig her best to affect the role of the disconnected scientific observer, with all her calls for scientific data and such. Again, based on her own logic, it seems to me that her scientific objectivity is being called into question, since nowhere does she call for ‘scientfic data’ to prove that white people are ‘more intelligent’.  Come on Gracie, if you’re going to be objective about a thing, you need to do it right.

How dare she!!!

May 9, 2010

So Sandra Bullock, the popular White actress had the AUDACITY to adopt a Black baby. This has apparently raised the ire of some racial purists within the Black community, who, by the way, are not stepping in to adopt ANY of the children in the system, be they Black, White, or Green. Somehow though, they feel it is their duty to create a furor over this adoption. Apparently the timing is “suspicious”, and it is some sort of PR stunt because her husband cheated on her, not to mention the fact that this will cause the demise of African American culture as we know it…….uuuummmm….what????

This move on her part has started (or rejuvenated) a conversation on race and race relations that seems to have no end in the foreseeable future. You have people who make the argument that, (read slowly here, because you really have to follow this one) at one time White parents were not allowed to adopt Black children, and that such adoptions were eventually authorized, not for reasons of altruism, but because there were just too many Black kids in the system who were not being adopted. Okay, so maybe it’s not an actual argument, but rather one of those things people say to show that they read some historical literature………once. To use this as some kind of ammunition against interracial adoption boggles the mind. I’m guessing that these people also believe that slavery should never have been ended for purely economic reasons. Yeah, they should have kept my ancestors in bondage until they decided to end it for the ‘right’ reasons. It’s the principle of the thing dammit!!!

Then you have the whole ‘learn about his culture’ argument. Seems like unless ‘baby Louie’ grows up in a Black home, he will exist in some black hole (no pun intended) characterized by complete ignorance of his roots, and what it means to be Black. I don’t know Sandra Bullock personally and I have no idea whether this will be the case or not. I do, however, find it hard to believe that in the era of a Black American president, high profile Black business leaders, award winning Black actors, not to mention everyday Black heros, that this child will somehow grow up thinking that he’s White. This is not like that old Steve Martin movie where he is adopted into a Black family and only finds out he’s White when he becomes an adult. It is simply inconceivable that in the times we live in, that people can be so unaware of the diversity that surrounds them.

The unfortunate thing here is that, more often than not, when people make the whole “know your roots” argument, they are referring to the less flattering aspects of those roots. They are not talking about the great accomplishments of Black people throughout history. They are not talking about the many stories of success in Black communities today, rather they want their kids to submerge themselves in stories of slavery, jim crow, and Rodney King. They prefer that these children turn into Black men and women who are unable to interact with the broader community, and who act like people of different races are from a different planet and that they should all be feared and mistrusted.

The way I see it, I have more than enough stuff going on in my own life to have the time to be concerned about people who are still making interracial relationships an issue. I grew up surrounded by ‘mixed’ people so for me it was just the way things were. In my own case, it would take an army of genealogists to decipher my DNA. I see those stories of people who were able to trace their roots back to one one single place. My own genealogical makeup, however, leaves a much bigger footprint than that.

I’m thinking it’s about time that those with racial hangups ‘get with the program’. Harmonious racial relations is right up there alongside global warming and clean energy when it comes to the survival of the planet and the species. People need to get over themselves.

I am in no way minimizing what Black people went through (and still are going through). I am not, however willing to sit back and just let my history be my future. I have a daughter, and there is no way that I am going to teach her that there is anything she cannot do, just because she’s Black. Everyday I make sure that she knows that the world is her oyster. Everyday I let her know she is beautiful. Everyday I let her know that she is strong. Everyday I let her know that she is wise. I will not allow her to think that she is somehow less than anybody else just because of the color of her skin. So to the racial purists I say, ‘hold on, it’s gonna get bumpy’, and to Sandra Bullock I say, happy mother’s day.


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