Posts Tagged ‘culture’

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.

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.

Anything but Black

May 2, 2010

Over the past ten years I’ve met and gotten to know many new, and different, people; people of literally all races. I’ve gotten to appreciate a vast array of different cultures and the thing that amazes me most of all is how similar we all are. I’ve met Africans (I use this term to describe the people I’ve met from various countries on the continent), Indians, Pakistanis Asians, Europeans, basically I’ve become familiar with a whole bunch of people and cultures.

One interesting thing I’ve noted though, is the trend among people who are non-caucasian, to describe themselves “in living color”. It seems like nationalism has given way to the juggernaut that is globalization, and no longer do people identify themselves (at least in circles of high discourse) in terms of the region of the world where they originate, but rather there has been a resurgence of the “color code”.

Years ago, we heard talk of Black, White, Red, and even Yellow people. That seemed to abate (for all of five minutes) some years ago. Back then the planet was not as interconnected as it is now, so people were not so much concerned with color as they were with nationalities. They were much more concerned with important stuff like imports and exports and how to put their countries on the map as the best manufacturers of this, that, or the other.

Of course, with globalization, we no longer have the “protection” previously afforded by seas, national borders and just sheer distance. We have now been literally thrown together, and the newest “sexy” word to hit the airwaves is……….(drumroll)……..diversity. It seems like all of a sudden, everywhere you go, there is talk of cultural tolerance and diversity. It’s as if this whole diversity concept is somehow some fantastic new discovery (kinda like how Columbus “discovered that whole slew of countries for Spain). Being “thrown together” with people of varying backgrounds and histories is nothing new to me. I come from a place where you could probably find at least one person from every country on this planet we so love. when I was growing up though, we referred to the “melting pot” that we called home, as cosmopolitan. I guess “diverse” is somehow more politically correct.

So now that we no longer have the geographical protection, we once enjoyed, we have to find different tools to express our “differentness”. By far the most popular tool we employ is that of skin color (sort of). This, of course brings with it a “boatload” of history. By and large, skin color, has primarily been used as a weapon against Africans and people of African descent. We all have at least some idea of the history of slavery and the role that this whole concept of skin color has played in the history of the world.

Because of it’s early use as part of the artillery against Black people, we now find that people who are non-white, are making a conscious effort not to be in any way, form, or fashion, “mistaken” as Black people. Several years ago, I was introduced to my first “Brown” person. I was a little taken aback, because this person, (who happened to be darker than most Black people I know) was quite casually referring to himself as ……….Brown. Turns out that the old adage, “Black ain’t nothin but a color”, isn’t completely right after all; there are so many psychological issues tied up in that five letter word, you wish it was just a color.

So is Brown the new “not-Black”? Are people who are obviously not White, trying to make it as obvious that they are not Black? Are they trying to distance themselves as far as possible from what they see as some kind of stigma associated with being considered Black? Or is it that they simply want to carve their own niche, free to make their own way in this technicolor world, without any of the baggage that could potentially be associated with being seen as Black?……Hmmm.

It could be that the Brown people just want to make their own mark…..could be. It could be that Brown does not necessarily mean not-Black……could be. That would make a lot more sense to me, though, if the “color wars” didn’t extend into the Black community. I have so many “mochas”, “caramels”, and “chocolates”, on my instant messenger list that it looks like a Starbucks menu.

Sense & Sensibilities

March 16, 2010

Caribbean people have a reputation for being friendly and very personable, especially to foreigners. We are very welcoming and would generally go all out to make strangers comfortable. There are, however, a few things that rub us the wrong way. We get “vex too bad”.

One is when people ignore the diversity that is the diaspora resident in the Caribbean Islands…”oh I just love your accent, I went to school with a girl from St. Lucia, and she sounded EXACTLY LIKE YOU”, says the foreigner to the Barbadian. Ummmmm………..no she didn’t.Or when they exhibit their own ignorance by asking silly questions…..”So how do you all get around? Do you have cars?”…..naah, we typically swing on vines. Much cheaper that way, and you don’t have to worry about finding parking under the trees.Or the ever so popular “Do you speak english where you come from?”……well to be quite frank, after talking with you for the past half hour, I’m beginning to wonder the same thing.

But one of the things that really really irk us is when they “discover” things that we’ve known about in the Caribbean since, “rock of ages was a pebble” and turn around and wonder if we would be able “appreciate” these “new advances”. Friend of mine in Canada, for example met this lady who was doing some research for an import and export business…organic teas she said. Knowing my friend was from “the islands” (wherever that is), she was wondering if there were any pockets of people there who would appreciate organic tea……….can someone say bush tea!!! To add insult to injury she goes on to say that the more affluent the individuals the more attuned they are to general health and well being. So not only are we ignorant as to the “newly discovered” benefits of bush tea, we are too poor to even know that we don’t know. Never mind that, for the most part, in the early days (when bush tea was invented), it was the selfsame less affluent ones who used the stuff because they could not afford to pay to be killed by all the fancy medicine.

Its not her fault though. Her attitude is representative of the inward looking nature of many people who have become so used to their current environment, that they forget it wasn’t always that way. They forget that the thing which is now so much a part of their present is also part of someone else’s past. They forget that they are reaping the benefits of the experiences of others.

It takes all kinds to make this world the place that it is though and sometimes it is best to not let incidents like this get under your skin. Just say what my father said when he encountered a particularly silly state of affairs…………STEEUUUPPPPSSS!!!

Clean up on aisle 5!!!!!!

March 6, 2010

So my wife sends me to the supermarket the other day (one of the things wives do very well by the way). I don’t usually mind though because then I get to use that great timesaver, the epitome of efficiency….. self checkout. Now who could find anything bad to say about a system whose sole purpose is to get you out of a busy supermarket as quickly as possible (ok, so maybe that’s not the sole purpose….you do have the whole if we can get shoppers to pack their own stuff, while ringing up their own purchases, then maybe we could save some money by hiring less cashiers thing). Basically self checkout is the supermarket’s way of hiring literally thousands of employees without having to pay a red cent, no insurance no nothing, but that’s another story.

I will confess that I am a self checkout junkie. As long as there is self checkout, I will use it. Not for me the talkative cashier behind the counter, or even worse the not so talkative one who hates her job. I am drawn to the sense of power you feel from scanning your own tomatoes. (Sure, go ahead and snicker, you know you like hearing that beep that lets you know your item has been properly scanned.)

But I digress, what I really want to talk about, is not the self checkout counter itself, but rather the people who decide to avail themselves of the benefits of that facility. Now I am one of those people who starts planning their exit the moment they set foot inside the door of the supermarket. It’s not because I’m super smart, or that I have the legendary Type A personality. Nothing so exciting. I just hate hanging around in grocery lines, which is why I head for self checkout, credit card and supermarket club card in hand, looking to make a quick exit. Thing is though, hanging around in grocery lines isn’t very popular so a lot more people decide to take control rather than subject themselves to the mood swings of one of the cashiers mentioned above. Which is where the problem lies.

While patiently standing in line, waiting my turn, I begin to notice some of the people in line with me and I come to a sudden, stark realization……. SELF CHECKOUT IS NOT FOR EVERYONE!!!!!

Dude, if it takes you 3 minutes to find the barcode on a bottle of ketchup, then maybe you should leave the scanning up to the experts. GO join a line with a cashier. Oh and while you’re heading over there,take your buddy with you who insists on paying cash (credit cards are the devil), which is not in itself a problem, but do you really need to have your bills crumpled up to such a state that they cannot fit into the slot? Aaahhh, there he goes, wiping the bills on his shirt trying to flatten them out. That will certainly work.

Then there’s Ms. Assembly Line. This is the lady who scans her items at this end, then after each item, she walks (note I said walks)to the other end to immediately pack the item she just scanned. Seriously, this somehow makes sense to her.

Ms. Assembly Line is followed by the social butterfly of the group (I swear,there’s one in every crowd). She is the one who feels moved to talk to anyone who would listen. Not a big deal really,it helps pass the time,but my thing is, is it only me or does it seem like there is some requirement that for you to be a sucessful social butterfly, you must meet two criteria; 1)have a medical condition that requires multiple invasive surgeries, 2) have a willingness, no a burning desire to share the intimate details of those surgeries, along with your recuperation with any unsuspecting soul who happens to make eye contact (for those who don’t make eye contact, you just speak very loudly to make sure they don’t feel left out. You know all those people you see who keep looking down, and we hear all the psycho babble about self esteem issues and what not, uh uh….they made eye contact.)

The social butterfly more often than not usually makes room for Mr. I’m Feeling Lucky. This is the guy, who eases into the space left by the social butterfly because she’s not minding her business, while pretending he did not see everyone else in line. Come on dude, all the other lines are stretching all the way to the back of the store. Why would you think this line only has three people? He, of course, is not peculiar to self checkout, he typically tries this stunt anywhere. It’s a pretty dangerous maneuver though since, depending on certain variables, crowd reaction could range from the polite; “Excuse me sir, but the line is back here”, to the downright nasty which could end in violence.

Then of course we have the techie,or rather the guy who claims to know a guy who’s a techie. This is the one who, when he gets to the console, pulls out a card,which does not belong to the supermarket he’s currently standing in, proceeds to scan this card, and is absolutely incredulous because it doesn’t work. After he tries a few more times, with the same result, he tries to explain to the others in line….”buddy o’mine…really good with computers…he says ya don’t really need a different card for e’rry grocery store….says it’s all about the money, so he fixed mine, so I only need the one card. Dunno why it ain’t workin though….sum’n must be wrong with the store’s computer system. Y’all see any managers around?”

And of course, no event is complete if iPhone guy isn’t there. Naturally, he downloaded an app that tells you the prices of stuff at OTHER supermarkets, which are signifcantly cheaper. iPhone guy, however, does not go to those other places (that would be way too easy, and he likes a challenge), so he comes here. Of course in addition to apps that tell him the weather in the Congo (you need to know this because?), he has this little gem that allows him to “store” all his cards in his phone. I’m sure you see where this is going.

Well I finally made it through self checkout. I was tempted to hang around though because as I walked through the door Ms. Count the Number of Items in Everyone Else’s cart was about to raise a stink over in express checkout……..10 items or less. Oh well there’s always tomorrow……..

What do you want to be when you grow up?

March 2, 2010

Does everybody know the answer to this question, or is it the way I think it is; one of those journeys of self discovery that really has no final destination. Do we really want to be just one thing or are we looking to be one thing at a time? That of course is pretty much impossible since just about all of us fill several different roles at any given time……take me for instance, in terms of relationships, I’m a husband, a father, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a nephew, a friend…..you get the picture. Not all of us, however want to change those things, and, with the exception of one or two of them, we can’t.

The role that most of us would like to change and which seems the most difficult, relates to our careers. What do we wake up every morning and risk our lives on the roadways to do? Why do we subject ourselves to the company of people we would otherwise run away from screaming, for hours at a time? Well, ok, we need the money. Thing is though, I think for many of us that is the only answer.

Take me for instance. For all intents and purposes, I am an accountant. Pretty much all the jobs I’ve held have been related to some accounting function or the other. Do I like accounting? Do I get goose pimples whenever I open a spreadsheet (actually I do, but mostly its because I’m never sure what my laptop will do). But you get my drift. So what was my crime, you ask, for which I am paying such a high price?

Believe it or not, it all started when I was a small child, and committed the unforgivable sin of showing a teensy weensy bit of intellectual ability above the average….(now that I think about it, a bunch of the “absolute idiots” I went to school with, who have no degrees, now own their own businesses or are otherwise living lives and doing stuff they actually want to do). Hmmmm, do you think they were just pretending……….naaaaaahhhhh!!!!

The thing is that I firmly believe that we are born with a purpose. Now you need to follow the next couple of lines closely since they contain my rather simplified view of life, and are “the answer to life, the universe, and everything” (not sure if that is plagiarism or anything, but just to cover my bases, it comes from the title of a Douglas Adams novel). Anyway, like I said, I believe you are born with with a purpose. If that is the case, it means that there is something that you are already naturally capable of excelling at. It is the thing that excites you, the thing that occupies your mind when you should be focusing on that spreadsheet. Yes you may need training, yes you will need help, yes there will be bumps along the way as you try to do the thing you were born to do, but I believe that doing that thing, is the only way to guarantee that, when you get to the end of your time on earth, and you turn around and look back at where you’ve been and what you’ve done, you can go on your way with a contented sigh.

Anyway, don’t mind me……..I’m just thinking out loud.


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