The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘manners’ Category

THE BULLY

Bullies have always existed and probably always will.  For whatever reason there are some who are so insecure that they must find someone whom they believe to be weaker than they to push around so that the bully can feel an importance that is born in cruelty rather than in conscience.

I knew a few bullies as a child and several more as an adult.  The pattern for the children was always the same – find a victim who was weaker or who was different from most – and launch attacks, physical or verbal – with the hope that their prey would cry or run away in fear.

The adults who were probably bullies as a child have changed their pattern of behavior – but only slightly.  They exhibit less physicality but more verbal abuse – particularly if their target was a different color or of a different ethnicity or different in any other way.

In order for the bully to take full pleasure in his torture it is important that he or she have an audience to appreciate him.  This gives him validation.  And usually those who gravitate in his circle are even weaker than he, gaining their own self-esteem by being in the presence of such a mighty person.

We are reading and hearing more about bullies – from how they harassed a young girl so badly that she took her own life – to a professional football player who left the Miami Dolphins because of his teammates’ incessant jeers and taunts.  So naturally, being the caring people whom we are, we will pass laws and stiffen penalties for those who engage in this blood sport.  And we will walk away from our legislative chambers with a smug sense that we have done our duty.

It does not surprise me that there seems to be more of this going around today than when I was a kid.  If there is one fundamental thing that ran through the bullies I knew as a child it was this – not one of them was ever courteous or thoughtful of others.  On the other hand their most noticeable characteristic was rude and loud behavior – as though to shout out to the world, “Hey, look at me.  I’m important.”

Perhaps they had to shout that loudly to quash the thoughts that ran through their self-absorbed minds that they were anything but important.  These were lonely, arrogant children who almost certainly grew into adults with the same deficiencies and longings to be needed.

It’s interesting that the two bullies who come to mind from my childhood were both from wealthy families, still they were latchkey kids – if you can call a very expensive co-operative apartment with twenty-four hour doormen on Park Avenue a ramshackle shack.  But their parents were both too involved in their own lives to pay much attention to their offspring.  They had nannies and cooks and servants, but they lacked the most essential elements that can turn a malleable child into a bully.  They lacked the love and attention and direction of their parents.

If bullying is on the rise it should surprise none of us.  What is left of the family unit is so distracted that it seems that staying together is more a matter of indifference than desire.  Obviously, there are many exceptions to that statement – but they are the exceptions rather than  the rule.

Passing a law to punish the effects of bullying is about as useful as trying to put a poached egg back into its broken shell.  Laws are punitive in nature rather than pro-active, and if we are to address the question of bullying effectively, we need to look at the cause rather than punish the result.

If a person has a good sense of his own self-worth, he or she is far less likely to become the subject of a bully’s malevolence.  The bully is essentially a coward and must find someone whom he believes is even weaker than he in order to achieve his goal of torment.  I know that in my case I was able to develop a reasonable sense of self-worth through the efforts and love of my parents and teachers.

I remember one particular incident when a kid who was three grades ahead of me began picking on one of my classmates – someone whom I really liked.  It was, of course, before Facebook.  Back in those days, the bully needed more guts than today and had to confront his victim face to face.

It began with little things like jostling my friend in the hallway.  And then there was tampering with his locker.  Nothing that you could really point your finger to as being threatening, but a pattern began to emerge and these little incidents became more frequent.  It began to wear on my friend and to have an effect on his performance in school.

I think that everyone in our class was aware of what was happening.  And we all were silent.  And it is in the silence of those who standby from which the bully gains strength.  But I’m sure my thoughts were much the same as my other classmates’.  “Better him than me.”  That is the statement of the ultimate coward.

Well, one day the bully got over exuberant and body checked my friend into a hallway.  Enough was enough.  I knew what he was doing was wrong.  And, more importantly, I knew that what I was doing – saying nothing – was just as wrong.  So I finally spoke out – in a loud voice and with a great deal of fear in my heart, “Hey, cut that out.”  My body was shaking as I expected to be the next one tossed against the wall.

What happened next surprised me.  This kid who was four years older than I looked stunned that anyone had stood up to him.  The best he could come back with was, “Yeah, you gonna make me?”

I don’t know where I came up with this but I said, “Maybe I’m not as big as you but with Timmy and me and our gang we can take you.  Now get out of here and leave us alone.”  And he left – and that was the end of Timmy’s being bullied by him.  I was never so scared in my life as when I uttered those words.  Neither Timmy nor I were fighters – and we didn’t have a gang.

As I thought about the recent episodes of bullying which made the news, I reflected back on a person who was the subject of a lot of sniggering when she tried to make a name for herself in the world of entertainment.  She wasn’t what most people would describe as attractive.  Sadly, most people make their judgments based on looks and if they don’t like what they see there, they never allow themselves the time to understand a person’s substance.

This Scottish lady’s name is Susan Boyle, and the video is a recording of her first performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.”  Fortunately, despite the audience’s and the judges’ initial reaction, Susan had the internal fortitude to stand in front of an audience and sing her song – fortunate both for her and for the world.

And that’s a lesson from which both bullies and their would be victims can learn.

THE POLISH DOG

As you may know, Chicago has the largest population of people of Polish heritage, outside of Warsaw.  This makes the city a good place to live if you happen, as I do, to like kishka, kielbasa and pirogues.  The smells that emanate from the  various Polish grocery stores are noticeable a city block away.  What a treat for one’s olfactory senses.

And the neighborhoods in which people of Polish descent live are amazingly clean and crime free.  Perhaps that is because the residents make the effort to keep them that way.  On any given Saturday, taking a drive down the side streets that radiate from Milwaukee Avenue, the heart of the Polish community’s business district, you can see diminutive old Polish ladies on their hands and knees, scrubbing the sidewalks in front of their little bungalow homes.

Of course, having such a large ethnic community it is not surprising that people arrived at stereotypes for this group of people and began constructing jokes about them.  One of those stereotypes concerned itself with the intelligence level of members of the Polish community – which the joke creators determined was rather low.  And they made up their stories accordingly.

( It was not my experience in my dealings with the many people of Polish extraction whom I knew that there was any truth to this presumption).

But here’s a typical Polish, or in the parlance of Chicago, “Pollack” joke:

“Why did the Polish dog have a flat head?”

“Because he kept chasing parked cars.”

Of course, the dog in this two-liner is a canine and is not to be confused with a “Polish” that comes on a bun.  And if you are wondering, ordering a wiener or hot dog, the correct pronunciation and spelling is “dawg”.

If you should be exceptionally gauche and were to order a Polish dawg, which is both an oxymoron and a verbal abomination, you will undoubtedly be confined to the nethermost place in Hell after your demise and fed a diet of nothing other than Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup through all eternity.  This would be a just and fitting punishment.

Now the reason that I thought of this old canard about the Polish dog was that this morning on my way with Gracie to the dog park, I was behind a man driving a late model car.  I happened to notice that his passenger brake light had burned out.

As it happened, we both were going to make a left turn at the same street and there were two lanes assigned for that purpose.  We were stopped at a rather long light and both of our windows were rolled down as at 6:15 a.m. it was only about 78 degrees outside.  (We had a rather extensive thunderstorm last night which cooled things off considerably).

As we were waiting for the left turn arrow, I said to him, “Excuse me sir – I don’t know if you’re aware of it but your passenger side brake light is out.”

Gracie pushed her head out of the rear window to see if there were any dogs in the other car whose acquaintance she might make.

The man (whom I took to be in his mid to late 40’s) responded, “Yeah, so what’s it to ya?”

I had expected a response more along the lines of, “I didn’t know that.  Thanks for telling me,” so this took me by surprise.

Before I had an opportunity to formulate and offer a response, the light changed and we both made our turns.

It’s an interesting society in which we live.  Fortunately or unfortunately I was raised to assist others when the opportunity presents itself – and I thought I was doing this guy a minor service by pointing out his car’s problem.  But apparently he felt that this was some sort of intrusion into his affairs.

The habit is so ingrained in me after so many years, that I guess, like the flat-headed Polish dog, I’m going to keep chasing parked cars.  Or maybe it was people like me whom Einstein observed when he formulated his definition of Insanity:  “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result.”

So I guess there are a couple of things you should take away from this story:

1)  Never order a Polish dawg unless you’re really fond of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup;

2)  Be a nice person and you’ll get your reward;

3)  You better check your own brake lights because the next time I see that one of them has burned out I might not bother to mention it to you.  (Nah, I will).

ART, TREES AND STUFF

This morning I was thinking about the many considerate and wonderful people I have known in my life.  I have had perhaps more than my fair share of those relationships (though in all honesty I’m not sure that one can ever have too many).

And I thought to myself, “Self, you’re a lucky person.”  I truly believe that.

It all started with my family.  Sure they were nurturing and provided me with the security that every child deserves, but through their example they taught me in a mostly unspoken way the “rules of engagement” which when I grew up seemed to be both generally expected of each of us and practiced by most.

The genesis of this post all began when I gave Gracie her morning treats.  I am always overwhelmed at the quiet dignity of this gentle giant.  How she doesn’t need words to say, “Thank you,” because the gratitude she feels is so apparent in her eyes.

Gracie

It’s as though she and all the other dogs who came before her somehow intuitively know how to act in a civilized and loving manner – a skill which we humans have to acquire through parenting and the example of others – and far too many of us have skipped this class entirely or at least need to take a remedial course.

But there was a second reason for this post.  I was thinking back a few weeks to one of the children down the block who graduated from high school and how her house had been TP’d.  Until I moved out west, I was unfamiliar with this apparently common practice which involves unrolling a great quantity of toilet paper and catching it in tree branches at the matriculating senior’s place of residence.

Now this bothers me in several ways.  The first is that, for whatever reason, I have always had a great deal of admiration, respect and love for trees.  Obviously they are the source of this toilet paper and I earnestly feel hurt that we consider their lives and importance to be so trivial that we can can wantonly discard their sacrifice in this manner.  The second is that this wastefulness seems so unfortunately characteristic of our ever-consumptive and under-productive view of our world and our respective roles in society.  The practice, other than for the two reasons given above seems harmless enough and, I have learned, is almost expected.

That doesn’t mean that I grieve less for the trees.  I wanted to share an image of a painting done by Friedensreich Hundertwasser (born Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna) entitled “Conversations with a Tree.”  But while I could find the work cited in his catalogue raisonné, I couldn’t find the image itself.  All, however, was not lost as I had purchased a print, which hangs in my home,  of his painting “Noah’s Ark” which bears the admonition, “You Are A Guest Of Nature.  Behave.”

friedensreich-hundertwasser-arche-noah

Whether the artist had the practice of TPing in mind when he executed this work is doubtful.  I’m not sure that the kids in New Zealand, where he moved and accepted citizenship, engage in the practice.  But his words speak to more than one impish prank.  They address an attitude toward life in general.

While the practice of TPing a neighbor’s house is relatively harmless and not yet construable as a Federal offense, this lack of respect (whether for Nature or for our kindred humans) has taken a nasty turn.  Apparently, some of our kids think it’s fun to create their own incendiary devices, housed in plastic bottles, and leave these on their neighbors’ lawns.

This was brought to my attention by a friend who sent me an email on the subject, and while he is someone whom I trust implicitly, nevertheless I thought I had an obligation to check out the facts (as any good reporter should).  Unfortunately, it took me less than 30 minutes to verify the information.

I am not going to list the three ingredients which combine to make this sort of “homemade Molotov cocktail” but they are items which may be found in virtually any American home or are easily purchased at our grocery stores.  When the container is picked up, the movement shakes up the contents, causing them to chemically combine and the result is that they heat up and can either cause severe burns or worse.

So my suggestion is, should you see a near empty plastic container which holds anything more than liquid in it, you should not try to dispose of it but call your local Fire or Police Department and have them handle it.

Having given you that unsettling information, I think it’s time to get back to the sense of tranquility that trees have always afforded me.  And what better way is there than with one of my favorite of the Impressionists, Paul Cezanne and his painting of “A Large Pine Tree and Red Earth.”

paul-cezanne-large-pine-tree-and-red-earth-1890-1895

I wish all of you a wonderful day.

A SEVEN YEAR OLD WRITES TO GOD

deer god

my momma and mrs jones my sundayskool teechur they be tellun me that you seez evrythin and nos evrythin to an they be very smart and nice so i knowz iz so.

but you be so buzy seein and knowin you may nothas seed some of the stuf what happun at my skool las yeer .  speshully wif a boy in my klass we callz meen tyrone.

meen tyrone he jes always be lookin at wayz to make a fuss.  he pull at all the girlz hare and wen we be eatin our toona sanwich mean tyrone he com over and try to mush it up wif his fingurs.  so now when we seez him acomin we jes eatup our sanwich reel fast like so he dont have no chance to go mushin.

an he alwayz pickun at my bes frend a lil boy name of peter chen cause peter is a diffrun kolor than mos of us be.  kinda a yeller.  me an peter we be bes frenz an we likz to go on the swings to see whoo ken go up the hiest.  peter ken go hier than me an i think he be the best swinger that there ever was.  one day i drop a book an peter he reach down andd pick it up an give it back to me.  that was nice.

so i was thinkun that if all us kidz waz the same kolor than meen tyrone heed have no kall to be pickun at peter.  so could you make it so we all be the same kolor.  i think perpul would be nice.

i love you and i no you love me to

XoXOxOxoXOXoXOXOXOXO

kiesha smith

MISS MANNERS

Coming to live in Las Vegas I have had to adjust to any number of changes.  For example, I miss the snow and don’t care all that much for the heat.  Being able to play slot machines at your local supermarket, if you so choose, is another.  But perhaps the greatest adjustment affects my driving.

All along the streets, there are usually little printed and sometimes hand-written signs which sit on wire supports and which advertise some good or service.  They’re rather like the old Burma Shave signs except they’re lower to the ground and there isn’t a series of them to convey the message.

We have signs for all sorts of things.  Of course, “Open House” with an arrow is quite a big one.  And “Garage Sale” (or for those who are trying to sound more upscale, “Yard Sale” are others) – although I’ve always wondered where you would park your car if you sold your garage or plant your daisies without a front yard.  I hope to get to the bottom of that.

Then there are the signs for business opportunities, promising riches after you only do ten minutes work (call this number to hear our recorded message).  Those used to be solicitations for MLM “opportunities” but I think that most of those are now internet related.

No, those don’t pique my interest.  I’ve seen them far too many times.

One that did, but only for a moment, said, “New lawyer in town.  Get a divorce – only $399.”  Then, of course, the attorney’s phone number was listed.  I’ve seen these “cut rate divorce” ads before but they advertised $699 (and up) for the same service and appeared on regular billboards.  Apparently, those attorneys have been in town longer and have a bigger practice.  But since I’m not in the market for a divorce, I wasn’t particularly interested in that placard.

The one that did, and I’ve never seen it before, was a small sign with the lettering in both red and black ink which said, “Enroll now in Etiquette School.”  As I drove by it on the way home from the dog park, I nearly ran off the road and into a street lamp.  Imagine, in this day and age someone trying to sell the concept of etiquette?  And imagine, further, someone actually interested in taking them up on their offer.

I didn’t jot down the number but wanted to give them a call.  The following day I took a slightly different route home so I did not pass the sign.  And on the third day, I remembered to take my cell phone with me and had it all ready to add a new contact, but the sign had disappeared.  I’m not sure whether their class was over-subscribed or they had gotten no responses and in frustration decided, instead, to enroll in a cosmetology class so that they could learn the art of doing French nails.

Back in the days when wealthy families dressed in formal attire for dinner; when they assembled together for their evening meal at the lace tablecloth covered dining room table; when the servants brought out the repast and served the meal; when everyone knew which fork was to be used for their fish course and which for their salad; when young Missy discussed what she would wear to her coming out at the Spring Cotillion with Mama; that’s when we had people who were concerned with and knew etiquette.

The rest of us merely had manners.  Those came in two different forms – good and bad.  And I can’t help but think that is actually what this placard was offering to the public – a school in what constitutes good manners.

There is no question that there is a need for this service – and if I had gotten their phone number I would have called if for no other reason than to offer my encouragement and support.  But the absence of good manners today (or perhaps it is the lack of a realization that there is such a thing in God’s wide universe) may be the reason that the sign came down.

As I think about learning good manners, primarily from my family but from my teachers as well, I realize now how important that was and how it made a difference both in the way I feel about myself and how people feel about me.  Most people like me because the training I received as a child taught me to be considerate of others.

Whether it was learning from Mom that after I had blown my nose, the correct place to discard the soiled tissue was in a garbage can – not on the sidewalk; whether it was learning from Grandma that when an elderly or infirm person got on the bus, it was the correct thing to stand up and offer that person my seat; whether it was learning from Dad that it was the polite thing to hold a door open for the person who was just behind us; whether it was learning from my teacher that the reason that there was no talking amongst ourselves in class was because we were there to learn and even if we personally weren’t all that interested – others of our classmates were; these were the foundations in good manners that have served me well for a lifetime.

If you synopsize these little lessons they all come down to the same thing.  That each of us needs to understand that we are part of the universe but that universe does not revolve around us.  That extending courtesy and kindness are not options – they are an essential way of living.  That after learning the words “Mama” and “Papa”, the next three words every child should learn are “Please” and “Thank You.”  And that irrespective of whether the person to whom we extend a helping hand or a kind word acknowledges our actions or reciprocates, we should keep on doing it because it is the right thing to do.

So I’m going to drive around and see if I spot any more signs for “Etiquette School.”  If I do I will certainly call to speak with the folks running it.  They might need someone to help teach some of the classes.  And with the great need for the education they’re offering – I’d be willing to do it for free.

NO EINSTEINS NEED APPLY

God invented cream cheese for two reasons.  The first, of course, is as an ingredient in Cheesecake.  The second is for the liberal application of that substance on bagels.  (Without cream cheese, bagels have no reason to exist).

Perhaps, like me, you occasionally get a craving for something.  In my case it was for a bagel with a liberal amount of cream cheese applied to its toasted surface.  So I went to the best bagel bakery in town – only to find it had closed.  This shocked me since we have a relatively large and well-heeled Jewish population in Las  Vegas who I would have thought supported such a place.

Well, I’ve tried the bagels before in the large supermarkets but they are simply unpalatable (no matter how much cream cheese is applied to them).  So I went to a bagel bakery/deli very near my house and found that their doors were locked.  There was no sign on the door indicating the reason for that – so I assumed there had been some sort of family emergency which prevented them from opening.

Of course my taste buds were simply going berserk by now – but I decided to hold off until the following day and pick up my bagels.  But when I returned the next morning, a sign had been posted on the door which read “Store for Rent.”  Imagine, two bagel joints going out of business within a week.

Then I remembered there was an Einstein Bros. Bagel restaurant about a mile and a half down the road.  While I hadn’t truly loved their bagels five years before when I last ate one, they were still a step up from the ones at the supermarkets.  So I drove down there.  I needed a cream cheese/bagel fix bad.

It was relatively early in the morning, about 7:45 and I expected the restaurant to be full of customers picking up their “to go” orders as they went to work.  Much to my surprise (and delight), I was the only person in the store other than the cashier and three young women who were standing behind the bagel display.

I saw the sign, hanging from the ceiling that said, “Order Here” which was directly over the display case and I walked over to order.  On the wall there was a listing of the various bagels which one could purchase, though I found it easier to choose by looking at the bagels in the case.  And after a few seconds I had decided on one “Everything Bagel”; one “Garlic Bagel”; and one “Onion Bagel”.  I was ready to order.

Unfortunately, none of the three young women seemed remotely interested in interrupting their conversation in order to accommodate my wishes.  They were thoroughly rapt in discussing where they were going to get their next tattoos done and who did the best “Eyebrow Weaving” (whatever that is).  I checked my watch and waited patiently for two minutes.  Then I made a small, “Ahem” which they managed to ignore.

Finally, in pure desperation, I said, “Excuse me … would there be someone available to take an order?”  One of them looked at me, obviously annoyed that I had interrupted her conversation with her co-workers and said, “Whaddya want?”

I placed my order and she donned a plastic glove to pull the bagels from the case.  “For here or to go?”  She said this with all the delicacy of a hippo in rut.  I overlooked the fact that most individuals, particularly of my size are unlikely to eat three bagels in one sitting so I politely responded, “They’re to go, please.”

“Do ya wan em sliced?”

“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I would appreciate that,” I responded.

She then took my purchase down to the cashier who appeared a bit relieved that she actually had something to do.  As she rang them up I noticed she charged me $1.19 for one of the bagels and $1.29 for the other two.  (Frankly, paying more than $.75 for a bagel is, in my opinion, tantamount to highway robbery.  But I was desperate).

I did question why there was a price difference.  The cashier, armed with the answer to this question went on to explain.

“Well, your ‘Everything Bagel’ is one of our Classic bagels but your ‘Onion’ and ‘Garlic” bagels are Signature bagels.”  Feeling light-hearted that I was soon about to satiate my craving, I responded jokingly, “Well, who signed the bagels and where would I find the signature?”  Needless to say, the humor in this comment was totally lost.  I could see her brain was in a loop as she asked herself a question that had probably crossed her mind many times, “Why do I always get the retards when I’m cashiering?”  As an act of pure compassion I said, don’t worry, I’ll find out for myself.

So I paid for my purchase and slathered lots of cream cheese on my bagel as soon as it popped out of the toaster.  All things considered, I gave the bagel itself about a 6.5 and the overall experience of shopping at Einstein Bros. Bagels about a 3.5.  In other words, it was pretty close to the average of quality and level of service that I have come to find in most retail outlets.

It may be some time until my bagel craving returns.  That is the nature of cravings – they are evanescent.  But I’ve armed myself for its recurrence by finding several recipes for making homemade bagels.  They really don’t sound that tough.  I have all the ingredients but I do need a stylus so that I can sign my work and create my very own “Signature Bagels”.

In the meantime, all the cream cheese that I bought on sale that I thought I would apply over 12 days to the dozen bagels I anticipated purchasing did not go to waste.

You see, I do make a killer cheesecake.

OOPS!!! (Or: DO I HAVE EGG ON MY FACE?)

It was February 7, 2013 and I sat down to write my more or less daily post.  My laptop and I exchanged blank stares at each other – it waiting for me to do something that would stimulate it into activity.  But as I sat there, all that went through my head was “white noise” – a tabula rasa where something clever should have been.  So I said to myself, “Self – you’ve written a lot and you’re entitled to a day off.”  So I took one.

I was no more stimulated the following day or the next.  I mean, with the failure of the Mayan Apocalypse to materialize, the world was as brain dead as ever and I guessed that I had joined the ranks of the Great Unthinking.

No matter how much I contorted myself, I just couldn’t squeeze out anything that I thought would be of interest to anyone – myself included.  So I decided to take a week off from blogging.  And I did.  If this was an example of writer’s block, I was the ultimate blockhead.

Armed with a week’s rest I was certain that my remaining 27 brain cells would have had sufficient time to recharge and get me going again.  However, I was feeling no more inspired than a week before and I thought that I should just go on a somewhat indefinite leave.  But I didn’t want any of those who were following this blog to worry about my physical well-being (I know some of you have concern for the state of my mental health), so I wrote up a nice post and scheduled it to be published a week later – thinking that just in case the Muse came to pay a call on me I could cancel it.

The Muse must have been on vacation because I wasn’t feeling any more insightful that week than the previous one – so I thought, I’ll get back to blogging when I’m feeling inspired again.  (And I’d covered my bases with the pre-scheduled explanation).

The only thing that went wrong with this plan – (I had never used Scheduler before) was that I forgot to push the button – which I only just discovered this afternoon.  OOPS!!!

My apologies to all those who have expressed concern.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your checking on me.  But I am alive and well and ready to spring back into action.  (That is in earnest after I cull through the 12,000 emails that have accumulated in my absence).

I hope all of you are well and I look forward to visiting with all of you very soon.

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