The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘parents’

THE BUTTON BOX

It held a quiet place of honor in our apartment, subtly nestled on one of the lower bookshelves in the living room, quietly waiting its time to be called to service.

The button box was a cube, approximately twenty inches on each side, crafted out of a smooth, dark green cloth material.  It had three drawers filled with all sorts of threads, wrapped tightly on their wooden spools, threads in a myriad of colors.  There were orange and fuchsia and blue spools, each of the same size though some had less thread on them than others as they had previously been used to repair various garments.  The largest spools held white and black thread – those colors being used most frequently.

In addition in the drawers filled with thread, a special place was reserved where there were sewing scissors and needles of all sorts of thicknesses and several simple thimbles, one made of brass, the other of silver.  But the top of the button box was where the true treasure existed.  It was a large hoard of buttons that had been painstakingly removed from garments that had been retired from service after long years of use.

Before old clothes were turned into rags with the pinking shears inside the button box, each button was carefully severed and added to the collection.  Of course, many of the buttons which came from my father’s shirts were simple white ones, but they had their own personality and individuality.  Some were pure white and as simple as they were, the ones which had formerly been used to button the shirt front were larger than the ones that fastened the collar.  Even among the white buttons there was variation.  Some had two holes for sewing and others had four.  And while some were resplendently devoid of color white, others were more of a bone shade.  The truth of this dispels the notion that, “All white buttons look alike.”  They don’t.

One night after dinner, our little family sat in the living room to watch that week’s episode of “The Milton Berle Show.”  Dad swung the doors open on the cabinet which housed our Dumont television and turned the dial to on, waiting for the set to warm up and readying himself to fiddle with the rabbit ears antenna on the top should the picture need adjustment.  But after several minutes, the familiar sound of the tubes warming up, getting ready to do their job and bring us an evening of entertainment was singularly absent.

Dad clicked the set off, waited a few seconds and then turned it back on again.  Sadly, no line appeared on the television, letting us know that the set was sufficiently warmed up so that we could soon expect to see Mr. Berle in all his zany madness.  The set was dead.  My father made the pronouncement, much to all of our regret.  So we played a game of Monopoly instead and I got to be the banker.

The following morning my mother called Gerhardt Schrader, the TV repairman.  I had only seen Mr. Schrader twice before when he had previously come by to fix our set.  He was a very pleasant man who seemed to know his craft quite well.  I liked him but I was particularly fascinated by the large mole which he had on his lower left jaw.  Mother told me, “Don’t stare at Mr. Schrader’s mole,” which only made my eyes gravitate towards it more anxiously.  In any event, he was booked up much of that day and asked if he could stop by between seven o’clock and seven-thirty or if that would interrupt our dinner.  (We normally ate at six so mom said that would be very convenient).

True to his word, our downstairs buzzer rang just at seven and we buzzed Mr. Schrader and his tool boxes in.  He promptly arrived at our apartment and headed directly for the set.

Like a skilled surgeon, he gently swiveled the cabinet away from the wall, pulled out a screwdriver and removed the pressed wood backing which protected all the tubes from exposure, set it aside and began examining the tubes in the rear of this most wonderful piece of entertainment.  He quickly identified the tube that was at fault, pulled it from the set, went into his tube box and found a replacement and swapped this new tube for the one that had burned out.  Before reattaching the rear panel to the back he switched on the set and much to our delight, the picture came on and everything was right as rain once again.

While Mr. Schrader was engaged in his surgical procedure, Grandma had gone into the kitchen, cut a large slice of the apple pie she had made earlier that day and returned with it and a cup of coffee to give Mr. Schrader as a special extra, “Thank you.”  Mr. Schrader apparently liked apple and other pies as well since he had quite a little extra belly on him.  And as she offered him and he gratefully accepted this treat, Grandma noticed that one of the buttons on his blue shirt, just above the navel, had been lost.  Through his pale blue shirt, Mr. Schrader’s undershirt was quite visible.

Grandma asked him, “Mr. Schrader, are you still a bachelor?”  He said that he was.  “Well, no wonder you have a button missing on your shirt.  No woman at home to take care of you.  You can’t go around like that.”  With that admonition, Grandma went into her clothes basket which contained the day’s load of clean wash, awaiting ironing, and pulled out a white terry cloth bathrobe.  She handed it to Mr. Schrader with the admonition that he was to go into our bathroom, change into the robe and hand her his blue shirt for repair.  Mr. Schrader didn’t have a moment to object before Grandma commanded him, “Now go.  Go.”    Mr. Schrader, sensing that this old woman meant business, dutifully took the bathrobe and I showed him the door to our bathroom.  He exited a few moments later, decently attired in the robe with his shirt in his hand.  Only then was he permitted to enjoy his pie and coffee.

While Mr. Schrader was changing, Grandma had whisked the button box from its resting place.  She had opened the lid and had assembled an army of white buttons so that she could commence her repair job as soon as the patient was presented to her.  Mr. Schrader handed her his shirt and she immediately began sorting through the buttons she had assembled, diligently looking to find an exact match.

After discarding a few she found one that was perfect and she began threading her needle.  On went the brass thimble and in no time at all she had fixed Mr. Schrader’s shirt, faster than he had been able to eat his pie or drink his coffee.  As I looked at Grandma I saw a sigh of contentment come over her.  It was as though she was relieved that she had been able to right an irreparable wrong and that gave her a great sense of peace.  Mr. Schrader finished his desert and complimented Grandma on her pie.  He waived his normal charge for making a “house call” and only charged my father for the tube he had replaced and went on his way after changing back into his work shirt and returning the bathrobe to Grandma who promptly put it in the hamper with clothes that needed washing.

Several months later, one of my friends named Betty, the girl in the building next door, saw my mother on the street and asked if I would be allowed to join her family for an event that was being held at the Bierhaus about a half mile from our apartments.  There was a wonderful band that was coming all the way from Leipzig and her parents asked if I could join them for dinner and an evening of traditional German songs.  My mother agreed – knowing that these were very nice people – and wanting me to experience music in its many expressions.

The night of the event came and I was all dressed up for the occasion.  Mom delivered me to the Knecht’s and Mr. and Mrs. Knecht, Betty and I began our fifteen minute walk to the Bierhaus.  It was a beautiful late September evening.

The Bierhaus was full of people – all speaking German.  I was glad that I had the Knechts as my guardians because I couldn’t understand a thing that people were saying, other than them.  And then, over in the corner, I spotted Mr. Schrader.  Like everyone there he seemed to be enjoying himself, actively engaged in a conversation with another man while he swung around his half full frosted beer stein, managing to keep all its contents inside.

I remembered my mother’s admonition, “Don’t stare at his mole.”  That turned out not to be difficult, because my eye was fixed elsewhere – on the missing button from his dress shirt under which I could plainly see his white undershirt.  It was in the same place as the missing button which Grandma had repaired.  I began to think, perhaps there’s something about Mr. Schrader’s shirt and his belly which just don’t get along.  I still hold that opinion.

Mr. Schrader came over to our little group.  Apparently he knew Mr. Knecht quite well.  As I later found out, the Knechts used Mr. Schrader when their television needed repair.  He was apparently the television repairman to the neighborhood.

The two men began speaking in German and having a very good laugh together.  Fortunately, Betty translated for me.  She told me that Mr. Schrader told the story about how Grandma had repaired his button when he had made his house call to us.  When he had finished telling Mr. Knecht the story, he turned to me, noticing that my eyes kept gravitating to the space where there had once been a button and said, “Please don’t tell your Grandmother about my missing button.  Let’s just keep this our little secret, okay?”  And I never did because I knew it would have broken her heart.

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If this doesn’t disturb you, you need to catch the next shuttle to your starship.

ON CHILDREN AND DIVORCE

My godmother who was part of New York’s elite “upper crust” introduced me to many things.  One of those was opera, another Broadway shows and the third was how people in “polite society” referred to each other.

She explained that if Mr. Simpson-Bowles were married, his wife was introduced as Mrs. Simpson-Bowles.  If, however, that relationship had not worked out and he remarried, this wife was introduced as “the second Mrs. Simpson-Bowles.”  Alas, that relationship did not last and for a third time he married.  This wife was introduced as “the current Mrs. Simpson-Bowles.”

In the 1950’s and 1960’s in America divorce happened – but at a much less frequent pace than is the case today.  For the ordinary individual being married multiple times was the exception rather than the rule – except for those stars in Hollywood who seemed to exchange spouses with the frequency that they changed their wardrobes for the next scene in a movie.

Of course, with marriage frequently comes the side-benefit of children.  And when two people divorce there is an impact and implication not only for how they will continue their lives but for their offspring as well.  I know because when I was eight years old my parents were divorced.

I am pleased to say that the cause of their separation was not due to something that would then have been scandalous and lurid such as either of them having a sexual relationship outside their marriage.  They simply had differences and disagreements which they couldn’t resolve.

Although they tried to shield me from hearing these arguments, that was difficult considering the small size of our apartment.  I knew something was wrong and I wanted it to stop.  I wanted us to return to the happy, loving and supportive little family that I knew and with which I felt secure.  But it didn’t.

One day mom explained that she was going to take a small trip – to Mexico.  The purpose was to obtain a divorce from dad.  I didn’t quite understand what that word meant – but on her return home it became clear what it was.  It meant that dad wasn’t going to live with us anymore and that I would only get to spend time with him every other weekend.  I didn’t like that idea – but I had no say in the matter.

Obviously this decision had an effect on the way that my parents continued their lives.  But the greatest impact fell on me.  I rapidly went from being at the head of the class and nosedived academically until I was near the bottom.  My teacher, Mrs. Snell expressed her concern in several conferences and a number of written notes.  She could see that I was languishing and depressed.

Fortunately, my parents both cared enough about me to discuss my situation with each other.  This resulted in their going out to dinner on many occasions – but the big breakthrough came when dad was invited for supper one night.  After a year apart, they decided that they were going to try again.  And on June 14th, mom, dad, grandma, my aunt, her two children and I attended a service at The Church of the Transfiguration (better known in New York as “The Little Church Around the Corner”) where they again took their vows.  They remained married until dad passed away.

Perhaps it is co-incidence, but after my parents got back together and we were again the family unit that I had known, my schoolwork improved almost immediately and I again held my place at the head of the class.  I’ll let you be the judge for why I made that academic transformation.  My entire attitude changed as I went from a state of depression to again feeling good about life and the world.

I realize that in today’s world the idea of constancy and commitment are considered old-fashioned.  I know that when my parents decided on getting divorced, they both felt that somehow they had failed themselves and each other.  They had a rather old-fashioned way of looking at things and were disappointed that they had compromised their personal values.  But it is probably the fact that they knew what the “right thing to do” was that enabled them to try to heal the wounds they both had incurred – together with their love and concern for me.

My parents were people who had rock solid values and, because they were humans, failed for a period of time to live up to them.  But they worked hard to overcome their personal frailties and see the more important and bigger picture.  I guess, if you think about it, it’s only people who have a value system who can be failures.  Those of us for whom “anything goes” will always be able to say that we followed our moral precepts – as non-existent as those may be.

I cannot say with certainty how different my life might have been had my parents not made their decision to come back together.  In that one short year that they were apart, I was already on the path to academic mediocrity.  Perhaps I might not have finished high school or gone on to college.  Perhaps I might have become what we referred to at the time as a “JD” – a juvenile delinquent.  Actually, I am certain that I would not be the person I am today.

Today, divorce occurs only slightly less frequently than marriage.  Single parent homes are no longer an exception.  Our educational drop out rate is staggering.  The number of teen unwed mothers – or for that matter – unwed mothers of any age is soaring.  We clearly have abandoned the “old-fashioned” way of doing things – and that change has had a profound influence at every level of society.

Those old-fashioned values were good enough to allow America to become the single most important economic dynamo on earth.  They were good enough to cause millions of immigrants to come to a land of opportunity and to make a better life for themselves and their children.  They were good enough for us to assume a place of moral leadership and to give new meaning to the word freedom for all throughout the world to see and to admire.  They were good enough then – so why aren’t they good enough now?

If we want to address the question of America and her problems – perhaps one of the places we should start is by examining the implications of divorce on our children.

A WILLING SACRIFICE

Most of us do not go out of our way to look for trouble.  Trouble seems capable enough of finding its way to our doorstep without our having to solicit it.  But occasionally, something that is so important is presented to us that we have no choice but to take action – even if that poses a threat to our safety.

In my view, the election of November 6, 2012 is just precisely that kind of an event.

This election may be the most important in my lifetime because it will shape the way America functions, not only for the next four years but, possibly for decades to come.  By that I refer to the implications of President Obama’s making appointments to the Supreme Court during the course of a second term should he be re-elected.  That is the gravest concern should Mr. Romney lose his bid to defeat the incumbent this November.  Of course, it is not the only reason for concern.

The immediate implications of an Obama second term are that we will continue to muddle along in the same way that we have now for three and a half years with rising deficits, continuing record high unemployment and nobody at the helm to offer positive programs, guidance or encouragement.  We both need and deserve better as individuals and as a nation.

In fairness to the President, he has a willing partnership in ineptitude which he shares with the Congress.  One of the bumper stickers I created, referring to members of that august institution reads, “Never before have so few done so much to screw so many.”  Even the most partisan of us have to admit that there are many members of our party serving either in the House or the Senate who haven’t had a creative idea since Moses was a pup.  Those people should be replaced by We The People.

Well, the subject of bumper stickers brings me to the title of this quote.  Late last year I wrote up more than one hundred slogans for them and found a local graphic designer who did the artwork.  The subject matter covered President Obama, the Congress and our need as a people to take responsibility for our actions – whether in terms of healthcare or driving, among other subjects.   These are issues about which I have written frequently on this blog.

Of course, every writer would like to think that all of her work is brilliant, but pride of authorship often belies the truth.  So I asked some friends and neighbors to review these slogans and see which ones had the most appeal to them.  They were very courteous in doing that for me.

One of the comments that was made was, “Oh, you’re not going to put these on your car, are you?”  That seemed a curious statement to me as, if the appropriate place for a bumper sticker weren’t on your car, well then, where exactly were you supposed to put it?  So I said, “Of course I am.”

“You know, you may get your car ‘keyed’ if you do that.”

Notwithstanding their warning I displayed four of my favorites on my car and have done so for the last five months.  If we are not free to express our opinion in the United States – we might as well move to Iraq.  There has been no “keying” done during all that time – until last night.

A friend invited me to join him at a restaurant in North Las Vegas.  The restaurant was located in an area where during the 2008 election, according to election statistics, ninety-five percent of the residents voted for President Obama.  As I started for the dog park this morning, I noticed that both on the driver’s and passenger’s side of my vehicle there was evidence of scratches made by someone’s key.

I cannot say definitively that this property damage was done by a supporter of President Obama – but I think that there is a high probability of that being the case. I do not believe the President would endorse this sort of bad behavior.  In fact, I’m sure he would not.  This speaks not to the President but to a hooligan who happens to support him and who has little respect for other people’s rights or property.

Well, cars can be touched up and re-painted.  In the ultimate scheme of things this is not a big deal and both my car and I will survive this episode.  My car, however, will potentially be subject to yet more damage in the months ahead because, if anything, this has simply firmed my resolve to display my bumper stickers and to voice my opinion.

I mentioned in an earlier post that when I was in college I was ambushed by three thugs who kicked me unconscious and stole what little I had on me.  I spent five days in the hospital with a concussion – and came close to losing the sight in my left eye.  The worst part of this episode was breaking this news to my parents.  I made a full recovery and the incident lingered with me only as a bad memory.

My parents wanted me to transfer schools – or at the least – find an apartment away from school and commute to classes.  I thought about that suggestion and realized that their only motivation was concern for my well-being.  But I felt they were wrong and I told them why I thought so.

“There are good people and bad in the world.  They come in both sexes; they come in every color; they subscribe to every religion or lack of one; they are young and middle-aged and they are old; the are rich and they are poor.  But if all the good people run away and try to hide themselves from the bad ones – those people will eventually find them.  No, I refuse to change where I live because a few cowardly thugs mugged me.  I won’t give them the satisfaction of scaring me into moving.”

I stayed and lived in that neighborhood for many years until moving out west – and I am grateful that I never had a repeat performance of that grizzly encounter that winter night.

So I will continue to display my bumper stickers on my wounded vehicle until the election this November.  I am offering up my car as a willing sacrifice.

But it does make me wonder…

If some of the President’s supporters are willing to engage in this sort of activity before the incendiary and divisive rhetoric of the campaign has even begun, what will they do should their candidate lose his bid for re-election?

THE HARDWARE STORE AND THE ENVIRONMENT

I used to pass Becker’s Hardware several times a day.  It was one store south of the corner of 78th Street and Lexington on the west side of the street and was on my way to school.

Although I had only been inside once when my dad sent me to pick something up for him, I loved that store – particularly after Thanksgiving.  The window display which normally contained hammers and workboxes and hand saws was replaced for the Holiday season by a little mountain, train tracks and a small Lionel train.  The train consisted of an engine, a coal car, a lumber car and a caboose.

On the window Mr. and Mrs. Becker had installed a round silver circular disc, and if you put your hand on it, the heat from your body activated a switch and the train made one trip around the mountain and then came to a halt.  There was always a line of kids wanting to send the train on its journey – including me.  It was one of the little Holiday traditions that I loved as a child.

One Friday evening as we were sitting in the living room one of the lamps began making a noise.  Suddenly it went out and there was a smell of something burning.  Dad quickly unplugged the lamp from the wall socket and began examining it.  He saw that the lamp’s cord was frayed.  As it happened, this lamp was one of mom’s favorites – and she naturally wanted it repaired.

Dad sold lamps – and he always had a large supply of wire for them as they were made to order for his customers.  Normally, he would have gone to the office on Saturday, picked up some wire and brought it home to do the job.  But this Saturday we were scheduled to go to Tice Farms in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey to get peaches, which were in season.  Grandma used to buy a half bushel of them and freeze them for our enjoyment during the winter.

Of course, I was looking forward to the trip.  Tice Farms also made their own ice cream.  Their peach ice cream was so smooth and creamy and loaded with large chunks of fruit.  It was one of my favorite food memories as a child and still is to this day.

So the next morning dad and I went to Becker Hardware to buy a length of electric cord so he could repair the lamp.  When we walked in, the store looked as it had the one time I had previously been there.

Neatly organized along the wall behind the counter were row after row and drawer after drawer of all sorts of hardware things.  Washers, nuts, nails, screws all clearly marked with their size.

Mrs. Becker was helping another customer when we came in, but she took the time to say, “Good morning.  I’m just finishing up and will be with you in a moment.  Thank you for coming in.”  She said it with an obvious sincerity which was the way that small business owners attracted and retained their customers.

“Okay, Fred, let’s see.  We have seven washers at three cents each.”  As she said this she wrote that down on a little piece of paper.  “Twenty-two nails, two cents each … four nuts – five cents each …”  And she continued until she had tallied up Fred’s entire order  – which amounted to $1.40 plus four cents sales tax.  She handed the sheet to Fred for him to check for accuracy and he handed her two dollars.

Mrs. Becker asked him if he would like a bag for each item or would it be okay to put them all together.  Fred said one bag would do.  So Mrs. Becker scooped everything into a little paper bag, reached under the counter and pulled out her cash box.  It was a colorful kid’s lunch box.  She put the two dollars in and hunted around for fifty-six cents change which she gave to Fred who thanked her and left the store.

She then turned to us and said, “How are you today?  May I help you?”  Again, her cheerfulness radiated in her questions.

Dad had brought the old wire with us and said that he wanted to replace it.  Mrs. Becker looked at it and said, “Oh my goodness.  It’s a good thing you were home when this shorted out.  It might have started a fire.  Well, we’ll get you all fixed up.”

She took the old wire and measured it against new electric cord which was hanging in a roll on the wall and cut the appropriate amount.  “Do you want a new plug as well for it?”, she asked.  Dad thought for a second and said, “Sure, let’s get a new plug as well.”  So she went to her “plug” drawers and found one that exactly matched the old one.  She then folded the cord and was going to put it and the plug in a bag when dad said, “We’re only just going around the corner.  You don’t have to bother with a bag.”

Mrs. Becker said, “Oh, thank you.  You’d be surprised how much those brown paper bags cost.  I appreciate it.  That will be $1.12 including tax.”

Well, dad and I took our wire and plug home and the family headed off to New Jersey.  When we returned, my mind still thinking about the wonderful ice cream I had enjoyed and the frozen peaches which were coming that fall and winter, I was content.  Dad immediately set to re-wiring the lamp, which took him about fifteen minutes – and mom was happy that one of her favorite lamps was again operational.  All was well.

I thought about that experience at Becker’s Hardware the other day.  Several of my landscape lights had decided to burn out simultaneously and I wanted to replace them.  So I went to one of the hardware “superstores” to find new halogen bulbs.

I knew where the lighting section was in this store so I anticipated just going in, making my selection and using the self-checkout to finish my purchase.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of time there as I had Gracie with me in the car and, although it was early morning, I didn’t want to expose her to the rising temperature any longer than necessary.

Of course, having made the tour of the bulb aisle I couldn’t find what I needed.  I went to customer service and asked if they allowed companion dogs in the store.  As it turned out, they did.  So I went back to the car and brought Gracie back with me.

Then I began looking for an employee who could help me locate my bulbs.  I was glad that I had retrieved Gracie as trying to find someone to help me took almost fifteen minutes.  But I finally succeeded in locating one of the store personnel who knew where the bulbs were.  Of course, they were right in front of me.  I had just missed them.

When we returned home I set the bulbs on the counter.  Then I looked, I mean really looked, at my purchase.

The bulbs themselves measured 1/2” x 1-1/2”.  The packaging which held them measured 3” x 6”.  In other words, we had 18 square inches of packaging to hold 3/4 square inches of product – a twenty-four to one ratio of packaging to product.  What a waste.  And I couldn’t help but wonder how much of my $4.98 per bulb cost was because of that packaging and not the product it contained.

Of course, when I removed the bulbs I did put the packaging in my recycle bin.  I am not sure whether the plastic component will actually be recycled or just get pulled and sent to a landfill.  I removed the cardboard inserts which held the bulbs in place and am hopeful that they at least will find their way back into a new life as something useful.

It’s been many years since I went into Becker’s Hardware.  I would be surprised if the store is still in business.   But I can still hear Mrs. Becker thanking dad for sparing her the expense of a brown paper bag.

With the way we purchase and package products today, what is the cost – not just in terms of our out of pocket expense – but the ultimate cost, the denigration of our most precious resource, our environment?  I’m guessing it’s pretty high.

DAD WAS A LOT OF FUN

 When I was a small child, dad got a promotion to head up sales for his company’s southern territory. This included Dallas and Atlanta and when he went to one of those two cities he would be gone for several weeks at a time.

 He had returned from one of these trips and the following Saturday we decided to go see two old Abbott & Costello movies which were playing at the RKO Theater on 86th Street. As we were walking, I asked dad what it was like in Dallas.

 He told me that people in the south were a lot friendlier than people in New York. He said you would walk down the street and a total stranger would greet you with a “Hi, how are ya today – glad to see you,” as though you were his long lost best friend.

 That was certainly a contrast to my limited experience in dealing with my fellow New Yorkers. I noticed that most people I passed on the street tended to keep their eyes pointed to the street – avoiding any possibility of eye contact – and there was seldom if ever any greeting offered.

 I wondered how it could be that people who all lived in the same country could behave so very differently. And I told dad as much.

 Dad set out to prove the truth of his statement about the difference between people in Dallas and New York. He told me, “I’m going to say “Hi” in a very friendly manner to the next person who comes towards us. I’ll bet you that they are going to turn around, trying to figure out who I am. They’re going to think that they must know me – or why would I have greeted them?”

 So, about a minute later we encountered a middle-aged man. Dad did as he said he would, “Hi – how are you today? Glad to see you.” He delivered this in an extremely enthusiastic manner – and the man who was the subject of our test mumbled, “Uh, er, fine thanks,” and he quickly walked down the street.

 Dad and I turned around. Sure as shooting this man looked over his shoulder trying to figure out who this was who had greeted him. Dad just waved at him and we continued on to the movies. I knew that I was the child of a genius.

 I remember getting on the elevator to go to my office one morning. I was last to get on the elevator which was filled to capacity. I had my attache case in my right hand and because the elevator was crowded, it would have been difficult turning around to face the front of the elevator without knocking it into the passengers who were directly in front of me.

Well, there I was in an elevator with twenty other people facing me so I said, “Hi, everyone – how are you all today?”  From the reaction I received, you would have thought I was a notorious serial killer in search of a new victim.  Total silence.

I mean, I was dressed in appropriate business attire, looked fairly normal (at least I thought so) and saw the forty eyes of my fellow passengers stare at the elevator roof, at the shoulder of the passenger in front of them – anywhere but at me.  This simple act of greeting and standing facing them rather than turning to the front was so disquieting to them that I couldn’t help think of the discomfort that rats taken out of their comfort zone experience.

As a result of the elevator experience I have ever since made a point when I’m out of saying, “Hi” to at least one if not more than one stranger.  I figure that, if I get lucky, I might start a movement.  But I wish that dad were here to help me.

Dad was a lot of fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON CELLULAR EATIQUETTE

 When I was a child, phones were black and had dials. They had only three functions.

 The first of these was that if you correctly dialed a series of seven letters and numbers you would reach the party with whom you wished to speak (that is assuming that they were home to answer and chose to do so).

 The second was that when your phone rang you could speak with the party who had successfully completed the operation described in the first function. (It could be your Aunt Hattie, the IRS or someone who had simply mis-dialed. You just never knew until you picked up the receiver).

 The third function was that while you were waiting to perform either function one or function two, your phone because it was heavy, served as a very efficient paper weight – allowing you to keep all the bills you had to pay in one neat and orderly place without fear that they would blow away and be scattered.

 As I think about it, I guess those phones had a potential fourth function as well. If a robber broke into your house you could pick up your phone (presently engaged in function three) and because of its heft use it to strike the bad guy over the head, knocking him unconscious. Then you could employ function one and call the police to have this evildoer arrested. You see, even earlier telephones were versatile.

 Although they had virtually none of the many features found on even today’s most elemental cell phones they had two striking advantages over these gifts of modern technology.

 First, you couldn’t misplace your phone since the main unit was connected to the wall of your apartment and the receiver was connected to the phone’s base by a winding rubbery cord.

 Second, these phones never dialed themselves – putting you back in touch with someone with whom you had just concluded a conversation.

 Our outlook on phones back then was a little different. We viewed them as a tool – rather than a life support system. But that was then.

 My family would gather nightly for our dinner together. I remember that there was a little ritual which preceded and followed our meal. Either mom or grandma would pick up the phone (engaged in its most frequent function – number three) and turn the little control at the bottom to make the phone silent. After dinner had concluded, one of them would turn it back on.

 We had no idea if someone had called during our meal or not – and we didn’t care.

 Dinner was a time for us to discuss how things went at school, if dad had gotten any big orders, who had come into mom’s shop and what grandma planned to cook for dinner the following evening. It was the time of day that we were all together and that time was far too important to be interrupted with a phone call.

 A few weeks ago I was invited to dinner at a very nice restaurant by some friends. Their twenty year old son and eighteen year old daughter joined us.

 Please accept my estimate that the two youngsters spent at least half of the time that we were seated either making or receiving phone calls, surfing the web or sending tweets. While I didn’t say anything about this, I thought of a four letter word that grandma would have used if she were with us at that meal. That word is “rude.”

 What surprised me more than their behavior was that their parents apparently saw nothing strange or wrong in it. At least they didn’t make any comments about it while we were seated.

 It seems to me that as a mere matter of courtesy, when we are with someone we should turn our attention to that person. I try to do that – although I have to admit I’ve been involved in conversations which I found extremely boring. But I do recognize that the other person must find their subject matter interesting – or they wouldn’t be discussing it. So I try to listen to what they’re saying – no matter my level of personal interest. Sometimes that’s tough.

 In thinking about this recent dinner outing I decided to coin a new phrase –   “Cellular Eatiquette.” I’m not going to define it as I think that it’s obvious from its construction.

 What I will say is that if we ever get together for dinner, rest assured that prior to our meal, I will turn off my cell phone – and I hope that you will show me the same respect.  I promise that you will have my full attention.

 

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