I was in a hurry, busily checking minor and mundane necessities off my mental checklist as I hurried through the building. The day was still unborn, and shadows blanketed everything that modern lighting couldn’t touch. To my right, a series of vertical windows rose above me. Ahead of me, someone sat in the shadows, in a small grouping of uncomfortable chairs, the type which serve their function but provide no real invitation to linger. His head was bowed, and his hands were clasped between his legs. His body language seemed to exude defeat. He seemed to be waiting for something unseen, an event to unfold, or for some greater force to expel him from his chair. The soft aura reflecting from the windows cast a curtain of gauze on the interior.
Despite my feet treading quietly on the institutional floor, his head rose, and he looked up. His eyes met mine. I noted a huge yellow, black, and discolored splotch around his right eye. His blond hair lay wildly around his features.
“Are you okay?” I asked, without even realizing I was about to speak.
“No,” he said, his voice cracking. Due to some triggered instinct, I realized that if he said a few more words, he’d likely either start shouting or sobbing.
I raised my left hand as if to stop him from speaking. “It’s okay.” I walked within two feet of where he sat.
“I think I need to leave before I react.” As he spoke, fifteen different scenarios filled the canvas of my mind. None of them were joyous explanations for his demeanor or appearance.
He fell silent in recognition of the fact that I knew what he meant without him saying the words of explanation. Because we’re human, it could only be one of four or five stories.
I removed my phone from my left front pocket. “Where do you need to be, other than away from here? By the way, my name is X.” I asked.
He told me. I typed the destination and found a ride that would be there in less than five minutes. I showed him the screen.
“I’m paying. Don’t stress it. I’ll go wait outside. When the driver shows, I’ll make sure he’s comfortable with it.” The young man nodded and didn’t speak.
As the sun burned the rim of the horizon, the driver pulled up. I handed him a tip and explained that someone needed a hand – and I was that hand. “No problem. He’ll get there.”
The young man slowly walked outside and opened the rear door of the waiting car. He did not look up, for which I’m glad. Seeing the side of his face again would undoubtedly cause me to commit the sin of asking questions.
Before he could say more, I said, “Pay it forward. You’ll remember this one day and have the chance to help someone.”
He shut the rear door and the car pulled away.
I don’t even know his name. But he knows mine. And that gives me hope.
An entire life, unknown and unknowable to me.
I fear we have things in common, though. I hope the young man’s journey is dotted with people interested enough to help him push forward.
P.S. I don’t deserve a pat on the back or words of encouragement. I needed this more than the young man did. Truth be told, my mind was filled anger that morning.
Regarding ‘the’ video/picture. It’s easy for excessively wealthy people to overlook disregard from others. I absolutely guarantee you that if I had half a billion dollars, I could ignore the most heinous of considerations. You could call me anything you want, as well as vilify my very existence.
I see so many social media posts from people advocating that young people choose a trade over college. These types of posts seem to be multiplying. It’s rare to see such a post from a young person, however. The memes annoy me a little, though, if it’s okay for me to say so.
Because I watch with a keen eye when my instincts get stirred, I turn my attention to note how much of people’s enthusiasm for a trade translates to their children or grandchildren. Whether it is my jaundiced eye or a convenient conclusion, my observations tell me that college is almost always the preferred ideal over learning a trade. Likewise, most parents don’t enthusiastically endorse the option of the military, either, even though it often provides multiple benefits for the person willing to choose it.
Ideology in the abstract is a strange, contradictory thing.
Why not both? Educated minds are to everyone’s benefit. What’s wrong with a plumber, electrician, or mechanic with a college degree? The odds we’re going to change careers several times increases with each generation.
A shadowy truth embedded in this conversation is that most people want careers that do not tax their bodies – and they wish the same for their children. It’s not a revelation of laziness. For some, it is a belief rooted in class distinction. For most, it’s merely reasonable.
It’s not denigrating to tradespeople to say that you’d like a job using your mental ability rather than your hands and back. Most technical trades take a toll on one’s body. Combined with long hours, a competent tradesperson is much more likely to harm his or her ability to do such a job well for their entire career. No one disputes that many people make an outstanding salary by choosing a trade.
Imagine a society in which 17 years of education is ‘free,’ rather than 13. How many would choose a trade if their educational path were open and guaranteed? How many parents would encourage them to select a trade instead of college? How many would embrace the option of the military?
I get that you agree it is a worthy choice to learn a trade instead of college.
First, though, let’s give everyone a democratic chance for college by making it universal for everyone. Afterward, we’ll see how many parents jump with joy when their children or grandchildren choose a trade instead of college. Or, let’s encourage everyone to do both. Getting an education won’t make you unable to learn a trade. You’ll still have the education – but more options once you’re finished.
I realize that there is an inherent imperfection in my argument. I’m not proposing an airtight, elegant solution – just a request that you think about the issue logically.
Our path toward college and careers itself is flawed.
As a bona fide imperfectionist, I’ve spent time over the last couple of years preaching the futility of the bulk of our spelling and grammar rules. I’ve observed many lashings regarding language. One reason I’m careful of such hypocrisy is that we all make spectacular errors. Even using a professional version of Grammarly, I have to laugh at some of the glaring bits of stupidity that amazingly went past my eyeballs. Given that our language is needlessly complex on multiple levels, it’s a bit outlandish to presume you’re not making errors.
You are. We notice.
I’m throwing a caution flag at people who nitpick irrelevant errors of presentation.
I had a list of examples to include with this post. I opted to forego it though, in part because those wearing the badge of grammar police seldom have a light-hearted sense of humor about it.
As for me, I don’t mind when people point out I’ve made an error. They’re going to need a lot of free time though, given the volume of my nonsense and my lack of regard for errors when I make them.
Last Friday, management put us in an impossible situation. It was a Kvetch-22. The details don’t really matter. It’s no secret that many people work in environments in which our humanity is an inconvenience.
Someone I work with got really angry and lashed out. I did what I do best and creatively turned it around on him. Because he’s a hothead, you can imagine how it escalated. Later, when I realized that he had fallen victim to being blind to how he had been manipulated by the circumstances management left us with, I reached out and apologized. We both then appropriately turned our disdain on the people who created the situation rather than each other.
Today, I presented him with a surprise gift. He opened it, his eyes went wide, and then he laughed. And then laughed some more.
I had printed a color 5 x 7 picture of myself making a god-awful face and smiling. In Spanish, I wrote: “With Love, From The World’s #1 A÷÷hole, X.”
Somehow, I don’t think he will ever forget my apology on Friday or the ridiculous follow-up today. Plus, he now has a beautiful picture of me, one suitable for a dartboard, the bottom of a urinal, or framing to put above his imaginary fireplace at home.
Why does someone share opinions or ideas with anyone? Not just on social media, but in real life, either atop the peaks of success or attainment or in the valley of sorrows? It’s akin to attending a reception where the doorman punches each attendee in the face before entry and then demands $50 and an explanation regarding each attendee’s intentions.
It’s always a risk. There’s always someone fearful of the wrong opinion, a slight to one’s perceived reputation, or of secrets spilling out into the world. No one wants an unfiltered look at their heart laid bare for others to witness, even though the total of our words and actions does precisely that each day that we survive to walk the earth. It’s like a nude selfie after going to a pizza buffet. Our choices are plainly visible to anyone who bothers to examine us.
No matter the depth of gauze you might use to soften your sentiment or words, the truth is that each of us brings our baggage with us – and filters which bend our perception.
A few years back, a local writer who is now deceased saw me use a quote of Anne Lamott’s that I had written about over and over: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” It encapsulated much of the struggle he had endured trying to get his story out without bruising other people’s toes. He read one of my earliest blog posts, one in which I described a discussion I had with a cousin, one who attempted to defend the indefensible regarding my alcoholic and violent father.
The writer fell in love with Lamott’s words precisely because of their simplicity and unassailable truth. He said, “Holy #$%t!” when he read the link I sent him. “There’s no market for that, X.” Maybe not, I told him, but if someone’s writing for themselves, market and reception are distant concerns.
Here’s the excerpt from one of my first, and absurdly long, blog posts:
“…Years ago, a distant cousin in the family (who I will call Tom because his name is Tom) asked me what right did I have to talk about another family member’s misbehavior, especially the things that “ought not to be talked about.” He initially asked me in my Aunt Barbara’s living room. We were standing next to the stuffed mountain lion that stood guard there for as long as I could recall. I asked him where he learned the difference between what should and could not be discussed. He laughed when he realized that he was about to say “from family.” I then pointed out that despite the idea that things shouldn’t be discussed, somehow, through some mysterious force, everyone seemed to know all the deep, dark secrets, just in differing amounts. While probably no one knew everything, everyone knew something. I then went on to say that the things that happened in my life or that were done to me were MY life, too and that perhaps people should stop and think about the things they say and do, or to make amends at the point in their lives when they realized that they might have gone too far. Tom and I talked about dad’s legacy and how he and I had come to the point that dad would have been able to start a new relationship with me, given enough time – we just ran out of road before we could run the race. Tom was surprised that I could talk openly about some of the meanness of my father and still laugh and want to hear stories about the hell-raising, fun-filled dad. I told him that I would have loved for dad to have had a carefree life or to have been able to come to terms with his hateful way of drinking the world away. Mom and dad weren’t huggers, and they didn’t express themselves in tender ways. Had they been merely distant instead of angry at times, that would have been at least a step toward normalcy. I told Tom that it seemed deceptive for the older generation to keep some of the secrets because it kept us from knowing our parents and family fully, whether it be warts and all. I still feel that way. Tom walked away with a new perspective about me and certainly a different one about my dad. It was the first time he talked to me as an adult, and it was the first time that it sank in that the behavior that Tom loved in Dad from a distance also made him a monster to me, his son. I remember asking Tom whether it was a bigger sin for me to talk or write about my dad’s mistakes than it was for him to inflict violence on his family? Tom had no answer for that rhetorical question. (Note: this discussion would have been markedly different if I had truly known the depth of what my Dad had done in his life. I would not have been so kind.)…”
Regarding the above note, I included a picture of me when I was young. I edited it to protect the privacy and identity of another family member. The other family member wasn’t at the point in his life where he felt free to speak openly. Not publicly, anyway. It’s unavoidable to conclude that my carelessness in openly talking about “things that ought not to be talked about” probably saved my life, even if family members threatened, shrieked, and denied.
If you are sharing yourself authentically in the best way you can, I believe that silencing your narrative is a loss for everyone. So what if you don’t get it quite right? Which idiot decided that perfection is the goal of communication? None of us are going to feel exactly what we do today when tomorrow greets us.
It’s easy to pick and choose your criticisms, especially of anyone who shares stories. It’s why most people choose silence. Just as silence does not grant consent, it also does not convey honesty.
I don’t sit and spend hours taking the time to write what I clearly label as my opinion to seek sympathy. The stories, the opinions, and the words are mine to share. Hopefully, it is obvious that I’m not sending them as aimed barbs when I’m not. I am a fairly heavy-handed writer and it’s inescapable when I’m pointing the finger. The parts of my life I share are parts of my life, even if they intersect with the lives of others.
Also, I completely agree that we are all villains in someone else’s narrative. There’s no escape for me in this regard, either.
If my stories sometimes seem harsh, it’s only because the fury or depth of what I experienced is reflected there.
Life is both bloodied lips and serene sunsets.
Anyone who reads my posts knows that I have constantly asked that everyone take the time to write their stories in any way that they can. I put out in the world what I would enjoy hearing from others. We are all repositories of stories. Many are joyous and humorous; others are numbingly horrific. They are all pieces of us.
Each time I’ve shared a piece of myself, someone has reciprocated and reached out to share a bit of their humanity with me. I’m always surprised and humbled. It’s both a reflection of trust and an expression of the need to share with another person. It’s fundamental.
It’s also true that sometimes I’m misunderstood or my motives maligned. I can’t control the unexpected reactions, no more than my writing can alter one second of history. Writing about it, however, changes me. It softens the otherwise fall-without-a-parachute plunge that some days bring me.
If you watch the Netflix show “Unbelievable” for no other reason, watch it to appreciate what compassionate victim-oriented police work looks like. It’s a show that I think most people will find something worthwhile to take away from it. Most people will cringe at the mishandling and neglect the subject of the series endured when she first reported the assault that is the focal point of the show. For those who have suffered abuse, they’ll likely experience some visceral reactions to it.
Merritt Wever stole the show, in my opinion, despite being paired with Toni Collette, who exudes authority and presence in this show. One takeaway from the show is the vast disparity in how different police jurisdictions deal with crime victims. You’ll get irritated and disgusted fairly quickly while watching the show.
Because shows like “Unbelievable” push me into tangents…
While the show gets a bit of the information wrong, everyone who watches has that moment when the show drives home the truth that police are 2-4 times more likely to be involved in domestic abuse cases than the general population. Many cases are not reported, while others are not pursued. (Much like the shockingly low numbers of sexual abuse cases that are ever reported.) Even among the cases prosecuted, about 1/2 of the emotionally disturbed police officers convicted of domestic abuse keep their jobs, at least in the past. The statistic didn’t surprise me.
The show also makes the point that those guilty of domestic abuse are much more likely to commit other assaults, too, but that’s another tangent.
Police also tend to suffer from alcoholism at a much higher rate than the general population. Obviously, much of it goes untreated and unaddressed. Baseline reports place the number at about 1 in 4. Most put the number between 1/4 and 1/3. The tendency for a given police officer to develop an addiction increases as his tenure on the job increases. More interesting are the statistics that measure what percentage of officers are using addictive substances while on the job. Police also have higher rates of suicide and divorce than the general population.
Of course, the majority of police are stable people. There’s always at least one person who dislikes the truth and resorts to the red herring of making the mind-numbing observation that not everyone can be lumped in with those with a problem. Duh.
Because I’ve been on the receiving end of a police officer who suffered from a mix of addiction and anger issues, I find this sort of thing to be fascinating. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that an officer needs help, the odds of the officer or his or her department insisting on correction is exceedingly low. The same is true for the cases in which officers are caught drinking and driving, theft, assault, or any number of other issues. Not only does it threaten the career of the officer, but it rightly sheds damaging scrutiny on the department chain of command for the city, state, or government who should be liable for any shenanigans. Police officers, whether on duty or in their civilian capacity, are much less likely to voluntarily submit to treatment, rehab or counseling than the general population.
Though I’ve mentioned it before, I have an email from a Chief of Police in the State of Arkansas. He flatly stated that there are times when he can’t teach his officers to do the right thing. (And, as a consequence, he also didn’t ask or require them to right the apparent wrong that had been done.) I’m not making it sound worse than it is. The email was an atrocious read, reflecting the deficiency of a system that shouldn’t have any. Periodically, I find the email and read it. It reminds how badly some departments are managed.
When I watch shows detailing police incompetence or misbehavior, I always find myself nodding in recognition.
P.S. This post doesn’t end with a conclusion or nicely-themed words. It’s just some thoughts that I had from watching the show “Unbelievable.”
Another study supports the contention that social media can cause some people to experience lesser lives. The tendency for people to share only the glittering moments with their cohorts erodes the fundamental and inescapable reality that life is often a mouthful of houseflies. Not only do people share an incomplete narrative of their lives, but they also portray unrealistic body images. While people often lie, mirrors don’t. It’s half the reason we almost don’t recognize people when we encounter them in real space and time.
As for me, I try to prepare people for the inevitable letdown when they meet me by truthfully comparing myself to a taller version of Danny DeVito. The mistaken idea that we must be beautiful is a strange lie. Time bludgeons most people with casual disregard. It’s no accident that the people who we most often label as beautiful after a certain age tend to share the ability to laugh often and often at themselves.
Many people lose the ability to distinguish between daily reality and the personas crafted by social media. As we age, we discover that most people spend much more time on the couch than they admit and tend to suffer the effects of gravity more than they’d care to admit. Sure, people like frou-frou cuisine, but they most often dine on ramen noodles, hastily prepared sandwiches with the dregs found in the refrigerator, or fast food that looks like what a hungry teenager might request after a hangover.
I had stopped at the Harp’s on my side of town after work on a Tuesday afternoon after work. It was around 1 in the afternoon. Nearby, a mother and daughter were shopping for something for supper. I don’t know why the daughter wasn’t in school, but I suspect she might have been ill. I’m paraphrasing the conversation. And yes, I was eavesdropping. I was on the spaghetti sauce aisle, looking for light alfredo sauce. I prefer it because although it contains two million calories, the word ‘light’ in the name allows me to pretend I’m eating healthy.
I overheard a mom berating her daughter for posting something ‘negative’ about the family’s life. The daughter had posted something about hating her school schedule because of how mean several of her classmates were.
The younger daughter stared at her mother with a bit of incredulity. “So you’re saying ‘Be positive,’ right?” She asked.
“Yes,” snarled the mom in response. “All that bad news and negative energy drags everyone down.”
The daughter anticipated this sort of response. I almost applauded her, like an episode of Ally McBeal. “Then explain to me how you spent over an hour talking to four different people, complaining about everyone and everything. It’s the same thing. You’ve infected those people with your bad news and criticisms.”
The mom spoke too quickly. “Well, two of them were family members.”
“So, you’re saying that talking about negative things hurts people, yet you support your argument by telling me that it’s okay if you talk negatively in your family life, the very people you hold the closest? But it’s not okay for me to share less negative things online, with people I rarely talk to? What’s the point of social media if a bit of honesty isn’t ruining all the fun?”
“Keep it off social media, I said!” The mom had become a little pissed off.
“Well, keep it out of my ears, baby boomer. Positivity doesn’t mean quite what you think it does. Facts aren’t positive or negative. Our reactions are.”
I think it’s obvious who is considering the implications of her behavior more closely than the other.
I gave away the fact that I had overheard by nodding toward the purported daughter and laughing. The mom noticed me standing in the aisle with five jars of light alfredo. My wife later was surprised by how many jars I had purchased. I kept picking them up in order to be able to eavesdrop the conversation.
Because I couldn’t resist, I said, “I think I’ll put this on Facebook.” The daughter laughed.
I’m keeping my promise, a month later.
Be positive, fools.
Even if you’re only positive that almost everyone suffers a similar array of deep valleys and high peaks, and often on the same day. Stop curating your reality with such perverted diligence. It’s no feat to imagine what you’re not sharing, precisely because of our shared humanity.
“Too much time on your hands” is criticism from those who believe their own choices are superior to those being criticized. A lot of our modern lives can technically be identified as a little bit stupid. It’s possible we’re all drinking the Kool-Aid in pursuit of our own hobbies and interests.
From my vantage point, all of of us are bit actors, engaged in our dramas of needless stupidity. I admit my own hypocrisy as I judge what people choose to do with their time, even as you might catch me alphabetizing my pasta collection or writing poetry in imaginary languages. I recognize my dedication to oddities.
“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time” is a cliché for a reason.
“What a waste.”
Watch sitcoms or dramas? “Do” your hair? Play sports? Watch sports? Read fiction? Complain? Nap? Watch movies about killer clowns? Go to movies? Cook complicated dishes with ridiculously-named ingredients? Iron clothes? Dust? Wash car? Shop for clothes? Have pets? Hunt outside? Hunt inside? Like puzzles and crosswords? Paint your fingernails?
TMTOYH people forget that all of us do illogical, stupid, or wasteful things. All of us, especially those of us who vote. Claiming that other people have too much time on their hands falls neatly into the same hypocritical category of criticism; it serves no one.
I suggest that the “too-much-time-on-your-hands” folks have got too much time on their hands, not enough glue between their lips, and a failure to appreciate how much of their own time they spend doing ridiculous things themselves – such as criticizing other people for their choices.
To all those watching, your choices look a little ridiculous. As do mine. If I want to put on over-sized clown shoes and dance like I’ve succumbed to explosive diarrhea for a new Youtube channel, so be it.
P.S. It’s exactly as bad as the old farts who mock the younger generation for watching other people play video games, yet also spend a considerable chunk of their own lives watching other grown me in tight pants play sports. And often on television. Moreover, they pay to watch, too. Jeesh.
An acquaintance of mine reached out to ask me to take a jab at people who are hypocritical about his decision to spend money on fireworks. I’ll call him Slartivaniskivich for this post; mostly because you can’t pronounce his name that way and drop it in casual conversation. Slartivaniskivich felt he couldn’t do the subject justice. Me neither. But I can do it an injustice. There’s no point in being able to capably explain one’s opinion when modern news and entertainment clearly proves that incapably expressing oneself draws more eyes and ears. Being murdered by words never hurt anyone, and all the screaming basically counts as exercise anyway.
Are fireworks stupid? Of course. Is spending money on them totally discretionary, nonessential, and probably a demonstration of craven immaturity? You bet your ass! As long as there’s NASCAR, lite beer, and wine coolers, people are going to spend their money on blowing things up. Or, themselves, depending on quickly they can jump out of the way of danger. For Youtube’s sake, I hope we can reach a delicate balance between horrific stupidity and amusing stupidity.
Dear Karen and John: is the $200 you’re spending every six weeks on your hair, hair coloring, and eyebrows winning you any awards? Is that $110 blouse, the one with fluted sleeves and a tapered waist, worth it? Do you pay for someone to rid your yard, the one you’re seldom in and maintain mostly because you’re supposed to, of weeds? What about those golf clubs, fishing reels, and guns? How about those pyramid-scheme ‘nutrition drinks,’ the ones which cost an unknown amount of money per month? Or energy drinks? Are the cigars you smoke given to you at no charge? Are you washing your car every week in the automated lane? Are you having someone detail your car once a month? Are you subscribing to a meal delivery plan? Have those extra cable packages? Hulu? Netfilx? Eating out for lunch five times a week – and supper 3 or 4 more times? Your daily double latte? Your purchase of lottery tickets? Bottled water? Prepared foods? Do you have credit cards and pay interest on them? Pay for your checking account? Do you smoke? Do you drink? Do you were cologne or perfume? Do you go to yard sales? Do you have storage units? Do you have clothes or shoes you never wear? Manicures? Pedicures? Pediasure? (Ha!) Do you buy your pets special ice cream? Buy brand name products without question? Does your shampoo cost more than $4 a bottle? Do you have needlessly complex cellphones filled with paid apps? How about your subscription music services? Or those custom floor mats, vanity plates, or wheels on your vehicle? Do you own a golf cart, ATV, or motorcycle? Is your house bigger than 1200 square feet? Take vacations or do getaways, whether it’s to the beach, Mexico, Branson, or some other vomit-fueled amusement park? Do you have a favorite sports jersey? Do you collect things of any kind? Does your furniture ‘have to’ match? Do you have special utensils or dinnerware for special occasions? Do you own leather or fur jackets? Do you dry clean clothing?
Obviously, the point is that almost everyone wastes a LOT of money on stupid foolishness. Often, it’s spent for enjoyment and as a means to distract yourself from the ordinariness of daily living.
How you waste your money is your choice. How other people waste their money is their choice. It’s strange that you don’t feel a slap upside your head as you mouth criticism toward people who wasted their money on fireworks. You’re probably wearing $50 sunglasses as you mouth off – or wearing a pair of expensive shoes, even as the other 45 pair in your closet gather dust.
By way of example, a popular cliché sometimes exhorts us to spend our money and time on experiences rather than things. While fireworks are indeed ‘things,’ they also provide the experience of sharing the visual explosions with family and friends. They give a chance to upload videos of the displays that literally no one ever watches. They also give us a laugh if someone blows a finger off. Fireworks are social, even if some of the people involuntarily involved in their use aren’t keen on the experience. Additionally, fireworks give doctors the opportunity to practice their craft with stitches, scalpels, and surgeries, and firefighters the chance to put out roof fires all across these beautiful United States.
Invalidating another person’s stupid choices doesn’t enhance your enjoyment of your foolish choices. Okay, that’s not true. Mocking the choices of others can be fun, even if we don’t like to admit it. I’m saying that based on the 50+ years of observing people as they observe others.
From where I’m sitting, we’re all guilty of wasting our money on some seriously stupid things.
I’d write a bit more, but I need to go buy a polishing cloth for my silverware.
If your sibling, parent, friend, or neighbor wants to waste his money on fireworks, substitute any of the things you waste your money on.
There’s your post, Slartivaniskivich. Now you can link to it once the inevitable and repetitive arguments arise about how you choose to spend your money.