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Friday, September 28, 2012

Please Don't Call Me That

I've been seeing those commercials on t.v. a lot lately. They run the gamut of scenarios, but the messages are all the same - if you are getting older, you need to get a push-button alarm system. I don't want you to think I have something against these systems. They are, in my opinion, a great service. They can give people a greater sense of security about being by themselves because help is available at the touch of a button. Someone who is prone to falls or any other problems could possibly have their lives saved by the devices.

My problem is with the advertising used to sell these services. The first one I remember ever seeing had an elderly lady lying on the floor and calling out, "I've fallen and I can't get up!" This certainly preyed on the real fears that someone might have of being caught in the same situation. Unfortunately, millions of people thought that it was hysterically funny. It was parodied in many ways, and was probably printed on lots of t-shirts. This bothered me on numerous levels. Having been raised by an older woman, I have first-hand knowledge of falls and how painful and frightening they can be. My little Gram had falls that she wasn't able to get up from afterwards. I became adept at helping her get back into a upright position. There were even a few times that I came home from work and found her on the floor, having failed in her struggle to get back up again. I felt tremendous guilt knowing that she had been sitting on the floor, waiting for me to come home and help her get moving again. So, no, I don't find falls funny. 

Another approach that I have seen recently is the lady whose daughter drops by for a visit and saves her mother, who had fallen in the bathtub. One of the things mom says in the commercial is that not only does she feel safe, but she feels even younger! I must cry foul. Getting a push-button alarm system will not make you younger. Nor will it make you stronger or smarter or prettier or sexier. 

Several of these commercials go on to do something that has irritated me for years. Perhaps it is because I can get so irritated that I turned into The Lunatic? Anyway, back on subject. Lots of these commercials feature an old lady with a hissy voice and a slightly holier-than-thou attitude saying, "ALL Senior Citizens should get LifeAlarm." Hunh? I guess this just goads the natural smart-aleck in me. If I am not a Senior, does that mean I am not really a citizen, and therefore unworthy? Or are they implying that only someone born in the USA deserves to be rescued from falls, thereby taking immigration debates to a whole new and creepy level? I still haven't figured that one out. Perhaps it's because I only spend about thirty seconds at a time thinking about it.

But I have decided that if and when I reach the official age of seniorhood, I do not want to be called a senior citizen. There are any number of things I could be called or described as that sound better to me. One of them would be Alive. Still crazy after all these years comes to mind, and would no doubt be appropriate. Wise old woman would be nice. And if I keep my sense of humor, an occasional weisenheimer would be okay. Unacceptable forms of address would be crazy old lady, dithering old fool, or dotty old hag. A senior citizen does need to establish some limits, after all! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Where Did You Get That Beautiful Red Hair?

I had the pleasure of meeting a coworker's parents at a department get-together a number of years ago. We had heard a lot about the dad because he was battling cancer. What we didn't know was that he was facing it in the same way he did the rest of his life - with a sense of humor. "I'm so happy to meet you," I said, "and I hope you'll be feeling better soon." His reply? "Oh, don't worry about me, honey. I'm not going to die of cancer. I'm supposed to be shot in the behind by a jealous husband!" His wife, who was sitting right next to him, rolled her eyes and shook her head. She'd heard all of his lines before, I guess. One of his most notorious was his advice to his four daughters when they started dating. He handed them an aspirin tablet and told them if they held it between their knees they'd never get in any trouble!

Candy tried very hard to warn her two sons about Grandpa's ways. One of the things he really hated was when his children had bad table manners. The words "I want" were forbidden at the table. So when his grandsons came over for dinner, they had to learn their lessons as well. One evening when they had dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, they forgot their manners and said, "Hey, I'm ready for dessert!" Grandpa looked at them very calmly and said, "So you want some dessert, huh? I've got a good one for you. How about a pinewood float?" The boys got very excited and didn't even notice their mother shaking her head. "Yes, Grandpa!" He told them to wait, and he would bring the special treat to them. He returned from the kitchen a few minutes later with two glasses of water with toothpicks floating on the top. It only took one pinewood float for them to learn that lesson!

His daughters did turn the tables on him from time to time, though, so it was not just them being embarrassed by Dad. Sometimes he ended up being the butt of his own jokes. When the girls were quite young, he apparently worked extra jobs of all sorts to bring in extra income. From what I recall, he was sort of a jack of all trades. One evening, the family had invited the priest from their local church to have dinner with the family. At this time, the dad's second job was with a dairy. The priest was making small talk with the girls and asked one of them, "Where did you get that beautiful red hair?" Without a moment's thought, Candy's sister answered truthfully. "I got it from the milkman!" It is my understanding that this was the first and last time this priest dined at their home!

I am sad to say that although Candy's father won that particular bout with cancer, he ended up having cancer again, this time in his brain. He had had enough of fighting, so he didn't tell the family about his diagnosis and his choice not to take treatment. It was very difficult for them when he passed because he had always been so up front about things, and they were unprepared when he started to fail. I hope that the years have lessened her pain, and that she is able to remember all of the fun times she had being the daughter of the milkman. I think that is how he'd like to be remembered.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I'd like to talk to you about a very unpredictable creature, the automatic public restroom. I think many of us thought it was cool when we first heard of toilets that flushed by themselves. These were soon followed by a stream of inventions designed to make the whole restroom visit easier. Suddenly we had automatic faucets and soap dispensers, self-starting hand dryers, and paper towel dispensers. So why is it that these time savers don't seem to save us any time?

We all know, but seldom talk about it. First and foremost, the auto-flush toilets seem to be possessed. Let me tell you, nothing wakes a person up like an icy-cold bidet. Unless it is two or three ice-water bidets. Fess up, you know it's happened to you too. After spending five minutes trying to dry off (the non-automatic toilet paper dispenser is rigged to stop after you have unrolled three sheets of tissue), you arise refreshed and wait for the commode to flush. And wait. And wait. You start waving your hand in front of the sensor to no avail, and end up using the backup button. Oh, well, you were going to wash your hands anyway.

You walk up to the sink which has a sanitary combo of faucet and soap dispenser that are made without any handles or levers. This is done so that not only do you not have to touch anything, you also don't have to decide what water temperature or amount of soap you'd prefer. As you approach the sink, the soap dispenser buzzes and spits soap into the sink. However, when you get closer to the sink and put your hand in front of the dispenser, nothing happens. This begins a ritual which involves walking up and down the row of sinks and waving your hands in front of the soap dispensers. Ah, sink number three finally gives you a dollop of foamy soap. You rub your hands together and put them under the faucet. Mm-hmm. No water. The dance of the sinks begins again as you try to find the one faucet that can tell you are there.

Someone else comes into the restroom. You advise them, since you respect the bonds of sisterhood, not to use stall number two, and that the soap is in sink number three but the water is in sink number one. Little do you know that these evil pieces of plumbing have reset their circuits and changed everything for the next user. You walk over to the inconveniently-located towel dispenser, wave your hand once, and voila! It springs to life, giving you a piece of paper towel that is almost large enough to dry the hands of a toddler. You begin waving like you are greeting someone you haven't seem in years, and finally get your hands dry.

You leave the restroom exhausted, to find that your husband is waiting impatiently. "What took so long? I thought I was going to have to find someone to go in and see if you were still alive!" You just give him "the stare" and remind yourself that violence is never the answer. And with any luck, it might just happen to him the next time.

p.s. For any of you who are fans of Prince's 80's-era music, this title's for you!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Scratch It

Today was one of those days when we had early appointments at the hospital. In our usual fashion, we had trouble falling asleep knowing that we would have to be up at 5:30 to get there at the right time. That's life, no big deal. On these early-morning days, we have Trent's blood drawn at the lab and then go up to the clinic for a preliminary visit with a nurse. Then we go and eat some breakfast to kill time until the doctors finish rounds and arrive at the clinic.

Since we got such an early start today, I headed to the pharmacy while Trent headed back to the clinic. The pharmacy wasn't going to open for more than half an hour, but that didn't bother me. I have come to see these waiting times as a gift. They are an opportunity for me to sit and read a book or play a game, or some other recreational-type activity. I sit in the quiet hallway, enjoy some time reading, and all is well with the world.

Unfortunately for some people, they find these waits to be torture, something that fills them with resentment and anger. A man came and sat in the pharmacy area and was apparently calling his insurance company regarding approvals for medications. This little area sometimes has spotty cell phone reception, and I am presuming that he lost contact on the call. Hey, I know how frustrating it can be to have to make multiple calls to straighten things out. But I don't get mad at the person I was talking to. This man, however, was not of that mindset. "Friggety-biggety g-d blankety whozits, etcetera!" "My, my, I thought." I know something he doesn't know. We can choose how we react to others and to things that happen. His choice was to be not just angry but explosively furious. When the pharmacy opened, he probably ended up treating the staff with rudeness and cruelty. Where I was enjoying a little oasis in my day, he was seeing a deliberate attempt to inconvenience him and ruin his day. Ah, well.

Less than ten minutes before the pharmacy opened, an already-angry woman pulled on the locked door and cursed when she saw the sign stating the opening time of 9:00. "How do you drop something off?" she snarled. "I don't think you can," I said, "but the pharmacy opens in less than ten minutes." She turned on her "you are too stupid to be allowed to live and I wish I could kill you" voice and said, "Well, that isn't much help for someone who needs to be at work at 9:00, now, is it?" I shrugged and she stomped off, looking for someone else to put on her hit list. I resisted even the thought that if she needed to be at work at 9:00, she was going to be late anyway. Plus I didn't want to be punched in the face!

I picked up the medication for Trent and met him coming out of his clinic visit. We went on to another appointment, and had to go to another pharmacy as a result of that visit. In true Trent fashion, he made some silly jokes with the person who helped us. She said she appreciated it because laughter is the best medicine. I shared my experiences with people's crankiness earlier and told her it made me think of something my little Gram used to say about people who had a bad case of crankiness. "They just need to scratch their mad place and get glad again!" 

We all have times when we get out of sorts. If we are lucky, we can recognize what is going on, scratch our mad place, and become glad again! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Do You Need A Passport For That?

Everyone who has had any kind of job relishes the opportunity to blow off steam about work from time to time. As someone who worked in retail and banking for many years, I treasured the moments when I could tell someone about what happened to me at work that day. Sometimes it would be good, sometimes bad, and with any luck either touchingly sweet or downright hysterical. It seems that just saying things out loud can take away some of the stress and make things feel better. Smarter people than me have realized this and gone to school to become therapists. A therapist is someone who listens like they are your friend, and then sends you a bill. So clever.

I feel sorry for people who really can't talk about what happens on their job. A CIA operative, for example, can't come home and tell her husband about the international spy ring that she single-handedly destroyed after six months of snooping. And it's not like a judge can come home after a day on the bench and say, "Honey, you should have seen this weaselly defense attorney trying to keep his client from going to jail for murder!" Heck, one glass of wine too many and the spy rings would know who was after them, and the murderer would be out of jail because of a mistrial.

Speaking of legal matters, my attorney cousin had an interaction with a client that he just had to talk about. Luckily, it wasn't anything unsavory or sensitive, and was a story that could be told without using a name and thereby breaking the attorney-client privilege rules.  Apparently a lot of people will consult their attorney about all sorts of things that I would never have thought of. I always thought that if you had a legal problem like an unpaid parking ticket or you got arrested or if you needed a name change or such, you contacted your lawyer. He or she would rescue you in your hour of need and you'd pay them and everyone would live happily ever after.

It turns out that people will call (and then be billed for the attorney's time) for all kinds of stuff. "Mr. Shark, can I really get a ticket if I don't wear my seat belt?" or "Mr. Wurm, do I need to go to court to change the address on my voter registration?" And of course there are the people who want to make sure everything is taken care of just in case there is a problem when they are traveling. My cousin was often asked very smart questions about passport rules and other things related to international travel and any problems that might arise. 

One day, he had a client call because she had some concerns regarding an upcoming trip. He answered numerous questions and finally got to the one that was the gem. It turns out that this lady was going on a road trip and was worried about her identification. "Mr. X, I am really worried. I don't have a current passport. I'll be driving to Nebraska; do you need a passport for that?" Somehow my cousin managed to keep it together until he hung up the phone. I guess she didn't realize that Nebraska wasn't another country. It just felt that way!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bread, I Said

Trent and I had some fun with baking today. Thanks to a recipe from Rhiannon, daughter of Marie, and member of our Wednesday Club, we made bread today. Bread-baking can be a very intimidating thing. That's probably why I don't make it without the assistance of a bread maker. If you make bread the old-fashioned way, you have to do all the mixing and then the rising of the dough. This is followed by something called punching down, which I think sounds barbaric. Why would anyone want to punch bread dough? What has it ever done to you but make you work hard to create it? Aha, question answered. Amidst the punching and rising, there is the kneading. This is a workout for the hands and often results in flour scattered all over counters, on your clothes, and in your hair. What my Grammie would eloquently refer to as a mess from Hell to breakfast.

A few weeks ago during our Wednesday Club chat, Rhiannon excused herself to put a loaf of bread in the oven. Surprisingly, she was back in a flash. She had found a recipe that didn't require any kneading. Or punching! Just rising, shaping, and baking. A few days later, Marie made some and it was delicious. What a joy to walk into someone's home and smell bread baking, and then eat a loaf of beautiful artisan-style bread. And Marie was kind enough to send a loaf home with us.

I decided I wanted to make the bread today, and Trent was eager to help. It was fun to work on it together, and not really feel like it was work at all. The hardest part was waiting for the bread to cool. We were not able to wait more than ten minutes to start eating one of the five small round loaves. It was heavenly. And of course I had to text Marie and let her know I had baked. When I asked if she would like a loaf, there was absolutely no hesitation. The loaf was consumed in short order, and it made us happy to see the joy it spread.

We have all heard the saying that man cannot live by bread alone. But I learned today that we could make some bread that would certainly tempt us to try. And, like Rhiannon, we may go a long time before we need to buy bread again. When it is this easy and delicious (and inexpensive) who wants to buy it at a store?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Foot-In-Mouth Disease

A few years ago the web went crazy over a video of a teen pageant contestant who answered a question by going over the river and through the woods, missing Grandmother's house completely, using a lot of words, and saying nothing. I think we relish these moments because deep down we are ecstatic that it wasn't us. I know that while I have the ability to be a reasonably good communicator, I was also born with an impairment that enables my brain to go on about it's business while leaving my mouth running blindly at a lower speed.

Yes, I am one of those. A sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease. You know, when your brain doesn't stick around to take care of your mouth, you could get in a lot of trouble. I first realized I had a runaway brain when I was in third grade. While I was playing with one of my classmates during recess one day, I heard a fire engine's siren. Thinking that a kid might be hurt, I said something along the lines of, "I hope nobody fell in the ditch! There's a fire truck coming." Only it didn't quite come out of my mouth that way. Somehow fire truck was considerably shortened, and ended up with only four letters. I am sure I do not have to tell you what those four letters were. 

My eyes goggled out of my head as I clapped both of my hands over my mouth. I had never used that word in my entire life, and I was horrified. Naturally, being a true friend, my third-grade classmate said, "I'm telling the teacher on you!" I did manage to convince her that I had not meant to use that word and begged her not to tell. She did not, and I survived my humiliation and shock mostly unscathed. 

Fast-forward to me training a group of newly-hired telephone customer service bankers. I was recounting a funny true story of a customer service call gone wrong. A lady called one of our bankers to say that she had a serious problem. There was a psychic, she said, that was dematerializing the checks she wrote, changing the amounts, and then rematerializing them. The banker tried very hard to deal with the situation, but had to pass on the call to her manager. The manager then had to pass it on to her manager. When the customer wanted to speak with her manager, the manager of the entire call center, she asked another same-level manager to "be her boss." 

By now about forty-five minutes had passed. Marcia said to the customer, "I want you to know that XYZ Bank hires the best and most powerful psychics to put protective force-fields around all of our buildings. I assure you that none of our customers' checks can be dematerialized and rematerialized." The caller thanked her and everything was over and done with. One of the trainees said, "So the banker should have just said that in the first place?" My reply? "Well, I know if I had said that to a customer and my call was being monitored, I'd have gotten a big, fat, flipping fail on it." Do I really have to tell you how it ended up coming out of my mouth? I didn't think so.

I guess it could be worse. Instead of accidental swears, it could be stuff that makes me look really dense. I could be the girl who asked our seventh-grade Science teacher how rocks had babies. He thought she was being smart-alecky but she was being sincere. Or there was the time that one of my best friends had a brain meltdown, also in a Science class. Our teacher asked for ideas on conducting an experiment to measure whether the center of a glacier moved faster than the sides. One of our classmates suggested putting down stakes and measuring how far they moved. My friend had a confused look on her face and asked, "But if you put steaks on the ice, wouldn't the animals eat them?" 

I'm not sure which version of the curse is worse. But I still manage to put my foot in my mouth from time to time. Perhaps it would taste better with ketchup?