Google+ Badge

Friday, January 31, 2014

Hankie, No Panky

Okay, I'm going to just go right out and say it. I love handkerchiefs. Gram gave me a handkerchief when I was in second grade, and I still have it. It is a white cotton square with about a two-inch lace border all around. It has served me well for many years, and yes, I do use it. I will carry it around for a bit and then put it in a dresser drawer to rest for a while. One of the times that it was out of the drawer, my sister Liz saw it and asked, "Are you going to give that to me?" Heck no, I wasn't going to give it to her! It was a gift given to me, and I still treasure it. Over the years it gets softer and softer, just like me, I guess.

I am sure that some of you who are reading this might be thinking something like, "Handkerchiefs? Ew, how disgusting!" Well, that's okay. I just happen to like them a lot. If I have a handkerchief or two with me, I am ready for just about anything. If it's a warm day, it can be used to blot my face. If necessary, I could tie knots in the corners and use it as a makeshift hat to keep the sun off of my head. If I go to a public restroom and there are no hand towels or dryers, that extra clean hankie dries my hands in a flash, and is ready for whatever action will come up next. To say nothing of movies! When you have a nice clean handkerchief in your purse or pocket, you don't have to worry about using a scratchy, greasy, salty popcorn napkin to wipe away your tears during those intense emotional moments. And if I were in a real bind and needed some kindling to start a fire in the wilderness, I could use strips of the cloth to help feed my lifesaving flames. Or even for a bandage or a tourniquet.

Several years ago, I decided to perform an experiment. Most of us have had at least one or two colds in our lifetimes. We sometimes look as bad as we feel, with our pale faces and our red noses. During one of those times, I decided that the next time I had a cold, I wasn't going to use a single tissue. It would be cotton hankies all the way. I wondered if it would make an unpleasant situation just a bit less uncomfortable. And guess what? It did! I have quite a few hankies, so running out was no worry, although I hand washed the hankies after each use, since I was going to wash my hands anyway. Since I was using a soft, absorbent piece of cotton rather than paper made form wood fibers, my nose was much happier. I discovered that the red nose was caused by the rubbing from tissues rather than the cold itself, and it just felt nicer. I am not trying to convert you. If you like tissues, by all means use them. I know that they have the advantage of feeling like you are throwing away the germs. But let me also say that in the last several years, I have probably bought less than five boxes of tissues.

I have hankies of all kinds. There are inexpensive hankies purchased online in packets of a dozen. They get softer with each wash. Some of my favorites have been purchased in antique shops. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. One or two are round and printed with bouquets of flowers. There are paisleys and posies, solids and prints, embroidered and plain. Blues, pinks, purples, oranges, greens, browns...all sorts of colors. Some are utilitarian in appearance while others are lovely and delicate and sometimes lace-trimmed. I have some that are Irish linen and some embroidered with my initial, purchased in Budapest. Some are even from Trent's mother's collection of hankies, including a lovely white one with crocheted red hearts at the corners. Since it is getting close to Valentine's Day, I guess I had better pull that one out of the drawer, along with the sheer hankie with the greenery and red flowers. I even have one or two big white men's hankies for use "around the house."

If you see me out and about and I get a sniffle, you will also see me pull one of my many hankies from my pocket or purse. Many lucky ladies have been the recipient of an antique hankie from me as well. And like my friend Marie, who gave me a lovely linen handkerchief that she purchased in Ireland when she was there several years ago (along with several other lovely hankies over the years), I ask that it not simply be put in a drawer, but that it be given an opportunity to dance. What, you don't know how to make a hankie dance? You just put a little boogie in it...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Under Review

I have mentioned more than once, here in my blog, that I spent a number of years working in the banking industry. I worked as a teller, and trained several people on the job. I also worked in teller support areas, and at one time was a proof operator, a job which I really hated. I also worked in telephone customer service, and spent several years as a trainer in that department. If you have worked in the trenches in banking, you know what it is like to be one of the ninety-nine percent. Like many large companies, banks tend to pay the lion's share of salaries to the guys at the top of the corporation.

Earlier in my banking career, this didn't bother me all that much. I was young and earning well, and the banking economy was really going strong. I was getting good benefits and good raises, and enjoying my youth and health and loving life.  The CEO of our banking corporation was doing well enough financially that he had once been kidnapped and held for ransom. Because of this, he had plainclothes security with him a lot of the time, especially when he traveled. When he came to Denver and brought his wife with him, an employee who had been a teller and was now in an internal investigation position was assigned to spend the day with her. Since she had a concealed weapons permit, her duty for the day was to make sure that Mrs. CEO enjoyed her day in Denver in safety.

My former co-worker, Tina, told me about the day she spent with the lady in question. She met her as she deplaned, dressed to the nines, including a full-length mink coat. Tina loved this first impression, incidentally. She suggested taking the lady to the Cherry Creek area to shop. This area is full of shops that cater to well-to-do shoppers. Although she already had a mink, Mrs. CEO wanted to go shopping for more furs. As luck would have it, there was an anti-fur protest outside the store that particular afternoon. Tina told me that a protester approached Mrs. CEO and asked her, "Lady, do you know how many animals had to die to make that coat?" Without batting an eyelash, Mrs. CEO replied (slightly edited for language), "Yes, I do. Do you know how many men I had to have sex with to get it?" End of conversation.

Years later, when I was a trainer, we had gone through several mergers and several changes in CEO/COO positions. I saw all sorts of people come and go, and saw all sorts of people in charge at the local and company-wide levels. One notable speaker, who was right up there in the Colorado leadership, had an unfortunate moment at a major company meeting. He apologized for the expected keynote speaker not being able to attend the meeting because he was "sick with a bad case of ammonia." Hm. I've had some bad bouts with pneumonia, but never ammonia. Perhaps his maid had a chemical spill? Oh, well.

The CEO/COO during my last years at the bank was based in Ohio. He made frequent trips throughout the various states in which we were located, speaking at large meetings and visiting various departments, even visiting some of my classes while I was training. He was famous for telling us that the most frequently ordered office supplies were aspirin and scissors. He'd say things like, "Who the hell is using all of this aspirin? And how many pairs of scissors do we need?" He also told us in these meetings that we didn't need to order so many pens; we could just steal them from other businesses that we frequented. No, I am not exaggerating. He was very big on keeping expenses down because we just couldn't afford to spend so much money.

I firmly believe that one of the ways that banks save on expenses is making it difficult for employees to get pay increases. The last few years I was a trainer, we were held to increasingly difficult standards in our annual performance reviews. An example of impossible standards is that part of our performance was based on the trainees' service quality scores after they were no longer in our classes. In other words, if they scored badly on a random call monitoring session, it lowered our score and our raise and annual bonus. It became difficult-to-impossible to get a combined annual salary increase and bonus of just a few hundred dollars. 

A manager (who had been through many of my training classes) and friend told me about being upset over getting a warning during a managers' meeting regarding team attrition (loss of staff members). I can understand that it isn't cost-effective for a company to pay for an employee to be trained and then have them leave the company shortly thereafter. So it makes sense for them to want managers to be careful to hire people who will stay around for a while. But she only lost one staff member from her team during the time period in question. He was one of my favorite former trainees. And he didn't quit his job. He died of liver cancer that spread through his entire body, including his bones and brain. Yes, my friend had a beloved team member die, and was punished for the decrease in her staff!

Incidentally, at about the time that my friend got called on the carpet for a staff member dying and making her team too small, I had an annual salary increase and bonus combined of about three hundred dollars. A few weeks later, Trent and I were visiting at my sister's house when my brother-in-law asked if I had read the newspaper article about the CEO/COO in the newspaper. After all of the throttling of raises and spending throughout the organization, we learned the results of our hard work, sacrifices, and impossible standards. The newspaper reported that the leader of our company had been given an annual raise of one million dollars, along with a bonus of two and a half million dollars. I recall making a remark to the effect that it was no wonder if our backs were aching; the big boss was riding on them all the way to the big payoff. 

So when I hear about banking fees upsetting people, I understand and fully agree. But most of the employees you might encounter are struggling just like you. They are the bank's ninety-nine percent.


Author's notes: 

- CEO/COO are Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer.

- The opinions regarding fur and animal cruelty expressed by Mrs. CEO are not necessarily those of Ravings of a Lunatic's Management. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Serenade

One of my friends, Ali, posted something online yesterday that sent me on a happy voyage down Memory Lane. It was one of those funny "dog-shaming" pictures. You've seen them. A dog with a sign telling what it has done wrong, like eating a whole loaf of bread after mom and dad go to work. The picture was a dog laying tummy-up, wild-eyed, mouth open and looking like it was grinning. On the floor next to it was a handwritten sign that said something like, "It's 2:00 a.m. Let me sing you the song of my people." Of course this made me think of our sweet little Paris. For those of you who might not know, Paris was our sweet poodle. She was not a sissified, pompom-haircut-wearing kind of poodle. She was eight and a half pounds of smart, sassy, tough-playing poodle. She was a fly-five-feet-off-the-bed-and-change-direction-in-midair-to-chase-her-toy kind of poodle. And she was a talker.

Paris was always very expressive. Heck, her first evening in our home, she was laying on her side on the floor, waving her front paws, and talking and grinning. It was something we came to call her Happy Dance. She was smart enough to figure out things like cause and effect. Once, when we were packing for a move, she went to catch a toy and it bounced off her nose and landed on a stack of three boxes. She stopped and looked at the toy, which was slightly over the edge of the top box. She wagged her tail and poked the bottom box with her nose. She took a step back to see what happened, which was that all of the boxes moved a little. So she stepped up, poked the box a bit harder, and again stepped back to watch. A little more movement, and more wagging. One more firm poke, and she had retrieved her toy with no help from us. And the boxes didn't fall down, either!

Paris always had a bowl of kibble available, but sometimes, okay, oftentimes, would get a bowl of canned food as a treat. From time to time, she would decide that treat time had arrived, but that we didn't realize that it had. She would go into the kitchen, lay her front legs down with her bottom up, tail wagging, and start talking in front of the refrigerator. We'd joke that she was telling the refrigerator that she would like a bowl of canned food now, please. But I am pretty sure that she was just making sure that we remembered that there was a can of deliciousness in the fridge. And that she would be more than happy to eat it so that there would be room in there for more.

One night, though, she did wake us up at about 2:00 a.m. by "singing the song of her people." We woke from a deep sleep because she was talking, and quite loudly. She was down at the foot of the bed, posturing and talking like she did in front of the refrigerator. Then she switched to sitting and talking, or sitting up and talking. And she was facing the wall, which was even weirder. Then we turned on a few lights and figured out what was going on. There was a Miller moth sitting high on the wall, and she wasn't happy about it. Even though she woke us in the middle of the night, we had to laugh about it. Here she was, telling the moth that it needed to either vacate the premises, or at least come down a bit lower on the wall so that she could kill it. When she knew that we were awake, she made it clear that she didn't like having the moth up there on the wall where it wasn't supposed to be. So mommy jumped (stumbled) into action and dispatched the moth. Paris supervised the process, keeping an eye on the intruder to make sure that she knew where it was at all times. When she was satisfied that the moth was gone, she curled up and went back to sleep. She had fulfilled her doggy duties and alerted us about the intruder. Mommy and daddy were safe due to her late-night serenade.

While I am sure that the puppy parents whose dog was being "shamed" as a late-night singer were unhappy to be awakened by the noise, I am glad they were able to keep their sense of humor. And I am glad that their sense of humor gave me the joy of remembering some wonderful times with our little girl Paris. Even though she has been gone from us for more than a year now, we still love and miss her. I am glad for moments like this, full of memories of her that make me happy, and make my heart smile.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Joyful Noise

I can't sing. I know that at least one person who reads this will be thinking, "Oh, that's silly, everyone can sing!" I have to disagree with you for just a moment about that. I equate that with the proclamations by people who are gifted at drawing or painting that "anyone can draw." Right. As soon as I finish writing this, I'm going to get back to work on my miniature re-creation of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yes, everyone can sing, barring physical issues that may prevent them doing so. But not everyone can do so in a beautiful and pleasing manner. Honestly, if I were suddenly gifted with a truly lovely singing voice, I would probably sing for days on end. I know enough to know a good voice or a good singer, and enough to know that I don't belong in their midst.

Way back when I was in elementary school, I was in the choir. In fact, I was in a smaller version of the choir that was invited to sing at the Governor's Mansion for the First Lady of Colorado. Our music teacher/choir director was an amazing woman. She not only taught us all kinds of great songs, she taught us things about the songs themselves, and about the people who wrote them, or the times in which they were written. We sang our little hearts out for her, and we all loved her very much. Just a couple of days before our scheduled "Command Performance," we lost our beloved Mrs. Schlundt in an automobile accident. Someone ran a red light, and our bright, shining light was extinguished. When I heard that she was gone, I felt as if my ability to sing had died as well. Who knows, perhaps she was just a kind teacher who felt that everyone who loved to sing should be allowed to do so. But I was never in choir after that.

When my junior high school days were drawing to a close, the director of the high school choir announced that she would be having auditions at our school. Now, I had no hope of being allowed to join the choir, even if I did make the cut. I had been allowed to act, performing the role of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, but after Alice (my guardian, with whom I did not live) heard that I really loved it and was quite good in the part, I was no longer allowed to do any more theater. Only "rough people" did things like that. It was not something that nice people did. The drama teacher/director told me that if I ever got permission to try out again, she would give me any part I wanted. But Alice didn't want me to have the acting bug. She did relent in my last year of junior high, and I was in the last play of the year. Naturally, she never went to a single one of my performances. There was always some excuse about why she couldn't make it. I didn't realize until years later that her younger sister had been a very talented dancer who performed with the USO. Perhaps she resented the attention her sister had gotten, and turned that resentment toward me. I will never know. 

Anyway, I was told via Gram that I was not to try out for the choir. After all, the choir sometimes took overnight trips, and only tramps don't sleep in their own beds at night. (Everyone that did the fun stuff that she didn't want them to do qualified as tramps and "rough people," apparently.) And they were just stupid people who wanted a lot of attention. Well, I figured that what Alice didn't know wouldn't hurt me. I decided to audition whether she liked it or not. The choir director wasn't going to call her and tell on me. And if I got accepted, I could always turn it down. To this day, I can't tell you whether I didn't make the cut because of a lack of talent, or if it was because I was so afraid of getting in trouble that my vocal cords tightened up like they were made of wood. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't make the cut, though. It would have been so painful to know that I could do it, but that I wasn't allowed to do it.

I still like to sing from time to time, but of course, not in front of other people. One day, I was in a really good mood at work and started singing softly at my desk. My boss, J, had a second job as a church choir director. She had studied vocal music in college and had a lovely soprano voice in spite of her smoking habit. But she was also what might be called a vocal snob, someone who thought that if you didn't have a perfect voice, you should just keep your mouth shut. Except I didn't realize it the day that I burst into song. "Katrina, what is that racket you've got going on over there?" she asked. And I know that my singing isn't that bad. So in true smart-alecky fashion, I replied that I was making a joyful noise. Her comeback was that noise was right, I wasn't singing, I was just making noise. Hmph. I quit singing then, but I made it a point to sing a little song from time to time, and sometimes not very beautifully. And I encouraged others to do so as well. It was my way of reminding J that even though we aren't all professional-quality singers, everyone can find pleasure in music. And so what if we aren't all talented? Shouldn't life have moments where we can all make a little joyful noise?


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In Hot Water, A Tale Of Budapest

I've mentioned before that I'm intrigued by the way our minds work. I find it interesting that sometimes a random object, or a piece of music, or maybe even a movie or television program can take you to another time or place. And that's why when I was in the kitchen the other day and put a packet of ramen noodles into the cupboard, I was suddenly remembering Budapest. I know, it really seems strange, doesn't it? Well, stick with me, and I promise it will make sense.

The journey to Budapest was a difficult one for me. In October, we decided that we would be going to Budapest and other parts of Hungary (and Paris, too!) the following April. From the first night that we knew we'd be going, I started to have trouble sleeping. It was a combination of things that kept my mind going more than usual. First and foremost was the the excitement of going to Hungary and finding my family. I would finally be seeing the village where my mother and siblings were born, and I would be meeting my family for the first time. In fact, it would be my first-ever contact with them. There was the underlying fear that they might not want to see the child of the man who had ended their sister's or cousin's life. Would they hold that against me? Who knew?

I was also excited because I had never traveled internationally. Anywhere. I had never even crossed the border into either Canada or Mexico! Added to that was stress over the fact that my sister wasn't sure if she could take the trip or not. She had a neighbor/friend who was an airline employee and offered her some "buddy passes" so that she could take the trip. She planned out the first leg of her trip, and I helped her plan the part of her trip that would take her from Germany to Hungary. She had no computer or internet at home, so I arranged a flight and an overnight hotel stay for her. She would be traveling separately from us and we'd meet in Budapest on the same day. Sounds simple, right? Never trust that feeling!

Liz was leaving on a Saturday and we were leaving on Sunday evening, and would all arrive in Budapest on Monday. I went to bed on Saturday night, filled with excitement. I finally got to sleep, and then the phone rang at midnight. It was Liz, and she was crying, and nearly hysterical. She couldn't get on a flight, and in true Liz fashion, said she was going home and cancelling the trip. Luckily, when I called Marie and Thayne the next day, they came to the rescue and arranged flights for her, and she got to Budapest the day after we did. But by the time I got on the plane, six months of poor sleep and one sleepless night and stress-filled day caught up with me. And I was sick as two dogs on the nine-hour flight to Frankfurt. Seriously, one dog couldn't have hurled that much.

When we got to Budapest and were in the fresh air, I immediately felt better. We hit the ground running after we got to our little rented flat, and went to some shops and out for a delicious dinner. When we got in for the night, I knew I would feel much better if I had a nice shower before I went to bed. Our bathroom had a small shower with a very nice shower head and several jets to spray the body as well. I was excited to try it out. And this was when I discovered that the water heater was really doing a great job. I had set the temperature on the tap to about the middle, turned on the water, and...ouch! I felt like a chicken that was being made into a nice pot of soup. Who knew that you could boil your boobidies in a shower? Seriously, folks, I was nearly scalded. Yes, I had bravely taken the first try at the shower and was able to warn everyone not to turn themselves into chicken soup. But Marie still managed to get caught once, accidentally. Luckily for both of us, our quick reflexes saved us from being actually hurt.

So what does all of this have to do with ramen? Well, our little kitchen had a stove and refrigerator, and even a tiny washing machine, but no microwave. One day we bought ourselves ramen noodle cups to eat that evening while relaxing in our flat. Not having a microwave was no problem at all. And we didn't waste any time with boiling any water on the stove, either. The water from the tap was hot enough to cook the ramen noodle cups quite nicely. And you thought I was exaggerating when I said it was really hot, didn't you? Not this time! Ever since then, whenever I turn on a tap and the water is really hot, I chuckle and think that the water heater must think it's from Budapest. And I remember the time that I was literally in hot water!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Let Me Explain

I seem to have an occasional talent that served me well during my years of customer service and training. I don't know if working in that field created the skill, or if the skill created my career in customer service, but what difference does it make? What sometime-skill am I talking about? Explaining things. If it is something that I know or understand, I can often be fairly good at explaining it to others. This can be handy on an everyday basis, but is also a lucky talent to have when working in service and training. Maybe my people-watching and reading have helped develop this ability. Who knows. And no, I don't think of myself as some amazing person who can explain any thing to any person successfully. I've just had good luck with it from time to time.

As a telephone customer service banker, you have to not only know the products and how they work, you also have to be able to clearly explain these things to customers who might not understand all the details of their accounts. After all, they aren't immersed in their banking eight hours a day. I had a very memorable encounter once with a customer who was terribly confused about what was going on with his checking account. You see, he had an overdraft line of credit attached to his checking account. The way it works is fairly straightforward. If the account is going to be overdrawn when items are processed, the line of credit advances in certain preset amounts. In the case of our overdraft protection, this was two hundred dollars, or multiples thereof. So, if the account would have overdrawn by three hundred dollars, an automatic advance of four hundred dollars would be made to the account.

Of course, this money is not a gift because the bank thinks you're a really nice person. It's a loan. And as such, it has to be repaid. Of course there are rules for that, too, again, pretty straightforward. There were two basic options for repayment. The customer could choose to pay all or part of the money back when they had the funds. But if there was anything owing to the credit line on the statement date, an automatic minimum payment would be made from the attached checking account. The amount of the payment was three percent of the amount owed to the bank, or twenty-five dollars, whichever amount was larger. So, on this memorable phone call, I was speaking with a man who just didn't understand how the whole thing worked. I explained it as I had to at least a hundred other callers, but it still didn't compute for him. He was following that it was a line of credit. He knew that his account would have been overdrawn without the money advanced into his account. But as far as making the payment was concerned, he was stumped. He kept saying, "But the bank gave me the money!" 

After trying the standard explanation a couple of times, I knew that there was no way that the usual way of describing things to this caller was never going to work. So I switched things up a bit with him. "Okay," I said, "let's just quit talking about money and numbers entirely. Let's imagine that you are laying some gravel on your driveway." He told me he was with me. "While you're working on the driveway, you realize that you don't have enough gravel to finish the job." Yes, he got it, and was eager for what came next. "So you ask your neighbor, who you know has a bunch of the exact same gravel you're using, if you can get some from him to finish the job." Excitement from the customer, he totally gets it. "But your neighbor tells you that you have to pay back the gravel to him when you can. You can either pay it back all at once, or a certain amount each month until he has all of his gravel back." The customer was thrilled. Suddenly, by converting the dollars to gravel, I had made him understand how his credit line worked. His mystery had been solved, and he knew why the payments had to be made. I had the satisfaction of knowing I had helped him understand what was going on with his account. And my manager, who had been listening in on the call, was thrilled that I had managed to get the information across in a way that he could comprehend. It was fun being the whiz-kid of the day.

A few years later, when I was doing an advanced training class for some experienced bankers, I had a similar challenge with loans. It didn't really make a difference on servicing accounts, but the bankers had to learn the difference between two different types of installment loans. There was a distinction on the account information screen as to whether the account was a direct or an indirect loan. The difference is simple. Direct means that the customer, let's say to buy a car, comes directly to the bank to apply for a loan, therefore the term direct loan. With an indirect loan, the customer goes to the auto dealership to buy the car, and asks the dealership to arrange the financing. Since the dealer deals with the bank on the customer's behalf, their contact is indirect, so it's an indirect loan.

Well, for some reason, there were several people in the class who just couldn't wrap their brains around what I thought was a simple and clear difference between the two names. I tried it a few more times, and just wasn't getting through. And even though they knew it wasn't a big, important detail, the trainees were hung up on wanting to understand the terms fully. So I kinda went street on them. I explained the direct loan as I had before. They were cool with that part. They just didn't get the indirect part, perhaps because in their minds, somebody was dealing directly with the bank. So in true Katrina fashion, I changed it up a bit when explaining indirect loans. I told them that the customer went to the dealership for help with getting a loan, and that the dealership acted as a "loan pimp" to hook them up with financing. What followed was a chorus of comments about getting it now, it all making sense, and why didn't I just say that in the first place. Success. Followed by a threat of death to anyone who described indirect loans to anyone outside my training room as being procured through a loan pimp!

Most of my explanations, whether in training or service or life, have been more along the lines of the gravel drive rather than the loan pimp. But you do what you have to to get the point, and the information, across. And I hope that my inelegant way of explaining something gave you a laugh. Who knows, maybe the next time you are negotiating the price of a new car, you can keep your sense of humor by looking at the salesperson and thinking something like, "Okay, what kind of line are you trying to feed me now, Loan Pimp?"


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Are You Laughing? Or Maybe Even Crying?

I have a problem with people (or organizations, or whomever) that I tend to think of as alarmists. I'm talking about the kinds of people who, if you have a headache, will say something delightful and cheery like, "You know, my Aunt Bertha had a headache once. Turned out to be a stroke. Died four days later. Sad, sad, story. You should probably go and have an MRI just to make sure." Umm, no. What made me think of this is a commercial I saw on tv a couple of times today. The voice-over person asks if you ever find yourself crying. Or going into fits of laughter. Yes, and yes. Hey, as much as I try to deny it, under this crusty exterior lies a heart full of tender, marshmallowy sympathy and emotion. Combine that with a wicked-delicious sense of humor, and of course I have times when I laugh myself silly (even 'til there are tears streaming down my face, uh-oh!), and other times when a sentimental commercial can make me bawl.

Well, according to this advertisement, if you have fits of laughter or tears, you should "call it what it really is." Oh, okay, living life with your feelings in the ON position? Nope, my friends, they gave it some term that they shortened into initials which I have since intentionally forgotten. Because if you cry or laugh, you probably have XYZ syndrome, which is a result of brain damage or a neurological condition. I realize that I am oversimplifying things. I know that if someone is walking down the street and bursts into uncontrollable, debilitating sobs, or starts screaming with hysterical laughter, they may have a genuine problem. But I also have to wonder how many people freak out when they see ads that tend toward fear-mongering. 

I know that there were definitely viewers who saw the ad today and immediately sent for the free information packet. Some of them may be, well, hypochondriacs who see every set of symptoms as their own, and become immediately convinced that they have anything from rabies to rheumatoid arthritis and everything in between. Of course, these people have their own unique set of problems, to say nothing of the friends and relatives who have an incredible urge to throttle them so that they can quit hearing about the disease du jour. The ones I worry about are the people who see these ads and start to worry about their behavior. They think about how they saw a sad movie and kept thinking about it, and cried for an hour. Or how they were in the middle of a business meeting and had an attack of the giggles over something that made the boss mad, but that they thought was hysterically funny. They begin to worry that maybe they are not normal. Maybe they are crazy, or have brain damage. And the truth is that the most normal people I know have times when something affects them and makes them cry or laugh, and quite intensely.

I know this isn't the only ad that could possibly cause people to question their symptoms. Heck, there are commercials that suggest that if you know where the bathroom is everywhere you go, then you must need medication to control your overactive bladder. And all this time, I thought that I just knew where all of them were because I take medicine that makes me tinkle a lot! Oh! I bet if I wait and watch long enough, there will be a commercial that tells me the name of whatever ailment it is that makes me the Raving Lunatic! And what medication to take for it! I hope that the treatment plan involves chocolate...

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Romantic Interlude

Whatever happened to romance? I am quite a fan of movies, and I especially love watching older films. Just to clarify, by watching oldies, I don't mean movies form the eighties. I mean the real oldies, the movies that date as far back as the thirties. I'll freely admit that I love to check out the listings on the classic movie channel on cable, and filling up my DVR with movies that I haven't seen in a long time. I love newer, current movies as well, but I think that maybe the newer flicks don't have as much of a romantic heart and soul as the older ones. It certainly could be argued that this is a reflection of our loss of wide-eyed innocence, or that it is more of a reflection of reality. And some people would say that movies still contain romance. And some do. But I wonder if we have gotten to the point where we are confusing sex with romance. There is a difference, you know.

I'd like to share with you some movie moments that I think were incredibly romantic. Yes, they are very tame, and perhaps even quaint, by today's standards. Maybe that is part of their charm for me. I'd like to start with one of my favorites, Fred Astaire. Everyone thinks of him as an incredible dancer. Even though he didn't have a fantastic voice, many songwriters considered him one of the best singers they worked with, simply because of the charm and feeling he put into their songs. In the 1936 film Swing Time, Astaire sang The Way You Look Tonight, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. A man is singing a song about how lovely a woman is while she is in the next room washing her hair. She is looking less than glamorous, but he has made her feel beautiful and beloved. I still find it sweet and romantic. A man who finds you lovely when you are shampooing is romantic, indeed.

Some of the most romantic moments I have seen on film are in the movie The Best Years of Our Lives. This film, which won several Academy Awards, follows three men whose lives intersect as they are returning home to the same town after World War Two. There's Al, the banker with one child in high school, and another who is an adult; Fred, who was employed at the drugstore soda fountain; and Homer, who is engaged to the girl next door, and has lost both of his hands while in the war. Al has been married to his wife for more than twenty years. When he takes her out on the town the night he returns home, he has quite a bit to drink. While he is dancing with her, he stops and holds her at arms' length, squinting at her. He tells her that she's a bewitching creature, and that she reminds him a bit of his wife. She smiles and tells him that he never told her he was married. He goes on to say that he has a wife and kiddies back at home, but they decide not to let that bother them because they have each other tonight. Again, a charming little moment in which they make each other feel loved and special, and keep the romance alive in their relationship.

The scene in the movie that I think is the most beautiful love scene ever involves Homer and Wilma, the girl next door. He has been trying to avoid her since coming home because he is afraid that she will not want to be with a man who has hooks instead of hands. He wants her to feel free to move on with her life. But Wilma is a good young woman, and still loves Homer the same way she always has. To her, he is no less than he was before he left, and she still wants to spend the rest of her life with him. Late one evening, she sees that the kitchen light is on while he has a bedtime snack, and she comes over to confront him. Her family wants her to go out of town for a while, perhaps to get over him. He tells her that he wants her to see what happens, and what it's like when he takes off his hooks and goes to bed. 

He drops the hooks and wiggles into his pajama top, telling her that he is lucky, a lot of the boys don't have elbows. But he can't button his pajama top. She says, "I'll do that, Homer." The love positively glows in her face as she buttons his top and fixes the collar. He tells her that he is now helpless, because his hands are on the bed. He can't read a book, or open the door if it blows shut. He is as dependent as a baby that can't get anything unless he cries for it. He goes on to tell her that he supposes she doesn't know what to say, and that she should go home, and go away like her family says. Wilma drops down on her knees next to the bed and tells him that she knows what to say. She loves him, and she will never leave him...never. She embraces him, and he is finally able to put his arms around her for the first time since he returned home. She tucks him in, and places his hooks on a table. Homer's head is on the pillow in the semi-darkness, and you can see the tears rolling down the sides of his face as he smiles. He loves Wilma, and she still loves him. That, my friends, is a beautiful love scene. And no matter how many times I see it, I still cry, as I did while I wrote this. Yes, even though I profess to be the Meanest Woman in the World, I'm really a big softy. My secret is out.

So there you have it, the Lunatic's take on romance and love in movies. There are other romantic movie moments, new and old, that I could go on and on about. But I'd rather have you start thinking about the movies that melt your heart. Go on, grab some popcorn and some tissues (I'll grab a handkerchief), and put one on the tv right now. And enjoy your romantic interlude! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Afraid Of The Dark?

My sister, Liz, who is sixty years old, admits to being afraid of the dark. Come to think of it, she doesn't just admit it, she almost brags about it. I think I had suspected this of her for many years, but only realized it when we went on a vacation to South Dakota together several years ago. We took a few days' trip to Deadwood to celebrate the one-hundredth anniversary of Gram's birth. Since hotel rooms in the downtown area were far more expensive, we stayed at a simple and very nice family-operated motel outside of the center of town. There were woods across the highway, and the back of the building was very close to a hill. It was quiet and peaceful. And at night, it was really, really dark.

Those of us who live in cities and suburbs have grown accustomed to nights that are not fully dark. There always seems to be some sort of ambient light, whether it is from streetlights or neighbors' porch lights, or security lighting in apartment complexes. So when we stayed at this remote motel and turned out the lights at night, we were reminded of how dark darkness can be. The closest building of any kind was the equivalent of several blocks away. When the lights were out, the darkness was complete. My only concern was that I might trip over something trying to find the bathroom in the night. I asked Liz if she would mind me turning on the bathroom light at night and closing that door most of the way, so that we could find our way to the bathroom safely. She didn't object at all. In fact, she eventually admitted to being relieved when I asked, because, as she said, she was afraid of the dark.

I've given a good deal of thought to the subject of people being afraid of the dark. Darkness and nighttime are not inherently evil. What is it that makes people so afraid of it? My theory is that even though people may claim to be afraid of the dark, they really are not. I remember going camping once and having to get up in the middle of the night to find the outhouse in the dark. The mountains of Colorado, like any remote area, get incredibly dark after the sun goes down. I was cursing my bladder as I slowly crept through the darkness with only a wimpy flashlight to light my way. Was I afraid of the dark? No. But I was pretty nervous that I might lose my way in that total, inky darkness. And I will freely admit that the idea of being lost in the mountains with no food or water or warm coverings is pretty awful and scary to me.

I have walked the streets of New York City, Paris, and Budapest after dark, and not felt terror, just vigilance to be aware of my surroundings. Am I the bravest or most foolhardy person in the world? Hardly. Like I said, the night and darkness are not evil, and I am not entirely sure that we really fear it. What we are afraid of is that we can't see. And who knows what it is that we might not be seeing? If you are walking down a street in the middle of the day and there's a creepy, serial-killer-looking person lounging in a doorway or behind a telephone pole, you will be able to spot them. You can try to do something to make your situation safer, like cross the street or start walking faster. But if you walk outside into total darkness, you have lost the use of one of your senses. The fertile ground of your imagination starts to sprout insidious, terror-filled thoughts, sometimes just subconsciously. Who knows whether there is an unsavory person lurking just a few feet away? Or maybe a wild animal...a very large one, one that might find you very tasty?

Heck, even if someone isn't worried about the murderers or zombies or killer bears that they might not be able to see, there's plenty of other potential problems. The uneven sidewalk that you see clearly in the daylight can easily trip you up when you can't see it at night. A midnight walk in the woods could be a midnight walk into a frigid, fast-moving stream. So, if you consider yourself one of the people who are afraid of the dark, that's okay, it's part of your experiences, and part of who you are. Or if you're more like me, and aren't afraid of the dark, just the crazies or fall-causing uneven sidewalks that you can't see lurking in your path because it is dark, that's okay, too. Don't curse the darkness. After all, flashlights are so much smaller and brighter nowadays than they used to be!