Thursday, April 26, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

Sometime during the past 20 years I must have stepped through the looking glass. You know, into that place where things are just a tad unbalanced and up is actually down.

Life used to make sense. Children behaved and did as they were told. I believe that was considered as "normal." Behavior seems to have changed since the 1970s and not necessarily for the better. These changes which didn't occur over night and when you line them up for closer inspection, it's all a bit startling.

My uncle was the only person in my childhood who had a tattoo. It was leftover from World War II, a Navy insignia built around an anchor. By the time I noticed it, the words were already elongated and the red and blue appeared blended. As he aged, it became harder to make out the design and it looked as though his arm was decorated with a purple vine.

According to a recent poll, today one fourth of all people have tattoos. I always thought tattooing was silly and usually ugly. A friend of mine says that you can pierce anything you want to but when you get a tattoo, you have made a lifestyle choice. Just remember that tattooing is usually FOREVER and even removal is difficult and costly. Kids who get tattoos should keep in mind that a tattoo -- even one you might really like -- should at least be positioned so that clothing can cover it.

Teen-age Motherhood
When I was in high school, girls who became pregnant were not allowed to remain in school. That's probably difficult for today's teens to imagine, since many schools not only allow pregnant girls, but help them get their diplomas and offer classes in mothering. That helps the girls get through school. But what the heck happened?

In my teen years, I was no angel, but there was a controlling reason to "behave" within limits -- fear of what my father would do. Perhaps parents today are so wrapped up in their own lives that they appear to "let the chips fall where they may." That's a little hard to believe. Birth control and abstinence are out there and readily available. Having a little baby may sound like fun, but I pity both the young mother and the child. They are headed for a rough road. Perhaps a little more parental guidance is required.

"Oh, I Have a Record"
"I served some time" seems to be an acceptable phrase today. When did this become small talk? In the 1970s, the worst thing I ever heard anyone do was try to avoid getting drafted. How can we have slipped so far from the acceptable standard of behavior?

A friend of mine was at a job where the employer was looking to hire. Of the dozen or so men who applied, over half had served time in prison. There was no hesitancy on the part of the applicants to discuss the subject either. I recall a scene in the movie "The Shawshank Redemption." Tim Robbins is a new inmate and when he is asked by another prisoner what he had done to be in prison, he said, "I didn't do anything." That's what all the other inmates said, too. Funny how no one is really guilty of anything. What about personal responsibility?

I have to wonder what makes a society accept matters which a few years ago would have been at least awkward. My attitude may reflect a generational hang-up. Or it may be that we have lowered our standards.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Most of us enjoy eating, whether it's warm soup on a cold evening or a slice of cake to end the day in bliss. As busy as our day may be, we usually find time to feed our faces.

Once in a while we may slip and allow ourselves a few extra calories. Of course, we realize that eventually we will have to pay the piper for any overindulgence.

This isn't about how much we eat. This is about WHAT foods we eat. There is a big difference between having a fresh, crisp apple and an entire box of Oreos. You know that's true. Just sayin'.

For the past several decades, nutritionists in-the-know have warned us about being fooled by fake food, things which might resemble edible products but are comprised of nasties. Shoppers can buy many things in a grocery which are not actually "food" and do not profess to be food, including items like cat litter, bird seed, kitchen towels and sunglasses. Keep that in mind the next time you are in the grocery and don't be lulled into believing that store owners have your well being in mind. Stores simply sell items to make a profit.

Advertising agencies have large budgets which allow them to design cereal boxes adorned with dancing birds, squirrels or cute bugs to tempt the kiddies and get our attention. Boxes may be decorated with swirls of color and big bowls of breakfast goodness but that doesn't automatically mean the contents have any nutritional value to help little bodies grow strong.

Nutritionists watch eating habits and realize that many of us are on the wrong track. These are not frivolous folks. They have seen the problems with our food intake. Perhaps we should listen to what they have to say. There are as many theories and suggestions as there are people who want to tell us what to do.

A few of the more basic suggestions include the following:

  • Eat no food after 7:00 p.m.
  • Eat nothing that originates from a box.
  • Drink eight large glasses of water every day.
  • Learn to read the ingredients on the package. If a product contains a number of items which sound like chemicals compounds or whose names are not easily recognized, be careful about purchasing that item.
  • Beware of sodium. Sodium is contained in nearly everything, often in outrageous amounts. Opinions on our daily sodium intake vary from source to source but seem to agree that adults should consume no more than 2300 mg (approximately 1 teaspoon of salt). People with hypertension and older adults should consume even less.
Improving our eating habits doesn't require drastic steps. Little improvements can make a big difference. If the kiddies insist on stopping for a particular fast food favorite, try persuading them to opt for sandwiches and fruit at the park. "Fast food" is another topic altogether and far too complicated to go into here. I swore off "fast food" several years ago. Enough said for now.

Of course, we all know that Americans are becoming obese and suffering in large numbers from diabetes and heart disease. We all need to be a little more vigilant about what we consume. Food is the fuel that powers our vehicles [bodies]. Most of us take better care of our cars and pay more attention to noises in their engines than we do to noises in our own engines.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ah, Summer

Warm weather will sweep in any day now. If sunny days and stuffy, humid air haven't arrived yet in your area, they will be there shortly.

Many sensory associations go along with summer. The swimming pool chlorine. The smell of fresh cut grass on a warm day. Oh, speaking of odors, what ever happened to bathing? Some folks apparently find showering too much bother. This can be disturbing enough any time of the year, but in summer…

Summer also means being confronted by a large percentage of people who have no idea how bad they look in summer clothing.

On my journey to maturity, I've learned to recognize which fashions look good on me and which do not. The ones that do not inspire self confidence are discarded.

Here's an open message to the overweight woman I saw in the grocery today. Yes, you in the thin white T-shirt without underwear. You, over by the bread aisle with every inch of your skin covered in tattoos. Next time before you leave the house, stop at the bathroom mirror and see what you think. Is the world somehow enriched by the vision of your mature body unrestrained by underwear? Think about at least wearing a bra. Do everyone a favor.

The time to shed clothing might be a good time to consider shedding weight. If that isn't in the cards or you can't get motivated, here are some summer wardrobe suggestions for both sexes:

1. Men, if you are unable to tuck in your shirt, at least find one that is large enough to cover the flesh of your belly. Many XXL or bigger sizes are readily available.

2. Garments that cling to the shape of your body are not necessarily slimming. If the ripples of your excess poundage are clearly outlined beneath the stretched fabric of clothing, it is time to do a little shopping.

3. I like wearing flip flops. They are inexpensive and comfortable. However, please note they aren't for everyone and shouldn't be worn everywhere. If you are going to wear any type of sandals, perform rudimentary maintenance on your feet. Visible appendages should be clean and relatively manicured.

4. With some exceptions, shorts are passable on most people until about the age of 45. After that, the chances of shorts being your best fashion statement are greatly reduced. Individuals with piano or stork legs or whose legs are decorated by deep blue vein patterns might want to select capris or cropped pants instead. Just a thought.

5. Women over the age of 30 should think twice about low-rise pants. I recently spotted a middle-aged woman at the post office sporting a pair of jeans barely covering her essential areas. She was exhibiting a large, winged tattoo just north of her derriere. Perhaps such displays are best revealed during private moments.

6. Last, but certainly not least, are swimming suits. Perhaps the less said here the better. If you need a swimming suit, make sure it "moves with you" and won't garner attention for the wrong reasons. And if you are thinking about getting one more season out of a suit you have owned for a dozen years, might want to update a bit.

These suggestions are based on personal observations and not meant to dampen your summertime enthusiasm. Relax, enjoy the season and watch to see if I'm not right!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Driving the Bus

I have always been enchanted by buses. They appear to be so convenient. A large conveyance with comfortable seats that stops in front of waiting passengers and then transports them to another location for a small fee. The passengers don't even have to drive. The person with the real power -- who controls the vehicle, its speed and destination -- is the driver. The driver is power personified by his act of driving the bus.

"Driving the bus" is a phrase I use to describe someone who makes decisions. Driving the bus does not require a special license or even advanced mechanical skill. All you have to do is dare to hop into the driver's seat and step on the gas.

Many people are happy to discuss with anyone who will listen about why they aren't living the life they want. They can usually find someone else to blame for their misery. But it seems that passengers who are unhappy with their path and eventual destination should be driving the bus themselves.

Some people avoid taking the wheel. Perhaps they would rather spend time and energy to become like everyone else, following the same streets and stops. We tend to mimic those closest to us -- parents, siblings and extended family -- after years of exposure to their habits and tastes. Our family is supposed to like us unconditionally -- even love us if we are lucky -- so most of their feedback is hardly impartial.

On the other hand, our peers are less accepting. And unfortunately it's their approval that we usually seek and value as adolescents. Conforming eventually becomes so important that some of us forget how to regain our independence once we are adults. By then we may have lost confidence in our ability to make decisions for ourselves.

I always knew that I wanted to be the one driving the bus. Sitting behind the wheel took a little getting used to. But once having driven the bus, it's difficult to again be a mere passenger. You find yourself standing on the curb, waiting in rain and cold, for the vehicle to stop. The bus remains a wonderful means of transportation but passengers are powerless to make decisions about course and speed.

Some people never lose their need for conformity. Perhaps their hesitancy to drive the bus is based on fear. It's hard to make yourself step away from the pack that everyone wanted to join. The collective crowd, moving together over the years, has worn a significant rut into the ground, a rut created out of monotony and repetition.

Some people have other reasons for remaining a passenger. Perhaps they live in a country where freedom is not available. Perhaps there is some other traditional control that dictates they behave in a pre-set pattern without any variation. To outsiders, there is comfort and security in their way of life. The fact that they are missing out on options is something we can not comprehend.

For the rest of us, we need to try the wheel and drive the bus. We might wonder what all the fuss is about. What is lies ahead? Where does the road lead? How far can we get on a tank of gas? When was the last service appointment?

The bus driver remains the person with the power of decision. He is a natural leader among the passengers and is eager to help others find their options. No ticket required.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Things You Never/Seldom See Anymore...

  • "Real" Cokes (made with sugar)
  • Entertaining shows on television
  • Pay telephones
  • Strangers who say "thanks" or "excuse me"
  • Children with manners
  • Quiet movie theatres
  • Cashiers who care about customers
  • Parents who pay attention to their children
  • Proofreading of public documents or signs
  • Food products with contents you can pronounce
  • Doctors who give spend more than five minutes listening to you
  • Doctors who don't automatically distribute Rx slips
  • Television shows with actual stories
  • Television shows with equal portions of commercials and story
  • Gasoline you can afford
  • Clothing (or anything else) made in the U.S.A.
  • Live customer service
  • Written communication
  • Land line telephones
  • People who pay attention to what they are doing
  • Fast food restaurants that serve real food
  • Personal pride
  • Local newspapers that report local news
  • Community pride
  • Picture post cards
  • Neon signs
  • Ice cube trays
  • Toys that require imagination
  • Children's TV shows not designed to sell products
  • Highway billboards
  • Drive-in theatres
  • Station wagons
  • People using brooms to clean their sidewalks
  • Push lawn mowers
  • Personal hygiene
  • Homemade anything
  • Free road maps at gas stations
  • People focused on driving alone
  • Conversations with people who pay attention
  • Spontaneity of any type
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Purses that hold enough
  • People who think before they speak

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Look Back

Lately I've been surrounded by crying babies and infants. They seem to be everywhere -- in the grocery store, at Walmart, in the next booth at my favorite restaurant. Where are the parents? What has happened to the parents of old, the ones who paid attention to their kids? Parents used to know what the kids were doing and how to rein them in when necessary.

Perhaps I have trouble tolerating unruly children because my own childhood was considerably more structured. I was raised in a loving household where children had freedom accompanied by certain limitations.

My mother was the caring parent, always there with words of comfort and a smile. But it was my father who set the rules of behavior.

My father was a wonderful man who kept the bills paid, demonstrated a strong work ethic and made us all feel safe and secure. He had many admirable qualities including warmth and humor. But my father was a no-nonsense individual who did not tolerate foolishness. That attitude set the parameters for everyone in our household. My father's talent was that he could speak volumes without uttering a word. He had a "look" that said, "Stop and shape up now." When he flashed that look, whether at the dinner table or in public, he didn't have to say or do anything else. That was it.

When I became an elementary school teacher, I had to develop a similar expression of my own to survive in the classroom. Fellow teachers used to joke about having their "stern" face or "staring daggers" at students. It was reassuring to know that merely looking at someone can make a strong impact with minimal effort. Occasionally, it could turn children into stone instantly.

Such a technique should not be lost in today's high tech world.

In recent decades, the general population has become overly concerned with being "politically correct." The result is that adults have lost control. No one dares to speak out -- even to their own children -- when a little control could work wonders.

Several years ago I was working in Washington, DC. I often worked l-o-n-g hours most of the time, with an hour commute in each direction just to add to the enjoyment. (In hindsight, it all made no sense but that is another story.) I remember one night when I was asked to "stay late" and assist with a project. I agreed -- after all, this time they actually ASKED me first. After everyone else had left, I was to remain in my office until I was contacted by the partners. Finally, at about 7:30, I walked into the conference room where they were working.

The partner who asked me to stay looked up and smiled. "Yes?"

"I was wondering if the project you had is ready for me to begin," I asked quietly.

"Oh, yes. We were going to have you go and get our dinner." He flashed another smile.

I said nothing in response but must have resurrected my teacher's face.

"Oh, dear." The partner said. "I can see by your face that perhaps this was something of an intrusion." He quickly dismissed me for the evening. The group must have made other dinner arrangements. I was never again asked to run such stupid errands.

Sometimes a face should be allowed to show what it is really thinking.

Attention today's parents: Try this next time your child is running amok in Walmart. You might be surprised to see how easily it can work.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Parental Guidelines

Easter is a time of celebration, a way to welcome spring and confront spring break. Families have many ways to observe Easter. They gather with extended family, often attending church, to enjoy spending time together.

Nearly all of my friends are now grandparents. When they discuss their grandchildren, a certain amount of bragging is involved. "Little Chris can say all of his letters." "Sam hit a homerun in T-ball." This is to be expected, I suppose. But to people other than the grandparents, such conversation is tedious at best, brutally boring the rest of the time. (More on boring, self-serving conversation another time.)

Beyond the efforts to impress each other with how easily Bobby was potty trained, there is more at work here. Parents and grandparents appear to be obsessed with seeming to be "cool" to the kiddies. They fret over whether Eddie and Julie will like the fare being served on Easter. "Make sure to bring fruit. Kids always like fruit. And just about anything that goes well with Cool Whip." "We need to bring plenty of treats for the egg hunt. Everyone gets a prize."

Today's parents and grandparents are the modern of equivalent of stage parents. They push and praise the youngsters, fueling the fire of competitiveness that lies within most children, just below the surface. Here's an idea: Leave the kids alone.

When I was a kid, we had as much fun and freedom as any kids at anytime. Probably more freedom, actually, because we lived in a small town in post-war America. We rode our bikes all over town, to school and the movies without ever locking them. We wandered the neighborhoods and even downtown unafraid. If we stayed after school for band or Scouts, we could come home alone without problems. We had few worries.

But if we attended a family gathering, we knew to behave. These events did not center around activities for us. We may have watched TV but even that was rare If there was a house full of guests, we sat and talked to -- or at least answered questions from -- adults. Because we were "dressed up" we usually didn't run or play too much. If three or more of us got together, we might have played a rousing board game, Monopoly if we had enough time.

We clearly recognized that it was a time for the adults. We knew when to disappear into the woodwork.

Now most activities at any time are aimed at the kiddies. I think this is a big mistake. A friend of mine works hard every day, standing on her feet most of the time. Her life is juggling work with caring for her two kids and husband. She told me that since spring break is looming, she is taking off a few days.

"Going on vacation?" I asked.

"Not exactly. The kids are off so we wanted to something special for them. We're taking them on a little trip to do kid stuff."

I wanted to ask "Is that your idea of a break" but managed to say, "That's nice."

This is an isolated incident but such conversations occur constantly. Look at how parents and grandparents obsess with birthdays, Christmas and every holiday. I have a theory. Perhaps this focus on the kiddies and their happiness is due to deep-seated guilt by today's working parents. They want to make up for lost opportunities. Moms rarely stay at home and -- if there are two parents in the family -- both are busy trying to do it all for the sake of the kids.

For all of you parents and grandparents who dote on the kiddies in your family, here's a word of advice: The kids don't care. They love you anyway. They are already the center of their own universe, all self-absorbed and wallowing. They don't need your time and money. Use it on yourself.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Somebody's Missing the Boat

The film industry recently released statistics indicating that theatre attendance and ticket sales were down drastically in recent years.

The industry can't seem to comprehend the drop. Why have the audiences thinned?   In response, studios have vowed to win back fans with special effects, 3D themes, sequels to tried-and-true franchises and other devices.

Here's an idea: Why not just make films that will appeal to someone older than the age of 12?

I can count on one hand the number of times I have been to a movie theatre in the past ten years. Throughout most of my life, I have frequently attended movies that tweaked my interest or sparked my intellect.   If I saw a trailer that offered a film worth seeing, I would make sure to see it.

Things have changed.

Significant films are still being released. But I usually opt to wait a few weeks when the movie will be available in my home either as a rental or "on demand." Going to the theatre can cost upward of $10 per person, plus the hassle of sitting in a theatre to view a film with people I otherwise would hasten to avoid.

The majority of movies which producers hope will bring in business is -- simply put -- junk.  Film makers seem to think that movies such as "Bridesmaids" are relevant to the general public. Note to the film industry: Get a clue.

Once upon a time, women were overlooked by advertisers as a worthwhile market. Cars, cigarettes, fashion, furniture -- nearly every type of advertising was prepared by and driven by men for men, who were the most important audience. With the evolution of women's rights and independence, this began to shift. If women didn't actually sign on the dotted line to purchase household goods or a new car, they at least had input as to what was purchased. Advertising came to grips with this realization and women became a market to pursue.

I recently was reading about the film industry in the 1950s. With the spark ignited by James Dean, first in films and then by his unfortunate death in 1955 at the age of 24, the "press" found it was onto something. A large portion of America was growing up after the war, a new demographic with money in its pockets and a thirst for movies about themselves. That awakened an explosion of movies about teens from "I Was a Teen-Age Werewolf" to the beach blanket/surfer drivel, all bursting onto the scene from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s.

I have several friends who are either unmarried, divorced or gay. These folks used to feel slighted in print and media advertising. As their lifestyles became less important to advertisers than their disposable income, this, too, changed. Women without a spouse became valued for what they did have -- money to spend on luxuries. They had no one to placate besides themselves and were free to splurge as they pleased. They took cruises, bought designer clothes and browsed art galleries and antique shops. Eventually, this previously invisible group had also found its voice.

It now appears that the newest invisible audience consists of senior citizens. We are not the demographic they might seek (the infamous 18 to 30 year olds) but we have plenty of time to pursue matters of interest.  We would appreciate seeing worthwhile films. We don't mind paying the $10-plus or so for admission.  Problem is, there are few films worth our effort.

I see a pattern here. When times are lean and the audiences either get stale or stop coming, advertisers have consistently moved on to discover a new market. Movie producers would be wise to reinvent their wares and appeal to folks with mature judgment and money to match.

Is anyone out there listening?