Train Wreck (Or, Are Birds Afraid of Heights?)

If you haven’t been able to tell from the title of this blog, my thoughts can get a little…muddled at times. Science has yet to invent the Perpetual Motion Machine, but the key to that device could be in my brain because it just runs and runs and runs all the time. No matter what the task at hand is, there’s a good chance another 5 to 50 thoughts are flitting through my brain unsupervised at the same time. Not so great when trying to fall asleep but an amazing boon when stuck in a traffic jam.

I should admit here that the things I think about, they’re not strategies to end world hunger, ways to detect tornadoes sooner, or philosophies about human evolution. Normally I’m thinking about fairly trivial things and they tend to click clack along at a pretty fast rate until they ultimately derail into completely irrelevant nonsense.

A perfect example from a week or so ago: as I was headed to a work meeting I got stuck for a while on the bridge leaving the island I live on (because some people just don’t know how to handle rush hour traffic on a bridge and as I’ve mentioned before, too many people have moved to the Eastern shore, making commuting across this bridge a mess) and as I sat there bored waiting for people to just move, I caught sight of the albatrosses, ospreys, and seagulls gliding overhead. I was both impressed with how high in the air some of these birds were (a few were mere dots in the sky) and curious as to why others were flying so low they were in danger of getting hit by cars. And some of them have indeed been hit by cars unfortunately, evidence of which is all too often seen on the bridge.

That led me to the question I spent the next good bit of time pondering: Are birds ever afraid of heights?

My train of thought first assumed that at some point in the history of all bird-dom, somewhere in the whole wide world there must surely be some bird that was born with an innate feeling of fear for gliding so high above the world. I mean, with the sheer number of birds in the world, surely, it’s almost statistically impossible for there not to be one bird that looks out over the lip of his nest and says I don’t know about this, right?

I feel sorry for that bird. His life must suck. And you know that none of the other birds have any sympathy for him whatsoever. It’s like the kid who’s afraid of roller coasters on the class trip to the amusement park. None of his friends are going to stay back with him, buy him a cotton candy, and sympathize with his phobia. No way are this bird’s amigos going to chirp out the problem on the ledge of the skyscraper.

How rough it must’ve been on that first maiden voyage out of the nest!  His parents (ready to migrate to Florida to start their retirement) probably kicked him out of the nest without much ado when he told them he wasn’t quite ready to fly yet. Falling like a squawking rock as he desperately flapped his feeble wings most likely left an indelible impression on him that flying is not what it’s cracked up to be. He was probably scarred forever and now hops everywhere, always the last to show up to any good crumb parties or worm hunts. Poor, poor, pitiful bird. I was really upset and distraught by the whole thing.

Then, the slow ride across the bridge was over and, poof, that detailed, meandering thought of the poor little bird afraid of flying evaporated out of my head to be replaced by another thought. The next one to grab my attention was about the meeting I was headed to and the important points my organization needed to emphasize to the group we were meeting with as well as the items I needed to discuss with my boss separately. Did I put pencils in my satchel!? I hope to goodness I brought pencils! No wait, I’m fine, I already have a pen in my purse. I’m cool, I’m cool.

And hey, I forgot there was a Dunkin Donuts on this road…that switched things up.  Thoughts of whether there will be tea or coffee available at this meeting made a sudden appearance . How I hope it’s coffee because it’s much more low maintenance than tea. Tea’s just a hassle. First you have to open the bag, then make sure you don’t break the string when you pull it out, then time how long it steeps, then find something to fish the bag out with, then where are you going to put the bag after it steeps and when you’re in a meeting that’s just a pain in the behind…and yada yada yada for the rest of the day, the week, the month, the year, the lifetime. Thanks, brain. What would I do with you?

The Lost Art of Low-Tech Entertainment

When most people think of amusement parks, they think of Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California).  They think of rides – roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, bumper cars – and maybe even water parks.

As a matter of fact, I think today it’s pretty difficult to find any amusement park that doesn’t have high-speed rides or virtual reality booths as an integral part of its attractions.  What they offer to kids is speed and high-tech fun…an adrenaline rush…and that’s it. I don’t think many of them actually stimulate a kid’s creative thought processes…not like The Enchanted Forest did.

What is The Enchanted Forest, you ask? (If you need to ask, you clearly haven’t seen the John Waters film Cry-Baby, starring Johnny Depp!)

The Enchanted Forest was a nursery-themed amusement park located in Howard County, Maryland. A blast from my past. It opened in 1955 – a month after Disneyland opened – and delighted children and adults for 34 years, until it closed in 1989. It was re-opened briefly in 1994, in another location, but closed again for good in 1995. It’s finally got a new life now on a farm, in 2015….well…kind of.  The Gingerbread Man who refused to be dessert, a somewhat fierce dragon, Snow White and her dwarf buddies, Old Mother Hubbard, Alice in Wonderland along with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, The Crooked Man with his equally crooked house, and just about all of the other various icons of the park have been moved and restored once again, this time just for nostalgia’s sake I believe. Only a few structures were lost to age and vandalism, worn beyond repair: Cinderella’s Castle and the Gingerbread House of Hansel and Gretel fame. Not too bad I suppose, all things considered.

What was great about The Enchanted Forest – what was unique about it – was that it was just a low-key park, based around characters from books and fairy tales. Yeah, that’s right. Books. *Gasp!* Oh no!

Oh, there were a few rides – but they weren’t truly mechanical rides, not like what you’d see at Six Flags or Wild World or even Dutch Wonderland. There was a tea-cup ride along with a tugboat and swan ride in a pond – those were pretty much the exciting draws as far as rides were concerned – and believe it or not, they were.  “Exciting draws,” I mean.  People loved the place. Kids and adults alike. People came from miles around to visit.

I certainly loved it, even though I have to admit the start of my fear of water came from The Enchanted Forest. There was a “wild safari” jeep-pulled trolley ride that was supposed to simulate the jungle with elephants, gorillas, a hippo (all fake of course)…well, it also had an alligator lurking just below the surface of a deep marshy water area, and that alligator used to scare me to death. It certainly wasn’t high-end on the animatronics scale or anything like that – but, still…whew! Captain Hook’s tick-tocking crocodile had nothing on this one!  However, to give credit where credit is due, it was really my seeing the movie Jaws at an impressionable age that really sealed the deal on that little phobia.

I tell you what though, before I posted this entry, I found a video on YouTube that someone had posted of their home movies of The Enchanted Forest from a trip in 1975 and it even had a clip from the “safari” ride – I showed that video to my daughter and she agreed with me, that alligator is freakin’ scary! Of course, she may have just been eagerly going along me ’cause she’s sweet like that, but I’m serious.  That thing is scary.  It is.

But I digress.

Here, let me share with you a few paragraphs from a site dedicated to the history on The Enchanted Forest.

Howard Adler, a local designer … [built] imaginative creations of papier-mache, cement and fiberglass [that] would give the Enchanted Forest its whimsical, enduring appeal.

The sturdy brick house of the Three Little Pigs, for example, was decorated with a wolf skin rug on the floor… The house of the Three Bears not only had three bowls of porridge and three beds, it also had three chimneys a pipe-shaped chimney for Papa Bear, a purse-shaped chimney for Mama and a bottle-shaped chimney for Baby Bear.

The eight-acre Enchanted Forest, with figures and storybook settings nestled among woods, a stream and a small pond, was deliberately low-key compared with Disneyland in California….

“There are no mechanical rides in the park,” [owner] Howard E. Harrison Jr. told the Baltimore News-Post in an article that ran on the Enchanted Forest’s opening day, Aug. 15, 1955. “Instead, we hope that the children will enjoy the make-believe figures that are before their eyes. I say children, but actually, we think that many grown-ups will enjoy seeing the famous old figures that they knew when they were children.”

Do kids these days even read the old fairy tales? I think they get started with their smart phones and tablets at an extremely young age, not to mention watching TV, and all they ever see are the glossy characters of Disney, or shows like Spongebob Squarepants and things of that ilk. Stories are spoon fed to them these days through high-tech graphics and cartoons and on-screen games rather than through the pages of a book, and when they go anywhere, they expect their entertainment to be spoon fed to them as well. It’s a fast paced world, especially for kids, with no time for imagination.

Whereas, with The Enchanted Forest, all they had going for them was their knowledge from nursery rhymes and fairy tales and their imaginations. Lots and lots of imagination.

I remember The Enchanted Forest with so much fondness, not the least of which because my mother used to take my brother and I there and we’d spend the day – so those are good times I remember with my mother, as well as all the things we would see and do.  For anyone who wants to see pictures (not mine), there is a gallery here.

My favorite parts were these little houses you could go into – they were like life-sized dioramas – showing scenes from various nursery rhymes and fairy tales like Snow White, the Gingerbread Man, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel. My mom’s personal favorite was the teacup ride.

gingerbread house

teacup ride

safari ride

The Enchanted Forest was great because everything was truly interactive – and by that I mean you walked, ran, played, climbed…there was no waiting in line for an hour for a two-minute ride or sitting in a chair  oblivious to the world around them while playing with a virtual reality system. Kid’s today are “inter” – while we were truly “active”!

I lament the “lost art” of low-tech entertainment. We simply don’t have these kinds of places any more – places where kids have to use their own imaginations to conjure up fun instead of having it, as I said before, basically spoon fed to them.

Yeah, it’s great that we’ve progressed the way we have with technology. Don’t get me wrong – I think a lot of good has come from technology.  It has encouraged tremendous vision and has given us so much (speaking on strictly an entertainment level: 3-D movies, virtual reality games, amazing interactive rides, 3-D printers, etc.), but our children have lost so much in return — the ability to play or enjoy things just by using their own imaginations.

Not to mention the wholesomeness of nursery-rhyme stories (okay, well, once you clean up the original Grimm stories) and books like Alice in Wonderland, instead of the glitzy, overly grown-up, in-your-face, kids’ characters that are pushed on young children today. I know, I know, it’s not surprising that I go back to books.  But come on, anything that’s oriented around books cannot be a bad thing.

Books and imagination.  It’s a combo we need to nurture more in kids today.

Us vs Them

Browsing through Huffington Post a little while ago I ran across an interesting article written by a wife and mother with an interesting stance on the two roles she has assumed in her family life. The title of the article “Why My Husband Will Always Come Before My Kids” spelled it out pretty clearly.

Oh, I have to read this, I thought. Being a mother myself and having spent over half of my life in the position of “wife,” I was aching to see where this article went. Predictably, it did not disappoint and left me quite shocked by the end. Long story short (if you can’t open up the link above and read it for yourself), husband is numero uno in her life. Kids: second-tier citizens. Let me pull some key quotes that help illustrate this provocative stance even better:

“I love my kids and would do anything for them. But I love my husband more.” This seems quite contradictory to me. Let’s go ahead and play this out. Say a burglar creeps into the house one night. The heist goes south and the burglar puts her in a Sophie’s Choice situation. He (or she…burglars can certainly be women — I’m all pro-gender equality over here) holds both her husband and her kids at gunpoint and tells her to choose who lives and who dies. Based on the quote above, she would pick her husband. She would save him rather than go with her human instinct to do what she could to make sure her genes made it to future generations. The goal of life is to proliferate. From a purely scientific standpoint her stance sounds vaguely anti-Darwinian.

“If we can only afford to take one vacation a year, we take it alone…” I’m all about having a “date night” with your significant other. A romantic night at an Italian restaurant drinking wine with your beloved and remembering that life doesn’t have to be about the kids 110% percent of the time can be great for maintaining sanity. But squirreling away a little vacation nest egg for months or even years just to leave your kids on the porch while you jet away to the Florida Keys, Catalina, or wherever, for a week of indulgence is pushing it.

The author wants her behavior to be an example to her kids of a healthy relationship between caretakers so that they know how to “form bonds when they get older,” but what about the bonds being formed when they’re still young? When I was growing up, family vacations were an integral bonding moment for us and they’ve given me some of the best memories of my life. Those trips certainly make for some of the best stories ever told around my parents’ holiday dinner table.

As a parent myself, I can’t imagine not sharing such moments with my kids. If I had a chance to take a one of a kind trip, I’d want to share that experience with my children. But then again, I’m not drawing a line in the sand like the author of the article seems to be doing.

As one commenter to the article put it: “I don’t think it’s an either or situation.” To this I agree. The entire article has a generalized air of confusion about it (in my mind) because I don’t understand why a competition or some sort of a familial hierarchy has to exist.

To me, it doesn’t have to be so black and white. She’s creating an “us” vs. “them” mentality which seems unnecessary. Everyone – wife, husband, son, daughter – can all live in harmony, on the same plane of love without relegating certain individuals to the lower classes. Sure compromise will need to be exercised on a daily basis, but that’s a part of the entire process.

I agree with her that marriage is work and you must do what you can to keep it alive, romantic, and intimate. I think this is what the author was trying to get at but it came out in a much more cold way than intended. At least I truly hope this is what her message was supposed to be.

If she doesn’t understand that once you have children they become priorities, then she is not the type of mother I would want raising any children. Love your partner, yes. Take measures to keep that flame alive, sure. But don’t place them on a pedestal without reason. Narcissism has no place in a family.

Apologetic Women

Beginning in 1961 and going all the way through the 1980s, a British author named Peter O’Donnell wrote a series of books about a female version of James Bond. Her name was Modesty Blaise. Anyone remember her? I loved those books and still do – Modesty was the total package in what I looked up to in a female heroine: smart, strong, able to kick butt, and most assuredly taking no prisoners. In her first adventure story I think O’Donnell was afraid that she would be less relatable to female readers if she didn’t have something “feminine” about her. To solve this he gave her the annoying character trait that after a tough mission, she would seek out a quiet place to have a good cry. I know, right!?

In another book – I forget the title now – she and a male friend have been captured and imprisoned by the bad guys. During the ordeal she’s giving her male friend all these orders so that they can successfully extricate themselves out of the situation and not get killed.  A positive thing one would think. But then she says, “Sorry to play the bossy bitch.”

I was outraged with that bit of dialogue. “Yeah, sooo sorry I’m over here trying to save your life and all…” It was just so out of character for her and so unnecessary, but apparently O’Donnell, again, wanted to give her that “feminine touch” so that his readers would know that just because she could beat up three men with one hand tied behind her back, was a dead-shot with all sorts of guns and so on, she was still ladylike enough to want to apologize for having to order a man around in an effort to save both their lives!

I thought about Modesty Blaise a few days ago when I went online to try to find a very interesting list about how male and female bosses who exhibit the same strong behavior are perceived very differently in the workplace. I’m sure you know the one. It starts out with “A man is a leader, a woman is bossy” and makes comparisons from there.

I couldn’t find the list but I did find an article from March 31, 2014, entitled “The Social Science Behind Bossiness,” by Daria Burke. In it she points out, “A study cited by the Girl Scouts of America in support of the [Ban Bossy] campaign found that by middle school, 25% of girls are less likely than boys to assume leadership positions for fear of being called ‘bossy.’  This raises an important question: How are we supposed to level the playing field for girls and women if we discourage the very traits that get them to the top?”

Girls learn that they are expected to behave differently than boys (and of course boys learn this too.) For starters, they can’t be bossy. And if they can’t be bossy they must be polite (which I don’t think are mutually exclusive qualities). They must always mind their manners and help out around the house. Boys can be taught manners too, of course, but if they do something rude it doesn’t really raise eyebrows in the same way as if a girl were to do something equally as rude.

I attended a professional women’s conference years ago. The motivational speaker there talked about this “apologetic” phenomenon and pointed out that women say “I’m sorry,” all the time.  However, men rarely do (she was speaking of professional/workplace situations, not personal relationships and the like).  Or at least not to the extent that women will.  She explained that language is power and being “sorry” when there is nothing to apologize for weakens a person – especially in the business world.  Men do not want to appear weak whereas women, in an effort to get ahead, want to appear likeable.  I’m not so sure about that, but the presenter certainly made her case for it.

A previous employer of mine, a gentleman who is probably of seriously genius intelligence, told me the same thing once. There was an error at work – I assumed it was mine. It was not. But assuming it was mine, and prior to even getting at the root of the problem, I apologized profusely for having made it.  Mr. X said he believed women are all too often more than willing to accept blame and therefore apologize automatically before they even realize what they’re actually apologizing for…that it’s almost as if it’s ingrained in them. Doesn’t matter what the situation is.  If we reach for the same book as someone else or we reach for the same coffee cup in the meeting room or if we go to speak at a meeting and another person speaks at the same time, the woman tends to back off and say “I’m sorry” first.

A friend of mine had a different take on this. She said that she apologizes automatically even when she isn’t in the wrong, not because she thinks she is wrong, but just because it’s polite. And she was confident that all those folks she apologized to really knew that it was they who should be apologizing to her, not the other way around. According to her, the polite thing is always to accept the blame even when someone else is at fault. Ackk!! I’m not sure who made up this ridiculous rule, but I agree that women do tend to feel this way.

But is being overly polite any better than feeling inherently wrong all the time? (Of course, I didn’t point out to my friend that she was talking about social situations, not situations where she was a businesswoman who really needed to command the respect of her peers, both male and female.)

I realize that I’m basically talking semantics.  However, semantics are important. I think that was the motivational speaker’s point.  Language is power. Words are power. They change the entire context of the conversation. The entire feeling of a sentence can be changed when you swap words that are seemingly synonymous, as can the “appearance” of the person uttering them.

For instance, instead of saying “I’m sorry,” all the time, maybe women should say “Excuse me” more often. It might seem like a small, even silly, change, but that way they aren’t actually apologizing constantly (for something they haven’t done wrong), yet they’re not sacrificing politeness and, hopefully, at the same time they retain a bit of their personal power.