On Time But Off Kilter

I recently stumbled upon an article written about a man teaching his family to be punctual…written by the man in question. I suppose it was meant to be an uplifting anecdote, but it was just plain stupid. The story goes that this man once completed basic training and his drill sergeant was the toughest, hardest, meanest guy around, as drill sergeants are wont to be. If the 40-man platoon needed to be anywhere, the drill sergeant would demand that they arrive waaaaay ahead of time. If they were five minutes early that was considered LATE. Anyone who arrived only four minutes early was confronted with retribution and those merely on time with “agony.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I’m guessing 1,000 push-ups and a good serving of ridicule delivered with a fine spray of spit all over one’s face. Typical basic training stuff, really, and to be expected in the military when time can truly be crucial to life or death.

So, after leaving the army, this guy started a family and kept up his punctual habit. He even went so far as to instill in his kids, “If you’re five minutes early, you’re late,” and “When you’re late, dammit, you’re WRONG.” Okay, fair enough. To each their own. The fact that this was a mantra they volleyed back and forth daily like some sort of inside joke is a little unsettling. Again, to each their own. However, that this dad encouraged his kids to say this loudly (‘bellowed’ was his word) – so others could hear – as people were arriving to social events and the like, is a little obnoxious, if you ask me.  But, hey, what would the world be without a few assholes. Yeah, don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical as well as sarcastic.

Then, the fateful day arrived! The stars aligned and this guy saw his chance to shine, in all his timely glory, and show his children just what it meant to be a man.  After a school function, at which another family had arrived a few minutes late, the father of the offending family made a comment about how he was sorry they were late – that they were overwhelmed with, presumably, a schedule full of commitments. To which the ever-punctual man, after deliberately checking to see if his kids were listening, replied smugly, “I guess we never have that problem because we’re never busy.”

Personally, I think this was an inane come-back… but, in his own words, ever-punctual man meant it as an insult, to humiliate the “late dad” in front of everyone. And ever-punctual man wanted his kids to know that’s what he was doing, to see it, to hear it.

In response to his little dig, his sons looked at him with these massive Cheshire grins on their faces as if he was some kind of God of Time. “Oh whoa … what? Did you just say that?” They must have thought. “Wow. Our Dad is the coolest cause he knows how to insult other adults. Wow, totally cowabunga, man!”

This whole article is about how great this guy is, albeit self-aggrandizing, since he’s the one who wrote it, and I’m thinking… you know what, I’m just gonna say it, this guy is a total jerk. I’ve met people like this. They are usually assholes.

Let’s break this down.

Sure, punctuality is important. I’m not saying it isn’t. There are a gazillion situations where timeliness is imperative. But turning up half an hour early can, in certain situations, be considered rude. Let’s say someone is hosting a party, they ask you to turn up at 7:00pm, they expect you to turn up at 7:00pm, but actually hope everyone might be a little late, maybe even turning up at 7:15pm because they don’t get home from work until 6:00pm and all they want is to be able to change clothes and get the party things together before people start showing up. Turn up at 6:30pm and this person might be forced to entertain you at a time when really, they were counting on a few precious minutes to have a shower and get ready for company.

Let me just digress for a moment to say that this guy admitted his family is well known for their ultra-punctual habit and regularly get chided for being too early to everything, from school functions to kids’ birthday parties. If you’re routinely showing up early enough to get chided for it, to me that reeks of ill manners, and not exactly something to be proud of.

But here’s the kicker… the reasoning behind the “asshole” label for this guy… if you’re going to deliberately insult other people in a social situation for not living up to your idea of punctual perfection, it means that while you’re patting yourself on the back for counting the minutes, you have forgotten to account for compassion and  empathy.

To teach your children that it’s okay – commendable, even, to belittle and ridicule others to reinforce just how amazing YOU are, is an asshole thing to do, plain and simple. I would go so far as to argue that it’s in fact, a form of weakness. Weakness of character, weakness of intellect, weakness of the soul.

Really, does it matter if someone is only five minutes early to something? Four minutes early to something? Perhaps we need to start teaching our children that what really matters isn’t what’s on the clock or that data graph but what’s in the heart.

Smile at people. Try to be on time, but most importantly, endeavor to connect with others. Strive to be a caring person of good character. Show empathy and treat others with compassion and kindness.

Be here. Now. Because time is an illusion. It moves as you move, it dances as you dance.

And as the great Persian adage goes, “This too shall pass.”

Ghostly Domestics

How often have you been walking or driving through a rural area, be it the countryside or an old, overgrown lane and come across a house like this?

I know, right? Happens to me all the time.  It can be unnerving and yet… wouldn’t you want to explore?  A building so old and neglected that you can’t believe it’s still in one piece. Far from anyone else, hidden in a remote location, obviously teeming with creepy ambiance and that unshakable feeling that there is a presence peering through a window or around a corner, just out of your peripheral vision. You strive mightily to convince yourself it’s just your imagination because it can’t be a ghost. Although, really, this would be the perfect place for a ghost to take up residence. Which is silly because, I mean, ghosts don’t need to live anywhere.

But what if they did.

It’s a tough economy for everyone, including the dearly departed. Owning a house on your own, even one as dilapidated as this one, costs a hell of a lot of money, and I’m sorry, but ghosts are no exception to the rules of economy.

You know what that means. Roommates, baby! I for one would happily give up a little supernatural privacy to have a desolate waterfront mansion or a cottage getaway in a lonely wood.  It’d be a hell of a lot quieter than my current abode; I know that much.

Can you imagine sharing a house or apartment with a ghost? There’s no telling what they might get up to. You’d want to be careful as to what kind of spirit you get into a living arrangement with, though. Word that roommate ad meticulously, folks. You could get lucky and end up more on the Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost side of the spectrum, where you eventually become best buddies and have a rapport that could start a hit TV-show, or you could end up with one of those assholes from the “Paranormal Activity” films or “Insidious.”  In this instance you just know there would be no point in telling them to do their share of the dishes, as all they seem to know how to do is wreck the place and then expect you to clean it up. Sort of like flesh and blood roommates when you get down to it.

Having a spectre for a roomie could come in handy in some ways. No home invasion worries, for one thing. No need to be anxiety-ridden over trying to remember whether you locked the doors or not. If burglars decide they want to try anything, all you need to do is get your ghostly roommate to go and have a word with them, and even the most nefarious criminals would go running.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m fascinated with ghosties. Demons, not so much. But ghosties, they’re pretty cool. As a roommate, if they left me be, I’d leave them be. Except perhaps when I needed something, like revelations about the afterlife, or getting something down from a high shelf (short people problems).

Some folks aren’t so lucky and end up with more of an Exorcist-type deal, where they get a mean-spirited um… spirit… in their house whether they like it or not. I’ve heard stories of where people are so distressed with demonic goings-on that they call on priests and bishops to banish the paranormal pains-in-the-you-know-what.

Having already been married to hell on earth, I’m not all that impressed with bad behavior, even of the demonic variety. I just foresee the demon getting tired of one-upping his game to get a reaction other than a bored “this again, Balthazar? You have tough shoes to fill you know, and I’m just not feeling it.” And then, after discussing his grave irritation over an ethereal cocktail with his friends at the Brimstone Club, he’d follow their sage advice and move on to a more impressionable soul.

And me?  Well, while I wouldn’t mind a spooky housemate, my rules against chain rattling at odd hours of the night, not to mention my aversion to eerie noises – or rather, noises in general –  might just limit the applicant pool.

So Far, So Good

Don’t tell anyone, because I don’t want to jinx it, buuuttt… I haven’t received my annual communiqué from the ex. Whether I’m no longer the Antichrist or he just no longer has the need to drive the point home is hard to say.  Either way, yay me!  There’s a Thin Man marathon on TCM and nary a New Year’s resolution in sight.

I’d say, things are looking up as we leave 2019 behind. Let’s hope the New Year is equally blessed.

 

The Power of Comfort Food

So, having had a bit of a down day, I let myself indulge in one of my favorite foods: biscuits and gravy. Oh, not the kind my mother used to make… I don’t have her talent. But I have found, through trial and error, a sorta reasonable kind of okay facsimile using very specific store-bought brands. As a great man once said, “That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”

We’ve all been there. When you’re feeling down and less than ecstatic about a current life situation, there’s just something about consoling yourself with an entire tub of ice cream or a slice … okay, maybe several slices … no, wait, several varieties of chocolate cake.

Comfort foods offer a pick-me-up in bad situations. There’s something about even just smelling your favorite dish that brings you a sense of well-being. The aroma of warm cookies, cinnamon donuts, or fresh-baked bread – they’ll all do it. Right!? That’s what I’m talking about.

So why do our favorite comfort foods have such a profound impact on our mood? Well, there is a certain sentimental value in comfort food.

As it turns out, there’s a lot of psychology at play when we’re enjoying comfort food that’s “just like mom used to make.” Indeed, you could say the best chef on Earth is the person who cooked for you when you were a young child. And no, they didn’t just cook, they cooked with love. The most impressive 3-star Michelin chef will never beat your grandmother’s vegetable soup because in that soup is the deep love a professional chef can never have for you. Unless, that 3-star Michelin chef is in love with you … and well, can I just say, I wish!  Comfort food possesses an inherent and very powerful ability to transport us to simpler times (you know, before bills and job insecurity and the stresses of adult life). It transports us to a time when all we had to worry about was how many legs do caterpillars have and where do clouds come from.

Answers:  16 (usually) and …

Clouds forms as a result of air cooling to a temperature at which water vapor turns into liquid water. In turn, this is a result of air rising because the higher we go into the atmosphere, the colder the temperature becomes because during the day the sun heats it.

But where were we again? That’s right, the highs of food! Not clouds! I think most of us know and believe in that feeling of ummm … comfort … that comfort foods give us.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Well, actually, I wouldn’t say that my favorite comfort food is reminiscent of childhood necessarily. Hell, my parents couldn’t cook to save their lives!” First of all, I am so, so sorry. Secondly, hold your horses – there’s more to comfort foods than just who cooked them.

One important factor to consider when questioning our fairly unanimous love of comfort food, is simply the fat, sugar, and/or salt content in said comfort food. Though I’ve always considered it to be a sick, cosmic joke, our bodies LOVE those highly palatable foods that last a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. Foods high in fat, sugar, and salt are particularly good at activating the brain’s reward system – producing pleasant feelings and reducing stress. Like I said, a sick, cosmic joke.

Was it too much to ask to be naturally addicted to celery and kale? Yeah, I know. Blech.

But the greatest tool in a comfort food’s arsenal of persuasion?

The. Void.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had things go horribly horribly devastatingly awfully utterly embarrassingly wrong in our lives, and nothing fills the resulting crater-sized void in our hearts quite like comfort food. Having a bad day? Open a bag of chips. Going through a breakup? Order an extra-large four-cheese pizza and eat it in one sitting while watching The Notebook through a waterfall of tears. Is it an unhealthy coping mechanism? Absolutely. But does it work? Hell yeah.

At the end of the day, I feel like there are worse ways to cope than with the occasional dinner consisting of cheesecake and Cheez-Its. Key word being occasional. Should we all make a conscious effort to work through our problems so that we don’t feel the need to overindulge in unhealthy foods to cope with life? Yes. I’m sure we should.

At the same time, I also think that sometimes we should just be allowed to have our moment and enjoy some self-care in the form of a sorta reasonable kind of okay facsimile of Mom’s signature biscuits and gravy.

Hey, don’t judge me!

Life in a Bubble

The best thing about my local mall is the bubble tea kiosk. I like to go there just for that.  Well, that and the movies. I love tea and I love movies. The bubble tea place has all different kinds, something for everyone. Obviously, you can find the usual like green, black, and white, but there are also exotic mixtures to choose from, like pomegranate and lime or marshmallow root and licorice, you name it. My fave is Rose of San Francisco. No idea what’s in it and maybe that’s for the best. But I’ll tell you this much… it is yuuummmmyy.

The mall itself? Meh. It’s humongous. I’ll give it that. Now, it’s not “Mall of the Americas” humongous, but it’s up there… the largest in our state, for whatever that’s worth. It’s a trek just to get to an entrance, of which there are many, from one of the parking lots — a veritable exercise in stamina. St. Petersburg has its Hermitage, for Paris it’s the Louvre, my city has a massive mall, oh, with an adjacent casino. Just like those famous European art galleries, you can walk this sprawling mecca of capitalism in an afternoon, but not if you try to look at everything. That’s a rookie’s mistake. Another mistake would be thinking you could afford anything in this place.

See that pair of mustard-colored chinos in that H&M store over there in Neighborhood Q (oh, yeah, this mall has neighborhoods)? That’s the equivalent of a commissioned Rembrandt. That chemical cocktail of avocado and raspberry and something you can only describe as “mossy” coming from Lush in Neighborhood A? That’s an M.C. Escher right there. And that fancy store selling Prada and Gucci handbags… the one that never seems to have any customers, but all they need is one sale per month and they make their cut anyway? The Mona Lisa, of course.

I’ll admit it, I’m the worst kind of patron. Oh sure, I’ll go to the movies and I always get bubble tea, but as for shopping-shopping, uh, no. Sometimes, I go and just meander around and check out random things in shop windows, just to have something to do. I may have mentioned this before, but it’s a LLLLOT of walking, with an obstacle course through aggressive kiosk hawkers thrown in. I have found that it’s almost worthwhile to don your hiking books and backpack – complete with snacks, a high-beam flashlight to make S.O.S signals, and an emergency whistle just in case of shopping mall fatigue… that state of utter exhaustion where you find yourself lying helplessly on the shiny tiled floor, one hand outstretched, in vain, toward the nearest escalator only ten miles away. “Can’t … go on … no … more … shopping!” And yet, here you are, clear on the opposite side of the mall from where you parked.  As despair hits you full in the face, you resolutely straighten your shoulders, throw back your head, take a fortifying swig of your bubble tea, and stumble off on aching feet … back from whence you came.

So why do I do it, I ask myself?

It’s all about that Rose of San Francisco.