How I Learned to Appreciate the Fine Art of Humming

I hate people. I think I’ve mentioned this before. And admittedly, I’m a cynic. I’m a people-hating cynic, there… I’ve said it. I guess the silver lining, if there is a silver lining to being a people-hating cynic, is that I’m aware of it. I don’t live in denial. However, in recent years, I’ve been trying to temper my negative thought process. An incident that happened just this weekend brought this aspiration to the fore, and while I failed – utterly – in the moment, it did serve to enlighten me in moving forward.

Oh, it wasn’t anything dramatic. I was out grocery shopping, as is the norm in our consumer-based society, and besides, I was hungry… when I made a couple of observations about some people I came across in my quest for snacks.

The first was a young girl who was with her family in the cereal aisle. With a smile on her face, she was pushing the shopping cart in front of her and humming. Can you believe it? Humming! Happily, it seemed. And indeed, whatever song she was humming was bright and cheerful. What is she, I thought to myself, some carefree young kid?

Well, yes. That’s exactly what she was. My cynic’s mind put it down to her naivety about the world and continued with my shopping.

A while later, I passed an elderly gentleman. He was also happily humming to himself, albeit much more loudly. I thought it very strange. Two people humming in a supermarket in one day! What are the odds? Aren’t they annoyed by all the people crowding into the aisles, fighting for all the food!? Or that lady on her phone walking soooo slowly through the store and getting in everyone’s way? What about the thought of standing in the massive line at the single open check-out lane? I mean, come on! Who in their right mind would be humming when faced with such aggravations?

The girl I could kind of understand. She was a kid and kids can often see the brighter side of life that the rest of us miss. The man confused me though. He was older – maybe 80, and surely had experienced enough in life that he should be miserable, you know, as one does. How come he has the energy and enthusiasm to hum and send out positive vibes when doing something as mundane as grocery shopping? I’m only 50 and I was well on my way to losing it in aisle 9.

It was around this point that my train of thought derailed, and I realized that maybe, possibly, humming wasn’t that out of the ordinary. Being happy, even in public, could, in fact, be considered quite normal. I know, I know, but bear with me here, there’s more.

It wasn’t those people and their very public apparent happiness that was the problem. It was me. You’re shocked at this revelation, I know. I was too. It’s not that I don’t hum or sing the odd lyric under my breath, it’s just that, quite frankly, I would rather die than draw attention to myself. Sober, that is. And if I’m being honest, I still can’t fathom someone – let alone two someones – being so perky and upbeat in a grocery store, amid gads of people no less, that their happiness burst forth in song.

But just because I’m a curmudgeon doesn’t mean that other people are odd for simply being joyful. Let them spread a little bit of cheer, I say. Goodness knows, we’re all the better for it. Negativity is a vicious circle; it’s so easy to spread around that sometimes I think if it were a fatal disease, we’d all be dead in a matter of weeks.

The best course of action to keep negativity at bay?  Hum at the grocery store. Trust me. It works.

Exit… Stage Left

So. According to my daughter, my writing has never been a paragon of dignity. Okay, I’ll give her that one. After all, she’s not wrong.

With that said, thanks to my children (yes, I’m blaming my kids), my ability to hold back my…  ummm… oh, who cares, I’ll just say it. My ability to hold back my pee is nearly nonexistent. When I have to go, I have to go. And my body, being the asshole that it is, when it senses I’m near a bathroom, it upgrades the urinary crisis to a breaking point. Why is that? Does anyone else experience that? The closer you get to a bathroom, the more urgent the need becomes, to the point of … hey, I’m right here, but I still might not make it?

Sometimes, I tempt fate and wait almost too long to start the trek to the restroom. Who has time for constant bathroom breaks? I don’t. I’ve got better things to do. I’d put an end to bodily functions altogether, if it were up to me. And why do they call it a restroom, anyway? It’s not like we take a nap in there. I mean, I wish!

Anyway, I was at work today and threw caution to the wind in order to finish the marketing project I was working on. Oh, I made it, but barely.

And as I headed back to my office, once again unencumbered, however so briefly, by a needful bladder, I got to thinking.  What happens if that fateful day should arrive when I don’t make it in time?  Well, I’ll tell you, and this I know for certain.

I will go to my office, grab my coat, and without a backward glance or a word to anyone, I will simply walk out, never to return.  I will head East (or North, or West, or South… I don’t know, I’m geographically challenged, people!) until I can go no further. I will take a new name, put down roots in a new town, with a new job, and new people who will never, ever know of “the incident” that plagues my past.

They might speak of me around my “old” office, after I’m gone. But in the context of “that crazy woman in marketing who just up and walked out one day,” and NOT “the woman in the corner office who peed herself last Wednesday.”

I’m good with crazy. Oh yes. Definitely, crazy.

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.”

Holidaze at the Office

Relationships with co-workers can be interesting. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t hang out with each other outside of work, but we spend more time with each other than we do with our friends. You’re not exactly friends, at least not in the outside world, yet you still find yourself engaged in distracting, pointless conversations in the break room and you still make jokes and talk about your weekend plans (that they — or you — aren’t invited to). Some of these coworkers are just email buddies or part of your phone conference cliques… you never actually meet in the office, let alone in real life. It’s a unique situation. These awkward connections are made all the more obvious during those universally loved mandatory office functions.

And as we all know, it’s that time of year. Yep. I got the email invite to the office holiday party this past week.  I have just one word to say about that… help!  I’ll be forced to meet the people I’ve been emailing from ten feet away. Ugh.

Oh, I forgot to mention.  We’re having a Secret Santa gift exchange this year instead of a cookie exchange. Really!? It’s like they’re adding insult to injury. Last year I got a myriad of sweet treats to take home (who am I kidding, they never made it out of my office)…  this year I could get any sort of awful thing.  And then I have to get someone else a gift, cause, you know, that’s how these things work. Good grief doesn’t even cover it. But it’s the holidays, so I’m trying to curb my cursing in hopes that Santa has short-term memory loss and won’t remember the rest of the year’s colorful sentence enhancers.

Isn’t it crazy how you can work with someone for years and still not know anything about them? I know what most of my coworkers had for breakfast and which kid got suspended last week, but gift ideas? No, not a clue. How do you shop for someone you don’t really know? There’s so-and-so who eats a half-dozen donuts every day, but I can’t get them a Krispy Kreme gift card, right? I’m thinking that would be rude. I can think of a few who could really use muzzles, but HR told me that would be frowned upon, and I’m really trying to avoid HR this year.

We’re drawing names out of a hat this coming week for the Secret Santa thing… I just hope I pick the person in the cubbyhole next to mine so that I can gift them with a set of pens that don’t click. It would save us both a lot of heartache – and bail money – in the end.

Speaking of holiday parties, ours is apparently having alcohol again this year. Alcohol makes every party at work 500 times more interesting. Trust me, that’s a fact. Just about everyone ends up imbibing (I mean, it’s a party with your coworkers… you do what you need to do to push through), but there are always those people who are somehow plastered a half hour into the party. How do they get so drunk so quickly? Personally, I think they start the celebration a little early with a nip in the office kitchen. These are usually the folks that are dancing with the hat rack, wearing the wreath from reception around their neck, and there isn’t even any music playing.

Of course, there’s the requisite mistletoe melodrama… the coworkers who use it as an excuse to get chummy and try their best to make it seem spontaneous when, in fact, they’ve been practicing all week. You see, we don’t have mistletoe in the office. I know, right!? That’s part of the whole plot… it’s discovered in one of the coworkers’ pockets as part of an elaborate mise-en-scène. Frankly, the rest of us are getting bored with the whole show, because it’s been the gal from finance and the guy from the warehouse two years running now. Come on, people! We need a couple of fresh faces to step up in the office affair department to make things a little more interesting this time next year.

What it all comes down to is this; basically, there are two groups of people at these events: the people acting like they’re at a college party rather than sharing eggnog with their boss and their boss’ boss who flew in from Toledo just for the event, and the rest of us who just want to go home. Can you guess which group I’m in?

Cause you just know that at some point someone is busting out a karaoke machine. It’s just a matter of time. You only hope that you get an emergency call from home before then… or somehow tranquilized. What is it about booze and karaoke machines that make people who don’t get it think that they’ve got it? Is there a volume lower than mute? Where’s that button on the karaoke machine is what I’d like to know.

I always find a buddy to drink with – misery loves company after all. We all have that one work buddy. Our Office BFF.  We laugh at everyone else, talk about how much we want to leave and generally contemplate the repercussions of the evening.

I guess it’s better than that corporate group retreat where we did trust training. I’m still scarred from my trust fall with Bart from accounting. Yikes.

** This post was brought to you by holiday drinking.  Thank you for making us all, in the words of the great Clark Griswold, “the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse” this holiday season.

Feline Musings for a Sunday Evening

It’s that time during your otherwise enjoyable Sunday evening when it hits you that the weekend is over and you’re trying desperately to hide from Monday but deep in your heart you know that it’s just going to come around no matter how hard you try to keep it at bay, it always does, and besides, your hiding spot has holes in it so no matter how quiet you are, Monday would see you anyway and then you remember that you’re a cat so who even cares about Mondays, and you breathe a sigh of relief cause being a cat is cool, and you decide you kinda like your new hiding spot despite the holes that give away your position and in fact, the holes make it interesting and at least you don’t have Monday to worry about cause, you know… you’re a cat. And cats are cool.

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!