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.

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.

Kiosk Hawkers vs Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve discovered this past week that the “after-holiday shopping and returns” is almost as bad as the original holiday shopping. On an ordinary day, the mall is a place where an introvert like me can go to blend in. There are people, yeah, but not mobs of people… just enough that no one stands out.  I can shop in peace, unnoticed, buy a soft pretzel, and slip back into the trickle of shopping traffic without drawing any attention. But this past week, whew!  There were gads of people. More than there were pre-holiday, I think. Forget about going unnoticed… that will just get you run over as you try to jump back into the rush of shoppers surging through the corridor while leaving a store.

Even if I’m not squashed by fellow mallgoers, there are bigger problems afoot at times like these: unexpected social interaction. Usually caused by… wait for it… Kiosk Hawkers.

I think I’m safe in saying that we all try to avoid them. I mean, we know they’re out there, with their “magic” lotions and creams, and their eyebrow threading stations, but if we’re careful, we can avoid being targeted. The strong and resolute can make it through the gauntlet without being harassed – I don’t know how, by virtue of their aura alone, I suppose. Some of us have strategies, like pretending we’re on the phone (that one’s my favorite). Or walking closely behind the group of people in front of us so that solicitors won’t see us. You know, strength in numbers. Or we just avoid eye contact altogether and with our heads down and ears closed, desperately keep moving along.

I know that the Kiosk Hawkers are just doing their job, but I’ll be honest. I loathe them.  I could recount numerous encounters to validate my point of view. Like the time the perfume lady sprayed me without asking first and, being sensitive to many smells, including, apparently, the one she sprayed me with, my throat started to close-up and it required a quick trip to the ER. That was fun.

Oh, but here’s a better story. One unfortunate day, too distracted by my soft pretzel and lemonade, my guard was down, my defenses were weak. I looked up. There he was. I inadvertently locked eyes with the shoeshine guy. Oh yeah, my mall has a shoeshine guy, who will, I’m convinced, stop at nothing to snag any innocent shopper and convince them to get their shoes shined. He even shines sneakers! I mean, when was the last time you put on your tennis shoes and said, “Man, these babies could use a nice glow”? Maybe people like their sneakers with a mirror glaze. I wouldn’t know about that. Back in my day, the more dirt and scuffs you had on your Vans #95, the cooler you were! It meant you probably owned a skateboard, rode a sweet scooter, and jumped fences.

Sneakers aside, how does this man convince anyone to stand (yes, stand… not sit) – with their foot up on a crate – in the middle of the mall filled with hundreds of people so he can scrub their shoes? Does he threaten to destroy their family? Does he walk up to them and quietly whisper through his corny smile, “Come with me if you want to live?” It’s beyond me. I just don’t get it!

Anyway, on the fateful day in question, I made the worst mistake a shopper can make where Kiosk Hawkers are concerned. I made eye contact. To a Kiosk Hawker, eye contact is the equivalent of having a neon sign on your forehead that says, “Pick me!”  What was I thinking?! I wasn’t prepared for this! He called to me and began eagerly insisting that my shoes were dirty, and I needed a shoeshine. He started rambling on about how a person should always look their best. Then I understood! These were his weapons. This was his tactic: tell an unsuspecting shopper that their shoes are filthy, causing them to feel insecure, making them question why they left their house, and every other choice they’d made up to that point.

Refusing to be easy prey, a boldness rose from somewhere deep within my anxiety-riddled being. “Nice try,” I thought to myself. A fairly strong “No thank you!” bubbled out, and I picked up my pace putting some distance between us. Undeterred, he followed, continuing his spiel along the way. I’m telling you, I barely escaped. But I was in the clear!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the most bizarre thing about this whole encounter: I was wearing flip-flops! He wanted to shine my flip-flops! Did the guy even look at my feet before throwing his sales pitch?  I didn’t even think flip-flops qualified as shoes, let alone need a shine. In my mind, I’m thinking, “Is there anything this guy won’t shine?” Would he have given me a discount considering that I had almost nothing on my feet? Or would there have been an additional fee since it would’ve been more like a pedicure? And just for the record… ewwww.

It’s moments like these where I think that a Zombie Apocalypse might not be so bad. Of course, there’s the whole potentially getting eaten by zombies thing, but that’s still better than getting trapped by a Kiosk Hawker.

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.

 

Waffle Fries, Anyone?

The holidays are upon us, and you know what that means.  Deliveries!

I’m telling you, online shopping is the best thing since waffle fries.  I can sit on my couch in my jammies and work through my gift list with a cup of coffee, two dogs, and two cats beside me.  I can meander to my mailbox in my jammies – or only as far as my front door if I’m lucky, to get said packages.  Then, warm and toasty in my jammies I wrap presents while not-so-daintily slurping hot cocoa with massive amounts of whipped cream on top.  Hmmm… I sense a clothing trend in my choices. Oh well, I don’t care. Online shopping completely eliminates the worst part of the holidays for me: last-minute shopping crowds.   It’s an easy choice… stay home and avoid people – in my jammies – all while still getting my shopping done.   Success!

Whatever takes the stress off, I say. Because the holidays are stressful enough without adding to it.

The thing I love most about Christmas is finding the one thing, that one gift, that will make someone smile. I mean, it’s awesome. I love it. But… it wouldn’t hurt my feelings any if, as a societal group, we just decided to forego the holiday gifts. When you think about it, if I buy you a candle for $25 and you give me a $25 gift card to Target, we’re just recycling our money. What’s the point?

We could all just keep our money and spend the season baking, watching movies, sharing stories, playing games, volunteering, and of course, eating. 

Think about how much simpler the whole holiday season would be. You wouldn’t have to shop or make returns or think about what to get your boss, other than that “#1 Boss” mug. Nonprofits would have a larger influx of volunteers than they already have this time of year.  It would kind of be bliss, really.

I doubt this will happen any time soon, at least here in the US.  The commercialism game is just too strong. But it’s an interesting thought.

That was my doorbell – boy, that package got here fast. Gotta go!

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.