Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Things That Make You Feel Old

     I have yet another birthday coming up in May and have noticed that quite a few well-known people share the year of my birth. George Clooney, Eddie Murphy, Wayne Gretzky, and the president of the United States were all born the same year as I was. You can also add Toby Keith, Michael J. Fox, and the Karate Kid (the first one) to the list.
     I imagine they, like me, are feeling a bit longer in the tooth lately, especially if they stop to realize that there are now full-grown adults in the world who have only a vague memory of the 20th century. Do the math. People born in 1995 will turn eighteen years old this year. That means they were not yet in Kindergarten at the turn of the century.
     These people have a clear memory of just two U.S. presidents. The first Gulf War was over before they were conceived. They have never known a world without the personal computer. In fact, they likely don't remember much of the world before You Tube, which has been around since February of 2005.
     And that, I think, contributes to the grumpy old man talks I find myself giving to my children, who -- like their father before them -- just don't appreciate how good they have it.  They are pretty much convinced at this point that I roamed the Earth with dinosaurs because they cannot envision a world without the Internet.
     "What do you mean there were only three TV channels when you were a kid?" they ask.  "Why didn't you just watch TV on your phone?"
     They are also fascinated by the fact that cars exist without onboard DVD systems, that telephones used to be attached to walls, and that, once upon a time, in the distant past, there was something called a chalkboard.  (They are now known as Promethean boards.)
     As much as I try not to start every discussion with, "When I was your age ...," I find I can't stop myself.  I get retroactively jealous that I didn't have a TV in my room, much less a computer. There was one TV in the entire house, and my parents decided what we watched. It was a really big deal that you could play something call Pong on that set.
     I know. Poor, pitiful me. First world problems. I had it way better than my own parents. My mother was born in a home without electricity or indoor plumbing. As a child, that fascinated me. I also interrogated my folks on what it was like to be courting during the birth of rock and roll. Surely, they had great stories about Elvis and carhops and Ike and everything that I found really cool from the 1950's.
    What I discovered is that they were too busy with their lives to take note of the history happening around them.  As a child, I remember thinking that my parents must have lived in very primitive times. My kids, I'm sure, also think of my youth as something that happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way. 
     If you understand that reference, and first saw that movie in a theater, you can join the rest of us geezers as we sit on the porch, chew our cud and tell the young whippersnappers to get the hell out of our yard.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Show and Tell, The Gateway Drug

Sometimes, I have to stop the evil side of my brain from taking over. The other night, my seven-year-old daughter was scrambling around trying to find something that she could bring to school for Show and Tell. 
     You see, there was this one time, when she brought a plastic helmet she had worn while exploring a cave. From all reports, she did a fine job showing and telling what the helmet was used for. She even learned a new word. Spelunking, after all, sounds much more exotic than caving. Her fellow second-graders, though, while attentive, had little to add to the presentation.
 
     But then there was that other time, when she brought her hamster to show and tell about. (Actually, her mom brought in the hamster, fearing that transport by the child might be problematic.)  The hamster, from a second-graders viewpoint, was super cool. Who needs a boring old helmet when you can see a real, live rodent? It was such a major hit that Mom nearly had to bulldoze the little tykes out of the way to get it back home.
  
     But as musicians, filmmakers and writers throughout history have found, having a major hit only puts pressure on you to come up with another hit. Hence, the stress over what could top the hamster. I wanted to tell her that nothing else she had would top the previous show and tell, but that seemed harsh. Mom solved the issue by decreeing that other kids in her class could step up to the plate and that our daughter would not be taking anything to that day's Show and Tell.
  
      It got me to thinking that Show and Tell is simply the school system's way of getting you comfortable with standing up in front of a crowd and talking. It will inevitably lead to the Book Report, which is far less entertaining than Show and Tell. Then, there's the What I Did On My Summer Vacation speech, even lower on the entertainment scale. And, ultimately, as adults, we find ourselves sitting through the coma-inducing Power Point presentation on Sales Goals for the Quarter.
     Has anyone ever sat through a Power Point that they wanted to see again?  I once had the misfortune to be trapped in a small room with a man who followed up the mandatory opening joke by putting up a Power Point slide and then reading the text of that slide. Those of us in the room already had a printout of the presentation, so we could read along, which begs the question of why, exactly, does this guy need an overhead projector?
     When I was in school, (said the grumpy old man) we didn't have anyone plugging a computer into the wall to lead us toward glassy-eyed indifference. We had film strips that went beep. And, as the saying goes, we liked it.
      Preachers, teachers, sales managers and many, many others have bored me over the years, but it's not something you can easily talk to them about.  Saying, "Wow, I found your speech incredibly dull!" would, I presume, result in one of those awkward silences you read about. And, in fact, it's partly my own fault. I am easily bored. But it wouldn't hurt those public speakers to bring a hamster along every now and then.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thelma Lou's Friends and Family

     Before The Big Bang Theory or whatever else the kids are laughing at on TV these days; before Seinfeld, MASH, All in the Family or The Brady Bunch, there was a show on television that made me laugh more consistently than any other.
     I am just slightly too young to have remembered the first run of The Andy Griffith Show, but I've been watching it reruns for dozens of glorious years.  The writing, specifically in the first few seasons of the show, is unparalleled. I find it hard to imagine a universe where there is no character called Ernest T. Bass.
    But my subject today is not Ernest T. I want to talk about Thelma Lou and her friends and family.  Whenever there was a need on the show to emphasize romantic comedy, Thelma Lou came through. Fans will remember the touching scene where Barney describes to Andy what he would say to Thelma Lou -- if he could actually work up the courage to speak to her. And, once they were a couple, Thelma Lou provided the means to introduce romantic complications.
     There was the time when her cousin, Mary Grace, was visiting and she wouldn't go out on a date unless Barney could find someone to escort Mary Grace. 
     "She's a dog!" Barney complained, but the situation set up a great episode in which Gomer is convinced that if Mary Grace is not pretty, she is, at least, "Ni-i-i-ice."
     Then there's Thelma Lou's cousin, Karen, who shows Andy (in 1962 yet) that women are more capable and more complicated than he might realize.
     My favorite moment, though, is a brief scene, brilliantly played by Josie Lloyd, in the episode, "Barney Mends A Broken Heart."  Andy has had a tiff with his girlfriend, so Barney and Thelma Lou show up with her friend, Lydia Crosswaithe.  Barney, trying desperately to make a love connection, says Lydia must like the outdoors, leading to the classic response:
     "I hate the outdoors. When I go out into the sun, I get the herpes."
      Okay, what about guitars? Andy plays the guitar.
      "I hate the guitar. I don't mind the clarinet or the saxophone, but I hate the guitar."
      And then one final comment about chit-chat.
     "I hate chit-chat. I don't mind ordinary conversation, but I hate chit-chat."
     That last line has resonated with me for years. I, too, absolutely hate chit-chat.  Unlike Lydia, I am able to engage in it, but it comes at a price. My personality changes from its natural state of a grouchy, old man to that of an overbearing redneck. You cannot, after all, be grumpy when discussing the tedious details of the lives of people you don't really care about.
     So, at least according to my wife, my accent changes along with my demeanor. I become a good ol' boy -- chewing the fat, shooting the breeze, passing the time of day. I reckon I just cain't deal with them thar chit-chatters 'lessin I relax a might. And the transformation is mostly unnoticed on my part. I don't intentionally change the way I speak, but because I despise social interaction so much, I've developed this  method to deal with it.
     I once said that blissful solitude is its own reward, and my wife well knows how difficult it is to get me to attend social functions. So, just as the Internet meme, describes the Multiverse theory as one in which there is at least one world where you ... are Batman, there must be universe somewhere (or a past life if you believe in reincarnation) in which I ... am Lydia Crosswaithe and Goober always says, "Hey."    
     

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why I'm Not A Nazi

    The short answer for the title of this post is that the National Socialist Party was declared to be illegal following World War II and, therefore, by definition, no one these days can properly call themselves a Nazi, although there are still some today who follow its misguided precepts. 
     On the Internet, though, people are called Nazis all the time, especially those individuals who believe that proper grammar, spelling, punctuation and pronunciation are important. I am one of those individuals, called by the ignorant and uneducated a grammar Nazi. But, like some of my friends in the online world, I am now declaring myself to be a grammar Jedi.
     The Jedi, as you may recall, are people who use their knowledge and wisdom (and skills with a lightsaber) to combat the dangers of the dark side of the Force. I would suggest that the folks who don't care whether their speaking and writing ability accurately reflects the norms of the English language have fallen victim to the dark side.
     These semi-literate rubes become defensive whenever their ill-used grammar is pointed out to them, so they fight back with name-calling.
     "I may have said that wrong," they proclaim, "but you are a grammar Nazi."
    The connotation here is that nobody really cares about good grammar, and if you do, you should be associated with a political movement that believed in the superiority of certain races and the annihilation of others. In debate, that's known as an ad hominem attack. If you cannot refute the message, attack the messenger.
     Defenders of proper English usage have been subjected to such attacks for many years. To be fair, some of them deserved a bit of recrimination because they were so insufferably arrogant in correcting others. I'm reminded of the apocryphal story of Winston Churchill replying to  a memo from someone who had told him he shouldn't end a clause with a preposition. 
     He reportedly said, "This is the kind of tedious nonsense, up with which I will not put."
     Because English, unlike French, has no definitive set of usage rules, we Jedi must be careful about who and how we choose to correct. Common usage sometimes trumps the so-called rules of the language. As you can see from the sentence above, I, for one, think it's time to default to using the word "who" and let "whom" go the way of "thee" and "thou."
    That being said, I believe we Jedi masters must still wage some battles when the forces of the dark side began to invade our speech. I do so with my children in a gentle, but firm manner whenever they utter words like "brung." The other day, I explained to my daughter that misused and mispronounced words are a pet peeve of mine. I then had to explain to her what pet peeve meant.
    Herewith, a brief synopsis of those grammatical pet peeves:

Saying "I seen it," instead of "I saw it."
Pronouncing the word wash as if it rhymed with horse.
Being unable to put the three syllables NEW, KLEE, and ER in the word nuclear.
Adding an unnecessary plural to a business that doesn't need it, as in "I'm going to Walmarts."

    Each of these utterances have come from close friends and family, so I hesitate to correct them overtly. But, as a Jedi, my mission is clear. May the Force be with us.

   
    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Story of Captain Charles Boycott

     There's a little known story from Irish history about a land agent who got on the wrong side of a group of tenant farmers during the Irish Land War.  For reasons that I won't detail here, this man ended up being ostracized by the farmers and, in fact, by a whole community. That man's name was Charles Boycott.
    Because of the shunning of Boycott, the practice of not doing business with someone because you didn't like their politics first got its name, although the practice had existed before Boycott himself was, er, boycotted. Some three centuries later, boycotts are more popular than ever, thanks in part to the Internet and to the tendency of some people to jump on whatever bandwagon comes along.
     Historically, boycotts have proven to be an effective means of economic coercion.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott is one example of people deciding that they didn't need to pay their hard-earned money just to be mistreated. By the way, I expect anyone who wants to know more about the Irish Land War or the Montgomery Bus Boycott has the ability to Google those topics.
    More recently, though, boycotts have seemed to be more about calling attention to a perceived offense, rather than actually affecting social change. You may remember that President Jimmy Carter had the U.S. boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviets returned the favor by refusing to send Olympians to Los Angeles. 
     Neither of those boycotts did anything to affect foreign policy. They accomplished nothing other than hurting those athletes who had trained for years to participate in a competition that they were barred from.  In the 21st century, most boycotts have devolved from noble causes into essentially personal vendettas against individuals.
     The most egregious example of this is when a group decides that they don't like a particular TV or radio show. Rather than doing something radical like changing the channel, they contact the advertisers who support the show they don't like and threaten a boycott if the companies don't pull their ads. That seems more like blackmail than an actual boycott.
      For the record, I maintain boycotts against two local businesses whose owners have been disrespectful to me over the years. I doubt they suffer much without my patronage, and I don't actively encourage other people not to do business with them. I simply take my business elsewhere, so I understand the concept. I just think it's mostly misapplied.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Connections

     I wrote a post the other day on Facebook about inspiration coming from the most unexpected places, and I've now decided that it comes, in fact, from every place. Anything you do, see, hear, smell or read can spark an idea.  So can everybody you know.
     Because I've now been lucky enough to live in the same community for more than 30 years, I know a lot of people in my little town.  Unfortunately, I'm terrible at putting names to faces, so whenever one of them stops to chat at the store, I smile and nod and then whisper to my wife, "Who was that?" Still, I can open the local phone book and find someone I know on every single page.
     No, I don't live in Mayberry, although one of these days I'll write a blog on Thelma Lou's cousins. My community is bigger than Mayberry. It had about 72,000 citizens at the last census, and I know at least ten percent of them by name.
     Don't get me wrong. I don't actively socialize with 7,000 people. In fact, given the choice, I wouldn't socialize with anyone. I'm a hermit at heart. Blissful solitude is its own reward. So how do I know all of these people? Connections. No, not social media connections, but real-life connections. I've met them in the course of my work. Or at church. Or because their kids and my kids know each other. And, yes, I suppose I came to know some of them through social media. All of them inspire me in one way or another. And they will all eventually find their way into my writing.
     Currently, I'm working on a short story inspired by a rodent.  The connection there is Greg, the local pet store owner, who sold the rodent to my wife.  The introduction of the rodent into our household sparked an idea. That idea germinated in my mind for a few days and is now being fleshed out into a story. Not a true story, but a piece of fiction.
    My 7-year-old daughter recently saw a movie that was "based on a true story," so now she wants to know if every movie she watches "really happened."  The answer is usually, "No, it's just make-believe." But perhaps the better answer would be, "If real people and real things inspired the writer to create the story, then maybe, it is true."

Why Being Popular May Not Be Important

     Once upon a time, when my daily job was to deliver news on the radio, I would check a variety of websites to see what the most popular stories were.  It was a way to make sure that my editorial judgment was in line with what my listeners were actually interested in. But, sometimes, I had to veto the popular vote and ignore the most popular story of the day.
     I rationalized my vetoes on the theory that most of the listeners had already heard about the most popular story of the day, and would also benefit from hearing other stories that they had not come across. But, in some cases, I just didn't think most popular equated to most newsworthy.
     You can easily guess on most days what the lead story is going to be on the national news. Today, for example, it will be the formal charges filed against the suspect in the Boston marathon bombings. That's my prediction as this is written, barring anything major occurring between now and the evening news.
     You might also be able to guess what the most popular story of the day has been for most of the past 24 hours. The Boston bomber is in the chase, but most people want to read more about Reese Witherspoon's disorderly conduct arrest.  I'm not sure what that says about us. Perhaps, it's just that we're humans, still interested in rubber-necking at accidents and gossiping over the back fence.
     When I was a practicing journalist, people would occasionally ask me why I didn't report on this or that story. And, inevitably, the answer would be that the listener just wasn't interested.  If cable news channels have shown us anything, it's that people want to watch news that interests them, not news that should interest them. On the same news cycle that chronicled Ms. Witherspoon's troubles, readers could have learned about the Taliban kidnapping a helicopter crew or about a man killing four people in Washington State. Both of those were in the top ten, right next to "news" about Kardashians.
     I think I'm glad I don't have make those kind of decisions anymore. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Just The Facts, Please

     When I was younger, I watched the old "Dragnet" TV show with Jack Webb. As Sgt. Joe Friday, Webb would be interviewing a witness to the crime of the week when that witness began to offer opinions about the terrible state of the world.  Joe Friday would then say, "All we want are the facts, Ma'am." That phrase later morphed, thanks to a parody song, into Friday reportedly saying, "Just the facts, Ma'am." But just as Sherlock Holmes never said (in the Arthur Conan Doyle books), "Elementary, my dear Watson," Friday never said, "Just the facts." 
     I mention this because I've received far too many e-mails and seen far too many postings urging me to do something about an outrageous situation. And I have never yet, when doing just a little bit of research, found the information in these cyber chain letters to be true.
     One of the more recent ones is the claim that (random soda company) chose to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance that they printed on their soda cans. The posting then urges that, whatever else I do, don't buy their product. I'll save for a later time what I think of boycotts, but let's address what's really going on here.
     What that soda company actually did was to print some cans, in the days following 9/11, that said "One Nation. Indivisible." In other words, they were expressing the sentiment that terrorist acts would not divide our nation. They never intended to print the pledge. Their intent was to put three words on the side of a can. But the "under God" fallacy forced them to quickly remove those cans from the market.
     So why, more than a decade later, am I still seeing posts about this?  It's because people are lazy. They sit in front of their computer screen, see something that, as the joke goes, "seems legit," and immediately share it with all of their social media friends.  The ones involving God and patriotism seem to have more staying power, but they run the gamut of the political spectrum. 
     My issue is not that people want to tell their friends about something of import. My gripe is that it takes all of three seconds to Google the information and find the truth.  That's just two seconds more than it takes to immediately hit the Share button without checking the facts. Do me and Joe Friday a favor. All we want are the facts.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A New Beginning

     As you can see by the date, it's been nearly two years since I posted something on this site. That was intentional.  This blog was initially set up as a favor to a former employer who wanted a local news link on their website.  I wrote the news for them, so it made sense that they would get some extra work out of me for free. Then one day, they decided that we should (ahem) part ways, so I decided to stop posting here. Oddly, my lack of activity didn't prevent people from stopping by.
     With absolutely no new content, I'd consistently get more than a thousand page views a month. On one occasion, a Nashville TV station used this blog to research one of their investigative reports. Unfortunately, they didn't ask first, nor did they pay me for use of my image or content. Such is life.
     From this point forward, there will be little, if any, so-called news on this blog. It will be the place for me to express myself, either through fiction, reminiscence, or opinion. It may sometimes be a combination of all of those things. It will, I hope, be a place where my writing, which has been dormant for far too long, can flourish.
     I will also tweet when the mood hits me @jimherrin and, although by nature I'm a grumpy, anti-social hermit most of the time, I usually accept friend requests on Facebook. You can also circle me on Google Plus. Those three social media platforms are my limit for now, but who knows what the future holds? Two years ago, I wasn't expecting to be told that my services were no longer needed.
     My beautiful bride has been telling me for years that I should write more. My excuse had always been that I wrote all the time. You can see evidence of that from the more than 2,000 blog posts in the archive.  But with nigh on 24 months gone, it's time to start anew.  Let's all enjoy the journey together.