Friday, September 27, 2013

Clueless

     It all began with the toilet paper. It was not, as you might expect, a disagreement over whether the roll should come over the top or go underneath. It was the realization, some twenty years ago, that I had no clue what women are really like.
      I had been a single man, blithely using maybe a roll of toilet paper every couple of weeks.  I'd get a four-pack, and when the last of the four went on the roll, I'd remind myself that I needed to pick some up the next time I went shopping. After all, how many times do you use toilet paper in a single day? I was soon schooled by my newlywed wife. One never buys JUST a four-pack. In fact, if you're down to four rolls of toilet paper, you need to drop what you're doing and rush to the store to re-supply.
     Jane, I realized, used lots more of the stuff than I did.  My use of it was limited. I used toilet paper in the way that my ancestors used the Sears catalog or a random corn cob for. Jane, on the other hand, went through the T.P. like no one I had ever known.  
     In addition to, shall we say, its traditional use, Jane used it to take care of a runny nose. She also used it to assist her in removing make-up. I don't know how. She used it to clean the mirror, to wipe down the counter and, for all I know, to brush her teeth. Usage of this particular product had gone way, way up once a female was added to the household.
     And then there was the closet. When we bought our house, I was impressed by the size of the closet in the master bedroom. I had never had a walk-in closet and couldn't imagine how we would use all of the space that it afforded us.  I mean, how much room could a couple of dozen shirts and pants take up?  Once again, I was clueless.
     I had some clothes. Jane had a wardrobe. She had summer outfits, winter outfits, spring outfits, fall outfits, formal outfits, informal outfits, clothes that used to fit but were now too small, clothes that used to fit but were now too big, clothes she bought and then decided she didn't like and clothes she had not worn in several years but just couldn't get rid of because of some sentimental attachment.
      Our spacious closet became crammed (and cramped) with her stuff.  If I added up every single piece of clothing I have ever owned, it would be still be less than the number of red shirts that Jane has right now. And she doesn't particulary like red. She also has masses of blue, green, brown, purple, black and white shirts. And pants. And shoes. Oh, the shoes.
     I came into our marriage with a pair of tennis shoes and a couple of pair of dress shoes. That's what I have today.  Jane has hundreds of sandals, heels, flats, running shoes, walking shoes, dancing shoes and, at least count, five different colored pairs of Chuck Taylor sneakers. Her wardrobe now takes up ninety percent of our very spacious closet.
    I have a nugatory nook for my stuff, some of which I decided to move out of the closet so Jane could have adequate space. It's what you do when you're married. If I've learned anything in twenty years of marriage (and that's a debatable point), it's that when your spouse is happy, you are happy.  And if it takes a few gross of toilet paper to keep her happy, I'll certainly oblige.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Impulse Control, Part 2

     Having written about sequels the other day reminded me that I needed to do a sequel to my original blog post on controlling impulses. The first blog dealt mainly with controlling physical impulses like eating and drinking.  I don't have much of a problem with that.  I have a much more difficult time controlling what you might call mental impulses, or the need to spout off on whatever is in my head at the moment.
     A co-worker said to me this week that she was concerned about getting older because her joints would ache whenever it rained.  I could have offered some platitude about how she was actually very young and need not worry overmuch. Instead, I piped up and said, "The good news is it'll only get worse from here on out."
     It was meant as a joke and was taken as a joke, but it was also the very first thing that popped into my mind and, therefore, the first thing that came out of my mouth.
    There's an old saying about having your brain in gear before you put your mouth in motion, but, frankly, that's not been very helpful to me.  My brain is constantly in gear. It's usually gearing up to say something snarky. Many times I can stop the comment from reaching my lips, but many times I simply cannot. It's gotten to the point with my wife that I don't actually have to say anything.  She looks at me, sees that I'm about to say something, and tells me to shut up.
     Others, who don't have my wife's experience with me, very often don't know how to react. So let me assure all of you that if you think I'm making a joke, you are correct. It may be a lame joke, but it's still intended as a joke, not a thoughtful, insightful comment on whatever it is we were talking about.
     For example, one Christmas my sister was struggling to come up with a word to describe my niece's newest boyfriend. She said, "I'm not sure if I should call him a friend, or a boyfriend, or a fiance, or what."
     I said, "How about future ex?"
     My niece didn't find the remarkin nearly as humorous as I did, but she also doesn't have to deal with the clutter created by all of the things I DON"T say.  Thousands of potential responses flash through my mind for every one that gets by the filters.
     And I do have filters. After all, it wasn't me, it was my wife who once said to a friend, "I'm sorry. I don't speak mumble."
     So when you combine my tendency to pipe up with an inappropriate comment and my wife's inability to NOT say what's on her mind, you can see that our children are destined to unintentionally tick people off for many years to come.
     We were enjoying a picnic lunch the other day in a public park when some cyclists came through. My eight-year-old daughter looked at them and loudly proclaimed, "Bicycles? Really? We're trying to eat here."
    Mom and I gently scolded her while laughing quietly to ourselves.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Some Things Cannot Be Improved

     My friend Adam wrote a post on Facebook the other day about movie sequels that Hollywood would never make, but that he would "totally pay to see." That list included Blade Runner 2 and Back to the Future IV. Adam is a geek of the highest order and knows far more about comic book and sci-fi movies than I ever will. But, like many fanboys, he is yearning for stories that are best left untold. 
     Adam could do a dissertation on all of the various incarnations of Batman or Superman and what worked or didn't work with each one. He would admit, I think, that there have been more disappointing adaptations than there have been exciting, well-made versions. But he will still pay to see the next film in the franchise because he couldn't live with himself if he didn't. 
     My wife, Jane Ellen, is like that with some movies. Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings come to mind.  Jane is a member of the "Han Shot First" brigade.  She's still annoyed that George Lucas added extra special effects on the re-releases of the original films. And she, like most of the planet, was extremely disappointed in the mess that was Episode I: The Phantom Menace.But that didn't keep her from plopping down cash for Episodes II and III.
     I remember telling her before Revenge of the Sith started, "I bet by the end of the movie, Anakin will become Darth Vader." She elbowed me in the ribs.
     Adam and Jane are trying to recapture the magic they felt when they first saw great movies in the theater. But what made those movies great were fresh, original ideas, not a rehashing or, as Hollywood likes to say, a "re-imagining" of an old story. There are exceptions. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a better movie than Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but, again, only because it told a better story.
     If I were a Hollywood executive, I would have never given the green light to The Lone Ranger movie, and -- in hindsight -- I would've been correct. I also wouldn't have greenlighted the remake of True Grit because, for all of their talent, the Coen brothers could not resurrect John Wayne, who shall always be Rooster Cogburn. And I wouldn't have OK'd any of the Transformers movies. I would still have been right in making those decisions, but I would've lost my studio millions of dollars.
     It's not creative inspiration, but the opportunity to make lots and lots of money that drives Hollywood decision making these days. How else do you explain plans to make Jurassic Park 4? (By the way, both Jane and Adam will probably shell out cash to see that movie, too.) And while Adam had an impressive list of sci-fi superhero films that deserve sequels, I would submit that some films simply cannot be improved.
     No writer will come up with a better script for Casablanca. No actor will turn in a better performance than Jimmy Stewart did for It's A Wonderful Life. No director will make a better version of North By Northwest. And yet, in my darker moments, I envision a Hollywood executive thinking that Return to Casablanca, It's A MORE Wonderful Life, and Further North and West are blockbusters in the making.
     But only if they're shot in 3-D.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Impulse Control

    Let me tell you something about me that many people find irksome. I have an apparently unusual ability to control my impulses, especially when it comes to food. It annoys my wife to no end.
    When Jane Ellen gets up in the morning, she has to have a cup (or five) of coffee before she can start functioning. I have several co-workers who, even after their morning cups at home, arrive at the office and fix a pot of coffee so they can get through the morning. They're surprised that I don't drink coffee. It's not that I don't like the taste. It's just that it doesn't really help me become more awake than I already am.
     I once interviewed a drug counselor who said something like, "If you try meth one time, you'll be addicted." And I'm sure he was correct about the effect of that particularly vile concoction on the majority of the population.  And yet my first thought was, "Not me. I could try meth once and then never use it again."  (Of course, I've never tested this particular hypothesis because I know what's in meth, and I don't want those ingredients in my body.)
     I find it hard to imagince ingesting any substance that I don't make a conscious choice about.  I may have a craving for one thing or another, (pepperoni comes to mind), but if I choose not to act on that craving, it goes away. It's difficult for me to understand how people who are alcoholics, drug addicts, or nicotine fiends don't just stop -- if that's what they want to do.
     Apparently, according to the drug counselor, it's all about brain chemistry, and I got lucky. My brain doesn't react to drugs or food or other addictive things in the same way that an addict's brain would.  My wife isn't a drug addict, but would probably admit to being a food addict.  I've noticed that she gets far more pleasure from food than I do, so she has a much more difficult time passing up a delicious  treat than I do. Just thinking about food causes her to salivate.  If there's a bag of potato chips in the house, she can snarf them down in a matter of minutes.
     Me? I can eat a few. Or not. They don't call my name when I walk past the cupboard.
     Some years ago, I drank two or three Mountain Dews every day. Then my wife had baratric surgery, so -- to help her out -- I stopped drinking soda. Cold turkey. No big deal. At least, not for me.
     Jane was grateful, but still amazed that I didn't go through some sort of withdrawal symptoms. But I didn't. I had random cravings, but my innately stubborn nature refused to give in to those cravings. I had decided NOT to drink sodas, and I would decide when to start drinking them again. In fact, I could have kept sodas in the house and ignored them, but I didn't because it would've been an unnecessary temptation for Jane.
     Are you aggravated yet? Then understand that I don't bring up these examples to brag about my incredible ability to resist temptation.  As I say, I just got lucky with my brain chemistry. I know many people who struggle with addictions every day. But I also know that you can do whatever it is that you decide you want to do.  If you know that having a cookie will lead to having a bag of cookies and turn you into a Junk Food Junkie, then DON'T HAVE THE COOKIE. It's really that simple.
    Ok. I'll shut up now.

Monday, September 16, 2013

On Being A Parent

     I must admit that there are times when I think my kids were born with the specific life goal of discovering things that aggravate me, so they could tweak those things on a regular basis.  And there are other times when I wonder how such beautiful, caring individuals came from the DNA of a cantankerous, old grouch like me.
     The other day, at the swimming pool, the girls noticed that someone was a bit frightened to jump into the water, so they offered to hold hands and jump in together.  A small act of kindness, to be sure, but one which was unexpected given their behavior in other situations.
     For example, they were singing a song in the house one day . over and over and over and over again. Then, they began singing it in the car. Then they found out that the song had started to get on their mother's nerves, so they decided to sing it even louder and more often. Finally, my wife had to say, "Do not sing that song anymore!" And, knowing our children so well, she added, "And don't hum it."

      "And don't whistle it."

     "And don't tap it out in Morse code."

     Those extremely specific instructions must be given to our children because they would otherwise keep asking question after question after question.  There's a great scene in "The Family Guy" TV show (which has since been borrowed for a commercial about the Chrome browser) in which Stewie says Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom incessantly, while Lois sits on the bed in a stupor.
     That's what kids are like at a certain age. They seem to be able to drain your every last resource. And yet I've been told that the pre-teen years are the time when parents most enjoy their kids. I think that's probably true. My kids are at that age when they're old enough to know what's expected of them, but young enough to not be embarrassed by my very presence.
     The infant years, on the other hand, were a challenge for me.  I was constantly worried that my babies were going to spontaneously stop breathing, so I was inclined to wake them up at random times just to make sure they were still alive.  And it didn't matter how many diapers I changed (my wife would say not enough), I still couldn't get over the gag response that baby poop brought on.
     It was exciting when they took their first step and said their first word, but, for me anyway, those moments don't compare to the enjoyment I get from going on a walk or having an actual conversation with them.
     I'm not sure who came up with the term Terrible Twos because I don't remember that either of my girls went through that. Maybe I'm just blocking that memory. I do remember that the first day of Kindergarten was especially tough.  The school lets you accompany your child to class on the first day, but then you have to leave. Try being a grown-up man when your child is holding back tears as you walk out the door.
     So now they're in grade school and have learned how to push Dad's buttons. They also pick on each other all the time, just for the fun of it. But they're also turning into really interesting people. We have family movie night; we have sleepovers; we have swim lessons. All the "normal" stuff you get to do with kids.  I should be enjoying every minute of it, and I do, mostly.
     But then I begin to think about how the natural meanness of some children comes out in middle school, and I worry about that. I worry about the mood swings that are undoubtedly coming with puberty. I worry about having to listen to boy bands. I worry about high school. I worry about them learning to drive. I worry about what loser is going to want to date them. In short, I worry too much.
     Then again, that's what parenting is about, right?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why I Don't Have An Outrageous Accent

     You've probably noticed that the Internet is full out of outrage. Some people seem to be offended by just about everything that comes along. I'm not one of those people. I don't get offended by even the most outrageous things. However, I am easily annoyed, which is, I suppose, a mild form of outrage.
     For example,  I once had a co-worker deny knowing anything about  a relatively non-importanat work issue when, in fact, he was the ONLY person in the entire organization who could have had knowledge of it.  He had made a mistake and didn't want to take responsibility for it. I can't say I was outraged, but his insistence that he didn't know what was going on really, really, really annoyed me. I spent far too much  energy that day stewing over why this idiot didn't just say something like, "Oops, my bad," and move on with the day.
     That's the problem with minor annoyances and my reaction to them.  I cannot keep from being annoyed and then I'm annoyed that something so small was annoying to me.  (As a side note, I cannot watch "Annoying Orange" because the show lives up to its title.) Outward annoyance usually leads me to inward reflection, but has yet to provide any kind of enlightenment.
      I don't know why I can't get worked up over the things that set most people off when I can go on a tirade about, say, the old lady in front of me driving FIVE MILES below the speed limit.
     "Oh, come on, Granny! Some of us have places be!" I shout to the dashboard of my car. 
     And yet if someone makes an inappropriate and politically incorrect joke, I either laugh or decide that, regardless of subject matter, the joke just isn't funny. I don't get upset. Even if I did, I wouldn't share the outrage with all my friends on followers on social media in the hope that they might also get upset.
     So why, I ask myself,  do I get genuinely upset when a meeting drags on longer than it should because the speakers can't get to the point, already? Why do I have such a visceral reaction when someone grabs something out of my hand, rather than waiting for me to give it to them?
     I think, probably, because the minor life annoyances all involve me personally, while the the major world problems (take your pick) don't really affect me. 
    The other day, I was asked to edit a piece of writing as a favor to a friend. In other words, I wasn't getting paid.  The writing was so incredibly disorganized and grammatically atrocious that I began to resent the fact that I had to spend so much of my time slogging through it.  I experienced outrage. The rest of the world was expressing outrage (or something close to it) about the Syrian civil war, the NSA, or the plot line of "Sons of Anarchy." Me? I was outraged by poorly written words on a page.
     My priorities are clearly out of whack, but maybe that's a good thing. I have been able to live for many decades in an almost uninterrupted state of constant annoyance. I'm not sure I would have survived being outraged for that long.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What We Have Heah ...

     The art of communication has always fascinated me. My wife has been working recently with someone who is soon to appear on the QVC network to promote a product he has invented. She has been helping him improve the way he presents the information about that product and the way he presents himself to a camera and an audience. She's exceptionally skilled at that kind of work and you should seek her out if you need similar services.
     I like to think I don't need her services because I'm fairly comfortable with public speaking, having spent most of my adult life in the broadcast industry.  And yet I still come across situations where I present  what I believe to be clear and concise information which is, ultimately, misinterpreted or misunderstood.  And, in my experience, the misinterpretation usually comes from a female. This is not misogyny; it's reality.
      I have also been on the receiving end of information that the women around me understand immediately, but which confuses me.  Maybe I'm slow on the uptake, but I believe it's just that I'm a member of the male of the species.
     Some years ago, my wife and I had finished our meal at a dining establishment, and I was getting ready to leave when she proclaimed, "We can't leave. We're next to the salad bar."  I was absolutely befuddled because the salad bar was not blocking the exit and, therefore, not preventing us from leaving.  When I told the story to a female friend, she immediately figured out what I could not. The reason we couldn't leave was because the waitress had not yet come by to pick up her tip, and because we were by the salad bar, some scoundrel getting bean sprouts might steal the tip money from the table, leaving the waitress to think we were cheapskates.
       There have been volumes written on the differences between the way males and females communicate, and I've read much of that material, but I still can't make that intuitive leap that women seem to make. I talk in concrete terms and find myself getting frustrated when I can't make someone understand things that are bleeding obvious to me. Like how to get from Point A to Point B. The example once again involves my wife, who in spite of her great intelligence, claims to be incapable of figuring out which way is north, south, east or west.  
       She cannot, she says, look at a map and then translate the lines on the map to the road in front of us.  This became apparent when we took a vacation trip in the days before GPS. I was driving and she was navigating. As I came up to an intersection on the route, I asked her to tell me which way to turn, and she said, "I don't know." I said, "How can you NOT know?  You're looking right at the map!" Soon after, we decided that she would drive and I would navigate, so that we could actually arrive at our destination in a timely fashion. 
     As I say, my wife is really smart. There's no logical reason that she shouldn't be able to read a map, but she can't. Like many women, she uses landmarks, rather than street names and compass directions to get where she needs to go. Don't tell her to turn north on Main Street; tell her to turn right or left on the road by the billboard with the big hamburger ad on it.
     Fortunately, what she focuses on with her clients is not map-reading, but relaxing and relaying information in an interesting and entertaining fashion. I'm in awe when I watch her natural charisma capture an audience in a way that I never could. She's done wonders improving the presentation skills of the future QVC'er. And, one day, she may even be able to tell him how to get to Carnegie Hall.