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Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

When Terror Got Personal

When I stepped into the shower that bright September morning ten years ago, my only thoughts were of the new job I was starting that day.  The television was running in the background, and Matt and Katie were yukking it up over some silly thing.  It was a good start to a big day.

When I stepped out of the shower, the world had changed.  I heard Matt and Katie talking about something odd, so I stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and dripping wet, to take a look at the TV.  And there was the first tower crowned with billowing smoke and flames.  Wow, I thought, Some idiot flew into the World Trade Center!  What a terrible accident! 

As I stood there transfixed, listening to the confusion on the Today Show set, I watched in horror as the second plane flew into the towers.  This is no accident.  At that point, I knew we were under attack.  Oddly, I still had a job to get to, so I frantically dressed and headed to work, listening to the radio as journalists tried to disseminate exactly what was happening.  When I walked in, a co-worker said that the Pentagon had been hit.   Another said a plane came down in Pennsylvania.

This was personal.

A little while later, all the employees were gathered in silence in the break room, staring at a tiny television screen.  The footage was of the top of the south tower, and as I watched, I realized the top appeared to be twisting slowly.  I remember crying out, but even then, my fear was of the top floors breaking off and falling.  I couldn’t comprehend that these behemoth towers could actually disintegrate totally in such a short period of time.  But as we watched, the top began to sink into the smoke, and down she came, in a terrible groan of despair and death.

This was personal. 

Before that morning, terrorism was something that happened to other people, in other countries.  It was certainly sad to see buses exploding in Israel, bombs going off in Northern Ireland, mayhem in Asia.  But it wasn’t “real” to us.  It was something we watched on TV and we thought (you know it’s true) Thank God that doesn’t happen here. 

My husband was working at a trade show in Salt Lake City that second week of September.  I was home alone, glued to the news shows, crying endlessly and feeling frantic at the thought of him boarding a plane to fly home once the airports reopened days later.  Ever the pragmatist, Hubby pointed out that his convoluted route through Cincinnati to our upstate NY city on commuter jets was probably not a major terrorist target.  He also explained that, even if he could find a rental car, the 1300 mile drive would surely be more dangerous than getting on a plane.  He was right, of course.  But an even bigger shock (ha-ha) was that we were having a serious conversation about which mode of travel in the United States was least likely to be targeted by terrorists.  Our world had changed.

A few weeks later, we had another serious discussion over Hubby’s travel-filled job and our vacation plans.  Should we change our plans?  Avoid the traveling we both loved?  Find a different job that didn’t involve frequent flier miles?  We agreed that we didn’t want to make those choices.  Giving up meant the terrorists succeeded in their plans – they terrorized us into changing our way of living.  Hubby and I looked into each other’s eyes and we agreed to keep flying, as much out of defiance as anything else.  Not only that, but we would agree, whether flying alone or together, to go down fighting if anything happened on our flights.  We promised each other that, in the freak chance that one of us died on a flight targeted by some crazed attacker, the other would know that we stood up and fought. 

Was that a bizarre conversation to have?  On September 10th, 2001, it would have seemed totally crazy.  But after 9/11, I think it made sense.  It gave us a deeply personal commitment to hang on to in a suddenly dangerous world. 

When I fly these days, I have to remember to wear slip-on shoes so that I can remove them easily to be screened for shoe bombs.  Shoe bombs.  Seriously?  Well, yes – seriously.  That’s personal.  I have to carry my passport to go to Canada.  Canada!!  That’s personal.  When I’m traveling, I watch for abandoned pieces of luggage, suspicious backpacks, odd behavior – all as a matter of course.  A machine that sees through my clothing so that I can get on a plane?  Sure, no problem.  That’s personal. 

The world has changed.  But even more important – the world has gone on.  Our American spirit didn’t collapse with the Twin Towers.  We still go to ballgames and work and church and picnics and concerts and parades and weddings and baby showers.  Terror became personal, terror changed our world, but terror did not win.

Lessons On Stuff…

Sometimes life has to hit me over the head multiple times to get a point across.  But as I head into my mid-fifties, I’m finally beginning to understand that most of the “stuff” I’m trying to drag along with me is absolutely worthless. 

I’m not talking about mental stuff (although I’m dragging a lot of that around, too).  I’m talking about actual physical things.  Furniture.  Books.  Clothes.  Art.  Memorabilia.  Chotchkies.  Lots and lots of chotchkies.  A chotchkie (I like that word!) is defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose.”  That, in my opinion, is the perfect definition for too many things currently in my possession. 

I tend to personalize material things, and give them far more importance than they should ever have.  I think I learned that from an early age (sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true!).  Precious “things” have long been saved in our family, and used to decorate every nook and cranny.  Mementoes from vacations, gifts, family heirlooms, clever finds, pretty things, collectibles and things we call collectibles that really aren’t.  I have a hard time parting with any of these items, especially if I’ve had them “forever”.  It feels cruel to me in some bizarre way to discard an item that has traveled through life with me, even if I know I’ll never, ever use it again.  After all, “it’s still perfectly good”. 

To be fair to Mom, it’s not really her fault.  My grandparents on both sides were classic survivors of the Depression, and they frugally saved everything, used it up completely, and even then they wouldn’t part with it.  My Iowa grandparents used bath towels so thin and worn you could literally read through them, while in their closet was a box of plush towels from the famous Marshall Fields department store, a gift from their daughter.  A gift carefully put away for years, because “there was nothing wrong” with the old towels.  They were perfectly good.  When my New York grandmother passed away, we found similar boxes in her closet.  Fancy gifts of bathrobes, towels, and purses, all carefully saved and labeled (“Christmas 1980 – Keith and Darlene”).  Never opened because she hadn’t used up the old ones yet.  This was the generation that didn’t throw anything away.  Ever.

My first wake-up call about stuff was the death of my husband’s 2nd cousin.  Mary was basically a second mother for Hubby, as his own mom passed away at an early age.  Hubby was her sole heir, so we had the task of clearing out her humble 1-bedroom apartment.  Every cubbyhole was filled with her treasures.  While we kept a few things in her memory, most went summarily into boxes and headed off to the Good Will store.  It struck me that all those things that were so valuable to her simply held no practical value for us, and I began to look at my own saved possessions with the realization that when I’m gone, they’d probably suffer the same fate.

The second wake-up call was the task of packing up my parent’s home of nearly sixty years after my father died.  Mom was selling the house, and we spent months sorting and trying to prioritize stuff accumulated throughout a lifetime together.  This one was much more personal – these mementoes were part of MY memories – the things I’d grown up with (and a lot more stuff stashed in the attic that I’d never even seen!).  My first reaction was “save everything!”  And then reality struck – I already had my own house that was filled to the brim with things from my husband’s and my life together.  I simply couldn’t cling to and transfer everything from my parent’s home into mine (not to mention my brother might have something to say about it).  And that’s when I had the epiphany – my memories didn’t live in those things.  My memories lived in my heart, and I didn’t need a 30-year-old coffee mug to remember my dad, nor my old toys to remember my childhood.  I did pretty well at staying true to that epiphany, but there were still way too many “exceptions”.  After all, some of those things might have collectible value, so I had to keep them “just in case”.

I parted with even more chotchkies during our recent move. But as chronicled in my previous post, too much useless crap still moved with us.  And then Hurricane Irene took aim at our new home last week, which was now filled with our most precious old and new belongings.   

I spent that very long Saturday at our rental home up in New York, frantically watching The Weather Channel and surfing the internet for news on our North Carolina neighborhood.  Nothing I saw was good, and it got worse as the day stretched on and Irene pounded our home for nearly 24 hours. 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I started the day stressing over things.  The oak heirloom from the mid-1800’s.  The brand-spanking new entertainment center that spanned an entire wall.  The Stickley dining room set.  The nearly finished custom kitchen renovation.  What if a window broke?  What if the roof gave way?  What if a tree crashed into the house?  All of our STUFF would be ruined!

And then Stuff Lesson No. 3 kicked in.  Houses were flooding.  Trees were crashing down everywhere.  The relentless wind and rain were changing the landscape entirely.  And my friends and neighbors were living through it – riding out the storm inside their homes there.  While I was worried about things, there were people swimming to safety, clinging to roofs and trees, watching their houses literally float away, or burn down, or fill with murky, slimy, muddy waters.  I felt suddenly ashamed of myself.  And again, developed a whole new attitude toward STUFF, and realized how inconsequential it all really is to my life. 

Over the past week, thousands of people in the East are busy stacking ruined things at the curb to be discarded.  And that is terribly sad.  Many of those things can’t ever be truly replaced.  But those people will live on, and they’ll do just fine without the things that a week ago seemed so important to them. 

When my dear friend lost her home to a tornado earlier this year, she was shocked at how quickly she stopped caring about the things in her once-beautiful home.  Dashing to the basement as the house disintegrated around them was a distinctly clarifying moment – her husband and children were the only priority for her.  Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) else mattered to her.  She didn’t mourn the loss of stuff.  She was too busy celebrating the lives that had been saved.

My life would not have truly changed if all that stuff in North Carolina had been destroyed.  Well, there’d be a lot of work and inconvenience for a little while, but fundamentally my life wouldn’t change as long as I still had my family and friends.  Which makes me realize how totally unimportant stuff really is.  Which makes it a lot easier to sort through it and start donating or selling it.  Right now.

Let it be someone else’s treasure.  In this phase of my life, I’d rather my treasures were of the human kind.

Boomer Men Behaving Badly…

[I’m back!  For those of you who are not subscribers or regular readers, that doesn’t mean much.  But my regulars know that I’ve been on an unannounced and unplanned hiatus for a couple of months.  It all started with vacation, then a writing project that went awry, some major research projects at my “real job” that left me uninterested in sitting in front of my home computer, a new puppy that consumed much of my free time (more about her another time), and on and on and blah, blah, blah.  Sorry.  Once you drop a good habit, it’s hard work to pick it back up again.  But I’m back – I promise.]

Apparently, it’s hard difficult to be a man.  Much harder more difficult than we women ever imagined, I guess.  Who knew that that their entire lives appear to be driven by their “family jewels”?  Do men really just go through life looking for women to jump into bed with, or if not that, then to make sure that women are lusting for and flirting with them?  And the women don’t have to be (or preferably are not) their wives.  You remember wives, don’t you?  That woman you proposed to, professed your love for, and exchanged wedding vows with?  There are all kinds of jokes about guys thinking with their penises.  But did we ever suspect that it was true for so many of them?  Should I just assume that every man I talk to is looking around for a “fresh score” somewhere? 

Don’t get me wrong – I am madly in love with my husband and I trust him implicitly.  But how can I not become cynical about the male gender in general after watching the news over the past few years?  The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming that men really can be pigs.  And complete idiots.

While President of the United States, Bill Clinton (married father) cavorted in the White House with interns and cigars.  Ew-w-w-w-w.  Former Nevada Senator John Ensign (married father) had an affair with an aide (she was also married), and paid off her and her husband to keep it quiet (idiot).  California state legislator Mike Duvall (married father) got caught on a live mike bragging to a fellow legislator about spanking one of several girlfriends (idiot).  Former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer (married father) was well-known “client 9” at an upscale prostitution service.  Louisiana Senator David Vitter (married father) frequented brothels for years (and still got re-elected).  Former Indiana Congressman Mark Souder (married) had an affair with a staffer.  Former New York Congressman Chris Lee (married father) sent a ridiculous shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on a Craigslist dating ad, trying to hook up.  Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (married father) vanished for days and was discovered to be in Argentina with his “soul mate” lover.  He lied to everyone, including his closest aides, about his whereabouts and claimed to be hiking the Appalachian trail (idiot).  Former North Carolina Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards (married father) cheated on his dying wife with a member of his staff (no pun intended…), had a child with her, allowed her to parade around visibly pregnant during the campaign, and encouraged another staff member to claim to be the father (idiot and slimebag). 

Arnold Schwarzenegger (married father who’s both a celebrity and politician) had a pregnant wife and pregnant mistress at the same time (don’t tell me he didn’t know the married housekeeper was carrying his child).  That’s about as low as it gets.  Can you even imagine how Maria felt finding out 12 years later that she’s been friends with this woman and child, and all the while the woman and her own husband were keeping this terrible secret from her? 

And now it’s the Weiner.  You just can’t make this stuff up.  New York Congressman Anthony Weiner (newly married and possible father-to-be) took lewd and ridiculous pictures of himself and Twittered them out to young women/girls, and carried on flirtatious text conversations with them (idiot).

What else do these guys have in common, other than being married political scumbags?  They’re all Baby Boomers (Lee and Weiner were born in 1964 – the last year of the Boomer generation).  I’m not suggesting that Boomers invented infidelity, but our men certainly seem to have perfected it.  At least the generations before us were discreet.  But our men, especially our politically-driven men, apparently don’t know the meaning of discretion.  They seem to just lose all common sense in their desire to be seen as attractive to younger women.  They can’t be satisfied with buying a sports car or motorcycle like their dads did to feel younger and manly.  Nope – they’re preening in front of mirrors and taking pictures of their foolish half-naked selves (and their bulging underwear) and sending them out on social websites.  IDIOTS!

I suspect it’s less about the actual act of sex (although they certainly seem to be obsessed with that, too) and more about ego.  These powerful men seem to have very fragile self-esteems, and they have a need to feel that they’re virile and sexy.  They want to be desired.  By every woman on the planet.  The younger the better.  I think they also get turned on by the illicit factor of these affairs, and by the flirtatious nature of the communications (“Oo, I want you baby!” “You’re so hot!” “I can’t wait to [bleep] you!”).

Now, Boomer women admittedly have egos, too.  We spend millions on beauty products and cosmetic surgery in order to feel and look younger than we really are.  We want to be seen as attractive.  And yes, some have had indiscretions.  But we usually want to be attractive to that guy we married, not to the 21-year-old college kid down the street. 

Guys (and gals) of the Boomer Generation – – – we’re growing older.  Deal with it with at least a little bit of class, will you please?  Boinking college co-eds isn’t the way to do it.  Waxing your chest and sending pictures to women who are not your wives isn’t the way to do it.  Having babies with women who are not your wives is DEFINITELY not the way to do it.  If you can’t control your sexual urges, then be honest with yourself and your spouse and become single again so you can run around and boink anyone you want without hurting your family. 

And for crying out loud, politicians – STOP SENDING PICTURES AND TEXTS!  You’re running around with bimbettes, and guess what – bimbettes are called that for a reason.  They’re stupid.  And they’re going to brag to their girlfriends about boinking a senator.  They’re going to save your texts and pictures to share with their BFFs.  And the next thing you know, you and your family are on the evening news for all the wrong reasons. 

Better yet – just stop being idiots.  GROW UP, keep your whizzer in your pants, and stay faithful to your spouses.

Trust No One

In the golden days of our youth, we left our doors unlocked and let door-to-door salesmen into our homes.  We trusted people.  But our generation, the Baby Boomers, may have become the most cynical generation in history, and unfortunately, we have our reasons.  The world isn’t always a pretty place.  Bad things happen.  As children, we watched riots and assassinations on TV, and the world didn’t seem quite as golden as it did in the 1950s. 

And now, with the introduction of the World Wide Web, our skepticism radar has to be on high alert at all times.  If it’s not, we are increasingly likely to become victims.  It feels like someone is waiting to scam us, steal our identity, and part us from our money and security at every turn. 

Were there scammers back in our youth?  Sure.  Mostly land frauds – they’d sell swampland in sultry Florida or a lot in a supposed retirement community in Arizona, all based on shiny brochures and fancy documents.  People would then discover that the property they purchased (they usually received authentic deeds), was actually inaccessible, unusable, undeveloped land in some god-forsaken remote corner of the state.  A handful of people may have ended up getting the last laugh in Florida, as Disney sprouted in the midst of that dismal swamp, and their tiny lots actually gained in value.  But many people invested their life savings into a future that was just an illusion.  They’d load up the family on vacation into the big Chevy station wagon to go see their wonderful investment, only to drive out into the desert and discover that the pretty tree-lined community in the brochure was a complete and cruel hoax.

Today, scammers are preying on us, our children and our parents with an alarming array of schemes, often frightening people into paying them or giving them private information.  It’s easy to shrug it off and brag that we’d never fall for such a scheme, but that’s stupid.  Face it – if this stuff didn’t work, they wouldn’t be doing it.  Just the fact that the scams are being run at all means that people ARE falling for it.  We need to be aware, and we need to warn our friends and family members of what to watch for. 

Today, a young friend of mine received a frightening message on her cell phone.  It was a serious voice, telling her to return the call immediately to discuss a debt of hers that needed to be addressed right away to avoid legal action.  A single mom who recently went through a terribly nasty divorce, “Sally” called back in concern.  The man told her repeatedly that he was an attorney, and he gave her the last four digits of her social security number and the last four digits of her bank account.  He knew where she worked.  It was unnerving.  He told Sally that they were pursuing a $400 debt from a paycheck advance loan (which she had never made).  When she started asking questions, the caller became threatening, telling her that if she didn’t pay, they’d serve a warrant on her and have her arrested.  When Sally protested that she had young children, the caller told her she’d better make arrangements, because she was “going to jail”.  By now, poor Sally was shaking and crying – begging for more information.  Thankfully, she was smart enough not to respond when they asked her to “verify” her social security number.  The “attorney” terminated the call with more threats.     

When she came to me, my “scam alert” went on – big time.  I called the number they’d given her, said I “represented” her, and I demanded information.  He immediately got belligerent with me, in a heavy foreign accent.  When I told him I was reporting him to the attorney general, he hung up on me.  I called the local attorney general’s office, and the woman I spoke with assured us that no one could arrest my friend for a debt without providing written notice of the debt, which she could then contest in writing.  She referred us to the Federal Trade Commission’s fraud division.

Our contact there was equally pleasant and reassuring (by now Sally was beginning to calm down), and the woman took a full and detailed report.  She told us the caller wanted to steal Sally’s identity by trying to confirm her full social security number and bank account number. 

My young friend is not a fool.  She’s a professional worker in the office of a major corporation.  And these SOBs were able to reduce her to sobbing in fear and confusion.  I started thinking of how many people they have been able to bully into giving up their personal information.  The thought that they might frighten my mother, my aunts, my nieces, my friends into giving up critical data makes my blood boil.

So consider this my public service announcement, and please share it with others.  Mulder was right – TRUST NO ONE.  Question everything.  The worst that can happen is that you might momentarily offend someone who’s not trying to steal from you.  They’ll understand.   

That call from your sobbing granddaughter/cousin/nephew in Europe/Canada/Texas saying she/he was mugged and has no money and needs a wire transfer right away….DON’T DO IT!  Even if they use the right name and say the right things.  If you think for a second that the call might be legit (it isn’t), then ask very specific questions that only your relative would know (“what color is Aunt Sophie’s house/hair/dog?”).  Then get a phone number and hang up.  Call your other relatives and verify where this person is really?  I can virtually guaranty they’re not in some other country being mugged.

Anyone else who asks you for money?  The internet is as much blessing as curse – check them out.  Google them.  Isn’t that easier than handing over your hard-earned cash or your social security number to someone, no matter how nice or honest they sound?  And be sure to protect your internet data by changing your passwords regularly for email, Facebook, etc., (you are using a different password for each one, aren’t you???), and don’t use your birthday or children’s names as passwords – it’s just too easy.

And finally – do not ever, ever, EVER give anyone your social security number over the phone or online unless you are absolutely 100% positive about who you’re talking to.  Get their phone number and call them back with the info – if they don’t want you to do that, HANG UP THE PHONE.  If they say they’re from your bank and want to verify your information, hang up and call your bank to check it out. 

It’s sad to say, but there are a lot of cruel, evil people out there trying to think of new ways to rip us off.  I’d love to get Sally’s callers in a room for just 10 minutes…the bastards.  But since I can’t do that, I will starve them by announcing their “game” to everyone.  Don’t assume your friends and family won’t  fall for one of these schemes.  These guys are very good at what they do.  But we can be better by being informed.  And skeptical.  Talk to people.  Spread the word.  And be careful out there.

Guilty TV Pleasures

I’d love to be able to say that, now that I am of a more mature age, my television viewing has been elevated to watching only the History Channel and other very sophisticated programs.  After all, certainly at 50-something, I’ve “outgrown” silly sit-coms.  And heaven forbid that I’d lower my mature self to watching any of those tacky reality TV shows….

Yeah, right.  I’m a Boomer, and I grew up on such high-brow stuff as “Laugh-In” and “All In the Family”.  Sure, I’ve matured.  But I love my TV, and Hubby and I really enjoy curling up at night and watching “our programs.” 

And reality shows?  Oh, yeah, I love them.  I refer them as my guilty pleasures.  About the only high road I take when it comes to reality TV is that I don’t watch the shows that just follow real people (so to speak) through their daily lives.  Shows like “Jersey Shore”, “The Hills”, or “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” are too intrusive, and I feel that simply by watching, I’m helping somehow to skew the character’s realities in a very unhealthy way.  In the same way, “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”  just don’t feel healthy to me (with apologies to my good friends who love the shows).  Who wants to accept a proposal from a guy who’s torn between you and another woman, and who’s been kissing on a whole house full of women for weeks?  And all the drama and tears over some guy they’ve known for 20 days – give me a break.

But shows like “Survivor”, “The Amazing Race”, “Big Brother”, and my favorite, “Dancing With the Stars”….well, I am in heaven!  These folks signed up for a few weeks of torturous competition, so they deserve whatever comes at them, and they are pushed so far out of their comfort zones that it’s fun to wonder how I would fare if in their shoes.  It’s fascinating to watch how they react to completely un-natural situations.  And yes, that means I love watching them get nasty and cut-throat and self-destructive!  Watching someone on “Survivor” who thinks they’re going to rule the island, and then they get blind-sided and sent packing….it’s priceless!  And the season that Russell somehow managed to con everyone with lies and trickery (and yes, a fair amount of talent), and then didn’t win the vote after getting down to the final two?  The fact that he lost (and was such a sore loser) was the only redeeming factor of that season. 

Reality shows are actually the exact opposite – they’re not reality at all.  They are shows where people are being put into contrived, difficult situations.  It’s like watching lab rats.  I’m not sure why some people get so incredibly invested in them.  Yes, I did say I like some of them.  A lot.  But I don’t shed tears over them and lose sleep over them.  I rarely vote, with the exception of the last couple weeks of “Dancing..”.     

 “Big Brother” is tacky and filled with young, stupid, ego-filled individuals who are clearly chosen for the show based on their bikini bodies and odd-ball personalities.  It’s so bad that it’s good, if you know what I mean.  In the pressure-cooker environment of the small “house” and walled-in back yard, they face competitions and cat fights with equal energy.  Frankly, it’s a show that makes me very happy I’m not that young and stupid anymore, which is probably why I like it so much.  By week 3, they’re all turning on each other like rabid dogs, and it becomes more like “Survivor”.  Lovely!

“The Amazing Race” is a little more high-brow, I suppose.  The contestants and viewers get to see some incredible places around the world under the pressure-cooker of some really scary competitions (climbing skyscrapers, rappelling down mountains, bungee jumps, etc.).  Competing in pairs, it has a little “Survivor” and “Big Brother” appeal to it.  Some pairs work well, and some go into complete meltdown (usually the “newly dating” couples).  Interestingly, some of the couples who melt down are also the ones who go a long ways in the race.  Their dysfunction and anger seem to give them the extra boost to win competitions, cursing each other all the way.  Hubby and I agree we’d never make it – we’re both so competitive, but also such control freaks, that we’d be at each other’s throats, and then I’d be in tears, and that would be that.

I’m shocked at how passionately people are feeling about “Dancing With the Stars”  this season, particularly over Bristol Palin’s mediocre-to-adequate performances and the high number of public votes she receives every week.  While many suspect a “vast right wing conspiracy” that’s voting for Bristol strictly for political reasons (and they probably are), people seem to forget that there’s nothing wrong with that.  They’re acting as if it’s “not fair”, but there are no rules about how or why you decide who to vote for.  Try to remember that it’s just a game!  No one ever claims that the best dancer will win – only that the dancer with the most votes will win.  Marie Osmond didn’t belong in the finals, but her legions of doll fans kept her in there week after week.   Bristol isn’t the best dancer by far, but her (or her mother’s) fans are keeping her in there.  And if she wins?  So what!?  She seems like a nice kid, and she is making a lot of progress.  This show may actually help her grow up. 

More importantly – it’s a television show, people!  It’s not like the losers are sent to the firing squad.  They get to go on a dancing tour with each other and the pros will get ready for the next season.  Will I be disappointed if Bristol wins?  Sure.  In my mind, Brandy and Jennifer were the two to beat.  But if people want to vote for Bristol to prove some obscure point, or because they really like her…well, that’s their prerogative. 

Try to remember – reality shows are not really reality, folks!  It’s business.  It’s sponsors making money from the pleasure we find in watching others self-destruct.  It’s us trying to imagine what choices we’d make if faced with the same situations (note:  I would not do anything involving spiders).  It’s entertainment.  It’s a guilty pleasure.  But. It’s. Not. Real.

Mr. Scary Voice Goes to Work

Once the New York primaries were completed here, I knew what was next – a non-stop barrage of negative, nasty, overly dramatic, misleading political advertising leading all the way up to November.  And sure enough, it didn’t take long to get rolling.  The darkly lit, scary commercials with images of dank swamps or apparently starving children, with the threatening voice-over that gives us the impression that if we vote “the other guys” into office, the world as we know it will cease to exist and we won’t be safe in our own homes.

Doesn’t it sound like the same guy does all those political voice-overs?  It really sounds like the same exact voice in all the ads – Democrat, Republican, Conservative, whatever.   If so, the guy must make his whole year’s salary in these few manic election months.  He probably makes a fortune saying things like:  “Joe X voted with his party bosses 98.6% of the time!  He supports laws that would tax you into oblivion.  He is out to destroy the American way.  He wants your first-born children – and we suspect that he will eat them.” 

And the images?  Campaigns comb through every media image of the opponent to find that one awful picture of them chewing food, or scratching their face, or just plain tired after a long day of campaigning.  That one terrible picture – one second out of millions of seconds – can become a turning point in an election because we voters are such a shallow bunch. 

A classic example is the recent primary campaign where New York’s 23rd congressional district candidate Doug Hoffman’s opponent found a bizarre video of Hoffman, apparently waiting around for his turn to speak somewhere.  He looks bored and tired, and clearly has no idea someone is filming him.  By the time his opponent’s marketing team converted the video to black and white, blurred it just a bit, and, I’m pretty sure, distorted it slightly, Hoffman ended up looking either creepy or clueless or both.  I’m sure that odd video clip, along with Mr. Scary Voice reading the script, was a substantial contributor to Hoffman’s defeat in the Republican primary.  Sadly, I’ve seen plenty of other images of Mr. Hoffman where he looks neither creepy nor clueless, but more like just an average, decent guy.

We voters all say we want to know about the issues, and we all shake our heads with a ‘tsk, tsk, tsk’ over negative advertising.  But all the studies prove that negative campaigns work.  Which means that we are clearly not being honest with ourselves.  We’re allowing Mr. Scary Voice to freak us out about the boogeyman/boogeywoman of the “other” party.  We’ve been conned by Mr. Scary Voice to accept every terrifying political factoid he so solemnly recites without question.  Who’s brave enough to argue with Mr. Scary Voice?  Or Mrs. Scary Voice, who shows up occasionally with the threatening woman’s voice to the same effect?  Next will be their offspring, little Suzy Scary Voice, trying to get children to scare their parents away from voting for someone!

When I hear those stats of “Mary X voted 1,459 times to raise your taxes!”, I always take it with a dose of salt.  There’s usually more to the story than just a big scary number.  I don’t know if I have enough salt to get through another election season, though.  I vowed not to vote for anyone who uses scare tactics to get my vote, but what can I do when every candidate hires Mr. Scary Voice?  I vowed to do my own fact-checking, but every candidate has Mr. or Mrs. Scary Voice reciting one alarming story after another, and I can’t keep up with the Googling required to double-check everything.  I’d love to be able to say that “my” party walks the higher ground, but of course, they don’t.  They hired Mr. Scary Voice too, much to my dismay.

I took a call yesterday from a woman claiming to be conducting a survey.  Whenever I see political poll results, I say “who ARE these people they’re polling?”  So if I get an opportunity to participate, I try to do it.  The questions started innocently enough.  “What do you think New York’s biggest challenge is?” (taxes).  “Are you familiar with NYS Assemblyman Al Stirpe?”  (yes)  “Are you familiar with Assembly leader Sheldon Silver?”  (<shudder> yes)  “Are you familiar with candidate Don Miller?”  (no) 

Then the questions took a weird turn – after I said I had a “somewhat favorable” opinion of Al Stirpe, she asked me if I would have a less favorable opinion of Stirpe if I knew how many times he voted with “New York City Liberals”.  Whoa – that’s a bit of a leading question, isn’t it?  And it just got worse.  Would I be less likely to support Stirpe if I knew he raised taxes 924 times?  If I knew that he voted against funding for upstate, but in favor of that same funding for New York City?  If I knew that he voted for a law that would put sexual predators on our streets….   Cue Mr. Scary Voice!

The next few questions were the same type of exaggerated politics.  I stopped her and told her that this was clearly NOT a survey, but instead was a campaign call, and I hung up.  But how many people fell for it, and allowed themselves to be directed down a path that was clearly being dictated by Mr. Miller’s campaign staff or his supporters?   It wasn’t Mr. Scary Voice conducting the call, but it may as well have been.

The Mr. Scary Voice tactic is getting old.  I’m tired of people trying to scare me away from the opposing candidate instead of trying to pull me towards theirs.  I’m tired of trying to figure out who’s telling the truth.  I’m tired of a process that discourages qualified citizens from running for office, because what reasonable person would want to go through all the mudslinging and viciousness? 

But we Baby Boomers were raised to vote.  We were taught, and rightly so, that it’s our duty, right and privilege as a citizen.  So I will still do my best to ignore Mr. Scary Voice and vote for candidates with the most positive, rational, informative campaigns, no matter how tough it may be.  When I hear Mr. or Mrs. Scary Voice, I will automatically be skeptical of what they say in their threatening tones.  I will take the time to dig through the vitriol and try to determine who is being the most honest about their claims, positive or negative.  And I will try not to think of all the voters who think Mr. Scary Voice really is the voice of truth and reason.  Because that’s a thought scary enough to cause nightmares.

The Joys of Air Travel: Why We Relate to That Jet Blue Guy

The person who has received America’s attention and collective fascination this past week was Steven Slater – that Jet Blue flight attendant who wigged out, cursed a passenger, grabbed a couple of beers, and slid down an emergency exit slide in New York. 

I’ll confess – my first thought was “he’s my hero!”  Anyone who has dealt with the public (waiters, flight attendants, civil servants, customer service reps, etc.) has had days when they wanted to do what he did, even if just for a second.  We’ve all thought that we were about to reach our limit, and that we might just feel better if we told a customer/co-worker/employer exactly what we thought of them. 

But Slater didn’t just say “take this job and shove it.”  No, Mr. Slater went out with a lot more style.  First, he cursed the passenger who supposedly offended him.  Then he thanked other passengers who were more pleasant.  Then he grabbed a few brewskies (perhaps not his first beers of the day from the sounds of it), deployed the emergency slide, and leapt out of the plane.  I mean seriously – the movies couldn’t have designed a funnier way to go!  And after all this, he headed home, where he was ultimately arrested.

This scenario is one of those things most workers only dream of.  We sit at a bar after work and laugh about all the ways we could tell off our customers and walk off the job.  “One of these days, I’ll tell a customer to make their own stupid ‘not-quite-but-almost-rosy-pink-in-the-center’ hamburger!”  “I’d love to be able to start cursing back at these customers who think they can just scream at me over the phone!”  “If the boss tells me one more time that I’m not making quota, I’m going to tell him to do the job himself and see how he does!” 

As long as it remains just cocktail talk for a few laughs with friends, it’s healthy venting.  I don’t think any of us actually considers following up on our daydreams of going out with a splash.  Most of us are mature enough to understand the consequences of those actions.  Laughter and camaraderie relieve the stress of dealing with the public these days.  And when we relieve the stress, we can keep doing our jobs. 

At first I was shocked to read some of the online comments from flight attendants regarding how they have been treated by passengers.  What on earth gives passengers the perception that they have free rein to curse at, yell at, laugh at, or throw things at a flight attendant?  They’re just trying to do their job.  But they are increasingly performing that job in a volatile environment.  And flying can bring out the worst in people.

Air travel can bring even the nicest, most pleasant people to the edge of their nerves these days.  Remember when flying used to be a glamorous way to travel?  Today, the first line you hit is checking in, and it doesn’t even end with speaking to a smiling ticket agent anymore.  Now you wait and drag your bags along through the roped-off zigzagging line, only to have someone point you in the direction of a machine – get your own damn ticket from the kiosk, thank you very much.  You pay for your checked bag, knowing that your carefully packed clothes are probably going to be rifled through and left in a tangled wad in the suitcase as they check for dynamite residue of whatever. 

Then you march to the next long line, where you have to take off your shoes, take off your coat, take off your belt and jewelry, pull out your laptop, pull out your baggie with all your 3 oz. liquid bottles inside, and march through a metal detector, only to have to put all those clothes back on and repack your bags at the end of the line with plastic bins full of everyone else’s belongings rolling at you at high speed. 

By now, you and your fellow passengers are getting grumpy in a hurry (and not just the cranky Boomers!).  You’re tired, hot, hungry and thirsty.  And you still have to find the right moving sidewalk (aka: conveyor belt) to get yourself to the proper gate.  The passengers who didn’t give themselves enough time to get through the torturous lines are now sprinting down the moving sidewalks, careening into people as their wheeled baggage bounces along behind them.  I once let out a “Hey!” after some guy almost knocked me over in Detroit, and instead of an apology I got a “Kiss my ass!” in response.  Nice. 

Don’t even get me started on airport food, with few exceptions.  Washington International has a Five Guys burger joint that’s terrific (but you’ll be facing yet another line).  Charlotte has a nice assortment of places, and they have those great rocking chairs sitting all over to rest in if you have the time. 

When you’re finally ready to get on the plane (if it shows up on time, if the crew is ready, and if the weather is cooperating), you’re back in line again.  Even with assigned seating, it’s a rush to board, because everyone wants to grab the overhead bins for their enormous carry-ons.  Now that checked baggage has a fee, people are getting ridiculous with their carry-ons.  You can tell that some of these things weigh fifty pounds or more.  Despite the airlines’ best efforts to show the maximum size, everyone pushes the limit.  And heaven forbid if someone has to be stopped from taking their carry-on onboard with them – then the real battles begin.   

So yes, I guess I can see how passengers might be tempted to take their many frustrations out on flight attendants, even if it is the wrong thing to do.  And I can understand how flight attendants can look so haggard at the end of a shift.  They’ve been dealing with our vitriol all day (or night) long.  It has to take a toll. 

It’s fun to laugh at Steven Slater’s meltdown, but we all know his response to the situation was really immature, and he’ll have to face the consequences for his actions.  He’s not really a hero – he’s just someone who’s in a situation that we can identify with in these stressful times.

I always try to be polite when traveling, but I know I don’t always succeed.  The next time I travel, I will make a serious effort to be more kind to my flight attendants and fellow passengers.  A few more smiles and laughs might go a long way towards relieving the tension of air travel, and if we all give it a try, the skies might start being more friendly again.

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