Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Bad

Once in a while someone will coin an original phrase that impresses you the first few times you hear it. After a while it gets old, and it time it actually becomes annoying. There should be a "freshness date" on all catchy phrases that come into the language, after which a penalty is assessed (say a slap in the face) against anyone who uses the phrase after it expires.

The workplace is a breeding ground for overused phrases, mainly because there are few original thinkers in the corporate world. They hear a phrase that has become popular from overuse and think nothing of perpetuating the offense. Here are just a few horribly overused business terms:

"Failure is not an option" - Oh yes it is pinhead, and you'd better come up with a contingency plan because failure is likely if you're using a desperate phrase like this.

"Core competency" - Business people like to make what they say sound important, so they take simple words and make them complicated. Thus "skill" becomes "core competency."

"Empowerment" - This is some Harvard MBA term that means you have permission to use your brain. It's as if the American workforce was sitting around helpless and thinking: "If only someone would come along and empower us. What a crock.

"Synergistic" - You can't attend a business meeting without some empty suit uttering this word. Synergy is created when people work in concert to create an outcome that is of greater value than the total of the individual inputs. In corporate-speak, synergy means that management is empowering employees to work together to develop the core competencies needed for success. And failure is not an option. Pure crapola.

Even in our personal lives, these hackneyed words and phrases creep in. Some examples:

"Closure" - Everybody's looking for it, no matter what the issue. "We need to get closure on that" or "She'll never be at peace until she gets closure." Whoever's hoarding the closure out there, please share!

"It is what it is" - Was someone going around saying: "It isn't what it is", because a lot of people are trying to set the record straight with this stupid phrase. Stop saying it.

"Giving 110 percent" - Can't be done bucko.

"Carbon footprint" - It's a nice notion that individuals can alter the earth's atmosphere by small behavioral changes. I'm not sure how much difference it will make to the planet, but if you want to bike instead of drive to work, fine, just stop yammering about your carbon footprint.

Lastly we must endure words or phrases that are redundant or make no sense:

"Highly unique" - Unique will do it. There are no degrees of unique.

"Terrible tragedy" - A favorite with opposed to a wonderful tragedy!

Redundancies: Honest truth, free gift, foreign import, trained professional, past history, and one of my favorites, criminal lawyer.

If this sounds like a petty complaint, think about it as one more contributor to the devaluation of the English language. We are far less literate as a people than were our ancestors. Watch Ken Burns' Civil War documentary and listen to the letters written home by soldiers with a grade school education. They are not only poignant, but beautifully written. Listen to British-produced TV shows on PBS and compare the language spoken with the street talk heard on American shows where, for example, you may hear a character say: "My bad." (This is English?)

Am I a snob? I don't think so. It just pains me to hear what is becoming of our wonderful language. Maybe I shouldn't worry so the rate we're going, we'll all be speaking Spanish in a few years.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy New Year

Today, in Manhattan, I made three gay men happy. Wait...before you start sending me leg warmers, let me explain. We made our annual pilgrimage to see the fabulous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, and I noticed three young, gay men trying to take their own photo with the tree in the background. I offered to snap the shot for them, and they were very grateful. Hey, making people happy is what I do.

The tree has become quite a "must-see" for tourists and New Yorkers alike. If your Christmas spirit is a little flat, walking among the excited throng surrounding the tree, watching the skaters, maybe a visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral across the street, and of course window shopping in the unrivaled strip of luxury stores along Fifth Avenue will give you a much needed shot of holiday magic. The crowds have become so large that it's getting harder and harder to see it all, but it's still well worth the effort.

The quintessential holiday image, known around the world, is the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. As you stand on the east side looking west, with the golden statue of Prometheus shining in the sun, and the happy skaters gliding around the ice rink, the brightly lit tree will make you feel ten years old again. The effect on the crowd is transforming. After a hectic trip to get there, and being jostled and pushed along the streets packed with people, visitors certainly have the right to feel a little grumpy. But when they turn that corner and look down the parallel lines of Angels leading to the tree, the annoyed looks are replaced by ones of wonder and joy.

Another special holiday experience, whether or not you are Catholic, is to spend a few minutes in St. Patrick's Cathedral. I've never seen Notre Dame, St. Marks, or any of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe, but I can't imagine them being any more awe-inspiring than St. Pat's. Don't content yourself with a quick peek down the aisle, but walk past the side altars and behind the main altar. Try to ignore the rude tourists and take in the stunning architecture and sense of calm that greets you at every turn. Say a prayer in front of the creche, a wondrous display which in and of itself makes the visit worth while. The spirit of God will fill you up, and whether you're a religious person or not, I promise you'll feel better when you walk out.

And speaking of creches, the king of all creches may be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The custom of displaying creches at Christmas began in Naples. There, local families vied to outdo each other in presenting elaborate and theatrical creche displays, often assisted by professional stage directors. The museum figures include not only the ones typically found, but more than 200 18th-century Neapolitan creche figures donated by Loretta Hines Howard starting in 1964. They have been displayed each holiday season for more than 35 years. It is a magnificent sight to see and another way to feel the Christmas spirit take hold of you.

No holiday trip to Rock Center would be complete without looking in on some of the stores that make up the miracle mile on Fifth Avenue. Saks, Bergdoff-Goodman, Gucci, F.A.O. Schwartz, Cartier...the playgrounds of the rich. I think my favorite is Tiffany's. Besides being a beautiful store, there is an aura about the place. I've made a few modest purchases over the years just to give my wife those nice little blue boxes that women love, but what impressed me most is the caliber of their staff. They are unfailingly polite, knowledgeable, and never, ever talk down to people, no matter what you look like. Most of the other chi-chi stores on the strip, if you don't look like you fit in, give you that withering look that clerks in snooty stores have mastered; not Tiffany's.

They say we are in for a couple of hard years thanks to the Masters of Greed on Wall Street. It's going to be rough spell for all of us, but there are things we can do to make life a little easier. Here's the prescription for 2009 that I'm going to try hard to follow. First, ease up on the "type A" behavior and rediscover the simple things that used to give you pleasure, and still can if you give them a chance. Second, be kinder and more patient with your family and friends. Stress levels will be high and we have to help each other through these tough times. Third, be a little nicer to strangers too...a smile or friendly gesture can make someone's day. Finally, when it comes time to measure your life against those around you, don't always look enviously at those who are better off, look instead at those who are worse off, count your blessings, and do what you can to help.

I hope 2009 is filled with joy and peace, and that you and your families have a happy, healthy New Year.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, December 25, 2008

"You Gonna Finish That?"

Recent stories in the news about Oprah's ongoing battle to control her weight underscore a serious problem facing Americans...obesity. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in the past 30 years, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for both adults and children. Since 1976–1980, the prevalence of obesity among U.S. adults has approximately doubled. In 2005–2006, more than 34% of adults aged 20 years or older were obese. Overweight among children aged 2–5 years increased to 13.9%, to 18.8% among young people aged 6–11 years, and to 17.4% among those aged 12–19 years. Our nation is getting dangerously fat.

Why is this so? Well, after all the smoke clears away, it boils down to diet and exercise. We look for other solutions because as much as we love to eat, we hate to exercise. Surely there must be a magic bullet somewhere that will allow us to do one without having to do the other. This accounts for the billions of dollars spent on diet fads and products like the Ab Sonic Electric Massage Belt that uses electrical shock to stimulate the nerves causing contractions in muscle several times per minute. With a 10 minute “workout” 5 days a week, you can have hard sexy abs without breaking a sweat. Yeah, right. While you're fingers are becoming permanently stained orange from shoving Cheetohs into your face, the massage belt is twitching madly trying to keep up. Don't think so chubbs.

I don't mean to make light of this problem; besides making us look unattractive, excess weight is a major contributor to a number of serious health conditions. What I am saying is that there is no easy way out. The solution may not be one we readily embrace, but it is certainly simple enough; eat less and move more. There are diets like Atkins that will take the weight off, but unless you're prepared to stay on them for the rest of your life, that twenty pounds will be back and probably bring some friends along. I speak from experience on this. I thought Atkins was wonderful when I was first on it. Being a meat and cheese lover I was in my glory.

In the beginning on Atkins, it was: "Oh boy, bacon and eggs again today." After a few weeks it became: "Oh God, bacon and eggs again today!" Intuitively I knew that eating so much meat could not be healthy, but damn, the pounds were coming off. Being Italian, I died a little each day without my bread, and avoiding carbs became a miserable obsession. When you finally crash and come off Atkins, you don't just drift back to eating carbs, you binge on them. Now, not only is the weight back, but you have all that added fat and cholesterol in your system to deal with.

Other fad diets are pretty much the same; they may work based on principles of simple chemistry, but the lack of variety makes it impossible to stay with them. One of the better ones, as evidenced by its longevity, is Weight Watchers. The principles are sound; provide a support group of people all dealing with weight problems, require regular weekly weigh ins (no longer done publicly), and advocate common-sense eating based on either sticking to a list of core foods, or using a point system to regulate the intake of all foods. I prefer the latter simply because it lets you have that taste of ice cream so long as you compensate by giving up points elsewhere. The one problem here was referenced earlier; do you go to these meetings for the rest of your life?

After a lifetime of fighting this battle, and still struggling to take my own advice, here are few tips that work. 1) Eat reasonable portions and eat slowly. Give your stomach a chance to signal it is full before having that extra slice of pizza. 2) When eating out, don't be afraid to ask for a doggie bag. Restaurant servings are usually big enough for two, and the leftovers will make a nice meal during the week. 3)Try eating nutritious meals and snacks. Stay away from fast food and sweets. 4) Move as much as you can. Walking is excellent exercise and it's free. Do some light workouts regularly with weights that don't overtax your body.

Basically, it comes down to a showdown between you and the refrigerator. You can surround this battle with all the psychological tinsel you want about motivation and finding the real reasons you overeat, but at the end of the day, it's you at one end of the dusty street and the fridge at the other. Feeling lucky, punk!


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, December 21, 2008

ZuZu's Petals

It's easy to become cynical about life in the new millennium. The world is filled with too much greed, selfishness, rudeness, and thoughtlessness. Sure, there are exceptions, and thank God for them, but the mantra of "generation me" seems to be a sad parody of the Golden Rule: Love Thy Self. When I get to wondering whether higher qualities can still be found in people, I sit down with my box of Kleenex and watch Frank Capra's little jewel of a movie: "It's a Wonderful Life". The film was made in 1946 based on the short story "The Greatest Gift" written by Philip Van Doren Stern.

The story takes place in the fictional town of Bedford Falls shortly after World War II and stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve gains the attention of his guardian angel, Clarence, who is sent to help him in his hour of need. Through flashbacks spanning George's entire life, we see all the people whose lives have been touched by his, and the difference he has made to the community in which he lives. The film is regarded as a classic, and is a staple of Christmas television viewing around the world. Due however to its high production costs and stiff competition at the box office, financially, it was considered a "flop" in its time.

For me, the thing that makes this movie worth watching year in and year out is the inherent "goodness" of its main character, George Bailey. I believe we are all looking for reaffirmation of the notion that people are good. That belief is shaken daily by the shocking headlines in our newspapers, and we need to have our "faith batteries" recharged to sustain our high opinion of man as essentially good. George's life is about sacrifice for those he loves and for the things in which he believes.

Capra really yanks our chain in this movie. Every time it looks like George is finally going to get a much-deserved break in life, the rug gets pulled out from under him (and us) by another cruel twist of fate. One-by-one his dreams are trampled: He lets brother Harry go to college in his place while he stays home to run the family business; Harry gets an out-of-town job with his new father-in-law and again, George is left behind; his honeymoon with new wife Mary (Donna Reed) is cancelled when they have to use the money to prevent a panic "run" on the Savings and Loan; Bailey Park, his community of affordable homes causes resentment by Mr. Potter, the town's mean tycoon banker, who tries unsuccessfully to bribe George to come to work for him; and the final straw, on Christmas Eve, while on his way to deposit $8,000 for the Building & Loan, George's Uncle Billy absentmindedly leaves the deposit envelope with the $8000 in Potter's office on the day the bank examiner is to inspect the Building & Loan's records.

A despondent George, considering his life to be a total failure, desperately appeals to Mr. Potter for a loan to rescue the company; Potter turns him down when all the collateral George can offer is $500 equity in a $15,000 life insurance policy. Potter cruelly remarks that George is "worth more dead than alive." Later, George crashes his car into a tree during a snowstorm, and runs to a nearby bridge, intending to commit suicide. (Who can blame him.) This is where Capra rewards us for suffering through the ups and downs (mostly downs) in poor George's life.

Clarence, his guardian angel, stops George before he can jump off the bridge. George bitterly wishes he had never been born. Clarence then shows him what the town and its people would have been like if George had never existed. Seeing his life in its true light, George realizes he has not been a failure, and calls on God to let him live again. His prayer is answered and George runs home, filled with a new appreciation of what he has accomplished. There, he finds that his friends and family have collected a huge amount of money to save George and the Building & Loan from scandal and ruin. (Tissue please.) Seeing how many lives he has touched, and the difference he has made to the town, George Bailey realizes that despite his problems, he really has led a wonderful life.

I guess I told more about the movie than I intended, but in order to understand just what it is in George Bailey that we find so endearing, we need to understand how he lived life. Without realizing it, his selfless nature improved the lives of so many people around him; I guess if we had to describe him in today's language, he would be called an "enabler" in the best sense of that word. Always putting the needs of others before his own, George delayed living his dreams so that others could live theirs.

When we look back on our lives, our disappointments and unrealized dreams can sometimes make us feel like George did. What if we had made different choices about our careers or taken more risks to get ahead...would our lives have been more meaningful? We don't have a guardian angel to remind us what a difference we've made in the lives of others, so we have to remind ourselves. The moral example you set for your family, the summer home or luxury car you passed up so the kids could go to school, the child you taught how to read, or the Cub Scout you helped to earn his merit badges...all of them are better off because of you. So don't sell yourself short my friend. Check your pocket and I'm sure down at the bottom, you'll find ZuZu's petals. (Watch the movie if you don't understand that reference.)

Merry Christmas to all.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, December 15, 2008

Paging Doctor Thoughtful

As I get older, I find myself spending more time in doctors' offices. Fortunately, it's just age-related stuff and nothing more serious. These visits can be trying since doctors seem to operate on the belief that only their time is important, and that patients are merely there to pay for that new Lexus every two years. Don't misunderstand, I appreciate all that doctors do to keep us healthy, it's the way they run their offices that needs fixing.

First off, there's the paperwork. The receptionist doesn't even look up, she just hands you the clipboard with the five page questionnaire. Every doctor you visit it's the same drill; they take the exact same information over and over. Why can't some medical website establish a standard questionnaire, have you fill it out, and then any doctor can download it when you come in. The reason is that filling out the questionnaire is only the first step in the big waiting game. It keeps you busy for ten or fifteen minutes, before you move on to the next waiting stage.

Two or three bad magazines later, when your name is finally called, you are ushered into the waiting room. Don't get excited, the doctor has three of these and you are still at least four bad magazines away from actually seeing anyone. As you slowly move up in the batting order, the nurse comes in to take your temperature and blood pressure. Don't set those magazines aside just yet, even though you've worked your way through the few readable ones and are about to plunge into "The American Journal of Spleen Disorders."

The endless waiting becomes even more fun if you are asked to wait all this time in one of those pathetic, paper dressing gowns.There is no way to wear those things and retain even a shred of self-respect. Keeping the damn thing closed so the twins don't pop out is a full time job. Add to that the fact that you are freezing your ass off sitting on a metal table, and you have a picture of abject discomfort and humiliation. By the time Dr. Thoughtful makes an appearance, you are toast. He has been established as the superior being in the room, and you are just the shivering schmuck trying to cover up the jewels while answering his inane questions.

Finally you reach the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, Dr. Thoughtful's treatment room. The guy coming out ahead of you is wearing clothes that went out of style since he entered the waiting maze oh so long ago. The good doctor breezes in: "What can I do for you today" he says in his brisk, bedside manner voice. (That voice is the second most important thing they learn in medical school; the first is how to bill the insurance company for as many tests as they can without risking jail time.) "Well for starters you can rub my ass until the feeling comes back" is what you want to say, but instead you mumble something about a sore throat.

After a cursory exam he prescribes the pills made by the drug company whose rep just comped the doc's new office stereo system. You will never meet an ugly drug rep. They are all stunning young women who don't know a beta blocker from a suppository, but when they come calling, Dr. Thoughtful leaves you on your knees with your butt waving in the breeze while he rushes out to greet them. If only doctors' wives knew what goes on in these office encounters, they would spend less time at Nordstroms and more time back at the ranch keeping an eye on Dr. Frisky.

At last you're done. Hopefully your condition is not a sensitive one, because as Dr. Thoughtful strolls out of the treatment room, he is apt to holler out to the office assistant, in full earshot of the crowded waiting room something like: "He has genital herpes. Put him on antiviral therapy and have him come back in two weeks to see if the rash clears up", or "She has a yeast infection with itching, and painful urination. I'm giving her an antibiotic and scheduling a revisit in two weeks." Now you have the pleasure of exiting through the waiting room as people avert their eyes and gather their children to them. "This is Mr. Herpes saying so long for now, maybe I'll see you all again when the rash clears up."

This post has been exaggerated, but not that much. I can only hope that some doctor will read it and get the ball rolling to make some improvements. In the meantime, I will leave you with the patient's prayer: "May you never feel a cold stethoscope, may the evil rubber glove never enter your life, and may all your co-pays be little ones."


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Things I Find Ridiculous

Where shall I begin.

Since the Mets and Yankees just made two pitchers obscenely rich, let's start with the salaries paid to athletes. How can throwing a baseball be worth $23 million a year! Pitchers don't even throw complete games anymore. When their "pitch count" hits the magic number the manager comes running out to yank them, and the game of "musical relief pitchers" begins. This guy only pitches to blue eyed, left-handed Methodists so he stays in the game for two hitters. Then comes the guy who specializes in getting out homophobic right-handed batters with tattoos. No wonder the games take five hours to play! How many teachers, nurses or firefighters can be paid for that money? Our priorities are so screwed up.

Why do bald guys go for the "comb-over?" What is the thought process? If I take the hair from my ears and let it grow out, and then rake it across my dome, everybody will think I have a full head of hair? I had a friend with a comb-over who actually walked only on streets where the wind didn't blow his "do". If you must have fake hair, buy a really expensive toupee custom-made for your head, not those $100 roadkill specials. Better yet, embrace your baldness;'s better than listening to the snickers.

I'm all for giving the handicapped (or whatever the politically correct term is these days) a break. Access ramps, larger stalls in public bathrooms, special parking spaces at the mall...whatever makes sense. What I have a problem with is the definition; since when did being fat become a handicap? Don't give me that slow metabolism crap; maybe if you stopped shoveling Whoppers down your pie hole, you'd dip below 300 pounds. Try walking the two blocks to Baskin-Robbins instead of driving and pulling into that reserved parking space that a truly handicapped person might really need. And my insurance premiums are going up just to pay for a motorized Rascal to wheel your fat ass around the mall! I don't think so.

On a related topic, you should have to pass some kind of test before buying Spandex pants. Why would someone who is morbidly obese want to shoehorn their flab into a skintight garment for the world to see? Do they own some specially designed magic mirror that convinces them it's OK to leave the house in that outfit? If the sight of you in Spandex triggers peoples' gag reflex, then no sale tubby. Wear those baggy sweatpants that make Rosie O'Donnell look so good.

I just saw a news item where some education guru was extolling a new program meant to teach kids how to play. Say again! We have to teach kids to play? Maybe if we left them alone for a while, they'd figure it out for themselves. Parents get nervous if their kid has an unscheduled hour in the day, Surely we can squeeze in an Origami class. Every activity has to have a learning objective. Kindergarten used to be a fun way to acclimate kids to the idea of school. Thanks to anal, controlling parents, and the scum-sucking educators who cater to their twisted whims, kids are now stressed out at age 5 because we overwork their little brains. Dare we wait until first grade to start them on algebra! Let the poor kids eat a crayon or two and pick their noses for a year. Then we can start turning them into quivering neurotics.

Has there been an honest politician since Abe Lincoln? It doesn't matter what party they're from, sooner or later scandal seems to overtake them all. Arrogance plays a big part. I guess you need a bigger than average ego to go into politics to begin with, and that is usually their undoing. Pure greed is a big factor too. Witness this moron from Illinois, Governor Rod Blagojevich. This guy was running the state like some mafioso, selling everything that wasn't nailed down, including Barack Obama's vacated senate seat. What was he thinking; "Oh I'll never get caught, I'm too clever!" He had his head so far up his ass that he could clean his teeth from the inside. I hope he's making Illinois license plates for the next twenty years.

Christmas letters. Some of you insist on sending out these chatty newsletters around the holidays informing us in the most breathless language of the minutia of your lives over the past year. "We spent our vacation with the Johnsons, and our good friends Doug and Betty Halsey came by for Thanksgiving. And you'll never guess what our dog brought into the house the other day." How can I put this without hurting anyone's feelings....we don't give a s**t! We love getting your holiday card and knowing your family is well, and appreciate that you thought enough of us to include our family in your holiday greetings, but please, I'm begging you, stay away from the word processor.

Finally, can somebody tell me how Jaws III, Godfather III or Rocky XXVI ever got made? With few exceptions, movie sequels rarely succeed. Even if the second go-round is OK, it never surpasses the original. By the third time they go to the well, somebody should have the guts to say enough is enough. Sometimes even the original is a dud. Think of such colossally bad films like Pluto Nash (money lost: $ 93 million); Heaven's Gate (money lost $99 million); Cutthroat Island (money lost $93 million). Somebody must have been sitting in the editing room thinking: "This is a piece of crap." I guess it's an "Emperor's Clothes" kind of deal; nobody wants to be the first to say out loud what everybody else can plainly see.

There are so many ridiculous things we are confronted with that one post cannot begin to cover them all. Therefore I will blithely ignore my own advice and write a sequel down the line. Feel free to comment and tell me it's crap.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"That's Your Prerogative, Sir"

It being the Christmas season, we have more than our normal share of encounters with stores of all kinds. Whether we shop by telephone or in person, we need to brace for interactions with those store employees who aren't quite as friendly as the ones you see in the commercials. You may think store clerks (or associates as they are loftily referred to these days) speak the same language as you, but that's where you would be wrong.

In the bottom-feeder stores like Walmart and K-Mart, you pretty much go in with low expectations. If you can find someone (in itself a challenge) you are pretty happy if they are walking on two legs and not soiling themselves.

Their responses to your question will be one of the following:

1) Let me ask the manager.
(Don't get hopeful; the "associate" is 15 years old and the manager is 16.)

2) Sorry, I just started today.
(At Walmart they give out gold watches to employees with six months service.)

With the economy in the toilet, these stores are expected to do well as people look for value over quality in an effort to stay on budget. You'll pay less without a doubt, but all they sell is crap. I guess some of the stuff is passable like the drug items and maybe some housewares, but clothes, toys, tools, hardware.....pretty much anything else, crap. I was in K-Mart the other day (guilty) and I saw a woman's terrycloth bathrobe in a camouflage pattern. I can hear the ad for this nifty fashion item: "You'll be the envy of the trailer park as you steal the neighbor's newspaper in your camouflage bathrobe." I guess if you're looking to sneak up and annihilate Bambi without getting out of your PJs, this will be under your artificial blue aluminum tree this year.

Then there are the medium-quality retailers like Macy's, Kohl's, and Target. They sell some decent stuff, but merchandise quality and the caliber of store personnel varies a lot from store to store. To their credit, they do try harder. Sometimes I get into the store just as they open. (How ironic that when you're young and can sleep till noon, you can't, but when you're retired and can stay in bed all day, your eyes fly open at six and off you go.) Anyhow, early in the morning the stores usually assemble all the associates for the daily "team meeting." The manager, someone with pierced eyebrows or a tattoo acquired while on LSD, has just returned from one of those one-day motivational training time wasters that employers are so fond of. He or she is saying (with absolutely no conviction) things like: "There is no 'I' in TEAM." Meanwhile, the team is dozing off, texting or just playing grab ass while Johnny Peptalk drones on.

The mid-quality stores try to train their associates to treat customers politely, no matter how hard that may be given some of the mouth-breathing cretins who shop there. The associates learn certain "customer-speak" phrases that they recite like trained parrots. The phrases sound polite, but have a secret meaning known only to the associates themselves. Lucky for you I made friends with one of them when I removed a thorn from his paw, and he spilled:

What they say: "May I help you?"
What they mean: "Get out old man, it's close to break time."

What they say: "Come back soon."
What they mean: "If you don't stop staring at my boobs I'm calling security."

What they say: "That's your prerogative, sir."
What they mean: "I hope you have a heart attack and die."

The phone interaction is even less promising. The person at the other end probably doesn't even work for the store. They're sitting in a call center in Rangoon somewhere eating their McCurry, and you are just another intrusion into their personal phone call time. Without the threat of you popping them one for a smart answer, they feel free to abuse you at will. In a language that bears no resemblance to English, they say things like: "Eet ees not awailable in stock, can we sheep it to you?" Note: DO NOT ask them to repeat themselves, they get all offended and bring out the: "You have no right to talk to me that way, do you think you're better than me" speech. Right about now you're fantasizing that you're doing to them what Sonny Corleone did to his brother-in-law Carlo when Carlo beat Sonny's sister Connie in "The Godfather."

Here's the code phrases they use on the telephone:

What they say: "Your call is important to us."
What they mean: "Honestly, for all we care, you could sit on hold until Joan Rivers' face moves."

What they say: "Your call will be answered in the order it was received."
What they mean: "When I get finished abusing this a-hole, I'll be ready to abuse YOU."

Here's a tip - shop online. All you have to lose is your identity.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Greatest Generation

Today is December 7th, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt so memorably described the event in a broadcast speech that began as follows: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." Interestingly, that line, one of the most famous in history, almost never made it into publication until FDR made a significant change in the speech, which originally read, "a date which will live in world history."

World War II was a devastating conflict that resulted in many American and Allied deaths, as well as untold casualties for the nations of Japan, Germany and Italy. Damage to some of the most beautiful cities in the world was incalculable, culminating with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, 1945 respectively. I won't dwell on the horrors of that war, which have been well-documented by others far more qualified than I. On the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I want to say a few words about the men and women who made the allied victory and our way of life possible.

At the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing, feelings ran high in the United States, and men and women eagerly volunteered in unprecedented numbers to serve their country. There was no fleeing to Canada to escape the draft, as a matter of fact, Canada was one of America's staunchest allies in WWII. Allied troops went to grim places like Normandy, Midway, Guadalcanal, Stalingrad and Iwo Jima; many never returned. They gave their lives to defeat the forces Hitler and Hirohito, and make the world safe for democracy. To be sure there were giants like Roosevelt, Churchill and DeGaulle, but closer to the noise and the carnage were so many nameless heroes who did their duty and paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

The main point of this post is the enormous debt we owe these men and women. As a kid I remember that Veteran's Day (formerly Armistice Day) celebrations were a bigger deal, parades were better attended, and citizens proudly wore their red poppies in remembrance of our veterans. (Red poppies grew in Flanders Fields in Belgium among the many crosses that now mark the resting places of fallen soldiers.) They have come to symbolize the memory of those who gave their lives in World War I, and all wars, and who are immortalized in the poem: "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae

These feelings are not so much on display today. The national holiday honoring veterans has become an excuse for early shopping days at the mall. School children seem too busy learning "revisionist history" and don't hear enough about the brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who made it possible for them to learn their lessons in English instead of German or Japanese. They have been called "the greatest generation", and I believe they were, but we are failing in our responsibility to honor their valor by not making our children more aware of their sacrifices.

When veterans returned from Europe, the Pacific and even Korea they were hailed as heroes. I can remember them at Mass on Sundays in their uniforms, and people going out of their way to stop them after church and thank them for their service. Employers went out of their way to hire them, and government rewarded them with the G.I. bill that paid for college education and low cost home mortgages. When veterans came home from Viet Nam, they were spit on, harassed and made to feel like their country didn't want them. Celebrity traitors like "Hanoi Jane" Fonda scorned them. So many became depressed and withdrew from family and friends. Some turned to drugs or alcohol to cope. Even veterans hospitals, as uncovered in the recent scandals, were providing sub-standard care and grossly inadequate facilities.

I think with the current war in Iraq, people have figured out that the troops don't start the wars, they simply do what their country asks of them. They leave their homes and families for far-away, hostile places to defend America and her allies. Their lives are put on hold, and they risk everything for our safety and well-being. One of the local TV stations has been running clips of service men and women wishing their loved ones at home Merry Christmas. It breaks your heart to hear them trying to sound upbeat and happy, while the crack in their voices tells a different story. They not only need our prayers for a speedy return, but need to be welcomed with open arms when they come home to us safely.

Until then, the next time you see a military person in uniform, no matter where, go out of your way to thank them for their service. Show them that Americans can differentiate between the people who get us into wars, and our brave sons and daughters who are forced to fight them. The greatest generation made our freedom possible; let's show their successors the gratitude and respect they deserve.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association