Monday, February 28, 2005

I have smart friends

You know how sometimes stuff you just find totally intriguing and impressive, and you wish you'd been clever or gutsy enough do it?

This is a picture of my friend's front yard.

I realize aerial photography was invented some time ago, but this was taken from a remote control plane. And that's not even so unique, except that this guy fastened the camera onto the plane himself, aligned a little solenoid or servo or whatever (connected to one of the navigation controls -- rudder or ailerons or something) over the shutter button. That is a totally ambitious move, and not only did he have the nerve to try it, he pulled it off. I smile in pleasure and admiration every time I think about it.

Okay, maybe I'm easy to please as WELL as being a geek. That sound you hear is me not caring.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Another long rambling discourse on gift-giving

Okay, I’m on a roll here with the whole gifts thing (ie, I can’t shut up about it.)
This post is long. It is not earth-shaking or particularly interesting. It makes me seem hopelessly neurotic and self-obsessed. If you skip only one entry on this blog, maybe it should be this one.
And ordinarily I wouldn't post something so blatantly all about me and my unoriginal emotions.
Okay, yes I would. But hey, it's *my* blog, innit? :-)


Here are some more things that I think of when I think of presents.

I’m 8 or 9 yrs old. One day we’re all at a bookstore, and when we come out my parents surprise me with a present – it’s a book, but it’s one I’ve already read. I hug it to my chest and smile, but not before Mom sees a flicker in my eyes. She says “You already read that one?” I admit that I have. So we go back into the store and exchange it for one I haven’t read yet.
No big deal, true. But my disappointment, and my guilt for not being glad, and my feeling sorry for my folks for getting the wrong thing, for trying to get a good gift and failing – those emotions are no less real for being foolish and unnecessary. Instead of making me happy, a gift makes me feel disappointed, sorry, guilty.
And even at eight yrs old, I can’t figure out why we go through this. Why didn’t my folks say to me while we were still in the store, “Would you like to pick out a book?” It would still have been a surprise, I’d have been very happy, and we could have avoided all the embarrassment and the unnecessary trip back into the store.

One day my mom says “Hey, go look outside, your dad’s brought you a surprise.” Someone at my dad’s office has given him a hand-me-down bicycle for me and my brother.
It’s about 1975. The cool bikes are the ones with the banana seats and big handlebars. No one – I mean no one – rides the old 1950’s style any more. You might as well have a sign on your head saying “dork”.
This old bike represents to me:
a) Another way for me to stand out, to look different, to be pitied or mocked instead of admired.
b) Our poverty. (And for the record, although I’ve said we were poor, we weren’t. My dad worked hard and had a decent job; we were buying a home, not renting; we always had enough to eat; we wore garage-sale clothes, but we also got vacations, camping trips, etc). But anyway, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I thought we were poor.
c) A failure on my Dad’s part. This sounds stupid, I know. My dad isn’t (and wasn’t) an insecure person. He had a tough childhood (he really WAS poor), and in spite of obstacles had come to be a great father, loving husband, and an honest, respected, hard-working professional. If I had told him I didn’t like the bike, I suspect he would have just laughed and explained that you can’t have everything and I should quit being so spoiled. But here’s the story as I imagine it at 9 or 10 yrs old: My dad – hopelessly out of touch with modern life – doesn’t know what’s cool and what’s not. He brings home an old bicycle, expecting cries of delight from his sons. His sons, far more sophisticated in the ways of the world, know that the bike he’s brought is lame, and are disappointed. Dad is riding the bike around in the street and laughing. If he knew that his sons didn’t like the surprise, his smile would fade, he would be crushed and feel like a fool. He’d be confused and hurt, and unable to understand why his attempt to please his sons has failed. He’d be sad to find he has fathered such unkind and selfish sons.

It never occurs to me that my dad could possibly understand about Cool vs Not Cool, or that he might already understand and not care. That he might laugh as he rides a kids’ bike in the street just because it’s fun/funny, not because he’s tickled with himself for scoring such a fantastic present for us.
A few weeks later my younger brother, seeing a “cool” bike, says to my parents, “That’s the kind of bike I wanted” at which I cringe and they just shrug. Apparently their sense of self-worth doesn’t derive entirely from the question of whether or not their sons like a hand-me-down they brought home from work one day.

Add here a number of other instances where someone has gone to some trouble and spent some money on me, and gotten me something that I appreciated, but was in some way lame or mockable. I don’t know how to explain it very well – it’s not that I wasn't grateful -- I was. *I* would never mock anything someone got for me. I felt tremendous love, and gratitude, and… pity, I guess. And it used to stress me out. Like if your grandma from the old country knits you a traditional peasant cap and stands in the doorway waving proudly to you as you head off to school where it will be savaged by your classmates. Or if you’re a scuba diver and spend a lot of effort saving for the best equipment, and then your friend buys you a regulator that the day before you had derided as a cheap piece of crap. I’d feel bad for the person for buying crap for someone as picky as me, I guess.
I think most of it stems from insecurity on my part – for much of my life I’ve been hypersensitive to being laughed at, to failing publicly. If I get someone a gift, and they don’t like it, I am embarrassed. And I project that onto others – I assume that if THEY buy ME a gift, and I don’t like it, they’ll feel sad and stupid like I would.
So I feel under a lot of pressure to act pleased, and terribly guilty if I feel the gift isn’t what I’d have chosen for myself.

In past years, my wife let me know – in no uncertain terms – that the gifts I got her were not up to snuff*. It’s not that they weren’t expensive enough, it’s that they lacked imagination – they said “I bought this in desperation at Safeway at the last minute” rather than “I spent hours thinking about you and all your varied and fascinating traits and interests. This gift is the result.”
But I’m extremely busy most of the time (my blogging notwithstanding). Hannah put me thru the last year of school, and since then I’ve been the sole breadwinner. I work a lot of hours. After work, I come straight home. I don’t spend much time in the mall.
I guess for someone who spends the whole day at home, and can go to the store any time they like, it’s easy to think everyone should be able to spend hours trying to think up wonderful gifts, and more hours searching for them at the store. But the fact is I spend most of my life working my nachas off to put food in four people’s mouths and a roof over our heads. I don’t have a lot of time for ruminating, and less for wandering around the mall.
What I’d like to do is put a pink bow around every single thing in the whole bloody house and say “Here, this is what I’ve bought you this year. Do you like it? I hope so, because I spent a lot of time working to buy it for you. Or failing that, maybe it wouldn’t be too much to ask you to tell me what you’d really like. Because I don’t have the time or energy for the guessing game called If You Really Loved Me You’d Know What I Wanted.”

*To Hannah’s credit, this is not something she does any more. She has been working outside the home for the first time since the kids were born – she had a big project to do at work, and found herself too busy to get me a birthday present. (Well, well, well – imagine that. When this situation was reversed in years past, of course, I was Unloving Evil Husband…)
Anyway, since I can’t ever let things just slide, I had to bring this up to her. I asked her – now that she understands how it can be – if she might retroactively cut me a little slack for past failure to devote 100% of my time to buying the perfect Valentine or whatever. To my surprise, she said “I was unreasonable and immature. I’m sorry.” You could’ve knocked me over with a feather…

So there you have it. The (hopefully) full & final story on why I’m a pathetic gift giver and receiver.
And I should also add this: much of the above is not necessarily how I feel any more. That is, I still have residual angst about gifts, but I’ve moved past much of the underlying insecurity and over-concern about others’ opinions, etc. (If my great-great-grandmother - may she rest in peace - knitted me a yarmulke or something, it would be cool.)
The last few years I’ve enjoyed letting many things be what they are, without having to assign a value to them, or worrying about how they might have been better/worse/different, or what someone else might think about them.
Perhaps now that I’m 40 – and barreling full speed toward old age and death – I’ll even learn to love exchanging gifts soon. You never know...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

5 Reasons I Hate Amway (or whatever it's called this week)

#1 Because they lie. They lie about the nature of the company. They pretend to be one thing when they are really something else. When people want to show you the plan, they lie or trick you into coming. They lie about how much effort it takes to be successful. They lie about the economics behind the company, and about where the successful ones make most of their money. They lie to themselves about their motivations and their likelihood of succeeding. They deliberately try to portray a lifestyle of wealth, whether they are actually wealthy or not.

#2 Because every relationship Amway people have is compromised by business. Every friend they already have is now a potential convert, and every friendship they make (or every nice gesture within a friendship) now has two competing purposes. Amway people come up to you and pretend to be interested in you or your hobbies or whatever; their purpose is to invite you to a meeting of "businesspeople" or "entrepeneurs" or "consultants". They call signing someone up "helping someone", as in "If you found 10 people to help..." How do you know who your real friends are if you're trying to manipulate everyone you meet?

#3 Because they worship money. They call it "success" or "security", but it means money, and it's huge for these people. The diamonds and emeralds or whatever are revered by many of the lower echelon. "They're just like regular people!" said one starstruck Amway-ite to me after meeting a diamond at a convention. (That sound is me, gagging.) As if their wealth makes them better than the rest of us, and they're to be admired for not acting like the royalty they supposedly are. The first half an hour of an Amway presentation is about how much money you'd like to make and all the stuff you could buy if you had all the money you wanted.
Glorious, glorious money.

#4 Because they take advantage of gullible, low-to-middle income people. They encourage them to make stupid choices in search of the Amway Money Dream. They fill their heads with unrealistic expectations, and bleed them dry selling them tapes and seminars and conventions. They show up in their fancy cars with their nice clothes and their aura of success, and they flatter and manipulate people into signing up. They "take care" of their downline by calling them, by helping them present the plan to other people, etc. They make them feel important and successful and part of something special, but the main point is to keep them moving product and making ever more converts.

#5 Because it's controlled by Satan.

I think that pretty well covers the main points.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Duck and cover

It’s traditional to trash your mother-in-law, but mine has always treated me extremely well. Sharon is generous and with-it and we get on just fine.

In general, she loves animals. She has had numerous cats and a few dogs, and they tend to live like royalty. However, once in a while an animal will fall from favor (usually from being mean to other animals); when that happens, Woe betide thee, Nag*.

When my wife & I first got married, her folks lived in a place with a small pond, and the pond had ducks. All was well until one of the males started picking on the rest of the herd, or flock, or whatever.

I don’t know if it was duck mating season or if he was just the duck version of Mike Tyson, but he would harass and intimidate all the other ducks, and he soon became duck non grata with Sharon.

One weekend when we were visiting, she asked me if I could shoot just that one duck -- and restore peace to the little pond, I guess. Being male and not about to pass up an opportunity to shoot something on behalf of a pretty woman, I said of course I could.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have a shotgun – all they had was my father-in-law’s Ruger .22 carbine. (And a Winchester lever-action 30-30, which would have been good for, say, buffalo, but a bit much for ducks.)

Anyway, a rifle is not the optimum tool for shooting ducks from a pitching rowboat. At first I was still thinking I could pull off a head shot (it wasn’t a big pond), but very soon I was hoping for any kind of hit at all.

I had to be careful of what was downrange, because bullets can skip off water – I made sure if they did they’d end up in the hillside, not whining up the driveway into the house. I think this is why I was in the boat in the first place, instead of shooting from shore -- the bank on the side of the house was steep -- I could only shoot in one direction (away from the house), which meant using the boat.

Anyway, the bottom line was I wasn’t able to hit the dang duck. The boat was rocking, he was paddling to and fro, the others were quacking and milling about…

Eventually, I looked up at the house, and there was M-I-L, staring out the kitchen window with her arms folded and a disgusted look on her face. It was supposed to be a surgical strike, in & out – but here I was shooting up her little pond and freaking out the whole pride, or coven, or whatever it was.

My wife Hannah came down to the pond to say that “Mom’s all mad now, and you’re supposed to quit shooting the ducks.” Which I thought was kind of unfair as I’d been pretty careful about the other ducks – so careful, in fact, that I had yet to hit *anything* other than the water.

I figured it *was* time to give up, but just then Iron Duck Tyson came drifting toward me. I tried for one last shot, taking my time, waiting for the perfect moment… I was aware of M-I-L and Hannah watching me. I slowly squeezed off a shot… And watched in horror as a large brown female who had drifted in behind Iron Duck raised one wing slowly into the air and rolled over in the water.
I looked back at the house – Sharon gave one last look, and with her mouth set in a tight line, turned away from the window.

I retrieved the corpse of the female I had killed and disposed of it in the woods.
I unloaded the gun and put it back in the garage.
I slunk back into the house.
For the rest of the weekend, no one mentioned ducks.

*See Rikki Tikki Tavi, by Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

There's a vas deferens between us...

From Mil Millington, author/social commentator/funny guy, on the difference between men and women:
I've got this friend. For the sake of discretion, let's call her Emma, and her partner can be Juan. And let's say they live in, oh - Penzance; rather than where they actually live - which is North London. So, my friend tells a story of the moment when, after five years together, she finally knew that it was over. Juan's formerly near-constant sexual desire for her was now far less frequent, and far more moderated by the television schedules. It was almost as though their sex life had to be vetted by TV Choice.
So, she secretly does a striptease course. She trains herself in the Art of the Thong, gets an outfit, and then glides into the room one evening while he's sitting there watching BBC 2.
She begins.
He glances at her absently. At last - when she's wearing nothing but an exasperated expression and a couple of tassels - she says, "Well?"
"What?" he asks.
"What do you mean, 'What?'? I'm here. You're in, mate. I can't really make it more obvious than this."
"Oh, right... Can't you wait a bit? I'm watching Star Trek."
"What the f-... I... Hold on ­ you've seen this episode anyway! It's a repeat, for God's sake!"
"Well... yeah. But it's one of my favourites," Juan replies.
And she's left standing there: embarrassingly bestripped.

An illuminating snapshot of many a relationship five years in. But that's not my point. My point is that I've heard her tell that story many times.
If a woman is listening, then that woman will immediately say, "God ­ that's awful. How terrible for you," or, "Oh, Emma. Your self-esteem must have been destroyed. You poor thing."
But, if it's a man there, what is his instant, instinctive reply? Well (for the women reading this ­ the men have the words fidgeting in their heads already), it's always the same thing:
"Hmmm... so - what episode was it?"

That is the difference between men and women.

So, since this is about gender issues, I have to add my two dollars' worth:

POINT #1: There you see male compartmentalization in action. Total focus. Right now is time for Star Trek, not other stuff. Not even a token nod in the direction of the Big Picture. Feelings not a factor, logic rules supreme: if she waited, we could have both Star Trek AND sex, whereas this way, it has to be one or the other...

POINT #2: It must be conceded that the guy is a moron. I cannot state this strongly enough. And I myself have been exactly that moronic. We were on vacation one time, my wife came out of the bedroom in sexy lingerie, and I asked her to just wait a sec till the end of the football game. What was I thinking? The 49ers were playing for the NFC championship, and I was totally focused, yes. But that's no excuse. It's one of the stupidest things I've ever done, and I'm still paying for it today.

POINT #3: Why are the rules so disparate on the issue of proposition/refusal? How many men have propositioned their partner while she's in the middle of something else, and been turned down hard? I think all of us. In fact, we're quickly made to understand that she wants time to get in the right frame of mind, that romantic talk and all that has to come first, you can't just spring it on her and expect an enthusiastic yes.
So anyway, when a guy gets told "Not now, but later," he's happy. Later is infinity times better than no.
When a woman's ready to go, she expects to hear "Okay, I'll just put the patient's heart here on the tray and come back later to finish up."

POINT #4: The guy was still an idiot.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

little stuff i've been happy about so far today

- hot shower
- soft fluffy towels
- my own hotel room where i can walk around naked, pass wind, etc
- friendly hotel staff
- a job that pays pretty well
- nice clients
- the best roast pork sandwich i've ever had
- chocolate donut i shouldn't have eaten but nevertheless enjoyed every single bite of

i promise to return to complaining about my life very soon.

Monday, February 14, 2005

I hate MBNA. No, wait -- I love them again.

Today MBNA called me (from India, by the accents of the people I talked to) to say that I had missed last month's payment (they were right -- I had neglected to extend the limit on # of payments in my electronic billpaying svc). Anyway, they said they were going to charge me $49 and report me to the credit bureau if I didn't make a pymt over the phone in the next two hrs.

I said I never gave my bank acct info to someone who called ME.

They gave me to a manager who assured me that it was completely safe, hundreds of customers do it, it's entirely confidential, and "I will personally put the payment in under my ID" all of which had nothing to do with the question of whether they were actually MBNA or a person in their garage in L.A. Or possibly Bombay.

I said I had already sent a pymt electronically which would credit on the 16th. Mr Manager said it wasnt' good enough, that he needed a pymt in the next two hours.

I said the fact the I had paid 6 times the minimum every month without fail for the last four years ought to buy me some grace. The guy said sorry. I said I was sorry too, and I would find a different bank who would work with me.

Then the guy wanted to hook me up with a salesperson to talk about other MBNA products I might be interested in. I felt he was unclear on the concept.

So I called MBNA cust svc directly, and they took my pymt over the phone, waived the over-the-phone charge and the late fee, and assured me I was the splendid person I was already pretty sure I was. So we're tight again.

Look, no one *made* you read this post.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

gift trauma

Okay, maybe this is part of why I hate the whole gift thing so much...

When I was about10 or 11, we lived on a street that surrounded a grassy area about half the size of a football field. The neighborhood boys would play football, baseball, soccer, or hockey out on this little field. It wasn't a wealthy neighbourhood, but between the various families somebody had hockey goals, somebody had a soccer ball, somebody had a good bat or gloves -- if one of the guys wasn't out playing, we would just bang on his door and borrow what we needed to play. Our family had very little money, but our contribution was the one nice football in the neighbourhood.

Aaaanyway, one of the boys down the street invited me and my brother to his birthday party.
As I said, our family had virtually no money, but we knew we needed to bring birthday presents, so my mom went to the store to find something.

Now, my mom is a wonderful person, and I love and admire her very much. But she's not really a sports nut. To her, one ball looks much like another -- her main concern with them is that they not fly around the living room so much. So she came back with
a) a model ship, and
b) one of those rubbery plastic balls a little bigger than a basketball, covered with red and pink swirls. The kind you're pleased with if you're 2-4 yrs old, but have outgrown by the time you're six. Wesley was turning 11. This was not good.

My brother and I didn't know what to do. We said we didn't want to give Wesley the plastic ball. Mom got a little testy about it (was she sad/frustrated that she couldn't afford more? did she just think we were picky and spoiled? who knows?) -- she said "Well, they're always over here borrowing balls - why wouldn't he like it?"

To put it in terms Mom would understand, it was as if someone liked to borrow your copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and you gave them the assembly instructions for a playpen made in Malaysia, written by a person with only a rudimentary knowledge of English. ("Well, they're always over here borrowing words, aren't they?")

So we were stuck with the ball. But then we had no way to wrap it. Eventually we found the only box we had that was big enough to hold the ball -- about 2' x 2' x 3' -- and put the ball inside surrounded by crumpled up newspaper.

When we showed up at the party with the big box, Wesley's eyes lit up -- that must be one BIG present -- but he looked puzzled and disappointed a minute later to find nothing but a toddler's plastic ball inside. My brother and I said that, um, it was... a joke. Yeah, it was a joke -- the point was to make Wesley think he was getting a really big present, but then all he got was the ball. Which might have been kind of funny if we'd really gotten him something good -- but his other present from us was the model ship which was the cheapest of all the other gifts he got. My brother and I got a few funny looks from the other guys, and we didn't blame them.

And I think that might be part of why public gifts are hard for me. They take me back to all the emotions I felt that day:
- shame at being poor
- embarrassment about the gift, the huge box, the stupid story we told
- anger at my mom for making us give such lame gifts
- disgust and pity for Mom for not being able to tell the difference between a football and a plastic baby's ball
- guilt and self-loathing for having those feelings about Mom, who loved us so much and gave us so much, and probably sacrificed the milk money just to get Wesley what she did, so we could go to his stupid party

So yeah, it's dumb. It was 30 yrs ago, and I'm almost certainly the only person in the world who still remembers it. On the grand scale of life events, it's virtually non-existent. Even on the scale of Social Misery From Being Poor, it's miniscule.

But emotion is funny, and some things sort of stay with us. When I think of presents, I think of Wesley's party, and it's not a happy memory.
Bottom line, I'm not a big fan of gifts. So sue me.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

school for the gifted

I may have mentioned that my dad taught me to read when I was 4 yrs old. I was ready, and enthusiastic, and I read everything I could get my hands on from then on. I was always way ahead of grade level in reading speed/comprehension, etc.
From this my teachers got the idea that I was really bright, and a couple of times I was among those selected for special testing, etc. This is what I remember:

Kindergarten: the tester held up two pieces of clay and informed us that they weighed the same amount. Then he squished one into a different shape and asked us if we thought they still weighed the same, or if their weights were now different.
I hadn't a clue. I was open to the idea that maybe weight was connected to shape, and since everyone else was saying that they must still weigh the same, I decided to answer that they now weighed different. The tester gave me a funny look.

Grade 2: The tester gave me a piece of paper on which was drawn the outline of a closed-in area with a single entrance. She said "Imagine this is a field where you have lost your wallet. Draw a line with the pencil to show where you would walk to find it." I'm pretty sure the point was for me to demonstrate a thoughtful, ordered path. But I just figured you'd need to cover that field pretty thoroughly, so I coloured the whole area in, showing a path only a demented ADD sufferer would walk.

After I performed so well on the field test, the tester tried to explain binary notation to me (I was six or seven). She said "If I establish a pattern that looks like this:
what would the next number look like?
I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. I guessed wildly, proposing random strings of 1's and 0's. My intelligence level did not appear to overwhelm her. It wasn't until almost 10 yrs later, when I saw binary notation again in high school, that I understood what she was on about.

That's basically what I remember of special testing: three questions, all of which I flunked dramatically. But I'm confident I could do much better now...

posting is work

i keep checking here to see if there are any more posts, but then i remember that it's my blog. rats.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Grant, continued

Apparently some felt the story of Grant ended with a bit of a whimper (har).

The truth is, the rest of Grant's story was very boring. In 6th grade he got hooked on heroin, and started smuggling Canadians across the border into Alaska to pay for his habit. He was about to get busted while driving a truckload of illegals, so he ran from the truck amid a hail of gunfire and struck off across country to escape from the RCMP.

At the edge of exhaustion, he took refuge in a cave full of kodiak bears, who nursed him back to health. He became especially attached to a female named Binky, but knowing their love was doomed, he eventually left her behind, taking nothing but memories of the precious nights they had shared. (That, and a taste for raw salmon with blackberries.)

He returned to civilization, clean, sober, and smelling like wet bear. The mounties always get their man, so after a dramatic car chase he was apprehended and sent to prison to pay his debt to society.

Upon his release he started a small consulting business establishing himself as an expert in Animal Husbandry*.

He invested the earnings from this business in Apple computers and made a jillion dollars, which he used to start several more highly successful businesses. He retired at 35 to become an astronaut, inventor, trapeze artist, world traveler, and king of Moldavia.

When Forbes magazine asked him what was the most memorable experience of his life, he said it was kneeing some boy in the leg one time, and seeing him writhe on the ground sniveling like a baby. Apparently it was this memory that had kept him going through all the trials of his life, and he felt he owed that boy a debt that could never be repaid.

As of this writing, Grant is working on his third best-selling novel ("Me and Some More Bears", following the characters established in "Bears", and "The Bears and I").

Happy now?

*tip o' the hat to Tom Lehrer

Monday, February 07, 2005

In which I am evil and unkind..

In 5th grade I met a kid named Grant. He greeted me after school, introduced himself, and before I knew it had invited himself to come over to my house and play. Or maybe I invited him, but if I did it was because he put a spell on me or something. Actually, what I remember is him saying "Can I come over and play?" and me not knowing what to say other than Yes.

Grant was big and strong. He had thick glasses with black plastic frames, and he was socially clueless (ie, he was friendly, open, and totally lacking in cool.) I think mentally he may have been a little slow. Looking back only a few years later, I realized that Grant was a great person. He didn't have my insecurities and neuroses, my hyper-concern about how I looked to others, my desperate need to be accepted. He was friendly, nice, and honest. And because these qualities made him such a dork, he also didn't have any friends.

With our friendship 30 seconds old, he began to ask questions. "So, do you like games? What do you like to play?" He's decided that we're going to be friends, and we need to get on with the business of nurturing this friendship. Hence the questions -- after all, how can we be friends if he doesn't know what I like?

But this is too weird for me. He's not following the script -- the one where we act cool and give each other crap and gradually decide if we like each other or not. I feel sorry for him for being so friendly and vulnerable and dorky.

Anyway, we walk most of the way to my house together. I do not warm to him as we walk. He makes me nervous and his naked need for friendship makes me uncomfortable. This was a couple of years before I became a social pariah myself, before I developed the famous empathy I go on about ad naseum today. In 5th grade I was still a popular kid, with friends. I had no idea what it would be like to be Grant. I wish I hadn't been such a shallow little snot, but there it is.

Some kids from our school approach us. These kids know Grant, and they don't like him -- he's a little different, so of course he must be mocked unmercifully. They call him names from across the street until he suddenly runs toward them as if to attack them. They scatter, and he comes back to me, panting and grinning.

The kids regroup a little further away, and the name-calling begins again. I say, "Hey, go after them again!" So he does. And I take the opportunity to run into an alley and hide from him.

This time when he returns, I'm nowhere to be found. He comes a little way down the alley. I peek out from behind some garbage cans. I think he sees me, because he gets a sad, resigned look on his face, then slowly turns around and walks away.

I go home by myself. I don't want to think very hard about what I did.

The next day at school, it dawns on me that I have made an enemy of Grant. I have dissed him even worse than the others, because I did it from a position of friendship.

Someone tells me that Grant is looking for me, and he's not happy. After school, I hurry toward home, but I am too late -- Grant is trotting after me, full of righteous indignation and wounded pride. He is still big. His black plastic glasses don't seem so funny any more.

I stop and face him as he runs toward me on the grass. I make as if to meet him, but turn aside at the last minute. His knee hits my quadriceps muscle and my whole leg goes numb. I collapse on the grass, crying like a girl. Grant doesn't even bother to beat me up, just looks down at me, blubbing and snotting on the grass, then walks away.

It hurt like the devil. I limped all the way home. The next day I had a big bruise, but I knew I deserved it.

I hate presents

I'm not sure who can identify with this and who can't, but: I kind of hate gifts.

I hate buying them, because I never know what to get. How much is too much to spend? How much is too little? How could I possibly know what a person wants better than they do? If they don't like my gift, they're still going to feel obligated to praise it and possibly wear/use it, just because I bought it for them. It's stupid, and a waste of money and everyone's time. And if it's a situation where others are also bringing gifts for this person, what if two of us get him/her the same thing, only one person's gift clearly costs 6 times as much as the other person's? Unless I happen to know exactly what the person wants, it's way too much pressure.

I like receiving gifts all right (even tho I'd prolly just as soon have the cash), because I am shallow and selfish. But even then, I'd rather buy my own watches, wallets, etc.

Also, there's the money. (I'm part Jewish, and with my reddish beard I'm told I look Scottish, so perhaps I have an excuse.) My fondest wish is that we could someday get out of debt and learn to live within our means, rather than continuing our current Shopping Tsunami approach to spending. So if you are a member of my household and want to do something nice for me, you could just give me the money you were going to spend on a shirt or sweater or whatever, and I'll put it toward the VISA bill. Yes, it's unromantic. But so is the Sherriff when he comes to chuck all your furniture into the street.

But most of all, I detest the part about opening gifts in front of people. Someone has gone to some trouble to try to please me, and here they are looking at me with this bright smile of expectation, and there is of course only one right answer to the question of whether I like it or not, even if it's a pair of lime green polyester dress slacks, or a personalized colonic hose.

Don't get me wrong -- I understand that "it's the thought that counts" (I'm not a total idiot). And I *do* appreciate others' kindnesses. But if were really the thought that counted, I could just say "I'm honored and touched and grateful that you got me a gift. No matter what it is, I'll appreciate it, because it came from you. And I'm sure to enjoy opening it -- later, after you've gone home." But no, that's not how it works -- nothing will do but that I open the cursed gift in front of everyone.

And when I open the stupid thing, I feel like I'm supposed to emote and exclaim and cavort and have a general spazz attack about how this is the greatest gift ever, and it feels very fakey to me because I'm not that way -- I'm not real skilled at expressing my emotions. (I'm male -- we barely even *have* emotions, let alone recognize what they are or know how to express them.)

So even if I really really REALLY love the gift you gave me, I'm still not going to jump up and down and clutch it to my chest and shriek and slobber and get all teary. But I feel under a lot of pressure to do so, which makes the whole gift-opening thing kind of stressful for me.

Related story: Friday was my 40th birthday [cue funeral march], and my beloved sister sent me a gift package in the mail. Since she knows how I feel about having to enthuse about gifts, she included a self-written highly-enthusiastic and emotional Thank You letter, with a box I could check and a self-addressed, prepaid envelope for sending it back to her. It was one of the best gifts I ever got. :-)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Part of the contemporary predicament of an old one; it is that we cannot have everything: we cannot live in a society that is materially rich, individualistic, open to all currents of ideas, one that allows and encourages free expression and mobility of every kind, where we can shop around for our favorite religion, experiment with new identities, and sample available options and life styles and at the same time also enjoy the benefits of stable communal ties, sustaining beliefs, taken-for-granted values, and a solid sense of purpose."
-- Paul Hollander

Note: this quote was shamelessly lifted directly from Unca's blog Micrographia

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

my communication skills

Hotel Pool Guy [raised voice from 30 feet away]: Sir, those towels need to stay here.

Me [gesturing to bin full of identical towels, 3 feet away but in the weight room]: Can I put them in here when I'm done?

HPG: Those towels. They have to stay in the pool area.

Me: Yeah, I won't take them to my room. Can I put them in that bin there?

HPG: The pool towels need to stay here. They're separate.

Me: Oh. They're different from these here?

HPG [angrily]: They're not *different*. They're *separate*.

Me: Oh.