Safety First

After a layover in Moscow we hop onto another, smaller, Aeroflot jet to complete the last 4 hours to Tel Aviv. Two things were notable on this leg of the journey. The first was a mom and daughter with whom we shared a row. The flight attendant presented this young family with a package of goodies designed for juvenile passengers. The daughter was symbiotic with a handheld entertainment device and could not be bothered with the mundanity of airline trinkets. The mother, however, lit up like a Christmas tree at the sight of the package. With great delight she dug through the package and vainly attempted to impress it’s worth onto her daughter. Her sheer joy at receiving this unexpected bounty warmed the cockles of my heart, which is good, because I don’t like cold cockles.

The next notable event happened just minutes later. I am sure it happened on the previous flight, but I did not have a screen in front of me on that part of the journey. I was sitting innocently in my seat solving a sudoku puzzle as a I awaited take off when my screen came to life with the Aeroflot logo. The scene switched to a tall blond strolling in slow motion to some unseen destination of great importance as the wind blows her hair. It appears she is heading out for a night on the town as she is wearing 4-inch pumps. At this point her feet are joined by several identical legs in equally absurd footwear. The camera pulls back to reveal a phalanx of women that we are supposed to believe are a flight crew from Aeroflot. (I noticed that our flight crew all wore very practical flats to avoid breaking an ankle while serving you a thimble of room-temperature water.) This was the intro to the safety instructions. I did not watch the video to the end, but I never watch all the safety instructions. I refuse to believe that a plane will crash if my tray table is not latched or my seat is not in the full, upright position. I also don’t think if the engines drop off the plane and we plummet 50,000 feet into the Northern Sea that the first thing on my mind will be “how do I blow into this tube protruding from the rubber sport coat I’m wearing.” More likely, the first thing that goes through my mind will be my knees. The majority of the safety instructions are for people who have no business traveling unsupervised. If you are foolish enough to leave your chaperone at home when you can’t find your way out of a hallway where eight doorways have just opened and have flashing signs to tell you to exit, then Darwin says you should remain in your seat with your seatbelt securely fastened so you can improve the gene pool by removing yourself.

Maturity

Sometimes I hate growing up. I know I need to…people tell me all the time, “Grow up J.D.”. But often what I hear is, “Don’t have any fun J.D.”. Let’s face it. There is a direct correlation between immature behavior and having fun. Take today for example…

I was in the shower at the Y and realized that I was out of toothpaste. I always brush my teeth in the shower. It’s part of my ritual, and you shouldn’t mess with my rituals. I know I can brush without toothpaste, but it was morning and everyone knows that the only time you can brush without toothpaste is right before bed. It was out of the question. I eyed the soap dispenser hanging on the wall and a solution began to take form in my mind. I know that washing one’s mouth out with soap does not really cure cursing or coarse language, but it is a long and trusted application of soap. (My mom opted for making me eat a little piece of soap, probably to avoid getting involved doing anything actually inside my mouth – a wise woman.) I figured that if I controlled what was swallowed I could gain the benefits of using an emulsifier of grease and grime while avoiding the deleterious effects of ingesting a caustic substance. So I went for it. A little squirt of soap on the brush was all it took.

The soap was extremely effective at delivering a squeaky-clean oral cavity, but it had a side effect that forced me to choose between maturity and having fun. As soon as I engaged in vigorous brushing, copious amounts of foam emerged from my mouth. Being me, I immediately wanted to adopt a wild-eyed look and run out into the main part of the locker room beating my chest with foam dripping from my mouth to see what kind of mayhem I could cause. The mature part of me was opposed to this course of action and asked what I planned to do after the initial shock of a naked, crazed man in the locker room wore off. My inner middle-schooler responded that it would be so epic, it wouldn’t matter. Then my 13-year-old self decided that running out of the locker room into the main part of the Y would really ratchet up the fun. The grown up J.D. reminded me that females would probably be present. I rinsed out my mouth and behaved like an adult…on the outside. It’s not as much fun to be mature, but it has fewer regrets than the alternative.

Winning

I play fantasy football. This is a bit strange because everything I know about professional football players could be written on a 3×5 index card with one inch margins. In politically correct terms, I am sports challenged. In more accurate terms I am an idiot…about sports. I know that some would debate my qualifier, but that is all I am willing to own up to right now. I play primarily to keep a connection with my relatives in Ohio (brother, brother-in-law, nephews and their friends). They all know that I am a dunce and they salivate when they see me coming up on their schedule. Everybody likes an easy win from time to time. I’m famous for not fielding a complete team when time escapes me and I use injured or bye-week players (if you don’t understand what that means – thank you. It’s lonely at the bottom). Even with all my ignorance I am currently in fourth place (out of ten) through randomness and sheer dumb luck. But I must publish this tonight because tomorrow I will be lower in the ranks.

I don’t get my self esteem from being a sports wizard. I, and everyone I know, recognize that sports is not my thing. However, there are no fantasy philosophers or fantasy theologians – fields in which I could have a fighting chance.  Yet the competition of the fantasy football engages me at a visceral level. I get upset when my players underperform. I want to win every game and get bummed when I lose. I research a topic in which I have no interest to win in a game that has no prize…well, there is the winner’s mug which started in year two after I won the whole thing in year one. Winning will not make my relatives love me more or respect me more. It will likely do the opposite as I will be insufferable if I ever stumble into the championship again. I doubt that I am alone in this desire to excel in an area in which I have neither skill nor interest. Whoever said, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” was an idiot. Of course it matters. Winning is better. Any youngster who spent his time picking dandelions during a soccer match or T-ball game wants to know one thing when it’s over – “Did we win?”  Yes, it is fun to play even when you lose; it’s just more fun when you win. How you play the game (e.g., not cheating, good sportsmanship, gracious winner/loser) is important, but that is unrelated to the winning question. I want to be a gracious winner, not a gracious loser.

Loud Talkers

I can’t decide if loud talking is physiological or pathological. I spend time writing in coffee shops and observe many types of people. Loud talkers are those that never seem to speak to a person, but always to a room. Recently a young man, five tables away, was interviewing for a job, or internship, or some other college-related thing. At my remote location I heard every word at a volume that drowned out my own thoughts. I felt great empathy for the woman interviewing him who undoubtedly had a migraine when she was done and likely has suffered permanent hearing loss. The decibel level of the store was cut in half when he left. Considering the answers he was giving to the questions I couldn’t hear, I assumed it must be a physiological issue that he cannot control – an enlarged voice box, excessive lung output, etc. I figured no one would broadcast such asinine answers unless it was beyond their control.

Yesterday, however, I had to re-evaluate my conclusions. Another loud talker showed up for a cup-o-joe and a bellow. Only three tables away this time, I knew I was in for a treat. To make it more exciting he sat directly in my line of vision and commanded me to look up repeatedly with loud intrusive utterances. I gave up on being able to accomplish work and just watched him for a while. He fit the large lung theory based on chest size, but I am convinced he was indeed trying to speak to a room. He apparently was under the delusion that everyone in the room was fascinated with his tirade. From what I could tell, not even the one person sitting at his table was fascinated. The only one utterly impressed with every word he spoke was him. I concluded that the source must be pathological (e.g., desperate ploy for attention, insecurity, need to feel important). While this nudges me toward judgment, I must tread lightly. I write a blog…which is loud talking when one room is not enough. A blogger must shout his conversations to cyber space in a desperate plea for someone to notice, comment, or like our post. I think I need to talk to a therapist about my insecurities and learn how to speak softly.

Travel Concluded

Ensconced in my back-row seat, I’m a happy camper. My wife is next to me, the bathroom is one step away, (or perhaps I can just turn sideways in my seat), I have my computer, what can go wrong. As I contentedly type out my blog, the young man in the aisle across from me starts having a seizure. With arms and legs flailing in all directions I attempt to leap from my seat and rescue the poor soul. Fortunately, being in a seat that can’t recline (unless they cut a hole into the bathroom), and having the seat in from of me fully reclined with a sleeping passenger keeps me wedged tighter than a cork in a wine bottle. My heroic leap is down graded to a pathetic wriggle saving me from an embarrassing intervention.

My aisle mate is not seizing, he is trying to put on his backpack while sitting in his seat. Regardless of your judgement about the soundness of his mind for wanting to wear a backpack while sardined into coach, you have to give him props for the effort. This feat is inaccessible to all but the most limber of contortionists. Sadly, my friend is not up to the task. Failing to don the gargantuan luggage he does the next most reasonable thing…jams it behind his back to settle in for a snooze. He doesn’t seem to notice my slack-jawed stare as I ponder the how and why of his amazing antics. Maybe he is intensely paranoid and fears someone will reach under his seat to riffle through his gear as he sleeps, because we all secretly harbor fantasies of rummaging through other’s carry on luggage. Perhaps at home he sleeps in a well stocked closet and can’t nod off without being crumpled up with hard objects jamming into his back. I will never know the source of his bizarre decision, but I am again reminded that people are unpredictable and entertaining. We never know what someone may do or why they will do it…and that makes people interesting. There is never a need to be bored if you can just get to a place where you can watch people.

Travel Continued

Boarding a plane before the majority of travelers is a delightful privilege. The biggest perk is the ability to put your carry-on luggage in an overhead rack. On this trip my luggage was only four rows away from my seat neatly tucked away over head. Far too often I have shoved my carry on under the seat in front of me eliminating my meager allotment of foot space. The secondary perk is sitting back and watching other passengers fight over the remaining over-head storage.

Being in the back row gives a clear view of the entertaining squabbles that inevitably break out. Bob from Philadelphia decides that Bernice from Atlanta stowed her baggage inefficiently and proceeds to rearrange it in order to get his bag in along side. Bernice realizes what is going on and gives Bob an earful for touching her luggage. The ruckus alerts the 102 pound “flight attendant” (she is not a stewardess) who steps between 195-pound-Bob and Bernice, who appears to have had two Bobs for lunch. Employing the skills of a diplomat, marriage counselor, and magician the flight attendant gets the bags, Bob, and Bernice all securely stowed in their respective seats with smiles an all but the bags (they make no expression whatsoever). Moments later a young man is trying to stuff a backpack into a space that won’t fit an empty file folder. Our perky flight attendant demonstrates she also has military training as a Drill Sargent and begins barking orders. She informs the hapless backpacker that not even she can accomplish this feat and that he will need to store his pack under the seat in front of him. The de-neutered young man slinks into the seat across the aisle from me and starts the process of eliminating his foot space. The attendant smiles sweetly as she surveys her neat and orderly domain where she is clearly at the top of the food chain.

To be continued…

Travel – Part One

Travel always reminds me why I blog – the world is funny and we need to stop and laugh at ourselves from time to time. Things never go quite as I expect, but I always marvel at how life develops. I just attended a great conference in Atlanta (Catalyst) and am now on the plane traveling home. I had my tickets to the conference for a year and bought my airline tickets three months ago. Buying plane tickets early allows me to select seats so my wife and I can have a reasonably comfortable trip sitting next to one another. Of course, the night before I leave I try to print off my boarding passes and discover only my wife’s seat is reserved and I am bumped to the “find a seat between the snorer and the talker” category. No thank you! As a psychologist and a pastor it should be clear I don’t like people, especially ones I don’t know. Fortunately, I am able to rearrange the seats so I am reunited with my wife, albeit much further back in the plane. I don’t mind. We are together and the world is good.

The conference is awesome and we head back to the airport. It’s a little exciting because Waze and Google maps argue about the best way to get there and they both end up wrong. It isn’t their fault. Both could get us to the airport (by different routes) but Atlanta found it prudent to put the rental car return in a different county than the airport proper. No problem. Two trains, a 5k, two trips through security and a cavity search later we made it. Sure, my wife is complaining of chest pains, but we are on time for our flight. With the arrogant confidence of someone who has prepared for every contingency I march up to the kiosk to print our boarding passes and, again, I have no seat. The only option left is in the last row where the flight crew store their luggage and other passengers who waited to the last minute to plan their trip. On the up side, we got placed in the first group for loading. I guess they want us out of the way since the only one going further back than us is a mechanic to work on the engine.

To be continued…

Sheets

Sheets were designed by a sadistic gnome. I imagine a short person who sleeps alone and lies perfectly still on a king-sized bed has no understanding of this problem. However, if you are tall, or share a bed, or have restless legs, or, heaven forbid, meet all of these criteria, then you know what an evil adversary sheets can be.

Beds are not designed for tall people. They come in sizes that will support the majority of your body, but something is going to hang off of one end or the other. Allowing your head to hang off the end causes all your blood to pool in your cranium resulting in a massive headache and clogged sinuses. Trying to scooch down far enough to perch your head on the bed initiates the battle between sheet and feet. A comfortable sheet arrangement, in my opinion, entails smooth, flat sheets neatly tucked in place. Once your feet approach the end of the bed you either submit to the foot binding practice or the sheets become untucked. I haven’t seen too many tall people with size 4 shoes, so I suspect most end up with untucked sheets.

Once the sheets are untucked, the downward slide happens fast. First it is just the effort to get that one foot which slipped out from under the sheets back under the cosy comfort of coverage. The sheets fight back by wrapping around your ankle so the effort to recover your foot has resulted in both feet sticking out while the sheets begin tangling around your calves. In your half-asleep stupor you start kicking both your feet like you are caught in seaweed and about to drown By the time you wake up enough to understand what is happening, you are in a full-body version of the Chinese finger trap. Every movement to free yourself results in a tightening of the death grip the sheets have on you. At this point you realize you have lost the battle and will only extricate yourself with outside assistance.

You look to your partner who, of course, is at least a foot shorter than you and is sleeping contentedly. You also realize why your cold feet bother you when you see her (in my case) cocooned with all the blankets while you lie in your sheets-only knot. She rolls over and groggily says, “Lay still you’re making a mess of the bed and you woke me up”. She then grabs the edge of the sheet to add to her hoard of bedding and rolls over synching the knot a little tighter. You try to fall asleep in your sheet prison as it dawns on you that you should not have had that glass of water before you went to bed.

Light Triggers

I don’t know who invented the doohickey at traffic lights that lets the light know a car is present so it can change appropriately. It is a great idea so everyone does not have to sit through an eternal left-turn arrow when no car is in the left-turn lane. The light goes straight from red to green with no needless waiting. Brilliant. However… I see two primary flaws with the system.

Motorcycles. I don’t know exactly how the system works – weight, metal detection, etc. – I have heard a number of folks wax eloquent about how the system works, but I doubt any of them actually knows either. What I do know is that I could sit for a week at some lights and never get the arrow. I have tried everything from coming up fast and slamming on the brakes to throw all my weight forward, to pulling as far forward as I can with hopes that a car will come up behind me and trip the light. The polite folks that leave me plenty of space to avoid crowding me don’t realize they are condemning me to an eternity of no-arrow hell. If you come up behind a motorcycle that looks like he has a death wish because he is so far into the intersection pull forward and give a brother a hand. He just wants to get through the light.

The second problem is what prompted today’s rant. Smart lights are great, but if we don’t have smart drivers as well we are in a pickle. Some polite drivers, typically of a more advanced age, like to leave two car lengths of space even when they are the first car in line at a light. Such was my situation today. As I was sitting through my second cycle of lights without an arrow I began to reflect on other times I was stuck at this very same light in a nearly identical situation. Last time I got out of my truck, went up and knocked on the window of the offender and suggested that actually pulling up to the light might increase our chances of getting through it before I was her age and she was dead. She pulled forward and we were all treated to a lovely green arrow. Today, however, I am on my bike. I thought about proffering some sage driving instruction, but between my height, leather, and helmet I feared I will kill her on the spot with a heart attack thinking she was being attacked by a giant cockroach. I comforted myself with the knowledge that she pulled forward eight inches after each round of lights and we were bound to get through in another six or seven cycles. Alas, my patience failed me and I pulled around her and went down the road a quarter mile to make a u-turn at the next opportunity. Another round of red lights and I was graced with a green arrow. At last I am headed in the right direction feeling free and proud of myself for taking matters into my own hands. As I approached the intersection where I spent my morning waiting for a green arrow, the light changed to red and the offender, still sitting in the left turn lane, apparently pulled forward far enough to trip the light as she made a left turn in front of me releasing a long line of left turners in front of me as I sat helplessly at a red light. Sometimes impatience just doesn’t work.

Fridays at Costco

I haven’t blogged in a while as my limited literary skills have been plied in other venues. However, a trip to Costco on Friday revealed that I was slacking off of my duty to warn you of the terrors that await unsuspecting citizens. Costco on Friday is just such a terror.

My knee-jerk reaction was ageism. My first survey of fellow shoppers left me shaking my fully-gray-head of hair as I realized I was the junior consumer this afternoon. The average shopper had a good two decades on me. The elderly are the keepers of wisdom and are worthy of respect and dignity…however, an eight minute commute from one end of an aisle to the other without stopping to select anything is a tad glacial. I understand the deterioration of muscle tone over time which reduces the speed of mobility. It is the atrophying of the brain centers that control direction and courtesy that are more problematic. I will gladly lift a heavy object into your cart or help you discern between detergent and softener – and frequently do. It is the scolding I receive for responding to your plea for help that is harder to understand. I struggle to comprehend which part of the brain is misfiring that causes you to park your cart diagonally across an aisle and then causes you to not see the line of carts queuing up while you decide between shredded wheat and granola crunch. Grab either and a box of Metamucil. Then get out of the way.

I followed one poor chap as he laboriously pushed his cart down an aisle with minimal weaving. I was quite proud of him. We got to the end of the aisle, he started to make a turn and stopped dead in his tracks, resulting in the dreaded diagonal cart at the opening of an aisle. I didn’t know if he was having a stroke, was overwhelmed by the possibility of cross traffic at the intersecting aisle, or if he all of sudden forgot where he was and what he was doing. My money was on the latter, until a woman, I believe she was Abraham’s mother, started chewing on him and I realized that he had exhausted his instructions and was waiting for more. I thought, “I have seen my future and it is not pretty.”

Thirty minutes later as I delved deeper into the store, about 4 aisles, I saw the average age plummeting precipitously. Apparently the more mature patrons had not had sufficient time yet to probe the inner depths of Costco. This revelation blew apart my ageist attitude as the diagonal carts and rude behavior increased with the younger crowd. Without the benefit of dementia, muscle loss, or senility, people operate their carts as if no one else is in the store. Evidently courtesy is not available in bulk. I didn’t check the lunar phases to see if it was a full moon, but I suspect I was witnessing the typical Friday frenzy as people prepared for the weekend.

To make sure that no one accomplished their shopping in anything closely related to efficient, Costco sets up tables and gives away free food. I know this sounds awesome, and certainly can be, but if you are as crowd averse as I am, the resultant maelstrom of carts and people feels like Hell’s lobby. Normally reasonable people who understand the geometry of cart manipulation lose all control when a quarter slice of pepperoni appears on half of a club cracker. Small children are trampled and the weak of the herd are culled out in the press to get the last treat before the tray is cleared. No one seems to notice that the tray is reloaded on a regular basis and there will be food again at some point in life. The codger who barely made it to the end of the aisle suddenly develops the strength and agility of Spiderman as he swoops in to grab the last two cheese wedges before a single mom with a crying toddler in her cart gets her grimy hands on one. I am convinced that a certain contingent within the feeding frenzy are not even shopping, but just come to load up on free food. Some diners shamelessly load their arms, baskets, and over-stuffed mouths with bite-sized samples of every food imaginable.

I love Costco and the bargains I find there. I look forward to my next visit…maybe a Tuesday would be good.