Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Consider yourself blessed

I've worked in an office environment for nigh onto 3 decades now and I've learned one definite way you can categorize your co-workers. There are those who follow every sneeze within hearing with an immediate "bless you" and those who don't. I don't. I find it hard to participate in an activity that I find, well, ridiculous. I know that today it's more of a courtesy than anything else, but it's really pointless if you think about it. Maybe our ancestors thought they were doing some good with this little exercise, but we modern folks know that your spirit isn't going to escape from you if someone doesn't perform a quick "bless you" to prevent it.

Ok, there's another way to categorize your co-workers. Those that get their feelings hurt if they don't hear "bless you" and those that don't. I receive at least one "bless you" everytime I sneeze at the office. I say "thank you" and go about my business. But then you wonder how those blessers feel when it's them who sneeze and you ignore the opportunity to reciprocate by taking the role of blessor. I'm sorry. I just can't utter a blessing that I find unnecessary and that nobody on the other side is listening to anyway. (Well, I hope not. If there's an abacus in the great office upstairs keeping a running tab on sneeze blessings, I'm in serious trouble.)

Likewise, I find the clinking of wine glasses to be an embarrassing ritual. Again, our ancestors probably had a good reason for sloshing their wine together to ensure that nobody slipped them any poison, but for pity's sake what other good purpose does it serve? Yeah, I do it, but I always feel ridiculous. Like I've been caught skipping cracks for fear of breaking my mother's back.

Do you ever consider how many things we do because ggggg-grandpappy did them for some good reason that vanished several centuries ago? We are products of our raising and we can't escape the influence of several generations of ritual "because that's the way I was taught". In some ways it could be viewed as a comforting thread that runs from generation to generation, passing along the ways of people whose blood runs in your veins. That's the excuse I use when I fall victim to uttering some verbal colloquialism that my co-workers have never heard. But that's another essay for another day.

Thankfully I'm not superstitious. If you believe in these little rituals, more power to you, and I'm sorry if you're offended because I don't acknowledge your sneeze. Just consider yourself blessed and don't feel obligated to bless me the next time hay fever season arrives.


Saturday, March 26, 2005

Stop it Already

Lord, deliver me from copycat piety.

I was out and about yesterday, having been given Good Friday as a holiday. I decided to wander down to the San Marcos outlet malls and do a little shopping. It was really crowded. (I think about half of Mexico heads to San Marcos on holiday weekends. I heard more Spanish than English yesterday.) Anway, I saw a lot of people and a lot of cars.

You know the first of those magnetic ribbons that appeared on cars to show support for the soldiers in Iraq weren't so bad. But it has gotten completely out of hand. Now there is an unlimited variety of magnetic ribbons available - for the soldiers, for breast cancer awareness, and heaven only knows what else. I'm sure someone has already taken the opportunity to market ribbons in support of whichever side of the Terry Schiavo case you happen to support.

Some folks seem to have completely forgotten the original concept of the ribbons and are now compulsively collecting every version they can find and attaching them to the rear of their vehicles. I seldom see one ribbon on any vehicle; there's usually two or three clustered together. One car I saw had at least 2 dozen affixed. Somehow I doubt the sincerity of someone sporting that many of the things. Is quantity supposed to indicate the level of your support or do you think I'm too stupid to get the idea from only one?

I'm also pretty much disgusted at the proliferation of rubber bracelets that have hit Central Texas. What was a fairly unique idea thought up by the Lance Armstrong folks to indicate support for cancer research has been copied and used for everything imaginable, including local sports teams. At this point, when I see someone showing up with one of the bracelets, I tend to roll my eyes and sigh.

Maybe imitation is a form of flattery, but sometimes it screams laziness and greed. You made a mint selling something unique, so why should I come up with my own idea when I can copycat and make a mint off your invention. And in the end the original concept gets stomped into the ground by all the folks racing to make a buck with copycat products. Pathetic.

Nothing new under the sun. Just do me a favor and if you have a magnetic ribbon on your vehicle or a rubber bracelet on your wrist, get rid of them. They don't mean anything anymore.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Mean Girls

There’s a good blog online called Real Live Preacher at http://blogs.salon.com/0001772/. I learned about it from brother David. I don’t read it as regularly as some, but it’s worth visiting when you’ve got some extra time on your hands. And today’s entry tweaked my memory.

Along about 9th grade I believe it was, a girls’ war broke out in our class. I don’t know why, but teenaged girls sometimes go through a particularly hateful spell when they decide to gang up on a single member of their number and make that poor one’s life miserable. This is called fun. Unless, like I was, you’re that one girl singled out.

What was really odd about this particular period of my life is that we had all been together for many years. Our class was very small and there were only eleven girls. We had grown up together and been friends through thick and thin. It wasn’t like the townies ganging up on the new kid in town.

What it boiled down to, I guess, was a power struggle. I was a straight A student, got along with all my teachers, and got along with most of the boys. (I was a late bloomer in the romance department, so I really wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship from the boys at that stage. Remember this was in the 60s.) I had been the new kid in town at one point, since I moved there in the 4th grade, but had made a place for myself at the head of my class. And therein was the possible problem. The girl who suddenly got it in for me had been the “smart girl” before I came on the scene. She was more aware of the approaching need to make romantic liaisons with the few available boys. And she considered herself to have an edge in all matters of teenage politics because she was a home grown gal.

Well, stupid me, I was totally oblivious to the political jockeying that was going on with the females. I had a couple of goals. Get good grades and keep out of trouble. Ultimately, I knew I would be heading off to college and I had no desire to get into romantic entanglements that could possibly interfere with my future. So I didn’t care at all about the budding competition for the local boys.

But I guess it was my self-confidence that really caused trouble. I pretty much knew who I was and, though something of a social misfit, was comfortable in my role as serious student. I also did not bow to peer pressure and learned early to have my own opinions, regardless of the crowd’s viewpoint. So I generally spoke my mind and moved to the beat of my own drum.

Not a way to get along with other teenaged girls. The leader wannabe didn’t care for my independent ways. Or my ability to cut through the crap and point out logical answers, especially if it went against her line of thought. One day I called her on her bossiness in front of our classmates. Thus began the orchestrated freeze-out that lasted the rest of the school year.

She quickly recruited seven of the girls to support her in her cause. From October through May, I was seldom spoken to by any of them and was frequently subjected to cutting remarks made behind my back but just within my hearing. It was a tough year. No teenager likes to be treated like the class pariah for no good reason.

But, thankfully, two of the girls refused to play the game and proved themselves real friends. They paid a certain price for sticking up for me, but we gave each other support and quality friendship which made up for a lot. And, the boys were either unaware of the situation or were ignoring it. They never took their friendship away from me. And, of course, the teachers were always kind and friendly to a good student. I limped through the school year, bruised but not disabled.

Summer vacation came and went and the next year things went back to normal. Either the girls had given up on breaking me, were tired of the game, or they had matured a little. I had shown I was able to take whatever they dished out. Friendly relations resumed and nobody mentioned it again. Oddly enough, the girl who started the whole thing became a good friend of mine for the rest of our high school years.

I’ve never been one for close girlfriends. Somewhere in the back of my mind is still harbored the distrust that was bred by my fellow females that year. I learned that females can be fickle. I learned that a real friend will stand by you even when pressured by society to turn her back on you. I learned to be satisfied with a few quality friends over the shallow friendship of a crowd.

I was lucky. I had enough inner strength to stand my ground and figuratively spit in their eyes. But there’s a lot a kids out there that get similar and worse treatment by their peers and don’t have that inner strength to get them through. Some never recover. They spend their lives in quiet desperation or suffering abusive relationships because they don’t think they’re good enough to demand better treatment. And a few snap and make the evening news when they decide to spray their school with bullets.

So what’s the point? Someone feels a need to be superior and can’t get it any other way than to make others feel inferior. Stupid, stupid, stupid. What they prove is how truly inferior they are themselves. Unfortunately nobody wins.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Living in the Forest Primeval

This morning I'm reminded what I love about living in a pine forest. When I took the dogs out for their morning - uh, outing, - at the edge of the yard were SEVEN young deer. I cautioned the dogs to let them alone as the deer moved to the opposite side of the street. They blinked at me, not really concerned at all.

About 30 minutes later, I took another stroll outside and they were still there, playing statues. Their intense stare as they watched me move was the only sign they were real. Concerned that the morning traffic on our street would be starting at any time, I decided to shoo them back into the forest. They continued to study me as I got closer and closer to them. Four of them were in the edge of the woods across the street and three were back on my side of the street, grazing along the dirt road that runs alongside my lot. What a time not to have my camera in hand. I was within a few yards when they finally skipped off into the pines. These are the moments that help reduce stress.

We have two birdfeeders hanging from our deck that are in constant business right now. At one time over the weekend I spotted FIVE cardinal couples visiting at the same time. I don't think there's a more beautiful bird than the cardinal and as they flit about the red-tipped photina bordering the decks, they are quite a picture. We also have a steady business from chickadees and various finches. In fact, we are filling those feeders at least three times a week these days. I buy my bird seed in 120 lb. lots now. That will last a couple of months at their current rate of consumption. I've also hung a squirrel feeder in the front yard, which at the moment is being stripped by the birds. Fair enough, I suppose, given the number of times the squirrels have stolen seed from the birds.

We have a demented mockingbird that starts his repertoire at first light and continues until dusk. His constant switching of tunes in mid-song is quite comical, and much more enjoyable than the musical preferences of the teenagers who live down the street.

There are days when I come home from work, pretty much convinced that life sucks. And then I look over the deck into my backyard full of pine trees, yaupon and cedar shrubs; listen to my friendly neighborhood mockingbird; watch the doves and cardinals working on emptying the feeders and remember that life is really about enjoying the simple pleasures that surround us. It helps put things into perspective and I decide that maybe life is worth tackling again tomorrow.


P.S. The bluebonnets are out, which makes this my favorite time of the year. I'm a couple of weeks away from my birthday and I always think of bluebonnets as my personal gift from nature. Could there be a more perfect flower?

P.P.S. Ok, there's one thing about the forest I'm not particularly crazy about. The pine pollen is filling the air these days, covering everything with a fine yellow powder. I give up washing my car until it's done. But it's a small thing and I can definitely overlook the aggravation in return for the pleasure of living among the green giants.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Score One for Me

I am not obsessive compulsive. At least most of the time. I do like a certain order in things, but I generally don't let others' disorder get to me. But there are things that affect me like fingernails on a chalkboard and bad grammar is one of them.

About two weeks ago a notice was put up at every exit to our office building to advise us of electrical work that was to be performed today (Saturday the 12th). It was a long advisory, and it probably could have made the Guinness Book of World Records for the most grammatical errors in one memo. I stood it as long as I could. (About 2 hours.) On my ride to the 2nd floor after lunch, in the world's slowest elevator, I took it upon myself to correct the grammatical errors on the notice that had been posted inside the elevator. Yeah, I knew it would probably start something, but I couldn't help myself.

There were two primary problems that I addressed. The power was to be out from "approximate 7AM to approximate 5PM". I added "ly" to both. We were all cautioned to take care of electrical equipment and refrigerators that would be "effected" by the outage. That one was repeated later on and made my teeth grind in horror. We won't even talk about the spelling errors. Suffice it to say, the notice was liberally covered with ink by the time I got back to my floor. And no, I didn't sign my name. I'm not stupid.

Having satisfied my obsessive compulsion, I forgot about the thing. Until I left to go home. Then I discovered that my corrections had been "re-corrected" to note that I was in error on all counts except the obvious spelling errors. I reacted like a bull to a waving red cape.

I proceeded to re-correct the re-corrections, and noted the grammatical reasons. "I beg to differ", I wrote, "effect = noun; affect = verb" and the use of the word approximate, I noted, was as an "adverb, and therefore requires ly". I didn't leave a whole lot of blank space for anybody to disagree with me again.

The next morning I was not surprised to see that the paper and ink battlefield had been removed from the elevator. I confessed my actions to several who work with me, who weren't at all surprised that I was the culprit who started the whole thing. I let it go at that point and refrained from correcting any of the other numerous notices that still littered the building exits. I had chosen the most public place to make my stand and I knew that virtually everyone in the building had seen it.

Yesterday afternoon new notices were posted all around to remind us of the electrical work to be done. This one had the same general cautions, but correctly used the words "approximately" and "affected". "Ah, ha varlet", I thought. Then I noticed the tiny print at the bottom of the notice. "Special thanks to the English Teacher who corrected the errors on my previous notice." Followed by a smiley face.

Okay, my grammar isn't always perfect. So if you catch errors, feel free to point them out. (You'd better be right, though, or it's swords at dawn.) I lived with two English majors (my mother and brother), have a former English teacher as an aunt, a professional writer as an uncle, and came within 3 hours of having an English minor myself. I may not have any talent at all on the athletic field (see previous post), but I'm not too shabby when it comes to grammar.

So score one for me. I love it when I win.


Monday, March 07, 2005

Fouls and Free Throws

There’s a blog I make a point to read every day. The owner of the blog is also a caregiver, and we’ve exchanged commiserating emails from time to time. We also have in common our childhood spent in two far-flung but eerily similar little Texas towns. Rana has a great sense of humor and can draw a mental picture that turns a mundane event into roll on the floor hilarity. So wander on over to www.ranablog.com if you need a little diversion on a dreary day.

Yesterday, thanks to Rana, I began to remember my brief and dismal athletic career. For two years, in 8th and 9th grade, I actually joined the girls’ basketball squad. If you’ve ever seen me attempt any kind of physical coordination, you know that it was a sad time for Smiley. I was truly terrible. But I wasn’t the worst on the team. Oh, no. There were two other girls that were even worse then me. The three of us generally spent the games warming the bench, but in the spirit of letting every player play (who thought that stupid rule up anyway?), there was a torturous period of time in each game when the three of us were sent in to provide comic relief.

Those were the days when girls played half-court basketball. The three court jesters would be sent in to play defense some time in the 3rd quarter. (While I could shoot free throws fairly consistently, I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when in motion. I guess the coach figured we couldn’t do too much irreparable harm if we just chased the opposing team’s forwards around for a few minutes.) On one frightening and forgettable occasion, the poor coach had a brain freeze and sent the three of us in to play offense at the tail end of the last quarter. Good Lord, were we ever offensive. I think the only reason we weren’t laughed off the court is that the game ended before the shock of our ineptitude wore off.

Thankfully, we seemed to play mostly out of town, so I didn’t lose too much respect on the local level. I guess we played plenty of games at home, but I only seem to remember the away games. With one exception.

I was not an aggressive player by any stretch of the imagination. I was not into physical confrontations. (I bruise easily.) At one home game, however, I couldn’t seem to do anything without fouling or being fouled. As I recall, I actually sank a free throw at one point. That was the good news. The bad news was that my parents were in attendance and my father took the opportunity to embarrass me royally by clapping, whistling and hollering approval every time I committed a foul. Unfortunately I did not foul out, which would have ended my misery. The crowd (thankfully small) and my coach seemed to appreciate the few light moments provided by the antics of the Wilcoxen Comedy Troupe in an otherwise dull game.

Two years was all I could take. Actually, in a perverse way, I almost enjoyed my basketball days. But I took pity on the coaching staff after two years and retired my gym trunks. (Speaking of which, man were they butt-ugly.) I managed to avoid team sports for the most part after that, except for a semester of tennis in college. I was lousy at that, too, but I had a good time and the best part was that I never embarrassed myself with more than three other people at any one match.

Girls basketball is much more exciting these days, since they now play full court. But thank heaven that they didn’t start that until years after my participation. I shudder to think what I could have done to humiliate myself playing the entire court.

I always sympathize with the physically inept. I was the kid who was picked last when choosing up baseball teams in grade school. But I was the first chosen for spelling bees, so I guess it all evened out. Looking back, it just seems like there were a lot more baseball games than spelling bees. The moral of the story is, don’t force your kids into athletics if they’d rather be reading a book. And if they decide to play a sport, go to their games but keep your mouth shut.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A Proud Texan by Birth

March 2nd. Texas’ Independence Day. Long live the Lone Star State.

I am a 5th generation Texan. My great-great-great Grandfather Lentz moved his family to Texas in 1832, four years before the War for Texas Independence. I am the 4th generation not only to be native Texas born, but to be born in Bastrop County. So you’ll have to forgive me if I think of myself first as a Texan and second as an American. I’m a deeply patriotic American. I’m a rabidly patriotic Texan. “Don’t mess with Texas” is the perfect motto in my opinion.

My Lentz ancestors settled on a league of land in southern Bastrop County, a grant from the Mexican government. I suspect they may have temporarily fled their home as part of the Runaway Scrape, a few steps ahead of Santa Anna’s army. A few years after the Texans won their independence, my aforementioned forefather Jacob Lentz and one of his sons were killed by Indians near their home. Jacob’s wife Sarah remained on the home place with her children. A portion of that original land grant remains in the hands of some of their descendants.

My Texas citizenship means a lot to me. True Texans are independent, self-reliant, rugged folks. Our ancestors moved into a wild, untamed land and carved out new lives for themselves. They had to be hardy stock to have survived.

Real Texans are becoming harder to find these days. Our unique culture is beginning to get fuzzy around the edges from the influx of non-Texans who have discovered our warm winters and our freedom from a state income tax. Where once we all dropped our “g”s and sprinkled our conversations with “y’alls” and “ain’ts”, now the younger generation is beginning to look askance at those of us who still let the traditional Texan drawl and lingo slip out of our mouths. “How uncouth,” you can read in their eyes. Phooey. I’d much rather stand out as a true Texan than be taken for a poor-imitation Noo Yarker.

Texans are unique. We feel a special pride in the fact that Texas existed as an independent nation for nine years before throwing in with the United States of America. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we think we could do just fine on our own again should the opportunity present itself. Our loss of national independence was the USA’s gain. If you have a Texan in your corner, you’ve got backbone that won’t quit.

By the way:
No Texan refers to one person as “y’all”.
George W. Bush ain’t no Texan. He adopted us. It wasn’t our idea.
When a Texan hits the back roads, he waves at everybody. It’s polite.
Texan males still hold the door open for their women. (And we don’t mind at all.)
No matter how far a Texan roams, he’ll always be a Texan at heart.

Long may the Lone Star wave. Y’all come back now, you hear?


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Day - O

Today is Belafonte's 78th birthday. Today I pay a small tribute to a great singer. One who I maligned unjustly when I was a toddler.

This morning I've been listening to eklektikos with John Aielli on KUT-FM. John is one of the few people I know whose musical taste is more varied than mine. One of his strong points as a program host is he makes an effort to honor folks on their birthday and to provide appropriate music on various days of note. Just as I switched on the radio today, he started Belafonte's Sylvie and played about 4 more of Belafonte's best known songs in a row. Started my day off right.

My mother tells this story on me and I'm sure it's the truth, but I have no personal memory of the occasion. She was a fan of Belafonte's in his hey-day and had purchased a copy of the record Day-O or Banana Boat Song, which she played over and over and over. My musical discernment apparently started early and came the day I had had enough of that particular song. She happened into the room just as I had finished stomping the vinyl record into smithereens, and overheard my pleased comment "Won't have to listen to that no more". I'm sure the consequences are responsible for my selective amnesia about the incident. My mother was never one to tolerate willful destruction of property and I'm sure I paid for my sins.

The weird thing is, now I own several CDs of Belafonte's music and I thoroughly enjoy Day-O. Though I'm sure if I had to listen to it non-stop, I would probably haul out the clod-hoppers and again dispatch it to the trashbin with my proven methodology.

But anyway, Happy Birthday, Mr. Belafonte. Many happy returns of the day.