Something I Said?

It happens sometimes at a restaurant where three or four couples are dining together.  I look up from my soup to find myself alone at our table, the others at the salad bar or in the washroom, perhaps.

alone

Or it could be at a dance, nine or ten of us sharing a table, and I’m suddenly sitting by myself while the others are up dancing, or maybe table-hopping.

The tiresome jokes flow at these moments, naturally.  Some wise guy will ask in a loud voice if I’m dining tonight with all my friends.  Or some other wit will wonder if I did something to offend everyone in my party.

I laugh, of course, perfunctorily—but somewhat puzzled, too—for it is curious that this crops up with me so frequently.  Was it something I said?

It may happen to others, too, I suppose, but hardly ever when I’m around.  And although the jokes are stale from repetition, they do take my mind away from a somewhat more sombre realization—that someday, we know not when, one of us in our gang will, indeed, be left alone.

We’re at an age where many of the things we used to take for granted are likely not in the cards for us anymore.  How many of us will purchase a new house, for example, with a twenty-year mortgage?  Do we really care if the 2040 Olympic Games are held in this city or that?  Are hair transplants or facelifts really such an attractive option now?  How many more new cars will we buy?

how-to-get-a-discount-on-new-car_orig

We’re not yet at the stage where we won’t buy green bananas (another old joke) or make plans for some holiday cruise two years from now.  But those days are coming.

Aging is a simple, yet so mysterious a process.  Simple, because it creeps up on us without any conscious intent on our parts.  We start school, we graduate, we marry and become parents.  We raise our children, sadly (or not) bid them adieu when they embark upon the world, and exult in the joys of grandparenthood when they begin their own families.  Eventually, we retire and reach out for new and exciting pastimes.

Granted, it took years for me to do all this, and the work was palpable while I was doing it.  But when it finally hit, my seventy-fifth birthday seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.  Getting there was a simple matter of waiting.

But aging is mysterious, too, because so many odd things transpire.  For instance, although I feel like the same person I always was, my friends are obviously getting older.  Occasionally, when I happen to spy one of them unexpectedly, I see first an old man or woman—only to realize belatedly it’s my friend.  I suspect the same thing might be true in reverse when they have a chance encounter with me.  We’re all too polite to tell each other that, though.

A lyric from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, seems to capture it:  I don’t remember growing older, when did they?

fiddler

A few years ago, I underwent some serious surgeries, not necessarily age-related, and spent several months in follow-up visits with the medical people who treated me.  When reading my files one day, I was quite surprised to discover a letter from a referring physician to a specialist who had treated me.  After the usual introductory paragraph, the letter stated, “This elderly gentleman presents with symptoms congruent with…”

My attention was riveted on those first three words.  I thought I had opened someone else’s file!  Elderly?  Surely not I!  And yet, at the tender age of sixty-four, it was true—at least from the perspective of those young professionals.

And so, here we are, I and all my friends, firmly ensconced in our senior years.  None of us talks morbidly about the inevitable end of our lives; more likely, we’re comparing our golf scores, sharing the latest stock market activity, or showing off pictures of our grandchildren.  We’re a pretty happy lot, all told.

One of us, a retired funeral director, jokes that he used to sign his letters Yours eventually.  “They’re gonna get us in the end,” he says with a wink.

hearse2

I do think about the end-stages of life, however.  Like finding oneself left alone at the table in the restaurant, or at the dance.  A close friend from boyhood never got to experience that aloneness, dying before his time just over a year ago, surrounded by family and embraced in the thoughts of his many friends.

My parents, on the other hand, lived well into their nineties—not a guarantee of longevity for me, I grant you, but a pretty good genetic gift.  At the end of her life, my mother had outlived her husband, all her siblings, and all her friends.  Despite the visits from children and grandchildren, I know her final years were painfully lonely.

We cannot know the hour or manner of our own passing, so it’s futile to fret about it.  Yet I occasionally ponder whether it would be best to go first, before everyone else has passed, or be the last one standing (or sitting, or lying down…whatever).  So much of the joy of life comes from those around us, family and friends, and so much would be missing without them.

I’m unable to decide with any certainty which option I’d prefer.  I waver from one to the other, depending on my mood.  Vacillation can be a comfort.  Truth be told, there is no definitive answer to be found; what will be, will be.

old man dying

But honestly?  I don’t think I want to be the last one at the table, wondering in vain if it was something I said.

Mayday! Mayday!

Another pagan festival is almost upon us, the celebration of Mayday, which I dread with every ounce of my being.  It rolls around on the first of May, of course, and is observed in several countries around the world.

In its most malign form, it features a display of armed forces by autocratic nations eager to boast of their military might.  More benignly, it involves an innocent dance around a maypole by young lasses and lads, joyously welcoming the spring.

maypole-on-the-country-vector

But honestly, for me, the second is worse than the first.

Almost seventy years ago, when I was in grade one, I was one of those youngsters conscripted as a maypole dancer.  All the rosy-cheeked girls wore frocks and crinolines, and bright bows in their hair.  I and the other boys, all involuntary participants, wore jodhpur-type pants, shirts and ties, and sickly smiles.

We had been relentlessly rehearsed in the dance by our teacher, a lovely lady most of the time, but a tenacious taskmaster on this occasion.  Our mothers and grandmothers were gathered in the schoolyard to marvel at their darlings (this was in the day when everybody’s fathers went off to work, while mothers stayed home), and the children in the older grades were brought outside to watch, too.

The dance itself was not meant to be overly-complicated.  We stood in a circle around the pole, each of the boys facing a girl, whose back was to the next boy.  We all held one end of our own long, bright ribbon in our hands; mine was red.  The other ends were affixed to the top of the maypole—in this case, a steel volleyball stanchion.  When the music started, the idea was for the boys to shuffle counter-clockwise around the pole, while the girls went clockwise, bobbing and weaving around each other, first inside, then outside, thereby layering the maypole with cascading colours of ribbon from top to bottom.

We had to sing a song while we cavorted, an old tune that none of us liked—While strolling through the park one day/ In the merry, merry month of May,/ I was taken by surprise/ By a pair of roguish eyes,/ I was scared but I didn’t run away.

Believe me, every one of the boys wanted to run away, but we were too scared of our teacher to bolt.

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Anyway, right after the first or second turn around the maypole, singing that stupid song, the top end of my ribbon came off the pole, fluttering pathetically to the ground.  Thunderstruck by the disaster, I stopped dead in my tracks, which immediately caused a bumping and crashing among all the other dancers.  The singing died away, unlamented by the singers.

Had I not been too young to know the international distress call, I would probably have screeched, “Mayday!  Mayday!”

Quick as a flash, my teacher grabbed my hand and pulled me to one side, my ribbon trailing me, then got the others going again.  The synchronicity was ruined, of course, because the odd number of boys couldn’t zig correctly around an even number of zagging girls.

Every boy in that circle was probably wishing he was me, safely out of it, but I was mortified.  I couldn’t look at my mother and grandmother, so ashamed was I of my faux pas.  The only consoling thing was my teacher’s hand, softly stroking the back of my head.  I still love that woman.

Afterwards, everyone adjourned to the gym for tea and cookies (milk for the kids).  My mother and grandmother tried to reassure me, saying how much they had enjoyed the show, but all I could see were the faces of the other kids, some of them smiling smugly because they hadn’t been the one to mess up.

At some point, my grandmother took the ribbon from my hand and went off somewhere.  I scarcely noticed.  But after a few minutes, back she came with it, now gloriously fashioned into a large bow, with loops and knots galore.  It was beautiful, but I was too caught up in my internal anguish to acknowledge it.  A few moments later, my grandmother disappeared again.

After a while, we all went outside so some of the mothers could take pictures of the maypole.  I had to be convinced by my mother to revisit the scene of my shame, but imagine my surprise when I got there, only to see a big, bright red bow adorning the pole.  My bow!

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Those with cameras—little black boxes they peered into from above, shading the viewfinder from the sun with their hands—took picture after picture of all the dancers clustered in front of the maypole.

“Bradley’s bow!  Bradley’s bow!” the kids chanted, faces alight.

And at last a smile broke through on my face, too.  I may have been a klutz during the dance, but the pole was a smashing success because of me and my bow.  Or, perhaps more accurately, because of my grandmother and her love.

But regardless, Mayday has never since been my favourite of festivals.

Those black-and-white snapshots inside their scalloped frames are long gone now, of course.  Yet I still remember my teacher’s kindness, my mother’s proud smile, and my glorious bow.  And I have never forgotten my grandmother’s love for me.

I have, however, never danced around another maypole!

April

Geoffrey Chaucer, in the late 1300’s, wrote about April in his Canterbury Tales, praising its rains and warm winds for the restoration of life and fertility after the endless winter—

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote/ The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…

But T. S. Eliot, another British poet, took quite a different view in 1922, in The Waste Land, where he savaged the month—

April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain…

The same month, two opposing points of view, left to the reader to determine which is the most apt.

My own outlook varies from time to time, depending, I suppose, upon my mood, the weather, and the company I keep.  I have often longed for the coming of April with its showers sweet, its promise of spring, only to be disappointed by its refusal to let go of winter.

Poetry is one means I employ to give voice to my feelings, sometimes optimistic, full of hope, and other times doubtful and despairing.  I find the Japanese haiku form especially appropriate—three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively—to convey my conflicted state of mind.

By way of example, here are five haiku I have written dealing with April, each with a picture in harmony with my outlook.  I, too, leave it to you, the reader, to decide which of my moods is being conveyed by each—

peekaboo

sun plays peekaboo,
dancing ‘cross the wint’ry lake—
heralding the spring

peekaboo

teasing

april is cruel—
so the poet says—teasing
us falsely with spring

springtime

spring

joining in our walk,
tentatively, yet warmly—
sweet spring has returned

pring walk2

april fool

april can’t fool me,
that false harbinger of spring—
may is the gateway

rainy april

in the rain

dancing in the rain,
neither of us wet or cold—
warmly wrapped in love

in the rain

May the spring blossom anew for you…..in April, or whenever it arrives!

 

 

 

 

Boyhood Heroes

If you’re of a certain age or gender (and being Canadian could help), you may score well on this little sports quiz from my boyhood.  Give yourself one point for every athlete you can identify from the nicknames listed below; they are all North American because international sport had not registered in my consciousness way back then.  The answers are found at the end of this essay—

a) the Rocket; b) the Golden Jet; c) Number 4; d) the Bambino; e) the Yankee Clipper;     f) the King; g) Slammin’ Sam; h) the Rifle; i) Rocket Rod; j) The Greatest.

As a boy, I began to idolize sports heroes as soon as I gained an understanding of the games they played.  Throughout my teenage years, and into young manhood, that veneration gradually lessened; but I did hold onto an admiration for what they could do on their respective fields of play.  And even today, although I have learned such heroes are mere mortals, I retain an appreciation for their role in shaping me.

boy at ballgame

When I was about twelve years old, a favourite uncle (himself a renowned amateur athlete in his youth) gave me a copy of a book he had read and enjoyed.  It was written in 1954 by Grantland Rice, an American sportswriter from the so-called Golden Age of American sport, the 1920’s to the 1940’s.  Its title is The Tumult and the Shouting, and I have it still.

A memoir of sorts, it tells of Rice’s life as a sports journalist, writing about the athletes he encountered over a working lifetime, people he regarded as heroes.  During the course of fifty-plus years, by his own account, he wrote 67,000,000 words—22,000 newspaper columns, 7000 sets of verse, and 1000 magazine articles—while also holding forth on radio broadcasts for over thirty years.  This was in a day when most people never got to see their sports idols and had to rely solely on what they read in print or heard over the airwaves.

For them, and much later for me, Rice was a gateway into a world that seemed magical, unsullied by the realities of the mundane lives we led.

loc_family_radio

The parts of the book I most enjoyed in the beginning were the pictures of Rice hobnobbing with the athletes he covered, many of whom were also personal friends.  But I also came to love the more-than-twenty chapters devoted to these sports icons of a bygone era—people I had heard of, but who had long since left the building—in which Rice regaled me with stories of their exploits, both on and off the field.

In the years since, I have learned that many of these heroes had feet of clay, that they were subject to all the prejudices and shibboleths of their time.  Some became little more than lost souls when the games at which they excelled ended for the final time.  But the book doesn’t focus on those later, sadder times; rather, it tells of the athletic brilliance these men and women exhibited during their prime.  And for a lucky few, the glory never faded, even as their youth and prowess did.

If you are of my vintage, you will doubtless remember the names of many of the heroes celebrated in the book.  From baseball, there is the scurrilous Ty Cobb (the Georgia Peach), some of whose records still stand today; Lou Gehrig (the Iron Horse) who died too soon of ALS, a disease now named for him; and the inimitable Babe Ruth (the Sultan of Swat), cornerstone of the feared Murderers’ Row of NY Yankee hitters.  All three are in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Murderers--Row

From golf, there is the only man to win all four Grand Slam events in one year, Bobby Jones, who did it in 1930, and who later co-founded the famed Masters tournament; Babe Didrickson Zaharias (the Other Babe), a woman who was also a three-time Olympic medallist in track and field; and ‘Bantam Ben’ Hogan, a Career Grand Slam winner, widely considered to be the finest technician the game has produced.  All three are in the Golf Hall of Fame.

Football (where the ‘big-time’ was college ball, not the pro variety) contributed its share of heroes, including Harold ‘Red’ Grange (the Galloping Ghost from Illinois); Jim Thorpe (World’s Greatest Athlete from Carlisle), an Indigenous man who won Olympic gold in decathlon and pentathlon; and Bronislau ‘Bronko’ Nagurski, a Canadian-born fullback who excelled at Minnesota.  All three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From boxing, which was in its heyday back then, Rice mentions Jack Dempsey (the Manassa Mauler), world heavyweight champion for eight years; James Joseph ‘Gene’ Tunney, who twice defeated Dempsey—most famously in the fight known forever after as ‘the long count’—and who reigned as both light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion during that time; and Joe Louis (the Brown Bomber), world heavyweight champion for thirteen years, who endeared himself to Americans with his knockout triumph in 1938 over a German fighter who was thought to represent the growing Nazi menace.  All three are in the Boxing Hall of Fame.

louis

There were far fewer ‘big-time’ sports devoted to women than to men during Rice’s time, but, in addition to Zaharias, he gives prominent space in his book to Helen Wills Moody (Little Miss Poker Face) and Maureen Connolly (Little Mo) of tennis fame; Sonja Henie (Pavlova of the Ice) in figure skating; and Esther Williams (America’s Mermaid) in swimming.

All in all, over the course of 368 pages, there are numerous other athletes whose names I knew who are mentioned.  A partial list would include: Eddie Arcaro, Tommy Armour, ‘Dizzy’ Dean, Jimmy Demaret, George Gipp (Win one for the Gipper!), Walter Hagen (the Haig), Joe Jackson (Shoeless Joe), Cornelius ‘Connie’ Mack, Byron Nelson, Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, Gene Sarazen (the Squire), ‘Big Bill’ Tilden, and Cy Young.

He references famous combinations, as well:  baseball’s Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs, their lethal double-play skills immortalized in a 1912 poetic refrain, Tinker to Evers to Chance.  He mentions football’s Notre Dame backfield—Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Don Miller, and Harry Stuhldreher—of whom he wrote following a 1924 win over Army: Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again…  And that is how they are remembered to this day.

04.four-horsemen

There are even references to several famous racehorses, which (being a devotee of the Sport of Kings), Rice considered athletes of another sort:  Citation, Count Fleet, Exterminator, Man o’ War, Seabiscuit, War Admiral, and Whirlaway.

As a youngster, I couldn’t get enough of these tales of grace and glory.  It did seem to me as I read them, though, that the athletes being lauded were all old; indeed, they were much older than I.  But today, looking at their pictures, I am struck by how young they were in their prime.

I believed then, and to some extent now, as well, that there is a simple beauty inherent in athletic contests between two individuals, or two teams.  If the scandals surrounding the doping of athletes can be set aside, if the corruption at the top of the world bodies that control sports can be ignored, if we can strip the competition among athletes down to its purest essence, that beauty can be appreciated.

On a level playing field, the best of the competitors will win, the losers will embrace the fact that they gave their best, and that is as it should be.  It is the sentiment that helped to shape my approach to life.

And that, in a nutshell, is why The Tumult and the Shouting still graces my bookshelf, overflowing as ever with the tales of my boyhood heroes.

orr

Answers to the quiz:

Hockey – a) Maurice Richard; b) Bobby Hull; c) Bobby Orr

Baseball – d) Babe Ruth; e) Joe Dimaggio

Golf – f) Arnold Palmer; g) Sam Snead

Football – h) Sam Etcheverry

Tennis – i) Rod Laver

Boxing – j) Muhammad Ali

Where’s Your Winker?

When our eldest daughter was not yet four years old, we had a shared babysitting arrangement with the couple across the street from us.  Their young son would stay overnight with us when they were away, and they would reciprocate when we needed help.

At our place, we often put the two kids in the tub together at bedtime and watched them splash around for awhile before bathing them.  They were good pals, used to playing together, and the bathroom was always filled with squeals of delight and happy splashing.

two-little-kids-boys-playing-together-bathtub-happy-siblings-twins-children-water-taking-bath-home-kid-having-fun-80132107

We were surprised one evening, though, when the little boy had a new question for our daughter.  “Where’s your winker?” he asked.  We understood immediately what he was enquiring about (in all innocence), but she didn’t.

We had to stifle our laughter when she began scrunching up her face in an attempt to wink at him.  He kept asking, and she kept winking, first one eye, then the other.

I don’t recall now if he ever got an answer to his question, but what my wife and I realized was that his parents had chosen not to use anatomically-correct terms for his sexual body-parts, at least not at that age.  We had no problem with that—he was their son, after all—but we had deliberately opted to do it differently.

Unlike some of our friends, we began almost immediately with both our daughters to use correct terminology for all their body-parts.  Nose wasn’t sniffer, for example, nor hands feelers.  Their stomachs weren’t tubbies, nor their toes piggies—except in the nursery-rhyme they came to love.

In the same way, their anus wasn’t a poo-poo bum, and their urethral opening wasn’t a pee-hole.  A bowel movement was just that, or a BM, but never a shit.  And they always used a toilet, never a toidy—even when they had their own mini-version.

toilet-training

By the time both our daughters were in mid-elementary school, they knew the correct names, and were aware of the differences between female and male anatomies.  They knew, for instance that Daddy had a penis, but they and Mummy had vaginas instead; that all of us had breasts and nipples, but theirs, unlike mine, would grow larger as they got older; that pubic hair was normal for everyone beyond a certain age.

As time went on, as it became appropriate for them to know, they learned other terms, too—testicles, scrotum, clitoris, vulva—and were unembarrassed about them.  That was a critical point for us, that they would not giggle nervously, or be mortified to ask us, when they began to have questions about their burgeoning sexuality.

Even after a certain, respectful distance had developed between me and them as they matured into young women, they remained unafraid to engage both of us in their conversations on sexual matters.

Along the way, we tried to ensure they understood that certain body parts were private—whatever is covered by your bathing-suit, we told them.

We didn’t ignore the fact that people often use different terminology, however.  In order that our girls not appear unduly geeky to their friends, we made sure they knew about various slang-terms they might hear for female parts, even as we encouraged them not to use them.  Such terms included: vajayjay, muff, pussy, beaver, hooters, knockers, or jugs.  We wanted them to be, not shocked or judgmental when they heard these words, but aware and prepared.

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The sex curriculum in schools today, at least in progressive districts, uses correct terminology.  In the jurisdiction we live in, the objective is to promote physical and emotional health and safety, wholesome relationships, and mutual respect among the learners.  The curriculum deals with such issues as:  stages of childhood development, naming body parts accurately, puberty, personal hygiene, the reproductive system, sexual orientation, choosing wisely about sexual activity, STD’s, pregnancy prevention, relationships and intimacy, consent and personal limits, and mental health.

Many parents today believe that schools are not the places where such instruction should be given.  The child’s parents should be the ones to do that, they say, and in the child’s home.  Some of our politicians, vying for election, are pandering to such folks by threatening to rescind the curriculum.

The problem with that, as I see it, is that too many parents would not provide their children with an adequate sex education—perhaps because it contradicts their beliefs, perhaps because they find it embarrassing, or perhaps because they, themselves, don’t know how.  But their children will learn of these things, regardless, and their instructors will be schoolmates, video-games, internet porn purveyors, or other unscrupulous parties.

girls-at-computer

How is that better for children?

And that is the question that should always be at the forefront.  Too often, we make decisions on behalf of children for reasons that are not in their best interest, but instead, to justify our own opinions and beliefs.

From the vantage point of a grandfather now, I can agree that home might be the best place for children to learn what they need to know about their sexual beings, just as I believed—and put into practice—when I was a young father.  But what of those homes where it will not happen, and what of the children who live in those homes?  Do they not deserve the opportunity to acquire the same knowledge, the same self-respect, the same appreciation of others’ circumstances granted to those in homes where the information is provided?

Do they not deserve the same opportunity to protect themselves and their bodies from those who would prey upon them?

My daughter still laughs when we recall the winker story, even though she doesn’t really remember the bathtub encounter.  But never once in their lives has either of our girls had to plead ignorance or embarrassment when conversations of a sexual nature have arisen among their friends.  They’ve always known the truth.

And now, thanks to their parenting, so do our grandchildren.

body-safety

Silly-gisms

The current occupant of the White House in Washington has stated on more than one occasion that Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.  If true, it would logically follow that, if your father was an immigrant from Mexico, he was, unarguably, a rapist and criminal.

This is an example of a faulty, nonsensical syllogism, an illogical construct I like to call a silly-gism.

A bona fide syllogism is defined as a formal argument in logic, comprised of two statements—a major and a minor premise—followed by a conclusion.  If the two statements are true, the conclusion must also be true.  Take this Socratic example: all women are mortal; my sister is a woman; therefore, my sister is mortal.  Or another: all daffodils are flowers; I am holding a daffodil; therefore, I am holding a flower.  Because both premises in each example are indisputably true, both examples are authentic Socratic syllogisms.

socrates3

However, if I were to alter that second example—all daffodils are flowers; I am holding a flower; therefore, I am holding a daffodil—the conclusion would not necessarily be true.  The flower I am holding might very well be a rose.

True syllogisms abound in literature, in public discourse, and in everyday conversations.  Alas, so, too, do false ones, the silly-gisms.

Some of these can sound almost logical, given our habit of reading with a non-critical eye.  To wit: all crows are black; the bird in my cage is black; therefore, I have a crow in my cage.  Or this one:  I ride a bicycle; I am a man; therefore, all men ride bicycles.

Silly-gisms are bandied about by all and sundry, particularly on social media, and especially when controversy surrounds them.  The problem, as I see it, is that far too many people fail to distinguish between what is truly logical and what is patently absurd, blindly accepting whatever they read as true.  Individuals who are untrained in critical thinking skills—who are used to being told what to do, say, and think—tend to accept what they hear or read from a source they trust.

Major news organizations report the facts accurately; Breitbart is one such major news organization; therefore, Breitbart is reporting the news accurately.  In this example, only the second premise is demonstrably true, so the conclusion cannot be relied upon.  Nevertheless, it is Breitbart reporting that provides many citizens their news, and it is amazing how many people buy it.

breitbart

The same might be said of other news disseminators (CNN, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the Toronto Star, et al) —that they pander to their audience’s predilections, aiming their reporting squarely at those who automatically believe anything that matches their preconceived opinions on a subject.  Except that, responsible news organizations deliberately present opposing points of views in their broadcasts and in their pages, striving for fair balance in these op-ed pieces.  The question is, how many viewers and readers actually take the time needed to explore alternative viewpoints?

Given the ubiquitous social media presence in our lives, and given the relative non-regulation of these online sources, it is scarcely surprising that so many of us get our daily dose of news from Facebook or Twitter.  And too often, that news is so unverified, uncorroborated, and unsubstantiated, that it might better be called un-news!

The real problem, as far as I am concerned, is not that these silly-gisms proliferate; rather, it is that they are deliberately broadcast and published by unscrupulous agents seeking to influence the public.  If I am repeatedly told by an automobile company, for example, that beautiful, young women are attracted to men who drive luxury cars, and if that becomes my primary reason for purchasing such a car, I may (more likely, will) be extremely disappointed with the result.  Nevertheless, no lasting harm is being done to anyone but me, and no one else is to blame for my lack of critical reflection before buying.  It is a matter of caveat emptor—the buyer must be wary.

model2

As the old saying has it:  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

However, when the silly-gisms are widespread and malevolent, maliciously intended to mislead, great harm can be done.  Consider this blast from the past, before the advent of social media:  people elected to high office are above chicanery and corruption; Richard Nixon was elected U.S. president; therefore, Nixon was not a crook.  How did that work out?

But if Nixon were president today, how many people would choose to believe he was above reproach if they read it over and over again on media they trust?  Can anyone doubt that would be the message his acolytes would be spreading?

nixon2

Here is a silly-gism from the current president:  Our country used to be great; it is broken now, so badly that no one knows what to do; therefore, only I can fix it!

Only I can fix it!  How many times have we heard that mantra from his followers, and from media outlets that support him?  More importantly, how many of his country-men and -women believe it?  Do they have evidence to support his claim?  Do they even seek it?  Or, like lemmings to the sea, do they blindly follow the leader?

Here is another example:  governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; in the last presidential election, the people consented to be governed by this man; therefore, he has the mandate to fix it any way he sees fit.

Syllogism or silly-gism?  Time will tell, I suppose.

In the meantime, it behooves us all to try not to believe everything we are told.  For there is increasingly the distinct possibility that the people can, indeed, be fooled all the time.

 

1-800-GET-LOST

One of the most annoying things in life—ranking right up there with unsolicited calls from telemarketers—is having to call a service provider to report a problem.  No matter who it is, the cable provider, the bank, or the phone service itself, their customer-service department never seems able to take my call immediately.

I find myself pressing button after button in response to a robotic voice guiding me, supposedly helpfully, through a menu of confusing choices—when all I want is to talk to a live human being.  By the time I’m able to do that, sometimes as long as forty minutes later, I am yelling angrily, almost incoherently, at the person unlucky enough to have drawn me.

angry2

It bothers me because I resent being rendered inchoate.

So, out of frustration, and because I harbour a latent evil streak, I have recently begun to fight back.  But, like all good generals, I fight on a battlefield of my choosing—and that field is not when I have called them, only to end up stuck on IGNORE…or, as the service-providers call it, HOLD.

No, the ground I fight on is when they call me.  And believe me, they’re always calling—the cable service with a new package of channels they feel I won’t want to miss; the bank with an incredible savings opportunity, offering, for a limited time only, 0.05% with a minimum $5000 deposit; the duct-cleaners, promising they can rid my home of the nasty critters living in the HVAC system, poisoning the very air I breathe; the hucksters telling me in tones of barely-suppressed excitement that I’ve won a free trip to Hawaii, if I will first agree to attend an investment seminar.

call-center

They are omnipresent, these people, lurking on the other end of every solicitation call I receive.  But they have finally met their match in me.  Once I realize it’s a sales rep on the line, the ensuing conversation goes something like this—

REP:  Good afternoon, sir…

ME:  Excuse me, before you begin, would you prefer English, français, or Español?

REP:  Ahh, English please.  Are you…

ME:  Are you calling with regard to existing accounts, bill payment, customer service, technical assistance, sales, or some other service?

REP:  I’m calling to interest you in…

ME:  Okay, sales.  Before you go further, let me place you on HOLD for a brief moment.  I have someone on my other line, but I can assure you your call is important to me, so please don’t go away.

hold

I then go away for as long as two or three minutes, leaving the caller dangling on the line.  When I come back, if he or she is no longer there, I gently end the call.  On occasion, however, the unfortunate caller has chosen to wait, and so the conversation resumes.

ME:  With whom am I speaking, please?

REP:  Me?  Ahh, I’m Hector, and I’m calling to…

ME:  Before we continue, Hector, I have to inform you that this call is being recorded to ensure quality service and customer satisfaction.

REP:  Recorded?

ME:  Of course.

REP:  Sir, that is highly unusual…

ME:  Yes, I’m sure.  Also, I must ask you a couple of questions to confirm your identity.  What is the name of your firm, what is your employee number, and at what number may I reach you on a call-back?

REP:  Sir, we don’t give out that…

ME:  You don’t?  But you will ask for similar information from me, will you not?

REP:  Yes, of course, but that’s for your own…

ME:  Hector, I know you have something very important to tell me about, but before you do, I want to let you know about my brief survey.

REP:  Survey?

ME:  At the end of this call, when you’ve finished your sales pitch, I’m going to ask you five short questions, each of which will have a choice of three answers.  For each question, you will choose either A, B, or C, whichever best describes your experience on this call with me today.  Do you agree to take this survey?  Please answer yes or no.

REP:  [frustrated] Sir, I think we have a misunder…

frustrated call center man

ME:  [impatient] I’m sorry, Hector, was that a yes or a no?

REP:  [desperate] Sir, we don’t respond to…

ME:  [hectoring]  Ex-cuse me!  You do remember that this call is being recorded, right?  Is it not important to you that our conversation reflect a high level of satisfaction on my part?

REP:  [whimpering]  Sir, please, this is…

ME:  [pityingly]  Hector, do you know what number you’ve called?

REP:  [thoroughly cowed]  No, sir, I’ve called so many today…

ME:  [wickedly]  This is 1-800-GET-LOST.  Now, is there anything else I can help you with today?

REP:  ~click ~

My wife tells me this sort of curmudgeonly behaviour on my part is unbecoming a man of my supposed intelligence.  She tells me it’s unfair to take advantage of someone who is trying to earn an honest living.  And, somewhat reluctantly, I concede that she is, as usual, probably right.

Anyway, I’ve told her I’ll stop doing it after the next time I have to call in to a service provider for help with a problem, and I’ll stop immediately, but only on one condition—that I manage to get a real, live person on the line on my first try.

What are the chances, do you suppose?

on hold