Curmudgeon!

Curmudgeon! 

Such a wonderful word to roll around on your tongue.  It has a solid, satisfying sound when spoken aloud, dropping weightily into a conversation like a bag of sand thumping a wooden floor.  It is defined as somebody who is bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn.

Not at all the person I believe myself to be!

Yet, according to several of those closest and dearest to me, I am becoming something of a curmudgeon.  They tell me it has to do with my rather determined efforts to hold fast to the social dicta instilled in me by my mother.

etiquette

Although it’s been seventy years since first that grand lady began educating me on the social niceties—and despite my knowing that the customs and mores of our changing society have altered since then—I cannot stop bemoaning the loss of what I consider to be simple etiquette.

Let me provide a few examples, taken from experiences we had with folks in the community where we used to spend our winters.  And, I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression of them; they were all lovely people, good-hearted, gracious, and kind.  It’s just that they didn’t necessarily subscribe to the things I learned at my mother’s knee.

When my wife and I would invite a few couples for a dinner party, for instance, and specify an arrival time of five-thirty, I didn’t appreciate when everyone would arrive, fashionably late, some twenty minutes past the expected time.  We’d be sitting anxiously alone, wondering if everyone forgot—worrying that the hot hors d’oeuvres would be cooled and soggy by the time we got to eat them.

hors d'oeuvres

“Oh, we just wanted to be sure you were ready,” our guests would say when I’d make a supposedly-offhanded comment about their lateness.

But you see, we were always ready when we said we’d be.  Always.  If we’d thought we needed more preparation time, we’d have set a later arrival target for everyone.  My mother believed it was proper to arrive when your hosts asked you to.

“There’s nothing fashionable about being late,” she would say.  “It’s just rude.”

Hospitality gifts were another example.  Although they weren’t de rigueur, it became the thing to do as we visited back and forth at each other’s homes.  A favourite gift was a bottle of wine, nicely encased in a gift bag designed for the purpose—but never of the same vintage as might have been previously received from the same couple.

“Thank you,” I would say fulsomely as I pulled the bottle from the bag and set it to one side.  “We haven’t tried this one.  I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?” they’d ask.

“Uhh…no,” I’d reply, “not just now.  We have wine already selected for tonight.”

Their disappointment would be palpable as I proceeded to pour them a glass from the decanted wine I’d already planned for the evening.  And I was somehow made to feel as if I were offering a second-rate product, when sometimes, it was better than what they’d brought.

“How rude is that!” I’d rail at my wife after everyone had departed.  “And you know what’s even worse?  They took home the gift bag they brought their wine in!  Can you believe it?”

wine gift bag

My wife would tell me not to get so worked up, but it just didn’t seem right.

Here’s another case in point.  The day after our dinner party, some people would phone to thank us for the evening, graciously commenting on the food, the company, or the conversation among friends.  That’s exactly what my mother told me to do.

“Always call the following day to thank your hosts once again.”

But, increasing numbers of people don’t think to do that anymore.  Or perhaps they do think of it, but can’t be bothered.  Either way, it’s a classic breach of etiquette.

“Don’t worry about it,” my wife would say when I’d rail on about it.  “They thanked us several times at the door before they left.”

“It’s not the same,” I would respond, still miffed.

Now, lest you think I’m overly critical when I have no right to be, let me assure you that I tried to practice all these niceties when we were on the other side.  I’d ensure that we arrived on time, as specified by our hosts, never more than a minute out either way.

“Oh!  You’re here!” they’d say, lifting an eyebrow in surprise as they opened the door.

“Five-thirty,” I’d reply, with an exaggerated glance at my watch.  “That’s what you said, right?”

On one occasion, our hostess was still in the shower when we got there, at the appointed hour, and her husband wasn’t sure whether or not to let us in.

Of course, we always brought along a gift, usually the ubiquitous bottle of wine.  I’d proffer it unassumingly to our host, and often, to my great surprise, he’d open it immediately to pour us each a glass.  I found that mind-boggling.  It made me wonder if he didn’t have enough of his own, and was dependent on his guests for the evening’s libations.

“What if we’d brought flowers?” I’d rage later to my wife.

flowers2

And, so many times, when my wife or I would phone the following day to thank our hosts again for their hospitality, they would always sound bemused.  As if we shouldn’t have bothered.  As if they didn’t care, one way or the other.

“Don’t these people know any better?” I’d rant, scarcely coherent.  “Doesn’t anybody have any manners?  Why can’t they just do things right?”

“You mean your way?” my wife would reply sweetly.

“Yeah,” I’d say forcefully.  “The way my mother used to.”

But it would fall to my wife to have the last word in these discussions, and it’s a word that would always shut me up—at least temporarily.

“Curmudgeon!” she’d say.

curmudgeon

 

 

 

Expletive Deleted!

Neither a borrower nor a lender be!”  Sage advice from the English Bard, advice which I unsuccessfully tried to impart to my daughters as they were growing up.

shakespeare

Borrowing is an art, I used to tell them.  It’s very unlike lending, which is a straightforward act requiring nothing more than an assenting response to another’s request.

Anyone can lend something to someone.  No particular talent is needed, no marked intelligence, no difficult decisions.  A simple yes is all that’s necessary, and it’s done—just like that!

But borrowing is another thing entirely.  As a borrower, one has to know what’s needed and where it might be found.  One has to make certain decisions and offer certain guarantees to the lender.  It’s essential that one be able to make the request in such a manner as to elicit agreement from the other party.  And, of course, one must return the borrowed article in reasonable condition within an acceptable length of time.

Alas, it was that last condition that gave me a lot of trouble.  I’m a borrower, and always have been, which is why my daughters didn’t take my advice too seriously.  Yet, I never fully mastered the art of it.

I always knew what I needed and where to find it; there was no problem there.  And, I generally found other people quite agreeable in allowing me the use of whatever it was I asked for.  But returning what I borrowed in the same condition in which I received it always seemed next to impossible.

Mind you, I never took something back in a worse state than I found it.  That wouldn’t be ethical—and besides, I knew I’d soon run out of people who would agree to my borrowing their things!

No, my problem was that I ended up spending money to repair or replace the borrowed item, because, while in my tender care, the infernal thing would fall apart, get misplaced, or simply cease to operate.

The people from whom I borrowed stuff could hardly wait to see what wonderful surprises I’d be bringing back to them.  They actually came to my house, carrying things they wanted me to borrow!

toolsharing-01

One neighbour, for example, received a brand-new outdoor extension cord from me.  I ran over his with the electric mower I borrowed from him when my own gave up the ghost.  It was on that same occasion that his mower had a new on/off power switch installed—at my expense, naturally, since it cracked and broke while I was using the mower.

The same neighbour, on other occasions, had free repairs made to his electric barbecue starter, his circular saw, and the front fender of his car, all paid for by me before returning the borrowed items to him.

When his firm transferred him out west, the poor fellow literally cried at having to leave me!  As a going-away gift, I presented him with a new camera—to replace his old one, which I had dropped overboard on a canoeing expedition.

Given my track record, it was no wonder most of my friends knew that I never mastered the fine art of borrowing.  When people dropped by to see if there was anything I’d like to borrow from them, they also brought along a list of replacement items they’d be glad to receive when the usual misfortune befell me.

Eventually, however, I started cutting way back.  I discovered that I just couldn’t afford to keep borrowing other people’s things, upgrading or replacing them, then returning them.  With my daughters’ encouragement, I resorted to borrowing something only when I really, absolutely needed it.

There was the time, for instance, when I had to borrow my sister’s electric typewriter—this, in the days before computers.  I had a writing deadline, and my own, heretofore-dependable Underwood had expired.  Hers worked perfectly for the first few hours, and then, to my horror, I discovered the last line I had typed read:  Thx summary conclusions prxsxntxd bxlow arx furthxr xxplainxd in thx sxvxn appxdicxs attachxd to thx rxport.

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My sister was not amused when I tried to return the defective machine with only a new ink ribbon to offset the problem.  Were I to tell you what she said, using her typewriter, it would have read:  xxplxtivx dxlxtxd!

So, before you ask—No!  I don’t need to borrow a thing, thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Really? It Was the Dog?

“Honest, sir!  The dog ate my homework.”

In my youthful years as a grade seven teacher, I bet I heard that timeworn cliché from a student a dozen times.  My two daughters, themselves teachers now, tell me they, too, have heard the ridiculous excuse more than once.

Irony of ironies, then, that my youngest daughter recently tried to make that same claim, or one very similar, on her own behalf.  The girls were flying to New York City, with two friends, to celebrate the end of another school year.  My daughter’s airfare was paid by her older sister, a birthday gift, but they were on separate flights.

The night before, the younger gal was online, printing her boarding pass, when she was called away for a few minutes.  When she came back to her computer, she claims, she found her passport on the floor, mangled and torn by the family dog.

When such calamities strike, my daughter usually exhibits a good deal of forbearance (unlike her father), and so it was this time.

“It was my fault,” she told me later.  “I’m always telling the kids not to leave stuff lying around.  I can’t blame the dog.”

Upset, but undeterred, she set about to repair the damage, carefully piecing the torn pages together with transparent tape.  It was a well-used passport, lots of pages stamped from previous trips, and she hoped that fact would override any challenges she might face from border agents.  When closed, it looked almost normal; opened, however, not so much.

passport

As a seasoned traveler myself, I’ve had lots of experience with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.  These men and women have enormous authority to deny entry to their country, with no recourse to appeal for those turned away.  So, it’s a testament to my daughter’s charm, megawatt smile, and persuasive powers that she actually managed to convince the CBP agent in the pre-clearance area at the airport to approve her entry and stamp her passport.

Safely admitted to the lounge, she spent the next six hours dealing with repeated flight-delays and changes to boarding gates, wandering to and fro through the airport.  Unbelievably, her flight was eventually cancelled, the only alternative being a flight leaving early the following morning.  So, there she was, forced to go home overnight, before a pre-dawn taxi-ride back to the airport.

That, of course, meant another encounter with a tough-as-nails CBP agent, proffering the same mangled passport and same shaky story.

“Honest, sir!  The dog ate my passport!”

Wonder of wonders, that staunch defender of Trumpian immigration policy believed her, and she was once again granted entry.

The gals finally met up in the Big Apple later that morning, and proceeded to have the time of their lives for the next few days.  All the trouble was worth it, my daughter told me later.

“It was like one of those fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen.”

megan in nyc

On the final day, they were scheduled to fly home on the same flight.  But, when they arrived to check in, my daughter was denied permission to board the aircraft.

“Why?” she asked, dismayed and disbelieving.  “What’s the problem?”

“Your passport,” she was told.  “It’s not acceptable.  You should never have been let into the country.”

Despite pleading her case, using the fact of her Canadian citizenship as suitable reason to let her go home, she could not get on that plane.  My older daughter, in a gesture that brought tears to my eyes (although it was no surprise to me), refused to abandon her sister.  Their two friends reluctantly bade them farewell and left on their flight home, while my two girls—ever bright, assertive, and resourceful—plotted their next moves.

After a few face-to-face conversations with airline staff, and some phone calls, they were promised a refund for the cost of their flights (in the form of credits to be used within the next twelve months).  They booked a rental car, negotiating a reduced rate, and phoned their husbands to tell them they were driving to Buffalo.  My sons-in-law, gentlemen of the first order, immediately drove together to Buffalo to fetch their wives and bring them home.

Of course, the four of them had to clear Canadian border security on the return trip.  In my own experience, the agents with the Canada Border Services Agency are among the friendliest, most helpful, and welcoming to be found anywhere.  Not so this time, however.

The four travelers were pulled aside so my daughter could attempt to explain the sad state of her passport, and convince the skeptical CBSA people that she truly was a citizen, just trying to re-enter her home and native land.  After what must have seemed an interminable wait, she was finally granted permission—with a stern warning to replace the offending passport.  The girls (and their gallant guys) finally arrived home in the wee, small hours of the morning after they left the airport in New York City.

“Was it worth it?” I asked my daughters the next time I spoke with them.  “All that hassle?”

“For sure, Dad!  We had a blast!”  the older one replied.

“I agree,” her sister chimed in.  “The problems were really my fault, when you think about it.”

Far be it from me to point a finger of blame. But, when I do think about it, I agree with her.  That passport couldn’t have been damaged the way she said.

I mean, what kind of dog eats passports?  That’s the most ridiculous excuse I’ve heard since…well, since I was a teacher.

Dogs get a bad rap!

macca

 

 

Honk If You Love Jesus!

As my grandchildren grew from infancy into young childhood, we enjoyed playing word games together.  Challenging them to spell different words, come up with rhyming words, find words with opposite meanings, and other such contests have always been a source of pleasure for me.  And for them, too, I think.

One of the great places to play such games was while travelling in the car.  Classics—such as spotting out-of-province license plates, finding misspelled words on billboards, and watching for funny bumper stickers—were some of our favourites.

Sometimes, though, the games had unintended consequences.  For example, on a rush-hour street one afternoon, we were behind a car with a bumper sticker exhorting all who might read it to Honk If You Love Jesus.  My first reaction was to scoff, wondering who would be crazy enough to start bearing witness on the horn of an automobile.

sticker5

“Grandpa,” exclaimed my eldest granddaughter, “we love Jesus, right?  You should honk your horn.”

I demurred, but her sister insisted.  And their sincerity made me wonder what harm there could be in responding to such a simple invitation to show my beliefs.  In fact, if I chose not to respond, could that be construed as a subconscious rejection of my religious convictions?  In front of impressionable little ones?

So, somewhat abashedly, and in order not to jeopardize my granddaughters’ faith, I did honk—a long and loud affirmation of Jesus.  The reaction of the driver in front was immediate, and rather unexpected.  His car jumped ahead momentarily in the clogged traffic, quickly followed by the flash of his brake lights.  His arm jacked out of his window, and he began to gesture in what I hoped my granddaughters would think was an attempt to point out the direction of heaven…with his middle finger.  Luckily, they appeared not to notice.

sticker4

On another occasion, while driving to my grandson’s soccer game one Saturday morning, we overtook a car with a brightly-coloured bumper sticker asking us to Buy From a Breeder.

“What’s a breeder, Gramps?” my grandson asked.

“Well, that’s someone who brings animals together so they can have babies,” I answered carefully.  “Those people want us to buy babies from someone who breeds them.”

A few minutes later, we passed a car whose bumper sticker advised, Caution. Baby On Board.  My grandson craned his neck to catch a glimpse of the baby as we flashed by.

“Those people are breeders, right?” he asked.

I confess I nodded in the affirmative.

One of the funniest bumper stickers I ever saw was on the back of a black hearse, but my grandchildren didn’t really understand the humour.  In flowing, black script, it proclaimed, Yours Eventually.

One I admit I wasn’t too fond of, but which my grandson thought might apply to me, was stuck on the back of an old, copper-coloured Nash Rambler, driven by a white-haired codger:  I Used to be Cool!

That was a bad day because, a short while later, we saw another that declared, Watch Out for the Idiot Behind Me!

sticker1

“That’s you, Gramps, right?” my grandson asked.  Innocently, I choose to believe.

We’ve occasionally had close calls in the car, trying to read bumper stickers with print so small that it’s impossible to decipher from a reasonable distance.  The first time we saw one, it took five minutes of white-knuckled bursts of speed to get close enough.

“What does it say, Gramps?  Get closer!”  Two little girls were peering avidly through the space between the front seats.

Grammatically incorrect, it nevertheless smugly stated, If You Can Read This, You’re Following Too Close!

You’re too close!” my wife was yelling by then, her arms locked rigidly on the dashboard to brace herself.  “Slow down, or we’ll be a bumper sticker!”

The girls giggled, but I didn’t dare.

I was much fonder of the message we saw another day, in living colour on the mud-flaps of a huge eighteen-wheeler we were following.  Impossible to miss.  My youngest granddaughter recognized the cartoon character immediately—a short, red-haired, moustachioed gunslinger with a huge sombrero and two smoking pistols pointing at us.

sticker3

BACK OFF! was all it said.  No ambiguity there.

But the most sensible bumper sticker we ever saw was plastered squarely in the middle of the rear bumper of a large recreational vehicle.  It sported two bright red arrows, one pointing left, the other right.

“The left arrow says Passing Side,” my granddaughter declared.

“And the right arrow says Suicide,” her brother replied worriedly.

We had come up on that camper in a great hurry, so, as my grandchildren spoke, I stole a glance at my wife, who was staring pointedly at me.

Smiling reassurance, I slowed right down and backed right off, heedless of the traffic piling up behind me.

And, with all the honking that began to blare behind me, I figured those drivers must really love Jesus.

So, I was glad for the sticker I had on my own rear bumper—

sticker2

 

 

The Pickup

During the years we owned a home in Florida, we used to comment on how fortunate we were to live in a retirement community where so many services were close at hand.  It truly was remarkable.

We benefited from facilities and utilities that we could have taken for granted.  We had running water, electric power, telephone and cable service, and internet availability.  We were close to medical and dental services, supermarkets and convenience stores, a volunteer emergency corps, and a fire department.

We had ready access to libraries, recreational facilities, and churches.  We were served by a thriving post office, a conscientious sheriff’s department, and many other organizations too numerous to mention.

We lived near five golf courses, all of which we could drive to in our own golf cart.

pg_golf_cart003

We were, indeed, very fortunate.

However—there’s always a ‘however’ in these cases—there was one public service that caused me a great deal of difficulty.  It probably wasn’t their fault; in fact, it likely wasn’t anybody’s fault.  But it was one of those little vexations of life that seemed, at first, to be beyond fixing.

I’m speaking of the problems I had with my garbage.  The pickup never worked for me.  It used to be terrific to drop the plastic bags at the end of my driveway every Friday morning and forget about them.  A short time later, a big truck would crawl slowly and noisily down the street, swallowing the assorted bags that were tossed into its churning maw.  And the whole thing would be over for another week.

But then things changed, and I began to have a lot of trouble.  It started when the pickup service was moved to an earlier time of day for my street.  That truck began to show up before I woke up!

To solve that issue, I hit upon the idea of putting the bags out the night before.  That, I figured, would solve my dilemma with the early hour.  To my chagrin, it was just the beginning of a whole host of problems.

Whenever I put the garbage out the night before pickup, the scavengers got into it.  Four-legged critters, like coons and possum; two-legged critters, such as crows and seagulls.  When I would saunter to the street the next morning, after the truck had been and gone, I’d find remnants of the week’s malodorous garbage strewn across my grass.

worlds-cutest-raccoons-22

I tried all manner of schemes to put a stop to this.  It was amazing how ingenious, and devious, an old guy like me could become when I had to stoop over to scoop up garbage that I had already packed up for pickup!

In order to foil the two-legged critters, I began to wait until just before my bedtime to put out the garbage, after they were safely in their nests.  To prevent the four-legged critters from continuing their raids, I scattered pellets, sprayed foam, and sprinkled red pepper around the bags—but all to no avail.

Once, to my undying shame, and well after dark, I even resorted to putting my garbage bags across the street, on my neighbour’s driveway.  The next morning, there was half the load, spread across his grass.

And it didn’t really change anything, anyway, because when I went over to clean it up, I encountered him in the middle of the street.  He was on his way to pick up the spillage from the bags he had left on my driveway!  The bounder.

After a bothersome few months, I reached the stage where I realized I wasn’t putting out garbage; rather, I was making an offering to the critters from hell!

But, wonder of wonders, I eventually solved the riddle.  Looking back on it, I can’t believe it took me so long to come up with such a creative solution.  It certainly would have relieved me of a bunch of worry.

It finally dawned on me that on every warm, Florida Friday morning, garage sales and yard sales were endemic to our community—every neighbourhood, every street.  And hundreds of people—rich, poor, young, old, women, men—prowled the area in their vans and station wagons.

garage sale

So, from that point on, I would clamber out of bed every Friday at a reasonable hour, tie off my garbage bags with pretty, colorful ribbons, and drop them at the end of my driveway, with a big sign on them: FREE.

The bags were gone before I could finish my first cup of coffee!

 

 

Who Said That?

For several years, I’ve had a brilliant idea for a word-game bouncing around in my head.  Given my general laissez-faire attitude in my retirement years, however, I’ve done nothing about it.

And that’s a shame, because the more I think about it, the more convinced I am it could be a sure-fire hit.  Like when the original Trivial Pursuit first burst upon the scene, or Scrabble, or Hangman, or Words with Friends, to name a few.

scrabble

The game—in the multi-platform age we live in—can be marketed as a traditional board-game, or as a digital game adapted to computers and laptops.  It can feature competitive matches with others, or a self-play mode for those uncomfortable with universal play.  It can have different levels of skill to accommodate players with varying levels of language fluency.  It can have focused versions for different age-groups.  It can be issued in as many languages as the global market will bear.

But wait, there’s more!  So successful could it be that a television show might eventually be based upon it, like Jeopardy, for instance.  Featuring both celebrity and everyday contestants, all vying to claim supremacy, the TV version could reinvigorate the public’s interest in language and history, spurring us on, perhaps, to a new golden age of literacy.

255px-Jeopardy_game_board

The only reason I’m revealing my idea here is that I remain unlikely to pursue it by myself.  Too much work for one my age.

Actually, there is a second reason:  I’d love to entice someone to follow through on the project—partnering with me, of course, with copyright reserved to me; financing the start-up costs; doing the bulk of the work; but with all profits shared equally.

Sounds beguiling, don’t you think?

The game, as I envisage it, will be called Who Said That?  Playing in turn, each player will draw a card (if playing the board-game version), or click on a tab (in the digital version), to reveal an excerpt of a famous quotation; for example:

I don’t want to belong to any club…

If the player can successfully complete the expression, (s)he will receive the number of points ascribed to the difficulty of the quotation.  And, as a bonus, if the player can identify the person who first uttered the expression, (s)he will earn an additional two points, and may take a second turn before the next player plays.  If a particular quotation has no attributed author, Anonymous becomes an acceptable answer.

Because some quotations have been reported slightly differently, or translated from other languages, some latitude in the exactness of the answers may be allowed by players; the objective is to most accurately complete the expression.

The two answers in the aforementioned example are:

I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member; the speaker was Groucho Marx, an American actor, comedian, and television star.

groucho

Pretty simple concept, I think, but not so easy to navigate successfully.

Now, before deciding whether or not you wish to become an investor in this can’t-miss undertaking, you might want to try the game yourself.  Here are six questions of varying levels of difficulty, but all requiring high-school competency in language and history.  Answering all of them correctly, and identifying the speakers, will earn you thirty points.

  1. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day… 1 point
  2. Even if you’re on the right track… 3 points
  3. Never interrupt your enemy… 4 points
  4. If you are going through hell… 3 points
  5. Sometimes the questions are complicated… 2 points

And my favourite,

  1. The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas… 5 points

Try to answer these questions before checking the answers below.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *

How many quotations could you accurately complete?  How many of the speakers could you identify?  And how many points were you able to earn?  Now, check the answers to find out:

  1. …teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.   Anonymous
  2. …you’ll get run over if you just sit there.   Will Rogers
  3. …when he is making a mistake.   Napoleon
  4. keep going.   Churchill
  5. and the answers are simple.   Dr. Seuss
  6. …in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.   F. Scott Fitzgerald

I could lie and claim I earned thirty points, but that would be unfair; after all, I framed the questions.  In truth, I might have earned seventeen points, had I been playing as you were.

If any of us were playing online, and after we had the correct answers revealed, we could quickly search the internet for more information on the speakers.  This game could be such a marvellous learning tool, as well as entertaining for all ages.  A sure-fire winner!

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So, in conclusion, let me address the financing and partnership aspects of the project.  In order to avoid my having to peruse long lists of prospective investors, it would be best  (assuming you are interested) to send along a comprehensive financial disclosure statement to me at your earliest convenience.  Rest assured, it will be held in the strictest confidence….or, perhaps I should say privacy.

You know, I’m sure, that this is not a confidence game!

Nuclear Flushin’

On a long-ago Saturday morning, musing over a cup of tea, I came to a mind-altering realization.  My entire family, except for me, was in the bathroom.

Not the same bathroom, of course, for we had three in our house back then.  But that insight sparked an idea, a theory, as to why we’re witnessing a change in the traditional family structure in our North American society.

I knew immediately that if I were ever to present my idea to a United Nations Conference on the Family, for example, it would be extremely well-received—probably heralded as a major breakthrough—because I felt it would answer a question that has plagued sociologists and urban-planners for a very long time.

Why are we experiencing such a major shift in the traditional social patterns of our society, most specifically in the so-called, nuclear family?

Before revealing the disquieting answer, I should provide a little background.  The nuclear family, until not so very long ago, had been the fundamental element in the fabric of our culture.  It consisted of a nucleus, usually two parents, and several particles orbiting the centre, those being the children.  Like the atom, to which it bears a resemblance in diagram-form, the nuclear family had long been considered virtually unbreakable.

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But in the 1940’s, we learned (perhaps to our sorrow) that we were wrong about the atom; it could, indeed, be split.  The nuclear age dawned on an unsuspecting world when physicists discovered the means to do that.  Our whole existence was altered with the advent of nuclear fission.

In a similar way, with perhaps more profound consequences, the nuclear family has begun to split during the past few decades.  Several theories have been published over time which attempted to explain the reasons for this, but not one of them has managed to find the true cause.

Now, at last, I have it, and I’ve christened it nuclear flushin’.

As with so many major discoveries, the answer, once known, is relatively simple.  The fragmentation of the nuclear family in North America has been accelerated by the proliferation of a phenomenon known as ensuite bathrooms!

ensuite

Don’t believe me?  Well, think about the home you live in now, or about the homes where your friends live.  In all likelihood, regardless of the size of the house, or its style or its layout, there is more than one bathroom.  There’s an excellent chance, particularly if the house was constructed during the late 1970’s or later, that ensuite bathrooms are connected to one or more of the bedrooms.  And that’s in addition to a main bathroom and a two-piece powder room.

Now compare this with the home you lived in with your parents (or where they lived with their parents), and you may begin to see what changes the ensuite bathroom has wrought.

Once upon a time, in a typical family of five or six, the average morning witnessed a grand reunion before breakfast.  Everyone gathered in or near the one bathroom in the house.  The daily rituals of bathing, shaving, brushing teeth, combing hair, and other such essentials were performed to the accompaniment of cries to hurry and demands to share the mirror.  In my family, one was seldom alone with one’s ablutions; and woe betide anyone who tried to lock the door!

One of the beneficial effects of this shared intimacy was that the various members of the family came to appreciate how much we were alike.  Few secrets existed among four children sharing a tub!

kids in tub

I first became aware that there must be more than just physiological differences between the sexes when my brother and I, for reasons we didn’t fully understand at the time, had to wait until our sisters were out of the tub before we could get in.  And I still remember how the two of us would pee in the bath, laughing giddily at fooling our father, who’d have his hands in the water while scrubbing us.  Duh!

But that was once upon a time.  Today, we’re all encapsulated, cut off from one another, no longer sharing our most natural activities.  Each morning, we emerge from our bedrooms-with-ensuite-bathrooms, sparkling-clean and perfectly-groomed.  None of us ever sees the others as we really are, and so we do not appreciate how much alike we are.

Today, it seems to me, everyone is preoccupied with personal space, privacy, and rights—all of which emphasize our differences.  And that, I submit, is why the nuclear family is disintegrating.

Eventually, I’ll commit my theory to paper (not of the toilet variety), with innumerable citations and references to support my thesis.  And when the opportunity arises, as I’m sure it will, I’ll truly enjoy presenting it to the United Nations.

I still need time to really flesh out the details, however, to think the idea through more carefully.  But the wonderful thing is, I have the chance to do that, in glorious solitude, in my own ensuite bathroom!

privy

And you’re among the first to know!