Telephone Jokester

I have never liked the telephone!  I know it’s a wonderful invention, a labour-sparing tool, a life-saver in time of emergency.  I’m aware that it brings friends together and ties families more closely to one another.  And I understand that it is, indeed, a technological marvel.

But I don’t like it, especially now when everyone but me carries one around in pocket or purse.  For whatever reason, I’ve never felt at ease when I’m talking to someone on the phone.  If I can’t be in front of the person to whom I’m speaking, it doesn’t feel right.  And no, Skype and FaceTime do not resolve that problem for me.

Even before the days of smartphones, my home phone always seemed to ring at the most inopportune moments; for example, when I’d just sat down to dinner, when I was busily engrossed in some leisure activity, or (most annoying of all) when I was the only one home to answer it.  That still happens.

But without a doubt, the worst thing about the telephone is the wrong number.  It doesn’t matter whether I’m doing the calling or receiving the call.  Wrong numbers are a pain!

Whenever I’ve entered a wrong number, I’m immediately apologetic to the person who answers.  I know that my own carelessness has put the other party out, and I try to make amends.  However, my efforts are invariably met with an angry or impolite reply.  It begins right after I realize I’ve dialled the number incorrectly.

“Oh…oh, sorry,” I stammer.  “I’m afraid I have the wrong number.”

“Obviously!” comes the reply.  And if it’s a landline I’ve called in error, that response is followed closely by an abrupt banging of the receiver in my ear.

What bothers me more, though, is when I answer a call from someone who has the wrong number.  For some reason, it’s still I who ends up being the bad guy.  Where’s the justice in that?

“Hello?” I answer.

“Jenny there?”

“Ah, no, sorry,” I begin.  “You have the wrong…”

“Where is she?” the caller demands.

“Hey, man, I don’t know.  You’ve got the wrong…”

“Who’s this?”

“It’s me,” I reply lamely, “and there’s no one here by the name of…”

“What number is this?”

When I dutifully give it, I get a snarling rejoinder, “That’s not the number I want!”

I’m never quick enough to miss that banging receiver.  And I’m left feeling it was all my fault for answering when the call was for Jenny.

I confess, back in those unlamented landline days, I resorted to dirty tricks on numerous occasions, more to avoid the unpleasantness than out of any malicious intent.  Although, I must concede, I did derive some guilty pleasure from it.

“Just a minute,” I would reply when the caller asked for someone I’d never heard of.  I’d lay the receiver by the phone, place a cushion on top, and forget about it.  After a few minutes, the caller would get tired of waiting and hang up.  When next I passed by the phone, I’d gently replace the receiver.

Or on occasion, I’d respond by saying, “Jenny?  She left quite a while ago.  She should be at your place any minute!  Tell her to call when she gets there.”

And I’d hang up first.

Sometimes, I would ask the name of the caller, tell them to wait, then make a show of yelling for the non-existent person to come to the phone.

“Jenny!  Phone for you.  It’s Alice!”

After a few seconds, I’d yell again, “No way!  If you don’t wanta talk to her, you tell her!  Not me!”

In those cases, I could hear the receiver bang down from ten feet away.

I never believed any great harm came from such tactics, and it sure made me feel better.  I always hoped it might even teach those careless callers to be a little more conscientious.

“They’re only getting what they deserve,” I rationalized.  “Just desserts for them, justice for me!”

Needless to say, I was elated when—back then, before the introduction of caller ID—I hit upon the very best way to deal with those nuisance calls.  Mind you, it took some measure of will-power, and it required a little practice at first to get the hang of it.  But I persevered, and once I mastered it, I no longer had to waste precious hours dreaming up new tricks.

It was so simple.  When the phone rang, if I thought it might be a wrong number, I didn’t answer!  Ergo, no hassle, no stress.  And in time, of course, no more calls!

Brilliant!

Nevertheless, given the technological world in which I live, I suppose I’ll have to break down and get a smartphone of my own one of these days.  I’ll be tempted to turn off the ringer, set it to vibrate, and leave it at home when I go out.  But I probably won’t.

I still don’t like the telephone, but it’s lonely being a Luddite.

By Myself

No one, I don’t think, would ever mistake me for a recluse, a loner, a solitary wayfarer along the road of life.  I am, generally speaking, among the Hail fellow, well-met! sorts of people, one who enjoys lively conversations and adventures with friends and family.

But I must admit, there do come those times when I like to get off the well-trod path and retreat into a little world of my own.  It may be that you, too, enjoy doing the same thing, so mine may not be a completely unique peccadillo.

However, the things I prefer to do when I’m by myself may be different from what others choose.  For me, the top three include riding my bicycle, playing my harmonicas, and writing all manner of things—poetry and prose, articles, blogs, and books.

I got my first bike, brand-new, when I was ten years old—for forty dollars, of which my parents paid half.  Within a month, it was stolen!  I remember being outraged and heartbroken, both.  But the worst insult was learning that, if I wanted to replace it, I’d have to save up half the cost again.  Life seemed particularly unfair at that point.

I did it, though, and purchased an identical bike—maroon, coaster-brakes, a new lock.  During the next half-dozen years, until driving the family car became an option, riding my bike opened up new worlds for me.  I could ride forever, it seemed, miles further than I could ever have walked, in and out of places no larger vehicle could navigate.

That bike served as my horse when we were playing cowboys in the park; a motorcycle when we were playing drag-racers in the schoolyard (complete with stiff cardboard cut-outs clipped to the rear fork to make a loud, chattering noise as the spokes battered them); and a tow-truck to pull my cartload of newspapers on pre-dawn deliveries.  I loved my bicycle.

Different bikes over the years served me just as well, especially as a young father when one or the other of my wee daughters would ride in the seat attached behind me.  Up hills and down, my wife and I spent many hours cycling with our girls on their own bikes, well into their teenage years.

bike

Today, long into retirement, I still love to ride, mostly by myself now, able to go as slow or as fast as I like—or whatever my body dictates.  Lost in thought, I ride the roads, the trails, even cow-paths sometimes, marvelling at the changing surroundings, enjoying the peace and solitude.  It’s one of my favourite things to do by myself.

It’s the same when I play my harmonicas—my mouth organs, my harps.  I started playing when I was about the same age as when I got my first bike.  I remember asking Santa for a Hohner Marine Band, the small one, and was overjoyed to find it beside my stocking one Christmas morning.

I still have it, the very same one.  Some of the reeds are damaged, of course—that Christmas was about sixty-five years ago—but I’ll never let it go.  I still play recognizable songs on it (recognizable to me, at least), even if some of the notes are audible only to me.  Do you know O, Susanna?

Other harmonicas followed as time went on, all Hohners—a couple of which I still have.  They’re dented here and there, discoloured in spots, but the sound is almost as good as ever.  I spent many a frustrating hour trying to learn how to play a chromatic harmonica well, eventually resigning myself to an acceptance of mediocrity.  And I listened whenever I could to such giants of the instrument as Toots Thielemans, Little Walter, and Big Mama Thornton.

harmonicas

Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica.  I’ve done the very same thing many, many times—but not with Abe, and without the hemp.

I do it still today, usually when no one is home.  The music sounds as sweet to me while I’m playing as ever it did, but I’ve learned that, to the ears of others, it may not be quite as pleasurable.  And so, to spare them, playing the harmonica by myself is one of my favourite things to do.

The third, of course, is writing—an example of which you’re reading right now.  Writing is, almost by definition, a solitary endeavour, even selfish, thanks to its exclusion of others and the distractions they bring.  Ideas spring into my head at any time, anywhere, even in the dead of night.  On more occasions than I care to remember, I’ve staggered to the keyboard in a pre-dawn darkness, so as not to lose the next brilliant idea.

Writing fiction is like playing God.  After something has been recorded in an early chapter, let us say, but then overtaken by a contrary (and better) idea in a later chapter, it is nothing to go back and erase the original draft, to revise the very history I’ve created.  I can change people’s names, their appearance, the things that happen to them, all at a whim.  It’s a form of omnipotence—albeit, very limited.

I usually write with music playing softly in my earbuds, almost always from the classical repertoire.  It serves to mask ambient noise from elsewhere in the house, focus my thoughts on the subject at hand, and free my imagination for long stretches at a time.  I wonder sometimes if Mozart might ever have envisioned this solitary writer listening to his symphonies and sonatas, creating a literary piece that has never existed before, just as he did with his music.

I know.  Probably not.

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But that doesn’t matter.  It’s the freedom and peace I enjoy, whether riding, making music, or writing.  I don’t believe I’d like being lonely; but I do appreciate having the opportunity to be alone now and then, able to engage in my favourite things.

By myself.

Two Resolutions

“Okay, you first.”

“Me?  Why me?”

“You don’t want to go first?”

“It’s not that I don’t want to.  It’s just that I’d like to have a say in deciding.”

“Okay, no problem.  You want me to go first?”

“You can if you want to.  Or, I will…whatever.”

“Jeez already, make up your mind.”

“My mind?  Why’s it me who has to make the decision?”

“You don’t.  But one of us does or we’ll never get through this.”

Silence.

“Okay then, you can decide.”

“You sure?  In that case, you go first, like I said in the beginning.”

“Yeah, because you don’t want to, right?”

“It’s not that I don’t want to.  I already told you that.  But one of us has to, and you told me to decide.  I chose you.  Why are you making such an argument out of this?”

Me?  How come it’s me who’s arguing?  Takes two to tango.”

arguing

“Okay, look, I’m not arguing.  All I’m doing is trying to get us started.  If you want me to go first, I will.  If you want me to go second, I will.  Just tell me what you want so we can get going on this.”

“Oh, so now I’m the one who’s holding us up?

“I didn’t say that.  But I need to know how you want this to go.  I’m ready to start, but you can go first if you want to.”

“Right, so it is me who has to make the decision!  Just like I thought!”

More silence.

“Okay, let me try again.  It’s not you who has to make the decision.  I said I’d decide who goes first because you said that’s what you wanted, and I chose you.  But, since you have a problem with going first, I will.”

“Who says I have a problem going first?”

“Well, apparently you do or you’d have started by now.  I’ve already suggested that three times.”

“Suggested?  Is that what you call it?  Telling me I have to go first, like I shouldn’t have a say in it?”

“Look, I’m not telling you to do anything, okay?  I’m inviting you to go first.  Or second, if that’s what you prefer.  Just make up your mind or we’ll be here all day.”

“And that’s my fault?  Seems to me you’re the one who’s trying to control everything.”

Prolonged silence this time.

“Look, for the last time, I don’t care who’s in control.  I just want us to get started on this, and obviously somebody has to go first.  Who do you want that to be?”

“You’re asking me to decide?”

“Yes…please!”

“Meaning you don’t want to.”

“Jeez Louise!  Okay, I’ll decide, and I’ll go first.”

“So, now you’ve changed your mind, right?  ‘Cause earlier, you said I could go first.”

“You want to go first?  Please, be my guest.”

“Your guest?  So now I need your permission to go first?”

More silence.  Gritted teeth this time.

“No, you don’t need my permission.”

“I mean, you’re not the boss of me.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Okay.  So now that we got that settled, you can start.”

new year

“Yes!  Thank you!  Finally!  Here it is then, my New Year’s resolution.  I resolve in 2020 to be more patient with everyone I meet.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, that’s my first one.  I have some others, but now it’s your turn.”

“Why are we doing them one at a time?”

“It’s called sharing!  I share one of mine, then you share one of yours.”

“Yeah, I guess, but we could do your whole list, right?  Before we do mine?”

Silence again.  Hostile now.

“You don’t like that?  You’re determined we have to take turns?”

No reply.  The beginning of a snarl.

“Okay, already, I’ll read mine.  Sheesh!  You don’t have to be so grouchy!  Here it is, and I hope it makes you happy.  You ready?  I resolve to try very hard this year to be less argumentative.”

Open disbelief.

“How’m I doing so far?”

One More Time

A few years ago, we sold our home in Florida and I retired from playing ball.  Once the decision was taken, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.  There was no special celebration or ritual ceremony to mark the occasion.  After all, several of my friends had already made the same decision before me.  And furthermore, when it came right down to it, nobody really cared.

PP home

However, last spring we purchased another Florida home, and as this past autumn approached, I began to have second thoughts about that retirement.  I began to question if I could actually carry through with the decision.  I mean, how would I weather another winter in Florida without playing ball?

As September gave way to October, the sunshine state beckoned us again, and, with a sense of quiet desperation, I began to search ‘midst the debris of a sporting life for my trusty old ball glove.

glove

My wife (whose university degree dealt with biology, physiology, kinesiology, and other -ologies having to do with the human body) tells me that the average male person attains his physical peak around the age of twenty-six years.  If she’s right, that would mean I am fifty years beyond my glorious prime.

These days, I can’t remember what I was even doing when I was twenty-six, let alone how well I might have been doing it.  But I’m pretty sure I was somewhere playing softball, for somebody.

Now I have to admit that, with my level of athletic prowess, it’s difficult to tell if I ever actually reached a peak!  Regardless, I’m long past the point where even I could think of myself as a player ‘on the way up’, a kid ‘with a future’!

A few winters ago, before my decision to retire, several little things occurred on the playing field that, by themselves, weren’t especially significant.  Taken together, though, they presented a pattern which had led to my giving up the game.

First was the change in the distance between the bases; it got longer!  Either that, or I began to slow down.  And, for a ballplayer who couldn’t hit his weight, who threw three-bouncers from centre field to the infield, speed on the base paths was a commodity I sorely needed.

turtle

I also noticed I had stopped caring who won the game.  What mattered more to me was that I got to play my innings.  I don’t think my teammates knew, because nothing changed outwardly in my approach to the game.  But I knew, and I worried about it.  I mean, who wants to be on a ball team with someone who isn’t even competitive anymore?

The clincher, however, was a fall I took in the outfield, after [ahem] catching a long fly ball.  It was similar to dozens of such falls in the past, except this time I tore some ligaments in my shoulder.  Surgery was required twice—once to insert two screws, and again to remove them.  Those were not fun.

Consequently, when we sold our home, I retired.  Hung up the cleats.

However, upon my recent return to Florida this fall, I heard about the first meeting of the new season, to organize teams for winter ball.  I wandered over to the ballpark, just to see who might be coming back.  And I took my ball glove with me for moral support.

Once there, of course, my crumbling resolve to be retired collapsed completely.  Surrounded by past teammates—and wondering how they all got so old—I joyously entered my name and signed on the dotted line.

teammates2

I’m back! the boy inside me cried.

I probably still can’t hit for average, and my speed in the outfield will be tragically reduced on my gimpy knees, but I can still spit in the dirt and pound my glove.  So, sometime within the next couple of days, under a warm, winter sun, with all the other erstwhile boys of summer, I’ll trot—or totter—on to that field of dreams again.

One more time.

Gee Whillikers!

On my frequent, solitary perambulations through various social-media sites, I come across all manner of expressions that are literally incomprehensible to me.  It’s as if the people who post them are speaking in a different language than I.

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I read things like this:  Hey, bae, that hair is on fleek!  Or this:  So you lost.  Don’t be salty!  Or this:  YOLO…try it!

Other such comments include:  Hey, tweeps, don’t @ me!  Or this:  Okay, I’m here, AMA!  Or this:  AYK?  Facepalm!

The infernal acronyms are the worst for me to translate:  IMHO, MFW, ICYMI, JSYK, FTFY, or MIRL.

acronyms1

Mind you, there are a few I do understand, such as IDGAF or SNAFU!

It seems I only just got to the point where I understood expressions such as Rad!, Phat!, Cray-cray!, Dope!, and Nasty!, before there emerged a whole new world of gobbledy-gook.

Maybe it’s just because I’m old.

I mean, it’s not as if I’m illiterate.  There is a raft-load of words and expressions out there that I understand perfectly well, but which no one seems to use anymore.

Does the following statement make sense to you?

A late breakfast on the weekend is just what the doctor ordered.  Being able to sleep in is the bee’s knees, and I spend the day hanging loose, happy as a clam.  The whole weekend is just tickety-boo.

It seems nobody talks like that now, except maybe me.

ticketyboo

Or how about this one?

It’s like I’m made in the shade whenever I see a favourite old flick.  Like being in fat city.  I bust a gut at the comedies, but I really dig the tearjerkers. 

For me, the meaning of these is clear as a bell, but such talk would draw blank gazes from my grandchildren.

Hey guys, you want to do a solid for Gramps?  Boogie on down to the store and get us some grub for the shindig tonight?  No?  Well, that’s bogue!

I know they love me, but I suspect they think I’m sometimes what I would call square, or a goober—not that they’d know the meaning of those words.  Nor do I think they’d understand if I called myself a clodhopper when I stumble, or Clyde when I spill coffee on my shirt.  And if they laughed at my clumsiness, they certainly wouldn’t understand if I said, Oh, so you think this is a big tickle?  You don’t have to get all jiggy!

Our clearest communication comes, not in words, but in the form of kisses and hugs.

hugs1

Anyway, how many of these expressions still prevalent in my vocabulary do you recognize, or perhaps use in your own conversations?

  • Cruisin’ for a bruisin’,
  • Knuckle sandwich,
  • Far out,
  • Bummer,
  • Burn rubber,
  • Greaser,
  • Flip your wig,
  • Lay it on me,
  • Hanky-panky,
  • Meanwhile, back at the ranch,
  • Catch you on the flip-side,
  • Out to lunch,
  • Party-hearty,
  • Keep on keepin’ on,
  • Bodacious, or
  • Yada yada yada.

These are all expressions I use with the full knowledge of what they mean.  But at this stage of my life, I suppose I’m doomed to lag behind the evolution of our English language, stuck firmly in the increasingly-archaic usage of the last century.  Still, at least I know what I’m talking about, even if the younger set does not.

Honestly, though, when they bombard me with crazy shortcuts like ELI5, NBD, TBH, FWIW, or JTM, I’m hard-pressed not to scream in despair.

I mean, gee whillikers!  It barfs me out!

I mean, like, gag me with a spoon!

gag2

Before the Fall

Once upon a time, it seemed summers would never end.  From the day school let out until the first fall-fair fell upon us, our days were blissful, carefree, and limitless.  Eat breakfast and rush outside to play.  Dash home for lunch, then go back outside.  Trudge home for supper, then head outside yet again.

ball3

Such were the halcyon summers of childhood I enjoyed.

But I grew up, in spite of myself, married, found work as a teacher, and became a father.  And those summers suddenly became more finite.

The calendar tells us that summer ends with the autumnal equinox in late September, but the end always came much sooner.  It was marked, not by an arbitrary calendar, but by the requirement to go back to school.  And once I became a school principal, I had to head back to work ahead of the students if I had any hope of being ready for their return after Labour Day.

For many folks, I suppose, the coming of fall is a time of new beginnings, of anticipation.  They think in terms of the flaming fall-colours, the brisk autumn days, evenings spent curled up with a book in front of a cozy hearth.  They look forward to the change of seasons.

autumn

Not I, though!  I’ve always tended to think of it as a gloomy time—the conclusion of summer, and the close of so many pleasurable things that vanish with the coming of September.

Let me cite a few examples.  With the end of the warm, sunny weather, there came the end to my carefree habits of dress.  No more swimsuits or running shorts; no more open sandals or ancient running shoes; no more tank-tops or faded team sweaters.  Instead, it meant a return to the straitjacketing drill of collars and ties, pressed slacks, knee-high socks, and polished dress shoes.

The end of summer put a stop to the treasured luxury of shaving every two or three days, depending upon what activities were planned.  And it called a halt to the wearing of old ball caps as an alternative to brushing my hair.

The onset of fall wrote fini to three or four leisurely cups of coffee with the morning paper, and an end to mid-morning breakfasts on the back porch.  It heralded, in their stead, the beginning of hurried showers and breakfasts-on-the-run.  It marked the re-entry into the exciting world of daily traffic reports, as I attempted to find the shortest, quickest route into and out of the city.

traffic

In short, summer’s end brought to a close the lazy, drifting vagaries of summer living I tried so vainly to hang on to.

Coming back to the real world was a jolt to my entire system.  It was like going from childhood to adulthood all over again!  I mean, once was enough.

I’ve never wanted to be the type of person who wishes his life away, always yearning for something different than what is.  But, in a sense, I guess I used to do just that.  For me, the year was divided into two seasons, summer and not-summer.  When the autumn of the year rolled around, and not-summer was upon us once again, I would start repeating my mantra:  Next is Christmas, then Easter, and then it will be summer again!  Everything in between was just wished away.

I remember so many glorious summers-almost-ended, when I’d have one last camping trip planned for up north.  My cutoffs and hat would be in my bag, my shaving-kit left behind. Together with my wife and daughters, I’d be off for one final fling in the glorious realm of summer.  Hiking, swimming, paddling, exploring, picking berries, roasting marshmallows, singing our hearts out around the campfire, sleeping the sleep of the innocent in timeworn sleeping-bags—I would be like a child again.

roasting-marshmallows-over-campfire-horizontal-banner-susan-schmitz

Even now—retired, when every day is like a Saturday—as September approaches, I’m going to pretend, yet again, that summer will never end, that I’ll never have to grow up and give it up.  There is so much left to do.

Before the fall!

 

In General

You may disagree, but it is my considered opinion that, as Alexander Chase wrote, all generalizations, including this one, are false.

It is said that in all matters, the exception proves the rule—‘proves’ being used here in the old-fashioned sense of ‘tests’ or ‘challenges’.  And for every rule, I submit, there is always an exception.

Take, for example, the oft-quoted aphorism that a man’s best friend is a dog.  Well, my best friend is my wife, to whom I’ve been married for many happy years, and no one has ever referred to her as a…..well, you know.

michigan-med-l-dog-dna-01

So, that generalization is false.

How about a woman’s place is in the home?  Well, as I said, I’ve been married these many years, and never once have I so much as even harboured that thought.  My wife would tell you her place is wherever she chooses to be at any given moment.

That generalization is also false.

Another piece of folkloric wisdom holds that behind every successful man stands a woman.  I’m sure many successful men have been supported and encouraged by women, but I’m equally positive there have been successful men without influential women in their lives.  The closest I can come to truth with this one is to offer that behind many a successful man stands a surprised woman.

We’ve long been told that chickens will come home to roost.  I’m not convinced.  After all, haven’t we also been regaled with tales about chickens who crossed the road?  And why did they do that?  Because, I think, they weren’t roost-ers.  They had no intention of coming home.

chicken

Another false generalization.

You may also have heard that crime does not pay.  If that is unfailingly true, someone needs to tell a certain flaxen-haired, orange-skinned world leader.  So far, at least, he is giving the lie to that one.

It’s been a staple since Kipling coined the phrase in 1889 that east is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.  That’s fine for the flat-earth society, I suppose, but I believe the preponderance of opinion is that east and west are relative terms, based upon where one might be standing, and that the two do meet right there.

The generalization is false.

Then there is the old saw that familiarity breeds contempt.  So, I’ll say again, I’ve been married to the same woman for a long, long time, we are quite familiar with each other’s fancies and foibles, and there is not an ounce of contempt between us.

That generalization is also false.

More than four hundred years ago, no less a personage than Shakespeare declared, Frailty, thy name is woman!  In this one phrase, he postulated that all women are weak in character.  May I say yet again, I have a wife who is anything but!

Depending upon the extent of your religious upbringing, you may have been taught that God helps those who help themselves.  I might have believed that until one day, as a youngster, I witnessed two boys being caught for shoplifting.  From then on, I have believed it more accurate to say, “God better help those caught helping themselves!”

god

How about he who hesitates is lost?  Really?  What if he has come to a fork in the road and has paused to determine the best route to follow?  The hesitation might prevent him from becoming lost.  Unless you prefer the advice from the American athlete/philosopher, Yogi Berra, who said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”

And speaking of athletes, it’s long been a core belief in sports that practice makes perfect.  I have never believed that.  One could be practicing fundamentally-flawed techniques that will never allow the attainment of perfection.  My golf game comes to mind.  I might subscribe to a theory that perfect practice makes perfect, but the original generalization is false.

I’m not as sure about the one that holds you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  That may well be true, but you certainly could make a pretty good pigskin handbag.

Anyway, it must be apparent by now that I am no fan of generalizations.  Much better, I think, to speak and write of particulars.  As a final illustration of the dangers of over-generalizing, I offer this one from Rudolph Valentino: To generalize on women is dangerous. To specialize in them is infinitely worse.  As I believe I have mentioned already, I have specialized in one woman for more than fifty years, and it has been infinitely better than I might ever have imagined.

Sheik

Valentino’s generalization is false!

As are all generalizations…..including this one.