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Thought of the Day

4 Apr

The Unbearable Niceness of Being

8 Jan

“Too nice is neighbor’s fool”
Dutch proverb

“It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”
-Frank Burns, M.A.S.H.

Who among us has not been amazed and appalled by how mean and rude some people can be? We all hate rude people and everyone says that mean people suck.

But what about the nice people?

At the risk of sounding cynical, I must confess, I have long believed there is such a thing as “too nice.” Maybe that says something about the world we live in or maybe it just says something about me.

How nice is too nice?

There’s nice and then there’s “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints nice.” You may think I am mocking the Mormons, but I am not. I have been to Salt Lake City and let me tell you there is no one nicer than a nice Mormon. Think Donny and Marie. Could anyone be any nicer than Donny and Marie?

Now that’s a good nice. It is, in fact, the final edge of nice.

Venture too far beyond that edge and you encounter another level of niceness altogether—a kind of mutant niceness, if you will…

There is a Starbucks near my office that is a place where mutant niceness dwells.

My first visit there was the Friday before Memorial Day. I had taken the day off and I went to the gym that morning. In an effort to reward myself, I went to Starbucks.

Nothing says, “Great workout!” like a triple venti latte and an orange cranberry scone.

I think Jack LaLanne used to say that when he wasn’t pulling semi-tractor trailers with his teeth or firing up the juicer.

The smiling woman behind the counter took my order and, as they always do, asked my name so she could write it on the cup with that eyebrow pencil looking implement.

Once I told her my name, she seized upon it like it was the key to happiness. Saying it sure seemed to make her mighty happy.

Customer Service experts will tell you to use the customer’s name because everyone loves the sound of his own name.

Me, I can take it or leave it. In fact, when I hear my name used too often it begins to sound funny.

You know, like what happens when you say a word like pistachio or ulterior over and over again until it loses all meaning and just begins to sound like funky gibberish?

That’s what happens when someone says my name too many times.

Then I start thinking, “Bill?! Who names a child Bill? What the Hell were my parents thinking?!”

Now the Starbucks lady seemed bound and determined to wreck my name forever.

“Thanks, Bill! And how is your day so far, Bill?”

Why does this sound like a trick question?

“Um…great?” I responded hesitantly.   

“Bill, that’s wonderful! Do you have any special plans for the day, Bill?”

“Why, no. No, I don’t.” 

“Bill, that’s great!” 

I pulled out a $20.00 bill to pay her.
“Oh, Bill, they don’t let me handle money!” She put her hands up in the universal “what can you do?” gesture. 

“Um, OK.”

I carried my plate with the scone and wandered around to the barista who was making my order.

While she was steaming and foaming milk, she looked my way. Clearly she had read my name on the side of the cup.

“Hi, Bill. How’s your day going?”
Oh jeez, the nice third degree again.

“Good…”

“That’s great, Bill. Here’s your triple venti latte. I hope you enjoy it, Bill!”

“Thanks. Who do I pay?”

The first uber-nice woman piped up, “No one, Bill. We just wanted to make your day better!”

The Starbucks’ staff’s obsession with the quality of my day was both heartening and somewhat  troubling at the same time…

The last time someone I hardly knew was this nice to me they were actually attempting to draw me into some kind of pyramid scheme involving Tahitian Noni Juice and ten or twenty of my closest friends.

You can see why I am gun shy.

Still, I was grateful for the free scone and steamed milk coffee beverage, even if I had to endure unbearable niceness to get it.

I returned to the same Starbucks this past Friday. Different women were on duty but the nice vibe was in the air…

“Welcome to Starbucks! What can I get for you today?”

“Just some coffee and hold the Tahitian Noni Juice.” I replied.

“Pardon me?” My sarcasm had confused the nice lady.

“Triple venti latte.” I said quickly.

“What is your name, please?”

Oh Lord. I just wasn’t up to hearing the sound of my name spoken over and over again.

So, for the sake of sanity, I lied.

“Tim,” I replied. “My name is Tim.”

“That’s great, Tim! How is your day going so far, Tim?”

For a moment I wondered what she would do if I replied, “My day is a steaming pile of monkey doo doo, if you must know!” 

Of course, I’ll never know how she might have reacted because what I actually said was, “Fine, thanks.”

“That’s great, Tim!” She couldn’t have looked happier if she had just won the lottery. 

In theory I should be pleased that a stranger cares so very much about how my day and I are getting along but I can’t help but be suspicious…

Unlike her colleague from a couple of weeks before, this gal apparently did not want to make my day better, as she was more than willing to take my money.

I circled around to the barista’s station. She was pulling levers and turning dials like a mad scientist in a sci-fi movie, operating one of those devices that bends time and space. It felt as if, at any moment, we could all be thrust into an alternate dimension.

It could happen. I have no idea how an espresso maker really works!

If someone isn’t trying to ensnare me in a pyramid scheme, this kind of niceness is usually an indicator someone is about to try and convert me to their  religion. Usually it is an obscure religion. The major ones have pretty much given up on me…

“How is your day going, Tim?”

“My day is going fine, thanks.” I responded.

“Tim, that’s wonderful. My day is going great too. And do you know why?”

I shake my head.

“Because, Tim, I have embraced Zoroastrianism.” 

What do you say to that? “Um, OK…” is all I could muster. 

“Tim. have you accepted Ahura Mazda as the one uncreated Creator?”

“Can’t say as I have…”

“Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail. Then, Tim, the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will cease to be—check it out!” She shoved a pamphlet in my direction. 

I picked it up.”Zoroastrianism and You” read the cover “That sounds really interesting…”

.”If you have any questions, my number is on the back, Tim.”

Was the room spinning? I was feeling a little funny…


“Tim? Tim? Tim?” 

For a moment I was annoyed. Someone is calling Tim. Why doesn’t this Tim answer? 

“Tim, your latte?”

There is no pamphlet. Just coffee and steamed milk in a cardboard cup with the name Tim scrawled on the side.

For a moment my warped vision continued. Knocking the cup from the barista’s hand, I screamed, “I’m not Tim!” as I ran for the door. As I make a hasty retreated,  I heard both women calling out in unison: “Have a great day, Tim!”

Instead, in reality, I was just standing there.

“Tim, are you okay?” the barista asked. The woman from behind the counter turned to me.”Hey, Tim, are you alright?” she chimed in.

“I’m fine.” I said, taking the cup from the counter.

And then I had a moment of realization.

It really isn’t fair for me to disdain these overly nice people just because of a few bad experiences with other painfully nice people.

It just isn’t, well, nice.

Latte in hand, I headed for the door. Just before I opened it I turned back to face my nice tormentors.

“Thanks.” I said, looking into the concerned faces of the two Starbucks employees. 

“You’re welcome, Tim” “Have a great day and a wonderful weekend, Tim!”

“I will, I replied. “And thank you for being so nice.”

To Autumn, with love

22 Sep

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Dear Autumn,

I just wanted take a moment to welcome you back!

Don’t tell the other seasons, but you are my favorite. I think summer already suspects how I feel–possibly because I spent most of July and August. whining, “Damn, I hate Summer!” but who can be certain?

It wasn’t always like this. When I was a child; I am pretty sure I loved summer best.

Summer was that special season when school was out and there were trips to the beach to be taken–and of course, day camp and swimming lessons and such–which I now realize were just busy work adults invented because, well, school was out and who wants a child underfoot all day everyday? No one in my family, that’s for sure.

I have such fond memories of day camp…

Once, when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old,  I got an ear infection from all that swimming and had to miss camp for a day or two.

When I returned to camp, the counselors had drained the pool because, the day before, an errant turd had been found floating in the pool. One of the campers was suspected…(don’t look at me, I was out sick that day and all I can say is, thank God for ear infections!)

No one would admit to being the guilty party (and this was before DNA testing was a thing) so they  punished all of the campers by making us spend that whole day cleaning the pool.

Then, one time, on the last day of camp, we had a sleep over and the next morning they gave us Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast!

Then a school bus picked us up to take us to a rendezvous point where we would be reclaimed by our designated grown-up. It was a short trip, but I got car sick and threw up all over myself.

A perfectly good Krispy Kreme, lost…

Ah, memories…I remember a time when I would feel a certain sadness as summer was drawing to a close.

No more day camp, no more swimming with the turds or throwing up on the bus–though, thank goodness, Krispy Kreme is forever.

Then there was the cold hard fact that the start of school loomed large…

That’s where you came in, autumn. I might not have not liked you quite as much because of that whole school starting thing– but despite that, even as a kid, I still found a lot of things to love about you.

Like school supplies–no matter how lukewarm I may have felt about going back to school, I loved the annual ritual of shopping for new pens; notebooks and notebook paper.

Then their were the lunch boxes—don’t get me started on the metal lunch boxes! Seriously–Don’t!

OK, if you insist…

When I was about to enter the first grade, I wanted a Mary Poppins lunch box and my mother, as kindly as she could, warned me that might not be the best choice of a  lunch box…for a boy.

She opined that, were I to take this particular lunch box to school, the other children might make fun of me.

Say what?

I had not attended kindergarten and had no older siblings at home, so this whole “children might make fun of me” thing was a fresh new hell I was suddenly forced to consider for the first time.

I was also shaken to the core by the notion that there could such a thing as a gender-appropriate lunch box.

How were such things decided?

I was very confused.

If only I had thought to say, “But Mother, Mary Poppins was one of the top grossing films of 1964! It was no My Fair Lady, but it did win 5 Academy Awards!”

I bet my mom wouldn’t have worried about her little man sporting a Mary Poppins lunch box then!

But I didn’t think to say that at the time, and so my mother guided me toward what I assumed were lunch boxes for Boys.

I don’t really remember much after that. All I know is, I wound up with a metal lunch box with a red plaid design. Generic plaid with a matching thermos.

Of course that was back when the thermos that came with every child’s lunch box was constructed with a glass coated interior. Dropping the thermos, or some other unforeseen impact would cause the glass inside to break.

Sure, deny me the lunch box of my dreams, but don’t fret for a second about the possibility of me consuming deadly shards of glass with my grape Kool-Aid.

Anyway, autumn–I did enjoy the school supplies.

Another really cool thing about the coming of autumn when I was a kid, was the new Fall TV Schedule! We only had 4 channels then (if you counted PBS) so, getting a whole bunch of new shows to watch was very important at that time. There was no internet, so watching TV was pretty much the only things Americans had to do back then.

So, the release of the Fall Season TV Guide was one of the high points of autumn, if not the entire year. That was back when the TV Guide included local TV listings and was much smaller–but the New Fall Season edition still packed a powerful punch.

Also, of course, I have always loved Halloween and Thanksgiving. Thank you for those, autumn. Nice work!

Nowadays, since I have to pay my own electric bill and the summers just seem to get hotter and hotter, I find myself spending all of summer pining for you. Since that Jaws movie came out, no sane person goes to the beach anymore. And swimming pools lost their allure for me after that unfortunate turd incident.

So much for summer. Now I am all about you, autumn!

Nowadays, I don’t care so much about the new Fall TV Season since we have the internet and about a million cable channels, so it is humanly impossible to keep up. But I do love your cooler temperatures and I still love Halloween and Thanksgiving.

And of course, I still love the school supplies. I still love the huge displays of pens and paper and notebooks–ah, the notebooks…

So, welcome back, autumn! Feel free to linger as long as you’d like!

It’s no wonder I love you best!

 

Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum

15 May

“Oh, I see;” said the Tin Woodman. “But, after all, brains are not the best things in the world.”
Have you any?” inquired the Scarecrow.
No, my head is quite empty,” answered the Woodman; “but once I had brains, and a heart also; so, having tried them both, I should much rather have a heart.” – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Today is the birthday of Lyman Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 – May 6, 1919), famously known as L. Frank Baum. In 1900, he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He went on to write 13 more Oz books, as well as numerous other works.

Baum’s avowed purpose in writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was to write an American fairy tale, a book for children without the dark tone of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.

The first musical version of The Wizard of Oz was produced in Chicago and then on Broadway in 1902. In the stage version, Toto was replaced with Imogene the Cow. Apparently Mr. Baum did not have final script approval and there were other significant changes as well–including the elimination of the Wicked Witch of the West entirely, and the addition of topical references to President Theodore Roosevelt and other politicians of the day.

Baum, who actually lived in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (later South Dakota) rather than Kansas, was a strong advocate of women’s suffrage and when Susan B. Anthony came to Aberdeen, she stayed at the Baum’s house. Baum’s belief’s about women’s equality are reflected in several of his works, include the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz.

In 1905, Baum announced his plans to open an Oz amusement park on an island off the coast of California. Baum said he planned to live on this island and have children as advisers in the development of the park. Alas, financial reversals prevented Baum from moving forward with his vision. Another problem may have been that no one has ever been able to locate the island Mr. Baum claimed he was buying to headquarter the park.

The classic film, The Wizard of Oz, was released 20 years after L. Frank Baum’s death. When I was growing up, annual television broadcasts of this movie were a big event. I watched every year. While not entirely faithful to the book (few movies are) the movie owes its genesis, message and its spirit to L. Frank Baum, the man who gave us The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The message of both the book and the movie resonates for me every day. All too often we go through life thinking we are “less than” when, in reality, if we look within, we can find that we had everything we needed all along.

You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.
― The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Thank you, Mr. Baum. Happy Birthday wherever you are (hopefully over the rainbow…)

Spring, it’s a thing!

21 Mar

It is cool again today, but over the weekend, Spring reared its lovely head and I took some pictures I’d like to share in honor of this beautiful season.

In North Florida, where I live, Spring is an all too elusive season. We have to savor it while we can, before Summer rolls in consumes the landscape.

But until then—ah, it is Spring!

Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’
– Robin Williams

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

 

A little Madness in the Spring Is wholesome even for the King. – Emily Dickinson

It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.
― Rainer Maria Rilke

In springtime, love is carried on the breeze. Watch out for flying passion or kisses whizzing by your head.
-Emma Racine deFleur

  

For every person who has ever lived there has come, at last, a spring he will never see. Glory then in the springs that are yours. – Pam Brown

On Any Random Sunday

22 Nov

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On any random Sunday, you might wake up and find yourself feeling blue; looking for hope in a cup of coffee. The piece of apple caramel pound cake is also hopeful, or so you find it, on this particular, random Sunday.

On any random Sunday, you might find that you are out of tea. Your partner is still asleep, but when he awakens he will surely seek a cup. You realize the closest place to buy tea is that store– one of those stores with the word Dollar in its name, but it isn’t an “everything for a dollar” store–that store you usually avoid. The store where the clientele look like they are only in the store because they took a wrong turn on their way to the methadone clinic–or so you might think, but you don’t like to judge, at least not on this random Sunday.

You might, on any random Sunday, drive to that store you do not like– not just because of the clientele, who you do not judge, but mostly because the place is crammed full with too much “stuff” and the aisles are tiny. When you enter the store, you might find yourself overwhelmed by displays of ceramic fall foliage and pumpkins jammed into shelf after shelf of wrapping paper, tree decorations and other Yuletide paraphernalia. It is like Christmas threw up all over Autumn.

On any random Sunday, especially on a Sunday just past mid-November, especially the Sunday that falls randomly before Thanksgiving, you might find yourself bemused by how quickly a year can pass. You might recall good intentions for the year that never came to pass, at least not beyond the part where you were good at intending but at implementation, not so much.

You might, therefore, find yourself entertaining regret. You might offer regret a cup of tea. You might consider that a good host would also offer regret a slice of apple caramel cake. But you don’t.

Instead–and this is highly recommended–you might send regret on its way. Instead you might brew a cup of hopeful coffee and seek another slice of apple caramel pound cake for yourself.

Then you might should eat the cake without regret; for surely cake and regret are never to go together-not on any random Sunday. Not ever.

Cat Zen Space

18 Oct

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Happy Sunday!

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