Sometimes I can be a curmudgeon, and sometimes I am proud of that.
I’m waiting in the drive-thru lane, I’m still waiting, I can see myself aging, pigs are flying above my car, Hell is freezing over. OK, I’m overplaying it, but it seems like an undue amount of time. And all I want is a black coffee.
I’ve long maintained that the propensity to get “order screwed” in the drive-thru lane is the price that one pays for convenience, but I can’t even get up there to place my order.
Finally, I’m at the window. The young lady rejects my money and hands me my coffee. She says that it’s on the house for the wait. I offer to pay again, but she insists that the manager insists.
Why Thank You, Wendy’s…I’ll be back again.
What a unique experience. One that I’ve never had before at fast food: understanding of the customer and the desire to mitigate the delay.
Imagine that, it’s almost like they think my time might be valuable. I’ve had that notion before, but it is affirming when others feel that way as well.
I’d like to think that I’m easy to please, that I’m as understanding and forgiving as the next guy, but I’ve seen the next guy in action on many occasions and it hasn’t been pretty. And I have had my moments too.
I don’t mean to take my pleasant surprise over the top. I know it was just a coffee, but it is a response worth noting nonetheless.
How Small the World Can Be at Times…
Talk About Connecting the Dots!
Let me tell you a little story about a couple of people – one famous, one not. This true story is centered in Dresden, Germany. It’s OK if you don’t know of Dresden or its history. I only know of it coincidentally and accidentally. However, the way that I do know of it is pretty powerful. And it bears telling.
It has been said that life is the weaving of thread into a tapestry. This is my very small thread of that tapestry.
Dresden – Located on both banks of the Elbe River, it is situated in mid-eastern Germany, near the Czech border. It is a beautiful German city with historical importance as the Capital of Saxony. Dresden is known, amongst other things, for the quality of the fine china that it crafts.
Kurt Vonnegut – Renowned American author born into a family of German immigrants.
Marianne – Born in Germany, but now a long time American.
Frankly Francis – Curious social observer and commentator.
Act One – World War II
Dresden is fortunate, as a German city, in that it has very limited, if any, military value. It is considered a “safe” city.
Kurt Vonnegut, like so many young men of his day, is a private in the U.S. Army. Because of his heritage, he could be shooting at his own family and they could be shooting back at him. War can be like that.
Marianne could have been any teenage girl anywhere at anytime, but she happened to be in Germany when the Germans were about to lose the war.
Vonnegut is taken prisoner by the Germans and is held in Dresden.
Marianne, being as young as she is, is relatively oblivious to understanding what is happening all around her. What is crystal clear is that she must travel and find her way to the advancing Americans. At all costs she has to avoid the advancing Russians.
Dresden is an easy target for Allied bombing. The British are really pissed that the Germans have bombed their old city of Coventry virtually out of existence. Plans are made and set in motion.
Marianne’s mother is apparently skilled at hiding her teenage daughter from the men. Nonetheless, Marianne, to this day, cannot forget the cries of the women being raped by the soldiers. Can you imagine living through that? You see, the Russians felt that they had been treated terribly by the Germans and now it is their turn to inflict a little treatment of their own.
Dresden is Fire Bombed shortly before the end of WWII. Historical reports estimated deaths in the range of 150,000 to 250,000, which would be more than those directly killed by the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. A recent report has substantially lowered the estimates to no more than 25,000 deaths. Whatever the actual total, it was a horrendous, apocalyptic event. 13 square miles of city were leveled.
Kurt Vonnegut survives the Fire Bombing of Dresden underground, in a meat storage locker. Can you imagine living through that? He later uses that address as the title to his book, “Slaughterhouse Five.”
Act Two – After the War
Marianne makes her way to America. She becomes close with my family. I think of her as family.
Frankly Francis, becoming sentient, rabidly reads everything Vonnegut writes. Frankly Francis concurs with John Stewart, who would later say, “Kurt Vonnegut made growing up bearable.”
Marianne and Frankly Francis are together at a birthday dinner for Maria, sister of Frankly Francis.
Frankly Francis, never one to waste an opportunity to mention that he had lunch with Kurt Vonnegut, talks of that meeting and Vonnegut’s past, including his having survived the Fire Bombing of Dresden.
Marianne, never one to waste a word, says simply and succinctly that she passed through Dresden on the day it was Fire Bombed and watched the destruction from just outside of town.
Frankly Francis has made a loud sound by falling off of his chair.
Dots are connecting! What are the odds that this little thread would come into direct contact with two others who lived through an event of that magnitude?
Kurt Vonnegut and Marianne were within miles of each other on that day that so many died. Both were in very adverse, but dramatically different circumstances. Both hoped for something better to come. Both were able to move forward, but both were never the same.
And so it goes…
Let me start by saying that I am no fan of organized religion. Just can’t dig the idea of Crusades, Inquisitions and Jihads in God’s name. Count me out of that business – I want nothing to do with it.
But I do love Cathedrals.
In the beginning…
It was back in the spring of the Year of Our Lord 1999. Traveled to New York City to attend an annual meeting of the Board of Directors for a company I was working with. There always should be some pleasure with business, so a private tour of the city was arranged.
We stopped at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. When I walked inside, I was overpowered and (seriously) nearly passed-out from the incredible gothic design and a ceiling so high that the Statue of Liberty would fit inside. On top of that, it just so happened that the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was rehearsing a Beethoven chorale. It changed me.
St. John the Divine
Since then, I find myself visiting cathedrals wherever I may be. And for the record, I don’t travel to see cathedrals, but if I am traveling and there happens to be a cathedral in town…
Why Am I So Fascinated?
I’m not sure. I suspect that it is a combination of architecture, history, geographic location, and human aspiration – each cathedral brings its own unique ethereal feeling.
I fondly remember visiting Notre Dame in Paris while Mass was being observed. At St. Paul’s in London, I climbed the historic circular stairway to the dome level and was rewarded for my efforts by an acoustically stunning choir rehearsal. Visiting Westminster, in London, was incredible to walk though – the history and architecture made it an unforgettable experience. Perhaps my favorite cathedral of all is St. Thomas in mid-town Manhattan…can’t really explain why, it just holds a most special place with me.
Winchester Cathedral in rural England was truly a sight to behold. It was memorable to attend Mass with my family at St. Patrick’s in NYC. The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. was certainly impressive. Being a big fan of New Orleans, the St. Louis Cathedral was a pleasure to visit.
I’ve yet to see the magnificent Italian cathedrals, but I haven’t been to Italy yet…
And by the Way:
Oh yeah, and while I’m confessing, I am silly for the incense that the Catholics burn during Mass. Had to have some for personal use. Though not Catholic, I did not want to upset the Pope by obtaining it surreptitiously. It took me a couple of years to legitimately get my hands on some, but that’s another story, another time.
True story. A good story? I hope so. It works for me so I thought I’d share:
A few years ago. Out with a few guys for dinner/drinks. It is work related, but social. I’m low man on the totem pole. We end-up at main guy’s house for a last soda…or many. Sitting outside. Fire going. Mondo stars.
One of the guys looks at the rest of us and asks, “If you could only tell your children one thing, what would it be?” Conceivably, not a light-weight question…
…If you could only tell your children one thing, what would it be?”
Being the restrained guy that I am, I instantly blurted out, I would tell them, “Just be who you are!” The words were leaving my lips and I was listening to them. Just came out of me. Like a spontaneous combustion response.
Had time to think about it and, I stand by it.
There are lots of things to say to our children. All kinds of advice to give. The passing on of life lessons is important. Active parenting is critical. However, for me what’s paramount is not deciding my kids’ way, but being there to help guide them on the pathway of their own choice.
I trust that as a parent (and myself, as an individual) I have lived-up to that.
I’ve seen too many people transformed into something they are not. So many that are what others want them to be. So many that are not fulfilled in their employment. So many that are not what they really wish for themselves.
Just Be Who You Are
Who else can you really be anyways?
I’ve mentioned the general info about streaking in the 70’s in a previous post. I also mentioned in that post that I streaked a time or two and it did have some unintended consequences:
It was a Sunday night back in 1974. Ernie and I were bored. We decided to streak the local 7-11 type gas station. We did. All going according to plan when in the midst of our “ass-cape,” Officer Timothy Onions decided to pull in to buy a pack of smokes. He came straight at us (he actually accelerated) in his car.
Ernie went one way, I went the other. Officer Onions followed me. I got to the back corner of the property and lo to my wonder and surprise was a six foot fence with spikes! Great development: Officer Onions running at me and the Wall of China in front of me. I jumped like it was the Olympics. That fence could have been ten feet high – I was one motivated jumper.
Ran through backyards to get to the car. Ernie had already made it and was leaning sidewise on the seat to avoid detection. I hopped into the driver’s seat and slid down as well. We were the news of the moment and we must have had half of the force looking to bring us to justice. And let me tell you, bring us to justice they did.
We had a good visual of the cars in pursuit, so any time one was headed towards us; we just slid down so that our car looked unoccupied. It was brilliant and we were sure that we had beaten The Man. But things can take a twist. The police, it seemed, had given up the chase, but then one last car came by. As we slid down into safety my foot hit the brake, thereby igniting the brake lights and furthermore giving the police officer the easiest arrest of his career.
It could have ended there, but it didn’t. I had to go to court. Because I was seventeen, I had to be accompanied by a parent. Mom, in all her unhappy glory, was there by my side. The judge read the charges, slid down his glasses a bit, then read some more. He looked up and asked, “Mr. Law, in attempting to avoid arrest, you ran through some backyards. Did you know that one of those was My backyard?” I said, “No.”
Of course, I hoped that this would make him unable to render judgment upon me and maybe it would all go away. He went on, “You know, my daughter’s bedroom window faces the backyard. Do you think that I want my daughter, looking out her window, to see you go running by without clothes?”
I sensed where he was going with this and replied, “I will never run naked in front of your daughter’s window again.” OK, so now it’s clear that this guy is going to render judgment whether he should or not…
I was found guilty of the crime of disorderly conduct and had to pay a fine, it being my first offense.
But that’s not what I’m here to talk about…I’m here to talk about becoming a Certified Public Accountant.
After passing the grueling 19½ hour test and doing my years of apprenticeship time, it was time for me to become officially certified. The application was going along fine until I hit the question, “Have you ever been convicted of any crime? If so, provide the details.”
Paranoia and fear struck me immediately. I mean, I’m asking the State Board of Accountancy to license me to its highest standards of accounting. Streaking and Accounting are two very different things.
My lawyer advised me that if I was honest and provided the details it would be much better than if I forgot that I had been convicted.
So like Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant, when, in the midst of serious criminals at the Army Entrance Board, he has to confess to being a litterbug, I had to confess to the New York State Board that I had indeed been arrested for running around naked outside. Arlo, to his credit, didn’t get into the army, but for better or worse, I did get to be a CPA.
P.S. I never did run naked by the judge’s daughter’s window again, but that did not end my streaking career either…
Other than as a small child, have you ever run around naked outside? Well back when I was a teenager people did and it was called Streaking. The object was to run naked in a public place for a brief period of time and not get arrested.
It could be done solo. It could be done in group. Males did, so did females.
The craze happened at the very tail end of the Hippie Movement and though I rationalize that its meaning was an act of civil protest to society’s standards, it probably was just a fun, weird, quirky thing to do.
Nobody died from it, I am not aware of any innocent citizen being scarred for life, nor was it obviously addictive.
Having “Streaked” once or twice myself, I will say that it was exhilarating and I am glad that I experienced it. If you haven’t done so yet, my advice is to give it a try. You will be the better for it.
Of course, in my case, it did have some unintended consequences that I will discuss in greater detail in a post on this topic coming soon.
I was at an interesting party about the time that I had traveled 17 revolutions around the sun. A lot of philosophical professor types getting buzzed and talking about all kinds of metaphysical existentialist things. Yikes – an intellectual smorgasbord!
I was discussing some mundane topic like the meaning of life with a psychologist by the name of George Appleton. I remember that he had his arm in a cast. Found out later that George had broken it by tobogganing off the roof of his house. Also found out that he liked to go duck hunting with a submachine gun. Appleton may have had a few personal idiosyncrasies…
When another person joined us, the conversation took a twist. I’m going to have to paraphrase & significantly condense, but this should be a fairly good depiction of the exchange that took place:
Other Person: I had a rotten childhood and crummy parents.
Appleton: OK, so what are you going to do about it now?
Other Person: I have no friends and no one likes me.
Appleton: OK, so what are you going to do about it now?
Other Person: I’ve been treated unfairly by others.
Appleton: OK, so what are you going to do about it now?
Other Person: Life sucks, I’m bored, I never get a break, and so on.
Appleton: OK, so what are you going to do about it now?
I’m sure you get the picture of where Appleton was coming from. It was one heck of a revelation for me. I was very fortunate to have been present during that conversation.
Appleton taught me that unless I could go back in time and change things, I had better be concerned about my present choices. The present moment is everything – there is no rewind button when it comes to life.
Of course, I’ve had to re-learn this lesson periodically, but it enabled me, at a young age, to accept personal responsibility for my own life.
But that also left a lot of time for me to create other more interesting problems…
And for that, I thank you George Appleton.
I find myself more and more often in the midst of unhappy and uncivil people. There’s a certain element of being a good American and being abrasive, but there are reasonable alternatives too. I prefer common courtesy and civil politeness.
Fundamentally, we are all orbiting the sun together on the planet we call Earth. There are very big things out there more worthy of our time and consideration than the pettiness that we all too often spend our valuable time on.
Some specific observations:
It is never a good idea, under any circumstance, to piss-off the cook or waiter before you get your food. Anyone who has ever worked in the food service industry knows this. Trust me. And please tip your service staff generously if they serve you well.
All too often I have an idiot driver in front of me. More often than not it is an elderly person. Just remember, that could be your parent or grandparent and how would you like them treated by others? Once it actually was my parent. People of all ages have bad days and do stupid things while driving. I have, tell me that you haven’t…cut some slack.
If you go to a drive-thru window, expect to be screwed. That’s just the price we pay for convenience.
I’ve lived through the Modern Feminist Movement. I believe in equal pay for equal work. I know that there is a difference between men and women. Personally, I like that difference and respect it. Therefore, treating a woman, as a lady does not nullify any equality under the law, it just shows a respect for the other gender. Furthermore, I do not understand why women are more willing to be subjugated by popular culture today than they have in the past. As a man, I find it embarrassing. Makes no sense to me, but maybe I’m getting too long in the tooth….
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, never, ever, underestimate the power of a random act of kindness or a senseless act of beauty. It’s such a selfish thing to do because it feels so good. The “Pay it Forward” and “The Butterfly Effect” of doing something nice for someone – you just never know what good it will produce.
I have three daughters, and though they have given names, I prefer to refer to them by their numerical birth order. Thus, my daughters are One, Two & Three.
(From left to right) Three, Two & One
My Dad turned me on to Charlie Chan movies (the black & white days), and Charlie always referred to his eldest son as “Number One Son,” so that is probably where my numeric system comes from…or perhaps it is that no matter how hard I try, I just can’t escape my background in accounting.
I think this is also a very practical way to talk about my kids with anyone else. Why burden other people with the responsibility of remembering your children’s names? My numeric name system to those outside my family is clear and easy. And from my experience, seems to work well.
So as you can figure, in discussion, if I inadvertently say my child’s name, my listeners usually tend to ask: which kid is that? One, Two or Three?
When One became pregnant, I had to consider my numeric nomenclature.
The answer was not difficult to arrive at. Since One is my first child, therefore her first child, in relation to me, is 1.1. Ah, the joys of fundamental mathematics.
My first grand child, 1.1, is two years old now, but she is still too young to be informed of her designation yet. I can’t wait.
Now the plot thickens, but the methodology holds up. Daughters Two and One are presently simultaneously pregnant, in that relative order. A first child for daughter Two and a second child for daughter One.
According to my system then, One is having 1.2 and Two is having 2.1.
1.2 and 2.1 makes for reciprocal grand children – what a delightful coincidence!
And maybe, I just have too much time on my hands…but most certainly, I have very understanding daughters.
I recently recalled a perspective changing event from my youth. Thought I would share:
My brother was sick. Yeah, he was sick, but he wasn’t feeling well either…
Dad said that he had to go see the doctor.
I surmised that there was a good chance that he would have to get a shot.
Oh Yeah, You Know What's Comig
The thought of seeing him squirm and in pain appealed to me, so I asked if I could go along.
The doctor visit went like this:
Doctor to my dad: This one’s sick (my brother) – can’t really do anything for him. How’s the other one (me)?
Dad to doctor: He’s fine, so far.
Doctor to my dad: Well then, I can give him (me) a shot so he won’t get it.
Frankly Francis: YIKES!
So as this little true parable turns out, I got the dreaded injection and my brother got to see me squirm.
Last time I ever thought about seeing pain inflicted upon anyone. As usual, I learned my lesson the hard way.