Friday, March 29, 2013

Confused Children and a Cup of Tea

Children have the most amazing, innocent, humorous insight into life.  I recently listened to some elementary school children chat about music. It seems they had recently had the opportunity to choose what instruments they were going to learn to play.

I am a music afficionado. In fact, one of my very first blog posts was about my prowess as a musical expert. Check it out!

 One of the boys, in this group of students, said, “I am playing the drums.” Every word was punctuated by a slap of the seat in front of him.

A girl slid in with. “I am going to play the trombone,” she said, as she mimicked the motions of the trombone.

Another girl said she was going to play the violin. This caught my attention. Of all the instruments, the violin is one of my favorites, and I played violin through college. I listened closer as the girl explained, quite carefully, that she was going to play the music of “all those old dead guys. You know, like Mozart, Beethoven, and Washington.”

In addition to being the first president of the United States, a commanding General during the revolutionary war, and a member of the ‘old dead guy society’, he also, according to these young scholars, was a composer of violin music.

Not only can young people confuse classical composers with Presidents, they can confuse left and right. This is a very bad thing, especially when a young person is trying to give you directions.

As a substitute bus driver, I had just dropped half a bus-load of elementary schoolers off at their school when I looked at the mirror over my head, I noticed the bus was still half full.

“Don’t you people want to go to school?”

“Yes! But you have to take us there. This isn’t our school!”

When I asked where they went to school, they told me.

“I have never heard of that one,” I replied, in an outright, dead-panned lie.

They all groaned and fretted over how we were going to get to their school. I told them it wasn’t a problem, I would just keep driving around in bigger and bigger circles and eventually we would find their school, hopefully before the weekend.

After much worried hand wringing, one bright young lad announced, “Hey Mr. Rob, why don’t you just follow the bus in front of us; it is going to our school!”  Such great advice is not to be taken lightly, so I followed the bus in front of us.

That is until it turned left at the signal light, which turned red. As we came to a stop I moaned, “Oh no! We are never going to find your school!”

These brilliant young people consoled me with gentleness. “It is ok Mr. Rob, we will give you directions. When the light turned green, I went down the road in the same direction as the bus that had gone before me. As we approached the intersection where I needed to turn, I looked up into the mirror. “Hey folks, do I keep going straight?”

“No! You have to turn left up here.”

“Left? You want me to turn left into one of those driveways?”

It was at this moment my neophyte navigator realized his error and corrected his directions to have me turn right.

As we rounded the corner, I expressed my relief at not turning left, “since I would have driven up the driveway and crashed into the garage of that house and the man would have been angry with me and sad that he had a school bus parked in his garage.”

The young student consoled me. “Oh it would have been all right; he probably would have given you a cup of tea.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

Australia, Coffee, and Truck Drivers

I recently found an article that caught my attention.  It did so because the story came out of Australia. It is my opinion that any nation that produces kangaroos, koalas, and Crocodile Dundee deserves our attention. It also caught my attention because it was about truck drivers and coffee.

Driving trucks and drinking coffee are so intertwined that buried somewhere deep within the rules of the Teamster’s Union is a clause that all members of the Union must consume the beverage at least once a year. In the United States, these two things are so inextricably intertwined that it is impossible to drive a truck without consuming coffee. Take, for example, the story of Jimmy Hoffa. He walked into the office one day, grabbed a cup, and headed to the coffee pot. He then decided, for what reason, I do not know, that he was going to live life healthier and give up coffee. He announced this to his minions and immediately disappeared into a puff of smoke.

These researchers in Australia found 500 truck drivers who had an accident within a certain time period. Then they found another 500 drivers who hadn’t had an accident within the previous year. I didn’t realize there were so many truck drivers in Australia.

To summarize the findings, the drivers who didn’t get in accidents slept less, drove more, were older, and drank more coffee than the drivers who did get into accidents.

There is a lesson that can be drawn from this study for ordinary folk: if you are concerned about your aging parents or grandparents driving safely on long trips, keep them up all night and make sure they drink a pot of coffee before they leave. It must work; it is science, folks.

This leads us to the second article I found interesting this week. Apparently, 180,000 people world wide die every year from the effects of sugary drinks. The article indicates this number is staggering. I think the author confuses sugary drinks with alcoholic beverages. 180,000 people is roughly 0.025% of the worlds population. The article lists 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 44,000 deaths from heart disease, 6,000 deaths due to cancers, and 7 due to being trampled by oversized pitchers of red kool-aid.

The combined lessons from these two articles on living long lives are obvious, drink coffee without sugar and if you see large pitchers of kool-aid running towards you, get out of the way. Unless you are in a truck, then run them over. But that would be an accident.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick’s day is upon us and it is one of my favorite minor holidays of the year. As a child, I remember all of the excitement at school. Everyone would wear greennand the cafeteria food had unique descriptions and always had green dye added--normally cafeteria food was green, but not because it was dyed that way.

Another part of the excitement of this holiday is my Irish heritage. A wee small part of me is Irish, and I believe it is one of my elbows, but I am flexible on that point.

In classes we would learn about Ireland and its history. We would also learn some of the folklore regarding Saint Patrick. He, apparently, drove all the snakes out of Ireland, into the ocean. A little known footnote to this story is that all those snakes made it across the ocean and took up residence, where they can still be seen slithering across the halls of government.

This mass exodus of snakes gives us an interesting insight into the history of one of the more adult sides of Saint Patrick’s Day; that is the consumption of fermented liquids in great quantities. Anyone who actually believes they saw a man driving snakes across the land and into the sea had to be drunk.

Another facet of Irish lore is the Leprechaun. These are solitary creatures who hide from people and guard great kettles of gold. I have had a lengthy phone interview with one who expresses great disdain for Saint Patrick’s Day. “It is the one day of the year we have to be extra cautious, for every school aged child and inebriated adult frolics through the countryside trying to locate our treasure. If it weren’t for Patrick, people would leave us alone.”

Interestingly enough, I never heard any of the real story behind Saint Patrick in school (probably due to all the politically incorrectness in the story). He immigrated to Britain from Scotland (we all know that immigrants are evil). He claimed to be a pagan and was kidnapped by pagans at the age of 16 (pagan is a negative label for those who worship anything they want). In captivity he converted to Christianity (everyone knows everything Christian is politically incorrect). After he returned to Britain, Patrick felt a call to go back to Ireland to teach them about Christ (see previous statement).

Those are the reasons that the real story of Saint Patrick isn’t talked about in schools. It is much too politically incorrect.

Instead of fuming about this, I am going to enjoy the brisk day outside and go frolicking through the fields. Perhaps I will find a leprechaun and can nab his treasure.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Shared Something on Facebook that Disturbed My Wife

Last week, I saw a post on Facebook that I liked and shared on my timeline. It was one of those posts with a picture and some words. The words read, “Women are made to be loved, not understood.” I found the caption to be humorous and insightful, but my wife didn’t. Within a few moments, I receieved a text from her asking why I posted that picture. Did I not understand her, did she do something to make me not understand her?

Let me point out that I have known my wife for more than two decades. I know my wife. I know her birthday, her social security number, her favorite color, and the color of her eyes. I know what to say to make her smile and what not to say, because it makes her unhappy. Apparently I can add one more thing to the unhappy list. Despite all the things I know about my wife, and all the many things I understand, there are things I still do not understand.

I know my wife likes cards. Very early in our relationship it became quite clear that one of the ways she demonstrates her love is in the giving of cards. This was not true of me, but I quickly learned to show her affection by giving her cards. In those early days of our relationship, before cellphones, we would talk on the land line  phone during our lunch breaks. During one particular conversation, it was clear Beloved was not having a very good day. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I considered how to make her feel better. Soon, a plan emerged, and when work was over, I put it into action.

Beloved rode home from work with me at that time. When I went to pick her up, I quickly found a parking spot and hurried into the basement of the building where she worked. I rushed into the bookstore conveniently located in the basement level and scanned the small section of greeting cards in the center of the store. I found the perfect one, It had some teddy bears on the front along with some affectionate words. I grabbed it and opened it up to makes sure it wasn’t one of those gag cards with the picture of some horrid biker guy and some awkward words scrawled across the top. Thankfully, the affectionate words continued and there were more teddy bears inside. I didn’t have time to accurately read them, but it was a card, teddy bears, and affectionate words. How could that go wrong?

I made my purchase, scurried back out to the car, signed my name, put the card in the envelope, wrote Beloved’s name on the envelope and laid it on the dash of the car for her to see when she got in. And I did it just in the nick of time. She sat down and when she saw that card she gave me that smile that gives me warm fuzzies inside.

As we pulled into traffic, Beloved let out an unexplainable sound I shall not forget. It was a cross between a loud laugh and a gasp of horror. I looked over at her, very concerned. She was aghast as she said, “Father’s Day? You bought me a Father’s Day card?!”

I don’t understand why my wife likes cards so much, even if they are Father’s day cards, but I know her, and more importantly, love her. Men smarter than I have spent years researching the human psyche and have but scratched the surface. How can I expect to understand the wonderful, complicated, exciting woman I have decided to spend my life with? I cannot, but I love her.

Friday, March 1, 2013

What Dad Taught Me

People have asked me how so many funny things happen to me. It is not so much that funny things happen to me, it is more that I have been classically trained to spot the amusing things in every day, hum-drum life that other people miss. My mother, who is an exceptional artist, was using some colored chalk once to draw a tree. Just a quick science lesson; trees are green. She was not using a single green piece of chalk. She was using all sorts of reds and yellows and blues. When I asked what she was doing, she replied, “I am exaggerating the colors I see in the tree.” I looked closer and still did not see what she was drawing. Mom had spent many hours training herself to see what others miss. That is what makes her a wonderful artist.

My father, who passed away 7 years ago, was funny. No, his death was not funny, but he viewed life with an amazing sense of humor. Despite battling rheumatoid arthritis for years, he faced every day with strength and humor. On some days, he was deliberately funny. One evening, we were drinking hot chocolate around the table. He began to speak in a French accent and soon moved to speaking fluently, in Faux French, making up words and sounds that were just babbling gibberish, but sounded uncannily like he was really speaking French. I laughed hard. He took full advantage, and waiting until I had begun to sip my hot chocolate, he began is Franco-Babble again.

I erupted into laughter, spewing hot chocolate across the room. Everybody, including my mom, who was sitting directly across from me and got the full blast of the hot chocolate, also erupted into laughter. You would think that Dad would have stopped after the first blast of chocolate covered the room. He did not. He did it again and again.

Not only was he deliberately funny, he saw the humor in the absurdities of life. He once had some surgery on his feet. He couldn’t wear shoes and hobbled from room to room. I did something he did not appreciate. I can neither fathom, nor can I imagine, what it was, since I was a perfect child.

In anger, he hobbled slowly to the room where I was and roared. You know the way that fathers roar. The room seemed to tremble. Window panes rattled. He roared, “If you ever do that again, I will kick you in the teeth.” Now, I want to assure you, my father was not a violent man and had never tried to kick me in the teeth. Not only had he never attempted to kick me in the teeth, but I failed to see how he could kick me in the teeth, when he could barely walk. I stood there, silent, dumbfounded, and repentant for whatever offense he thought I had committed.

He hobbled off to the kitchen, where mom was cooking dinner. “Kick him in his teeth? Really?” she giggled. A moment later he laughed (almost as loud as his roar).

These are two examples of the lessons Dad taught me about humor. Be deliberate, look for an opening, and above all, don’t take yourself too seriously.