Monthly Archives: July 2012

Run! Hide! Fight!

Some tasks only seem Herculean at first glance.  Then they become impossible.  Take the one I got this morning.

“You gotta help me with this, Elyse,” said Robert, our Human Resources Manager.  “I spent the better part of a year editing and improving this, and still nobody will read it.”

“It’s our Employee Manual, Robert.  Of course nobody will read it.”

“But they need to read it,” he said.  “Otherwise the staff  won’t know when they’re breaking rules.”

I stared back at him blankly.  “I’ll see what I can do,” I said, thumbing through the four-inch binder for the first time myself.

“Give it some pizzazz, make is shoot off the page.  You know, Jazz it up!”

“Robert,” I said, holding up the tome, “this is the written equivalent of Muzak.  Elevator music.  It cannot be jazzed up!”

He looked so pitiful that I added, “I’ll see what I can do.”  Guilt gets me every time.

Robert left my office, and I plopped the Manual down on my desk and ignored it.  It was an impossible task.  So I clicked on the internets to gear myself up for drudge work.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear?  Someone else was working on their office manual and making recommendations!  Seriously!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  I knew that all I had to do was add this information to the front of the Manual and it would certainly capture everybody’s attention.  Yes, I can follow the lead of the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security!  That’s how I can jazz up our company manual.  I’ll include information on “Surviving an Active Shooter Event!” 


That
will certainly catch that unsuspecting new employee’s interest!

Whoo-hoo!  “I am so underpaid,” I thought.

Don’t you think this is a wise prep for life in today’s workplace?  Shouldn’t we all be trained to “Run.  Hide.  Fight”?  I don’t know about you, but “Duck and Cover” served me really well way back when.  And nothing at all happened to me then.  So clearly these Public Service Announcements work.

That’s all you need, isn’t it?  Isn’t it?

Or did I get that moral wrong?  I’m trying to remember what happened.  Let’s see.  Duck and Cover.  Duck and Cover.  Oh yeah.  That came out after the Soviet Union developed its first nuke!  When they could hit us with one too!  Me, I got my exposure to it during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 when the threat of nuclear war was real.  Funny thing, though. Duck and Cover was actually way less effective than President Kennedy’s blockade.

And what has happened since?

Hmmm.  Let me think.  We and the Soviet Union (now Russia, in case you missed something) have been behaving ourselves, more or less.  Nuke-wise, anyway.  Because a nuclear war?  That’s unthinkable.  We all know that.

You know what else is unthinkable?  Random gun violence every day in America.  It is unthinkable that we have to worry every day that some crazy person is going to come into our offices, our schools and our movie theaters and start shooting.  And that others will defend their “freedom” to do so.

Just like governments have learned how to co-exist with nuclear weapons, we need to figure out how to get along with guns (because they, sadly, ain’t goin’ away) but without gun violence.  To me that means we need fewer guns, especially fewer of the sort that can shoot and kill lots of folks without much effort. But I am willing to compromise.

Because these other precautions?  They are closing the barn door after the horse has run out; and I for one am tired of beating that dead horse.

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Filed under Childhood Traumas, Criminal Activity, Elections, Family, Gun control, Health and Medicine, History, Humor, Hypocrisy, Law, Politics, Stupidity

Damn Straight

I just read that the Washington, DC, metropolitan area is tops!  As in Numero Uno.  Better than second and third place winners, Denver and Chicago.  We are the Champions!

 

In what category?  Swearing at work.

Shit, yeah!

Who says Washington can’t do anything right?

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Primal Scream

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  PTSD.

I have it.  Yup, it’s true.  And these days I can hear Lost In Space’s Robot saying “Warning!  Danger!”  And he’s talking to me.

What is it that sends me back, brings on the flashbacks, makes me scream “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo”?  The Olympics.

I blame Mitt Romney.  I blame the Olympic Committee.  I blame the Raisin.

Yes.  The Raisin.  That is the name John and I gave Jacob’s teacher for 6th class (which is Swiss/British for 5th grade.  Go figure.)  It was a slight bastardization of her real name.  We gave it to her because we hated her and also because she was the cause of the “Trauma” in my PTSD.  And in our family, it was contagious.  All three of us had it.

It started on Back to School Night in September, 2001, when she told us her plan for the entire school year.  John and I exchanged skeptical glances when she told us that they would focus on the Olympics. She was a big sports fan and what do you know, that very winter, the Winter Olympics would be held!

It wasn’t my cuppa, but I figured that a few exercises around the Olympics might be interesting for the kids.  And after all, world HQ for the Olympics was just down the road in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Lausanne, Switzerland, Lake Geneva (Google Image)

But instead of a few things, though, everything the class did involved the Olympics.  Everything.  For the entire year.

Google Image

Learning about the human body?  Let’s learn that the leg bone is connected to the hip bone by looking at skiers’ physiques.

Learning about numbers?  Calculate and compare the speed of each winning downhill skier and divide it by some ratio or other.

Learning geography?  Make a diorama of the flags of the gold medal countries from the previous Olympics and your hopes for this one.

As the parent of a reluctant student, I had to try to convince my son, who had no real interest in things Olympian, to do one more assignment/task/project on The F’ing Olympics.  He hated it.  I hated it.  John hated it.  None of us thought it was interesting; none of the other kids in the class or their parents did either.  It made homework painful.  Boring.  Something to be avoided at all costs.  It made learning misery.

And after beating that dead horse for the entire school year 2001-2002, just realizing that the Olympics are coming makes me break out in a cold sweat.  I hope for a weeks-long power failure.  I stick my fingers in my ears and hum loudly whenever a commercial comes out about TV coverage.  I cry a lot.

There was more.  Much more, but I have, happily suppressed those memories.  The idea of trying to retrieve them makes me believe that there may be something to Primal Scream Therapy.

So if you’re posting on the Olympics over the next couple of weeks, that scream you’ll be hearing is mine.

Nooooooooooooooooooooo! (Google Image)

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You’re Nuts!

We’ve all seen them.  They seem to be on every commercial vehicle these days.

Google Image

But have you ever called one of those numbers?  Have you ever reported somebody?  I didn’t think so.

Recently, my son was stuck in traffic behind Truck No. 47.  So he called the number on the back of the truck.

“Hello, this is Nancy,” said the voice at the other end of the phone. “How can I help you.”  (She didn’t sound very happy to be getting this call, Jacob later said.)

“Hi,” Jacob said.  “I want to report Truck No. 47.”

“Yes sir,” said Nancy.  “What seems to be the problem?”

“Oh, I just wanted to let you know that the driver of Truck No. 47, well,  he’s doing a really great job.

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Yeah.  The driver of Truck No. 47 is a terrific driver.”

“Would you please hold for a moment sir?  I need to find a form to record this on.”

Meanwhile, traffic started moving again.

“You need to hold on, please.  Traffic is moving, and I have to pull over,” Jacob allegedly said to Nancy.  (I know, I don’t believe him, either.)

“Now, how long were you observing Truck No. 47, sir?”

“Oh, I’ve been following him for a while, all through Northern Virginia.  He’s amazing.  He stays on his side of the road, obeys the speed limits, always uses his turn signal.  Really, this guy is a model driver.”

“Ummm, thank you for calling to let us know, sir.”

“You’re welcome.  It’s just nice to see such a great driver on the road these days.”  Jacob hung up, smiling.

I am pretty sure that this qualifies as a random act of kindness.  It was definitely random.

Cool Kid, 1994

Today is Jacob’s 21st Birthday.  Happy Birthday, Jacob!

By telling this story, I just wanted to let you know, today, how very proud I am of this crazy man cub John and I raised.  Because you see, Jacob is one of the funniest, nuttiest people I have ever known.

It’s true.  Hey, Jacob?  You’re nuts! ;)   I couldn’t have found a sillier birthday song for you:

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Filed under Awards, Driving, Family, Humor, Traffic

Unexpected?

Tuesday evening, just before 7, a huge tree fell half a mile from where I once lived.  A man, who seconds before had been simply sitting in traffic, died when the tree crashed down on him as he sat in his car.  It was a tragedy that could happen to any one at any time.  Unexpected.

Photo Fairfax Police courtesy of The Washington Post

What happened next?  Well, the tree’s twin across the way was cut down.  Arborists are looking at nearby old, big trees, checking their health, determining if these trees, too, are dangerous.  If so, they will be cut.

Of course that’s what they’re doing.

They are protecting human life.  It’s the logical next step following such a tragedy.  Of course, there will be traffic snarls and hassles as the old diseased trees are culled.  It will be a huge pain for commuters.  But, you know, that’s OK.  I and just about everybody accepts a bit of inconvenience if it means that someone else won’t die.  (Which doesn’t mean we won’t all grumble, natch.)

It’s the same with other stuff, too.

In the 60s and 70s, it became clear that fatalities in automobile accidents could be prevented by using seat belts.  They became mandatory after a series of Swedish studies demonstrated that fatalities were dramatically reduced when car occupants involved in an accident had buckled up.  Seat belts protect folks.  Last year in this post  I provided some statistics on the benefits of seat belts:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s latest statistics state that 15,147 Americans survived accidents in 2007 that would have been fatal without seat belts.  That’s a lot of people saved by a law that doesn’t really inconvenience us all that much.

We do a lot of things to keep ourselves and our families safe.  Of course we do.  And when the danger comes from the unknown?  Well, that’s when we ratchet up our actions to protect ourselves.  It’s common sense.

Remember the Tylenol Murders?  Twenty years ago, Tylenol, laced with cyanide, killed seven people in the Chicago area.  The murders were never solved.  But they did change our lives.  Every time I struggle to open a package of virtually anything purchased in the United States, I think of that bastard, those murders.  I hope he/she has a horrible case of rheumatoid arthritis in his/her hands and therefore has even more trouble opening those damn packages than the rest of us.  I also hope they catch him/her.

It’s common sense to react protectively, isn’t it.  It’s what we do as a species.  It’s part of our evolutionary trajectory.  It is the manifestation of the problem solver in all of us.  Stay alive.  Protect.  Survive.

Well, that’s usually true.

Unless, of course, there is a random lunatic with a gun.  Then, well, logic and common sense are suspended as we all enter the Twilight Zone.

 

Yes, when a guy (and they do all seem to be guys) who gets a bunch of guns (as in lethal weapons) and kills people, randomly, or by specifically targeting individuals, well then we double down on the 2nd Amendment.  WE PROTECT HIS RIGHT TO DO IT!  We let it happen again.  And then, when it happens again, we are shocked, shocked.

Yup, when we should be shouting “STOP THIS MADNESS!” we instead cow-tow to the National Rifle Association and to the cowboys who are oh-so-sure that if they had only been there with their gun, well, then the outcome would be way different.  If only ….

Bullshit.  It is a fantasy.

Remember when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot?  Nineteen people were shot that day at a local grocery story when a crazy person opened fire.

Did you know that seconds/minutes after the shooting, a man carrying his own gun came out of the store and saw somebody holding a gun on a man?  Yeah, it’s true.  Here’s a smidge of the story:

[Joe] Zamudio was in a nearby drug store when the shooting began, and he was armed. He ran to the scene and helped subdue the killer. Television interviewers are celebrating his courage, and pro-gun blogs are touting his equipment. “Bystander Says Carrying Gun Prompted Him to Help,” says the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

But before we embrace Zamudio’s brave intervention as proof of the value of being armed, let’s hear the whole story. “I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready,” he explained on Fox and Friends. “I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.” Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,” Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!'”

But the man with the gun wasn’t the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. “Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess,” the interviewer pointed out.

Yeah.  A big, fat mess.  Mr. Zamudi would have added to the carnage, not helped.  BECAUSE HE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON.

When a tragedy like today’s shooting in Aurora, Colorado, happens, there is only one person who knows pretty much what’s happening – the shooter.  Yeah, the bad guy.  Everybody else is reacting.

And no matter how cool, how brave, how well meaning a would be hero is in a situation, the sane gun owner is unlikely to shoot first.  And if he/she doesn’t, the bad guy will.  And unlike in the movies, in real life, you can’t just get back up.

It is really time that we all just accept the passing of the Cowboy Era.  We have accepted other similar passings:  The Middle Ages, The Age of Kings, The Age of Exploration.  The Teen Years.  Besides, the last gunfight at the OK Corral happened already.  You missed it.  Get over it.  Move on.

How many more massacres are we going to allow before we stop folks from buying assault weapons, multiple guns that can kill multiple people?  How many more deaths will it take?

We changed how every item we use every single day is packaged.  Because of SEVEN deaths from tainted TylenolWe took action to prevent the eighth and the eighth didn’t happen.

What’s the death toll from these random acts of violence with guns?  At last count, it was, ummm, more than twelve.  And that’s just for today.

What will it take for us to come to our senses?

Mr. Saturday night special
Got a barrel that’s blue and cold
Ain’t no good for nothin’
But put a man six feet in a hole

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You Heard it Here First

Someday, you guys will be considered pioneers.  The first know-it-alls.  The first to proclaim to the world that I am a sentient being.  (Or is it that I am a “senting” being in the sense that I can smell a rat?  Or maybe that I am a dog.  Whatever.)  You all will be among the first to realize that I am a genius.

Everyone else had forgotten her.  Put her out of their minds as she stayed strangely silent.  Unusually speechless.  Not at all noteworthy.  Or, perhaps she was just that tree that falls in the woods that nobody heard.

Huh?

She’s back ….

Google Image

Yup, Michele Bachmann is in the news again — saying inappropriate things about other people.

In the last couple of days, she’s said stuff that’s even gotten Speaker John Boehner, among others, trying to distance himself from her craziness.

Here’s a smidge of a write up from the SCTimes (that’s the St. Cloud Minnesota paper for those of you who aren’t up on all your acronyms):

Rep. Michele Bachmann had made fresh allegations of ties between an Islamist movement and Rep. Keith Ellison, even as Bachmann’s fellow Republicans increasingly condemn her calls to investigate the movement’s influence within the U.S. government.

In an interview with radio host Glenn Beck today, Bachmann said Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, “has a long record of being associated with … the Muslim Brotherhood.”

This was, of course, after Michele also claimed that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin, was an infiltrator of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Does she have proof?  Of course not.  She doesn’t need proof.  She has faith!

But those meanies who are criticizing Michele, well, they don’t understand her like I do.   Those folks, like so many others, were not followers of FiftyFourAndAHalf back when I explained Michele’s problem to the world.  So they just don’t know Michele’s secret.  They don’t understand her the way I understand her.  And the way you understand her if you were one of the three people who had actually read my blog one year ago, when I explained just what happens to Michele Bachmann sometimes.

Sigh.

So here it is again.  There are of course some differences between now and then.  But please — don’t make me repeat this next summer.

From July 21, 2011 — I give you the explanation you’ve been waiting for.

TWINSIES

Me and Michele Bachmann are twinsies!  And gosh I’m excited to tell you about it.  Especially since I just learned it was true!  We share something truly special.  It’s the big story in today’s news!

Well, there are the regular, ordinary things we have in common.  We’re both women, we’re both interested in politics, and we both love to pledge allegiance to the flag!  What could be more fun at a slumber party?  What’s more, we both believe in and even PRACTICE marriage.  I would bet the interest on the national debt, though, that my husband isn’t gay.  Now that we’ve all met Michele’s, I don’t think many folks would bet that hers isn’t.  So she has lots of time for sleep-overs.

Anyway, the thing we both have most in common are migraines!  Did you read about hers?  Well I get them too!  And I can tell that they affect us both the same way.  So we all need to feel really bad that we’ve been so hard on her.  I know I do.  Because this diagnosis answers a lot of questions for me.

You see, when I get a migraine, I don’t hide in the dark under a pillow.  I don’t cringe in agony.  I don’t stay home from work, shirking all my responsibilities, waiting for time and pain to pass.

Nope.  I get stupid.

I wish I got “dumb” as in “mute.”  Then I wouldn’t look so, well, dumb.  But I don’t.   I talk even though I develop a really-not-funny-and-don’t-you-dare-laugh-at-me linguistic problem.  It’s called transient aphasia, and sometimes it comes instead of the headache.  The wrong word comes out of my mouth.  And the word that comes out isn’t even close to the one I meant to say.

For example, sometimes I tell my friends that I have a “microwave” when I’m trying to say I have a “migraine.”  They get confused.

Clearly, my new twinsie, Michele, has aphasia, too.  And since we share migraine symptoms — we’ll be BFFs!

Think about it – it must be true.  There are so many examples!  Like when she said that the first shot in the Revolutionary War was fired in “New Hampshire”?  She clearly knew that it was fired in Taxachussetts – she just had a migraine!  And you thought she was dumb.

Or when she was naming Founding Fathers, she knew that she wanted to just say “John Adams” but “Quincy” just jumped right there in the middle.  So everybody thought that she thought that John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father.  Of course she knew he was still a mere lad at the time of the Revolution, she just couldn’t say it right.  And you thought she didn’t know the names of the Founding Fathers.

And when she said that those same Founding Fathers fought tirelessly against slavery.

Clearly, she gets migraines like mine a lot.

Poor Michele.  Not everybody understands her.  Not everybody believes her.  Not everybody stops up their mouths to keep from laughing aloud when she speaks.

But I do.  Well, I do now.

So here is my pledge.  If my new BFF, Michele Bachmann, becomes President, I promise to have lots of sleep-overs at her house.  That way I’ll be sure to be with her when she acts all Commander-In-Chief-y, and needs to order the troops during a nuclear confrontation.  And when she needs to say

“STAND DOWN!”

I’ll make sure she doesn’t accidentally say

“FIRE!”

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Garbage In – Garbage Out

My bloggin’ buddie Ben Mitchell has done a series of posts that are really helpful for those awful doubts all of us who like to write have in spades.  Ben’s latest post, My Writing is of the Highest Quality made me think of this story.

*     *     *

We’ve all had them.  The Boss from Hell.  Anna was mine.

Thirty years ago I worked for a woman who was known to swallow subordinates.  People who worked for her often left the state just to get away from her.  That’s how I got away, and I started a trend, actually.

Anna was smart, dedicated, a work-a-holic.  She expected perfection.  Documents were edited by four or five people, proofread by everyone from the most senior lawyer on down to the lowliest paralegal (me).  Nothing could go out to our clients with a substantive mistake, a grammatical error, an incorrect comma or extra space between words.  Worse, Anna didn’t mince words.  She didn’t spare feelings.  Working for Anna was a daily “sink or swim” situation.  And she always seemed to want to fill your pockets with rocks.

Still, for me, the job was a gift.  I had been working as a legal secretary, a job I hated.  But, the head partner of the department thought I was funny (which as we all know correlates with being incredibly intelligent).  So he offered me a promotion, asked if I would be interested in taking a job as a paralegal, a “professional.”  I would be part of the team of professionals in the legislative and regulatory division of a law firm.  I would learn all about Washington from the inside.

I would get paid less, work longer hours, and get no overtime.  What a deal!

I snapped it up though.  Because a big part of it was learning and the rest was writing.  Writing boring, humorless stuff, yes.  But writing is writing.  And getting paid to write?  Well, it doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

But Anna was unenthusiastic.  She didn’t want me.  She didn’t want to have someone else, even her boss, choose her assistant.  But we were stuck with each other.

It took five years for her to laugh at one of my jokes.  But I digress.

So I became a legislative assistant on environmental issues.  My job was to analyze legislation, attend hearings, know what all the different Senators and Congressmen thought about legislation, predict what would happen to a bill.  And I wrote memos to our clients to enlighten them.

But first they had to get past Anna.  The clients, they were easy.  The boss?  She was damn hard.

She didn’t mince words.  She tore apart sentences, decimated analyses.  She always knew more about the issue and the Congress and what position each member was taking than I did.  It was, well, challenging.  And annoying.  It was often hard not to collapse in angry tears.

But for the most part, I understood that I was getting the best training I could get.  How many of you have had each and every word you wrote for 10 years brutally dissected?  I did.  And it was never pretty.  But I learned.

Still, even a person like me who desperately needed that job has her limits.  And I reached them when, during one period, Anna would inexplicably throw my draft memos back at me saying “WHAT IS GARBAGE???!!!”  This question was not good for my ego.

I couldn’t quit, I needed the job.  I couldn’t go over her head, because, well, I like to fight my own battles.  But clearly, I needed to do something.

So I rooted around in the files until I found a memo Anna herself had written about one of my issues.  It was years old, but the factual information was still spot on.  I needed to change a couple of little things, the Senate Bill number, the names of a few of the Senators, and voila!  Anna had written my memo for me.

When I gave it to her, Anna shouted “What is this GARBAGE?”

“Actually, Anna,” I responded, “You were so unhappy with my last memo that I got this old one out of the file.  You wrote it; I just changed the bill number.”

Anna was silent for a minute and then said,

“Well, you write better than I do; I expected more of you.”

From that day on, she was respectful and pleasant.  She learned that it was OK to laugh at my jokes and that I would still work hard, regardless.

*    *    *

The Boss from Hell.  Anna was mine.  Or was she the one that taught me the most? She certainly taught me more about writing than anyone else I’ve ever known.  She taught me to be careful, to pay attention, to look at every word.  So was she really the Boss from Hell, or the Editor from Heaven? I can never decide.  Probably both.

But she is still my friend.

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