A few work vignettes

Since we need distractions to take our minds off the negative news of the day, please consider the following work vignettes. They are all true, but the names have been changed to mask identities.

– The new state president of a company was a smoker, but the headquarters had just instituted a no smoking policy indoors. The HR director swears the new president called him one day, as all he heard was a lighter clicking and a sighed exhale of cigarette smoke.

– Before thinking too ill of this state president, he did have two funny introductions. He was smoking outside, when a female worker said she had not seen him before. He eventually mentioned he was the new president, to which the woman replied “And, I am the Queen of England.”

– While being taken around to the local offices, someone mentioned he resembled an office manager named Bob. Making remarks at Bob’s office to the staff, the president said “People say I resemble Bob, but that cannot be, as Bob is uglier than a pair of old bowling shoes.”

– A colleague and I once were in a meeting with the senior leadership of a company going through some comparative data on compensation. The CEO (who I had worked with for years) could not believe they paid relatively poorly on long term incentive pay and would not let it go. To get the meeting to move on, I took a chance and said, “Tom, no matter how you measure it, you are sucking hind teat on long term incentives.” When he said “I don’t think anyone has ever said that to me,” the CFO said “Well, he’s got a lot of data to back it up.”

– The sidebar to the story is my colleague was telling the story to others in front of me. He said, “Here I am trying to be all serious and Keith is over there talking about farm animals.”

– My friend Marie ran a very successful Health and Wellness program for our employees. During October (which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month), she was promoting our mobile mammogram program (which had helped eleven women learn they had an issue in and could get care). I was telling this story in front of her to a senior executive and referenced “Breast Awareness Month.” Not batting an eye, she corrected me, that would be “Breast CANCER Awareness Month.” Oops. We still laugh about that today.

– One of the better consultants (and mentors) I ever worked with had the misfortune of meeting with a heavy set client, who proceeded to have chest pains during the meeting. The EMTs were called in to help. It turned out to be a needed wake-up call for this man, so he improved his health afterwards. Yet, as teammates tend to do, we never let our colleague forget this episode. He was a perfectionist, so he was consistently making us redo work if he did not like a proposed solution’s results. So, we started feigning chest pains (in the manner of Redd Foxx’s character on Sanford & Son) when he was too demanding on the team.

– Yet, this consultant taught me many things, one of which is to celebrate good meetings or trips. So, as we returned home from meetings up I-85, we would stop at a Dairy Queen and get a Heath bar Blizzard (Exit #70) to celebrate. Unfortunately, the DQ was torn down a few years back. Yet, I love Heath bars to this day and will crumble them on ice cream.

So, the key takeaways are have fun when you can and don’t forget to celebrate little victories. Heath bars and ice cream are optional.

You remember that place next to the restaurant we liked – an updated version

This is an example of “couplespeak.” After years of marriage, it is entirely possible the other member of the couple will know precisely where the speaker is meaning. And, neither may actually remember the name of the place or the restaurant used as the landmark. This kind of conversation can surface in a multitude of ways. Here are a few more examples.

Oh, she is that actress who starred in the action movie with the guy we like.

This one usually requires some stumbling add-ons. Because the responding question will usually be, “Which movie are you talking about?” Nowadays, with Google, it is possible to come up with names and trace the movie to the other star. Yet, it is possible for the spouse to know after some add-on suggestions, who the actress and actor are.

Why don’t you make that casserole you made when we had some folks over?

Between the two, the name of the other couple can be surfaced which will help with the mental Rolodex of recipe names. Otherwise, it will be an ingredient hinting exercise. “I remembered it was a chicken and sausage dish.”

Was it Johnny, Susie or Joey that had the whooping cough or was it the croup?

This is not a fill in the blank question like the others. But, if you are a parent of more than one child, some of the younger child illnesses blend together. Your kids will laugh at you if you don’t remember, but they will cease laughing when it happens to them as parents. Also, the diseases do get mixed up some, which is why you keep a list.

What is the name of that singer that sounds like the woman we heard on the American Idol or The Voice?”

It is the “name that person questions” that come up the most. We know both of us know her, yet neither can recall her name. We do need to find some hint that will jog memory or facilitate the Google search.

Do you think the “Sun” or “Jellyfish” or “Popcorn” is that actress or singer who was in…?”

To get this reference, you have to be a fan of “The Masked Singer,” where artists dress in very creative costumes and sing in competition. Throughout their stints, the competitors offer clues. Yet, given the previous and first example above, it does test our couplespeak. Do you think that is the guy who starred in the sit-com about the young family with two dads?

To others, it will appear we have no sense at all. If you told someone that you could not remember a popular person or place, the other person would think you were crazy. “How can you not know that?” Yet, all couples will eventually migrate to this couplespeak at some point.

Tell me a few of your examples. Which ones did I not capture? When did you first notice this trend?

More of those trying English words

I recently wrote of the difficulties the English language poses with words that are similar, but have meanings that are so different. Since I do many a crossword puzzle, I come across words that remind me of this fact, but also encourage me to go find a dictionary. As I noted earlier, I like words that I actually might use or hear someone use in a conversation and am not too keen on words that only share how smart the speaker is or who would like to seem.

Here are a few more sets of words to ponder.

Divine and divine: The noun divine can mean godlike or sacred and it can also mean lovely or handsome. Yet, the verb divine means to surmise or guess the solution to a problem.

Seer, sere, sear: Homonyms anyone? Three similar words with different meanings. Seer is a prophet, while sere means dry or arid as in a desert. And, not to be outdone, sear means to char as in a steak.

Prescribe and proscribe: Another pairing where one letter changes the nature. Prescribe means to order, as in a doctor ordering a prescription. Proscribe means to forbid.

Vain, vane, vein: More homonyms. Vain conjures up a Carly Simon song meaning arrogant. Vane usually refers to a weather vane, but is a broad blade attached to a rotating axis. Vein of course is the vessel to return the blood to the heart, but could also mean a distinctive quality.

Prosaic and mosaic: The former is often confused with the latter, but prosaic means commonplace. Mosaic is not commonplace meaning artistic or painted glass placed into a stone setting.

Precede and proceed: They sound similar, but precede means to go before. Proceed means to begin. You should proceed, before someone precedes you.

That is enough confusion for one day. So, when Simon sings, “you’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you,” you will know how to spell it.

Life’s Little Instruction Book – an old gift

On my first Father’s Day many years ago, my wife gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book” compiled by H. Jackson Browne, Jr. I was leafing through it today as it lay on an upstairs table near my computer. Here are few of the 511 pearls of wisdom that can be found therein.

#454 – Show respect for everyone that works for a living, regardless of how trivial their job.

#276 – Patronize local merchants even if it costs a little more.

#186 – Be insatiably curious. Ask “why” a lot.

#158 – Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

#107 – Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond the price.

#246 – Wave at children on school’s buses.

#426 – Share the credit.

#375 – Take charge of your attitude. Don’t let someone else choose it for you.

#127 – Wear the most audacious of underwear under the most solemn business attire.

#58 – Always accept an outstretched hand.

Many of the above are not among the usual instructions. The first two remind me of what we need to do more of in today’s pandemic. Of course, the more startling one is my favorite about “audacious underwear.”

It reminds me of the a staid company I worked for, where the very dignified manager of a department had an “underwear optional” day for the troops. Going commando was never so much fun.

The last one is hard, but should not be. Why don’t we want to accept help? After 9/11, America’s approval ratings were at its highest. Other countries wanted to help, but we did not accept it very well. That was unwise.

The one I gravitate to the most and often advise is a variation of don’t cede your power to someone else. Take charge of your attitude. You are not offended, if you do not take offense.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum – a reprise

Since we all need a dose of humor these days, the following is a repeat of a post I wrote seven years ago.

With due credit to Zero Mostel, I borrowed the title from one of his funniest movies to share some of my, my family and my friends’ more comical moments which you might find amusing. In some, I conducted the act, where others I witnessed. I hope you will enjoy and laugh with me, as I laughed the hardest on a few that I did.

1. Always have a spare quarter – In high school, I was fortunate enough to play on a good baseball team in a pretty competitive conference of large schools around the city. Where I grew up, there was a large river that had numerous toll bridges. Returning from an afternoon baseball game still in uniform, I was driving with a couple of teammates as we approached the toll booth. None of us had a quarter for the toll. As we debated our action strategy, we noticed the car in front of us included some of our teammates. Just before I got out of the car to ask them for the toll money, their door opened and one came back to ask us if we had any quarters, of which they had none as well. We had to ask a toll keeper for leniency as we begged our way through. Yet, we had to say, “you’re not going to believe this, but we don’t have any money either.”

2. Dueling Air Guitars – Before Rock Band, doing air guitar in public was usually not seen. It was something you did in front of the mirror. Keeping with the baseball theme, I was at bat in practice when two of my good friends who teased me for being a head-banger (hard rock fan) decided to have some fun. With one in right field and one in center field, they did one leg up, hopping air guitars toward each other passing in right-center field. Another friend who was pitching had to turn around to see why I was hysterical with laughter. My hitting was not strong during this at bat as a result.

3. Community Plays are dangerous – On a double date with a girl I really liked, we decided to go to a community play. Since it was in a church hall, they had these choral risers in place to create an amphitheater affect.We sat with fold out chairs in the back row about three feet off the ground. After a wine and cheese intermission, we re-seated with wine containers still in hand. As I tilted back and drank mine, I noticed my date was going forward. Actually, it was me going backwards as one of my chair legs was off the riser and I was falling. What became one of the loudest booms, everyone (including the actors) turned to see the big tall guy on the floor splattered on a folded up chair. Fortunately, the play had not restarted and even more so, I was not hurt. But, it sure was funny. I did get a another date, but we went to a safer venue.

4. Joseph, David what’s in a name? – When my boys were little they roomed together. We would always read a story to them and one of the books we read from was filled with biblical tales and songs. On one night, I left the book downstairs and decided to sing one of the songs from memory. You may recall the song, “Only a Boy Named David” telling the tale of his slaying of Goliath. Well in this case, I mixed biblical names and began “Only a Boy Named Joseph…..” After a couple of verses, my youngest boy who was about four, said “but… Dad, I ..thought…his… name…was…David?” to which we all burst out laughing.

5. Jumping on a bed can be dangerous – In another bed time reading incident, I decided to hurl my body onto my youngest son’s bed which was about a foot away from the wall. Unfortunately, my momentum carried me off the bed and down the foot crevice between bed and wall. Mom came hustling in to see what all the racket was as Dad was stuck trying to pry himself loose. Needless to say, sleep time was delayed due to the laughter which ensued.

6. You won’t believe what your son is doing – My oldest son is a climber and we have had some scary moments because of it. This was not one of them. My wife called me at work to tell me my son (hers too, but he was mine now) had climbed to the top of a forty-foot magnolia tree and in front of all of the neighborhood girls was peeing off the tree. She described it as a rainbow of urine. My wife was giggling so hard, she could not tell him to come down for a few minutes. And, just to have an extra witness, his Godmother was there as well.

7. Same son, another climbing incident – In our first house, there were built-in floor to ceiling bookshelves in the children’s bedroom by the door. Downstairs one evening, we heard this clump, clump, clump and went up to investigate. When we peeked in the room, we at first could not find him. On closer notice, we saw behind the door, he had thrown off the books and was sitting at the very top shelf with a big grin on his face swinging his legs.

8. We may not be permitted back in this store – At a local furniture store, my youngest son needed to go as my wife and I were looking for furniture. So, I walked him into the restroom and when he decided he wanted to go by himself, I checked making sure that no one was in there So, I walked outside and stood guard. For some reason, he decided the elevated wall urinal was a toilet and proceeded to do a number 2 in it. When I peeked in, I quickly grabbed him to take him to the toilet. Unfortunately, the missiles were flying so we plopped, plopped, plopped on our way to the toilet. After cleaning him up and making sure he was with his Mom, I said I will be a few minutes and told her about my new mission to clean up. That was some expensive furniture.

9. One word can make a difference – Back in the 1990’s, my company took pride in being a forerunner in offering mobile mammograms for our female employees. We were into wellness in a big way. As an aside, out of 9,000 screenings, there were 11 breast cancers detected that were caught early enough. I mention this as I was talking with someone on my team who led our wellness efforts. It was October and I made the point that we need a big push since it was “Breast Awareness Month.” My friend and colleague in her best dead pan voice, said BTG it’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”

10.  Reading can make you sleepy – When my daughter was little, we read voraciously, sometimes three and four books a night. I used to lie beside her as we read so she could see the pictures, but Dad had a bad habit of falling asleep after a couple of books. I would awaken to her pushing me “Daddy wake up, I need to go to sleep.” After that I had to sit on the floor to stay awake. She banned me from reading lying down.

11. The Red Cardinals are different – My daughter used to have about 30 stuffed animals in her room. She named them all, usually with very interesting, whimsical names as she was pretty creative and well read. Yet, all were given female names. One day, my brother-in-law gave her a red cardinal. She proceeded with her normal naming convention. It hit me a few seconds later and I started grinning. She asked why I was smiling and I asked her a question I knew she knew the answer to. What color are the female cardinals? She started laughing and said I need a new name for this guy.

12. Missing child in the house – We used to have a Golden Retriever who liked to sleep on the oriental rug under our dining room table. It caught a nice sun in the afternoon and when it was cold it was very cozy. One day, we could not find my youngest son and looked everywhere. The doors had the dead bolt locks on, so he had to be in the house. After several minutes of frantic looking, we found him under the dining room table laying close to the dog, sound asleep. This is more “awwww” than “ha ha”  but I thought it would be good to close with that one.

Thanks for reading. Life is funny, so remember to laugh at yourself. If you are not laughing, you might be alone in your silence. And, don’t take yourself too seriously or one day you may find yourself cleaning up poop in a furniture store restroom. God has a sense of humor. Please feel free to share any comical moments that these stories may cause you to remember.

A few funny takes on the news

Taking a step back from the seriousness of the news, we can find some humor. Here are a few thoughts to ponder.

Did anyone tell the president a side effect of taking hydroxychloroquine is hair loss? I mean the guy already has a two feet long comb over.

Does Mike Pence practice that puppy dog loyalty expression in the mirror? His boss has said some of the most inane things right in front of him (like ingesting disinfectant) and he does not break from that expression.

Did you hear the nickname Joe Biden gave the highly prolific nick-naming president? Joe called him “President Tweety.” I am not a fan of name calling, but this one, while colorful and apt, may be one of the least offensive ones he could have used. I may have said “Mr. Tweety” instead, but again it is colorful and descriptive of an excessive tweeter.

Joe Biden is a decent man and will help bring us together, if elected, but people should refrain from showing him saying things he should not out loud as way to say he is getting senile. Joe has a history of saying things he could have checked. On the upside, in one interview, he let the cat out of the bag and forced Obama to publicly embrace same sex marriage before Obama was ready to. When the ACA was signed, he could be heard whispering to Obama, “this is a big f***ing deal.”

One of the funniest sights occurred when the president spoke of ingesting or injecting disinfectant to cure COVID-19, then turning to Dr. Deborah Birx for corroboration. Watching her try to disappear in her chair with a mortified look on her face was priceless. It reminded of the times in high school where you prayed the teacher would not call on you.

The last place a White House staff member wants to be is behind the president when he goes off script. Unfortunately, I am tall and could not hide. I am reminded of former FBI Director James Comey, who is about 6’9″ tall. He was in the White House and he was trying to blend into the blue curtains with his navy blue suit to avoid be called on. Unfortunately, the president found him and called him out to shake his hand.

Sadly, many things the president says could be viewed as funny, but they are too scary or sad. When he invents things or openly speaks of what is talked about as “what-ifs” with staff, as if they were real, it becomes scary. My personal favorite is when he announced in front of the Pakistani leader, the India leader asked him to broker a peace deal over the area called Kashmir. The Pakistani leader looked surprised and encouraged. Unfortunately, that was not true. Within the hour, Prime Minister Modi of India sent out a press release saying “no such request has been made.”

What are some of your funny moments?

Being tall can be hazardous

A trait I normally take pride in, my height, can also be a hazard. As my 6’5″ frame sits here typing, I have a bruised forehead. Why, you ask? As I filled a bucket with water and gingerly watched my footing as I walked from the hose, I ran smack into a ceramic bird house hanging from a tree limb. The impact was like a quick jab from a boxer. Ouch.

One of my tall sons was visiting, so I told him he almost found me lying on the grass, although I just staggered when I ran into the gosh darn thing. He reminded me of one of his college visits which found most of our family in an Italian restaurant in Poughkeepsie on a very rainy night. As we were leaving, both he and I hit our heads on the sloping ceiling near the door. At 6’3″, he also has to watch his head.

Which led to the telling of another story about one of the visits my wife and I had to the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC (a must see). On this visit, we stayed in the older section of the hotel riding the elevator up in a stone shaft. As we checked into the room, my wife motioned me over to the window to see the view. Well, the ceiling sloped toward the window, so when I walked over to look down, boom, another headache.

But, I was not done with that room. It had a step up into the bathroom. So, as I stepped down to get back in the bedroom, boom, another headache. Surprisingly, I did not leave with a concussion. Just a sore head and a smiling wife at her husband’s survival of head injuries.

However, the worst crash occurred while I went to college in downtown Atlanta. Walking in an above ground garage into a setting sun, I walked straight into a diagonal I-beam as I neared my car. It caught me right across the forehead. I staggered backwards as if Muhammad Ali had just stung me like a bee. I did not fall down, but it would not have been a surprise if I did.

So, being tall is nice, but it does have some hazards. As my wife would say, thank goodness I am hard-headed.

Dating in the life of Purell

The coronavirus has put a hold on many things, especially with this social distancing concept. It is hitting many people hard, especially if they are impacted by the illness or work in a service industry. On the latter, people in service jobs are seeing cut backs in hours and gigs, so they may be in need of cash. Their jobs do not come with paid-time off. So, unless they can find other part-time work, they may need to look for temporary unemployment.

Our blogging friend Janis has written good post on “Love in the age of cholera coronavirus.” It is a good read, much better than this one (see link below). She is speaking in a broader sense of the word love to help each other out, especially your significant other and family, but I got to thinking about the dating life.

Dating is hard enough these days and sites range from Christian to hook-up sites and all things in-between. Toward the one end of the spectrum, safe sex is key. But, now with the age of the coronavirus, we have a new element. Dates will bring their own Purell with them. So, I guess a positive dating experience will involve the sharing of one’s Purell to clean each person’s hands. Now, on first dates, coughing will be a no-no, even if it is innocent. The looks will come. Get out the Purell!

Thinking back to my dating life before I got married in the mid-1980s, this initially unknown thing, that later was named AIDs, put a scare in all of us. At first, we truly did not know what it was and many unfounded rumors were perpetuated. If you want to watch an excellent movie, watch Matthew Modine star with a great cast in “And the band played on,” about this time of AIDs.

What is not inconsistent with today is the White House felt it was just a disease that impacted homosexuals. Today, the coronavirus was downplayed before taken seriously. Then, after many months, it became growingly clear that AIDs was not restricted to homosexuals. The White House was overtly indifferent to the crisis during this initial phase, except for the Surgeon General C. Everett Koop who through his obstinance got the message out to make condoms more available and encourage safe sex. But, so much time was lost. And, people died.

The dilemma in all of this is we still have to live our lives, but be smart about things. This is especially true for those whose immune systems are weaker. Yet, some of us may not have the luxury to socially avoid crowds. They have to make money. Or, they do not want to be alone. They want to meet someone and not put everything on hold. My wife and I can more readily hunker down as we have each other.

So, I guess we should do our best to be smart about contact, but also don’t be fearful of going out to do things. Socially distancing, cleaning hands, not touching your face and staying hydrated are keys. Avoiding people who are coughing is also good. But, while out, remember to tip big to wait staff, as they may be seeing fewer dollars. And, if you do want to date, bring the Purell. Kissing may be replaced by rubbing elbows, though.

In this time…

Monday morning you sure look fine

With a shout out to Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, I will use a song lyric of his to start out the week. The whole lyric is “Monday morning, you sure look fine, but Friday I got travelin’ on my mind.”

The word “fine” has a many different uses. In one of my favorite movies about a Scottish hero, “Rob Roy,” played by Liam Neeson, he would tell his wife (played by Jessica Lange) that “you are fine to me, woman.” The meaning which she returned later is you are beautiful to me.

There is an old line that is used that reinforces this belief. “She is so fine, the fine folks call her fine!” I won’t repeat a Richard Pryor line which is quite vulgar, but he responded to a comment, “You wouldn’t know a fine woman if you tripped over her.” Pryor’s line offered a rebuttal to that phrase, but is too colorful for these pages.

Today, it seems when things are “fine,” it means they are OK or slightly better. The usage downplays the meaning, where in the Rob Roy and Lindsey Buckingham examples, they understate beauty or something equivalent. This is one more example where tone and context matter.

The colloquial word “dude” can have multiple meanings depending on the tone. There is cute TV commercial, for an unremembered product, that walks through the multiple definitions of dude ranging from “I can’t believe you just did that” to “That is awesome.” I mention these examples, as my guess is all languages have variable meanings for words depending on when, where and how they are used.

Translation of words and meanings is doubly hard. Slang words often will use an opposite word to mean the same thing. “Cool” is one of those words. “Bad” is another. So, when learning a new language, it makes it difficult. When reading translated text, some of the meaning may be lost.

David Brooks introduced me to a Greek word called “thumos,” which has no counterpart in the English language. It means a sense of recognition and belonging. His context is thumos is the reason kids in school join groups – band, chorus, sports, chess club, etc. It is more than just belonging, it is the recognition they belong. I think this is a key reason we like to learn our ancestry.

So, when a friend walks up to you at a coffee shop, and you say “dude, you look fine,” he may be diminished if you use a monotone, but if you say “Dude…you look fine!” he may be uplifted. The tone matters, but so does the context. If you are in the same group of friends, your language may take on its own meaning leaving others lost in the meaning.

Lindsey Buckingham’s use of “fine” may have altered from Monday to Friday. In other words, the dude was leaving by the end of the week.

Those preciously funny memories

You will never truly know how much your parents love you until you have children. But, with families come family memories, some of them are preciously funny. Here are a few to mull over:

– My sons could recite verbatim lines from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” complete with accents. It made for interesting car trips.
– When smaller, these same boys mistook the word “sassy” for “sexy” and took delight in using it as such. After we finally figured it out, I felt obligated to inform of the more apt word.
– My daughter would hold her own with her older brothers. When our younger son became a Pescatarian, meaning he ate fish, but no other meats, she would teasingly tell him and his friends, he was an “Episcopalian.”
– My daughter had dozens of stuffed animals when she was little, but they all had female names. Yet, she was old enough to know, when I asked her the name of a very red cardinal and she gave me a female name, that she messed up. “I thought the red cardinals were boys,” I teasingly queried. She started laughing.
– In our first house, our kitchen table was my parents old contemporary dining table and reupholstered chairs. When another couple came for dinner, the chair our male guest was sitting in just collapsed. Fortunately, he was not hurt.
– Speaking of collapsing, our oldest son was sitting in a small garden area in the woods behind our house. My wife and I joined him and sat down on a wooden bench that had deteriorated with the weather. It came down like a house of cards.
– Our kids shared their friends and we would often have kids, even as they came back from college, in our upstairs game room. Our kids wondered why we knew so much about their friends, but it was a simple exercise of chatting with them before they headed upstairs.

These memories make me smile. I am sure you have a few in your families. Please feel free to share.