Jerks – Just To Make It Interesting

One of my favorite Far Sides is the one where God is creating the earth.  He’s in a heavenly kitchen, and the world is sitting on the counter. God is brandishing a salt shaker with the word “JERKS” written across it.  As he is about to shake the jerks onto earth, God is thinking, “Just to make it interesting.”

We can all relate to this. I often wonder if the cap to the Jerk salt shaker fell off and instead of a sprinkling, there was a dumping.  They’re on the roads, standing in line at the grocery store, at the DMV, and (oddly enough) employed in the curtain department of JC Penny.  Jerks are simply everywhere.  As Jerry Seinfeld so eloquently stated: “People. They’re the worst.”

Sometimes we have to deal with a certain jerk on a regular basis. This may be a co-worker or relative.  Or a friend of a friend, or someone who happens to stop at the same coffee shop – at the same exact time every morning – as you do.  While we may try our darnedest to evade these people, the fact is, often they are unavoidable.

There was a time in my life when I had to deal with a jerk on a fairly frequent basis.  My tolerance was wearing thin, and I sought advice from a friend who has a knack for dealing with difficult people.

One of her suggestions (I admit, I was never brave enough to do this) was to keep a notebook and pen with me at all times.  Then, when The Jerk said something irritating, I would simply open the notebook and start writing. After I was done, I was to snap the notebook closed and set it aside; until The Jerk said something maddening again, in which case I was to open the notebook back up and start jotting something down.

Let’s imagine this situation:  You’re talking to someone and suddenly they whip out a notebook and start writing, only to close the notebook and look back up at you as though nothing happened.  A few minutes later, out comes the notebook again.  When you ask what they’re writing, they answer all blase, “Oh, nothing.”

Wouldn’t that make you feel a little … unsettled?  Which is something all jerks need every now and then.

My friend also suggested that every time I come in contact with The Jerk, I should have a mental theme song. My friend found that the Wicked Witch’s these song from the Wizard of Oz worked well with the jerk in her life.  I chose circus music, and indeed it added a comical element to The Jerk. (Note: you don’t have to limit it to music per se. When I shared this advice with someone else, that person chose the mental sound of the Gestapo’s sirens whenever her mother-in-law’s car pulled up in front of her house.)

The last suggestion was the one my friend wanted me to use – and rightly so.  She reminded me that people are jerks for a reason. Perhaps the jerk was raised by fellow jerks.  Or perhaps the jerk used to be a great person but became soured by something devastating.  Maybe the jerk isn’t normally a jerk, but is simply having a really bad day and has run out of tolerance for others. (We’ve all been there.)  And maybe, just maybe, we’re the one who is being a bit jerky.

Basically, my friend was suggesting that we need to have patience, and we should try to practice grace with others.  Does this excuse jerky behavior? Absolutely not.  But it does serve as a good reminder that we don’t know what is going on in the life of the jerk.  And maybe if we did know, we wouldn’t consider that person a jerk.

Now.  If only I could use that frame of mind with the lady who just waltzed through the door and didn’t thank me for holding it open for her.


The Kitchen

It looms before me every day.  I cannot avoid it, despite how much I try.  Whenever I am forced to enter its presence, I feel a hopelessness bordering on despair. I attempt to fight my aversion with every ounce of my being.  I try to make the best of it, even when it mocks me.  I hear it whisper; sensing my inadequacies.  “Nice try, faker,” it hisses, “You know you can’t do it.”

I am talking about my kitchen.

Those who know me can attest to the fact that I hate to cook.  Funny thing is, I love to eat.  Allow me to rephrase that: I love to eat what other people have made. Peg Bracken wrote in her book, The I Hate to Cook Cookbook, “We who hate to cook have respect bordering on awe for the Good Cooks Who Like to Cook …we have little to say to them, really, except ‘Invite us over often, please.’ And stay away from our husbands” (pg 3).

One can’t fault me for not trying.  I do attempt to make my family delicious (and if not delicious, edible) meals.  Though, these meals are often served with a bit of drama on the side. The time I could not roll out the store-made pizza dough was one incident.  Subsequently, the dough was thrown on the floor where I proceeded to stamp on it.  “Flatten out, you stupid dough!” I yelled, “why don’t you just flatten out!”

Forgetting to put that little seasoning packet from the taco kit into the meat is a common occurrence; also forgetting that dinner is in the oven.  (Thank Heavens for my kitchen fire alarm is all I can say.)  One Easter, I wanted to make a baked french toast dish. The recipe called for challa bread.  I used ciabatta instead. They both begin with the same letter, right?  What could the big difference be? (A LOT, I can now tell you.)

My family has learned coping skills to deal with my cooking.  “Interesting,” my 9 year old daughter said upon trying my white chili, “Could you just NEVER make this again?”

“How about take-out?” is my husband’s gentle (and always accepted) response.

My 3 year old son simply pushes his plate away and begins to pick his nose (inferring that he prefers the contents of his nostrils over my cooking).

Several years ago a miracle happened.  The Lord, who is rich in mercy and pitied my family, gave us a neighbor who loved to cook.  And not only did this little, spunky southern girl love to cook: she was excellent at it.  But the poor thing had no idea what she was creating when she said, “Would ya’ll like to come over for dinner sometime?”

Sometime? We ate at her house like scavengers several times a week. (Okay, fine. Almost EVERY night of the week.)  The food she cooked was like crack to our tacos-with-the-seasoning-packet- left-out stomachs.  She served us things like grilled asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, seared pieces of beef I cannot even pronounce the names of.  It was like heaven.  My husband gained weight, I became relaxed, and my kitchen fire alarm took a rest.

But all good things come to an end.  Our neighbor moved and we were devastated.  And hungry.  Suddenly, I was thrust back into the kitchen but now with the memories of our neighbor’s stuffed sole lingering in my mind. I tried to replicate her dishes, but with miserable results.  I returned to my old faithful recipes and my kitchen fire alarm went back on duty.

I have mastered a few dishes, but I must be careful to not make them too often lest they lose their appeal. (“This again? Didn’t we just have this for dinner?” Is usually a sign I need to break it up.)  I try to maneuver a few other meals into the rotation, but I put out a disclaimer that everyone should eat at their own risk.

And so I forge ahead.  My kitchen and I have formed somewhat of a truce. It won’t taunt me as long as I don’t burn it down while heating up my kids’ waffles in the toaster oven.

Bumper Stickers and Vanity Plates: They’re a Commitment

A friend of mine said, “Bumper stickers are a commitment.”  She has a valid point.  I mean, you’re really putting yourself out there with bumper stickers. Similar to road rage (when you can flip someone the bird and then drive off knowing there will be no consequences), you’re not held accountable for whatever you plaster on your car. Generally, people don’t retaliate based on what your bumper stickers say.

But what if they did?

Take the bumper sticker I recently saw: My Other Car is a 747. Clearly this person must be a pilot.  Now, what if I had pulled alongside the pilot’s car, rolled down my window and started frantically waving my arms while shouting, “Hey you! Yes, you!  You’re a pilot? What airline do you fly for? It better not be US Air!  They lost my luggage and then left it out in the rain.  Oh! And my plane had to sit on the tarmac for two hours.  Real nice!”

Or how about those oval black and white bumper stickers that advertise where you have gone on vacation? (They are usually in code too.  Instead of simply saying “Jackson Hole” they say “JH” or “OBX” instead of “Outter Banks.”) Picture driving up next to a car sporting one of these stickers: “You-hoo! Excuse me!  I notice you have been to Martha’s Vineyard. How was it? Where’d you stay?”

Then there are vanity license plates. Personally, I happen to find these a bit troubling. While bumper stickers can be more general, with vanity plates, you’re sort of announcing yourself. One time I noticed a car in the grocery store parking lot that had a vanity plate. I then recognized the same car in the parking lot of another store the following day. Then at the gym. Normally, I would never have paid attention, but it’s hard not to notice (and remember) a car that has a license plate that reads “PINGPONG.”

I have always found MD license plates a bit irksome. What is the purpose?  Do they simply want people to know they went to medical school? Because I don’t know about you – but whenever I pass a car accident, I have never seen a car with a MD license plate at the scene.

What if we tried to solicit free medical advice from these physicians who advertise their profession? Honk! Honk! “Hey! Thanks for letting me know you’re a doctor!  I need to ask you something.  I’ve had this awful cramp on my right side for about a week now.  Any idea what it could be?”

Vanity license plates could also get you in trouble.  It’s hard to be discreet when you have a license plate that is memorable. Imagine attending your kid’s 6th grade violin concert. You pull into a parking spot and as the family climbs out of the car, some buffoon calls out, “Hey!  It’s JOEYD72! I see your car outside of Pleasure Island strip joint all the time!”

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess I had one of those black and white oval stickers on my previous car.  And I would have been thrilled if someone had honked their horn and said, “Hey! You went to Aruba?  How was it?  I hear it’s awfully hot there.” “Oh it is hot!” I would have hollered back, “but there is a lovely breeze that always keeps you comfortable.”

When I traded in my old car for a newer one, I didn’t transfer the Aruba sticker.  Why?  I didn’t want to take the chance of someone pulling up alongside me in traffic, rolling down their window, and shouting out, “You went to Aruba? Congratulations! Like I care!”

The Waiting Room Zoo

At a recent doctor’s appointment, I was struck by the similarities between a doctor’s waiting room and a zoo. I’m not using the word “zoo” to describe craziness or disorder.  (“Whoa. It’s a zoo in there!”)  I’m using it literally: as in the zoo you visit with your kids and end up spending way too much money just to watch some strange animals sleep.

When you enter a doctor’s waiting room, the receptionist is sitting behind a glass shield. This is similar to a cage – only more civilized.  You stand at the glass, hoping she notices you (she usually doesn’t).  If you tap on the glass, she simply ignores you as though you are the hundredth person that day who has tapped on her cage.  When at last you are acknowledged, you hand over your co-pay. This is your “admission ticket” into the zoo.

As you survey the waiting room in your attempt to find a chair that is the farthest away from anyone else, you can’t help but notice the chattering monkey.  This is the person who talks non-stop on their cellphone. They are often very loud and seem to have no qualms about the world knowing their personal business.  The chattering monkey certainly doesn’t seem sick, and you wonder why they are even there in the first place.  Once the phone call has ended, the chattering monkey calls someone else or turns to the nearest person and initiates a conversation.

Sloths are another common inhabitant of the physician waiting room. Without fail, this person falls into such a deep sleep you wonder if he has mistaken the waiting room chair for his couch at home.  The sloth awakens every now and then, only to glance around the waiting room with heavy eyelids before nodding back off to sleep.

In the middle of the waiting room is the owl.  This person looks around the room with large, wide eyes.  She will watch as you check in with the receptionist, as you select a magazine, and when you look at your cellphone.  God forbid you cough or sneeze, her eyes grow even bigger.  She also has the unique ability to turn her head almost 360 degrees to look at the people sitting behind her.

At last your name is called!  It is your turn to see the doctor, who is the Siberian white tiger of this zoo-like experience.  The Siberian white tiger is the reason why we are here. Comparable to a Siberian white tiger, the doctor is also endangered: There are so few of them and so many of us.  And just like the Siberian white tiger exhibit at the zoo: we can only see the doctor for a limited time.

When the Siberian white tiger enters the examining room, he seems disinterested and bored.  You are simply one of many who have waited to see him. Your sore throat and nagging cough that you felt was so important?  Not to the Siberian white tiger. There is a true sense of disappointment, and you can’t help but feel a bit gypped.  You paid $25 for this?  That 30 minute wait was for nothing more than a 4 minute viewing of the Siberian white tiger.  As you leave the Siberian white tiger exhibit, you find you feel a little sulky.

You are eager to return home, and as you leave you notice the waiting room has filled with more animals.  You silently thank God your turn is over, not knowing that you’ll be returning in a few days because you are now harboring all of the germs that were festering on the waiting room magazine you pretended to read.  But when you return, you won’t be able to see the Siberian white tiger. Heck, no! That exhibit is sold out.  Instead, you’ll have to settle for the red panda – otherwise known as the nurse practitioner.

The Saying Goes

When I was ten years old I  entered the house and greeted my mom with, “Hey! How’s it hanging?”  I will never forget her expression, or how I felt as she explained to me exactly what that phrase meant.

We all tend to use phrases incorrectly.  I once told my husband that I got the raw end of the stick. (Apparently, my ability to use idioms didn’t improve with age.)  Most of the time we use them in the correct context, but their meaning can be lost on others.  While other times, a phrase just rubs people the wrong way.

Here are a few examples:

Have a Good One: My 93 year old Grandmother summed this phrase up well.  When a cashier told her to “have a good one” my Grandmother responded,  “Have a good what?  Have a good s**t?”

No Offense: These two words are a red flag. Chances are – the person will take offense.  Let’s be honest here.  We rarely say,  “No offense, but you look great today!” or “No offense, but you are the smartest person I know!”  What follows “no offense” is generally bad.  Prefacing the insult with “no offense” does not lessen the blow, despite what some might think.  Offense IS usually taken.

If You Think About It:  You know how this is used: You’ll be having a discussion with someone and then they will say, “Well, if you think about it” implying that you haven’t given it any thought – but they have.

Don’t Take This The Wrong Way: See above comments on “No Offense”.

No Problem: This phrase seems to have replaced the good old fashioned “you’re welcome.”

Let Me Go: Typically, this phrase is used to wrap up a phone conversation.  “Let me go” is the signal that one person wants to get off the phone, but it infers that the other person won’t LET them hang-up.  Saying “let me go” is implying that you are being held hostage on the phone. “I should go now” is the politer version of “Let me go”.

It’s All Good: Um, no it’s not.  Just read the paper or switch on the five o’clock news.

Get Er Done: The fact that this phrase has sneaked its way into any conversation outside of the Louisiana bayou is a tragedy.  While its purpose is to encourage one to complete a task, one cannot hear the words “get er done” without envisioning a recently slain deer draped over the bed of a 1982 Chevy pickup truck that is littered with empty Budweiser cans.

These phrases may not rub you the wrong way.  After all, it takes all kinds to make the world go round.  So when all is said and done, we should just live and let live.

Returning Adopted Pets

My nephew recently adopted a guinea pig.  He proudly named her “Buttercup” and told me this is Buttercup’s third home.

Third home?  What on earth has this guinea pig done that warrants it being returned by two different families?  This led me to thinking of other random animals and their reasons for being brought back from whence they came:

Hermit crabs: “They’re simply too noisy.”

A goldfish:  “It has an attitude.”

An Iguana: “It keeps giving me the harry eyeball.  At the same time.  In two different directions.”

A rabbit: “She seemed fine in the pet store but once we brought her home, all hell broke loose.”

Turtles: “It’s just not a good fit for our family.”

A rooster: “It just struts around, all cocky, acting like it owns the place.  And it’s not laying eggs.”

Thankfully, my nephew’s house seems to be Buttercup’s final destination.  Unless, of course, she starts making a freakish screeching noise at night or telling off-colored jokes.