Facebook Users: Where Do You Belong?

It has been four years since I joined the 1.19 billion Facebook users. Throughout this period, I have observed very distinct behavior patterns of people who regularly use Facebook. After much rumination, sleepless nights, and obsessive floor pacing (well, not really), I categorized them into the following groups:

Braggy: For some, Facebook is a platform for bragging. These boasting comments are usually veiled as status updates.

Just threw together a Herb Crusted Beef Rib Roast with Pinot Noir Jus before taking little Kylie to oboe lessons.

Finished running 16.2 miles in 11 minutes. Who wants to join me tomorrow?

Sometimes, Braggy posts are written in a tired voice, as though being wonderful is exhausting.

While it’s hard getting up at 2 a.m. to squeeze in my four-hour total body workout, followed by preparing breakfast for the family, I know staying healthy for my family is important.

Last night James spelled Lieutenant! And he’s only 22 months old! I knew not allowing him to watch TV would reap loads of benefits. While it can be exhausting never having a break for myself, look at the fruit of my labor.

Literal Status Updates: Literal Status Updates give you a play-by-play account of the Facebook user’s day: what they are currently doing, what they are thinking, what’s on their agenda for the day. Literal Status Update Facebook users take the what’s on your mind? or what’s your status? question from Facebook quite literally. Literal Status Updates can include comments on ball games and TV shows the Facebook user is watching as they write their post.

At the grocery store.

C’mon Eli! Another interception?!

Time for lunch.

Making steak and potatoes for dinner. (With a glass of wine, of course. LOL!)

A sub-category of Literal Status Updates are Weather Posts – for those of us who live in windowless houses.

Snow!

Three inches so far and it’s still snowing.

19 degrees out! Brrrr!

Frequent Complaining Posts: Now, we are all prone to complain. Life ain’t easy, and commiseration can be soothing. The once-in-a-while-grumble is NOT included in the Frequent Complaining Posts category. It’s the daily gripe that falls into this group. Frequent Complaining Posts are similar to Literal Status Updates except they have a negative ring to them. For some people, Facebook is their way to share every sniffle and cough, every slight injustice that crosses their path. What’s most intriguing about the Frequent Complaining Posts is how these Facebook users are so eager to complain that they stop whatever they are doing to post  – whether it is while driving, or when they’re at work.

Another cold! Just when I was starting to feel better.

Grocery store is out of my favorite peanut butter. Are you kidding me?

Another sleepless night.

The Suspenseful Posts: These statuses leave you hanging. They are meant to make you wonder what on earth has happened, and are probably intended to have you checking back for updates.

So excited!

Can’t stop crying.

Best day EVER!

My poor hubby!

Sometimes the follow-up information to The Suspenseful Post is still very vague, especially when the original post was one of concern. While we understand privacy, it’s perplexing why the Facebook user who writes The Suspenseful Post in the first place would then keep the situation secretive. So you want us to know that you can’t stop crying, but you don’t want us to know why? Or What happened to your husband? What are we supposed to do with this information?

Political Posts: Are just that: statements about a political topic – which usually garners several supportive comments and “likes” as well as outraged responses. Things never end well, and opinions are rarely altered. De-friending over Political Posts is not uncommonSome Facebook users are regular Political Posters, while others stay away from the topics entirely – playing Switzerland in a messy war zone.

The Regular Rants: Just as with complaining, we all have a tendency to rant about a situation. The Regular Rants are akin to Frequent Complaining Posts, but with more of an edge. In these posts, however, the Facebook user’s anger seeps through their words. Regular Rants typically include lots of capital letters and exclamation points.

Could the guy driving in front of me go any slower? People older than 80 SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO DRIVE.

[insert name] is an idiot and I don’t know how ANYONE could be STUPID enough to vote for him!!

I can’t believe I went to college for THIS! What WAS I THINKING?

The Obsessive Topic: These Facebook users have a specific interest, issue, or cause that consumes them. Examples include a hobby, animal welfare, diet, a particular movement (such as gun rights or immigration reform), their pet, or a current event. When is it considered an Obsessive Topic? When the Facebook user posts at least once a day, every day about said topic. Pictures and links to unprofessional websites are common, as are the Facebook user “liking” their own status.

While every Facebook user has the tendency to dip their toes into each of these categories, others jump in cannonball style. Facebook seems to understand this, and has created a function that allows users to hide status updates from those habitual Political Posters, Regular Ranters and Frequent Complainers.

In spite of these behavior patterns, there are still Wonderful Posts – the comedic ones that make you burst out laughing, the posts with the pictures of your friends’ kids in silly Halloween costumes, the updates on ill friends, or the pictures of exotic vacations you someday hope to go on yourself. The Wonderful Posts are why I remain on Facebook, even though my kids watch television, I don’t cook Herb Crusted Beef Rib Roast with Pinot Noir Jus, and I could care less what Eli Manning is doing right this very minute.

Growing Old

All I could see was the top of her silvery-blue hair. She was creeping her boat of a car inch by inch into the parking spot, like a barge navigating its way on a canal. I sighed and glanced at the time. So far she had been working on this arduous task for three minutes. Several cars had lined up behind mine.

In true New York fashion, someone laid on their horn. Silvery-Blue Hair’s car came to an abrupt halt and she looked in her rear view mirror, confused. I should have given her an encouraging smile, but I too am a New Yorker, so all I did was raise my eyebrows hoping she could read my thoughts of, “C’mon lady!”

Silvery-Blue Hair faced forward. The car moved a millimeter. Progress was being made! I could almost fit my car around hers if she would just –

Wait! Oh no! What was she doing? Why were her reverse lights on? It doesn’t need to be straight honey! Just. Park. Your. Car.

The jerk laid on his horn a second time. Someone else joined in. This time, Silvery-Blue Hair was not daunted. She was too focused – too determined – to get her Buick Lesabre in the spot. Her little hands were putting the car’s power steering to the test. Suddenly, the car lurched forward and she turned off the engine.

Hurray! I stepped on the gas and sped past her, only to stop behind another car.  This time an elderly man was reversing out of a spot.  Where was I? On the set of Cocoon? Painstakingly, the gentleman eased his car backwards. He looked straight ahead, as though he was assuming – trusting- other drivers to give him the right of way. We did of course, but not without groaning, throwing our arms up in the air, or banging our foreheads on our steering wheels.

At last, he was out of his spot and gliding ahead. He looked ridiculously small in such a huge car, his hands positioned at ten and two. I was now able to drive around him, and I did so deftly. Wasn’t I just the coolest, spunkiest driver ever?

Then it struck me. Decades ago, Silvery-Blue Hair could have been me: impatient, patronizing in thought, in a hurry to run to the grocery store before having to shuttle her children to an activity. Likewise, the elderly man could have been just like my husband: working long hours to provide for his family, young, strong and handsome, driving a sporty car with ease.

All this meant, of course, that someday we would be them: frail, uncertain, and slow. In a few decades, I could be trying to maneuver my car (a car that used to be easier to drive) into parking spots that now seemed much too small – while irritable, young drivers like myself beeped their horns and rolled their eyes. I was ashamed.

Feeling sentimental, later that day I asked my ten year old daughter if she would take care of me when I was old.  Suddenly, the idea of growing old seemed very near and real.  I pictured my daughter as she is now, only taller, cradling my arm as she eases me into the passenger seat of her car.

My daughter was quiet for a moment before answering.

“I’ll be too busy with my own family to take care of you,” she said, “but don’t worry. I’ll visit you in the nursing home … as long as we’re not on vacation.”

Move over Silvery-Blue Hair lady, I just may need a ride.

Eddie and Annie

It was a Thanksgiving unlike any other. Joining our family were two people from the soup kitchen where my mom volunteered.

My mother had decorated the table just as she would for any holiday: a linen tablecloth, her best dishes, lit candles and fancy napkins. Soft music played in the background. However, this year extended family did not surround the table. Instead, sitting at the table were Annie and Eddie.

Eddie wasn’t homeless, but I strongly doubted his home had running water. He wreaked of unwashed skin and filthy clothes. His fingernails were caked with dirt. Eddie had cerebral palsy and needed a cane to walk. His speech was slow and slurred, and often his words were so garbled they were unintelligible. Eddie was also fond of collecting items he found on the streets on his way to the soup kitchen. He would proudly display these trinkets. For example, when he visited our home, he wore a belt covered with bottle caps. People always knew when Eddie was approaching because they could hear his knickknacks jingling and jangling from afar.

Annie sat to Eddie’s right. Annie resided in a government subsidized motel. Even though Annie’s motel room had running water, she chose to douse herself with what smelled like gallons of inexpensive perfume – as though she were attempting to mask an unpleasant odor. Annie would also paint layers of makeup on her face, giving herself a clown-like appearance. Annie was also a scowler. If she enjoyed having Thanksgiving at our house, you would never have known.

The meal proceeded like any other, except for my trying to chew and swallow while holding my breath. At six years old, I knew Eddie was a kind man and I could tell he was absolutely thrilled to be having dinner in our home, but his body odor was overpowering. Annie’s perfume did nothing to mask Eddie’s smell. Instead, it made a rather nauseating combination.

Dinner conversation consisted of Eddie telling stories at painstakingly long lengths as he struggled to pronounce words. When he reached the the end of a story, Eddie would burst out laughing. My  parents, brother and I would exchange glances that read, “Did you understand that?” “No. I was hoping you did.” We would smile and laugh with Eddie, hoping he would never suspect our ignorance. Annie glowered and poked at her turkey.

After dessert it was time to bring Annie and Eddie back to their homes. I climbed into my parent’s Datsun, squished between Eddie and Annie in the backseat. The smell of Eddie’s unwashed clothes and body and Annie’s perfume was overwhelming, and I couldn’t wait for this Thanksgiving to end. I couldn’t understand why my mother would want Annie and Eddie at our Thanksgiving dinner. As far as I was concerned, the meal had been ruined by Eddie’s stench and dirty fingernails. Annie’s grumpiness hadn’t help much either.

Looking back, I now understand how my mom was able to see past Eddie’s unwashed body and soiled clothes. She saw a kind man who had no one to share Thanksgiving with, and if it weren’t for my mom, he would have spent Thanksgiving alone. For my mom, it was an honor to provide Eddie with a Thanksgiving meal and company.

As for Annie, my mom treated her unhappiness with love and warmth. My mom suspected Annie’s past was not an easy one, so she did not begrudge Annie’s lack of gratefulness. My mom didn’t need Annie to say the food was delicious or that she was thankful to be invited. Watching Annie (who was dressed in costume jewelry and her usual layers of makeup) eat meant more to my mom than any thanks Annie could have given.

We dropped Annie off at her motel room before driving deep into the woods to Eddie’s home. The night sky was brilliant, filled with stars brighter than any I had ever seen. Eddie’s house was at the end of a dirt road. It looked like something I would have seen drawn in a children’s Halloween book. There was no electricity and the front steps were leaning precariously to the side. They were also coated with ice. I sat in the car, watching Eddie slowly climb his front stairs poking the ice with his cane before cautiously taking a step. My father – who was following Eddie – paused to chip some of the ice off the steps before he and my mom made sure Eddie was safely inside.

When my parents returned, we immediately rolled down all of the windows to air out the car. Eddie’s smell and Annie’s perfume seemed to have permeated our noses and the vinyl seats.  We drove home silent and thoughtful – the brisk November air bathing our faces. While I couldn’t wait for that Thanksgiving to end, I still think about it thirty years later.

To Do: Find A Funeral Home

Please add Find Funeral Home For When I Die to your “To Do” list. Sound unnecessary? Perhaps you’re thinking, “Does it really matter where my wake will be since – technically – I’ll not even be there?” Think again.

For those of you who live in East Texas, there is a funeral home that resides in a former Taco Bell storefront. As if this isn’t awful enough, the funeral home has a casket on a pole advertising their services. Were the owners of East Texas Funeral Home concerned friends and family of the deceased would get lost en route to their funerals, and having a coffin in the sky would help?

“Stupid Google maps! I don’t see the road anywhere! Wait. Just wait one second! What is that ahead? A casket in the sky? Whew! We’re on the right street.”

And you thought I was exaggerating.

And you thought I was exaggerating.

After paying their condolences at the East Texas Funeral Home, hungry mourning guests may pop in next door to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

“I still can’t believe Harry died! I mean, how old was he? Fifty – oh! Look! A Chinese buffet! I wonder if they have General Tso’s chicken. That’s my favorite.”

Now, I could very well be wrong. Perhaps you find the idea of your body being laid out in a former Taco Bell storefront with a coffin floating overhead appealing. But for those of you who live in East Texas, and don’t care for this decor, I strongly encourage you to find an alternative funeral home and remember to tell your family.

Another funeral home you may want to avoid is the Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home (click HERE for this oddity), located in Illinois. Mourners could be visiting your wake on the pretense of offering condolences, but what they are really itching to do is go downstairs and play 9 holes of mini-golf in the funeral home’s miniature golf course. There is also a game room for those of you who love a competitive pinball game. Note, however, the game room is never open during funeral services. (This may be a bit of a downer for some … more so than your death.)

Lastly, consider avoiding Drive Thru Funeral homes. Several are popping up along the country. This is exactly what it sounds like: your coffin is next to a window, and your loved ones can drive up to the window and pay their respects. (Well, sort of. I don’t know about you, but I find the effort of getting out of the car to be an integral component of  “paying respect”.)

Apparently, if you arrive before 6pm, you'll have to go inside. Dang!

Apparently, if you arrive before 6 pm, you’ll have to go inside.

Call me demanding or fussy, but when I exit this earth, I would rather not have my body displayed in a window.

“Well, there she is. Think we should turn down the radio?”

“Why? It’s not like she can hear it.”

“True.”

“So … now what? We just drive forward?”

“I guess so. Hey. Since we’re doing this whole drive-thru thing, can we head over to McDonalds?”

“Sure. Ya know, it’s too bad this isn’t the East Texas Funeral Home. There is an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet next door to that one.”

*Photo credits go to Adam J. Holland, of the Unorthodox Epicure, who braved the East Texas streets in order to provide the Casket On A Stick photograph. (Click HERE to visit his blog.) And Google Images for the Drive-Thru Funeral Home sign.*

Think You’re So Tough?

I give my empty plastic water bottles to the homeless instead of cashing them in for their five cent refund. “How nice of her,” you must be thinking.

Well, you can stop. There is nothing altruistic about my giving empty water bottles to the homeless. In fact, it’s pretty selfish. I don’t want the 5 cent refund because I am deathly afraid of the bottle return room. Ever been? If not, let me forewarn you: It’s brutal.

Last summer I hauled three garbage bags overflowing with empty bottles to my local grocery store’s bottle return room. When I entered, there was a man with a long, dingy stained beard and shopping cart full of bottles. We nodded a greeting to one another and I watched as he expertly fed his bottles into his machine. He moved in a rhythm that reminded me of an interpretive dance. It was almost … artistic.

Inspired, I fished out my first bottle and tossed it into the machine. Instead of creating my own fluid interpretive dance, however, I screamed and jumped back. The machine had sucked the bottle from my hand with intense force and an accompanying crunching sound.

I gingerly inserted my second bottle. The machine immediately spat it out. I retrieved the bottle and tried again. The machine spit it out a second time. I looked over at Dirty Beard for help. He came over, took my bottle and effortlessly tossed it into the machine.

“You have to use more force,” he said.

I shoved another bottle into the machine. It was accepted! I rammed in a fourth bottle, then a fifth. It was getting fun! Soon I had the same rhythm as Dirty Beard. As I slowly emptied my first bag, a public transportation bus parked outside. A stream of people entered. They took one look at my two garbage bags full of bottles and instantly became grumpy.

“Almost done?” one lady asked curtly.

I looked down at my bags, “Well, not really.”

The bottle return machine sensed I was nervous. It immediately began rejecting the bottles I tried to feed into its cavernous mouth.  I could hear people sighing behind me as I battled with the temperamental machine. Then, to my horror, the machine groaned and froze.

“Now look what you did!” someone said.

I stared at the machine – mentally begging it to start working again. I even reached into the machine (risking amputation) and tapped the trapped bottle with my finger. It didn’t move.

“I’ll go get help,” Dirty Beard offered.

I thanked him profusely and, like sharks to blood, the crowd behind me attacked the machine he had left. Most of them did the same bottle return dance as Dirty Beard, and within seconds several had finished returning their bottles.

Dirty Beard returned with a store employee . She marched up to the broken machine and peered inside.

“What animal did this?” she snapped.

Animal? Everyone exchanged smug looks. There was a moment of awkward silence until I slowly raised my hand.

“That would be me.”

The store employee’s eyebrows shot up. She looked me up and down.

“You? You did this?”

Swallowing, I nodded. Was I the first person to break a bottle return machine?

“You can’t be so rough,” she sighed, turning back to the machine, “You gotta be gentle with these things.”

I was confused because Dirty Beard had told me to use more force.

“I’m sorry,” I explained, “But this is my first time.”

First time? Well! That was the wrong thing to say. Everyone turned to look at me with their eyebrows raised. The store employee shook her head in disgust.

“Now I gotta call the vendor. This machine is broke.”

Audible groans were heard around the room. Fumbling with my bags, I leaned over and ripped the receipt from the machine.  I had returned a total of $1.35 cents worth of bottles.

“Here,” I said, handing my two remaining bags of bottles to Dirty Beard, “You can have these.”

I turned and fled. I ran to my car and climbed inside, grateful for its familiarity. There are a lot of things in life I know I’m not tough enough to handle.  Add returning bottles to that list.

The Last Dance

She was a Prima Ballerina during the 1950s – captivating audiences with her grace, precision and artistry. Now, some 50 years later, she walks stiffly on arthritic feet. Her knees are rigid from decades of dancing on stage. Even though ballet was brutal on her joints, her love for the dance is no less. She continues to give ballet lessons out of her home despite her age and diminished mobility.

Her ballet studio is in her family’s 1800 era mansion that was once the height of elegance. Now it shows signs of disrepair and neglect. The cost of maintaining the mansion is too much for an elderly woman on a fixed income. A sign reading “Hillard School of Dance” is leaning to the side, shrouded by overgrown hedges. Decades ago the street was known for its mansions, but now it is known for crime that occurs when night arrives.

There are no fancy recitals at Mrs. Hillard’s School Of Dance. Instead, Mrs. Hillard invites the parents to watch their children perform.  A cassette and record player provide music for the students. We wait patiently for Mrs. Hillard to rewind and fast forward the tapes. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, as are unruly younger siblings.

Class is about to start when Mrs. Hillard turns the front parlor lamp on. Five little girls clad in pink leotards step over the trash littering the sidewalk, and scurry up the front steps of the mansion. Their parents follow closely behind, more concerned with being late than the menacing looking thug approaching. We know Mrs. Hillard demands punctuality and, truth be told, we are all a little intimidated by her. In the winter, we know to close the front door quickly behind us lest warm air escapes. When it is raining out, we mustn’t step off the rugs because our wet shoes could make puddles.

Mrs. Hillard enters the studio and smiles at her ballet students. Her white hair is pulled back into a bun – a pink bow fastened above it. She wears a pink or light blue sweater with black pants. On her feet are ballet flats. Because of her stiff joints, Mrs. Hillard is unable to demonstrate the ballet steps for her students. To compensate, she has two older students show the girls the foot positions and how to pirouette and plie. After class, each little girl curtsies, says, “Thank you teacher,” and Mrs. Hillard hands them a dum dum lollipop. This excites my daughter the most.

“Mommy,” my daughter says on the way home from ballet one Saturday morning, “Ballet is getting boring. It’s not challenging enough. We never learn anything new.”

“I know it’s not very exciting,” I reasoned, “But Mrs. Hillard was a famous ballerina! She is teaching you very important steps.”

My daughter is silent, and I feel a pang of guilt. I would find the ballet class boring too, yet I don’t want her to take lessons anywhere else.

The usual response I hear when people learn we use Mrs. Hillard is, “She’s still alive? How old is she? I took ballet lessons from her when I was a kid and I’m approaching sixty!” I feel an obligation towards Mrs. Hillard. Leaving her class would feel disloyal – like we don’t acknowledge the talented lady she is. Secretly, I wish Mrs. Hillard would retire, releasing us without our having to stop lessons on our own.

After three years of ballet, my daughter qualifies for a level of gymnastics that will involve several hours a week of practice. This is our out from ballet. My daughter does not flinch when I tell her we are no longer continuing ballet lessons.  She seems relieved.

I delay calling Mrs. Hillard, mentally practicing how I will tell her we are leaving. Finally, I pick up the phone, take a deep breath, and dial her number.

“But she’s so talented!” Mrs. Hillard says after I explain my daughter won’t be returning in September.

I apologize profusely. I can hear Mrs. Hillard’s voice waiver ever so slightly.

“I just don’t know what I am going to do,” she continues, “Everyone is leaving. Now I only have four girls left.”

It suddenly dawns on me. Mrs. Hillard doesn’t realize why her classes have not only failed to grow, but are declining. Her love for ballet, her skills in teaching, have not aged. But her body has. Most parents want a younger teacher – one who can still dance herself. Understandably, they want an instructor who teaches more ballet moves than the handful our daughter’s class has learned the past three years. But Mrs. Hillard still sees herself as a New York City Ballet Prima Ballerina.

“I tell everyone about you,” I say.

This is true, and people’s response is never one of interest. It’s not only Mrs. Hillard’s age that is a deterrent, it’s also the location of her studio. People would rather avoid the area altogether.

I apologize more and Mrs. Hillard tells me how my daughter is built for ballet and to please reconsider. I feel torn, but my daughter isn’t interested in ballet anymore. I find I am more concerned about Mrs. Hillard’s feelings than my daughter’s and – as much as I admire and appreciate Mrs. Hillard’s dedication to ballet – I know I can not send my daughter out of guilt. We end the conversation, and I join the rest who have left Mrs. Hillard’s School of Dance.

For A Good Time Call…

When my husband and I bought our first home, the phone company gave us a new telephone number. The number we were given was recycled – meaning, it had previously belonged to someone else.  That “someone else” happened to be a girl named LaShawn.

Within a few days of receiving our new telephone number, it became clear that being the recipients of LaShawn’s old number was going to be a problem. Our first inkling occurred around 3 in the morning, when the sound of our ringing phone jarred me from sleep. I frantically jumped out of bed, fearing someone was calling with an emergency.

“LaShawn baby,” the voice growled, “It’s Tyrone. Where you at?”

“LaShawn?” I repeated, feeling instant relief. Everyone was okay. “I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”

I was climbing back into bed when Tyrone called a second time. Tyrone was clearly disappointed when I answered, and he was even more disappointed when I explained that no, LaShawn was still not here, and I had no idea who she was – or where she lived.

Several nights later, we were sound asleep when the phone rang again. It was another man looking for LaShawn. When a third man called several nights after that, we started to suspect two things: first, LaShawn was popular with the gents. And second, she was giving out her old telephone number (which was now our new number) to men she didn’t want contacting her. I had a vision of LaShawn – young, slender and pretty – tearing off a slip of paper and writing down our telephone number for some creep who kept hounding her for a date. If these men hadn’t been calling our house at all hours of the night in their futile attempts to reach LaShawn, I may have found her idea clever.

At some point, it occurred to LaShawn that she could give our number to everyone, and not just the men hounding her for a late night rendezvous.  Soon, banks, medical offices, and even her family started to call. Our phone began to ring off the hook, with all sorts of people looking for LaShawn.

“LaShawn! It’s Aunt Tiana! Where you been hiding at girl?”

“Hi Aunt Tiana,” I said wearily, “But this isn’t LaShawn’s number anymore.”

“It ain’t?” Aunt Tiana said, “How can that be? She just gave me this number!”

“I know, I’m sorry. But this number used to be LaShawn’s. You see, my husband and I just moved into this house and the phone company gave us LaShawn’s old number.”

“Damn!” Aunt Tiana said, “Wait till I get my hands on that girl! Trying to give me her old number like that!”

“When you do,” I said, “Could you tell LaShawn that her doctor’s office called? And the results of her pap smear are in?”

“I sure will! Now, you take care! And enjoy your new house!”

“Thanks Aunt Tiana.”

Unfortunately, not all of the calls for LaShawn were as pleasant as Aunt Tiana. Our phone rang constantly throughout the day from creditors (let me be the first to tell you that LaShawn owed a lot of money, and didn’t seem too keen on paying these people back), social service departments, and former boyfriends.

I finally called our phone company in desperation and explained what was occurring. The representative was apologetic – and slightly intrigued – for the many intrusive calls we were receiving on behalf of LaShawn.  For an $80 fee, we could get a new telephone number. I asked if we could have a brand new number, one that had never belonged to anyone else. While that wasn’t possible, the representative explained, she could find a telephone number that had formerly been used for a computer modem. I took it.

Twenty minutes later, our new telephone number was active and our phone became strangely silent. When the phone did ring, it was someone actually calling for me, and not LaShawn. It felt like an older, popular sister had moved out of the house taking all of the drama with her.

Sometimes I think about LaShawn, and wonder if she’s made her Chase credit card payments, or if she and Aunt Tiana finally connected. I also really hope Aunt Tiana gave LaShawn the message about her pap smear results.

A Salutation To Strangers

To all the strangers I observed throughout the day.

Dear …

Person Driving The Car With The Columbia University Window Decal: Thank you for letting me know you were smart enough to get into an Ivy League school … and I was not. That felt great.

Creepy Guy Checking Out Girls From The Corner Of His Eye: You look like a deranged Ron Howard. You may think you’re discreet but you’re not. Us gals all know you’re watching us and it’s freaking us out.

Middle-Aged Man Zipping Around In The Audi Convertible: Driving an expensive German car does not change the fact that you’re middle aged and bald. Please drive responsibly.

Woman in Grocery Store: Thank you for offering to help me with my awkward grocery bags. It’s wonderful to know sweet people like you still exist.

Person Who Left The Plastic Shopping Basket In The Parking Lot: I know people tend to leave shopping carts in the parking lot, but baskets? You have taken laziness to a whole new level.

Person In Corvette: Your car may be fast and cost an impressive $60,000, but whenever I see Corvettes I will forever think “Barbie Car.” Blame Mattel.

3 People Standing Under Their Beach Umbrella: Is there a standing contest I am unaware of? In all my years of going to the beach I have never seen people stand under their umbrella and not sit. So far it’s been almost an hour. I wish you would sit, because now I can’t stop watching you. I should be enjoying the beautiful view of the ocean, but instead I keep waiting for you to sit down.

Woman In Bikini With Twin Baby Girls: You had a tummy tuck, didn’t you? C’mon. Admit it.  

Man Talking Loudly on Cellphone: Your white blood cell count is low? And the specialist you need to see has no appointments for three weeks?  You’re also planning a surprise party for your wife? Yet your boss won’t let you leave early that day? You bet he’s a jerk!  But listen, could you please lower your voice so I don’t hear about your bowel issues, or whatever you’re going to talk about next?

Man Hitchhiking Outside of The Department Of Mental Health Building: Dude, if you have any hope of getting a ride, you might want to scooch down a few feet so you’re standing in front of a different building .

Thank you for making my day a little more interesting.

Sincerely,

The Underground Writer

An Urgent Plea

Dear At – Home – Party – Consultants,

In all honesty, I do not need a potato peeler, onion dicer or pizza stone. Nor do I need an overpriced whisk and cheese grater. Buying a $60.00 nine inch bread knife would not make me feel pampered. It would make me feel swindled. Let’s also remember, I hate to cook (click HERE for proof). In other words, please stop inviting me to your Pampered Chef parties. Besides, all of that talk of kitchen gadgets would make me feel guilty – like I should be whipping up something gourmet for my family.

Soy candles are wonderful. I burn one a year. Therefore, I have no need for two or more. I also fear fire, and candles remind me of flames. (I would have made a horrible cave woman.) I also can’t help but feel a bit disgruntled by the inevitable jolly woman who would sit next to me and announce how she must have the $75 wall sconce and $25 votive holder.  While I am grateful you were thoughtful enough to include me on your PartyLite or Scentsy party invitation list, I ask that you no longer add my name.

Tupperware parties tend to get a bit too rowdy for my taste. All of that screaming over 8 oz containers and three piece plastic mixing bowl sets. The demonstration on the Zest and Press gadget always makes a few ladies faint. Forgive my weakness, but I simply do not have the fortitude to purchase a $33 plastic water pitcher to only have it break several days later (true story). Perhaps the decline in Tupperware quality is because Tupperware items are no longer manufactured in the United States. In any event, if you are thinking of inviting me to your next Tupperware gathering, please don’t.

Scrapbooking is downright intimidating. I do not have the patience or gumption to sort through my drawer full of photographs. This is why I never attend Creative Memories parties. Creative Memories consultants, please do not take this personally. Should I wake up one morning with the burning desire to crop pictures and write captions for them, I will contact you. I promise. Besides, I have heard rumors of brawls breaking out at scrapbooking parties – usually when high school photographs are unveiled. (“Wait! I thought you looked familiar! You were the one who I sat next to in Mr. Gibson’s math class. You used to make fun of my perm!”)

Homemade cards are wonderful. I admire the talent and creativity whenever I receive one. Yet, I  do not stamp and would rather spend time reading Hallmark cards in the store than making my own. If I am to stamp anything, it is a Bingo sheet with a dauber. Bingo is interactive and fun. Sometimes you win things. In fact, the next time I receive a Stampin’ Up party invitation, I may visit my nearest Catholic church hall for a competitive game of Bingo instead.  My sincerest apologies Stampin’ Up ladies.

Your cooperation in ceasing to invite me to these types of parties is much appreciated. I wish you well in your at-home party endeavors!

Warmest Regards,

The Underground Writer

Special thanks to Adam J. Holland of the Unorthodox Epicure (click HERE to check out his humorous and often touching essays) for assisting with this piece. And always – my beloved husband (Mr. Underground Writer) for his editing suggestions.

I’m Sorry … And I Mean It!

Last week my husband was on a flight to Boston when the stewardess spilled a can of V8 all over the man sitting next to him. The man was drenched – V8 juice soaked into his lap, suit jacket, and white shirt. Some even got in his hair.

“I’d like to apologize,” the stewardess said, “But it wasn’t my fault. The can exploded. I can’t apologize for something that wasn’t my fault.”

Outrageously, the V8 can never apologized to the passenger. Perhaps because it was lacking lips and a brain.

A similar incident occurred several years ago. A teenage driver was speeding on our street while texting and lost control of her car. She deftly landed in our yard, though she had to crash through our picket fence to get there. When the girl’s mother arrived at the scene, she studied her daughter’s car and our fence before saying, “This isn’t so bad.” She then proceeded to ask us to not report it to our homeowners insurance.

Of course we were going to. This resulted in an exchange of some heated words.

Woman: My daughter is a good kid. She was in church all day.

My husband: I was in church today too, but you don’t see me crashing through people’s fences. What if my daughter had been in the yard when this happened?!

Woman (looking around): I don’t see any kids.

A simple “I’m sorry” would have made all the difference. Had the woman apologized, perhaps we would have calmed down and not contacted our insurance. We may have taken the woman’s offer to give us money to repair the fence and left insurance out of the equation. But nothing in her attitude gave us the impression she would follow through with that offer. Responsibility was not taken. A much needed apology never given.

If the stewardess on my husband’s flight had apologized for dumping a can of tomato juice on a passenger, other passengers might have felt bad for her. They may have left the flight talking about how well the stewardess handled the situation. Instead they spoke of how rude she was, and encouraged the V8 drenched man to file a complaint with the airline. When she shifted the blame to the self-imploding can, it made her look callous and immature.

Research has shown that patients are less likely to sue a doctor over a medical error if the physician simply says, “I’m sorry” in a kind way.* Whether it is pride or fear of a lawsuit, many doctors don’t take the time to apologize, which only makes the patient more angry and wanting retaliation – usually in the form of suing the doctor who made the mistake. But if the doctor apologizes, anger is quelled and a lawsuit is less likely to happen.

In most circumstances, it seems that two little words can change the course of events in a very big way.

* sources: Apologies and Medical Errors and Physician Apologies