The Curious “Courtesy Flush” Concept

Recently I was in the bathroom of a coffee shop — give me a break, I’m a 58-year-old guy whose bladder capacity for coffee apparently has shrunk to thimble size — when I noticed a sign above the toilet paper roll that stated, in pertinent part:  “If you must go #2, please courtesy flush — DO NOT OVERLOAD TOILET, IT WILL BACK UP!!”

There’s a lot to digest in that one, somewhat menacing sentence.

IMG_7558_2First, apparently “#1” and “#2” references have moved from childhood to the adult world.  I haven’t heard someone use “#1” and “#2” to describe bodily functions since our sons were little boys, and I wouldn’t expect to see them used in a sign in an adult establishment.  But is there really universal understanding of these slang terms in the United States — much less the world?  In France, for example, do parents speak to children of “nombre un” et “nombre deux”?  What would a coffee-loving foreign visitor to our shores make of the sign’s likely baffling statement about “going #2”?

Second, the sign tacitly assumes that there is some element of choice involved in “going #2” in a public bathroom, as if people decide to do so on a whim, or to enjoy a comfortable seat and a rewarding view, rather that in response to an imminent biological imperative.  Retail businesses should understand that no rational person would want to plop down on their public toilet seat unless there is no immediately available private alternative.  In short, people who unfortunately have to “go #2” in a coffee shop bathroom inevitably “must go #2″ this instant — and having avoided disaster no sign is going to discourage them from doing so.

And finally, there is the curious concept of the “courtesy flush,” which is a phrase I’d not heard before.  The context suggests that flushing should proceed in stages, with a dainty-sounding initial “courtesy flush” to be followed by the ultimate, keep-your-fingers-crossed-and-hope-to-avoid-a-clog final flush.  The concept seemingly presupposes an element of bodily control beyond the capability of all but trained ninja warriors, who probably wouldn’t understand the “#2” reference in the first place.  Or perhaps the “courtesy flush” notion asks the user to initially disregard the adage that “no job is finished until the paperwork is done”?

Reeking Of Class

How low can Donald Trump go?

Trump obviously is a jerk, but his buffoonery seems to have a kind of unfortunate multiplying effect.  He makes the outlandish claim that he saw, on television, thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the fall of the World Trade Center towers on September 11.  His claim is debunked.  Trump then seizes on an article written by a reporter that suggests that at least a few people in New Jersey were detained by police for apparently celebrating the attacks.

When that reporter says in an interview that he doesn’t recall anyone in authority saying that thousands, or even hundreds, were celebrating the 9\11 attacks, Trump attacks the reporter.  Some view Trump’s depiction of the reporter as meanly mocking the reporter’s hand disability, and Trump denies the charge — on the barely more defensible ground that he was simply mocking a flummoxed reporter, rather than mocking the reporter’s hand — and demands an apology for being criticized for his insensitivity.  All the while, Trump stays in the headlines, day after day.

Even if you take Trump at his word that he was not mocking the reporter’s disability, it is inarguable that he was mocking the reporter — and all the while acting like the loud-mouthed bullying kid who made 7th grade so unpleasant.

If, like me, you are disgusted with the coarseness of our national discourse, it’s hard to even imagine how low things could go with Trump forever in the news.  When was the last time you saw a politician stoop to physical mockery?  Where’s the next stop on the downward spiral?

Family Time


 It’s Thanksgiving, the quintessential holiday for American families.  
It’s a holiday where each family tends to develop its own rich trove of traditions.  Maybe it’s a family football game before or after the feast.  Maybe it’s a particular food, like Aunt Gertrude’s oyster stuffing or cranberry sauce still maintaining the shape of the can from which it came, sliced to produce red hockey pucks.  Maybe it’s the rickety, riotous “kid’s table” where everyone under the age of 30 has to sit because the real dining room table can’t accommodate the whole clan.

But one of the biggest and most closely held traditions has to do with time — as in, when do you sit down for your meal?  Newly married couples learn to their astonishment that not every family eats at the same time.  Some people eat at noon, right after the parades end.  Some people eat at four, squeezing the meal in between the football games on TV.  So the newly married couple might eat two meals, one with each family, until they start to establish their own traditions.

I’ve never heard of anyone waiting until a more standard dinner time — say, 7 p.m. — to eat their turkey.    By then, most of us are chowing a cold turkey sandwich, pounding down a second piece of pumpkin pie, and groaning at our gluttony.

Wherever you are, and whenever you eat, Happy Thanksgiving!

Strangers In A Strange Land

Do a majority of Americans really feel like “strangers in their own country”?

That’s one of the provocative conclusions of a recent Ipsos poll.  According to the poll, 53 percent of Americans surveyed — 62 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of Independents, and 37 percent of Democrats — agreed with the statement “These days I feel like a stranger in my own country.”  An even larger percentage of respondents agreed with the statement “More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.”

arrival20usaThe poll designers believe these results expose “neo-nativist” sentiments in America and help to explain the mystifying, continuing popularity of Donald Trump.  They state:  “Simply put, Trump’s candidacy taps into a deep, visceral fear among many that America’s best days are behind it. That the land of freedom, baseball and apple pie is no longer recognizable; and that ‘the  other’—sometimes the immigrant, sometimes the Non-American, and almost always the  nonwhite—is to blame for these circumstances.” In short, they apparently view the statements posed by the poll and quoted above — which don’t explicitly refer to race or immigration — as nevertheless exposing racist and xenophobic attitudes among Americans.  (At the other end of the spectrum, they view the statement “More and more, America is a place that I can feel comfortable as myself” as exhibiting non-“nativist” sentiments.)

I’m skeptical of this kind of armchair analysis of the American psyche generally, and particularly in this instance where the two purportedly “nativist” statements seem to tap into a less sensational sentiment — the view that America is heading in the wrong direction.  For decades, pollsters have asked whether respondents think America is heading in the right direction; last week the Rasmussen poll found that only 28 percent of Americans say yes to that question.  I don’t recall reading that the right direction/wrong direction question is supposed to expose “nativist” views, and I don’t see its phrasing as materially different from the statement that “More and more, I don’t identify with what America has become.”  Both statements are broad enough to encompass a wide range of dissatisfactions — with political developments, with economic issues, with cultural and social changes, with security issues, and with America’s position in the world, among many others — and therefore can’t be directly tied to “nativist” attitudes.

I have no doubt that there are racists in America and that at least some of the anti-immigrant sentiments are rooted in racist xenophobia, but I think the notion that a majority of Americans are “neo-nativists” is silly.  It is, perhaps, easier to rationalize a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction with our country’s direction as rooted in ignorant, racist views, because it allows people to avoid evaluating whether there are less inflammatory, more substantive concerns underlying the sense of unease with our position in the world.  I don’t know why, for some people, the bumptious blowhard Donald Trump seems like a solution to our nation’s perceived problems, but I think the conclusion that he has tapped into a previously hidden vein of racism in America just allows people to avoid tacking the tougher question:  what is it, exactly, that is motivating people to express support for this guy?



Freeing A Spy

Today Jonathan Pollard was freed.  Pollard, a former analyst for the U.S. Navy, was a notorious spy who passed classified secrets to a foreign government before being caught in the 1980s and sent to jail for life.

So why isn’t Pollard mentioned in the same breath as the Rosenbergs, or Benedict Arnold, or other notorious spies in American history?  Could it be, perhaps, because he was an agent who spied for Israel, that long-time U.S. ally?

jonathan_pollardWeird, isn’t it, that Israel would spy on the United States?  Not really.  I’m quite confident that the United States regularly collects data on friends and foes alike — remember Angela Merkel’s cell phone? — because intelligence gathering is what intelligence agencies do.  If America thought that finding out what was going on at 10 Downing Street was essential to its national security, America would figure out how to get that information out of Great Britain, by hook or by crook.

That’s not to diminish what Israel did in the Pollard case, or Pollard’s betrayal of his country.  He purportedly thought the United States should give more information to Israel, and he provided Israel with huge amounts of classified data.  After he was arrested in 1985, Israel initially denied that he was an agent, but they eventually ‘fessed up and began to quietly lobby for Pollard’s release to eliminate a source of tension between Israel and America.

Now, after 30 years, Pollard has been freed.  His parole conditions require him to stay in America for five years, wearing a GPS bracelet, and submitting to inspections of his house.  His lawyers say the conditions are onerous and oppressive.  Of course, they beat being in jail for life.

The Colossal St. Florian

IMG_7485St. Florian Roman Catholic Church is about a block away from Russell’s apartment in Hamtramck, Michigan.  It is a huge, beautiful church, with a multi-colored spire that stands out in sharp relief against the blue sky that prevailed during our visit.

It’s hard to accurately describe the colossal size of the church, which dominates the neighborhood, is twice the height of the neighboring homes, and can be seen from blocks away.  That’s a good thing, because we knew Russell’s place was near the church, and all we had to do to find it was keep heading unerringly toward the spire.

Construction of St. Florian was begun in 1926 and completed in 1928, when Hamtramck was home to thousands of Polish immigrants who came to America to taste freedom, establish a better life for their families, and obtain employment in the booming auto industry.   It’s a rich and familiar American story, where immigrants brought their traditions and cuisines to the New World and, once they put down roots, wanted to establish their houses of worship there, too.  St. Florian still hosts festivals with a strong ethnic flavor, and even though the neighborhood has changed in the last 90 years you’ll still find some pretty good Polish restaurants, that offer some pretty good Polish beer, located close nearby.

These days, it seems, we often forget that America is truly a land of immigrants.  In Hamtramck, St. Florian provides a beautiful, tangible reminder of that fact.


Kowtowing To The Rich And Famous

Nobody likes traveling through the LAX airport, one of the many airports serving southern California.  It’s crowded and hectic, jammed with luggage-toting people heading east and west and crammed with the fast food outlets and franchise shops you find in every airport.

So, nobody likes traveling through LAX.  But you know who really doesn’t like LAX?  Movie stars.  Star athletes.  The random celebrities who have somehow become famous in America despite their apparent lack of any discernible talent or known accomplishment.  They hate rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi, being recognized despite their ever-present sunglasses, being photographed by paparazzi and the masses alike, and being pestered by fans for an autograph.  God forbid that they should have to hobnob, unprotected, with the common folks who buy the tickets to their movies or games or watch their reality TV shows.

paris-hilton-walking-through-lax-airportSo what do you do if you’re on the Board of Airport Commissioners that controls LAX and you learn of the evident dissatisfaction of the rich and famous with LAX?  Tell them, sorry, but they’ll just have to suck it up and endure an occasional interaction with the plebes when the celebs pass through a facility built largely with public funds?

Nah!  You vote to authorize the construction of a private lounge for the glitterati in a converted cargo facility, where the celebrities and sports stars and one-percenters can use a private parking lot and access area, sip wine and eat brie in posh, ultra-private suites, and be whisked off to their boarding areas in private shuttles if they’re unfortunate enough to be traveling by a commercial flight.  Of course, they’ll pay for the privilege of being shielded from the smelly, bustling peasants, and the operators of LAX will earn additional millions in revenue from the fees paid by the VIPs and the company that will run their special little enclave.

It’s just another example of the trend toward kowtowing to the rich and famous and allowing them, for a price, to be removed from any of the unseemly disruption that is part and parcel of everyday life for the common man.  They can pay to skip lines at amusement parks, pay to bypass the standard security screening at airports, watch movies at private screenings, sit at private boxes at sporting events, avoid buying their own groceries, hire private assistants to handle their daily affairs, and otherwise avoid the hassles that are all-too-familiar to the rest of us.

There’s nothing to be done about it, because money talks, and airport commissions and sports franchises and restaurants and other businesses are perfectly happy to honor the celebrity desire for separation . . . for a hefty price.  But just remember, the next time a celebrity tells you who to vote for, or offers their confident, all-knowing assessment of how to cure the country’s or the world’s ills — the speaker is someone who probably has only a hazy understanding of the realities of everyday life and who would rather shell out thousands of dollars than walk through an airport concourse with the likes of you and me.

So why in the world would we listen to what they have to say?