A Day To Remember Something Important

It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately.  Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.

vintage-valentine-clip-art_232457But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years?  With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates.  Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move.  And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion.  That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.

Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life.  And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Keyless

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, and many of my travels have required me to rent a car.  Through the rentals, I’ve been introduced to the wonders of keyless automobiles — at least, keyless in the sense of the old-fashioned, cut metal, keychain jangling in your pocket, keymaker and locksmith keys that I associate with cars.

img_3660We bought our Acura just before the keyless revolution really took hold.  It’s got a kind of awkward interim technology, bridging the gap between metal keys and totally electronic unlocking.  There’s a plastic part of the key with buttons that open and lock the doors and the rear gate, but there’s also a little button that you push to make a metal key flip out, and the car’s ignition requires the insertion of that metal key.  It’s as if the designer recognized the simplicity of electronic access, couldn’t quite bring himself to go the Full No-Metal Monty.

When you’ve been using metal car keys all your life, the electronic gizmos take some getting used to.  When I get into a rental car, habit compels me to look for the key in the ignition switch — but of course there is no ignition switch, just a button.  The “key” is a plastic device sitting in the cupholder.  You don’t need to touch it, or do anything with it; it’s very electronic presence is so powerful it allows you to start the car by stepping on the brake and pushing that button.  Because you don’t use the key to turn the car on or off, I always wonder how many people inadvertently leave the key in the car when they’ve completed their journey.  I don’t, because I’m anal about locking any car I use even if it’s totally empty, but I’m guessing that forgotten keys, and perhaps also stolen cars because the keys have been left in them, are a lot more common now than they were before.

I don’t mind the electronic keys, really; we’re living in an increasingly electronic age and you’ve just got to be ready for the next technological leap forward.  But while pushing a button and hearing the engine start is perfectly fine, in my view it doesn’t really compare with the tactile sensation of sliding that key into the ignition switch, feeling the rasp of metal on metal, and turning the key to hear the throaty thrum of the engine.

Creatures Of Habit

In an effort to get a bit more exercise into my day, I’ve been getting up earlier and walking for the last six months or so.  I leave the house a few minutes before 6 a.m., walk up Third Street, take a lap around the perimeter of Schiller Park, and head back home in time to get ready for the work day.

habit20I’ve noticed that, on my little pre-dawn jaunt, I see the same people, at about the same time, in about the same place.  The quick-walking bearded guy wearing a Kansas City Royals cap, shoulders hunched and hands in his pockets, heading down Third to the Starbucks.  The guy smoking his morning cigarette next to the church.  The two women walking in the street wearing colorful, coordinated workout outfits.  The seemingly inexhaustible guy running around the park with his two border collies that always move to the other side of the sidewalk as I approach.  The two joggers carrying on an animated conversation.

I freely concede that I’m a creature of habit.  When it comes to things like exercise, I like getting into a routine and then following it.  I could mix things up and, say, walk down Mohawk rather than Third, or really get radical and walk in the opposite direction — but I would never do that.  I like taking the turn at the Starbucks, seeing whether there’s been any progress on the church repairs, and checking out the people pounding away on the treadmills at Snap Fitness.  And, from my experience seeing the same people in about the same place at about the same time, I’m not alone in my creature of habit status.

If you google “creatures of habit,” you’ll find a number of articles about how people can break their habits, and the positives that can flow from trying something new.  I’m sure that’s true, but I’m here to say that habits can have their value, too.  There’s a certain comfort in the sameness, a zen-like tranquillity in the known and the familiar, and a sense that a new day must be starting because I’m rounding the third corner on my way around the park and that guy on the bike is wheeling by, just like clockwork.

Routines can have their value.

Stone Story

IMG_2520We were walking around Vermilion Saturday morning.  When we got down to the Main Street beach and were looking for a place to sit, I noticed a bunch of brightly painted stones with inspirational messages on one of the benches.  I groaned and thought that some vendor had decided to use a public seating area as a display table.  Pretty bogus!

But I was wrong.  In fact, the stones weren’t for sale.  They were free to whoever wanted to take one.  There was a laminated sign that explained the back story, and a battered notebook where people who took a stone could leave a note of their own.

The sign, signed “Me” with a heart symbol, said:

“Been thinking of someone lately??  of course you have!  and don’t forget #1

YOU!!

please take a rock (or two . . . or three) they are free!!

use them to brighten your day or someone else’s!

Please Remember:

Be Kind

Love Freely

Pay It Forward”

A number of people who had taken stones and appreciated the gesture had written messages in the battered notebook; I assume that “Me” came by at night to gather the notebook and the stones and came back early in the morning to set them out again.

I didn’t take a stone because I didn’t think I needed one.  Why not leave them for people who really need a boost in their lives, and need an affirmation that a complete stranger is willing to take the time to find and paint rocks that just might brighten their day?  For all of the negativity in the world right now, there is still some simple goodness out there, too.  It’s nice to see tangible evidence of it now and then.

In The Grand Scheme Of Things

Yesterday I received word that a friend and long-time colleague had died.  Even though I knew it was coming, the news still was difficult to take.

It had been about a year since my friend was first diagnosed with cancer.  He had one of those “bad cancers,” where the survival rates are low and the prospects are grim and there just haven’t been many treatment advances that can give the afflicted some encouragement.  Nevertheless, my friend was unfazed.  He’s always been one of those happy warrior types, the kind who approach everything, even a terrible personal illness, with optimism and enthusiasm and curiosity.   He learned what he could about his condition and his treatment, engaged in spirited and intelligent discussions with his doctors about his options, and could give you detailed, knowledgeable descriptions of what was happening, and why.  It told you a lot about his true nature.

There was something inspiring, too, in how he dealt with his condition.  He may have had private moments when he cursed his luck and the dread disease that had befallen him, but his public face inevitably was hopeful and confident.  He came to work when he could, and spoke of days in the future when he could take an even greater role, because he loved being a lawyer.  It was an amazing display of spirit and fortitude.  He unfailingly projected the positive mental attitude and willingness to battle, undeterred, that doctors often say can make a significant difference in a patient’s prognosis.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an instance where the mental could control the physical.  When my friend got the news that the treatments weren’t working, he accepted it with a kind of awesome grace.  He would speak of how his illness had opened up new channels of communication, made his talks with his friends and family more meaningful, and brought his already close family even closer.  He actually seemed to feel that, in certain ways, the bad news had nevertheless provided some important benefits.

The last time I saw him, Kish and I visited my friend and his wife at their home.  The cancer was taking its physical toll, but his mental outlook remained bright.  We talked and tried to say the things that need to be said without making it seem like we considered this to be the Last Time Ever, and as our visit drew to a close he mentioned that we should see his “trophy room” — which turns out to be his dining room, filled with pictures of his family.  As the inevitable end neared, he realized that that was what was important, and the pride he obviously took in his family left us moist-eyed and with lumps in our throat as we left his house and walked to our car.

I’ve always liked the phrase “in the grand scheme of things,” because it captures the sense of perspective that we should all strive to maintain.  In the vast spectrum of possibilities that we may encounter during our lives, some are important but most truly aren’t, even though they might seem to be at the time.  My friend fought his cancer with courage, faced his prospects with dignity and grace, and could find positives even in circumstances that many people would find unendurable.  He was able to see the grand scheme of things and distinguish the crucial points from the petty reversals and the minor annoyances.  We should all hope that we can do the same.

Posing With A Hijacker

Let’s suppose you were still on a plane that had been hijacked by a guy wearing what appeared to be an explosive suicide belt and been diverted to a different airport, where authorities were negotiating with the hijacker and passengers on the plane were gradually being released.

Would you (a) sit quietly in your seat, hoping that authorities resolved the situation, (b) send your loved ones a message so they knew you were OK, and hoping for the best, or (c) get your picture taken with the hijacker and then text it to your roommate, telling him that you don’t “fuck about” and to turn on the news?

untitled-article-1459288787Ben Innes, a 26-year-old guy from Leeds, England, chose (c).  His picture with Seif Eldin Mustafa, who hijacked an EgyptAir flight and diverted it to Cyprus, shows Innes sporting one of the worst fake smiles in the history of the world as he stands next to a sad-faced old guy wearing a belt of supposed explosives (which turned out to be fake).  Innes later explained that he wanted to let the hijacker know that he was no threat and to help the hijacker realize that everyone still on the plane was a human being.  Perhaps . . . but it sounds like an after-the-fact rationalization to me.  His text to his roommate right after the photo was taken sure makes it seems that Innes was more interested in getting his face and name on the news — and his ploy worked.

So Innes has had his five minutes of fame, and everybody got off the plane safely.  But let’s suppose the suicide belt wasn’t a fake, and Innes’ decision to approach the hijacker for a picture made the hijacker feel threatened and decide to change course from the “negotiate, then release” approach he had been taking.  What Innes did was an unbelievably reckless and stupid stunt that could easily have endangered his fellow passengers when the authorities had the situation under control.

Apparently some people are so self-absorbed and so hungry for attention these days, from their own circle of friends and from others, that they will intervene in a hijacking to take their own picture. It’s mind-boggling.  The modern world just grows weirder by the day.

Sick Subculture

In case you missed it, there’s a trial underway in Florida in which Terry G. Bollea — better known to the world by his stage name of Hulk Hogan — is suing Gawker.com for posting a grainy, secretly recorded video on its website that purportedly shows the retired wrestler having sex with a friend’s wife.

ap_651364014819_-_h_2016Normally I wouldn’t care about a tawdry legal clash between a fringe celebrity who claims invasion of privacy and a website like Gawker.com, but yesterday I happened to read a news story about one piece of testimony in the case that stopped me in my tracks.  The testimony came when a former Gawker editor-in-chief, Albert J. Daulerio, was being questioned about what he considered newsworthy and where he drew the line when it came to posting sex videos of celebrities.

“Can you imagine a situation where a celebrity sex tape would not be newsworthy?” the lawyer asked.

“If they were a child,” Daulerio answered.

“Under what age?” the lawyer asked.

“Four,” Daulerio responded.

Gawker later said that Daulerio was being “flippant” because, you know, people are always flippant when they are being questioned by a lawyer in a legal proceeding.

Have we really come to this point?  I can’t imagine why any adult would record a sex tape, much less why anyone would want to watch it — but to suggest, even in a “flippant” way, that sex tapes of children would be newsworthy and should be posted on the internet is, in a word, sick.  Any website that would articulate such an editorial policy isn’t really a “news” website at all, but just a mechanism for feeding the voyeuristic interests of a seamy underside of American culture.

There are important legal issues to  be explored at the intersection of the internet, the First Amendment, and the privacy rights of celebrities large and small.  No doubt the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against Gawker will help to develop the law in that area, but it’s also obviously exposing something equally important about the internet — something that is small and sick and sad about our society.  Have we touched bottom yet?