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...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Friday, June 29, 2012

Me And Homer Of-Ten Did Good

All right. I can't stand it anymore. Just. Can't. Stand. It. The time for an English lesson has come.

Let's begin with a simple phrase, one describing people going to the store. Let's say you're going to the store with a fellow named Homer. The correct way to explain that you and Homer have gone to the store is as follows:

"Homer and I went to the store."

You do not say "Homer and me went to the store," and you most certainly do NOT say "Me and Homer went to the store." The way you know you don't say this is a lesson you allegedly learned during basic grade school English. When you say "Homer and I went to the store," if you remove "Homer and" you come up with "I went to the store." As uneducated as you may be or sound, and unless you're Tonto, it's unlikely you would announce "Me went to the store." You would say, "I went to the store" wouldn't you? Now put "Homer and" back, and voila! "Homer and I went to the store."

I spoke with someone recently who said "Me and Eddie went downtown." Unable to stop myself in that my recently departed and beloved English teacher has evidently entered my body, I corrected her. "No," I hissed, "EDDIE AND I went downtown." She argued with me and said "That's wrong! I was driving!! So it's 'Me and Eddie went downtown.'" I was flabbergasted and uncharacteristically speechless. People using horrendous English are now coming up with a rationale -- however wacky -- to do so. My eyes rattled. My skin prickled. I walked away.

Here's another one: the word OFTEN. Dictionary.com lists these as acceptable pronunciations: aw-fuhn, of-uhn, awf-tuhn. Yes, awf-Tuhn is one of the options, and apparently I was asleep or traveling or something when THAT happened. From the minute I entered an English class with saddle shoes and a book bag, I was taught that "often" is pronounced with the "T" silent. Aw-fuhn. And furthermore, most who use a dictionary agree that the first and/or second pronunciation options are those preferred. Often. The "T" is silent, people, dictionary.com's third pronunciation option be damned!  

Finally, another of my very large pet peeves: Good versus Well. You look good. You do well. You don't look well (unless you've been sick), and you don't do good. Really simple (not real simple).

I understand that language evolves, but the current and astounding slaughter of the English language is simply unacceptable. I have this dreadful image of people from other countries watching the dreck that permeates American television and thinking we're all as stupid as those who are being filmed on reality and talk shows. I heard someone the other night on Bravo say a person was acting like "Heckel and Jyde." Thank god I was in bed or I would have fallen off the chair. Is ANYBODY teaching the English language anymore? Not to mention literature.

My last comment on this subject: I was speaking with a frustrated teacher over the weekend and she suggested we just go ahead and start omitting words entirely to make things easier for the Me And Homers and the OfTENs and the I Did Goods. "Instead of saying, 'My children are exemplary students,'" she said, "'why don't we just say 'Children! Students! Awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome!'"

My only solace is that I'm not alone in mourning the death of our beautiful language.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bus Monitor Bullied: It's Time To Say ENOUGH

Like everybody else in this world, I've seen some ugly things. People being rude, kids acting out. Once my business partner was attacked in Austria (we think either because he was an American or Jewish or both: we were never sure because the attacker was speaking German at the time). The Austrian guy was muttering in German at a table next to us at an outdoor restaurant, causing the waitress to yell at him in German and apologize to us in English. Wanting to avoid a confrontation, we got up to leave, and as we did the man stood and kicked my partner Michael in the butt. I'm happy to say Michael turned around and gave the guy a hard shot in the solar plexus, knocking him across two tables, three chairs, and to the brick floor below. Last we saw of the Austrian bully, he was hobbling off across the street, hunched over and groaning.

Another incident that comes to mind is when I was in my 30s and living in Queens. I used to take a walk every day at the same time (about 8 a.m.), and every day, in the same spot, young teenagers were waiting for a school bus. The sidewalk in that spot was narrow with the busy street on one side and large hedges on the other. And every day I would have to inch my way past the hedges and the five kids who refused to move to let me pass. Finally, one day, I'd had enough. I pushed through the middle of the kids and one of them smacked me on the arm. To their utter surprise -- because of course nowadays adults are supposed to just take the abuse kids dole out -- I turned and punched the kid, a girl, in the shoulder as hard as I could. She was stunned. Her friends were stunned. All of which worked to my advantage, because by the time they became unstunned that an adult had the audacity to stand up to them I was a block and a half away. They started yelling at me, cussing, waving their arms. I remember thinking "Whatever," and that maybe next time they wouldn't be so quick to bully somebody. Of course I never knew. The next day I changed my route.

Yes, I've seen some ugly stuff. But never in my life have I seen anything like the video of the kids bullying Karen Klein, an elderly school bus monitor in Greece, New York. The link is below. The video is long and horrific and something every one of us should watch in its entirety because it gives us a hard look at what is happening in our country. Something is going terribly wrong. 

I can't say why Ms. Klein didn't react differently to this abuse. She was, after all, a monitor -- and therefore an authority figure -- on the bus. Maybe she was afraid. Maybe her instructions from the school were to take no action. Maybe, as she said on a news program, she is a non-confrontational person. Okay. To each her own. However, if those insufferable brats had been speaking to me that way, I have no doubt that I'd be in jail right now. I don't like to curse on this blog because I think swearing in writing suggests lazy skills. But I'll you what: if those foul mouthed ill-raised middle-school crumb-crunchers had said to me what they said to this grandmother of eight, I would have stood up and beaten the living shit out of every one of them. With my purse. With my shoe. With my belt. With anything I could have gotten my hands on. And after I was done with the bloody little halfwits maybe in the future they would have thought twice before they bullied somebody else; and yeah, I would have said bring it on to their parents who clearly don't have the first idea about child rearing. Throw me in jail. Do your worst. But by God I would not have let these ignorant monsters off easily, nor would I have accepted the forced and insincere apology that's sure to follow. They would have gotten the message that words and actions have consequences, sometimes painful ones, and I would have said to the cops, to the judge, to the parents, and to the world: it's time to say ENOUGH.

The Internet community has been kind to Ms. Klein. Money is being raised, people are saying they're sorry this happened. Again, okay. But what about the next time? What about all the incidents that aren't being videotaped? Sending Karen Klein on a vacation isn't going to educate young people about inflicting emotional or physical pain for no other reason than their own sick pleasure. The kids on this bus were like a pack of dogs who smelled fear and attacked. Parents: wake up. You're raising rabid animals, and sooner or later -- and like it or not -- rabid animals go down.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Incredible David McCullough

I have a long list of favorite movies, one of which is The Incredibles, an animated tale about superheroes who are forced to hide their powers and live "normal" lives. The Incredibles is one of my favorites for several reasons: It's smart; it's funny; and its message is one that I trumpet at all possible opportunities, having to do a definition of the word "special:" who is, who isn't, and should everyone be?

The first time it dawned on me that something was off in our little culture was a few years ago, when I was at a soccer game in which my friend Jackie's son Chris was playing. It was chilly and we were watching from the car. Truthfully, we weren't really watching all that carefully. We were gabbing and watching, gabbing and gabbing. When the game ended, Chris -- a highly proficient soccer player -- came storming to the car, sputtering. He was put out because he'd been told by the coach to back off, to not score any more points because Chris' team was too good, making the other team look not so good. At this point I started to sputter, and was informed by Jackie this was standard operating procedure in schools these days, that kids were being taught "middle of the road" was the way to go. One school's team, at least in this particular grade school, was not to thump another school's team because "it might make the other kids feel bad." Yet another variation of the idea that everyone is special; that everyone -- even the kid who can't run or kick a ball -- is a winner. 

To carry the sputtering theme a bit further, I've been sputtering about this concept ever since, appalled that kids in music, in sports, in art, in spelling, and apparently in every other endeavor that's supposed to prepare them for a world where in fact everybody isn't special all receive trophies and ribbons and accolades, no matter how poorly they perform. My eye-bugging frustration has pretty much been limited to my own four walls and to friends and family who, for the most part, agree with me. When I saw The Incredibles for the first time, I was delighted that the folks at Pixar were on board.

Now, along has come David McCullough, Jr., who it seems reached into my brain and repeated my disgruntled mutterings to a 2012 graduating class in Massachusetts. Mr. McCullough, an English teacher and the son of award-winning historian David McCullough, Sr., told the Wellesley High School grads that they have been "pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, and bubble-wrapped." He said "No matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you...you are not special." He encouraged the class "not to succumb to a culture in which everyone gets a trophy, to work for love of what you do, not money; to climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge. Enjoy the air, behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you."

And he went on: "We have come to love accolades more than genuine achievement...No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose or learn to grow, or enjoy yourself doing it. Now it's 'So what does this get me?'"

Then he said the very words I've been crowing, the message The Incredibles through humor and narrative and wonderful animation did its best to convey: If everyone is special, then no one is.

I've had some successes in my life. I've also had failures, thank god, because if I didn't have failures I wouldn't have a clue what it felt like to succeed. I've won exactly one trophy in my life: when I was 15 and in competitive color guard in high school. Every girl in my guard got a trophy because we, as a unit, were the best in that one particular winter competition, at that particular time, at that particular moment in the world's spin. We all got a trophy because every one of us deserved it. Forty-one years later the trophy remains in my possession, resting quietly on a top shelf in my house. No one looks at, no one who passes through my doors even knows it exists. But I do, and every time I see it I remember how good we were, how good I was, and how good it felt to practice five nights a week in a hot gymnasium being screamed at and pushed and prodded to be better, to be the best. We didn't care how the other color guards "felt" when we won, and if we could have we would have crushed them in every competition by as many points as we could rack up. It's inconceivable for to me to imagine our instructor telling us to "back off" because the other guard might have felt bad. We were either going to win or lose. We were either going to be special, or we were not.

Thank you, Mr. McCullough, for your brilliant instruction to the Wellesley grads, and thank goodness for the Internet, which can spread your message far and wide. Graduating seniors of 2012 will not long from now be building businesses, taking charge, and running our country. They should strive not to be normal, and should not believe for a moment they are special because someone along the way told them they were. They should actually strive to become special, to think outside the lines of their own life story, to push and shove and make the world a better place. They should climb the mountain for the view, for the journey, and for the accomplishment. They should play the game fairly, accept loss when it comes (because it will), and shirk selfishness for a bigger picture. They should pack up all the meaningless trophies and ribbons and letters of achievement from social orchestrators who decided telling kids they're special, like sprinkling magic dust, would make them so, and store the boxes in some deep attic, then go out there and actually win a trophy based on merit, maybe for the first time in their lives. They should look up at what's possible, not to the side at all the others who believed the press of the magic dust sprinklers; they should run as fast as they can, jump as high as they can, and become, at all costs (dare I say it?)... incredible. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summertime...And The Livin' is Easy

Summertime should be easy, and with that said The Squeaky Pen will once again take it easy in the balmy months. I'll be squeaking once a week instead of twice -- on Fridays -- so I can work on my golf game, my porch-sitting, and maybe I'll even lock myself away and write some fiction.

In the meantime, enjoy the photos below of the Sherburne Arts & Crafts Family Festival, a damp though successful day. Thanks to everyone who participated, and we're already looking ahead to make next year's event bigger and better.

Mariea L. Brown Exhibit

S-E Student Exhibition

Facepainting, By Artist Riley Webster
Natty Threads

Friday, June 8, 2012

It's Raining Old Wives' Tales

I love the old wives' tales, although I'm not exactly sure who the old wives were. I picture hunched women wrapped in tattered clothing, huddled in unlit cabins crafting threatening stories based on animal behavior and rolling eyes. At the moment I'm thinking about rain, and the predictions of ancient wives. Here are some favorites:

When a donkey nods and shakes its head, it means rain is on the way.

Fleas bite more if there is a storm coming.

If the spiders are making bigger webs, the weather will be dry.

Bees will not swarm before a storm.

If a cat passes its paw behind its ear during grooming, expect rain.

Bad weather will end when your cat twists and turns.

Sure signs of rain on the way: tree leaves turned up, a rainbow in the morning, or a ring around the moon.

Dogs eating grass or robins singing loudly are sure signs of a storm approaching.

When eager bites the thirsty flea, clouds and rain you'll shortly see.

You know it will rain if pigs appear uneasy and roll in the dust.

If the rooster crows before going to bed, he'll certainly rise with a watery head.

When the cat's on the table the weather is stable, but a cat under a chair of the weather beware.

If the grass be dry at morning light, look for rain before the night.

If a spider should shy, rain will follow within a day.

Hanging three snakes on the door of a house will bring rain to the whole house.

If the sun goes pale to bed, 'twill rain tomorrow it is said.

When the wind is from the south the rain is in its mouth. 

When clouds appear like rocks and towers, the earth's refreshed with frequent showers.

I really don't know much about the credibility of old wives' tales. But this weekend we're having an art show in my town...outside. I've been wringing my hands for a week while watching the weather channel. The meteorologists have said Saturday will bring a 20% chance of rain, maybe some thunderstorms, scattered rain, 30%, and now tonight the chance has risen to 50%. I'm thinking the weather folks don't have a clue what might happen, and so now I am reduced to the tattered women. I'm eyeing my cats, the cloud towers, lurking corner spiders, the leaves and the grass and the robins. I don't have pigs at my house, nor do I have roosters or donkeys or (I hope) fleas. I scan the sky, where on Wednesday there was a double rainbow over my golf course. Does this mean rain? Or sun? Where are the old wives when I need them? 

Tonight I'll crawl into bed with a small, big-eared dog and cross my fingers and toes, hoping that the clouds will be good to the artists who will arrive at the park on Saturday. I'll be thinking about mules shaking their heads and swine wriggling around in the dust, pleading that no one will kill a house spider, which will surely cause a downpour. I am not a farmer, and am most certainly not an old wife. I am only a woman praying for sun on one and only one day of the year, when people will gather in a park to admire paintings and eat popcorn; where mothers will encourage children to spin art and sprawl laughing on dry grass. Weather gods: be kind. Bring us sun on June 9. And to all of you out there: don't hang snakes on front doors in central New York for surely, if you do, rain will come. Hang a rosary on a clothesline instead. My friend Angela, perhaps a modern "old wife," claims this will keep the rain at bay.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Of All Things Breast

I had a conversation recently with a woman about breast-feeding her child. Let me begin by saying I'm pro breast-feeding. I was breast-fed. My sister was breast-fed. My sister's kids were breast-fed. Most of my relatives, as far as I know, breast-fed their kids, as did most of my friends. I myself do not have children, but if I'd gone that route, yes: I would have breast-fed. Would I have removed my top at the Four Season's restaurant to give my son a nightcap, or breast-fed my daughter until she was seven years old? Uh, no.

So this conversation, which started out simply enough (I asked how long she thought she would nurse her child) evolved into a lecture series on the benefits of breast-feeding children. Addressing me as though I'd just arrived from the Klingon Empire, the woman informed me about the benefits of breast-feeding to both mother and child, how the longer one breast-feeds the more balanced and stable and socially healthy a child becomes, that "Americans" (as far as I knew all of us present were Americans) have prudish concerns about breast-feeding in public, and that breast-feeding is a very natural thing with documented health benefits. She wrapped up with the shot every mommy, in the end, takes at every non-mommy: that as a woman without children I couldn't possibly understand how important breast-feeding is to the mother, the baby, our culture, society as a whole, and the universe as we know it.

I did not, in turn, inform my conversational partner that I worked in the women's health field for 30 years, and that while I am in fact a non-mother I do know how to read, to think, and to form opinions based on life -- albeit observational -- experience on this topic. I could be wrong, but I'm fairly sure I don't need to become pregnant, push out a child, and consequently lactate to understand the benefits of breast-feeding. I get it. Breast-feeding is a good thing. One of the many points of this chit-chat that bugged me was the implication that women who do not breast-feed for as long as both mother and child are into it have somehow failed in their maternal duties. Most of the people I know who breast-fed had to stop because they ultimately had to go back to work, or because in some cases breast-feeding just didn't work for them for longer than a year, a few months, and in one case that I can think of, a few days. Does that suggest that those children who don't return home from Burger King and request some liquid refreshment from the nipple are going to be socially backward? Or that mothers who adopt are going to have twisted kids because they weren't able to breast-feed them?

As for nursing in public: yes indeed, breast-feeding is a very natural thing. So is urinating, defecating, and breaking wind. Are we to assume that because all of these behaviors are "natural" that it should be perfectly acceptable to engage in all and any whenever we feel like it? At the dinner table? On a talk show? At the top of the Space Needle? The next time I pee on the floor of the supermarket I guess I'll calmly explain, "Come on! It's a natural thing! What's the problem?"

I realize I may be in the minority on this subject, but it seems to me that the beautiful bond of breast-feeding is something of a private moment. I have no issue with a woman breast-feeding in public, although I do prefer that the moment is handled a bit discreetly. I'm not interested in sipping at a glass of wine while my couch neighbor's breast comes tumbling out of a cocktail dress at feeding time. Breast-feeding mothers can rail away that people who aren't into watching this procedure are prudes or unevolved or anti-nursing. The fact is though that many of us backward Americans understand breasts serve several purposes in our society. One is to feed a child. Another is of a more intimate and, dare I say it?...sexual nature. Most of the women I've encountered over the years who elect to breast-feed in public have done so with discretion, maybe being evolved enough to realize that not everybody is comfortable with a topless mother and a suckling baby. Even the Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, which extolls the benefits of breast-feeding, suggests mothers "slip into a woman's lounge or dressing room to breast-feed." There are plenty of "beautiful and natural" moments we humans enjoy, not the least of which is sex with a person we love. Does it mean, then, that when two of my guests fall to the rug in a beautiful and natural sexual act that I'm unevolved if I don't want to watch?

Breast-feeding has been going on since the first mammal crawled out of the slime. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way the act of giving nourishment to one's child became a social revolution, spearheaded by modern mothers who insist they have the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and if others don't like it, tough. To all those moms who talk about it and brag about and insist that others must accept and embrace this very natural thing in any setting...well girls, if you ask me, you're just showing off.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum