Friday, August 27, 2010

Would I Get Locked Up for (Gently) Washing Someone Else’s Kid’s Mouth Out with Soap?

I just overheard a[nother] little boy say “fuck” – and he really said it like it was nothing. “What the fuck am I supposed to do about it?” he loudly wondered. I couldn’t make out most of his companion’s response, but it included a couple of his own contributions to the cursing. They looked to be about 8 or 9 years old. I think I was still regularly tuning into Sesame Street when I was 8 and 9 (that is, when my grandmother and I weren’t at the edges of our seats, watching Days of Our Lives).

Swearing children depress me – I’ve heard too much out of them. They seem to parade themselves in front of me wherever I go. I love to swear too, almost as much as I like to eat, drink, and go hiking. But I’m old, worldly, and unlucky enough to have faced irritations and monstrosities that are really worth swearing about. It’s a little chilling to keep coming across elementary-school-aged kids who act as if they’re in the same leaky, dollar-store boat as I am.

Although I’ve more than made up for it now, I didn’t even take up swearing until the very end of high school; and even then, I kept my bad words underground. In 5th grade, I heard my math teacher tell a classmate’s mother that she needed to get her son to stop using the “F-word.” I didn’t know what she meant. Since she was such a stern woman, for years afterward, I thought the “F-word” was “fun.”

I don’t want my future kids swearing while they’re still kids. I’ve seen what kinds of adults child-cursers can grow into, and they suck. To the full extent possible, my munchkins will be shielded from the sound and sight of foul language during their K-12 periods. The world has officially gone to shit (I mean, to a terrible place) when the K-12 period isn’t treated as something sacred.

Friday, August 20, 2010

This Is Not Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood (Oh, That It Were)

My next-door neighbor was just holding court in our shared hallway. I wasn’t in the hall with him, but I might as well have been. He likes it out there. For a while, he’s taken to treating that hallway as a place where he can peacefully smoke by the window or talk on the phone; lately, he’s been doing it more often. It’s almost like having a roommate; this floor of the building is our house. I’m now compelled to pull on more flesh-covering clothing when I head out into the hall to throw my trash out at night, just in case he’s futzing around out there, with or without a lit cigarette.

Earlier tonight he had a soft, impassioned, and lengthy hallway conversation with a woman who was not his wife. But not too soft because their insistent whispering eventually came close to interfering with my behind-closed-doors quiet time. They finally went back into his unit and now a big shouting match is underway between him and the wife herself. I’ve decided that the hallway woman was someone who had come over to mediate a grave dispute – or to try to, anyways. It sounds like it didn’t work.

This neighbor has always been beyond-the-call-of-duty nice to me. Over the course of our 3 years together, he’s offered to help me out of more than a couple of binds. He’s never remembered my name, so he always addresses me as “neighbor.” “Hi there neighbor,” he’ll say, somehow managing to make a term that’s technically so anonymous feel warm and welcoming. So how do I tell him I hate that he’s slowly turning our corridor into his lair? How do I know (especially now that I can hear what he’s like when he’s really pissed off about something) that he won’t misreact? Not only does he know precisely where I live - he’s also familiar with the step-by-step layout of my apartment, because he and the wife evidently once lived in my unit at one point in their past. Even if he doesn’t react violently or psychotically to a voiced complaint from me, what if his feelings get hurt? Who knows what kinds of cards he’s been dealt - those regular forays into the foyer could be the only joy he’s got.

He’s not alone. A few of the teenagers on our floor like to congregate in our level’s grimy stairwell every now and then. A lot of these middle- to lower-income, lifelong urban apartment dwellers are just so hard up for any extra space on their allotted premises. I don’t get how anyone could view that dark, cramped, dirty stairwell as some kind of tranquil oasis; or that narrow, barren hallway as a head-clearing retreat. But that’s only because I grew up with the luxury of unlimited breathing room. Whereas they don’t take things like a front yard, or a back yard, or a porch, or even just a few back-to-back spacious rooms of their own, for granted.

So, as long as they’re not really hurting anyone, why shouldn’t they be able to take whatever they can get?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Seizure of More Leisure

Today was another summer Friday off from work, and it’s been a superb one (again). When you’re used to the 9-to-5 office grind, there’s something liberating about being able to unhurriedly take care of errands and swing by a bookstore and the wine shop at 1:30 p.m. on a weekday, in between curbside chats with the neighborhood teenagers who walk, bike, or drive by. It seems like a lot of offices in NYC have some sort of official summer-hours schedule, and my heart goes out to the employees whose offices do not.

These temporary three-day weekends have done wonders for my mind and mood. I’ve been gifted with more time to sleep, read, write, cook, clean, return personal phone calls and e-mails, plan near-future vacations, take stock of things. On the traditional productivity front, this extra day off has allowed me to get more tasks done (and done more calmly and rationally, since I’m better-rested than usual) inside and outside of the office. At work, when I know that I only have 4 (instead of 5) days to get all my professional ducks in a row, I take the hour-to-hour workday more seriously – which is something I know (from both personal experience and published research findings) that many of today’s full-time office employees don’t consistently do.

But all good things sure do come to an end; “nothing is permanent” (Buddha). Today was my last summer-hours Friday of the year - but I’m not the only one who doesn’t think it should end here. At a recent conference I was sent to, a renowned sociologist promoted the notion of having a shorter work week (resurrecting an old FDR/New Deal-era idea), in the interest of building time wealth (while also lowering the unemployment numbers). She argued that reducing the number of weekly hours worked (i.e., changing the standard work week from 40 hours to 30 hours) will lead people to become more constructively innovative and creative as their time is freed up, for the greater good.

She’s onto something. I was once only marginally employed for about a year – and that was exactly when I finally started turning my attention to a number of different creative projects that I had been putting off for most of my adulthood. Going down this path is gradually changing my life for the much, much better, and I know I could have accomplished more with that extra free time on my hands if I hadn’t had to deal with the constant distraction of worrying about how and when my next paycheck would come. And this is just an illustrative snapshot of me and my designs – imagine the kind of output the significantly smarter and more talented people would be able to yield.

The U.S. has now become a country that’s packed to the gills with uncommonly brilliant people. I predict that this place will get even more functional, interesting, and bearable as soon as a greater number of them have more financially-secure quality time to freely and independently think and create. We’re probably not going to end up stumbling onto life-enhancing breakthroughs, like the cure for cancer, until they do.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

When “How May I Help You?” Turns Into “How May I Harm You?”

Just in the past few weeks alone, I’ve dithered away so much time (work time, play time, what was meant to be nap time) on the phone with customer service representatives, airing my vividly-detailed grievances to anyone who will listen, from minions to managers. I’ve been telling my stories and pleading my cases to Chase Bank, a couple of different departments within Dell, Time Warner, some kind of a shifty and shiftless parent company (or maybe it’s a child company?) of Time Warner, the company that manufactures my paper shredder, a non-profit organization that owes (but has been trying to get out of sending) me a canvas bag as a special gift. The kicker is that so little (aside from that bag finally having arrived at my doorstep three nights ago, almost one year late) has come out of it. Every single call has resulted in my obligation to continue doing mad follow-up. Hardly anything has come close to being officially resolved and I’m at the point where I can’t even imagine these people being out of my life. And then I just tried to call someone to wish her a happy birthday but she didn’t answer and I couldn’t leave a message because her mailbox was full. Which I’m reacting to as another, lighter iteration of a frustrating customer service call. I feel like having a cigarette, and I don’t even really smoke. When did these institutional hotlines stop automatically serenading you with music when they put you on hold? I mean real down-time music. George Michael, Sade, old-school Madonna and Whitney Houston ballads, the Judds – stuff that will help take my mind off how disgusted I am with the underlying substance of the call. I don’t remember any of the places on my recent call-out list trying to move me with song while their reps treat themselves to long pauses from our semi-heated conversations to chuckle and roll their eyes about me to the person seated next to or across from them in [what I picture as] their very open, communal work space. During my waits, I’ve more memorably been stuck with a pre-recorded voice cheerfully offering to manipulate me with another company promotional arrangement. Despite the voice’s faux-enthusiasm, being talked at (without a meaningful opportunity to talk back) during these breaks is off-puttingly cold. At times like these, I just want to be sung to. I would write more but, dammit, there’s no time – I’ve got to get back on the phone with the Time Warner-ish place. I had been instructed to renew contact with them 7 to 10 days after my initial call, after they‘ve had a chance to roll the audio-tape of a phone conversation I had with them 2 months back, to confirm that I did not in fact request that my checking account be charged $10/month for a “Support Squad” that (as far as I know) has done nothing for me and that may or may not actually exist. Owning too many pieces of hyper-advanced technology has become a beast, a burden, and everything in between.