Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Filed Away

This is not my story.  Not that it really belongs to anyone.  I can’t imagine that it is a work of pure fiction, but even if it were it would still not belong to the author.  The story would have been inspired to some degree by real events and experience; it would also have been the product of the culture and ideas of the time.  But after reading it I think that it is the result of more that just imaginative thinking.  While the story has evolved into a myth-like tale I do not believe that its roots are fanciful.  There is truth in this story.

I had not heard the story and don’t know why it could have lasted as long as it did only to be forgotten by one generation.  My grandpa seemed to be familiar enough with the story and all of the nuances.  I regret that I didn’t hear about it from him fist hand.  It was from him that I heard it, but only through his words, written and forgotten.  Even if he weren’t dead, I don’t know if he would tell me what he knew. 

It’s funny where things turn up, always in the strangest places.  That is the case with this…I don’t even know what to call it.  Is it a book or more of a journal?  It might be a file or a manuscript.  You might even call it research, if you thought it held an answer, or the clues to an answer.  (Or even a question?) 

It would be such a cliché if I told you that I came across the pages in a dusty forgotten box hidden in the attic or cellar.  That would seem fitting for a movie, but that is not the way it happened.  (I probably should’ve lied and said that was what happened.)

Instead of being hidden or lost it was out in the open in plain view.  I found it in a filing cabinet in his study (a study—that’s not a thing people have anymore.  Studies and dens have been changed to offices by our money-focused culture.  In place of studying and pondering, we only work to make money.  I’m getting off topic, sorry.  It’s strange how my mind wanders when I write.)

So it was in his fining cabinet.  Not even like pinned behind a drawer or fallen through a crack.  It was filed alphabetically, right after Ecuador and right before Education (he was a man who was intrigued by learning and traveled extensively).  It was labeled with his handwriting in clear letters exactly what it was.  That is why it was so hidden, because it was just sitting there exactly where an organized person would’ve put it.

I’m not sure what would’ve come of it had I not found it.  It would have been cleaned out with the rest of the cabinet’s contents.  But I wonder, would it have been found and read, or it might’ve been discarded?  Who knows?  I only found it by mistake.  I was in the cabinet the day he died doing something unremarkable (that I have since forgotten) when the title caught my eye.

I flipped it open and read words at random from the pages as they flipped by.  A few words stood out and pulled me in­­­­­­­­­­­­­.  I read the whole thing in one sitting.  When I finished I realized that I had read for the whole afternoon.  It just had me.

This is something I wrote and forgot about.  It was the start of a frame story.  I think it dates back to 2008.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Generation V

            Recently I was discussing with someone the notion of what a generation meant.  As is the case with many things, there are many ways to define what a single word means.

One definition is a group of people who share approximate age who also have similar ideas, problems, attitudes, etc.  One example is Generation X.  I made the comment that I belonged to Generation Veruca. Generation V for short if you prefer.

If you recall the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from childhood then you will no doubt also recall the children who won golden tickets and admittance into the chocolate factory. 

Veruca was one of them, a nasty little spoiled child—selfish and entitled.  Her whining was constant.  What she wanted was always a fickle caprice but had to be satisfied in the moment that it first popped into her mind.  “I want an Oompa Loompa now, daddy!” was one of her many demands pronounced in her screeching voice.  What made her demands worse was the way she leveraged them.  “If you loved me then you would…” As if that was how love worked.  Her distorted realities are astounding.  Where the blame should be placed is not a question I care to try and answer.  I am only pointing out some of Veruca’s ideas, problems and attitudes.

My generation certainly shares some of Veruca’s attitudes.  It isn’t hard to find the attitude of selfish entitlement and longing for instant gratification.   Sometimes we needn’t look farther than ourselves.  But I realized something.  It’s not just Veruca’s attitudes that my generation hold’s.  I think every child in the movie has attributes that are applicable to this generation of mine.

There’s Mike Teevee’s obsession with the media (I’m sure he would love all of the new gadgets that we have now), Augustus Gloop’s gluttony and obesity, and Violet Beauregarde’s… well I don’t remember her specific vices other than the fact that she was fascinated with chewing gum.  Perhaps it was her compulsiveness in doing or saying whatever she felt at the moment. (I guess it’s time to watch the movie again.)

The only attributes we didn’t get were Charlie’s (his last name is Bucket in case you were wondering), who if you remember is the good guy in the story.  We missed out on his concern for the welfare of others, his integrity, his wok ethic, etc. 

Of course we can be glad we aren’t exactly like Charlie.  After all his family is poor (they mostly eat cabbage), he has a low paying job that takes all his time, and has no friends outside of his family.  I guess his job that takes all of his time isn’t so bad after all; it keeps him busy enough to distract him from his friendlessness.

What’s my point in all of this?  I guess that it is simply that we’re not Generation V after all, we’re Generation W, for Wonka.  We’re an amalgam of all of the children he invited to his factory.  All of the except the one who is worth emulating. 

We, like they, may miss out on the prize of a lifetime supply of chocolate because we are like them, a rotten bunch of children.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mr. Miyagi's Lesson

My parents learned early on that there were certain movies that they couldn’t let babysitters show us before bedtime.  We would get too wound up and rambunctious.  One of those movies was the Karate Kid.

That may have been the movie that started the selectiveness.

It’s was such a great movie.  There was an eccentric old man who could catch flies with chopsticks who also trimmed funny little bonsai trees.  There was fighting, and not just the regular kind, it was karate—like dancing and fighting combined.  And of course there was the triumph of the bullied underdog who came back to show the world who was in charge.

Yes, by the end of that movie we were standing on the arms of the couch to practice our balance and trying to jump kick each other in the face.  But, nothing we did looked elegant, it was just the same old brawling we always did.  Which we did a lot of after that movie.

It didn’t seem fair that we couldn’t master the skill that Daniel had.  The montage that showed his learning and training was so short.  It looked effortless.  But really there was more to it than that.

If you remember, the sage Mr. Miyagi who becomes Daniel’s sensei puts Daniel up to many seemingly random chores.  Daniel wanted to learn to fight and instead he became a laborer, much to his chagrin.

Daniel spends his time waxing cars, painting fences, and scrubbing wooden decks.  He can’t see the relationship between what he is doing and what he wanted to be doing.  A point he makes to Mr. Miyagi, in a somewhat whiney tone.  I don’t blame him.  I would complain too.  His wise sensei disregards the complaining and sternly tells him to do as he is told.

Daniel sticks with it in spite of his misgivings.  I think he persevered because he really did trust that his teacher knew what he was doing.  And so the chores continued.

But patience was never one of Daniel’s strong points.  When he had had enough he told Miyagi that he was quitting because he wasn’t making any progress and hadn’t learned a single thing about karate.

Then Daniel sees Mr. Miyagi’s wisdom—the wisdom that we believed he had, despite the lack of real evidence.  Ah, yes, all the chores were to build the muscles needed to master karate.  Mr. Miyagi then showed how each motion of a chore was also a foundation in fighting.

Daniel’s trust in his mentor was not ill founded.  It paid off in the end.


But what if Daniel had been wrong?  What if Mr. Miyagi turned out to be some kook that didn’t know what he was doing?  What if he was doing chores for no other reason than to do the chores? That would be a supreme rip off and make for a terrible movie.  The chores and the trust only paid off because they served some greater purpose.

So, why am I reminiscing on a movie from the 80’s that was much better when I saw it in the 80’s than it is now?  Because I am sitting in a school, tutoring kids in math and science.

“When am I ever going to use this in my life?” and “Why is this even important?” are questions I asked as a kid in school.  And these students ask me the same questions.  What scares me is that I can’t answer them.  I don’t feel like a wise mentor who is waiting to show them the grander significance of the menial tasks they are performing.  I don’t have anything to show them. There is no grand picture.

I wish that what was going on here mattered.  And I don’t mean the actual problems.  If the problems were a means to an end I could support that.  Critical thinking and problem solving are so valuable in every aspect of life.  But that isn’t being taught or learned either.

At the end of the day I feel that the time these boys spend here is wasted.  They are performing chores but not the kind that are building them up.  They are not learning the foundation of karate.  They’re just doing regular old chores for the sake of doing chores.  But unlike the chores Daniel does, these accomplish little more that to keep them busy.  I fear that when it is all over they will not have what they could have had.  On top of that they will hate Mr. Miyagi, an old kook that didn’t know what he was doing after all.

That Last Story

In school I once read a story that I've now mostly forgotten.  There is only one part that I remember.

A wealthy man is frustrated that the poor farmers that farm his land steal his firewood.  His solution was to drill holes in the wood that he knew would be stolen.  He filled the holes with gun powder and covered them with wax.  the offender would get a surprise when the burnt the ill gotten wood.

For some reason I championed the cruel landlord.  It appealed to some sense of rigid justice.

The story I just posted was formed around the notion of creating one's own justice by playing by the rules of those who break the established rules of the land.  I thought I liked that idea.

When I got done with the story and read it I was shocked.  The man that I thought was the hero was actually an uncaring monster.  I didn't like him at all.  I also began to see the "villains" as victims of circumstance and society.  I began to feel like they had been the recipients of injustice, not only by society but ultimately by a man who could only see from a narrow and selfish perspective.

For me writing the story was interesting in how my perspective changed as a result.

I'm not saying that there are really any clear cut good or bad guys in my story.  There is a lot of gray.  I guess that our reactions to the story tell more about us than it does the characters--characters that are made up after all.

Writing is great because it helps us to see and understand.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Taken by Force

            “I said, give me your money.  Why are you looking at me that way?” the man who barked out the command was holding a gun, pointing it at his victim.  But the man who had the barrel of the gun pointed at him didn’t look like a victim.  He was dressed like a successful businessman.  Of course that’s a vague notion, businessman.  But that was the impression people had when they looked at him.  His actual profession seemed like it shouldn’t be defined, as if his success and its roots should remain ambiguous.  But the air of success was certain.  This man had money.
            His appearance was a stark contrast to those before him.  They all wore coats as if to hide their identities behind a shield of cloth.  Collars were upturned and caps sat low on their heads, hiding their eyes.  What the clothing could not hide was the posture of men that didn’t seem to respect themselves or have any confidence in their own lives.
            “Why?” asked the man in the suit.
            “Because if you give me your money I’ll give you back your life, if not then I’ll take your life and then take your money.  Don’t be stupid. Hand over your wallet.”
            “My life is not yours to give or take.  Where did you get such a stupid idea as that?” the man who would not be a victim stared back at his assailer with a look that demanded a response.  The answer the bandit gave him was to turn his gun to show its profile and give it a sarcastic wave before pointing it again at the suited man.
            “This says so. You’re a cocky bastard but you’re not bullet proof.  Now.  Your wallet.”
            Ignoring the demand for his wallet he asked another question, “What?  Whoever has the most force wins, is that how it is?”
            “Yeah, and that happens to be me.”  The victim smiled.  He could tell that this was no random mugging, of course it wasn’t.  This gun-toting thug considered himself something of a mastermind.  But he had come no further than alley muggings.  He only happened to be selective in his targets, a suit meant a larger return.  The distinction in his mind was no doubt much larger than it really was.  Such is the delusion that comes to those who find power in the weapons they wield.  That was certainly why he was still talking and hadn’t actually done anything, like use the gun he held.  The dialogue was a sort of gloating at his assumed victory.
            “All because you have a gun? I wouldn’t be so cer—” the man who was speaking cut himself short.  The calm collectiveness that he had showed while being mugged fled.  Fear leapt into his face as quickly as the confidence left.  His eyes that had held a steady gaze at his assailer darted to something else in the moment that he stopped speaking.  He was looking past the leader and his two thugs that flanked him.  They instantly believed the fear they saw in the face in front of them and turned to see its source.
            In turning, their guard was let down.  They disregarded their victim to appraise what was surely a much greater threat.
            And that was their mistake.  But in the moment it took to realize there was nothing to fear behind them, that they had been fooled, they also realized that the real threat was behind them. 
            But it was too late.
            That brief moment was long enough for the tides to turn.  The man in the suit moved as quickly as a striking snake.  A kick in the leaders gut doubled him over.  The knee that moved upward into his face was accompanied with a sickening crunching sound.  Before he slumped to the ground the gun that had been his authority was snatched from his hand.
            His two stooges who were slower to realize what was going on gathered their wits just in time to realize that the two sounds that they heard were gunshots.  The realization came at the exact moment that they each felt the pain of the bullets that found targets in their chests.  But the though of pain could not have been long contemplated, because they were both dead by the time their bodies hit the ground.
            The man in the suit stood above the three bodies that lay before him; two dead, one writhing in pain.  He looked unruffled standing there holding the gun, as if it were more at home in his hand than it had been in the hand of its previous wielder.  He surveyed the bodies before stepping forward and crouching next to the foremost man.
            “The problem with power by force is that there is always someone who has more than you do.  Your gun wasn’t enough today.  You see, my life isn’t yours to take or give after all. But since you believe that, I will play by your rules.  And now I am going to take your life.  It’s too bad that learning this lesson will do you no good since you will be dead.  Oh well.” 
            The man looked up with fear in his eyes.  Fear so great that he was paralyzed, frozen in the face of peril.
            “You wouldn’t—” he started to say but didn’t have time to finish.  A third shot rang out.
            In a quick motion a handkerchief was produced from a coat pocket. In a second quick motion any and all fingerprints were removed from the gleaming metal.  In a third motion the gun was tossed onto the dead body of the man who had made a grave miscalculation.
            The man in the suit walked around a corner and away from the alley. Walking down the street he looked as cool and collected as he had before the attempted mugging.  Looking at him no one would suspect that he had dealt out his own form of justice in the form of three remorseless murders.
            Hands in his pockets he began to whistle as he strolled down the sidewalk.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I am a twin.  Most people know that about me.

One thing that comes with that is the confusion of who I am.  It used to bother me more than it does now.  I felt slighted when people asked questions like, “Which one are you?”  I felt like it said something about me, and my identity.  Mostly I took it as a sign that I didn’t have identity.  That is a notion that I have overcome.  Now I see things differently.

The confusion about who I am says more about the confused person than it does about me.  What is really interesting is that there is no consistency in the confusion, not even with people who we’ve simultaneously met.  There have been times when in a single setting our twinness has come up and some people will remark that it was obvious because we are visually indistinguishable while others want us to produce ID to prove that we’re even brothers, much less twins.  So it’s not really us.  It’s them.

Just last night someone I have known for years now told me that the longer she knew me and my brother the less we looked like each other.  The idea that underlies what she said is important. Getting to know us better showed us to be different in ways that are deeper than simple appearance.  It’s nothing we did, but what she did—essentially got to know us better.  As people get to know us our identity shows through and it is easy to tell us apart.  That’s independent of things like my growing of a beard (something he always has).

Knowing this has helped my esteem.  And it has helped me to be more accommodating.  I used to let people suffer because they couldn’t tell.  I was a jerk.  Now I make a point of casually throwing it out at the beginning, “I’m Brandon,” I’ll say, “in case you couldn’t remember.”  It’s a simple statement without judgment.  It’s easier, especially when that person hasn’t had the chance to get to know us.  That’s often true of cousins, aunts and uncles.  Another thing I’ll do is to mention his name at the very beginning of the conversation.  By deduction they should be able to figure it out (if not, well that’s not my fault.  They are beyond help).

What really bothers me is the person who has known me for years and still just doesn’t know.  I don’t have the patience for that kind of person.  To me that means I’m not that important in their life.  I am quick to cut that person out of my life.  I don’t need that subtle disrespect.  I will be forgiving if you are really trying, but not when you are just too lazy or apathetic.

Now an amusing anecdote.

The other day someone was asking for distinguishing physical features to tell me and Brad apart.  Brad was responding.  He said something to the effect that his name had four letters as did the words hair and chin.  Since he has a beard and I didn’t, it should be an easy mnemonic device.  I commented, “And Brandon has seven letters…” I had hoped that in the time it took for me to point that out I would think of a seven-letter word to describe me.  I couldn’t do it.  But Brad didn’t miss a beat.  While I was standing looking silly he said, “Dumba**.  Seven letters like Brandon.”

Yep, he got me good.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Without Price

Tompkins felt confident.  He knew his qualifications: A school with a great name,  grades that showed he was smart and worked hard, experience with a respected company through his internship, and on top of that his charm and charisma.  He would not have a problem with the interview.  The job was practically his.  Only the formality of their offer remained.
“We’re very impressed, Jim,” they had told him at the end of his first interview, “You’ll be hearing from us in the next week or so.”  It was no surprise to him when they called him eight days later for a second interview.  “Just a formality really, part of the process to make it official,” they had told him over the phone.  He knew he was in.
His confidence showed in his walk as he approached the building where he would soon be the newest associate.  As he opened the door to enter he saw Martin Pintell round the building’s corner.  Martin was a former classmate that had also applied for the job.  He was a little old fashioned and rough at the edges.  He didn’t fit the image of associate, not at a firm that was all about image.  Jim didn’t give a second thought to Martin as he passed through the large decorative glass door.  The job is mine, he thought as he smiled.
“Hello Jan,” he said to the receptionist with a professional nod as he headed for the elevator.  He had made it a point to remember her name and say hello.  It was one of the things that set him apart from the competition.  It wasn’t a big thing to do, especially since he would be seeing her so frequently from now on.
After pushing the button for the elevator he stood patiently waiting.  He examined his reflection in the polished metal doors he was facing.  His confident figure looked back at him.  Tall, he stood at just over six feet.  His golden yellow hair had the look of careless perfection—professional bordering on casual that hinted that he would be equally comfortable in a board room or on horseback.  His navy blue suit and “power tie” complimented his eyes, giving them a look of cunning.  He liked the look, the sharpness of it.
In the reflection appeared the blur of an approaching figure.  Instead of turning to appease his curiosity he remained as he was.  He was in control of the environment, not the other way around.  As the figure grew larger it also became more clear.  It was Martin.
“Hey, Marty,” he said using the old nickname that sounded childish in the starkly business setting.
“Hello Jim,” Martin said not reacting to the tone.  “How have you been?”
“Quite well actually.  What brings you here today?”
“A second interview.  You?” he said simply.  Jim was a little surprised.  But as a token of his savvy he didn’t show it.
“I have a meeting,” he said trying to give an air of importance that excluded Martin.  There had to be a mix up or some other confusion. They couldn’t both he there for the same reason.
The chime of the elevator’s arrival took Jim’s mind from his thoughts to the more comforting realm of action.  He stepped in and pushed the button for his floor.  Martin also entered. Jim looked at him expectantly, as if asking which other button he should push.  Martin picked up on the cue and simply said that he was headed to the same floor.
Not a good sign, but not a problem.  But the feeling that there was problem mounted as Martin followed the same course as Jim and they arrived together at the conference room where his interview was to take place.  Jim opened the door and let Martin enter first.  If Martin’s presence was a bad sign, it was little compared to what he saw when he entered. 
The configuration of the room was different than it had been when he last saw it at his first interview.  There were two tables facing each other, one long, the other short.  At the long table sat what Jim assumed were other applicants for his job.  Some he recognized, others he didn’t, about 10 in all.  At the small table sat three men.  One was the managing partner, the other was the director of H.R., the third seemed out of place.  The third man’s presence was enough to unnerve Jim.  Nervousness was starting to show through his façade of confidence.
Jim found that one of the two open seats was reserved for him, his name written on a slip of paper. His seat was one space in from the end of the table.  He sat and waited.  The meeting started almost immediately now that all of the seats were full.  Jim noticed that Martin was at the far end of the table.
“Thank you all for coming for a second interview.  Only one question remains before we announce our decision.  As we discussed in all of your interviews, moral character is very important to us,” The Managing partner paused, his gaze passing from one end of the table to the other.  “The last question is—what is your price?”
The question hung in the air.  No one answered, all sensing that something out of the usual was happening. Finally one of the interviewees asked tentatively,
“Do you mean our salary requirements?”
“No, that’s not what I’m asking.  Salary is what you cost us for your time and ability.  I am asking what your price is.  How much you charge for your integrity.”
Silence returned.  Jim had the distinct feeling that this was less of an interview and more of an interrogation.  It was the presence of the third man that made him feel that way. The H.R. Director spoke next.
“None of you seem to be able to answer, something we anticipated.  For that reason, we took it upon ourselves to find out by our own means.  I’m sure you all recognize Mr. Tisdale, though you may have gotten to know him by a different name over the past few days or weeks. He has made it his task to compromise you, to buy your integrity as it were.”
Jim could feel his heart rate increasing, the sweat starting to form on his temples.  He had met Mr. Tisdale the day after his first interview.  They had made a deal that was profitable to them both.  It had been shady, but seemed safe enough even though it cost prior employer some few thousand dollars.  He had justified that it would make no difference to a business that had so much wealth in assets.  The loss that resulted from his deal would be unnoticed, like the blood a mosquito sucks from its victim.  But now, sitting there, he knew that it had been a set up.  He had been had.
“We will tell you each your price,” the H.R. Director said. “Welch, a pathetic $1,785.” He looked up and pointed to the man to Jim’s left.  His finger moved over to Jim. “Tompkins, only slightly better. $2,350. Wixom, $3,570.”  The pointing finger went down the row of suited men sitting at the long table.  The amount went up incrementally. $5,488; $6,000; $8,450.  The telling of prices stopped.  All the eyes were on the man at the end of the table.  “Mr. Pintell.  Will you please stand up?”  He stood slowly.
“Take a good look, even though it’s what you don’t see that really matters.”  The managing partner had taken over again.  “Anyone want to guess his price?”  There were no answers. “Well tell us yourself Mr. Pintell.  What’s your price?”
“My integrity isn’t for sale.” His answer was simple and direct.  He wasn’t bragging, only stating a fact.
“There he is, a rare creature in the world.  The man without a price.  Whatever the rest of you thought you could offer this company was not as important as the one thing you couldn’t give us, the thing you didn’t have.”
Martin sat down.
“Thank you all for coming, but we regret to tell you that we are not interested in extending any offers for employment at this time, with the one exception of Mr. Pintell.  You may all go.  Mr. Pintell, will you please remain to take tare of the details of your new job?”
Suits holding limp men shuffled out of the room. Jim glanced absent mindedly over his shoulder as he left.  The last thing he saw before the door closed was a man who didn’t look the part for the position he was now being offered.  He thought to himself, vaguely, from now on I’ll have to be more careful when I make deals.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Time to Learn

I remember only flashes of my elementary school attendance.  It happened a long time ago and I was a child, give me a break.

The things I do remember are enough to show that I didn’t fit in.  My brain worked differently than others’.  I couldn’t seem to conform.  It always frustrated me.  And, I now realize, it had to have frustrated my teachers as well.

One particular instance was in the second grade.  We were doing a unit on time telling.  The first obstacle I encountered was my naming conventions.  They didn’t match what everyone else took for granted.  I liked my way and didn’t see why I had to change.

I don’t know why I came up with it, or when, but by the time I got to school it was fixed in my mind.  The fastest moving hand on the clock was the minute hand.  It was only logical because that is how long it took to complete one full revolution.  The next hand took one hour to make a full revolution, obviously the hour hand.  I ran into a problem with the slowest hand.  I called it the day hand even though it took two revolutions to complete a technical 24-hour day.  No bother, it was the day hand.  I justified that it was one rotation for day and one for night. 

It took me a long time to realize that it made sense that each hand’s name had to do with the unit of current time it was measuring.  You see, I just thought differently.

One assignment I remember was a worksheet.  There were various clock diagrams with only the hour hand showing.  Based on its location we had to tell what time it was.  I got every problem wrong on the test because instead of rounding to the top of the hour I estimated the minutes too.  You see the hour hand was never directly over a number; it was always between two numbers.  On one problem I estimated the time as 8:22 because the hour hand was just over a third of the way past the eight on its way to the nine. Yes, 8:22.  I estimated the extra two minutes. I suppose I could have rounded to twenty past the hour, but I didn’t. To me it seemed intuitive.  To my teacher it seemed wrong.

I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t eight o’clock (which she was telling me was the right answer) because if it were, the hour hand would be directly over the eight, which it certainly was not.  That didn’t seem to please her and I remained unable to convince her that I was simply being logical.

As it was, she had the power and so she got her way—she was right and I was wrong.

What’s the moral of the story?  There’s probably not one.  Or maybe it’s that if I ever see my teacher again and she asks me what time it is I’m going to round to the nearest hour.  And then I’ll laugh and she won’t know why.  Because I’m sure she has long since forgotten even though I haven’t.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wash your Hands

I am always interested by the signs in restrooms.  Particularly the ones that notify employees that they must wash their hands before returning to work.  I think we like the idea of cleanliness and sanitation but the fact is obvious that few people, including employees, wash their hands.

Yes it makes sense to remind employees to wash up.  But the way the notice is written my not be the best to communicate it.  It communicates more than just its intended meaning.

“Employees must wash hands before returning to work.” 

As an employee I would take a little offense at the tone.  It is a dictum said to everybody indirectly and to nobody directly, as if the one to whom it applies is too stupid to remember and on top of that not worth addressing directly.  Its like two people talking about a present third person as if the third wasn’t there.  But the comment is certainly directed at the ignored audience.   My thought would be to challenge the sign and management, “I don’t have to wash my hands, you’re not here—you can’t make me.”

As a customer when I read the sign I feel leery of the organization.  If the management has to remind their employees of something so simple I lose confidence in their ability to master the things that really matter.  It also makes the reminder seem last minute as if they forgot to tell their employees and so decided to just put a sign up in the bathroom as a quick-fix.  Obviously hand washing and general cleanliness isn’t part of the natural culture of the organization.  That’s concerning.

I think a more appropriate wording would be, “Our employees wash their hands before returning to work.”

As an employee reading it I would feel as though the company is not condescending to tell me something that I already know.  Rather the company is telling the customer something about the way it and its employees are, namely clean and sanitary.  The reminder to the employee is there but it is secondary.   It changes from a behavior demanded to a confirmation of a culture to which the employee belongs.  The employee becomes and insider to the system and not an outsider that needs constant telling.  There is the subtle undertone that to be one of us you must behave like us.  If you don’t…well, that’s your way of showing you don’t want to be here.  That attitude will eventually bring you down.

As a customer I feel reassured that employee hand washing is so fundamental that the employees needn’t a reminder.  The company is confident enough to tell me that it simply happens.  It’s part of their culture.

I may be the only one who has ever thought or cared about the wording.  Maybe it doesn’t bother anyone else.  Even if it did matter to more customers I doubt it would change.   Because while its easy to wash your hands, its easier to not.  Changing a sign is easier, but easier to not.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Limited Vocabulary

The model A Ford was designed to be massed produced. Years ago I heard a story that Henry Ford actually designed the car so that the shipping crate for the engine could be used as floorboards.  It was clever, saved money and ultimately helped the automobile become a widely common piece of new technology.

We’ve come a long way since then.  Features that are commonplace for their universality are really quite amazing when they are actually considered for a moment—instead of being taken for granted. 

Features that once were powered by human power are now powered by electricity and the flick of a button.  Windows don’t need to be rolled down by spinning a knob, just push a button.  Same goes for locks, don’t lean over to pull it up by hand.  Push a button.  Tilt, cruise control, windshield wipers, side view mirrors.  They are all so convenient.  I just found out that some cars can be opened and started with a remote.  But they don’t even have buttons to be pushed, they need only to be in one’s pocket as they get near the car. 

There are so many features that are useful.  There are also the myriad features that are convenient but fall in the bells-and-whistles category.  Multi-touch-screen DVD players for the children in the back seats, fancy sound systems and stereos.  It is amazing how much people spend on their vehicles and the conveniences they may afford considering how little time they spend in them.  The average American spends an hour and a half in their car per day.  Not that long really.

I once worked with a man, a talented goldsmith who spoke with an accent.  He was born in Hungary, raised in Argentina, lived in Brazil and then settled in the United States.  He speaks three languages fluently and is an intelligent man.  But he has an accent.

Because he has an accent people often assume that he doesn’t understand them when they speak to him.  Or they assume he is less intelligent than they.  Both are silly but common notions.

Language can be a barrier that gives the impression of stupidity.  If someone cannot be understood then they are not intelligent.  A Russian surgeon living in Portugal is not intelligent because he speaks Portuguese haltingly.  Actual knowledge is irrelevant.

On the other hand, one who knows the lingo can pretend intelligence.  Others will believe him, if he talks the talk.

What good is knowing something if it cannot be expressed?

Why suffer from the illusion of stupidity if simply learning new vocabulary or an accent is all that it takes?  Because it is hard.

But what if it weren’t hard?

The automobile has been around for a century.  Why does it have such a poor vocabulary?  It has only mastered a handful of expressions.  Left, right.  Stop, emergency.  Those are things the lights say. Four.  Make it five when including flashing the hi-beams.  Then with the horn a vehicle may yelp or yell.  It’s the same sound, just varying duration.

The car can’t say enough.  And poor communication means frustration.  And road rage.  Why not give the car a little more to work with, why not allow articulation?

In an age where drivers can do so much inside their cars (too much perhaps), why not increase their ability to do more on the outside, to communicate?  Why has our society spent so little time on developing what we can say to other drivers?  If our ability to communicate were improved, it would do us a lot of good good.  I image there would be less frustration and road rage.  But maybe not.  Maybe having a multi-station-individual-screen-surround-sound-entertainment-system really is more important.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The area was large but cleverly constructed.  The spacing directed the travelers to a deliberate focal point.  Moving to that point it was clear that further progress was dependant on passing through one of many doors.  There were perhaps two dozen in all.  Each had a distinct color.  The styles were similar though there were subtle differences. 

There were various people approaching the doors.  They all approached and took for granted that they should go through one of the many doors.  To the casual onlooker their choice of door seemed arbitrary. 

Some would walk to the door their choice and, with an air of entitlement, reach for the knob and pull.  That type was consistently surprised when the door would not yield.  They would step back and examine their surroundings as if for the first time.  They would observe the large sign directing them to knock. Indignant they would knock.  They would knock a second time, immediately, with no pause to allow the person on the other side to respond. 

One of these impatient knockers noticed that the door next to her was opened for another knocker very quickly.  She moved over, ignoring the others that had begun to form an informal line.  She rapidfire knocked again. Not waiting but an instant began to pound two fisted on the door and shouting her demand to be admitted. She threw her arms into the air and kicked the door which then opened. Turning to those behind her that she now noticed for the first time she haughtily pointed with her thumb, shrugging and rolling her eyes before walking through.  The door closed behind her.

At another door a guest approached and knocked.   His fist fell in three heavy and steady knocks.  He lowered his arm to his side and waited patiently.  The door did not open.  He waited a full minute before again knocking.  A second minute passed and he knocked again whereupon the door opened and he was admitted.

One man knocked immediately as he arrived at the door of his choice.  Then noticing a doorbell gave two rings in succession that chased on the heels of his knock.  The door opened after half a moment. He smiled walking through.

The place had no shortage of new entrants of every variety and walk of life.  Tucked away on the far wall was a man standing watching events.  He had stood there for some while observing before noticing that he was not alone.

With a casual glance to his side he saw a woman. She was also observing those that arrived and passed through the doors.
“Oh. I didn’t see you there.  You work here?”
“I’m just standing here.  Do I look like I’m working?”

“Well you’re not going through a door.  I was just wondering.  You don’t look like the rest of them.”

“I guess you could say that I’m working here.  I make sure things run smoothly.”

“What exactly is happening?” he asked.

She eyed him for a moment then answered.  “This is a test.  Of sorts.”

“What kind of test?  It just looks like people who are trying to go places.”


He couldn’t tell if she were telling him to be patient or if that was her answer.  He decided not to say anything.

“Look, you should recognize him, he was here not long ago,” she said pointing.

A man was moving toward the doors.  He did look familiar.  He had gone through the dark green door. This time he approached a door further down.  This one was a light blue door.

“Here again?  Why?”

“It’s a test—for patience.  Everybody comes here many times in succession.  They only vaguely recall the prior visit.  He’s doing well.” The man being observed and discussed knocked on the door he had chosen.  He was completely unaware he was being watched.

“Everybody comes here to test for patience.  It’s the first of a few tests to determine a final location.”

“So they’re all dead. And this is what determines whether they go to heaven of hell?” he asked.

“Sort of.  There are more destinations that just those two. Those who fail this test will end up in a place that you would call hell, though there are many different degrees of variance.”

“Why is this the first test? Is patience really that important?”

“We’ve learned over time that if they can’t pass this test they will invariably fail the others.  By doing this one first we cut down of wasted time in the other tests.”
“I always thought that life was the test.  You’re telling me that the testing happens after life is over?”

“Your belief is common: life is a test, some sort of a proving ground to earn a reward.  Another belief is that there is no test and life is a time to create one’s own reward.  That’s not the case, either.  There’s more to existance than fits between birth and death. Mostly what happens after.  Life is just a preparation.  It’s there that people prepare for the test.  It’s a sort of training exercise.”  She pointed to the same man again.

He approached another door and knocked.  The two onlookers watched as he knocked and waited.  He knocked five times before the door opened.  Each time after he knocked he waited for some time.

“So if I understand correctly they are all judged by how long they wait between knocking and how often they switch doors and all that.”

“That’s right.  Every other virtue is built on a foundation of patience.  Name a virtue that you can gain without first developing patience.”

“So that’s where everybody starts then.  So why are you telling me all of this?  Doesn’t this make it unfair for when I take the test myself?”  A look came over the man as an idea entered his mind.  “Or I could tell them, especially the ones who are doing poorly.  There was a very impatient woman I watched earlier.  I’m going to talk to her.  I’ll tell her what’s going on.  I could save her from misery, right?  If she passes this test she’ll do better than hell, or whatever you call the place where the ones go who fail this test.  Even if she fails the next tests I can help her at least a little.  You wouldn’t stop me would you?”

“I won’t stop you.  But she wouldn’t believe you.  If she had the patience to actually listen.  As for your first question.  It won’t help you to know any of this.  You aren’t here to take this test.”

“I’m not? Then why am I here?”

“Because you already passed that test.  And this is another test.  I wanted to see if you would have compassion on those around you.  I wanted to see if you would give of what you had, even if it only amounts to knowledge.  It’s time for your next test.”

“Will I remember any of this in my next test?”

* * *
“Will I remember any of this in my next test?”  He looked around not recognizing where he was.  He wondered if he had asked his question out loud or only thought it.  Whatever he had done he wasn’t sure what it meant.  Where, he wondered, had that strange thought come from?

Someone tapped him on the shoulder.  It was a woman he didn’t recognize. She smiled at him and motioned for him to follow.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another Blog

My friend Kylee has a blog about books. Take a looksie, it's got some good stuff.  If you stop on by you may also recognize one of her guest bloggers.


Sunday, April 10, 2011


As kids, whenever we got sunburnt, our mom would send us out to cut off a piece of the Aloe Vera plant.  It smelled gross and it was slimy.  But it was the best remedy.  She would remove the outer layer and then rub it over our bunt skin.  It always made us shiver, even in the summer.

“It draws out the heat,” she would always say.  That was a concept that I didn’t understand at the time.  Since then my paradigm had shifted and I see things in a way that it now makes sense.

Think of it this way.  Cold is empty and hot is full.  If you want something to be less hot you need to remove something.  And where would you put it?  Into something that has the space to receive it, something empty.  So if you put something cold next to something hot there will be a transfer.  The cold object will take as much as it can hold and then take no more.  Conversely to make something hot you must fill it up, with heat.

Listening can be understood in the same terms.  Those who talk have something they are trying to transfer.  They are full.  Listeners are the people have who made the space to receive.  They are empty.

Listeners have the ability to make space for what others want to say.  They let it fill them and in the process they heal, empathize, and sort out.  They can give feedback and act as a sounding board that will let others gain new perspective.

Some people never clear out the space within themselves to have the room to be an effective listener.  When they need to fain listening they effectively compress what fills them to make a small corner of space that they can fill.  But the act of squeezing creates high pressure and they can only listen for so long before they have to relieve the pressure by spewing back, often at the one they are supposed to be listening to.

I am saddened when I see those who never learn how to clear them selves out, never able to really listen for the sake of another person.  It is also sad to see how they use anyone who will give space to accept their offloading.  It is selfish and shortsighted and it doesn’t consider that sometimes it’s all right to let there be silence without having to fill it with noise.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Myth continued

This is the last part of a five day post.  If you haven't read the first one take the time to go back and read it.  It will make more sense that way.


The boy was amazed at the story.  It seemed to him more of a myth than reality.
“And the seeds, they’re locked up and just waiting?  What are you going to do with them?  Are you going to plant them?”  The boy began to rattle off questions as fast as his mind could come up with them.  He noticed that his father didn’t seem to be listening.  He was gazing off into space not focusing on anything in particular.
Then it hit the boy where the seeds were.  They were in the stand that held the book of knowledge.  He realized that it must have been made especially for that purpose.  The pictures then must be important to the story that he had just heard.  The pictures were telling the story through symbol.  It was a reminder of the forgotten.  He could see many of the pictures vividly in his mind. Many of the pictures he could make fit as a part of the story.  Others however were still mysterious.  There must be other parts of the story that he still didn’t know or understand.
When he looked back at his father he saw an outstretched hand holding a small bronze colored skeleton key.
“This,” he said, “is now yours.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Myth continued

This is the fourth part of a five day post.  If you haven't read the first one take the time to go back and read it.  It will make more sense that way.


In the breeze it will sway and carry the fragrant scent on the air like dancing happiness.  It is the smell of charm and luck. But it is subtle, it won’t overwhelm.  It tickles and teases the periphery of smell and awareness.  It is there but will fade with any attempt to single it out.  It joins in with every other smell and enhances them and made them complete.
For all the beauty of smell the plant holds it is nothing amazing to be seen.  It tries to be plain and not be noticed.  It is the face in a crowd that is seen and never remembered, the face that is almost forgotten even while looking at it.  And while it is plain it is everywhere in the high plain and low mountain.  It hugs the cool and shaded spots and it could also be found on two pages in the book.
The page for Cannegor (making up names is hard) was like any other.  It had the name (right after Ca’artil and before Casret) at the top. Beneath the name was a diagram of the plant in bloom.  There was a history of the plant and its origins.  The pages then gave explanations on uses for the plant.  It laid out the method of preparation and instruction on administration.  There was also a section of warning about the harmful effects of its use in unwise dosages.
Among the uses of Cannegor are the mundane (like as a cleaning agent and demulcent for enflamed tissue) and the very useful.  The most useful was as an antidote for venom of the grass snake that was common in the farmers’ fields.  A beverage made from the roots was taken orally to counteract the effect of the poison.  Without the antidote the snake venom would paralyze the body and put the unfortunate soul into a coma that ended with death when the heart stopped.
            While the drink would cure the bitten it had side effect of its own.  It would cause a high fever that would cause delirium.  In that state of delirium there would be a hallucinations and a semi-euphoric high.  If taken while no grass snake poison was in the blood it would cause the hallucinations and high without the fever and sweating.  It was known as the escapist drug to those who used it as a tool to forget the pain and woes of life’s hardship.  To many of the citizens of the kingdom the drug was unknown; but there were those who knew it and used it.  Among the users was the king.
Before the unexpected and unexplained death of the king’s wife and son he was a proud and optimistic man.  But when sickness hit and took his wife and the kingdom’s heir the king was ashamed at having only surviving daughters and a no queen to stand by his side.  Instead of taking a new wife and bearing another son the king slid into depression and turned to addiction.
As the king’s addiction grew his ability to rule diminished.  Slowly the burden of the kingdom’s operation shifted to the king’s council.  They, worried with the condition of the king, took matters into their own hands.  They signed a secret edict outlawing the plant’s existence.  A group of men was hired from the kingdom’s treasury to destroy every last trace of the plant. It took nearly a year to do but they eliminated the plant from the whole of the kingdom. It was these men, under the stamp of the king’s personal seal, that took the pages from the book.
As their work progressed the supply of Cannegor shrank.  It became increasingly hard to obtain.  Because of the secrecy of the operation no one took action to hoard or save any of the plant or seed.  It was only a matter of time until the last plant was destroyed and it became extinct.
And while different stories about the mysterious disappearance began to circulate the knowledge of what really happened (that was held by so few) was tucked away in the deep parts of the mind not to be spoken of.  The king’s council let the stories continue and even promoted them.  One man however remembered the story and saved it for the time when he could tell his son.  He told me. And now I am telling you, son.  I will begin to teach you about the plant and its use and how to identify it.
My father collected seeds from the plant because he could not bear the thought of the plant being lost forever.  He collected enough to be able to bring it back at some point in time.  He wasn’t able to do it in his lifetime.  There were those still alive that were part of the conspiracy to destroy it.  He gave me the key to the lock that protects them.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Myth continued

This is the third part of a five day post.  If you haven't read the first one take the time to go back and read it.  It will make more sense that way.


Out of a fog of unawareness there began to come into focus a picture.  Above him he began to see the color and outline of a face.  As the picture cleared he recognized it as his father’s face.  His father was leaning over him and had a damp rag that he was dabbing on the boy’s forehead.  He turned his attention to his surroundings.  He was in his room in his bed.  He felt comfortable lying there.  His father caring for him gave an added sense of security.
“What happened?  I heard a sound and when I got into the study you were on the floor,” His father inquired with raised brow.
And with those few words the sense of comfort was gone.  Into his mind the memory came flooding back, like a broken dam letting loose a torrent of water crashing down the once clam river bed.  His head began to throb and he could feel the sweat beginning to form on his brow.  The study, the pages, it all came back.  He cursed for forgetting, now here he was at the mercy of the man who now hovered above him.  He wanted to flee and escape to somewhere safe.  He began to breathe deeply.
“Whoa, whoa.  Son, what’s wrong?” his father asked in a soothing tone while putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Everything is all right.”  The boy felt his heart begin to slow.  He was concerned that he was calming down.  He found himself wondering if his father was using a spell or some sort of trick to take away his fear.  He wanted to stay on edge but found he couldn’t.  All he could do was squeak out one little phrase.
“You ruined it…you’re a…bad person.” He felt silly for making such a weak accusation.  He wished he could have been bold.  He realized that his father would have no idea what he was talking about.  His father would have thought himself clever and would be shocked to know his young son had found him out.
“Ah, the missing pages?  Of course the missing pages.  No, don’t act so surprised.  I knew you would notice some day. It seems that today happens to be that day.  I remember the day that my father cut them out of the book and burnt them.  I thought that he would be smitten or drop dead instantly.  I wanted to die myself when he did it.  I thought it was evil what he was doing.  How could he dare? I thought.  Well I think I may understand now what I didn’t then, though it took me many years to really get it.  Let me tell you a story that you have never heard before.  It is a story that very few are old enough to remember.  Not even the king who is younger than me knows it.  It might help you understand the book better.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Myth continued

This is the second part of a five day post.  If you haven't read the first one take the time to go back and read it.  It will make more sense that way.


The boy’s father often would ask him, “What is the difference between a poison and a medicine?”  The first time he had been asked he had said that medicine was good and poison was bad.  His father shook his head slowly and said after a pause, “They are the same thing, except for the dosage.”  It wasn’t until a later day that he had explained that taking the right amount of something will be helpful, but too much of same thing would be harmful and sometimes even deadly.   That was the baseline for the boy’s instruction and tutoring.
As the son of the kingdom’s medicine man (the sage) it was expected that he would take over for his father when the time came.  That time would be when he was ready. And that would mean when he knew all that there was to know about healing and medicine in the kingdom.  His father was training him and had been for the last two years.  He would take the boy out to gather plants and herbs in the forest.  He would be taken on the royal hunting trips where strange beasts were killed; his father would take certain parts of the animals before they were cleaned and butchered for feasts.  All the things that were collected were prepared to be stored in the study.  Some things were dried, like the stringy fruit of the Agælton to be used as a remedy for skin sores.  Other plants were ground into fine powder to be inhaled, like the leaves of the Chîmpuur tree.  Some animal parts were kept immersed in water or alcohol.  Others were not stored at all, needing to he harvested fresh to be of any potency.
After any expedition to gather or collect his father would show the boy in the book the pages that contained all there was to know about the plants they had before them.  The explanations of his father were always easier to understand than the words of the page.
It was for its difficulty to understand that the book held so much mystery.  It was an enigma to the boy, one that would take years and years to begin to grasp.  Though while it remained an enigma the boy had always believed that it was complete and whole, there was nothing lacking.  If his father found something that wasn’t known he would add it to the book and it would be complete—though that hadn’t happened for many years.
Because it was so engrained in his mind that the book was omniscient it was more than a simple shock when he saw what he saw.  While flipping absent-mindedly through the pages he noticed that something was missing.  He stood staring at the book not moving, his hands hanging at his sides.  The feeling of power that he felt for having held the book drained from his body.  He was left cold and his skin went clammy.  A deep shiver ran from the base of his skull down the length of his spine and then to the bottom of his feet and to his toes.  A fear gripped him and made it hard to breath.  He drew short shallow breaths and began to feel light-headed.
He tried to focus and understand what he was seeing.  He closed his eyes, clamping his eyelids hard, hoping that they were playing tricks on him.  He left them closed and focused on the black of the insides of his eyelids.  He told himself that when he opened his eyes he wouldn’t see what he thought he had seen.  He would see everything exactly as it should be.  But when he opened his eyes everything was the same.
There in front of him in the book was the work of malfeasance.  Pages had been removed. It was almost impossible to see because of the expertise that had been employed to do it, but at the close range of the boy’s eyes it was noticeable.  Someone had cut pages from the book, two whole pages, front and back, were missing.  The book was not whole.  Someone was trying to hide something, had gone to great lengths to hide something.  The boy immediately thought of his father.  He had never had any reason not to trust the man he loved and had always looked up to.  But now a doubt began to grow.
The boy began to wonder what manner of man his father really was and what secrets were locked in his head.  He began to think of his father as evil and malicious—a plotter and a schemer.  The man must be up to no good if he would take pages from the book, even to allow that pages be taken was enough to tarnish his reputation and make him a cheat.  The boy began to feel trapped and closed in.  While the room was spacious, he felt a growing feeling of claustrophobia.  He needed to get outside, get fresh air.  He needed open spaces where he could think.  He turned toward the door to leave, but before he could move in that direction he heard a sound that kept his feet anchored to the ground.  From the lock in the door he heard the sound of a key being inserted and turned.  The knob turned and he heard a click as the door began to open.