Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On Trying Too Hard

Two years ago this week, for reasons that weren’t entirely my fault, I made a total ass of myself and pissed off a lot of people while my wife Cheryl was on a mission trip to Haiti. After the dust had settled…indeed, while the dust was still settling…I tried to fix things. I tried to patch things up. I wanted really badly to make things right.

I tried too hard. I became annoying. I knew I couldn’t get a cosmic do-over, but in my attempts to make things right I tried too hard, and became annoying.

I really shouldn’t be surprised. I have a history of trying too hard. Every time I liked a girl in grade school or high school, I tried too hard, and scared them away. This little habit of trying too hard lasted well into college (and I was an undergrad for seven years). By the time I got to grad school, I had finally learned my lesson. In fact, I learned it so well that Cheryl practically had to throw herself at me to let me know that it wouldn’t be “trying too hard” for me to ask her out…or ask her to marry me.

But I digress.

The simple fact of the matter is that I tried too hard to fix things, and became annoying as a result.

But there’s something else I realized just recently. It’s something that should be perfectly obvious when you think about it, but we often don’t get it because maybe it’s too obvious, or maybe we’re too idealistic…

Sometimes you don’t get to fix things. Sometimes you don’t get to make things right. Very often you don’t even get to apologize. And most annoying and painful of all…sometimes you just have to let the record show that you were a tremendous schmuck.

Because here’s the other revelation…sometimes, subconsciously, “wanting to make things right” can be as much about your not wanting to appear to be a schmuck as it is genuinely wanting to fix things. Perhaps there’s a lot of it that’s about not wanting to go down in history as that jerk that screwed things up.

And so you want to fix that. You want to fix what you messed up, and you want to correct the record.

The counterintuitive thing is that sometimes trying to make things right on your terms makes it take longer for things to become right again on theirs. Or perhaps trying to make things right years later, when you realize what you did wrong and understand why it happened, reopens a wound that had long since healed for the other party.

I can think of a number of other people I'd like to apologize to for bad...or hurtful...behavior on my part. But I also recognize that maybe they’re so over me by now that it doesn't matter to them anymore, and that that apology might disrupt the peace that they now have.

And yet...there’s a part of me that would like for people who recognize that they’ve hurt me to apologize and try to make things right. So maybe I want everyone to do it...me to them, them to me, all of us to each other.

In any event, as I said in the beginning, for reasons that were not entirely my fault, I made a total ass of myself and pissed off a lot of people while Cheryl was in Haiti two years ago. I’ve since apologized, and have tried to make things right, but you know something…the fact that I was an ass is a historical fact that will not be expunged by my later enlightenment. And my trying too hard to fix what happened then is counterproductive for everyone involved.

So I’m just gonna let it go, leave these poor people alone, and deal with it the way I deal with all of my very human failings…by laughing at what an idiot I was. After all, time has a way of making even the most painful things seem funny in the retelling.

And…remembering that while you can’t always make things right, you can always learn from what you did wrong.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Bad Idea of Residency Requirements

Once again, the idea of forcing Syracuse teachers, firefighters, and police officers to live within the city limits has come up, and once again, it’s time to take a look at why this is a bad idea.

First of all, at best, the idea of forcing the people to live within the city is a “feel-good” idea about what would make our neighborhoods better. At worst, it’s an idea borne of jealousy over some city employees getting to live someplace “better,” and wanting them to suffer like the rest of us do. I disagree with both of these ideas.

Let’s start with the “feel-good” idea that this would make our neighborhoods better. The people who propose this believe that having teachers, firefights, and police officers live in the city they’re serving would make them more responsive to the needs of the community. They believe that if these people were forced to live within the city, they would provide needed positive examples to the rest of the people in their neighborhoods. They believe that these people would put a little more heart and soul into their jobs if they knew that they were affecting the people that they lived with on a day-to-day basis.

Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Forcing Syracuse teachers, firefighters, and police officers to live within the city limits is not going to force them to move to the neighborhoods where the “example of their presence” is needed most. There are plenty of homes available in Eastwood, Sedgwick, Strathmore, and the University area, far from the problems many of these people have to deal with on a daily basis. And if you think about it carefully, it makes sense that a person who has to deal with the issues that these people do should be allowed to escape somewhere else to recharge without feeling that they’re on duty 24/7, whether that’s a nicer neighborhood in the city or somewhere just across the city line.

In addition the people who use as an example the fact that when they were kids, their father, the firefighter, was able to walk to the firehouse if he was needed in an emergency don’t grasp the fact that nowadays even firefighters who live in the city probably live across town from the station they’re based out of.

Now let’s consider jealousy, because that’s exactly what it is. I don’t see people from Liverpool or DeWitt demanding that their teachers live within their communities, and I’ve known teachers from both districts who lived right here in the city. Why is that? Because for the most part people in those two communities don’t feel bad about where they live. Yet, for some reason, many of us who live in Syracuse don’t like it, would prefer to live somewhere else, and don’t want anyone else to live someplace we consider “better” on our dime.

And who are these jealous people? I’m betting that they’re not people who live in Eastwood, Sedgwick, Strathmore, or the University area. After all, anyone who lives in one of those neighborhoods could easily afford to live in DeWitt, Liverpool, or Nedrow, but chose to live in the city for one reason or another.

Not me. I’m a city kid from way back. Not this city, but a city kid nonetheless. I like being able to walk to the corner store, the drugstore, or the library; and I like having sidewalks to do it on. I love living in the city, and I have never considered moving outside of it. However, I understand that city life, even in a residential neighborhood, isn’t for everyone. Some people need a little more space and a little more nature – neither of which is available here in the city.

With these thoughts in mind, I think it’s time o give up on the residency requirement as a bad idea whose time has long passed, and just hire the best people for the job, no matter where they live.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Can We Deal With Competing Truths?

What do we do when two sets of statistics appear to tell us different things, but they’re both true? Do we ignore one set because of our own biases, while latching onto the other? Do we, because our minds are too small and inflexible, insist that they can’t both be true, and that it only appears to be that way because of smoke, mirrors, and the unethical (or ignorant) manipulation of data?

Or do we sit down, open our puny little minds a bit, and try to understand the complicated nuances that actually do allow for both sets of statistics to be true, thus walking away with a greater understanding of the issue as a whole than we previously gravitated toward when we only saw things in black and white?

I mentioned this once before when I talked about Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics About Planned Parenthood, and Unicorns. In this post I tried to explain two things could be simultaneously true.

The first was that only 3% of the work Planned Parenthood does is abortion related.

The second was that they could still be the “single largest” provider of abortions even if they only did 10%, if the other 90% were spread out among smaller independent providers.

My point there was to get each of the extreme sides to take a look at how the other side saw things, and go “Oh…” Did it work? I don’t know.

Here’s another case where two seemingly incompatible sets of statistics can both be true: Most guys are not sexual predators…but the small number of them who are do damage far out of proportion to their numbers, and cause women to not trust the rest of us.

And let me hit you up with one more related set of statistics before proceeding to my main point. Most Catholic priests are not pedophiles…but the small number of them who are, combined with the horrible mishandling of the situation by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, have done damage, once again, out of proportion to their numbers, that will last for generations.

So having given you those three examples, which I’m assuming you are able to understand the nuances of, let me now go to the main course and talk about what I really came here for.

Guns and gun violence.

And here are my two sets of seemingly incompatible statistics, both of which are true:

Most gun owners…the overwhelming majority of gun owners…are responsible, law-abiding citizens, with no anger management issues, racist tendencies, or desires to overthrow the government when things don’t go their way. On the other hand, a very small minority of gun owners, armed with some very powerful weapons, do unspeakable damage far out of proportion to their numbers.

So there you have it. Both things are true. Now the question is how do we go about dealing with the problem that we alone in the industrialized world seem to have with gun violence? Does being able to see and understand both sides of the equation enable us to maybe come out of our own well-fortified corners and out of our own ideological bubbles…to talk to (and not scream at) each other, to listen to and try to understand each other as we try to solve this horrible problem? Will being able to do this enable more people to come in from each of the extreme sides (and some of them are unbelievably extreme) to somewhere in the middle where we can all agree on a compromise?

I don’t know, but I think it’s worth a shot.


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

What You Can Learn About Sex From Porn

Recently a notification popped up on my screen for podcast called What Happens When You Learn About Sex from Porn. I was intrigued by this for a number of reasons. First of all, I was sure that it was going to be all about the misinformation and bad information guys get from porn. Second, I was thinking that I learned a lot about sex from porn, and it was a lot of good information. Third, and this is where those two seemingly incompatible things tie together, I understand that the porn…or “dirty books”…of my youth are much different from what’s available out there on the internet now. The stuff I accidentally found in the back of my father’s closet would more likely be called “erotica” today, and would be considered quite tame…and almost even innocent…by today’s standards.

I haven’t listened to that podcast yet, because I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts without having any of them be a response to that.

So let’s talk about those books I stumbled across in my father’s closet. After I’d read a few of them...and took a cold shower, I was very careful to put them back exactly where I found them, so that he wouldn’t know that anyone had found them, and they’d be there for me to read some other time. Second, I learned a lot of things from those little books that put me in good stead with the girls I dated later on. I learned things about what girls found enjoyable that they definitely weren’t gonna teach me beyond the basic plumbing in Health. Not even in the rather advanced health class we had at East Orange High School.

To put it simply, in Health I learned about plumbing, pregnancy, and disease. From the books in the back of the closet, I learned *technique*.

But there’s more. The porn of my day…the erotica…the Playboy of my adolescence was, at least to my recollection and perception, not about women as sex objects (unless, of course, both people were being mutually objectified), but about people you might enjoy spending time with, and then “frolicking with” until the break of dawn.

Or maybe this was just me…and that’s where my perception comes in. Ask anyone who knew me in grade school, and they’ll tell you that I was an incurable romantic since kindergarten. So on those occasions when I got an adolescent view of an unclad Barbi Benton, as I said once before, my first thought wasn’t “Nice tits, I’d like to f*** her”, but rather, “She seems really nice. I wonder if she’d like me…and then want to do that thing you do when you really like someone.”

And even when I fantasized about girls I knew in high school or college, it wasn’t about the sex…it was about the relationship that caused the sex to happen. Relationships where I could use those techniques I learned from those books in the back of my father’s closet. Those girls weren’t sex objects, they were relationship objects. And yet, is the term “relationship object” a bit of an oxymoron? That’s a question for another post.

And contrary to the rather one-dimensional view that many women have of us as being single-minded sex maniacs, I’d like to believe that more guys were like me.

But let’s go back to the original question…of what happens when you learn about sex from porn.

Well…I think it all depends on what you’re calling porn. If you’re learning about it from some of the hardcore stuff that’s out there these days, that can’t be good for anyone. On the other hand, I think there’s a lot of good to be learned from *erotica*…erotica that takes into account the humanity and sexual desires of both parties.

OK, so now that I’ve written this, I guess I’ll go listen to that podcast.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Why We Care About Notre Dame

I’ll admit it. When I first heard that Notre Dame was on fire, my first thoughts led me back to an old episode of The Flintsones, where Fred and Barney, in order to get a regular night out with the boys, had joined the volunteer fire department, which had a fire to put out every week…in a town that was made entirely out of stone.

And so I wondered, “How can it be on fire? It’s made out of stone?”

I quickly found out that while the walls were stone, the roof wasn’t. It was made from 800-year-old wood. 800-year-old dry wood, of which their own website says “fire is not impossible.” And because it was the roof that was on fire, that’s why you see so little damage to the inside.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I’m here to talk about why so many people care about Notre Dame in a way that they don’t care about the other churches, and a mosque, that burned on that same day or in that same week. And that’s a question that has many people indignant.

My answer is very simple: Notre Dame has touched more people in one way or another than all those churches, and the mosque, put together.

The church I grew up in, St Andrew’s Episcopal Church in South Orange, NJ, burned to the ground decades ago. Actually, the building burned down (let’s all sing the song now). The people of St Andrew’s had decided to merge with another Episcopal church across town, and had sold the property to Seton Hall University. So what had burned down was now St Andrew’s Hall. I don’t expect the world to notice or be upset about it. Heck, I was only nominally saddened when I heard about it months or years after the fact. I was similarly saddened to hear that Ashland School, where I spent kindergarten through 8thgrade had also burned down.

These were places that I grew up in, that I could never go back to visit again. They meant a lot to the people who passed through them. But how many people outside of East Orange ever heard of Ashland School? Heck, how many people in East Orange ever heard of Ashland School (we had a lot of schools)? And how many people outside of South Orange ever heard of, or had been to, St Andrew’s?

No…my old church burned down decades ago, and I didn’t expect the world to notice when it did. It meant something to the people who belonged there, and to the people in the surrounding neighborhood, but few others.

But why do we care about Notre Dame, and not the other buildings that went up in flames last week? Because we know it, we’ve been there, we’ve seen pictures of it, we’re familiar with it in a way that we weren’t familiar with any of the other buildings that burned.

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. But it can also breed appreciation and love.

If we’ve been there, which I have, along with 13 million others each year, we have that familiarity. If we’ve seen pictures of it, we have that familiarity. If we’ve studied it, we have that familiarity. Millions of people have a familiarity with Notre Dame that they never had with the other buildings or…St Andrew’s.

And you know what? In my book, that’s OK. You can’t care about everybody. You can’t know about everybody. You can’t be told and care about every religious building that’s on fire. That would be as overwhelming as being able to hear all the molecules collide.

And it’s well worth noting that even those who are indignant about people caring so much about Notre Dame have their own blind spots of familiarity and unfamiliarity.

So let’s give everyone a break here. OK?

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Friendly Goodbye

I need to say a goodbye. But before I get to the goodbye in question, I need to talk about the others that came before.

In the beginning there was Howard. Howard was in my hometown of East Orange, NJ, on Central Ave between Munn and Freeman Avenues. The old joke was that Howard had 28 flavors of ice cream and one of food. But oh, that ice cream! As far as I can remember, Howard Johnson’s was my first go-to place for ice cream…and clean bathrooms on the road. Before fast food restaurants and fast food food courts took over highway rest areas, Howard Johnson’s billed itself as “the host of the highways.”

But times changed, and Marriott bought out Howard Johnson in order to get their highway properties and motels. So it was goodbye to Howard and his coffee milkshakes.

Not to worry though, there was Bond’s. Bond’s was a local North Jersey chain, home of the Awful Awful…“Awful Big and Awful Good.”

Then, in 1969 the Willowbrook Mall opened up in Wayne, and it was there that I discovered my first Friendly’s, and had my first Fribble.

Funny thing about that Fribble…it used to be an Awful Awful.

You see, for decades Bond’s licensed the name and the formula to two other regional ice cream parlors: Friendly’s in Massachusetts and Newport Creamery in Rhode Island. This deal worked out well as long as they all kept to their own states, but if either of the other two decided to do business in New Jersey, they had to change the name of their drink.

And it was out of that necessity that the Fribble was born when Friendly’s decided that the Jersey market was too big to ignore. And for a span of a few short years I could get both an Awful Awful and a Fribble within five miles of each other.

Until Bond’s went under in the early 70s, and it was time to say goodbye to them. But any time I went to Willowbrook, I made a beeline for Friendly’s.

I arrived in Syracuse as a freshman at Syracuse University in 1974, and discovered a new ice cream home just off campus. It was Baskin-Robbins. Unlike the other places, it wasn’t a restaurant that also sold ice cream, it was pretty much just an ice cream parlor, and I patronized that ice cream parlor for all eight of my undergrad years, all three of my later grad school years, and the remaining five that I worked at SU. A Friendly’s had also opened on campus during that time, but it didn’t last long. There were other Friendly’s locations in the area, but without a car, they were pretty much inaccessible to me.

Then two things happened, and I’m not sure what the order was. One was that Baskin-Robbins pulled out of the Syracuse market. Another goodbye. The other was that I got a car (or married someone with one). This meant that every Friendly’s in the county was available to me.

Friendly’s was what Howard Johnson’s used to be…an ice cream parlor that also sold food. Or was it a restaurant that also sold ice cream? I knew that pretty much wherever I went in the northeast, I could find a Friendly’s. They were everywhere, and they were almost always packed. I could tell you where every Friendly’s was between my home in Syracuse and my mother’s place in Jersey. Cortland and Binghamton in New York; Clarks Summit, Tannersville, and Easton in Pennsylvania. If I needed a Fribble on the road, I knew where to get it.

But then dining habits changed. People stopped doing “casual dining” and opted more for either fast food or places like Applebees or Friday’s, and the business that Friendly’s counted on dried up, leading them to close locations, and shrink back to a fraction of its former size.

And this is where my friendly goodbye comes in…or, more properly, my Friendly goodbye. This past Sunday it was announced that most Friendly’s locations in Central New York were closing…including two that were relatively close to my house.

This is going to seriously cut into my Fribble habit.

But maybe I could take a trip to Rhode Island and get an Awful Awful.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Little More Vomiting, Please

I know this sounds a little disgusting...well, OK, a lot disgusting. But bear with me, and I think you’ll understand my point.

I had been thinking about last year’s shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Actually, I hadn’t. When I first heard about it, I was shaken…not just because of the horror of it, but also because I know people in Pittsburgh. I know that neighborhood. I know people who walked by that synagogue every day. This wasn’t just some “random” mass shooting; this one was almost personal.

Then I found out that it was even more personal than I’d thought. You see, the reason I had been thinking about the Tree of Life murders was because I had just discovered that the doctor of one of the people I know in Pittsburgh was one of those killed that day.

And that got me thinking…it got me thinking about the effects of a murder not just on the family and friends of the one who was killed, but on the rest of the community. The effects on my friend who had lost his doctor. The effects on those who worked at that practice who may now find themselves without jobs. The far-ranging effects that spread much farther than the person who pulled the trigger could’ve imagined when he decided to go on his killing spree. And that got me wondering…

Suppose we felt it when we killed someone?

No…I don’t mean suppose we felt the same pain of the bullet, knife, poison, or whatever. I mean suppose we felt an unbearable, unresolvable pain when we killed someone with malice aforethought. Most of us feel pretty bad when we kill someone accidentally. When Jim Boehiem, the basketball coach at Syracuse University accidentally hit and killed someone walking across the highway at night, he said that this would be with him for the rest of his life. And this was for an unavoidable accident. But suppose you had to live with worse…far worse…after intentionally killing someone?

I read that after witnessing a particular set of Jewish executions, Nazi official Heinrich Himmler vomited. Good. He should’ve. It was the only good thing he did during the Nazi reign of terror. But apparently he got over it. Better he should’ve vomited every time someone had been murdered at his command. Better he, those above him, and those who actually did the dirty work should’ve vomited every half hour for the rest of their lives for each person whose murder they were responsible for.

Suppose we knew this would happen? Suppose we knew that if you killed someone with malice aforethought or even tried to, you had sentenced yourself to a life of endless vomiting? Wouldn’t this be worse than any death penalty we could give them? Wouldn’t this life sentence of vomiting be its own very special hell? Wouldn’t seeing just one person go through this be enough to give pause to anyone else? And of course, in the case of what would now be attempted mass shootings, wouldn’t the vomiting caused by the first death or attempt be enough to stop you in your tracks before you were able to shoot anyone else; and give everyone else a chance to subdue you?

Frankly, I think that if we can’t learn to just get along with each other, we could sure use a lot more vomiting.