Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Make A Wish

My birthday was last week, and it was one of the rare times that we weren’t on the road for it. The Upstate New York portion of the family gathered on our front porch for pizza, soda, and Kool-Aid, and then it was time for the cake.

Cheryl lit a candle, and held it out for me to blow out.

“Don’t forget to make a wish!” someone shouted.

I thought carefully about my wish, and then blew out the candle.

“So what did you wish for?” someone asked.

“I can’t tell you,” I replied. “It would spoil the wish.”

But my not telling them what I wished for didn’t prevent them from trying to guess - and they were all way off the mark.

A few days later my mother-in-law called and asked if I had won the lottery.

“Um, I doubt it. Why?”

“Because someone at the Price Chopper near you bought a winning Mega Millions ticket worth $43 million, and I remember that you wished to win the lottery.”

I thought that was funny, since I hadn’t told anyone what I had wished for. When I got off the phone, I told Cheryl about the conversation with her mother.

“So what did you wish for?” she asked.

“You know me well enough, what do you think I wished for?”

“Well, there are lots of good things: for people to leave you alone, for Devra to get a job, for Devra to get into college, for certain people who annoy you at work to get nice jobs somewhere else…”

“You forgot the big one.”

“What’s that?”

“For people to not be stupid.”

You see, to me, all the problems in the world come as a result of people just being bloody stupid. They don’t realize that what’s good for them in the short run may not be in their long-term best interests. They don’t realize that the person they’re mistreating now may be the person they’ll need to save their lives later on. They get in their own way by being so stupid.

And they don’t realize that I’m always right.

“That was a stupid wish,” Cheryl said.


“At least you’d have a chance of winning the lottery. People not being stupid anymore is never gonna happen.”

“But I thought the point of making a wish was to ask for something that you normally wouldn’t get.”

“Yeah,” she said, but you have to have a realistic chance of getting it. Winning the lottery is realistic, having those bozos at work get new jobs somewhere else is realistic; they could all happen. Asking for all humanity to realize that you’re always right, ain’t gonna happen. And if you wish for stupid things like that, you’re just wasting wishes.”

Whoa! That was a totally new concept to me: wasting wishes. This, of course, implied that wishes came true. I figured that if they didn’t come true anyway, then there was no harm in wishing for things like world peace…or people not being stupid. And if they did come true by my wishing, then that’s great for everyone.

But the idea that you could waste a wish by using it for something impossible never occurred to me.

I guess wishes are about things that are theoretically attainable, but just need a little nudge (or a big shove) to have happen. I guess they’re also one of the few times when it really is all about you. That means that wishing for something that serves the greater good of the world may well end up being a stupid, wasted, wish, while wishing for a date with Kari Byron from MythBusters isn’t.

Anyway, enough of this. I need to go to the corner store and see if I got lucky with any of the lottery tickets I bought there.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What's In A Name

It started when a 30-something Sunday School teacher came into the kitchen where the regular group of us were having a conversation, and asked me to come down to her class.
“Mr Gatling, could we borrow you for part of our video project?”

I didn’t think about it at the moment, but I did when I returned to the kitchen, and made a mental note to do something about it. When Sunday School was over, and she came to the kitchen to join us, I said to her, “Erin, what’s my name?”

“Mr Gatling,” she replied.

“No, let’s try this again. What’s my name?”

“Ohhhh. Keith,” she said.

The rest of the kitchen crowd laughed, and someone said, “Yeah, Mr Gatling is his father.”

Well, that wasn’t quite it. It was the fact that I work with people her age and younger, to whom I’m Keith, and there are other people her age at church to whom I’m Keith. As a teacher, she probably works with people my age that she’s on a first name basis with. So why was I Mr Gatling to her?

Because she grew up in this church, and probably remembers me from when she was a teenager, and then I was definitely Mr Gatling to her. Now that she was a grownup too, it was time to change that.

As we got to talking about this, one of the women in the kitchen said how much she hated it when adults introduced themselves to her kids by their first name. She said, “My kids have to call you Mr or Mrs Gatling, or if you don’t like that, I’ll settle for Mr Keith or Miss Cheryl. It’s a matter of respect.”

I bit my tongue.

You see, to me respect isn’t necessarily about the forms we use, but about respecting what the other person wants. And if I want to be called Keith, isn’t it being more respectful to go with what I want than what you want? Besides, I can call you Your Royal Highness, and think you’re a horse’s ass. Similarly, I can call you Chuckie, and be willing to follow you into Hell. But I chose not to fight that battle then.

Sometimes it’s about culture. If I’m from a culture that insists that you address me one way, but you’re from a culture that insists that you address me another one, who wins? Who’s right?

And sometimes the culture doesn’t have to be one of region or nationality, but could be one of where you worked. I worked at McDonald’s in high school, and the corporate culture there said that everyone was on a team together, and that meant that everyone was on a first name basis, no matter how old you were. When my mother came to work at McDonald’s with me and my sister for a few weeks while Western Electric was on strike, she immediately became Elsie, and once that genie was out of the bottle, it never went back in.

There is so much more to this, but I don’t have the time right now to talk about the question of how old you were when you first met someone, and how the same age difference can mean different things when you’re 3 and 17 than when you’re 13 and 27.

So…am I Keith, Mr Gatling, Mr G, or even just G? It all depends on who you are and when I met you.

And if you respect me, you’ll address me the way that I’d prefer to be addressed.

Although, if it really makes you feel more comfortable, I’ll let you call me something more formal than I might be happy with.

Oh Great Exalted One would be nice.