Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You Will Not Do This

I’m a little late this week because I was a little sick last week. Let me rephrase that…I was a lot sick last week. I lost three days of my life to that nasty stomach virus that’s been sweeping across the United States, leaving millions of people gripping their stomachs and running for the bathroom. And at the risk of giving you much more information than you really wanted, not only was this the first time I’d thrown up in over 35 years, but Cheryl also said that when I did, I exploded.

Cheryl did yeoman’s work taking care of me and cleaning up after me. Many of you may figure that that’s no big deal, since she’s a nurse, but there are a few other things to consider. The first is that she had called in sick herself, with a head cold, when I suddenly came down with this thing, and she ended up taking care of me rather than me taking care of her. The other is that it brought back to mind an incident that happened in church many years ago.
Our pastor was telling the story of the president of a Christian college whose wife had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. When he got the diagnosis, he decided to resign immediately, and spend the rest of his time taking care of the woman he loved full-time. His associates thought he was making a terrible mistake. Surely he could hire someone to take care of his wife while he continued to run the college. Surely he could put her in a nursing home. But he was adamant – he had made a commitment when they got married, and he was sticking to it. 
As I listened from the bass section of the choir, I thought about the many patients Cheryl had to deal with at the hospital, and that she “only” has to deal with them for eight hours before she gets to come home to rest, and I decided that there was no way I wanted her trying to do that 24/7 for me. So I tore off a part of my church bulletin, and sent a note up to her in the alto section that said, “You will not do this.” 
At the same time my note was going forward, she was sending one back to me. Hers said, “Beautiful story – but just find me a nice nursing home.”
She’s right. It was a beautiful story, but it didn’t begin to even deal with reality. It didn’t deal with the reality that she knew as a nurse and that I knew as the husband of one; and neither one of us wanted the other to feel that they had to try to do by themselves what there are entire staffs available to do…to do well, and to do while getting a little time off from before you have to face it again.

For three days I lay in bed, watching as Cheryl cleaned up after me, as she brought me what little food and drink I felt like dealing with at a time, taking care of all of the household chores that I usually attend to, and I was reminded of that day in church when we both passed notes to each other. And my resolve became stronger, so if you didn’t get it when it came around the first few times, I’m telling you once again now:

When I become old and infirm, unable to take care of myself, leaking from every bodily orifice, and unable to recognize anyone, Cheryl is to put me into a nursing home. I love her too much to want her to try to put in 36-hour days taking care of me.

And if any of you try to guilt her into doing it herself, I will briefly find the strength to rise up out of my bed and smack you upside the head with my IV pole.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Looking for the Truth in a Pack of Lies

You know, I’m a big fan of the truth. Not the brutal, unvarnished truth like what AJ Jacobs did with his experiment in Radical Honesty, which he wrote about for Esquire back in 2007, and I definitely believe in lying in order to pull off a successful surprise for someone. I’m a big fan of the practical truth, the reasonable truth, the truth that’s not used in a hurtful manner.

Along with this goes the fact that I’m not a big fan of lying…except as I mentioned before, for the sake of pulling off a surprise party, or sparing someone’s feelings…or their life. And I have no problem with being “economical with the truth” from time to time. With this in mind, I really don’t need to tell the Nazis that I’ve got Anne Frank hiding in my attic (although I know of some people who believe that their obligation to always tell the truth would take them to just such extremes).

But what I hate most of all is lying in support of the truth…lying in support of something we think is good. I can’t buy this. I firmly believe that our noble goal should be able to stand on the truth, and not on outright lies or even a little bending of the truth. This is for both practical and philosophical reasons. One of the practical reasons is that if the people you’re trying to convince of your truth discover a lie, not a mistake, but an outright lie, in your argument, then they’re likely to dismiss everything else you’ve said.

And this is why I have a problem with so much of what we’ve said as we’ve tried to prevent people from smoking.

Yes, I know that smoking is a nasty habit. I know that it can kill you. But I also believe that hyperbole isn’t the way to get people to stop.

Let me start by taking a look at one of the best-known lies used in trying to fight smoking. This was the argument RJ Reynolds must be marketing cigarettes to children because more children recognized the “cartoon character” Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse. Even if this were true, it wouldn’t mean anything. Why? Because it’s quite possible that more children recognized Mr Clean than Mickey Mouse. Did that mean that Procter and Gamble is hawking cleaning products to children? I doubt it. And I don't recall seeing kids flocking to help their parents scrub that floor because Mr Clean made it look cool. But here’s the kicker…the actual situation was that more children recognized Joe Camel than the stylized Mickey Mouse outline logo for the Disney Channel. That’s something completely different, and when you ask yourself how many children got the Disney Channel at home, you can see where the problem…and the lie is.

And once you know about that lie, you start to wonder what other lies are being told in an effort stop smoking.

Then there’s the big lie…the lie that we non-smokers don’t realize is a lie, but that many smokers do. But wait, maybe this isn’t really a lie, perhaps while it’s an inaccuracy that’s simply not true. However, because many smokers know that this simply isn’t true, they don’t listen to us.

What is this lie? The “fact” that smoking causes lung cancer.

“Now wait a minute!” I hear you saying. “It’s an established fact that smoking causes lung cancer. So how can that be a lie?”

Very simple…it’s as much a lie as saying that crossing the street causes people to be hit by cars. Yes, had Johnny not been trying to cross the street, he wouldn’t have been hit by that Buick, but there isn’t a direct one-to-one correspondence between crossing the street and getting run over. Most people who cross the street don’t get hit. The same applies to smoking, and the smokers know it.

I was curious about this, so I checked it out on Wikipedia, and while roughly 80% of lung cancer deaths can be attributed to smoking, it’s not true that 80% of smokers get lung cancer. Instead, its occurrence in smokers is “only” about 14%. This means that 86% of smokers don’t get lung cancer.

So smokers aren’t deluding themselves when they say that their great-aunt Sally smoked all her life until she died in her sleep at age 92. In fact, my grandfather was a smoker, and died at age 86. Similarly, my father was a smoker, and died at age 80. As a result, when they hear us say that “smoking causes lung cancer,” as if there were a direct one-to-one correspondence, they tend to roll their eyes and ignore us, because they know it’s not true.

Then what is truth? The truth is that smoking increases your likelihood of getting lung cancer tenfold, from 1.4% to 14%. The truth is that smoking is a major factor in a number of other diseases, such as heart disease, emphysema, and stroke. Oh…and for you guys out there, it’s a key factor in erectile dysfunction. But again, while it greatly increases the likelihood of developing one of those problems, it is not a direct one-to-one correspondence. Many people…most people…do indeed cross the street every day…even in Midtown Manhattan…without getting hit by a car.

But…and here’s the important difference…you have to cross the street to get places. It’s a necessary risk. On the other hand, there is absolutely no reason why anyone needs to smoke.

Besides, as I learned when I was 19, kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.

And that’s the truth.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Isn't It Romantic?

Last Valentines Day Cheryl took me to dinner at my favorite restaurant; the Spaghetti Warehouse.

Just me. No kids, even though they both love the place too. No, this was just the two of us, celebrating Valentine's Day a day early because she had the night off and the 14th was a school night anyway. So we each grabbed our magazines and stuff, got into the van, and headed out to eat.

When we got there, we asked to be seated in the "trolley car." We like sitting in the trolley, and it also has much better light to work by. So we sat there reading our separate magazines and circling coupons while we waited for our dinner to arrive.

When our waitress came by with the mozzarella sticks, I turned to her and said, "This may not look romantic, but after 25 years, we get to just sit and read together."

The woman at the table behind us agreed.

No, it's not that we're so bored with each other that we bury ourselves into our reading when we go out. Quite the contrary, we enjoy sitting and reading together. After 25 years we don't have to stare into each other's eyes all the time anymore; and just to be somewhere anywhere, without the kids once in a while is a wonderful thing.

Many years ago, around 1980, Suzanne Britt Jordan wrote a piece for Newsweek that I wish I could find again, about how the ideal of marriage is not necessarily to always be like new young lovers, but instead, to eventually end up like old friends. She complained that those who divorced after many years because "the thrill was gone" had simply missed the point. A bonfire is great and exciting, but it doesn't keep you warm for as long as the slowly burning fire.

Hey, we might not have looked all that romantic that night, sitting there at the Spaghetti Warehouse, reading our separate magazines, and circling coupons while we waited for our dinner. But after 25 years we don't have to stare into each other's eyes all the time anymore, and just to be able to be somewhere, ANYWHERE, without the kids once and a while is a wonderful thing.

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Eyes Up!

Perhaps I had been living under a rock, since I don’t watch much TV, but I had never heard of Nigella Lawson until I saw a humorous post on Facebook comparing the results of her eating and cooking habits to those of Scottish nutritionist Gillian McKeith.

Intrigued, I decided to do a little more research on this woman who looked like she obviously enjoyed what she cooked, and had a body to die for. Indeed, I was especially intrigued…and heartened…by the many women who applauded her for showing that you can have a body larger than a toothpick and still be considered hot. (Well, duh…all of us guys knew that, it seems to be the women who are stuck on this thin kick.).

And then, as I was doing my reading, I found a post from one particularly bitter woman who complained that “the Queen of Gastroporn” can’t cook worth a darn, and that the only reason people watch her show is “because she has a nice rack.”

Well…OK now…I think that someone here has some issues.

But as I thought about it some more, a question kept nagging at me (and probably nags at a lot of other guys too). Why is it OK to admire a woman’s beautiful eyes or beautiful face, but not to admire her beautiful chest? I mean, after all, they’re all body parts, aren’t they? They’re all part of the whole package, right? So why is it OK for a guy to sit there transfixed by a woman’s incredibly deep blue eyes, but if he lowers his gaze 13 inches, she’s likely to think he’s a pig?

I needed to find out, so checked online, and then I asked someone who I thought would be an expert on this…my wife…after all, last I checked, she was a woman. She might be able to fill me in here on what I was missing.

The answers I got were all pretty much along the same line: staring at the eyes or face shows that you’re interested in her as a person, while staring at her chest shows that you only have one thing in mind. It’s invasive, and makes her feel uncomfortable and unsafe, as if you’re molesting her visually.

And yet, while I understood the words I was hearing, Mr Dense here, still didn’t quite grasp it. It still didn’t quite make sense to me. After all, if I’m staring at the face of a beautiful woman, I’m likely thinking the same thing that she’s worried about me thinking if I’m looking lower. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if I’m talking to a woman with an incredibly engaging personality, I’m likely thinking the same thing. Hello…I’m a guy…we’re wired that way. If we’re attracted to you in any way…eyes, face, personality…chest, our minds are gonna go there. Actually, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s an issue for another post.

So why isn’t that invasive? Or did that just change now that you found out how our minds actually work?

I brought up my question to a bunch of people I work with, and one of the guys said that the problem is that there’s such a huge “no fly zone” with women’s bodies, that it makes it almost impossible to look anywhere but their eyes without being offensive. When he talks to me, he doesn’t have to always have his eyes locked my face; in fact, that would be rather awkward for both of us. Because we’re both guys, his eyes can drift to just about any other part of my body, and not mean a thing.

This got me wondering…would we actually be a bit more relaxed about things if huge portions of the female anatomy weren’t considered “no fly zones?” Would guys feel as compelled to try to “sneak a peek” if looking at a woman’s chest was considered no different than looking at her arm, or anything else that just happened to be there?

OK ladies, what do you think?