Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I have to admit it right off the top. At my advanced age, I managed to develop an interest in a lovely young waitress at a local eatery. Not without good cause, mind you. This particular head-turning delight would easily capture the attention of any healthy heterosexual male between the ages of 14 and 94. Well, that certainly qualified me, and for that reason I did not consider myself out-of-line.
To my increasing annoyance, the incessant tsk-tsking of my grown-up brain was frustratingly unwelcome. Floating in and out with its repetitive warnings, the intrusion only served to disrupt the lovely illusion I was busily forming.
Naturally, this all took place between us in utter silence. No one outside of my inner-self needed to know that I hosted these internal conversations on a semi-regular basis. The unrelenting brain, in its typically pointed fashion, continued to ask such questions as “just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Before long, whenever the brain insisted upon breaking through the wall and barging into my consciousness, another factor from within was prepared to deal with it. The raging hormones of my inner 16-year-old, the very same adventurous teenager who continues to remain active (all the while refusing to get a job), was ready with his response.
“What’s the problem? What could be healthier? It’s perfectly normal! Don’t be so old-fashioned! Hey, man … ignore that tired old codger. LET’S LIVE WHILE WE STILL CAN!”
Refusing to address the hyperactive kid directly, the grown-up brain countered with a snort of contempt. “You hear that? He makes no sense. You could easily be the girl’s father! Hell, maybe her GRANDFATHER! You already have two terrific and special women in your life. Aren’t you the one who says openly and frequently that you’re damned lucky to have them? So grow up, you silly old fool!”
This phenomenon, it’s amazing. But I must be honest. In the end, there would be nothing the brain could say or do that would mute the sense of possibility, spurred on as it was by the overanxious kid’s imagination. The tug-of-war would continue, but the “wouldn’t it be nice” dream the kid kept pushing never stopped driving that message home. A politician running for office should be so persuasive.
Approaching the restaurant, I once again thought of the young waitress’s lovely unblemished features, made all the more appealing by her sparkling blue eyes. Her hair positively glimmered as sunlight bathed it. The work-ordained ponytail she sported merrily bounced along to an inaudible but insistent rhythm. It all conspired to create a symphony of loveliness in cadence with her movements.
By the time I'd entered the gastric emporium, I had already made the decision to put my best foot forward by simply going with the flow. Jauntily striding in while still attempting to organize my thoughts, I quickly noticed the waitress in action. Her arms were extended as she expertly carried dishes full of tempting lunch fare. The thoughts I entertained had nothing to do with the food.
Soon after the hostess seated me, the waitress approached with a menu, all-the-while flashing her warm and inviting smile. None-too-cleverly, I began building towards the real purpose of my visit. You know the bit … a hello, intended to be perceived as smooth, a little joke and a wink of approval. She returned the greeting, politely giggled at my attempt at humor, and acted as if she hadn’t noticed the wink. Maybe she hadn’t.
When the busy waitress returned minutes later, rather than placing an order, I told her I had a question to ask. That was just fine, she stated. No doubt anticipating that the query was related to a menu item, she seemed slightly taken aback when I said, “My dear, are you married, engaged or otherwise seriously involved with someone?” In my mind, I congratulated myself for not coming across as too much of a jerk (at least in my eyes).
The look on her face confirmed that I’d indeed caught her by surprise. But she also recovered quickly and responded with little hesitation.
“Yes, I am. I have a pretty wonderful boyfriend, and he’s a very remarkable guy.” She lowered her shimmering blue eyes slightly and added softly, “I know you understand.”
“Of course I do,” I said, perhaps a bit too quickly, adding, “Actually, I fully expected something along those lines.” I didn’t believe my own words.
Concluding with as much gallantry as I was able to muster, I added, “He’s a very lucky fellow, he is. I want to wish you both nothing but happiness.”
“Thank you,” she said, again flashing her killer smile. “I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order.”
You know, it’s amazing how the brain is wired. The waitress’s blonde ponytail, still bouncing with the precision of a metronome, hadn’t yet faded from view when the brain dropped by for a visit. True to form, it was only too anxious to drive its triumphant point home. "Was I on the mark?" it asked. "Well, was I?"
“For crying out loud,” I grumbled, gritting my teeth. "Not now, all right?" Surely this three pound lump in my head was only too aware that I very well knew the answer to its rhetorical question. Did it really have to be so maddeningly smug when alluding to the obvious?
The damn thing continued speaking in the same tone as an adult would to a perpetually misbehaving schoolboy. “You see what I was saying? There was no chance … I’ll repeat myself … NO CHANCE of ever establishing a connection. But you had to go and give in to your puerile flights of fancy. I kept telling you, did I not, to stop before you started?”
My response, which was accompanied by a mental grimace, came rapidly as I silently shot back, “Okay. Okay. I get the message. Now knock it off!”
“Fine. There’s just one last thing I’d like to add before I finish,” my berating brain proclaimed. “The next time this sort of thing occurs …”
“Yeah?” I responded to the chastising organ with resignation.
“Remember your age!”
“I get it. I'm with you. You’re right, and I’ll try.”
Since having this last conversation some hours ago, I sincerely believe I’ve come to accept those parting words from my good and true friend, the brain. I am now far more cognizant of my years every waking moment.
My back hurts incessantly. Sometimes I stand before an exasperated toilet, barely able to pee. I’m taking a lot of short naps for no particular reason. I get irritated without provocation. Yes, I truly do understand. I now feel every bit as old as I really am.
Wait a minute. What’s that? Who the hell is playing that hip hop noise so loud? TURN THAT CRAP OFF AND I MEAN RIGHT NOW! YOU KIDS ARE SPOILED ROTTEN! GET YOUR USELESS BUTTS OFF MY LAWN AND OUT OF MY SIGHT, OR I’LL CALL THE COPS! DON’T THINK I WILL? TRY ME, PUNKS!
See? My brain is really very smart..
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Note: It may appear that what you are reading is a duplicate column, found on both of my websites (Perspectives on Wrestling and Richard Berger’s Point of View). Please be aware that the first three paragraphs are indeed identical. After that, they diverge into separate subjects. I view it as a quick and easy way to get the same point across without re-writing. Others may call it proof of laziness.
Hello to my friends everywhere…
I must apologize. I’ve not been updating both of the websites far longer than I ever would have anticipated. I want to thank those folks that took the time to send e-mail inquiring about the status of my health, both physically and mentally. It’s good to be able to say I’m doing reasonably well (okay, the mental aspects have always been questionable), and I sincerely appreciate the concern people have expressed. In general, things are not bad, and the fact is they could be a whole lot worse. So, there are no complaints from me.
Occasionally, situations of the personal variety will crop up unexpectedly. In some cases, they demand virtually all of one’s attention. Such was the case for yours truly. And while the difficulties appear to be resolved, the circumstances demanded most of my time and all of my patience. Trust me; nobody would have wanted to read anything I might have written during that period.
So, unless the loose ends aren’t secured as well as I’d like to believe they are, these sites will be updated more frequently. And yes, to the few that inquired, I’m still working on the book. An announcement will be made as it comes close to publication, hopefully before year’s end. But for now, let’s move forward.
All societies are complex by their very nature. Depending on what philosophy a government practices, individual expression will be permitted more in some than in others. Still, despite variances in tolerance from country to country, the urge to conform is a human trait. From the most totalitarian and oppressive nations to the more lenient and liberal, the desire to create a society that abides by a certain code of conduct is consistent.
Despite the ominous move towards a police state mentality in the United States' recent past, there still remains a somewhat more open attitude than what is true for many countries. True, at least when it comes to general behavior and how people conduct themselves in public settings. This is at the heart of the point I hope to make. While likely to be considered trivial by many, I believe it to be indicative of how a society perceives itself, both at home and in the world.
I’ve found myself becoming more and more unhappy and discouraged as time passes. The downgrading of human verbal interaction in the North American public has, in my estimation, reached an all-time low. Hearing young and old alike using four-letter-words as a part of general conversation, most of the time unnecessarily so, causes a certain dyspepsia within me.
My reaction is certainly not unique. I’ve observed the distressed facial expressions of people within hearing range of a barrage of foul verbiage, and they mirror mine. No matter what the age of the offender (although it is particularly disheartening when it comes from the very young), it is undeniable proof of a coarseness that is pervasive throughout North America.
Sadly, this form of “verbal violence” has grown unrelentingly. And worst of all, it seems to have been accepted to one degree or another most everywhere. Perhaps it's a case of mass resignation to the ever-growing avalanche of foul language. Still, I'm a cockeyed optimist, and I continue to believe it may yet be halted, or at least minimized.
Now, I absolutely have no problem with hearing or using foul language when it’s appropriate. There are plenty of people that will tell you they’ve been witnesses to a crass diatribe or two (million) springing from these lips. No, I do not disparage the USE of such words, only the MISUSE. To insert powerful and incendiary terms as a matter of course sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, brings about three results:
1. It sends a message that the spouting individual most probably possesses a limited vocabulary and is handicapped by lower-than-average intelligence.
2. It encourages the more impressionable within hearing range to emulate those they may consider cool or tough or more worldly. In which case, they “learn” that this is tolerable behavior.
3. Words uttered infrequently carry more weight than those used commonly. By employing terms that had once been reserved primarily for the rare occasions when they emphasized a point, they now fail to grab the listener's attention. By using profanity in everyday conversations, the very purpose behind it is defeated, with the intended impact greatly reduced.
Plain and simple, I maintain that it is not a respectable form of expression. When the occasion calls for a particularly strong word or image, then fine, you’ll get no argument from me. (The exception would be as it pertains to the time and place involved, which has everything to do with it. As a rule, when children are in the area, it is NEVER appropriate to delve into the blue).
If people truly want respect from others, they would be far better served by talking in a conversational and convincing manner without resorting to vulgarism. Breaking out colorful terminology among friends in a private setting is perfectly reasonable; when talking within earshot of the general public, it is not.
Being an avowed left-leaning person all my life (at least politically), it bothers me just a bit when it comes to laying out rules and regulations on how the populace should behave itself. The freedom to develop our own strengths and discover our own limits as a people begins within the individual. Beyond the basic tenets (i.e. do not kill others with the possible exception of self-defense), I’d much prefer living in a community that adheres to a standard. One that promotes the principle that each and every person may choose his own philosophy of life.
But when it comes to using the English language in public, I maintain that there must be an understanding and an agreed upon accord. It would be one small step towards comprehending ourselves and others, along with strengthening our solidarity as a people. The flagrant misuse of words and their intended meanings only serves to undermine such goals as well as diminishing us as a society..
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Recently, a discussion began among a small group of friends, of which I was one. The topic was jury duty, who did it and who avoided it. Those that had enjoyed their time in service (perhaps endured is the better word) had plenty of stories to share. The following was mine, and there is no exaggeration involved. (Okay, maybe slightly so. But only slightly).
Back in the early 70s and still living in my hometown of Los Angeles, CA, I was served notice to appear two weeks later at the Superior Court of Los Angeles. Thankfully, it was only for jury duty. Call me crazy, but I looked forward to the opportunity. I thought it would be a good one-month-long first-hand learning experience. The fact that my current job was fairly routine and sometimes rather dull probably made the prospect more enticing than it otherwise might have been.
As I recall, the city repaid all of the jurors so much for every mile they drove to get there. So, I wasn’t out-of-pocket in any way. After all, my employer was obligated to pay my regular salary during this period. Before it was over, I had "worked" as a juror on two cases, both of which I found to fluctuate between engrossing and boring. While each of them was a civil trial, this was the real deal, not a TV recreation.
And wouldn’t you know it? The first case concluded with a moment of high drama that exceeded anything I’d ever seen out of Hollywood. It had to do with a man who had been a corporal in the Army, stationed somewhere in Texas, not too far from the Louisiana border. For several months, he had been taking pills the Army hospital had prescribed for a condition he had. These tablets contained at least one narcotic, maybe more, which made him very drowsy.
Late one evening, his sergeant (or some other military authority) instructed him to make an overnight run. His mission was to deliver some equipment to a base in Louisiana. The guy explained that he was taking medication and shouldn't be put in a potentially perilous position for obvious reasons. It didn’t matter. He was still ordered to go.
Quite alone, the soldier drove all through the night for something like a couple of hundred miles. Sure enough, he fell asleep and crashed his vehicle, rolling it two or three times. (I seem to recall it was a jeep). The worst of the injuries he suffered was that he lost the ability to turn his right arm and hand from a palm up to a palm down position and vice versa (the act of supination).
So, several years after the event, we all congregated in a Los Angeles courtroom. The former soldier was suing the manufacturer of the seat belt he’d been wearing. The reason the case was being heard such a long distance from where the accident had occurred was simply because the seat belt manufacturer was located in Southern California. Therefore, the luckless ex-corporal had filed a lawsuit in the region where the company was located. Plain and simple, the victim argued that his injuries came about because the belt had been faulty. His claim was that it had opened and released him very much on its own at the moment of impact, and that's what caused the damage, both minor and major.
The trial went on for something like five or six court days. In his opening statement, the plaintiff’s lawyer strongly stated his client’s disability was a direct result of shoddy workmanship, having been caused by the manufacturer's negligence. Experts for both sides were called to the stand. There was also plenty of personal testimony on how the plaintiff's life had been drastically affected by the poor quality of the belt in question.
About three-quarters of the way through the trial, I found myself in sympathy with the soldier's plight. But I also thought the fact that the Army had insisted he go on the excursion when he was not fit to drive also gave them a certain amount of culpability. My thinking was that the plaintiff deserved something along the lines of 70 percent of what he was asking.
I still leaned in that direction when it came time for the final summations. When it was the defendant's turn, the lawyer (a strikingly handsome man), reiterated that his client had never faced a lawsuit in all of the years he’d been in business. The accident was not the firm’s fault, but the soldier's. Perhaps he hadn't been wearing the seat belt properly. Maybe he wasn't wearing it at all! The attorney went on to remind the jury that each one of us had inspected the actual seat belt as much as we’d wanted. At no time had there been any sign that the belt was opening prematurely.
The lawyer for the defense approached the wind-up of his presentation with an air of self-assured cockiness. He had indeed built up the drama of his argument skillfully. As he prepared to make his final and completely convincing wrap-up, he held the belt-in-question by the end strap, swinging it in full arm-circles to emphasize how secure it was.
And ... I swear this happened ... as he continued to build up momentum in both his physical movement and recitation, just as he hit the very peak of emotion … the damn belt released, half of it flying across the room and hitting a wall.
There followed a deathly silence. The lawyer opened up his mouth to say something, but quickly clamped it shut. Instead, he turned beet red, then quickly changed his course to one of contrition, as he weakly finished his argument. But it was too late ... everybody in that courtroom knew it. The question of how much would be fair compensation to award the corporal was no longer in doubt.
When we went back to the Jury Room to discuss it, most everybody chimed in, saying, "Did you see how that belt came apart?" and other similar comments. A few acknowledged that they'd been favoring the manufacturer for the same reason I'd been planning to vote for giving the plaintiff a reduced award.
It only took a few hours before we came to a unanimous decision. The soldier was given everything he sought, and we all felt perfectly justified in rendering that group opinion.
I have no idea whatever became of the defendant’s lawyer, the man that had been embarrassed to the point of abject humiliation. Afterwards, everybody involved in the case, including the jury, met in the hallway just outside of the courtroom. It was not hard to comprehend why the only person not in attendance was the one lawyer that had made the biggest impression.
From time-to-time, I’ve reflected on this unforgettable moment in jurisprudence. Perry Mason had never been so dramatic. And I, for one, was sincerely grateful that this experience had dropped into my lap, whether or not I was wearing a seat belt.