The Dumbest Thing I Ever Heard

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On our recent trip to Raleigh for the holidays, I had an interesting exchange with my son-in-law, Nat. With our other two children already having returned to their homes in Orlando and Arlington, VA, only my wife Theresa and I remained. Along with our daughter, Lilly, the four of us were on our way to a restaurant for lunch and then to the airport.

Nat was driving and I was in the front passenger seat of their Nissan Leaf. Lilly and Theresa were in the back. Lilly and Nat are pretty serious about the environment and had recently purchased this electric car. We had spent a lot of time discussing the pros and cons over the week of our visit. I was working out quite well for them.

When I mention discussing the Leaf, I should add that Nat leaves little to speculation. He is a researcher near the end of his PhD in epidemiology. Not only does the car spit out massive amounts of data and telemetry, Nat and Lilly had crunched many additional numbers justifying their purchase.

Nat is also kind of a safety nut. The term “nut” is clearly unfair as everyone should practice a reasonable amount of safety and the moniker exists only because most people do not. Still, even my wife, a Compliance Director, is impressed by the length of Nat’s safety analysis and rule following. Since I am somewhat of a stathead myself, it appears that Lilly, in a way, married a slightly more extreme version of her parents.

While driving to the restaurant, Nat had the occasion to blow his horn at another driver. Knowing that Nat was not one to honk in anger or retribution, I asked what his standard was for horn usage. I know, it sounds pretty nerdy, but that’s the kind of thing that analytical people talk about…at least I do. During the discussion, Nat mentioned something along the lines of that as a safety device, he usually used his horn to warn others about impending danger, particularly those behind him who could not see what was coming.

I am fully aware that this is probably very close to the actual purpose of a car horn, but also that very few people use it in this manner. So few, I imagine, that the typical driver would not even take his horn blowing as a warning. Still, I had another thought. It seemed to me that the physical design of the car horn was aimed forward from the car, rendering it somewhat less effective in warning people behind you.

At this point, Nat said something rather unexpected. He said, “That was the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

Lilly immediately told Nat that she thought that his statement seemed a bit harsh. I took no offense, not until later, and for a couple of other reasons. In fact, after a great week, and the fact that we were leaving shortly, I completely dropped the whole thing, figuring I had either touched a nerve or that Nat just had a brain fart and overreacted.

At the restaurant, I went to the restroom, and apparently Nat apologized to Lilly and Theresa. I just thought it was kind of funny. On the plane back to Ft. Lauderdale, however, I thought a little more about the incident. When I got back home, I began doing some research. I first looked up the patents for various car horns. While there were improvements over the years, they are nearly all directional, facing forward, and on the front of the car. This does not make them unable to be heard from behind, but certainly less effectively. Imagine the difference listening to a marching band as the move toward you and away from you.

I then did some research on acoustics and found some graphs displaying the effect of sound coming from a directional device. The bulk of the sound pretty much covered a 180 degree arc centered directly ahead of the source. I imagined Paul Revere warning the people of outer Boston. I’m sure that Paul could be heard by people in front of him and in the houses on the sides. Unfortunately, those who were behind him probably never found out that the British were coming until they saw the whites of their eyes.

Whether anyone agrees with this research or not, it certainly passed the threshold of “The dumbest thing I ever heard.” Even the fact that I did the research was dumber. Maybe it wasn’t my acoustical interpretation that had offended Nat. Maybe it was the questioning of his safety protocols. Just because every other psychopath on the road uses their horn as a weapon of attack and revenge, that’s no reason for all of us to descend into chaos, is it?

I met with a friend who did some time as a municipal court judge. She told me that it was indeed illegal to use your horn as anything other than a warning of potential calamity. I mentioned that the law seemed to go against practice out in the real world and she agreed. As a matter of fact, only once did she ever preside over a case regarding aggressive horn usage. An officer had cited a driver, but did not show up for the court case. My friend had to look up the statute. It stated that in order to be in violation, the use of the horn had to be of “inordinate length.” Even the statute didn’t seem to be all that concerned about safety. Case dismissed!

I had to be going about this all wrong. I wasn’t even claiming to be right, a pretty big concession on my part. What was I missing? Maybe this wasn’t about the car horn. Is it possible that Nat’s threshold for dumbness was that different than mine? I decided to call my friend Tyrone. After all, he was the person, to whom I have most frequently said, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

After relating the story to Tyrone, he agreed that this was unusual hyperbole from Nat. Tyrone said, “I’m certain to hear something dumber than that during any five minutes of radio sports talk.” I agree. With the recent election, three out of every five Facebook posts are candidates for a new low in dumbness.

“Wait,” I replied, “Nat has probably never heard a minute of sports talk radio. He also doesn’t watch sports on TV. I don’t think that he has any presence on social media either.”

“Interesting,” said Tyrone. “He also has smart parents and a smart wife. I can’t imagine that he runs into many doofuses in his PhD program. But could his threshold for stupidity be that high? He goes to the supermarket. He drives a car. He must have wandered into a Post office at some point. That’s the dumbest place on the planet. I’m sure it was just a brain fart like you first guessed.”

“I suppose you’re right, Tyrone. I don’t even know why I gave it a second thought.”

“Sure you do. You often pride yourself on being the smartest guy in the room.”

“So?”

“Let’s say that you trip and fall, hit your head and die. Or, you fall out of an airplane at 30,000 feet and die when you hit the ground. Both deaths are instantaneous on impact, but in the second scenario, you have more time to think about it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not the impact that’s bothering you. It’s the length of the fall.”

“Dude, that is the dumbest thing I ever heard.”

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Who’s Bad?

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Who’s bad? This question was asked by the so-called King of Pop Michael Jackson, at the end of his hit song, “Bad.” Four years later, Michael’s own brother, Jermaine, released a song entitled, “Word to the Badd” as some sort of message to his brother. Apparently their differences ran so deeply that they couldn’t even agree on the spelling of bad/badd.

I mention this to illustrate the differences that even the closest of loved ones can have, even after decades together. This issue began a few weeks ago when my wife Theresa and I went to The Ale House, a local sports bar, for dinner. Well, actually it began several months earlier, when I purchased a particular shirt at a thrift store.

The shirt was a polo, new with tags in my size. It was somewhere between a plum color and eggplant and at $2.25 was a bargain at half price. But the best part about the shirt was the emblem. It was embroidered with the “Miller’s Ale House Restaurants” logo with the word “COACH” stitched below. It gave me an idea.

I have been buying shirts with interesting logos for years. Most of them go unnoticed, but a few have received a surprising number of comments. For example, I had a shirt with a logo for a TV station, Carolina 14, assumedly in somewhere in North Carolina. It seems that people from North Carolina are friendlier than I am accustomed to. People were constantly coming up to me like we were old buddies because we watched the same station at one point. Being from New Jersey, I might have been inclined to respond with something along the lines of, “What the hell are you talking about?” Theresa would ask why I wore the shirts if I didn’t like the comments. Hmm, good question.

Another shirt had the logo of Flanagan High School, located in southwestern Broward County, Florida, about 20 miles from our home in Coral Springs. A quick peek at their Wikipedia page shows their most famous alumni being two major leaguers, Mike Napoli and J. D. Martinez, and porn star Riley Reid. I’ve seen at least two of them. What the web page fails to mention is that the school supplies the waitstaff for every restaurant in the county. For some reason, every time I wore that shirt to a restaurant, the server would ask, “Did you teach at Flanagan? I went there!” Seriously, 100% of the time.

Theresa and I had just returned from out Christmas trip to Raleigh at 3:00 that Friday morning. She had to get up a few hours later to go to work and I took care of several loads of laundry. Since we were pretty tired and had no food in the house, I suggested that we extend our vacation one day, and treat ourselves to dinner at The Ale House. I showered and got dressed. At the last minute I remembered the shirt and put it on.

While in Raleigh, we visited several restaurants. The odd thing was that we had a surprising run of mediocre service in North Carolina. This was unusual as the service there is typically better than in South Florida. We chalked it up to it being during the holidays and also some bad luck. We are not the type to complain or screw a server on the tip. Everyone has a bad day. I mean, we all got our food and we were all together. That’s what counts, right?

On the other hand, I always check restaurant reviews before going to a new place. I’m looking for the overall tone of the reviews and try to avoid places described as dirty. I also can’t help checking out the one-star reviews just to see what the lunatics have to say. The reason I say this is that I have never seen a review of ANY restaurant that doesn’t have at least one review that describes a worse experience than I have ever had in my entire life.

I figure as a rough estimate of a restaurant per week for my adult life, that’s roughly 2000 visits, 5000 if you count fast food. I’ve certainly had my share of crappy waiters and food. Still, how high can my expectations be from kids making $2.85 per hour plus tips? I’ve even seen reviews where people are clearly writing the review course by course while in the restaurant. What kind of narcissist thinks anyone is waiting for their opinion?

We went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast on the way to dropping someone off at the airport. There were eight of us and it was pretty crowded. We were given a waiter, a big Mennonite-looking kid, named Eli. Eli had only one star on his apron, so our expectations were already lowered. As expected, Eli was very new and clearly in over his head. I also noticed that neither the manager, nor any of his three and four-starred co-workers lifted a finger to help or advise him. We didn’t complain. We left a fair tip. We didn’t post a review. We even joked that we should come back every Christmas to see if Eli ever gets his second star.

Back at The Ale House, we were seated in a booth and the server, Nicolette, came by. She immediately saw my shirt and pleasantly said that she figured I would be watching her closely. To continue the bit, I said something mildly neutral like, “I’m just here to help.” The funny part was that we received the most remarkably attentive service that we had ever received at a sports bar. It’s not as though we received anything special, but after our experiences in North Carolina, it was both noticeable and extremely pleasant.

If we asked for something, she moved quickly to take care of it. She also moved quickly to get to our table. If my drink reached the one-third level, Nicolette was there for with a refill. When I happily related my joy to Theresa, she said, “You’re so bad.”

I was immediately taken aback. Bad? I could see if you called me provocative, or a screwball, or odd, or a freak, or a psychopath, but bad? This wasn’t meant to be bad. At worst it was an example of antics. Sure, buying a shirt specifically to wear to a restaurant so I can freak out the waiter is a bit goofy, but it’s hardly bad. Actually, I might even be doing Nicolette a favor. She may realize that if she treats all customers as though they were evaluating her, she might do a better job and make more money. Why I should be a restaurant coach.

Theresa is a Compliance Director. I figured that in her career, there is no place for antics. But I realized that it’s deeper than that. Her family was comprised of primarily stern people. They didn’t get or tolerate antics either. I grew up watching The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, and Bugs Bunny. My grandfather was the biggest needler of all time. My childhood was immersed in antics. She grew up in a world where antics were bad.

As usual, Theresa scoffed at my theory and Nicolette brought our check. She brightly said, “I don’t know how we do discounts from other stores, so my manager is coming by to see you.” Theresa turned white and said, “I’m going to the bathroom.” She literally ran away.

A moment later, the manager, Carl, walked up and introduced himself to me. I shook his hand and explained that I was just a screwball having a bit of fun. I told him that Nicolette was spectacular and that I had no reason to believe that she gave us any less than her normal level of service. I also tipped her at over twenty percent and asked Carl not to tell her that I was a fake. “Tell her that she did a great job. I don’t want her to be embarrassed as she has nothing to be embarrassed about. Why ruin her day?” He agreed and I hope that he kept her in the dark. No harm, no foul.

While walking to the car, I told Theresa what had transpired, but I don’t think she changed her opinion of the incident. I dropped my hand behind her and gave her a nice squeeze on the ass cheek. She wriggled away and said, “You’re so bad.” Well, maybe I’m a little bad.

 

Requiem for a Welterweight

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My daughter’s in-laws laid their beloved pet pug, Scooter, to rest last week. Normally, this would not be significant news for me, but I had the pleasure of being around for some of Scooter’s final days.pug3

I am not a dog person. As a matter of fact, all pets kind of freak me out. My grandmother was deathly afraid of dogs, so we never had any while I grew up. In hindsight, it’s a bit odd since my grandfather grew up on a farm and was like the animal whisperer. He could make a kissing noise with his lips, and every animal, wild or tame, would walk up to him serenely.

pug7My wife and I had the pleasure of spending the holidays in Raleigh, NC with our daughter and son-in-law Nat, along with our other two children and their husband and fiancée. Nat’s brother and his fiancée were visiting from Japan, so his parents, Jackie and Earle hosted the entire crowd on Christmas day.

Jackie and Earle have been involved with pug rescue for many years. I was unfamiliar with a program that rescued a particular breed of dog. Quitepug8 frankly, it seemed to me to be a bit like whatever the dog equivalent of racism is. Even so, if you were going to rescue a particular breed of dog, would you choose a pug? There are useful dogs, heroic dogs, attractive dogs…and pugs. If I ran into a burning Hollywood studio and could only save George Clooney or Danny Devito…well, you get the idea.

Scooter came to Jackie and Earle about ten years ago. The vet that they work with had a pug that was born basically without the dog equivalent of shoulders or elbows. He kind of shoved himself around with his back legs. The doctor pug55felt that he could correct this problem by doing some sort of surgery that would build cartilage in place of the missing bones. After several surgeries and a lot of time in casts, Scooter was able to live a relatively normal life.

Nat and his brother Zack grew up with Scooter and several other pugs. All of them were, well, pug-ugly, but Scooter pushed the envelope. He looked like some sort of prehistoric sea creature that Godzilla might do battle with. For some reason, the boys liked naming things, and at various times also referred to Scooter as Little Man, Big pug13B, Lewis, Bill, and Lumbermill…Lumbermill?

Recently, Scooter began suffering from several illnesses. He also lost the use of his sight. During our Christmas visit, I watched as Jackie and Earle fed Scooter, carried him outside and back inside to do his business, inject him with medicine, and lay him back down in his bed. It seemed so pointless to me. I certainly have enough heart to feel sorry for the poor pooch, but what kind of life is that?

It made me think back a few weeks to a class I attended at my local Chabad. The Rabbi was pug4kind enough to invite me to attend a six week course on “How Success Thinks”, a discussion of success interpreted through the Torah. It was interesting, but at one point, the Rabbi was trying to explain the difference between humans and animals. While trying to explain that animals lack emotional motivations, he kind of slipped into a rabbit hole.

Several of the other students brought up dozens of stories, experiences and Facebook videos demonstrating emotional humanistic behaviors from animals. This dog walkedpug11 fifteen hundred miles to blah, blah. Penguins always return to blah, blah. This cat never left the side of blah, blah…that sort of thing. I knew what he was getting at, but these other people were so insistent. I just didn’t get it.

A couple of days after Christmas, Scooter’s test results showed no improvement, and the vet, along with Jackie and Earle made the difficult decision to put Scooter to sleep. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to spend a little time with Scooter at the end. My opinion of dogs didn’t change, but I finally got what was happening at the Chabad. Animals don’t have emotions, pug12but bring out emotions in humans.

Scooter cannot help being loyal. It’s programmed into his DNA and the connections between his food source and his brain. The loyalty that Jackie and Earle showed to their failing fuzzy loved one, however, was amazingly moving. In a world with ever-diminishing civility, it was a breath of fresh air. Some want to believe that it is in the animals themselves, but it’s more powerful than that. The animals give us an opportunity, or at least a hope of being more human.

Jackie and Earle have sadness in their hearts, but their hearts are bigger and stronger because of Scooter. Those are people that I can respect, and more surprisingly, that’s a dog that I can respect.