The Gripes of Wrath

I was involved in a discussion recently that reminded me of a story. Two stories in fact. The discussion was about the two different approaches people will take when seeking assistance. But let me tell the stories first.

The first story involved my daughter and I. We were traveling out to California for a family wedding. To get where we needed to be, we had to fly into Las Vegas and then travel by rental car across the desert to my sister’s home located between two mountain ranges in California. That by the way is a story to be told another time. I had reserved a room on-line in a Vegas hotel and found my daughter and I in the lobby of the hotel just before midnight. We stepped in line behind two women who were traveling together, and like me had not only reserved their room, but had prepaid for it. They were now in a heated argument with the only hotel agent available at this time of night. Their discussion, more than lightly laced with expletives, centered around their demand for a room other than the one they had already paid for. With a little eavesdropping, the conversation was loud enough that it was almost impossible not to eavesdrop, I picked up that though they had prepaid for the room assigned to that offer, they wanted a room that was larger and offered a view of the Vegas Strip. To make matters worse, they were demanding that they would get this upgrade for the same price. The agent was attempting to explain to them that there was nothing she could do as the offer they had paid for was through a third party. The bottom line was that they didn’t care, were unwilling to listen and had now decided to blame all of their problems on this poor agent. After what seemed like an unbearable amount of time and with the line behind us growing exponentially, a second and third agent were called in to pick up those of us waiting patiently, well reasonably patient. As I stepped up to the new agent, I leaned across the desk and said how bad I felt for the poor agent still being harangued by the two women. “No one deserves that kind of treatment.” She gave me a wink and then said just loud enough that the arguing women would hear, “I notice that you are staying with us for one night and reserved a room through our front desk. It appears I will be able to upgrade you at no cost to one of our nicer suites.” With that we were quickly registered and given the room key to a very nice three room suite on one of the upper floors with a view of the Strip brightly lit up below. My only chagrin was that I was sharing this lovely suite with my daughter as opposed to my wife who was forced to stay behind to cover her teaching duties. We had a good laugh about how most of the amenities would be wasted on us but were none the less impressed with our treatment.

Marriott Pool

Before I drive home my point, there is a second story. Last winter, my wife and I had decided to take off for a quick jaunt down to Florida for a brief four day get away. I had again reserved a room, along with our airline tickets, at the Marriott World Resort. Upon arrival, we checked in at the front desk to get our key. The young man waiting on us pointed out that the room was actually booked through a third party and that we were subject to the rooms set aside for that company. He pointed out that they would all be on the lower floors and could only offer a stunning view of the back of the resort and the parking garage. Believe me, at this point my earlier Vegas experience clawed its way back from the recesses of my memory and into my frontal lobe. I had a choice. I replied that I now understood my predicament and that it would be alright. I would chalk it up to lesson learned. What happened next surprised us both. The agent asked what had brought us down to Florida? We explained that we had both just retired, had gotten restless and with winter crushing us, just needed a change of scenery. His response was that he was going to check on any available room and then get cleared to upgrade us. The result after a brief five minute wait, a spacious room on an upper floor complete with a balcony and a view of the pools and surrounding gardens. No additional charges were levied and he then asked if we would prefer a bottle of red or white wine as a show of appreciation for choosing their hotel chain.

Now by this point you are thinking I am either an awesome negotiator or the world’s luckiest traveler. The truth of the matter is that I am neither. What I learned from my Vegas experience and that I have always known to be true is that you get a lot better service when you earn it as opposed to when you demand it. All too often I have witnessed the irate customer taking out their frustration on the one person least likely to have the authority or ability to do anything about it. I have been in a service career of one type or another all of my life and I know how much more likely it was that I would go the extra mile for someone who had earned it. When I find myself on the receiving end of service, I try to make sure I am at least attempting to earn good service. If the two women in Vegas had only considered their position, they too might have received an upgrade instead of even steeper resistance by the agent dutifully following the rules. They chose the gripes of wrath instead of a spoonful of sugar and for all I know are still arguing with the agent to this day. Okay, that might have been an exaggeration. If my wife and I had chosen to demand a better room of the Marriott, I am positive we would have spent our four days admiring our view of the parking garage while sipping our complimentary can of soda. Don’t get me wrong. I am not guaranteeing you an upgrade or a ticket to the promise land just for not complaining. There’s always the Gripes of Wrath if you enjoy going down that rabbit hole, but just consider how much better you and everyone else will feel with a little civility. Choose wisely the next time you have the chance. Parking garage or balcony overlooking the pool might just be the result.

On the Road Again

I’ve been lax in updating my progress since getting my latest bionic knee. It’s been six weeks and I thought I better say something.

I adopted a mantra along the way to answer the reoccurring question, “How are you feeling?” My response has been, “Better than yesterday but hopefully not as good as tomorrow.” Two thoughts on this. First, it hasn’t always been true. There have been days where progress clearly took one step forward and two steps back but that is to be expected with this kind of recovery. Sometimes you work the exercises a little too hard only to wake the next morning too sore to do your best rehab. Fortunately, there have only been a few of these and they seem to be fading in the rear view mirror.

The second and more random thought about this statement, is that it really could apply in general. As good as today was, there is no reason to not hope that tomorrow just may be even better. If we can approach life with this positive attitude, we won’t be likely to miss the opportunities that can in fact make tomorrow even better than today. As I said, it was a random thought, but in this shut in, cooped up, measure every little bit of progress day to day grind, two hours of sleep a night routine, one has a lot of time to think pretty randomly.

I have with my past updates tried to recognize my heroes, the surgery staff, the hospital nurses and eventually the host of physical therapists. I added to that those friends and neighbors that have, without even being asked, stepped in to clear my sidewalk and driveway, drive me to appointments and just plain showed up when I needed a little conversation break.

Today marks the six week anniversary of the surgery. I am walking without a cane for the most part. My wife/ nurse / coach / still makes me take it with me outside of the house for some added support in this weather, but in reality, I just end up carrying it. I have started to leave the house now with much more regularity and have returned to my old bad habit of going out for breakfast and consuming too much coffee. I even returned to the gym a couple of times to start building back up what I clearly lost. I will accept the new aches and pains as something refreshingly different and just my upper body muscles saying thank you.

The big progress marker, I got cleared to drive again. Deb, bless her heart, has been driving me everywhere, and I have been….well a s**t about it. It is a difficult task to be the rider when you have always been the driver and especially hard to take when my style is, to put it mildly, a bit aggressive. I have a new and far better understanding of why our elder parents fight so hard when they are being asked, mostly told, to surrender their driving privileges. Of all our independent activities, most of them have no bearing if we can’t drive. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for hundred year old’s out cruising the boulevards, but we all need to be a tad more empathetic when approaching that treacherous crossroad on life’s highway.

I am close to dancing, but just have a few more “stretches” to go. Their target, the PT people, is 120 degrees of bend and 0 degrees on extension. Currently my numbers sit at 110 and 4 degrees respective, close, but not enough just yet. As I near this end of my recovery journey, I want to thank everyone who has been kind enough to check on my progress and at times, to just be there for me when I needed an ear to bend instead of my knee.

With that said, I’m going to close. It seems I still have miles to log before I am caught up on my driving and right now, I feel the need for speed. Beware you drivers out there going too slow. This whole recovery thing has been slow enough.

The Four “P’s”

Two weeks have passed since I had my knee replacement surgery. Up to this point I was not quite ready to write about the experience. This reluctance has been due to multiple reasons not least of which was the inability to focus on something other than the pain. Additionally, I felt that until I could regain perspective, the dialog would be too negative.

The knee is an incredibly complex joint and to have it removed and replaced requires a great deal of tolerance and motivation to even begin to approach the rehab required to not only heal but to regain the functionality. That journey has taken me all of these first two weeks and I have a lot more work ahead. The good news, each day restores a little more strength and a little more flexibility and that makes the journey a little more bearable.

Lying in the hospital, trying to justify what you have done, considering the possibility that you could have just accepted your condition and continued to limp along, you get the warning of the four P’s; Pain, Pee, Poop and Patience.
Pain is inevitable and the gate I must go through to get to a pain free knee going forward. The doctors and nurses explain that it will be the management of pain that will help spell success. And thus begins a carefully balanced approach to just how much medication will leave me lucid enough to function while still knocking back enough of the pain to allow me to begin the regiment of exercises. I am happy to say that though rough for awhile, the program is working and each day is a little less uncomfortable with longer periods of both sleep and almost pain free periods.

The second P stands for pee. From the moment the surgery is over, the simple act of peeing becomes your first hurdle. It is explained that until I can pee, I can’t go home. It is funny how a topic you would not generally bring up at a gathering, “I think I will go for a nice pee. Be back in a minute”, is now seemingly all they want to talk about. Good news, I conquered the act within the first twenty four hours. And with that, at least I was cleared to start planning on going home. A little rehab would await before I was completely cleared, but this had been an important step. Once I could show some motion and independence, I would be on my way. Not to skip a very important step, they needed to guarantee I wasn’t going home alone. My coach, Deb, would take over the nurses’ role in the next stage of my recovery. There is no way to diminish the role she has played in all of this. She assists, she monitors and she encourages me at every step of my journey. She loads me into the car and delvers me home.

Poop, like pee now becomes the goal. Where peeing was not so difficult, pooping is another task all together. It seems the opiods, designed to hold back the pain, hold back appetite, and yes, pooping as well. I get introduced to my new favorite cocktail, apple juice and Miralax. Each new trip down the hallway is followed up with “Any luck in the poop department?” Like peeing, this just seems like everyday conversation. “Had a good bowel movement today?” As with the first two P’s, pooping finally resumed sometime around day four of returning home. I must say, a real relief both figuratively and literally. I think I announced it as a lumberjack would, “Log jam cleared,river traffic flowing again.”

That just leaves patience. Pain management, peeing and pooping were all important steps, but patience is the real trick. Somewhere along the way I had made the decision to stop living with the limitations of my increasingly arthritic knee and crossed the decision threshold to agree with the knee replacement. Now, rehabbing my new knee and dealing with the associated pain, it was too easy to question my decision. How long would this take? Would I ever completely recover? It becomes so easy to dismiss everyone’s judgement of my progress in favor of my anxiety driven over analytical self analysis. It is only through good analogies from my physical therapists and a daily dose of comparisons to yesterday, that the timeline begins to take shape. As slow as it might seem, I start to mark progress.

My journey is only two weeks old. Driving is still four weeks off. Simply climbing stairs another week away. I am told that at three months, I will feel well enough to stop questioning my decision and at six months will dance into my surgeons office for my checkup. In the meantime, I’ve accomplished those first three P’s and have a better handle on the patience.

My final goal, become a more patient patient.

I’ll take room service

Tomorrow morning I will be checking into an all
inclusive for a 2-4 day vacation. I have read nothing but great reviews. The spacious rooms come with all the amenities, you know, big TV, cable, internet and even adjustable sleep number beds. Stunning vistas of the countryside can be taken in from the room’s floor to ceiling windows. They even offer a workout gym staffed with personal trainers. And for my shopping needs, a well stocked gift shop in the main lobby teaming with tempting souvenirs.

Included with the price, semi private waitress and room service 24/7. The menu looks so good I doubt I’ll leave the room other than my trainer workouts in the gym. I figure I’ll just take all my meals via room service. On top of all of this, I am promised a nice memory drug to forget any less than five star experience during my stay. Best part, I got a really good deal on the price. Apparently I am on their off season. Any part not covered by my government handout will be picked up by an unknown third party leaving me with just a small deductible on the room.

Stay tuned for the pics as they are sure to be spectacular. Got to get packing. Catch you on the rebound.

I’ve Been Down This Road Before

In just a few weeks I will be repeating a process I am still all too familiar with.  Though I doubt I will experience the complications of the first time, I know the time and effort it is going to take.

I’ve managed to put this off for nearly three years, but I am about to have my second knee replaced.  Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, and apparently a 3-D printer, this has become a rather routine surgery.  At least that is what they say.  None the less, I am not relishing the rehab and yes, in the short run, the pain that the rehab will provide.  The only bright side … I know what to expect and I think I am so much better prepared this time around.  To that end, I just returned from the preparation class.  What was obvious, was the additional detail and information this time around.

Of course all of this is still a too fresh memory.  I am committed at this point though I won’t lie.  Every day finds me questioning my decision at least once and I am in that moment, tempted to call it off.  After all, my limp is hardly noticeable and my pain, though …. a pain, is manageable.  So why do it?  Bottom line; the stiffness, the arthritic pain at night and the fact that I am feeling limited, has me believing as my doctor puts it, “why wait until it is so bad that you can’t do anything?”  I have too many things that I want to do, for me to wait until I have even less time TO DO them.  I have great faith in the surgeon and the team of professional assistants, nurses and rehab specialists that will be assisting and encouraging me as I heal and progress.  And of course there will be my coach at home keeping me focused and if I’m lucky, a little pampered.

So I know I’ve been down this road before, but I suspect the ride will be different this time.  Each experience prepares us for the next.  I am prepared for this journey and am looking forward to my new bionic knees and the activities they will re-afford me.  I was even told it could improve my golf game.  Now that is something to look forward to.

And for my friends, “Don’t cry for me Argentina.”  Shameful, but I loved the line and always wanted a place to use it.  Editorial freedom is an earned right.

Sidewalk Art

This week the city paid us a visit and removed and replaced four squares of our sidewalk.  My big beautiful ash in the front lawn has over time decided its roots needed more room than the old sidewalk was allowing.  Pushing up its roots and reclaiming its territory caused several of the sidewalk squares to get just a bit too far out of level.  We now have a new smooth sidewalk and some new built in space for the tree.  But that is not the point of this piece.

Over twenty years ago, the same situation existed as the then much smaller ash was just beginning to demand some room.  Back then the city had come out and marked the squares to be replaced with a chalked “X”.  We had three squares marked that time and were calculating the cost we would be forced to cover in replacing them.  My daughter, Kathryn, was five at the time and quick to notice patterns.  As I arrived home from teaching the night before the city crew was scheduled to appear, there was Kathryn out on the front lawn, sidewalk chalk in hand.  It didn’t take long to see what she had been up to.  There laid before me my entire length of sidewalk beautifully adorned with a big white “X” on each and every square.  Kathryn, beaming from ear to ear, proudly exclaiming, “Look daddy, I finished their picture for them.”

Oops….after complimenting my budding Van Gogh, one should never starve the artist, I grabbed a scrub brush and the hose and began the task of removing her handiwork.  That of course would be the moment my neighbor appeared admonishing me on the crime he assumed I was committing.  After all, he explained, he was being forced to replace six squares.  Once I had assured him I was not responsible for anymore than my three squares, I turned my attention back to the task.

Let me tell you, it is much harder removing sidewalk chalk than one assumes.  To my credit, I had at least dimmed the effect and that next morning, when the city crew arrived bright and early, I was there explaining my young artist’s talent and dedication.  The three squares were re-identified, removed and replaced, and my wife and I vowed to find new outlets for our daughter’s budding art skills.

Turns out all IS well that ends well.  I guess we just “chalked” it up to experience.

Another Spring Day in Wisconsin

It’s April 15th and this is the view from my office window.  But before you get excited, I am not complaining.  Everyone else seems to be, but not me.  After all, I’ve been here before.  In fact this just isn’t that strange.  It’s just  spring in Wisconsin.  My daughter will celebrate her birthday next week, April 21st.  Thirty-four years ago we awoke to six inches of snow that Easter morning, the latest day for Easter to occur.  We had started that weekend enjoying a beautiful spring Friday morning.  The sun was shining, it was almost 70 degrees and we were working on the lawn when my wife’s water broke and we headed for the hospital.  It was forty-eight hours later, the birth of our daughter the morning before, and we were looking at a field of white and a forty degree drop in the temperature.

Now before you blame my daughter for THIS spring morning, just realize that the changeability of Wisconsin weather is normal.  In fact, it is one of the things I love about this State.  Just about the time you think the seasons have changed, you are reminded that the receding season might just take one more shot.  Summer doesn’t instantly become fall, fall doesn’t morph into winter overnight and winter just might not give into spring just because the calendar says it should.

Spring 1 2018

I like metaphors.  I think spring is like a person waking from a sound sleep on their day off.  That sleeper had a long, hard 12 hours the day before, and had been enjoying a deep dream filled sleep (winter).  If you’ve been there, you know you wake up in stages.  The alarm goes off (March 21st), you don’t jump out of bed.  You hit the snooze alarm and try for a few more minutes of sleep.  The alarm goes off again (April 15th).  What the heck, hit the snooze alarm one more time.  It’s Saturday not Monday.  I think this is what spring feels like.  Just because the calendar sounded the alarm on March 21st, face it, winter might just want a few more days of sleep, even when you thought spring was awake, it dozed off.  Not THIS morning, maybe TOMORROW…..maybe next week.

Spring is a season that teaches us patience.  Good projects take time and summer is a great project.  Spring has reminded us to wait.   This too shall pass.  The sun will come out and winter will realize its time is up.  The snow will melt and the trees will bud.  The grass will soak up all that melting snow and brown will give way to green.  Patience.

Wisconsin is one of the states in the country that has four true seasons.  Each season gives way to the next slowly and with patience required.  It is this process that creates the beauty of this state.  Today is just a reminder that something exciting is in the air and something new is coming.  Snow today, gone tomorrow, well maybe the day after tomorrow…….well maybe next week.   But it’s coming.  Try to remember that as you shovel one more time.


New and Improved…….

In the world of merchandising, “new and improved” is the popular catch phrase.  We are a society that is always looking for the next best thing and new and improved just screams at us to get rid of the one we already own and buy its new and improved version.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the electronics we own.  Why else would the masses stand in a line that stretches around the block to buy the next cell phone release.  I am always amazed and then humbled when I run into someone still using a flip phone.  I am amazed that they haven’t fallen in step with the new and improved line but I am humbled when it is clearly demonstrated that their flip phone works just fine.  If anything, I am envious that while they are less connected to the world, they are still functioning and more importantly, with a lot less stress.  Admit it, you are probably reading this right now on your cell phone and feeling the burning need to check your emails and text messages, check the market on the internet and even get a little face time on Facebook.  You are connected.  But the guy with the flip phone, maybe not as connected electronically, still has that cool “Star Trek” look and hell, Captain Kirk was hip.

The message here is that we are always looking for the “best” in everything.  We originally used our cars to get from point A to point B.  Nowadays, they can do that on their own.  I am willing to bet that if you look at the interior of your car, you could comfortably live in there.  We electronicaly lock and unlock our car, run all the accessories from that 400 positions heated driver’s seat, start the car without a key and even do that from the comfort of our office.  We can let it park itself and while it is effortlessly doing that, place a call, hands free with our best friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I know this because I have one of those.  And I like it when that sultry voice says “recalculating”.

So if we want the best in the things we own, my question is what about us?  I mean am I the best version of myself?  Consider how great life would be if every once in a while we were new and improved.  Is that even possible and how would we know?  Who would be the judge of that?  Who records our progress?

Lets first consider the parameters.  We can try to improve throughout our life and in fact we generally do as long as we are even remotely paying attention to the cues around us.  The problem is we are human.  As such we will have good days, even great days, but unfortunately we will also have days that just never come together for us.  So lets be realistic, there will be days where we just aren’t the best version of ourselves.  We are a flip phone when we were striving for the smart phone with the incredibly bright screen and beautiful memory taking camera.  But here in lies the secret.  If we have the capacity to continue to improve then there never really will be a point in time when we are THEE BEST version of ourselves.  After knee surgery, the physical therapists would begin each session by asking me to rate my pain and then to let him or her know if during the week the pain had ever hit the top of the scale at ten.  My response was how would I know?  What if I claimed it had and then suddenly I experienced something that went beyond?  Worse yet, way beyond.  Being the best version of ourself is for that day and that point in time.  If we decided we were, then the task would be to never waiver but the tendency might be “well that’s it, I’ve done it and now I can quit working at it.”  I told each of my physical therapists that I was reserving the ten rating for my tombstone which would proudly proclaim “That was the ten.  And then I died.”

The beauty of the argument is that each day begins anew and offers us the chance to be the best version for that day.  If we would approach each new day with that resolve, what great things could we accomplish?  Being the best version of ourselves starts as a commitment to having a positive can do and want to do attitude.  Armed with that attitude we then focus on what we do with our energy and talents.  Maybe we just finish something we have been putting off.  Maybe we help someone else resolve a problem by helping with the solution.  Perhaps we just are there for someone when they needed a someone to be there.  It turns out that we are the judge of our character but the universe is the echo of just how good we were.  If we listen for and hear that echo, then at that moment, at that time, by our actions, we were the best version of ourselves.  Once we experience even one day of feeling that sense of achievement, we need to repeat the process and practice will bring progress.  Who knows, over time we may even be “new and improved.”

I think I need to wrap this up for now.  It’s getting late and I still need to get in line for that new Samsung 9.  I heard it really is new and improved and who wouldn’t want that.  Go be the best version of yourself for the rest of the day and then try to stretch it into the rest of the week.  But remember this, never stop listening for the echo.

Cattle Call…………. Or how I never found a line I didn’t hate


We are flying today, well finally flying.  Like any other airline trip, our morning began at oh four thirty or as Robin Williams coined it in Good Morning Vietnam, “it’s 04:30 as in Oh God it’s early.”  We packed back up and moved on down to the lobby where we grabbed a coffee and got in line for the shuttle to the airport.  I had spent the afternoon before on line pre paying our baggage fees and printing off our boarding passes.  We are TSA approved and we are going to “fly”, pun intended, through the airport and unto our plane.  At least that’s what all those pop up ads and on-line cues promised me.

We enter the terminal at 5:30, still A.M., to be greeted by the line I was sure I would get to skip.  Oh so wrong Toto.  We may have paid for them, but they still wanted to weigh our bags, especially since my wife’s looked like she may be traveling with her own small hotel.  Twenty minutes later we are weighed in and under way once more.  Remember how I said we were TSA pre-checked, no line for us, right?  If you placed that bet, don’t play the lottery today.  There WAS NO TSA pre-checked line in this terminal, only a line that snaked through five turns with dramatic long straight-a-ways designed for making new friends.  I am soon conversing with persons of several nationalities, well, at least we nod a lot and look at each other’s watches, but I am pretty sure we are nearing BFF status.  This line moves quickly…..and again you fell for that and now you should add “free” sales pitches to your list of things to avoid today.  It didn’t, but 45 minutes later we reached the incredibly service oriented check in agent.  I believe she said move it along while stamping my boarding pass as if it were a large insect destined for the promised-land and I was the steer it was riding on.  I think I actually herd Rowdy Yates singing out “ride em in, herd em up, cut em out, move em in Rawhide.”  (Don’t know that one, Google: Rawhide TV show)

So, are you keeping up?  I know I am as I have had plenty of time in line.  We are now finally in the line to disrobe for the TSA.  Thankfully, I get to leave my shoes on.  But then that’s about it.  As I step into the scan booth, I have a metal knee so I get the deluxe treatment, and why doesn’t it show up on the X-ray as opposed to the box around my private area, the technician asks me, no that’s far too kind compared to what she actually says as she loudly proclaims “pull your pants up.”  In my head, I imagine the “old man” added to the end of the request.  My only response at this point is that you should’ve left me keep my belt if that was the hoped for result.  A delightful pat down later and a retrieval of my personals and we have cleared line four of the morning.  Good thing we arrived a day before our flight…. Alright…. that’s a little sarcastic but I’ve had two cups of coffee this morning and for a non-coffee drinker, that is sufficient to carry me well past witty and deep into the realm where only sarcasm can exist.  And as the ad says, “But wait, there’s more.”

We arrive at our gate, the last one in Terminal 3, wing L, gate infinity.  We find two seats, park our weary feet, and are immediately informed that the flight has been moved to the other end of the terminal.  We are nearly trampled as our now terribly familiar cattle drive, stampedes toward the new gate, only to find out our plane is now departing, and there is a bit of ironic word usage, a half hour late and I just blew past the breakfast stop.  Oh well, now I have additional time to go back for breakfast.  I am committed to something fast so I head back down the terminal to those friendly Golden Arches.  What could go wrong, its fast food and I figure heavy on the FAST part.  I could believe that but I would be wrong.  It was anything but fast, though thankfully the line of hungry cattle was friendly or at least equally sarcastic and that seemed the same as friendly.  I need to describe the scene.  There is a middle-aged gentleman ordering food, cell phone held six inches from his face, screaming into the phone about his credit card that has been denied for the fourth time this week.  I am so glad he has decided to hold us all here as his jury of peers offering us the chance to decide on the guilt or innocence of some poor service person on the end of that cell phone shout out.  I and the woman next to me have already found the credit card agent innocent of all misdeeds and are even considering her for a humanitarian award.  Meanwhile, the cashier is loudly shouting out numbers to the milling cattle herd.  My new name is number 482.  I am feeling the love for sure.  I hope I get the “happy meal”.

Eventually served and fed, I am back down to the gate arriving just as they call general boarding for our flight.  Not to be left out, and certain the plane will bolt away from the gate without us, my wife motions me into, here it comes, our next line.  And to make it all that much better, once we cleared the boarding pass scan line we are on a jet way that leaves me fearing that our plane is already parked at the Orlando Airport and we are walking there on this jet way maze.

All stories must come to an end, ironically, just as all lines do, but this one had one more twist.  In a saga that couldn’t have gone any other way, our plane taxied out to the runway where we were informed we would be returning to our gate as some still unnamed crew member had not properly filled out their paperwork.  Of course…it had to end this way.   It would have been anticlimactic if it hadn’t.  In a twist of fate, I wonder if the unnamed crew person is now destined to their own line, applying for unemployment benefits.

We are in the air now and soon the snow and cold will be left behind, traded for a week of sun and sand, I just hope that I can find a line somewhere because God knows, I am a line standing, gold medal Olympian at this point.

The Four Words

My office is finished and I finally have my space back (see “Stuff…or How I Won the War”).  In honor of, or maybe in obligation to, I decided I better write on my blog since I used that excuse to get my wife’s permission to remodel my office…okay man cave.

I have of recently, been involved in several events that caused me to reflect on a list of words that help define my attitudes.  These four words can harm or heal depending on how they are used and in that lies the danger of their misuse.  Whenever working with a new staff member, I would make sure they understood how I viewed those words, and to this day, the ones I remain closest to can recite them back.  It is just that they were and are that important to me.

The first word is a limiting word when misused.  The word is “just”.  Now when something is just, that is a desirable thing.  But, when one describes what they did as “just” something, it limits them in both their stature as well as their own perspective and self expectation.  I all too often hear someone say “I’m just a support staff worker.”  This would be to say that as a team member, their position is somehow unimportant.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Without that “support staff member” how does the rest of the team accomplish their share of responsibility to the team and its mission.  Take as an example a surgeon.  Now that doctor could emerge from surgery patting him or her self on the back for the life that they single handily saved, but what about all the others involved.  What about the anesthesiologist who kept the patient both calm and sedated so the doctor could operate?  And what about each and every nurse involved in the process leading up to, during and following the surgery.  Without their care and assistance, where would the doctor or the patient be?  And for that matter, what about the sanitation worker who picked up and disposed of the doctor’s garbage cans that morning?  I doubt I would have wanted the doctor worrying about that while he or she performed my surgery.  No one should ever be a “just”.  Remember that the next time someone asks you what you do.  I’m not just a retiree, I am an expert in the art of time use and efficiency while juggling the demanding schedule of a person with the remainder of their life to spend well.

My second word can be just (yes I used it but properly) as limiting.  “Fine” has always been a word that when used as the response to “how is” something, leaves me worried that is was anything but fine.  Again, I will admit that the word when used properly has good connotations.  Fine art comes to mind unless you really meant it was just so so.  When the word “fine” is used in any situation, the inflection it is spoken with is critical.  The word is all too often used sarcastically or at least dismissively.  You ask your wife how she liked the flowers you bought her and her response is “they’re fine”, believe me, the fight you thought you were using the flowers to apologize for is anything but over.  There is certainly a counter attack brewing and in all likely hood, you’ll never see it coming.  I warned people I worked with that if they asked me how I was doing or how my day was going and I responded “it’s fine”, walk away and live to see another day that might in fact be at least better.  At the very least, don’t offer to fix it and certainly, not me.

My next word is in the vain of a descriptor.  It can advocate for change or it can inflict guilt or shame.  The word is “disappoint”.  I have always believed that to tell someone they are a disappointment is close to the worst thing you could say.  You have taken them to the lowest emotional level and undoubtedly given them little help in how to correct it.  Had you explained that what they “did” was the disappointment, well then there is hope.  I can always be careful to not do that again or possibly redo what was so disappointing.  Things can be disappointing, people shouldn’t be.  The taste of a particular food or the outcome of an event can be disappointing, but that can either be avoided as in the case of food, or hopefully will come out better next time.  If a person is a disappointment, the message is that the person is now to be avoided.  I will admit that even I have let the word slip and that some of my readers may feel I am being a bit dramatic, but as long as you know how I will take it, this particular blog might be disappointing, but hopefully you didn’t mean I was.

The last of my four words is “never”.  Don’t use the word to describe a promise that might not be attainable as in “I’ll never do that again”, because odds are you just might.  Avoid using it as a sense of finality as in “that’s never going to happen”.  You very likely won’t be around long enough to ever know if it didn’t.  “Never” implies that there is no chance for change as in “you are never going to get me to eat that”.  Change is inevitable and most of those things I told my parents I would never eat, well I have, and in some cases, raw oysters as an example, have become a delicacy.  The finality of the word is “just” too much to promise and might turn out to be a “disappointment”.  Here’s where you get to say, “okay fine.”

I know I advertised only four words, and I do reserve the right to add others, but there is one more piece of speech that generally leaves me agitated.  It’s actually an acronym for a phrase, FYI.   I always wish the speaker would have found a different way to tell me they were sharing information.  The FYI statement seems to feel condescending at best.  It sort of speaks for itself in saying, if this was really important, I would have found a very personal way of sharing it with you.  It all too often comes off as a power statement from the person uttering the FYI.  How about “for the sake of clarity” or maybe “because this might be helpful” instead of the “just FYI because I guess YOU missed it.”  If I want to get information to you, I want it to feel like a gift or maybe even a secret piece of information I wanted to share with only you.

In concluding this little diatribe of mine, I will share a story about a similar experience with my oldest daughter, Bailey.  She was about 3 or 4 years old at the time.  We were headed to the grocery store the day after Easter.  I remember it was Easter because the whole issue started with her big plastic Easter egg full of goodies.  Upon opening the car door in a crowded parking lot, mostly refined gentile ears, her egg dropped to the pavement and cracked open.  Nonplussed, Bailey all too loudly declared, “s**t, I dropped my damn egg.”  Needless to say, I was mortified, well at least embarrassed, and promptly explained that those were “bad” words and shouldn’t be used.  Bailey quickly reminded me “but daddy, you say them too” and now I am really embarrassed.  Once back home, Bailey immediately got to work.  In no time at all, she had formed a list of words we could no longer use.  Topping her list were three words, “but”, “crap” and “junk”.  Now I knew she meant “butt”, but (no pun intended) she didn’t differentiate.   For quite sometime, I found my colorful description of things severely curtailed, and I had to find a new way of defending my point without the use of the word “but”.

Words are powerful tools.  They can hurt or heal.  They can advocate change or leave us hopeless.  They can convey a message or imply a demand.  I am a writer at heart and I can only hope that today I have chosen my words carefully.

Thanks for reading.