COOL TRACKING DEVICE OPTIONS By John Watts

 

It’s nobody’s favorite option.  And it’s certainly not consistent with the civil liberties that we all espouse as our given birthrights—the ones we started out so proudly reciting like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and all those other ideal platitudes.  But then again, hucksters and business executives and shrewd bullies of every respectable stripe can make you believe that “up is down” and “down is up” by the time your race is run and the fighting spirit has been properly beat out of you.

I like to call it—the price of doing business.

And as a Special Education Teacher coasting through the last stages of my very uneventful career, I learned to live by the motto— “Inflict no harm” ahead of all the others.  I did this party because it was the appropriate thing to aspire to and partly because I was determined to survive and not ruffle any feathers.

Especially, because the paper work was a nightmare should I let my guard down and not be diligent enough.

So, in general, I felt good about myself and my career.

Except, of course, in the case of those inevitable, extenuating circumstances that crop up at formal meetings.  In such cases, all bets are off, and I am solely at the mercy of superior forces beyond my control.

Before I go any farther, please allow me, for the sake of time, to list but a few low-light cases that readily come to my mind throughout my checkered career involves meeting outcomes.

For starters, there was the supremely uncomfortable meeting I sat through where all of us assembled professionals had to intervene for the Mom with my then student who watched pro wrestling on his bedroom television all night–which in turn had deleterious effects on his attitude at school the next day.

So, we all voted swiftly and decisively; forcing the kid in question to remove his TV.  Simple solution.  Mom was happy and the kid did less pro wrestling signature moves in school.  But I felt very queasy afterwards, worrying that we had encroached so far into the matters of the kid’s home life.

Another meeting involves me, the Principal, and the case manager, along with the desperate parents, into forcing their less than competent, impulsive daughter enrolled in my class, to have her tubes tied so as to NOT produce any children of her own.  Talk about awkward!

Turns out, the decision to proceed with the tube tying was arrived at and carried out so efficiently by the team, with time leftover, that it was arranged to have the school nurse tie go ahead and tie the student’s tubes down then and there IN the conference room as the school year was almost over and it saved the family the trouble and extra expense.  Talk about your one roof shopping!

But that was then and this was now.

So here I was, well past the middle portions of my life and career, finally being asked to take my final plunge in waving away essential personal freedoms for one last student before my retirement—while attending a meeting, chaired by Dr. Jasmine Jurgens herself (Freemont Counties most prestigious Harvard graduated professor) with several of her county underlings from the group home where the student in question lived.

The student in question on this current occasion was none other than 21-year-old Bobby Babinski, living at the Freemont Acres Group Home for Differently Abled adults.

What made Bobby stand out, besides his qualifying disabilities and profoundly erratic behavior issues, was the fact that he was his own legal guardian still attending school while already living in a group home away from his parents.

This meant that we staffers, as the expert members of the student’s team, had to tread very skillfully when it came to steering young Bobby strongly in the direction of where we felt he needed to be—for his continued funding at the group home; and for his own good of course too.

There was the usual mélange of adults sitting around this long rectangle table for Bobby’s annual review.  The principal, the behavior specialist and the lad’s teacher of one year—yours truly the author.

But there was also a computer tech specialist, and for some odd reason, a sales executive for one of the tracking device companies being offered at the meeting.

Oh yeah, and there were several school legal experts thrown in for good measure plus a Case Manager for the county named Ms. Paula Parkdale who was being patched in speaker phone from the nearby airport before she flew out of town for a luxurious vacation.

All these players were tightly packed around said table with elbows uncomfortably drawn in close together, like distinguished sardines with little T-Rex arm reaches, all vying for the most prominent seat with the best angle for feeling the most comfortable with the daunting prospect of a 2 hours plus meeting looming directly ahead.

And while it is possible that their invitations may have gotten lost in the mail, it was conspicuously noted that neither of Bobby’s parents saw fit to showing up.  Truth be told, this fact provided all of us gathered, great relief as we could glimpse a better played out meeting with less delays and decisions that were more favorable for us the professionals who were solemnly sworn to make something out of this young man in the little time we had left.

All of us had taken time out of our busy schedules for the sole purpose of reviewing Bobby’s past years annual goals and then to discuss, and hopefully agree on, the new goals as well as tabling any other concerns the team might have for another time.

And as the teacher, my part was rendered very perfunctory.  Heck, I wasn’t even completely sure how scientifically sound the old goals for Bobby were any more than I knew what the graphs and rationales for the new goals I drafted really represented.  But my language in writing the goals sounded very above board and it was supposed to be in my realm of expertise so everyone bought it.

For example, goal wordings like “Bobby will demonstrate a decrease in sensory defensiveness by tolerating stimuli with lessened behavioral overreaction for 80% of trials in a 3-week period, 2 prompts or less” made for a much better presentation than merely saying what I meant like “Bobby will stop being a jerk for most of the time in the next 3 weeks without staff having to bug him too much.”

By the time I had read all of my expected content, I looked up from my drafted copy and felt the undeniable approval of everyone in the meeting, with the exception of the airplane bound Case Manager Paula Parkdale who had some equipment malfunction on her cell phone end and complained that she couldn’t hear me clearly.

As I expected, young Bobby still sat there glassy eyed and trancelike as I summarized his life’s worth and future.

The trick at these meetings I knew by experience, was to simply get through it–and then I could make ANY thrown together IEP make sense and look brilliant later thru creative teaching techniques and flimflamming the statistics.

To this end, I needed to be just credible enough so that no one would even care to question it and be content to bask in the boring familiarity of it all.

And, despite my best charisma and summoned enthusiasm at key moments, (“why don’t you tell us about that great project you submitted Bobby?”) it was obvious that the members assembled (and the long-distance Paula Parkdale) were all very impatient and would be providing only cosmetic interest in what I had to say until the bit that they cared about was on the agenda.

At one point, young Bobby himself even had to be nudged by Dr. Jasmine Johnson due to nodding off.

Because the real, unofficial reason—indeed the proverbial unspoken ELEPHANT in the room (which in no way refers to Dr. Jasmine Jurgens who DID loom rather large), which would take up the bulk of the time, was the PRE-meeting strategy and solution for coming to a consensus on how best to curb young Bobby’s recent track record of breaking curfew at the group home and eloping away from his bus driver’s due to volatile moods stemming from being too sleepy and then the rampant impulsivity that followed his  being woken up.

The bottom line was that the Bobby’s team and the county at large, had invested a lot in his future and didn’t want his negative behaviors to spoil the privileged placement he still enjoyed at such a highly covetable county run residential program.

It should also be noted that Bobby was at a top of the line, modern, state sponsored group home and his master bedroom was HUGE.

In fact, the group home facility was the envy of all the group staff and visiting dignitaries who beheld it as each one secretly wondered why THEIR own master bedroom couldn’t be that suite, (I mean sweet).

Therefore, the unanimously agreed upon solution by all members, was to get Bobby to agree on a tracking device in order to monitor him and to provide better accountability while he exercised his independence.

Failure was clearly, NOT an option.

The meeting started with Dr. Jasmine Johnson reassuring Bobby that no one at the meeting wished to see him fail, and that everyone believed whole heartedly in him–but that there was a big waiting list of other uniquely abled clients that would love to live at a place such as the one he was lucky enough to be a part of with the best master bedroom in the county.

At first young Bobby was rather reticent and suspicious.

After all, there was no food or drink or candy to be found on the table.  Plus he had been dragged off the computer in the classroom to come to this meeting, which didn’t sit very well with the lad either.

And, as any young man would feel, Bobby deeply resented being surprised with the unexpected news that the team felt he couldn’t be trusted and needed some security device.

But when Dr. Jasmine Jurgens spoke, she wove a spell of Harvard trained elocution techniques that mesmerized all those assembled around her.  When I say this, I mean the lady could read a service contract manual and the impeccable sounds of her spoken words would elicit profound “oohs’ and “ahs.”

She was most lethal when launching into a LONG syllabic descriptor word like “renunciation” or “Provocation.”  And afterwards, each succeeding pause would profoundly seal the effect of each word being targeted like a bullseye directly on her audience.  “Josh we feel it is not only efficacious but very remunerative in the long run if you agree to the team’s plan for you.”

At this point Bobby looked hurt and blurted out, “Don’t you trust me?”

“Of course, we do Robert,” assured Dr. Jurgens, but at this point I believe we need some confirmatory collateral in order to keep your bed guaranteed at the group home.”

Bobby looked slightly rocked by the confusing weight of her words.  Dr. Jurgens continued: “We have no intention of forcing you to do anything you are not excited about Bobby.  And since you are your own legal guardian, naturally we will need your signature and consent.  But first I want to see a show of hands from the staff assembled to make sure that all of us 100% unanimously agree on the efficacy of procuring a security device to assist you in making better, more sound decisions.”

So now it was time for the team to vote.  And while I felt deeply conflicted over the nature of how this meeting had transpired and the possible heavy handedness of it, as a life time teacher that needed to cement his position towards the finish line, I found myself acquiescing due to the proximity of all those heavy hitters assembled around me. 

Truly, I sheepishly admit, I have always been one of those timid souls that, if a huckster decided to rush a sales job on me, I would fall right in and sign on the dotted line for the sake of alleviating the awkwardness.

Jasmine Jurgens nodded her head exaltingly as the raised hands were counted.

Out of the conference call speaker came Paula Parkdale’s impatient voice, “What happened?  I have to be on a plane soon.”

“We are all of one accord” called Dr. Jurgens loudly into the speaker.

Now it was time to sell Bobby himself on the right tracking device to fit his needs.

Dr. Jurgens naturally did the honors here too.

“Bobby what we are looking for is 100% reinstatement of liberties as agreed upon by the team at your annual meeting next year, if you try out one of these products.”

Suddenly a spotlight seemed to beam down from nowhere on to the old cedar table top as boxes were passed out.

Bobby, who no longer appeared sleepy, was presented with 3 tracking device options—each one considered pretty state of the art.

“Are you sure I only have to do this for a year?” queried Bobby.

“You have my most aboveboard and sincere assurance that this is so, promised Dr. Jurgens.

Once the details of the app’s and special feature were addressed and passed around, it was truly amazing to see how quickly the information seemed to perk up young Bobby’s flagging spirits and cause him to instantly reconsider the cards that were dealt him.

This was the second phase of the sales pitch, after hearing Dr. Jurgens speak.  The pure modern gadgetry of the devices would do all the convincing necessary to make young Bobby love his new choices which would, in turn, distract him from the hard facts of reducing his freedom and independence as an adult.

In short, he would forget he was in any kind of trouble at all.

The first was called PROJECT LIP SERVICE.  This came in 3 cool colors, lime green, lemon yellow, and orange orange.  It also had a great lightweight ergonomic design that impressed Bobby when he lifted it.

It was also water resistant, which Dr. Jurgens proved by dunking the device into the picture of water.

ANGERSENSE was the second. The special feature touted with this one was that it offered a real-time map for tracking purposes along with an instant alert when the owner was in an unfamiliar place.  Additionally, ANGERSENSE products all come built in with a one click alarm button, which alerts a predefined trusted group of people regarding a lost child, along with a live view of the child’s location & direction to the child for the team to share.  It fits perfectly on attaches securely to any garment pocket or belt.  It also comes in radical shades of enticing sherbet colors including one that has strobe lights on a fidget spinner that could be pulled out during down time.

When Bobby heard that the ANGERSENSE model was used by Justin Beiber’s specially trained security entourage to better monitor the superstar during his troubled period, this made a very strong impression on him.

The final one, whimsically called GADZOOK GADGET, through At&T, was basically a watch that allowed his inner circle of staff and family to be notified if Bobby were to go outside of the boundaries. It too has buttons preset into the coordinates and came with cool emoji motifs.

 

By the end of the presentation, Bobby’s interests were plainly aroused.  In fact, one could say that he looked positively transformed!

 

For each of the three products, he had changed his mind at least 3 times over, so swayed was he by which cool looking security phone he wanted most.

The prices didn’t matter whatsoever to him anyway because the group home was footing the bill.

In fact, Bobby wanted ALL 3 tracking devices, (“I want all 3 tracking devices!” were his exact words) if they would let him.

An indistinct chuckle filled the room at this notion.

Hearing words like “boundaries” and “curfew” certainly would have been expected to concern Bobby during the presentation, but if it did, we never could tell due to the excited tone in his voice and the broad smile which never left his face.

But in the end, it was the ANGERSENSE 5000 model that, while it was second in the order of presentation, was first in Bobby’s heart.  Whether strapped to his belt or on his wrist; the cool sherbet colors plus the fact that it was used by Justin Beiber’s entourage—made this the clear winner.

Bobby was now talking as if this really WAS his meeting and that he liked nothing better than being in attendance.

“If you guys get me this cool looking one, I promise I will wear it and hang out where I am…..”

“Excuse me!”

At this point, Bobby was abruptly interrupted by Case Manager, Paula Parkdale, who announced that if it was all the same with everyone assembled, she was officially signing off now because she needed to board her flight since the final votes had been counted and her work was done.

As the speaker phone was punched to the OFF position; all of us decidedly un-hip people who were physically present, went along with agreeing how cool the device looked for Bobby’s sake—with more than a little trace of guilt.

The deal now done, handshakes and words of congratulations spread like wild fire throughout the assemblage.  The BIG objective was achieved.

And Dr. Jurgens could now wink at her colleagues when it was all said and done and walk away with a new signed plan.

As the staff began to rustle their notebooks and planners and put away their laptops, I looked up at the clock over the conference room table.

It read 10 minutes till 5PM.

We had been meeting for almost 2 and a half hours.  I had told my wife that I would be out by 4:30 at the latest to get to the bank by 5.

Fear coursed through my frame like an ocean’s water current changing from cold to warm and back again as I pondered these ramifications.

This might be the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

Last week I had fibbed to my wife that I was still at my office typing away on reports when, in actuality, I was holed up at a nearby Panera’s having soup and munching on baguettes.  I could list out a whole litany of other such offenses–The chocolate frosty’ s at Wendy’s.  The extra 30 minutes running at the park, unaccounted for.  The magazine gazing at Barnes & Noble.  And the occasional newspaper readings at Starbucks while sipping cappuccino.

These past offenses flash backed quickly and then I was restored back to the congratulatory sounds of the conference room as the staff filed out of the school.

As I fumbled for my cell phone, I noticed the blinking GREEN light.  It was a text from my wife.  “Have you left yet?”

Something in the way she worded this, and the timing of her call, told me that she was angry.  My married sixth sense was rarely wrong.

Suddenly I was looking back down on the conference room table at all the tracking device literature left that had won Bobby over and reigned in his reckless track record of freedom.  While no one was looking, I quickly grabbed the brochure on the same product that Bobby picked—the ANGERSENSE 5000.

I decided then and there that if I was going to lose some of my cherished freedom and rugged independence, I was at least going to call my own shots when it came to the cool kind of device I had to be shackled with.

My wife would just have to deal with it.

AUTHOR’S SIDENOTE:  In terms of follow thru, Bobby’s IEP meeting turned out to be decidedly less than successful.  The county DID in fact pick up the same ANGERSENSE model that young Bobby had requested.  Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, it was returned less than 3 weeks later and a much blander, black and white tracking device, with only an ON and OFF button and a STUN setting for extremely disobedient situations, was substituted from the nearby Wal-Mart.

Bobby of course, felt initially angered and betrayed by the adult world in general, but the group home staff astutely took him out to Best Buy that same evening to purchase some DVD’s and video games, and he was soon easily redirected and pacified.

 

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WHEN YOU’RE A LONG TIME SOCIAL SKILLS TEACHER By John Watts

 

good morning

When you are a life long social skills teacher:

You maximize every conversation you come across.

You don’t sweat the details, you enjoy them!

You anticipate every start, middle, and ending of even the tiniest, informal interaction.

When roadblocks appear to thwart a social interaction, you merely enjoy the detour and include it as part of the highlights along with the destination.

When you’re an incurable social skills teacher, you find quality chit chat wherever you happen to be.  This would include looking forward to feeling overwhelmed at the SELF CHECK line at the grocery store just to get some face to face time with a clerk by asking for help.

When the ever-evolving advances of the information age seems to eliminate the need for human contact and cut out the middleman, you simply adapt and enjoy “simulated” interaction.

Consider the outside gas station pump when paying with a plastic card.  While most folks would have driven away seconds after the last digital readout asks, “Do you want a receipt YES OR NO?”  the hapless Social Skills teacher persists; waiting for the Big pay-off–digital readout that rewards you with: “Have A Nice Day!”

“You too!” you say back to the gas pump machine, reflexively and quite appropriately, just audible enough for the machine to hear but not the other gas customers.

And when the ATM machine starts by saying “Thank You for choosing Wells Fargo!” you automatically reply, “You are very welcome.”

Like receiving a fortune cookie message without the messy crumble of the outer cookie, the warm glow you feel inside is priceless!

Indeed, in this age of rampant appropriateness and fear of strangers; sometimes even the ATM machines themselves will demand a polite closure on your part if you happen to walk away too hurriedly: hence the tattle tale beeper that sounds off in the store, demanding that you remember your manners and wrap things up better.

When you are a long time social skills teacher, nothing goes unnoticed.

Your eye contact seeks to absorb the shared humanity from other patrons, at even the most crowded, fast paced public establishments where such practices have long ago been peer pressured out of existence.

Sometimes, when the urge to be friendly is strongest, it takes every ounce of will power at your disposal to not wave at a neighbor mowing their lawn with both hands occupied for safety.

You crave validation and closure.  And communion.  You high five tree branches and hug irresistible tree trunks, always mindful of not quite taking your habit to the point of becoming obsessive-compulsive.  Indeed, it often seems that every aspect of the world around you is relational, every object is anomite, like an early Micky Mouse cartoon from the 1930’s.

You quite naturally equip yourself with a dog too so as to have more opportunities to greet passersby and break down defense’s, while also having someone to talk with and hear your innermost desires.

Indeed, your dog becomes a passport to happiness and even to heaven itself.

And when you are a lifelong Social Skills Teacher, you find small town community insights within the canopy of a LARGE nationwide company like The Hampton Inn when most would just go about their business and enjoy the standardized comfort.

Inexplicably, you even begin to duplicate the exact, specific sequences that this author does!  For example, you might see a photographed wall hanging of an arch bridge in the hotel and through word of mouth find out where it is located on your visit (then report back to that same motel clerk with a photo to come full circle!).

Furthermore, you might talk to that same breakfast lady named Ashley and discover that on every Tuesday the Hampton Inn breakfast bar serves locally owned Krumpe’s Donuts, which are baked fresh out of a garage in Hagerstown, Maryland on Donut Alley.

Who would have expected that?  A minor miracle to record in your travel journal.

And, have you finally guessed it?  After enough time passes, you realize that your fervent desire to be a lifelong social skills teacher is mislabeled.  Because what you really identify most with is in being a long time Social Skills Student (or disciple) rather than a teacher.

Because that captures more accurately where the source of the joy and feeling of success comes from anyway.

And then you know what all the great poets knew: that the more wisdom and age we accrue, the more we discover the endlessness of humility: The comforting fact that success is a lifelong process and that NOT knowing everything and being reminded of it daily, makes one not an old fool but an endlessly young DISCOVERER!

 

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PIVOTAL POINTS IN FAMOUS BIOGRAPHIES (the art of receiving) By John Watts

 

mentors 2

Everyone loves those coming of age moments, when fate seems to intervene in the pages of some notable famous person’s biography; setting them on the path that we have all come to know and love them for best.

It typically goes like this:  The famous person meets some pivotal, intervening person, someone that intersects with their life at THE crucial moment when they could have ZIGGED this way, or ZAGGED the other (the most dramatic being the kid who leaves a gang in order to go out for the football team to eventually find himself).

It may not even be somebody that the person knows.  It might be a famous athlete or a great author whose way of conducting their life steered the trajectory of that “impressionable youngster.”

Or, it could be influenced by someone so latently lauded, so pervasively locked in to the formation of a life span, that it stays firmly buried in the brain many decades later until that famous person remembers to cite them in their memoirs as helping to turn their life around.

Or, yet again, it could even be just ONE simple act that makes time stop.  Like an anonymous adult giving a young, struggling kid a 20-dollar bill for cleaning a toilet which then remains forever crystalized in their upwards path into the business world later on.

Yes, some destiny’s and chance meetings are more ingrained in our public conscience than others and are infamously recalled in most households.  Take for example, John meeting Paul with the fate of western civilization hanging in the balance at the early gestation of the Beatles.

“The rest is history” as the journalists like to say.

Before we get too carried away with just celebrities, it should be also pointed out that millions of other people too, most of them as regular as you and me, also are quite capable of forming numerous life defining encounters and influences too, even if it never results in stardom or great wealth.

What’s often overlooked in this process, is that the PROTEGE person that was benefitted and enriched by the influential person, had to be RECEPTIVE to this person in the first place.  Otherwise Ansel Adams might never have cited his father, Charles Hitchcock Adams, who he credited with “tenderly keeping alive [his] inner spark” had he never had the requisite sensitivity.

Indeed, one can navigate through this life and come in contact with brilliant people of many talents and callings, but unless that same kindred spark exists, the other person will bounce right off and remain heedless to the opportunity or at best, just a pleasant footnote.

The same sage mentor that reveals a whole new world to the affected person, may have completely gone unnoticed by countless others along the way who may have had greater access.

Life changing events are in the eyes of the beholder.

The world will never know all of the blown “ship’s passing in the night” opportunities that went awry—such as the man who became an alcoholic and died young because he never read the SCIENCE book dropped off at his house by his dear Uncle (I’m very partial to Uncles as I happen to be one).

Truly, it’s all about relationships.  That, along with having a good set of antennae’s as well as an open heart and mind.

Receptivity, in other words, trumps talent and matching skill sets.

Thus, we have those endless magical mosaics of MENTOR/PROTEGEE pairings throughout history.  Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan. Thomas Hart Benton to Jackson Pollock.  Or the relatively unknown high school journalism teacher to Walter Cronkite.

And, if we are wise, like Mr. Fred Rogers recommended, we should all take time out of our busy schedules and take at least a few moments of silence, in order to reflect on and appreciate some person who made a difference in our life.

And I am a big believer that cultivating a grateful outlook towards the past has an amazing effect on filling up our list of who we consider to be major influences and mentors in our lives.

Like a night sky free from city lights, so many known and unknown helpers suddenly emerge like stars out of a previously blank canvas, that came along just when we needed it.

And it often never equates to material success, attaining fame or any other kind of gifted predestination.

Hopefully we can all come to more fully enjoy the perspective of seeing that our true life’s worth amounts to so much more than just ONE big crossroads encounter (or failed encounter).

And for this I thank God! (every day)

 

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DEEPLY SUPERFICIAL By John Watts

 

“Mott the Hoople and the Game of Life (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Andy Kaufman in the wrestling match (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Monopoly, twenty-one, checkers, and chess (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Mister Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
See you heaven if you make the list (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)”

REM song lyrics for “Man on the Moon”

It sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?  “Deeply superficial.”

But I think—given this era of instant access and information overload, that I would go completely insane if I didn’t have an appreciation for embracing the sillier aspects of pop culture, the sheer irony and absurdity of it all.

Call it another aspect of retaining a sense of “play” still inside of us adults.

And while I detest and grow weary of the glut of advertisements and safe marketing approximations on how real people hang out (with every politically correct stereo type intact), I nevertheless, have a deep fondness for celebrating the inanity of TV sitcoms and silly commercials.

I believe that if we apply our imagination and intellect to enjoying ALL aspects of being alive in this time and place, we can be thankful to God for even the most trivial aspects that touch our lives.

We can find company and amusement in ANY assignment or location.

The key is infusing transcendental values into what you are examining and applying it to your heart and mind.

Call it doing our own version of a “Whitman Sampler” (Walt that is, not the candy variety) type of inventory during the course of our daily public errands.  In other words–utilize every one of our senses until we come to our senses that is.  Sniff the flowers—squeeze the produce with panache.

Test the freshness of the French bread with rapt attention.

Talk aloud in an excited voice to yourself when you see your favorite hard to get movie theater candy in the candy isle.

Rhapsodize about how you feel taking those first spoonful’s of chocolate frosty’ s when the melting process is just right.

Convey with passion your love for Roy Rogers roast beef sandwiches to your co-workers so that it becomes an easy talking point in the future.

Establish a lifetime relationship with Vicks Vapor rub as a passed down family secret and make ridiculous claims regarding its restorative qualities.

Each one is a great stepping off point for a discussion with someone you come across in your daily life.

Seen this way–so what if we occupy an inordinate amount of brain cells in detailing old commercial jingles and sit com reruns and don’t maximize 100% of my potential?

I treasure the superficial and integrate in with the cultural theater of great music and literature simply because it involves relatable moments with people.

Besides, I have long been resigned to the fact I will never have my act together enough to live an activist lifestyle at ANY level—be it vegetarianism, veganism, or zero carbon footprints in the environment.

No purist lifestyle that screams “FOLLOW ME—I AM A BUMPER STICKER!”

It’s not an area in which I am suited.  Besides I think living a110%, almost perfect activist lifestyle would be quite boring and humorless anyway.

It’s all about how you order your priorities.  Do you confuse the products you like with who YOU are and blur the two?  Or do you simply enjoy them as pleasant coping vehicles?

Naturally if you put any product on too high a pedestal and place the cart AFTER the horse, well then you are building without a foundation.

Heck, if you get too carried away, you may want your final resting place to resemble an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb, so that you can squirrel away all the products you enjoyed on Earth as your treasures in heaven.

But if you are merely reflecting, with enthusiasm, those items and see them for what they are—enjoyable extensions of your universe that provide pleasure and sharpen your sensory powers—then they can provide comfort and enhance your life.

I guess the final test would be that while we may LOVE Vicks or Busch’s baked beans or Breyer’s Ice Cream, we wouldn’t sell out any of our artistic soul in order to reap advertisement money from it right?

Right?

Regardless, I think it a very cool notion this idea of looking forward to grocery shopping for the spiritual side, and have it be just as vital and necessary a NEED as stocking up on toilet paper and milk.

So hopefully we may find ourselves in deeply inspirational moments whilst mingling while participating in an everyday, democratic routines out in public.  We may even do a double take and swear we see old brother Walt himself perusing life’s enduring miracles as described by Allen Ginsberg:

“What thoughts I have of you tonight Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?”

From “A Supermarket in California” By Allen Ginsberg

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HOTEL OPTIONS AREN’T WHAT THEY WERE By John Watts

trivago

When my wife and I finished up our regional trip to Hagerstown, Maryland, we felt very satisfied and complete.  We had the good sense to not stay at a very attractive but pricey (250.00) B&B and been quite content to stay for 3 nights instead at a relatively modest priced Hampton Inn just a few miles away.  It was a no brainer in terms of the savings.

And all the sightseeing attractions that we wanted to do were all around the hotel, so it was the perfect spring board for achieving our original game plan.

But compared to the highly picky, no room for error level that most on-line users insist on, our motel search was very simple and non-specific.

Just look at the Trivago ads on TV.  Each one is designed to show you how perfect your motel and hotel reservations can be if you would just save time using their site.  Countless cross checking is apparently done for you to meet your specifications much like the science of a dating site.

Most of us have seen those ads with the nifty man and women in their everyday, “regular person” apparel; as they impress upon us the practical advantages of using the CROSS SECTIONAL Trivago method of accommodation selection.

Which makes what I recently read all the more eye opening and amusing.  It comes from America’s most famous literary humorist, Mark Twain and dates back to the mid to late 19th century; back to a time and place when the old ways of living off the land had yet to become too modernized or softened.

And it serves as a great wake-up call to shake us out of our highly pampered lifestyle and remind us that, believe it or not, our standard of living constitutes a very short blip on the evolutionary timeline of human development.

Take these detailed sleeping arrangements abroad in 19th century Australia courtesy of Mark Twain’s travel memoirs entitled, “Following the Equator.”

In the segment I highlight, we join a conversation between the author and a grumpy minister he meets on his travels.  It starts the typical way, with a word of mouth inquiry regarding where to stay in a new town.

The stranger replies: “It’s a charming town, with a hell of a hotel.”

(Twain’s reaction was one of astonished as it seemed quite odd for him to hear a minister swear out loud.)

The stranger goes on: “It’s the worst hotel in Australia.”

“Why?” responded Twain.  “Bad beds?”

“No,” countered the stranger, “Just sand-bags.”

Twain: “The pillows too?”

“Yes, the pillows too.  Just sand.  And not a good quality of sand.  It packs too hard, and has never been screened.  There is too much gravel in it.  It is like sleeping on nuts.”

Twain: “How are the rooms?”

“Eight feet square, and a sheet of iced oil-cloth to step on in the morning when you get out of the sand-quarry.”

Twain: “As to lights?”

“Coal-oil lamp.”

Twain: “A good one?”

“No.  It’s the kind that sheds a gloom.”

Twain: “I like a lamp that burns all night.”

“This one won’t.  You must blow it out early.”

Twain: “That is bad.  One might want it again in the night.  Can’t find it in the dark.”

“There’s no trouble; you can find it by the stench.”

“Wardrobe?”

“Two nails on the door to hang seven suits of clothes on-if you’ve got them.”

Twain: “Bells?”

“There aren’t any.”

Twain: “What do you do when you want service?”

“Shout.  But it won’t fetch anybody.”

Twain: “Suppose you want the chambermaid to empty the slop jar?”

“There isn’t any slop jar. The hotels don’t keep them.”

Twain: “Another thing: I’ve got to get up in the dark, in the morning, to take the five-o’clock train.  Now if the boots—”

“There isn’t any.”

Twain: “Well the porter.”

“There isn’t any.”

Twain” “But who will call me?”

“Nobody.  You’ll call yourself.  And you’ll light yourself, too.  There’ll not be a light burning in the halls or anywhere.  And if you don’t carry a light, you’ll break your neck.”

Twain: “But who will help me down with my baggage?”

“Nobody.”

On and on the conversation comically flowed, with the prospects sounding bleaker with every response.

And it certainly does caste a rather harsh light on our overly spoiled sense of consternation regarding how perfectly to execute our lodging needs:

“Sauna or swimming pool?”  “Waffles for breakfast or western omelets?

Just the fact that we don’t have to deal with chamber pots, rough sand in our pillows, or a dark room that we have to lite the hallway ourselves should give us pause regarding our worries.

So thank you Mark Twain for once again, proving how valuable the past is in teaching us perspective and nuance regarding the big picture of life.

 

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WHEELBARROW TRAVEL PIONEER By John Watts

wheelbarrow

For all of us brave consumers and beneficiaries of this modern world, our innovative advantages surely must make us feel smug and sophisticated compared to our stay-at-home, unenlightened ancient ancestors.  Am I right?

Because while our predecessors were severely limited in their range of motion, we can, with the navigation of a few buttons and the recollection of the correct passwords—circumnavigate the globe in a dizzying variety of ways, and 3 times faster to boot!

When you really consider it–how could anyone possibly stack up with the current “us’s” in all of history?  The modern us who travel so instantly via virtual reality on our computers and quick swipes of our credit cards as we select our fine-tuned transportation options.  The enlightened us who can go to the furthest city in the third world while remaining buttressed in some 3-star chain hotel with little inkling of the ancient culture going on outside of our air-conditioned confines.

So what if most of us are bogged down with paralysis on how to operate our internet options correctly?  So what if we are too set in our ways staying at home watching TV and have long ago given up the fight to advance our freedom enough to get a passport?

The overriding point is, as long as we happened to be one of those charmed select winners that happen to be successful and upwardly mobile enough to attract offers to travel; well then, we would conceivably be living in the best time ever—as explorers and tourists.

But deep down, no matter how convincingly we try to foist up this “got our act together” image as urbane, world travelers, we quickly fall victim to the unworthiness and guilt of never measuring up to the harder conditions of our ancestors.  Not even close.  No matter how many fit-bits we document our steps with or how many live cam visitations around the globe we click to.

Still the latest word on us as worthy inheritors isn’t all bad.

You know that standard old geezer macho lament, “well when I was your age, I walked to school in bare feet through drifts of snow in the winter.”

Well at least we can still dubiously get away with that braggadocio syndrome thanks to the relative softness of the cyber generations that have proceeded us.  In fact this may be the ONE geezer macho lament we can still fall back on and have some degree of truth in employing.  After all, we were raised with much cruder communication and entertainment options back in our day, compared with the POST baby boomer generations since, right?  We can fondly remember walking up to our TV to turn the channel as well as actually hand cranking our car windows to get some manual cool air relief.  We also knew the uncertainty of driving in our cars across the country with only pay phones and word of mouth for communication (REAL face time, right?).

Nevertheless, here we are, still stuck smack dab in the middle of what Alvin Toffler called “Future Shock,” in a post-industrial age where exploration to the far reaches of the globe have pretty much been spanned and mastered over and over again.

Indeed, we are at such an over saturation level of daring deeds that one must do very NOVEL things like play paddle ball while bicycling across continents or swim backwards across the ocean to get any serious press time.

And this is why so many social media diehards just simply give up the ghost and opt to ALTER their reality–and feel successful anyway.  Why?  Because the very nature of social media means that EVERYONE can submit their work and clamor for attention REGARDLESS of the merit.  And in many cases, regardless of whether one even garners a hint of real interest or not.  It’s a PERSONAL event–every submission.

Complete self-absorption allows for said person to submit daily blogs on their Starbucks orders or their kids little league schedule and hopefully find a niche of followers.

And so this where I come into my story.  Because this “born too late” condition and lack of room left for meaningful self-aggrandizement had me very puzzled and perplexed as to what goals were left to conquer.

And I was unwilling to just pour my gut out on a blog site unless I felt it had some redeemable characteristics that would warrant the effort.  (like this essay, right dear reader?)

Simply put: I made the bold decision to become a wheelbarrow traveler.

I think it was the guilt more than anything else.  The guilt of appearing so leisure and carefree while out on my dog hikes; as I traipsed past all the landscapers and construction workers all doing back breaking work and who didn’t smile back or care how at peace I was.

I just couldn’t reconcile their hard edged, slightly resentful stares while I hugged trees and communed with my pet dogs.

I mean who was I to claim such leisure time for transcendental thoughts and poetry while these laborers only had to time to dig holes and lay out mulch all day in the hot summer sun?

Even though the animal gave me FUNCTIONALITY out in public, and reduced the frequency of suspicious stares, I needed more.

So, I figured I would kill two birds with one stone.  I would travel in a more practical, working class manner, while also earning honor and distinction as a traveler operating in a less crowded mode.

This is where the wheel barrow came in.  What else could have been a more perfect choice?

It is the ultimate agrarian symbol of labor and toil and moving heaven and earth in order to reach one’s goals.

Plus, now that I was in my mid-50s, I knew that I was only declining in terms of my straight forward hiking prowess.  It would give me that edge I so dearly needed.

But first, I had to do research on wheelbarrow travel.  Once I did, I quickly learned, like everything else in the internet, I was inundated with the unwanted company of others vying for attention in the same category who also thought that they were originators of the same idea.

There were pages of pages of wheelbarrow records to peruse.  Why reinvent the wheel?

“The longest wheelbarrow push was one of some 14,500 km (9,000 miles), from 24 April 1975 to 6 May 1978 by Bob Hanley (Australia), starting and finishing at Sydney and pushing through Townsville, Mt Isa, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, the Nullarbor Plain, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.”

“Dang it,” I thought to myself, “Leave it to those convicts from down under to be extra proficient in pushing wheel barrows.”

The other high-water mark for the sport I was quickly reminded, happened during the Gold Rush and homesteader’s movement on the Oregon Trail.  Families packed their gear on wheel barrows and bounced their way slowly westward.

Not only were their plenty of wheelbarrow records to ponder with the real wheels and metal etc., there was also the strange category of human beings pushing OTHER human beings as makeshift wheelbarrows.  Yes indeed.  Straight from the Guinness book: “The fastest 50 m by a human wheelbarrow team is 14.87 sec and was achieved by Josh McCormack (the wheelbarrow) and Arjuna Benson (the pusher) (both Australia), at the Sports campus of Carey Baptist Grammar School, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on 9 September 2008. During the same event, the record for the largest human wheelbarrow race was broken. Josh is 16 years old, and Arjuna is 15.

Cranky!  More Aussies with wheelbarrows!

Reading about all the stiff competition, forced me to add another twist to my wheel barrow travel brainstorm.  Forget the LOOPHOLE record setting angle, I decided if I was going to feel truly working class, I needed to develop a more practical working goal, no matter how convoluted.

So, I decided that with my travel time, I would also haul dirt from the HIGHER end of town and deposit it in the LOW end of town where everything sags and is off kilter.

In this manner, I would not only traverse with my wheelbarrow, I would also be doing something to help my community too, all while lifting weights and doing cardio.

Bottom line:  I would be helping to keep my town more balanced in the process.

Now that I have my wheel barrow, I feel like a new man!  A man solidly tied to his past and proud of it.  No longer am I just a nature worshiping journal writer on foot.  No trail has seen the likes of me.  I may not break records like the Aussies but I break new ground every day!  Literally.

My dog may not like staying at home.  And my journal pages are less filled.

But I can look blue collar workers straight in the eye as I pass and feel more GROUNDED!  Finally.

Beat that Australia!

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“WHICH LINGERS LONGER—LOVE OR SPITE?” By John Watts

As to that age-old question: “What endures longest in the grim battle for sustaining our memory in the mental theater of what makes us well, US—

LOVE OR SPITE?”  I would be inclined to decisively chock up a victory for spite.

For I witnessed a powerful example of it in an elderly widow lady in my neighborhood recently and found that it sums up the human condition aptly.

First allow me to back up and tell the background story.

As I came upon this lonely, slightly addle minded neighbor while walking my dog, I noticed that she was gazing very intently at my next-door neighbor, Edward’s, lawn.  More than just eying it critically—she seemed to have outright contempt etched entirely over her countenance as she caste a withering glare on the yard and landscaping situation of my next-door neighbor.

After startling her slightly by my abrupt greeting, she turned towards me and promptly stated her opinion on the condition of my neighbor’s lawn in no uncertain terms.

I should note that this was a lady slipping steadily into some form of dementia and who quickly would forget conversations and names and associations; often with having to repeat the same information over again—“So what is your dog’s name?”  Her decline was unmistakable.  Living alone as a widow only exacerbated her condition.

But of course, the whole gossiping network of our sleepy lower middle-class neighborhood knew this.  For some, it constituted their favorite pastime and hobby—commenting on the latest weird thing that Betty was seen doing.

“Did you see her standing on one foot while holding up her tea kettle?”

“Did you see Betty weave around on her feet like she was drunk in the middle of the road?”

“Just today I saw Betty throw trash in Sara’s petunia patch.  We should report her.”

On and on the speculation and gossip swirled.

Indeed, the raised concerns for our neighbor Betty’s mental health and bleak future, seemed to have long ago descended past healthy sincerity and struck a pettier, false note as if from a Stepford Wives movie as watchful spouses vied to root out all manner of eccentricity and anything that might bring down overall property value to the neighborhood.

But I always kind of liked Betty.  I wouldn’t want to live with her of course or be her lawn service professional, but overall, she was much calmer now and was a delightful presence in greeting me consistently outside with the same quires about how my dog was doing.

In fact, she was the most consistently kind person for just “how’s the weather?” chit chat by a long shot on the entire block.

I mean who cares if I always had to repeat the age of my dog and his name over and over again?

Given her age and solititude, coupled with her diminishing independence, I figured a little compassion was in order.

But when it came to my next-door neighbor Edward and the state of his lawn and landscaping, Betty was clear as a bell and unrelenting.

 

And the sad thing was, though Edward could be very cranky and stand-offish himself, he had just recently done a very kind act for Betty that same very week she had cast judgement regarding the state of his property.

On Valentine’s Day, he had taken time out of his schedule to take Betty out for dinner at her favorite Chinese Restaurant.  It was as proud as I have ever been of Edward.

My wife and I too had taken Betty out to the same place a year earlier.  It was the least we could do.

I’ll never forget her reaction.  She had even hugged the waiter when she got there, so glad was she to be out in public again.

And like I said, Edward’s good deed of taking Betty out had occurred just a week before.

And when I pointed out how nice Edward had recently been, Betty could only draw a blank and say that she had no memory of being taken out for Chinese food by Edward.

In fact, she doubted that this same man had done anything of the kind for her as it sounded most unlikely.

The only thing her mind was registering was that she did NOT approve of Edward’s lawn and felt it was a real inconvenience that his property was so shabby and positioned right across the street from hers.

She was quite plainly on a roll and could not be dissuaded.

But our neighborhood was full of critical chain reactions—privately and not so privately.  For that same Edward had caste many an aspersion on our many weeds in our yard in the previous months.  And he had more than implied that the greenery we gazed upon was mostly fraudulent when it came to our lawn.

And for some lucky reason, Betty picked on Edward’s lawn but was surprisingly full of praise for ours, even for the slightest thing we did like laying down one bag of new mulch around a plant.

And we in turn, despised Edward’s trees that reached over too far across our yard.

This caused Edward to despise the way we trimmed his arching branches without asking him first.  More resentment formed when Edward was seen brazenly walking on to our property to scoop up the fallen branches from his tree that we had trimmed.

And Sara hated the way Betty dropped trash and sticks in her yard.  And Betty and Loretta distrusted our old dying Maple Tree that posed a threat to dropping heavy branches on their parked cars.

Egg shells were walked under with every shaky alliance on our block.

And it is also SO true, that If you LIVE BY THAT GAME of endlessly stacking yourself up against others, YOU WILL ALSO DIE BY THAT GAME.

And you will die looking over your shoulder and wondering what others were saying about you outside of earshot.

You were just dying to  know.

The line is very fine and unforgiving in this kind of world view.  Suffer one setback, incur one bad drought, and suddenly your best bridge playing friends may suddenly stop inviting you over for coffee.

All the more reason to grow old in a fuzzy, friendly haze rather than a precise, crystal clear vendetta against the world around you.

But our Betty stands as a great example of how wickedly effective having a beef or vendetta can be in terms of fueling your memory and reason to live longer.

Good deeds such as taking someone out for lunch can be quickly shuffled to the back of the cranium when it comes to good old fashion bile and resentment being aroused live and in person.

The stubbornly aging brain of the senior citizen can ask “what have you done for me lately?” while old feuds continue to be nursed.

And of course, personality traits tend to stay the course throughout it all.  If you like complaining you’re going to rely on it even more in your golden days.

And I would venture to say that somewhere, in every corner of every suburban mailing address, there is another forgetful Betty type vividly being reminded about something that galls her while erasing all recollections of a nice lunch out.

Spite wins again–game set and match over love.

 

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