Beyonce has been under fire recently for wearing Tiffany’s Yellow Diamond in an advertising campaign. Apparently that piece of jewelry is considered a “blood diamond” with an origin linked to the exploitation of Black migrant workers in South Africa. I began to reflect on the origin story of the diamond in my wife’s wedding ring. I purchased it from a reputable jeweler for $300 in 1969. It was exactly what Mollie wanted in that price range because she picked it out. I do not know the diamond size but it could be passed with much less pain than a kidney stone. Remarkably, my wife has never lost it, since she has a long history of losing purses, check books, and car keys. She has been embarrassed by the ring over the years but knows the process of getting a new one: go to the jewelry store, pick one out I can afford, and send me into buy it. Actually, now she would need to add a due diligence step to insure we do not make the mistake Beyonce made. I know I sound cheap and unromantic because I think cubic zirconia and any cheaper synthetics are wonderful substitutes for diamonds, especially if they are less tainted with worker exploitation. Consider that my work study job right after we married paid $1.65 per hour. A bigger better diamond would not demonstrate how much I love my wife. We could not afford rice to go with our entrees at our First Anniversary dinner at Trader Vic’s in Washington D.C. If I had paid more for a ring, I would only be proving that I loved the jewelry salesperson more than my wife. Of course, Beyonce is in the enviable position of being able to afford expensive jewelry without sacrificing anything else.
My wife finally submitted a written resignation from working as a substitute teacher after long ago retiring from full time teaching. She supports Pandemic protocols but having to wear a mask all day seemed to tip the balance. Besides she tutors our grandson Sebastian when he is not in school. She has worked diligently over the years trying to get his reading up to Fourth Grade level where he would qualify for a special college program. He is fairly high functioning but is stuck at Second Grade reading level. He keeps up with the news and understands simplified versions of the differences between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. He follows and roots for the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners without understanding the fine points of the games. He laughs at the television shows like The Simpsons and The Office even though he cannot grasp the subtlety of all the humor. He keeps up with weather forecasts. He is a big picture guy, understanding simplified Executive Summaries. One notable exception over the years is his confusion over racial issues. I recently listened as he read my wife a simple storybook about Martin Luther King’s father being discriminated against because of the color of his skin. Sebastian still cannot understand even the simplest explanations. His own world is full of diversity based on the neighborhood where we happen to live. He knows we love the Seattle sports teams and hate the rival teams the same way their city roots against us. He knows why Batman’s foes are Bad Guys. But he cannot fathom why skin color generates atrocities that he sees on the news. And so I suddenly realized how much smarter he is than so many people who can read at a higher level than he can.
My Mom saved everything, so I have all my report cards from my Catholic grade schools. In Kindergarten, my teacher was a nun who reported that I lacked small finger dexterity. She was mostly right but I must have had some because I have less now. I wonder what my parents could do with that information? I think they already knew. I was never handy with my hands. I still type everything with one finger, the steadiest one. The teacher was just doing her job but where did she draw the line of observation? Did some parents get a note saying their kid was ugly? Maybe my Mom did not save everything. She could have destroyed that comment. In my defense, I think my teacher based her report on our Halloween art project. She passed out paper and finger paints. I did not wait for directions which would have been another legitimate weakness she could have highlighted. I covered my page entirely in orange paint. My initiative was punished when she told us to make a Halloween scene. Uh oh. I was not given a second piece of paper. I was done before anyone else began. I tried to trace a pumpkin through the orange muck but it did not work. My teacher also wrote that I had the best sense of humor in the class. She may have been trying to balance the bad with the good. However, I do not remember her being one bit amused with any of my antics. Maybe she considered humor a negative too. If my sense of humor was best, it also explains why my classmates did not fully appreciate my comedy routines. At least this was excellent preparation for tougher audiences in the future.
I am so old, I remember getting rooms at Motel 6 for $6 per night. Pumpernickel bread was pumperpenny bread back then. My wife and I took a motel room in the Detroit area for $6 that made Motel 6 look luxurious. You could not open the door even half way because it banged into the bed. We sometimes slept in the car or a pup tent to avoid paying $12 for a room. We stayed in places with rules against cooking in the rooms. My wife carried a pan you could plug in and we cooked in the room anyway. I was against it but my wife was the edgy one, always sneaking past “No Trespassing” signs to make me uncomfortable. She bullied me into driving on a Florida beach where I got stuck and had to be recued by a guy way cooler than me. Laundromats were scary. We ate out of grocery stores and at KFC. If we went to a restaurant, we lingered over cheap glasses of wine and French fries. Once when I left change on the tray the waiter was holding, he waited so long for a bigger tip that I scooped up the coins and took them back. Our car broke down and had to be towed more than once. Driving at high speed on a highway near Shreveport in August, we burned through the brake line and only by luck and downshifting off the exit did I navigate to a stop in a dead end street a few feet from water. We eventually visited all 50 states. Twelve years ago for our 40th Anniversary, we drove to Teddy Roosevelt National Park and picked up North Dakota as the last one. Those were the very best of times.
My middle son and his friend Ray went all through grade school together. After we moved to Kansas in 1991, Ray spent a semester of his junior year living with us as an unofficial high school “exchange student.” Ray was always provocative. In first grade, he provoked my son into yelling a vulgar compound word on the playground that caused my wife grief because she handles embarrassing family situations. He provoked a Wichita high school into creating a formal Sex Harassment policy for the first time. I cannot elaborate because my wife handled that situation. I did recommend she remind Ray that we could drive him to the airport and put him on an airplane back to Seattle on a moment’s notice. I remember wishing I had that option for my three sons. Once I headed out for a run dressed like I was going skiing because the roads had snow and ice on them. He wanted to come with me in bare feet, long pants, and a tee shirt. I called his bluff, thinking he would turn back within a hundred yards. He won that dare by jogging several miles with me. Ray has four younger brothers and the youngest one just had a son. Ray’s mother says Ray promised to pay for the boy’s college expenses if he was named after him. Middle name was not good enough. So Ray is now uncle to Raymond and has already opened a bank account for him. If only I had known years ago. Surely my wife would have agreed to auction off naming rights for our sons in exchange for prepaid college expenses. I would have been happy with sons named Pepsi, Chevrolet, and Rolaids. Of course we would call them Pepe, Chevy, and Rollie.
Marilyn Armstrong’s interesting post last week on Picking [noses] reminded me of a staff meeting about twenty years ago. Our relatively popular Boss held large weekly meetings with his extended staff. Most of us had known each other for many years. Before the meeting came to order, he motioned to an attractively mature dark haired senior manager as if she had something on her upper lip. After some confusing gestures and stage whispers, it became horrifyingly obvious that he had mistaken a bit of a mustache for something he thought was a smudge or errant piece of food. The elephant was in the room but at least we had an agenda to distract us. The two principals in the drama always seemed on the best of terms before, during, and after the incident. But I expect they both have bad memories of that meeting. When I was at a college party, a friend who had a mild stutter got stuck on a phrase. A girl who apparently was unaware of his affliction stuttered back at him in imitation of what she apparently thought was a fluke misspeak. Or who knows what she thought. But the deafening pause in the party let her know she had made a big mistake. I am identifying faux pas of others rather than my own doozies because my Blogging Coach insists I stop writing so much about myself. I make huge blunders because I take conversational risks necessary to respond quickly and be considered witty. But quick responses breed big mistakes. One of the advantages of Blogging is that you can take all the time you want to be witty. But that just makes your failures worse.
In his farewell, ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo called it “unfair” that an unfair investigation forced his resignation. I cannot speak to details regarding the unfairness because I purposely avoid immersing myself in political scandals. But from a headline perspective, I am amused how quickly the privileged scream “unfair” whenever the universe does not favor them. Is it fair that Cuomo was born the son of a three term Governor of New York? Is it fair that he always had enough to eat and never had to worry about police brutality? Is it fair that he had access to the best educational opportunities? Is it fair that at the age of 24, he was given the job of Campaign Manager for his father’s Gubernatorial campaign? Is it fair that he had a network of connections guaranteeing him every advantage in obtaining prestigious jobs that led to his own election as Governor? I am not complaining about those advantages. It just sticks in my craw when people decide to play the game, take credit for victories, and then scream “unfair” whenever they lose. He had choices on how he treated women, submitted nursing home statistics, and handled personal and business expenses. I happened to be born into privilege but did I cry “unfair” every time I did not get my way? Well, yeah, but that only makes me as big a jerk as Cuomo. And I did not give speeches about the unfairness but just bitched privately to my wife. Maybe I also whined to close friends and family. That is how I know Cuomo’s strategy is flawed. Nobody was sympathetic to my plight. List your accomplishments and admit your mistakes. Be a class act. If you were forced to resign, they were big mistakes by definition. Besides we love redemption stories.
I have a bad habit of asking either/or questions. In a Thursday email, I asked my youngest son, “Is the truck at Park ‘n Ride today or are you using it?” My son often borrows my truck to drive from his Condo to the Park ‘n Ride where he catches a bus to work. That way I can jog the mile and a half from my house to pick it up during the day if I need it, assuming he has not taken it to an offsite meeting or court appearance. If I know my need in advance, we will confirm arrangements the night before. But on Thursday something came up on short notice, so I needed more immediate confirmation. My son’s habit is worse than mine. He answered my either/or question with a simple “yes.” Maybe he has my sense of humor or is trying to teach me a lesson but over the years each of us has been seriously inconvenienced by our miscommunications. I get annoyed when I have to send follow up texts to get to a yes or no answer. I should have placed my question mark after the word “today.” Then “yes” means the truck is at the Park ‘n Ride. It probably was but I never found out because I handled the emergency without the truck. For all I know, “yes” meant “yes I am using it.” I am verbose so I tend to use extra words. I instinctively added the “or are you using it” to reassure my son about the legitimacy of that option. We have been working on our communication for over forty years. Either I am a slow learner or he is. My wife says, “Yes.”
My wife and I do not need a topic to bicker. We are never at a loss for words because we are not constrained by facts, logic, consistency, or good manners. We like to play Scrabble with the dictionary open and Bridge with the cards face up on the table. We have not played Chess since the time Mollie swept the Yugoslavian hand carved pieces off the board decades ago. We rarely accept defeat graciously. We know others are scandalized by our behavior, so we restrain ourselves in public. Unfortunately we found that even when we think we are behaving, we scandalize others. When Cousin Chris was released from prison, he visited us once and that was it. Modern technology has been a big invasion of privacy. Teachers on Microsoft Teams and Zoom have had to gently ask our grandchildren to “remind your grandparents that we can hear them in the background.” Family members tell us they not only see us on home surveillance cameras but they can hear us approaching. So we get caught on recordings describing their landscaping style as Tornado Aftermath or confirming a code word signal to use when we are bored to death and desperate to leave their party. Our grandchildren surreptitiously record us on their cell phones, so they can regale their parents with evidence that we are as crazy as ever. We should get a Bicker Pot where we could draw out fresh topics to bicker about on any given day. But we would probably bicker over the pot, where to put it, and the process for filling it.
When my son helped me set up my daily Blog five years ago today, we made spur of the moment decisions. First I named it after my wildly unpopular novel even though the market had dried up after eight years of bullying friends into buying multiple copies. I was shocked when the baseball term Suicide Squeeze inadvertently attracted followers with dark postings about suicide, depression, and mental illness. Many did not embrace my flippant, light hearted ramblings. Other sports terms like “Touchdown” and “Knockout” are not saddled with such negativity. Even Airball is better than Suicide Squeeze. The “Often Misunderstood” subtitle had the double meaning of describing me and the controversy over my alleged misuse of the term “suicide squeeze” in my novel. Today, I would name my Blog after a rear auto bumper sticker that begins: “If You Can Read This.” I would make the subtitle: “You Are Aiming Too Low.” To test the system, I dashed off an 80 word first post which holds up if my hypothetical publisher includes it in the compendium of Geoff’s Greatest 50 Blogs. My original plan for 100 Greatest Blogs was wounded when a daughter-in-law suggested I go for ten. After killing the messenger, I decided ten put too much pressure on them to be brilliant. So I have compromised on 50. One Blogger liked my first post, my son commented, and Anonymous made two comments. Years later, I learned how to access more stats and discovered the post received 29 views. So most viewers were kind enough not to mention their dislike comment. That was my most viewed post of 2016 (I went as low as one view). In 2017, I improved at Blogging but my daily readership cratered by about 60%. So I have no advice for new Bloggers!