Thursday, September 29, 2016

Poll Cats

It is more blessed to give than to receive – Jesus of Nazareth

I am seldom asked for advice or asked to express an opinion. I know, for instance, that when it comes to my sense of fashion, all my taste is in my mouth. If my wardrobe is at all coordinated, it is due to the good taste of my life-partner. Without her, I have no doubt I would mix checks with stripes, and goodness knows what wretched combination of colors I could come up with if left to my own devices.

However, times are changing and folks increasingly say they want my opinion. Some months back we became a “Nielsen” Family and got to share our television-viewing habits with the world. I presume that’s why your favorite shows have disappeared, and worse ones are airing to fill the void. I offer you my sincerest apologies.

I’ve also been receiving phone calls from researchers wanting to know my political views on things. Their stunned silence (at times) has suggested that perhaps my thoughts on such weighty matters are possibly skewed outside the group they’re working for, but that’s OK. I did a telephone survey one morning and that afternoon had another request for an interrogative poll. I told the poor soul I was limiting myself to one survey per day, and I am sure I left him holding the phone on his end with mouth wide open and a look of shock permanently frozen upon his face.

The fact is that I do have opinions, but have generally restricted myself to keeping most of them private. I learned early on that there are dog lovers, and there are cat lovers, and if one identifies with either group, one may become a pariah, viewed with deep suspicion by the other.

That has begun to change, however. As my bones have become more brittle, my perspective on matters has become more apparent and is sometimes expressed in a more prickly form. I am more prone to shoot off my mouth than ever before. It’s not that I want to place myself over and against anyone else; it’s just that there is more fatigue involved in holding one’s tongue. The muscle mass needed just isn’t there to support silence anymore.

That doesn’t mean I must become mean or cranky in expressing my mind (what little is left of it). It’s just that if there is discourse on some matter that affects me or the organizations and groups to which I belong, I don’t want folks to confuse my silence on such things with consent (Qui tacet consentit).

The challenge, of course, is in learning how to disagree without being disagreeable (as the old saw puts it). An old deaf couple were seen arguing one day and, like their hearing counterparts, as they got angrier, their gestures got bigger. Finally, one of them said to the other, “You don’t have to yell; I’m NOT blind!”

Anger, we’re told, is a secondary emotion. That means our anger is driven by something else – fear or shame, for instance. When your child runs into the street and nearly gets hit by a car, you scream at them in anger, because you’re scared out of your mind.

Sometimes, though, I think we scream because we want to show we mean business. “I’m mad as (heck), and I’m not going to take it!” thundered the character in the movie NETWORK.

I’ve come to learn, however, that one can express an opinion without getting angry or defensive if one realizes that it’s OK for everyone to have their own outlook on things. As one wag says, “Everyone’s got a right to be wrong. It’s not my job to change them or correct their perspective.”

The key, I think, is self-restraint. First of all, not everyone needs to know what I think or how I feel. Some folks have an insatiable appetite for speaking their mind. They have little or no self-restraint, and often evince that by then arguing every point with everyone. Their goal seems to be more to win than to learn.

That leads to the second point: conversation should be viewed and practiced as an opportunity to learn. When we value the experience, strength, and hope of our neighbor, we each win, and that’s a valuable commodity. Of course, that’s just my opinion in this, our valley.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lights and Shadows

“Never fear periods of darkness in life. They are the atrium to new phases of life, the threshold to new experience, the invitation to move on from where you are to where there is more for you to learn”  Joan Chittister

I’m not much for driving at night anymore. It isn’t the darkness that bothers me, but the brightness of oncoming headlights. Today’s headlights seem to be a reflection of changing attitudes in our world.

Back in the day, standard headlights were round and held in place by a ring of light aluminum or steel. They were mounted so you could adjust them up, down, left, or right. They had set screws for “aiming” them so you wouldn’t blind oncoming traffic. There seemed to be an understanding that roads were meant to be shared, and as important as it is and was to see at night, it was equally important not to blind those with whom we shared the roads.

In the 1970s, automakers began to upgrade headlights, transitioning from the sealed beam headlight technology that had been developed in the 1930s to halogen and other brighter lights. They were technically illegal when I was a cop, for the state code specifically required “sealed beam headlights” – but that was a throw-back to the days when sealed-beams were an improvement over the carriage lamps cars used to have.

I suppose I could have written tickets to folks with halogen headlights, but I suspect prosecutors and judges would have questioned my sanity before questioning the code, so I exercised the better part of valor (and common sense) and decided to keep legislators in the dark on the matter.

I have no idea if the code has been re-written to permit the various crazy headlights we see “out there” today (I presume it has), but things sure are different.

Headlights now come in every shape and hue imaginable, and I sometimes wonder if many of them do the job they’re intended to do. What’s worse, they don’t seem to be adjustable – there is no apparent mechanism for aiming them as in days of yore. Drivers are at the mercy of engineers. They seem to be designed more to make a car look cool, than to function as illuminators of the night-time road.

It also means it does little good to flick our lights at oncoming traffic at night, for as often as not, they may or may not be running with their high beams on. It’s a sad state of affairs when the automaker is more interested in form than in function, because the driver is at the mercy of the machine and courtesy, as an option, is taken away.

There’s not much we can do, of course. No one wants to spend a fortune buying a motor vehicle, simply to then turn around and spend another fortune reverse-engineering it to be more courteous and kind. And I am certain we don’t want to return to the days where an automobile driven at night is required to have someone walking in front of the car, lamp or lantern in hand, to show the way.

No, for good or ill, we have what we have – and we’re stuck with it until some better option comes along.

Until then, there are several tried-and-true alternatives we can employ when driving at night. The first is simply to slow down. If one is driving a tad slower, one has more time to react to dangers in the road. I know that goes against the grain as we all want to get to where we’re going as quickly as possible, but slowing down works.

Secondly, when cars approach with their lights glaring, look away (toward the fog-line on the edge of the road). This protects your retinal nerves from being overloaded with the light, and allows your eyes to recover more quickly when those oncoming lights have passed.

Jesus once said, “If your eye offends you, pluck it out.” He was exaggerating, but the point he was making was: Take responsibility; be responsible!

We can’t change the auto industry (at least not overnight), but we can change what we do and how we do it, so we may as well use our heads, protect our eyes, and enjoy our nocturnal journeys as best we can in this, our valley.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Motels, Alarms, and a Meal

“I will try to be faithful in habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep …” A Morning Resolve (Author Unknown)

One of the joys of vacation is traveling from one place to another and experiencing life freed from the tethers of hearth, home, and the ol’ salt mine.

Now, I admit I am somewhat of a tightwad when it comes to vacation. We have many pennies at home that are about the size of a quarter because I squeeze them so tight when we’re out and about.

Never-the-less, this year I decided to be a bit less thrifty. While we normally camp out with relatives and friends as we make our way around the world looking for that silly globe-trotting gnome, we chose this year, instead, to check out the digs at various motels and inns along the way (for which our aforementioned friends and family breathed a collective sigh of relief, I presume).

Our first night was spent just west of Spokane in Airway Heights. We chose a moderately priced inn that was clean and comfortable and met our needs for a price that didn’t bankrupt us.

I had actually had the foresight to arrange reservations through an online travel site before we left. I did that because I learned some time back that motels in the area fill up quickly; it’s not unusual to find no rooms.

Further, checking into a motel without reservations practically guarantees one will pay the highest price for whatever room is left in the facility’s inventory (never a good thing for a traveling tightwad).

One doesn’t want to be reduced to choosing between hotels that charge by the hour, and those so far off the highway that even Norman Bates wouldn’t stay there.

So, I made reservations … in advance … and they were waiting for us with smiles and good cheer (apparently not realizing who I was). Sometimes it’s good being neither famous nor infamous.

The accommodations were standard issue: Queen Bed, table, desk, chair, and flat screen television. I found myself wondering why rooms are set up with a single comfortable chair. Where is the wife supposed to sit?

Someone should write a grant and research that very unfair practice in the hospitality industry. But until they do and we get some answers to that vexing question, we’ll just assume it is a cost-saving measure (which I heartily appreciate, being so penny-wise).

The only complaint I had with our room had nothing to do with its location or accommodations, but with the practical joker who apparently thought it would be hilarious for the next guests (us) to be awakened at midnight by the blaring klaxon of the room’s bedside alarm clock.

Do you realize how hard it is to find a tiny button to turn off an unfamiliar device in a darkened, pitch-black room (while hanging from the ceiling by what’s left of one’s freshly trimmed fingernails)?

Well, we found the light switch, silenced the alarm, and went back to sleep after almost firing off a quick letter to our congressional representatives asking for the outlawing of alarms. We thought better of it when we cooled down. After all, if one outlaws alarms, only outlaws will be alarmed, and we certainly can’t have that!

We soon fell back to sleep (having unplugged the alarm – no use taking chances with another incident) and slept quite well until sunlight began to filter through the blackout curtains. I looked at my watch and noted that it was about 7:00 a.m. – about an hour past my usual wake-up time – so I got up and began to prepare for our day’s continuing journey into the west.

It turns out, however, that my watch was still on Mountain Time, and we were now in the Pacific Time Zone, so the love of my life was a bit perturbed. Consequently, I decided to give her an upgrade from the motel’s free Continental Breakfast. We checked out and enjoyed our first meal of the new day across the street. The food was good, and the price so reasonable I wondered how they could afford those golden arches.

Still, to look across the table to see the beatific smile on the face of my main squeeze made the investment worth it, keeping my heart warm until we return home from vacation, back to this, our valley.