Curb Your..Cynicism


I’m a big Larry David fan. Perhaps not with the same zealous devotion to his shows as a few of my fellow educators, but I respect anyone who makes art out of his neuroses and isn’t afraid to step on people’s toes in so doing.

I relate to Larry David. I too have a bit too much time on my hands and mind. He’s a privileged Jew with only first-world problems. I’m the same way. In fact what almost ruined my morning yesterday was the cleaning lady used way too much water to clean the baby’s water bottle.

Water for a water bottle you ask? My peeve exactly.

Why my wife believes water bottle needs regular and thorough cleansing is beyond me. But these are the types of “contentious” issues which Larry David has parlayed into record breaking TV series. In my case, they just lead to an existential cynicism that threatens to turn me into a middle-aged Holden Caulfield.

chat and cut

Vintage Larry

To make this blog more digestible, I will try to paraphrase my thoughts. Perhaps all this cynicism, or at least skepticism, is designed to inspire me to write. After all, no one writes a lot when they are in a great mood. Or maybe the small doses of angst are designed to get us to channel that little bit of Larry David in all of us into something comedic.

I’m still a bit of a hack when it comes to writing. But I have learned that I will not be in any more of a mood to write tomorrow as I am now. Moreover, I won’t really have any new ideas. So the  future is now.  Drumroll please:

Here are my top ten reasons to be a little cynical. The first few will reflect just how over Miami I am. No offense to die hard South Floridians. I would be sick of paradise too if I had lived there 16 years.

(1) The greeting kiss:

I have written about this before. But putting it out on paper made me even more aware of how strange I find this custom to be. It is hard to trace the origin of a “pet peeve” but the whole greet or part-by -kiss thing has become my main one. II have tried to get a handle on why so many of the locals feel a need to do such and the best answer I could get was: “Well the Italians do it and they brought their habits to Venezuela and once Venezuelans came to Miami, they brought it with them too.”

So my translation is: People do it because they see other people doing it who saw other people doing it who heard this is what the expats did back in South America.

My issue is I just don’t like the pressure. Again, sorry for my inner Larry David coming out but I don’t feel any obligation to kiss an acquaintance. Nor is there any reason why they should have to kiss me. Besides, even after spending around one-third of my life here, I still don’t even know what I am supposed to do. Do I plant a kiss, touch cheeks, give an air kiss? What? I know it may feel awkward for me not to offer a kiss, but I argue it is much more awkward to do so.

awkward moment

My solution – Let’s just nip this overused habit in the bud and go back to a smile, a hand shake or a little pat on the ass if you really want to show some affection.

 

(2) Books or lack thereof:

Can we at least pretend that books still hold some enduring value? No, this is not just the English major and teacher speaking. This is just an average guy who likes to travel the world, be fairly well-informed and keep the mind in good working order. Yes our phones and entertainment consoles are interesting. I sometimes wonder if maybe  I want to eat my phone (More on the phone in my next blog.)

But there is no replacement for books, particularly good ones. They engage the imagination as few things do. So my petition to all those airplane passengers and high-energy folks who seem to have about as much use for a book as a scuba diver has for a tennis racket is to just read 10 to 15 minutes a day for two weeks. If you don’t feel it’s worth your while, I will pay for your next three months of Netflix.

(3) Headlines:

Yes the headlines have to grab our attention. But they also need to approximate the reality of what is really happening to we masses.

Take today. The headline in The Washington Post is “EPA’s Pruitt spent $1,560 on 12 customized fountain pens from Washington jewelry store“. In the NY Times it is “Trump breaks protocol with tweet ahead of jobs report” And in our local paper The Herald, the headline is “As Marijuana Dispensaries open. Miami registers 5400 new members per week.

As I list this as one of my peeves. I realize there may not be a lot of meat to what I am complaining about. What I do know is that most of these stories are not really headline worthy. As for the first two, they are both quite partisan even if factual. As for the last one, who gives a crap? I think this whole legalizing weed craze is one of the strangest news stories of my life. Since when does it need to be legal for people to access it and no, I do not think my three year old should have to ingest second hand cannabis.

Lets try making headlines really matter. As an example, “Miamians give an average of 742,00 kisses to casual acquaintances a day” or “Sending more than thirty texts a day doubles our chances of developing early onset Alzheimer’s. Perhaps even “Unemployment is at an all-time low now that 32 states have legalized recreational marijuana use.

These are headlines I can live with

Speaking of employment…

(4) Tip me, Tip me, tip me please….

This is not really about the omnipresence of tipping or the fact that it has become a 700 billion dollar industry domestically, though if  I tipped maybe 20 percent less than I did over the course of the year I could probably house a Syrian refugee or two. What miffs me is the growing trend retailers have of shoving the Square Space payment portal in front of the customer’s face with the tip options in bold strokes. I mean the whole Jerry’s kids routine was bad enough some years back but this is just blatant abuse of vulnerable customers with overactive consciences.

As an example, last Saturday we went to the Grove for ice cream, one of those new age gluten, hormone and dairy-free ice cream places that makes its gelato from all-recycled materials in fair-wage regions of the world.

It was $16 for two cups,  essentially the equivalent of 10 normal bites. It took about a total of 45 seconds to scoop it all. And then the teenage employee, one who likely drives a fancy sedan paid for by mom and dad strategically placed the tip page in my face. 15% ($2.38) 20% ($3.00) or no tip. I fought every selfless urge in my body and opted for no tip. But the psychological damage had been done. I put two coins in the tip jar.

too much tipping

How could the proprietor have the audacity to ask me for a $3 tip when I was already being overcharged and the employee was just doing his job. I will ask this question until I am blue in the face but as my fellow teachers and social service workers, not to mention architects, etc who are reading this blog can attest to, we have multiple degrees, work with a bunch of clients at once and we don’t get tipped. We hardly even get thanked. So lets once and for all, either tip everyone in proportion to the quality and difficulty of the service they are providing or no one at all.

So if we opt for the former, I am fully prepared to tip my pilot big time the next time I fly

5) Dissing Lebron:

Where is this coming from? Perhaps the same “too much time on my hands” reflex. I don’t really know but I do have to make it to ten here. And it’s a classic example of bad headlines. The guy has now made 8 NBA finals in a row. 8. Most of them on mediocre teams aside from himself. I’ve likely played 250 medium level tennis or squash tournaments in my life and made the finals of maybe 12 of them. And yet in a league teeming with talent from all ages and all over the world, this guy pulls a “King” Leonidas every year and leads his incarnation of the Spartan army to cusp of championships no matter what the circumstances. And yet if he doesn’t pull off the miracle this year, there will be more labels of “choking” on the big stage.

 

(6) Kids’ birthdays:

Before I start to sound like Scrooge here, let me qualify. I think kids’ birthdays are great. Especially when they are older and you can actually do fun things like throw water balloons at each other and have cake devouring contests. But if you are going to have a birthday party for a toddler and invite a bunch of “friends” then do it right. First, have a bunch of kid friendly activities besides putting icing on everyone’s face. Plus make sure there is adequate space.

Second, make it adult friendly. I’m a glutton so if you want me to give up a good Saturday of recreational activity, then have a ton of food. Ether that, or someone on hand to give chair massages. Just remember, there is an opportunity cost.

cute-baby-birthday-cake

My recommendation:  An invitation party at most every other year and ideally at all-you-can-eat buffet.

 

(7) “How are you?/Como estan?”

This goes a bit hand in hand with the kissing thing.  My rant is likely pointless. But please. If I don’t know you, you absolutely do not have to ask me how I am. That’s for shrinks to do. First, you aren’t really interested in hearing my answer and second, if you want to get all existential,  then watch a little bit of Larry David.

But if you really do want to hear how I am doing, then take a breath.  “How are you?” could be a rather thought-provoking question and one to which I don’t necessarily have a straight answer.

Suggestions: Take a few greeting risks. First, you could try “Who are you?” or “Hard, who goes there?” or simply “Good afternoon, isn’t this global warming thing great for playing golf?” But come on folks, there are 240,000 commonly used words in the English language.  After all, most of you about whom I’m complaining have college degrees. You can find a more original way to greet someone.

(8) Bashing Trump:

Granted this is one of my favorite hobbies as it makes me feel kind of high and mighty when I accuse him of resorting to “glittering generalities”, but switching professions is never easy. Just ask Michael Jordan or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Trump went from a reality TV show star and real estate mogul to a reality TV show executive and fake news mogul but he does try his best. I don’t even think Trump was part of the student council in High School. But he has proven the axiom that 90 percent of life is just showing up and well, he’s what we got for now.

trump bashing

9) Phony business:

I am going to speak about this more in my next blog. A lot more. In fact, I am glancing at my phone now as I have probably already done 250 times today. But woe to man who dares not have a smart phone, or any cellphone at all. Is there anyone in the northern part of North America over the age of 18 who does not have a phone?

generation_of_cell_phone_03

I realize I am part of the problem here. Every time I consider texting and driving I realize just what an epidemic phone use has become. I am actually willing to put my life and others at risk just to send a message. And as for parents, there are other ways to enjoy the presence of your child then through the small lens of your phone. I won’t belabor my point but the number of parents who elbow others out of the way just so they can take a video of their children catching a plastic fish constantly makes me wonder why breeding is so easy.

 

(10) Music in public places:

I have written about this a few times prior. It’s pure idle ranting. But I don’t go to stores, coffee shops or restaurants to hear music. I go there for the goods they sell. If I really wanted to listen to music, I would stay in the car. What pisses me off even more is the kind of crap my Lyft Drivers listen to. These are muscle men with decent cars jamming out to Justin Bieber and Madonna. If I am going to offer you patronage, then the least you can do is let me choose the music.

Solution:   Only jazz and classical music, except at a sports bar. Then you can play Meat Loaf

 

Well that’s it for now. A little healthy cynicism is always good for the spirit. And thanks for listening to me rant. However,  if for some reason you see me on the street, just give me a high five and tell me about how excited you are about reading that new book you bought.

As for how I am doing, a lot better than when I first started writing this blog. There’s something about channeling Larry David that always makes me a feel pretty darned special.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Somewhere along the line, despite coming up with asinine things like radio commercials, FOX News, most Yankees fans, cellphone ringtones and reality TV, we evolved. I mean we really really evolved!

funny-satirical-evolution-charles-darwin-day__700

 

Obviously we pale in comparison to God who formed his little hovel called the universe in six days, a fact corroborated by Breibart News and President Trump himself, but still, in the past century alone, we constructed the Eiffel Tower, built cruise ships large enough to sleep the entire population of Honduras, mass produced I-phones which access more information than the New York Public Library and generates more manifestations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder  than even the latest DSM -5 edition knows how to identify.

iphone-addiction
And to top it off, a few precocious, sleep deprived Harvard students had the gumption to create a cellphone accessible social network which guarantees women will never fall asleep at a professional sporting event other than baseball.

But based on my decade long research into the topic, there is one area in which we have devolved – communication. Yes I know there is a much more of it and more people are sharing more in more platforms, but it’s definitely not better communication. As a semi-competent communicator, I could wax poetic about this paradox, but for the sake of simplifying, I will just focus on one aspect – how 99.9  percent of conversations start.

In fact, the typical conversation starter is really a conversation stopper. Let me explain.

I will give examples in both English and Spanish.

Let’s say you are in the grocery store and run into someone you recognize. After spending at least four minutes trying to identify who exactly the person is (He is the guy whose newspaper you steal at least three times a week because he has been your next door neighbor for a decade), you launch into what can be best described as the universally agreed upon small-talk.

Neighbor – “Hey Marco, whats going on with you?”

You’re tempted to launch into a big spiel.

Me – “Not much, and you?”

Neighbor – “Same old, same old” (or some variation thereof).

Me – “Good luck on the deli line”

Neighbor – “Thanks. Oh and thanks for stealing my newspapers. The headlines are too depressing anyway.”

Spanish version:

(Phone rings)

“Hola Maria, Como estan?”

“Bien, y tu?”

“Bien gracias.”

“Mira…..”

Mind you Maria is calling because she can’t come today to take care of your three kids today because she just got into a major fender bender. Plus her oldest child has been detained in Venezuela indefinitely for booking a one way flight to the U.S.

conversations

Please note, I am not trying to channel curmudgeons I admire like Larry David or Bill Maher, but of the literally millions of phrases in the English language, can’t we come up with a starter that smacks of a little more originality. Besides, why does everyone want to know how I am. Isn’t that for a shrink to discover?

larry david

So I say lets take back the human potential to have a non-automated, non-reflex based conversation and strain our craniums a bit. For one, I don’t even see “How are you?” as a completed question. Lets finish it as in: “How are you enjoying this nice day?” or “How do you find your comfort level in a world where climate change in a “hoax” but it’s 93 degrees in mid February and two hours of rain forces you to wear a wetsuit just to walk to your car?”

Or “how are you managing to keep your morale high when you are approaching middle age and still work a series (albeit it productive ones) of part time jobs?” (The latter question is entirely theoretical).

Frankly the possibility of such an exchange is kind of exciting.

For now, I say lets bag the existential question of how I am or others like me. First, I think about the answer for far too long. Second, the answers are rarely accurate. If everyone was good as they suggest they are, then there wouldn’t be such a large mass of country music fans, high rate of depression, road rage, cheetos munching or Trump voters.

depression satire

But also because I, as I’m sure others do,  also get handcuffed by the question. Do they really want to know or are they just speaking without thinking? Am I the only one Sally has asked this question to today? However, if you really want to get existential on me, you could start a conversation with “Hey Mark, good morning. Who are you?” Now that’s a question with a little forethought not to mention, some great conversation potential.

For context, there’s a popular sports call-in program on Miami when the host hangs up on anyone who starts the conversation with the phrase that shall not be repeated. His goal, I assume, is to get past the generic pleasantry and cut to the chase. But here’s the irony. The other day he was doing a phone interview with a local baseball manager whose name rhymes with Fattingly and the first question out of his mouth was “Hey Coach, how are you?” The man whose name rhymes with Ron did not, of course, hang up.

But lets say it takes people a little time to adjust to what I propose as the new conversation ice breaker. Lets say the grocery store clerk lets her favorite line slip. Here’s how I plan to respond,

Sheila –    “Hi, how are you?”

Mark – “Hmm, never quite been asked that question before at least with not such zeal for inquiry. But now that you ask, let me think about it. Well I am somewhat in existential limbo. You know contentment is really a matter of perspective but also a matter of the convenience at which I can work my way through the deli line. And there was a little bit too much kibbitzing behind the counter. Not to mention, I just realized that an unexpected chunk of my discretionary income was spent on tipping and sales taxes last month, not to mention the outrageous spike in summer electricity costs. Speaking of which, one of the reasons why I think your establishment overcharges for oranges is that you crank up the AC way too high. But overall, I can’t complain. After all, it’s two in the afternoon and I wearing tennis shorts and a t-shirt……………….. And how about you Sheila. Sorry, I mean how are you adjusting to life in the ever unpredictable Trump administration? Do you think he is going to do anything about subsidizing the cost of tropical fruit?  Or if that was a bit of a curveball,  I mean “Who are you?”

Sheila – “Glad you asked. You’re the first person who has asked me that all day. And that’s a very fair question about adjusting to Trump. It sure is quite the brain bender, isn’t it?”

Now that’s the kind of lady who understands the art of conversation.