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.

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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?

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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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The Boy Who Cried Fake News

These are exciting times to be a journalist. And very depressing ones if you have certain preferences for what you would like the news to be. In fact, I’m having a tough time wondering whether what is going on here in the upper power echelons of DC are real or an ongoing episode of the Larry Sanders show.the-lary-sanders-show-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-v6

Actually I was hoping not to have to write anything more about it, you know “it”, as I have exhausted almost all my creative and journalistic potential trying to make sense of the buffoon who occupies the White House.

And then this last week happened.

Now keeping my mouth shut seems tantamount to avoiding my citizenry duties.

If you have ever read Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, you will recall the main character Charlie undergoes an experimental surgery which transforms him from being developmentally disabled to a genius level outlier. But the effects of the surgery have a shorter half-life than expected and by book’s end, Charlie is reduced to point A.

402059 - AlgernonPhoto courtesy of Donald J. Nixon-Trump

As events unfolded this week, I couldn’t help but think of the book. Not that Trump is low on traditional measures of intelligence nor will he ever be confused with an intellectual heavyweight. But it seemed, at least for a brief period, that Richard Milhous Trump had been provided some a super equilibrium pill or normalcy injection in late April and his rule was bearable. Then the  treatment started to wear off.

Now once again we must try to make sense of the nonsensical. We must deal with the absurd slings and arrows of electing a part-time reality TV star and full-time huckster to the most powerful position in the world. And the sad thing is, Richard M. Trump has only furthered his involvement with his business holdings (note his weekly trips to Mar-a -Lago and the number of foreign dignitaries who stay at the Trump Hotel) and while The Aahnold replaced him on the Celebrity Apprentice, Trump started a new show airing five days a week at all hours here in the Nation’s Capital, the Political Apprentice. The irony of course is that the host was the main apprentice but in Trump’s quixotic world, details aren’t so important.

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But there’s a point when you can’t make sufficient comedy of nor rationalize absurdity well enough in order to have inner peace. That point has come. Even though this week’s news is no apocalyptic matter, the firing of FBI Commissioner Jared Kushner, I mean James Comey, still portends a terrible sign of how the growing Trump monarchy plans to rule. If you even consider pointing out that facts have consequences, or that the republic has operated a certain way for over two centuries. his chronic insecurity evolves into full-fledged delusion.

What it shows is that the leopard can change his spots but can never really change. From the campaign’s bizarre beginning, Trump was unwilling to play by the rules. Entertaining for sure. Threatening? Even more so. He never has played by the rules, “firing” people in his virtual reality world, and either screwing over or ostracizing others in his business life who deigned to disagree. He’s the plagiarist who arrests the person who allowed him to copy.

What’s worse, are the rationalizations, that somehow Comey was a threat to his institution, not to mention, the U.S..  For the sake of my own sanity, I will mention just a few of the tall tales which led to this bizarre “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” moment.

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First, in the days before the election, Trump claimed over and over again that the election was rigged, an election he ended up winning by over 90 electoral votes.

Second, he claimed his phones had been wiretapped by the Obama administration, a claim vigorously denied by any intelligence agency and his inner circle.

Third, having won the election and actually been sworn in to the presidency, he continued his claim that the election was rigged, saying the popular vote misrepresented the actual vote, citing hundreds of “incidents of voted fraud”

Fourth, he has consistently denied any connection to Russia even though his national security adviser was fired for lying about paid trips to Russia, several of his former advisers took bribes and his current Attorney General had to recuse himself from the Russia investigations because of several meetings with Russia Ambassadors.

Fifth, he claimed Comey told him three times that he was not under investigation when the information pertaining to the investigation is classified and even presidents are not made aware of classified information unless we are at war.

There are more tall tales for the honorable mention list but these are good a start.

Comey may be a loose cannon and a big shot. But to pull the wool over our eyes by saying it had anything to do with the Clinton scandal is like saying that we are arrested a drug kingpin, not for dealing narcotics, but for failing to register his business as an LLC.

To close this rant, I will give a quick plot summary, in extended syllogism form:

(1) Candidate likes a commissioner because he aids  him in keeping an election close.

(2) Commissioner keeps current position when the candidate actually becomes the president-elect.

(3) The president-elect wants people to do their jobs unless their jobs involve telling the truth or possibly exposing the worst case of election corruption in American presidential history.

(4) Commissioner seeks to do his job.

(5) His job happens to nvolve seeking the truth and potentially making the president and his henchmen look bad.

(6) President fires the commissioner

(7) President goes on major lying spree and Twitter tantrum

(8) President continues twitter tantrum because he can’t figure out why the media is critical of him.

(9) President plots evil schemes against the media

(10) The media fires back

(11) The president accuses the media of falsely reporting a Russian-Trump connection and hypocrisy concerning the fired commissioner.

(12) A modern day Hamlet has begun

Post-script:

(1)The media needs serious medication to make sense of what’s going on

(2) Such medicine is no longer covered by insurance, courtesy of the new AHCA

(3) Ratings for the Political Apprentice reach a Nielsen’s Ratings high.

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