Lyrical Laughs

Monday, October 21, 2013

When nothing special means everything

I recently had an opportunity to speak at my church, which was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating. Being in the season of stewardship, the idea was to have a few members of our parish talk about their story and what keeps them coming. Of anything I said (and possibly repeated, or forgot to say at all), one part of it stays with me this evening.

It is about Harriet.

Harriet was, most likely unbeknownst to her, the catalyst for our coming back after that first visit.  My little family was just about to relocate from Connecticut to this little coastal Maine town and we were church shopping. Really, it was more like church scoping, since there was only one Episcopal church in town. Apparently we had walked into a service a few minutes late with our two girls, ages 9 and 3, and the first thing we noticed was that there were no children.


Attempting to not be in the limelight of latecomers, we slithered, mildly stunned, into a pew. It didn't occur to us that the kids were in Sunday School - they came bounding through the door about two thirds of the way into the service, joining parents, grandparents and friends for the rest of the time. It got a little less Twilight Zone then.

Prior to their arrival, I was delegated peacekeeper and spent the first 15 minutes trying to keep our youngest from catapulting herself across the church while her sister sat quietly, possibly worried for the fate of children who misbehaved, considering the lack of peers.

On the other side of our pew sat a very small, very stern looking woman. I wondered how much pull she might have - probably a long-standing member, maybe served on some board or another that controlled who got invited back and who got The Wave before they even thought about going to the after-service coffee hour.

Littlest chose to entertain herself by jumping up and down on the velvety kneeler, holding onto the back of the pew in front of us, which (thankfully) was empty.

Please, I pleaded silently (and maybe quietly to my child), please don't get us kicked out. Even if they don't have children (it was still early), maybe we can make some local connections. Maybe we can find out the best mechanic to use. Maybe we can learn where to grocery shop and what restaurants not to eat at. Please.

All of a sudden the stern little woman sitting on the other side reached over and lightly tapped my daughter's hand with one finger - just a quick touch - and then snatched her hand away. That got the attention of our three-year-old very quickly. She had pulled her own hand down from the pew in surprise at first.. but slowly she slipped it back on, curiously eyeing her neighbor. I was holding my breath when I looked over and realized that serious expression had turned into a glint of mischief.

Once again, like a blip on a radar, the woman's finger swiftly tapped that little hand and hid. My daughter was in heaven. The game went on for several minutes, and I found myself exhaling in relief. We found a friend. We were home.

That was Harriet. She was a sweet, tough, funny, fascinating lady whose big personality belied her tiny stature - it was hard not to notice her presence. When I spoke about her recently I never said her name... funny, because I had every intention of acknowledging her. She deserved credit for dividing and conquering the angst of our stumbling entrance, though she most likely wouldn't have wanted it. Harriet was just that way, and she would have said it was nothing special.

Before she drove off into the sunset in her sports car and moved to another state to be closer to family, she had opened the door for us for many friendships and wonderful memories. Years later people still remember her. I still remember her.

I aspire to be someone's Harriet at least a few times in my lifetime.

She didn't have to make an awkward situation bearable. It wasn't her job or even her business to care whether we came back or not. Harriet just did what some people do. She gave of herself in that moment.

Anyone can come across a Harriet, someone who helped us with the simplest things in the most stressful moments. Imagine if we all did that - reached out when it was least expected, made a situation easy for someone instead of making a path out of there to avoid the effort. I know, and maybe you know, how it feels to be the recipient of a simple kindness.

I believe we can do that for someone, be that "nothing special" that makes a difference.

Be someone's Harriet when you get the chance.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Coming to grips with not grasping this "Rocky"

Only a few days ago my husband and I did something most people from our generation were doing in their teens, early twenties at the latest (legally, you had to be 18 but I'm sure many weren't). I have to wonder if we would have done it with more abandon back then, when we were a little more daring and open to... well, I still don't know what. I'm not even sure I would have done it with him. In fact, it might have been with a female friend. And we might have worn wigs.

We went to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I need to say right here and now that I felt especially sorry for the theater personnel assigned to clean-up after the movie. Also, I was sad at the complete waste of toilet paper.

That's all.

This was for charity –  specifically Make-a-Wish - honestly, the only way you could get me there. From the first flick of rice thrown our way (down my shirt, in S’s ear, somehow in our shoes) to the toast, where the audience literally threw toast (who brings toast to a theater??), it was wacky, weird, and completely haphazard.

The jury is still out as to whether I can say I enjoyed it. Any of it. No, really - I'm still not sure. Well yeah, eating Meat Loaf for dinner, that there was funny. Really gross but funny.

Obviously the critics disagree with us. For instance, here's one from 2005: "Those who gave this gem a low score - Please! Crawl back in your cardboard life and stay there!"

Well, allrighty then.

The thing is, I’m not convinced I would have “gotten” it in the late 70s when I was a teenager and everyone around me saw it, some several times. I may have even known people who would sing along and dance in the theater, armed with water guns (and newspaper hats for theaters that allowed water guns), rice, toilet paper, cards, and (of course) toast for every showing. But this was not water bubbler chatter at the bank where I worked after high school. In fact, my only exposure to this movie back then was a scene in the movie "Fame." Ironic, huh?

What baffled both S and me was that the audience was yelling at the screen. Really? I got some of the references – but several shout-outs were just plain obnoxious. I suppose it didn’t really matter that they were drowning out the words because none of it made sense anyway.

Have we gotten old? Are we just some fuddy duddy couple who should join a knitting class or maybe a cat lovers’ organization or something? Is there some old person significance to the fact that we went to the early showing at 7 p.m. because it would be over before we go to bed?

I would like to think not. Being among the minority who did not jump up to dance and sing along with "Time Warp" doesn't mean we don't have a sense of humor. We just tend to like humor with some kind of - oh I don't know - sense. It was bad enough  that I had to climb over an extremely buxom female in a skimpy french maid's costume to get to my seat (with my back to her because there was no way I was doing this face to... umm... face), but then the crazy lady dancing next to me almost "jumped to the left" right into my lap, just before she lost her balance (allegedly without the assistance of alcohol) and fell into her seat.

By the way, I really tried to nonchalantly get a picture of the chick in the maid's costume, but it would have been too obvious if I used the flash. Wow. I'm worried about being obvious over someone who could've taken out an eye with the way her body parts were hanging out of that outfit.

So I read up on the history of RHPS (that's what all the cool cult fans call it) and found out that most of what happens during the show was developed basically by accident over the first two years of its debut. In other words, it was all right that we were completely lost - there is absolutely no cue for the audience to follow. Supposedly, you either know of its history and when to chime in with props and haranguing, or you do not.

We did not.

I did read that it took a year for RHPS to even begin its rise to cult status. Oh, and the release date for the midnight showing in New York - the one that really started it all - was April 1, 1976. See? It was made to be one big joke that we kinda sorta didn't get.

I make no excuses for neither of us being up on RHPS protocol - we were under 18 when it debuted and it was simply never on our bucket list, apparently. That doesn't mean we are not a wild and crazy couple.

Just to show how wild and crazy we really are, S signed us up for "Sex, Murder and Mayhem," an adult themed walking tour of Saco (originally scheduled for this past Friday and moved to later in the month). Kids, you are not invited. I can't wait to learn about the seedy side of our little city while walking in the dark past areas that weren't fit for travel years ago.

Oh, and the best part is - it's over by 8 p.m. - a whole hour before bedtime.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Don't MAKE me say "substantiate!"

It is appropriate that my blog this week is about words - oral and written. After a difficult struggle in her final days, and a will that hung on to the end, we said goodbye to my mother-in-law last week.

Alice was 93 years old when she passed away. She was a kind, generous, gifted wife, mother and grandmother who enjoyed life's simple pleasures... campfires, attending her grandchildren's sporting events and concerts, and finding little treasures for Christmas gifts that would go on and on.

One of her greatest passions was reading. She and her husband John traveled for many years, experiencing life through the small confines of a Shasta trailer that their children could likely all tell you stories about.  No matter where they were, Alice had a book in hand - usually a romantic paperback, once in a while an autobiography, and very often a story rich in history. My mother-in-law and a book were a natural pairing. We shared this hobby and often passed books back and forth over the years. I picture her now in her living room wing-back chair, nose buried in the pages, unaware of the world around her. She was a teacher, a traveler, and blessed with a family that loved her.

Enough said... or not

Every once in a while I wish I could speak another language. Italian, for instance. Then when I am upset or having a bad moment (I seriously try not to do whole days of "bad") I could rant, arms flailing, nostrils flaring, nobody understanding me. My strong-willed grandmother spoke only Italian, longed for her granddaughters to dye our hair a sultry auburn like the main character in the opera Carmen, and would have been thrilled if I had picked up at least a few phrases from her. Unfortunately, I was too  stubborn and immature at the time to realize I should have listened and learned when I had the chance.

So I don't know a second language but I did come to the realization recently that, when antagonized, I spew syllables.

How does this come about, you ask? Fine, just pretend you asked. It may have to do with the fact that, while I certainly can't say I have never uttered an expletive (or cursed up a storm), it is not my initial reaction. My tendency when backed into a corner is to hold my own and get my point across. Still, let's face it - the title Mom of Many Words was not chosen without careful consideration.

These circumstances seem to occur more often in the workplace than at home or among family or friends. Maybe that right there is the answer - you really can't blow steam with cursing when you're dealing with a suit. I mean, it's not unheard of... my brain just doesn't tend to swim down that stream.

Scrabble - office style

Say, for example (purely hypothetical, of course), I received a call from an irate staff member of a company whose main goal is to bite the head off the first person who answers the phone. Doesn't matter if he is actually talking at (not to, not with - at) the party responsible for the alleged offense. All that staff member knows is that it's not Friday, he is tired, nagged, frustrated and on fire, and that can only mean someone is going down.

I try to be helpful. I try to be sensitive to their plight. Often my response to an already irate call is an attempt to calm them down, be the mediator, the peacemaker. I really do try. Unless I am tired and cranky. Then maybe not so much.

Them:  I'm looking at your invoice and I want to know why the charges don't match. I'm not paying anything until this gets straightened out.

Understandable, right?

Me:  Let's just take a look at your file. I appreciate your patience, I'm pulling up the last few invoices now.

Them: (grumbling) Waste of my time.

Me:  I'm running the numbers. Oh - okay, yes, I do see where the last invoice you received should have been adjusted. I'd be happy to send you a revised copy. I apologize, it was because we billed part of this sep --

Them:  Let's cut to the chase. I want another invoice - a CORRECTED invoice sent out. And you people provide no detail. Where is the detail? I need detail!

Me:  You can absolutely receive detail with your invoices. We don't automatically sent it out but we're happy to honor requests for --

Them:  Then send it. Send it every time. This is extremely inefficient. My email is.....

And that's about when No More Mrs. Simple Sentences kicks the door in.

My usually calm, borderline southern-twang tone ("Sure, just one sec while I take a look here") develops a brisk, slightly less amiable, slightly more indignant demeanor ("Please hold while I analyze the calculations").

What may have started out as, "I'm coming up with a difference but it doesn't quite match yours. Let's go over them together," suddenly morphs into, "I've reconfigured the amount and the difference is not as substantial as you indicated. I'll send the revision for your review."

See how that whole let's-work-together theme just went out the window?

Name that adjective

On a personal level, I do admit to having expressed my anger or pain not so much with four-letter words (or two-word phrases that are straight to the point) but with a barrage of lengthy language designed to slaughter the psyche. See? Just thinking about being mad makes my verbose blood boil!

What that comes down for me to is this: Being "good with words" does not give me (or anyone) permission to verbally beat on another person. The wise soul uses words as expression, not ammunition.

I believe there are appropriate ways of dealing with the lack of common courtesy that is more and more prevalent these days. We don't have to be vicious or disrespectful - we can simply try to sound intelligent.  In an age when we have access to several means of abusing anyone at a distance, even anonymously, maybe ripening our rhetoric for the right reasons would at least give us, and those around us, something interesting to learn.

Strange thing is... suddenly I have a burning desire to look up the touring schedule for Carmen.