The Time I Helped a Blind Lady Cross the Street

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This all took place several years ago, back when I was living in an apartment complex near an extremely straightforward traffic roundabout that still managed to baffle the legendarily awful drivers of Florida.

I had just finished a 5 mile evening run.  A few dry spots could be found in the bottom corners of my shirt, the rest completely drenched in sweat.  Just a short walk separated me from a much needed shower as I approached the traffic roundabout.

There she was, sunglasses that would be unnecessary for most people given the sunset in progress; a stick with the end marked red that would keep her from tripping over curbs and steps but could not save her from the calamity of Orlando’s perpetually puzzled drivers faced with a slightly unfamiliar obstacle.

I sprung into action.

“Excuse me ma’am,” I said, mostly to let her know that I was now standing next to her.  “Can I help you cross this road?”  She obliged and I apologized for my stench and the layer of sweat on my arm as she took it.

As I escorted her to the other side of the road, I asked where she was trying to go.  The Blind Woman explained that she was trying to reach the Wendy’s about a quarter mile from where we stood.  I agreed to join her for the entirety of the odyssey.

Ahead of us, a truck from the cable company was parked on the curb and its driver was tinkering in a large electrical box nearby.  Jutting out like oversized ears, the truck had those wide sideview mirrors that help alleviate some of the blind spots that plague larger vehicles.

With a little prompting, the Blind Woman explained that she lived in a nearby apartment complex.  She told me that she wasn’t always blind, that her vision had degenerated over several years.  Before she moved in with her daughter, she could get around just fine by memory.

The truck was just a few feet in front of us as we shuffled along, arm in arm.

I felt bad for her.  Not only was the Blind Woman new to this area, but she couldn’t even see any of the surroundings to gain her bearings.  I cringed to think of what might have happened to her had she taken on that traffic roundabout all by herself.

She wasn’t even trying to get something to eat at the Wendy’s.  She just wanted to have a general idea of how far apart everything was.  I launched into an explanation of other landmarks and hazardous intersections, told her about the gas station and the Chik Fil A, the office buildings and hotels on the other side of the wide street.

Then, I led the Blind Woman face first into the outstretched sideview mirror of the cable truck.

I was looking at her as we conversed, insisting upon undoubtedly the most unnecessary eye contact in the long history of human discourse.  She staggered backward upon impact, more startled than hurt.  I babbled a thousand apologies frantically, but she wasn’t injured or upset.

The presence of the cable company employee only amplified the throbbing wound to my pride.

I believe that when people have the ability to help each other, they have a responsibility to act.  In my mind, imagining what harm might have befallen this Blind Woman had she stepped foot into that intersection made me responsible for her fate (the same way I felt responsible for the fate of the drunk jogger who insisted upon running 10 miles to his house rather than letting me call a cab for him).

This line of thinking could save the world, but I’m self-conscious about telling stories like this.  I don’t want to come across as patting myself on the back for my good deed, even though I am proud of it.  Or at least I was until I botched it so badly!

The rest of the journey to and from Wendy’s was uneventful, thank goodness.  Upon dropping her off back at her apartment complex, I implored her to be careful around the traffic roundabout.

Hopefully she found no shortage of people willing to help her cross the street.

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The Problem with The Brantley Blog

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To anyone who is still here after my year long-hiatus from this blog, I feel like I owe you a big apology and an explanation.

The Brantley Blog was discontinued for two primary reasons.

Bad Feelings

What began as select drinking stories and misadventures from college slowly turned into a broader story arc of my coming of age after leaving home for the first time.  This was a natural evolution, but it came with a price.

I struggled with a lot of loneliness in my first semester of college.  During my second semester, I finally made friends and I got really close with a lot of people who didn’t have much in common with me other than our shared affinity for inebriation.  This didn’t end well.

Petty conflicts, jealousies, and certain individuals’ affliction of talking about people behind their backs led my group of friends to a boiling point.  We all met on top of a parking garage to air out our grievances with each other in a structured act of full disclosure.  We called it, I kid you not, a “Pickle Pow Wow.”   Instead of the kindergarten classroom tool of a “talking stick” with which speakers take turns so that they don’t end up shouting over top each other, we passed around a pickle in a pouch.

Tears were shed, hugs exchanged, bandaids applied to minor emotional scratches and wounds, but deep down we all knew that the group of friends was doomed to collapse in on itself.

I know that this is all incredibly stupid and “high school” dramatic, but it really genuinely mattered to me back then.  A lot of people that I cared about stabbed me in the back and friends that I tried to help resented my efforts.  It left a sour taste in my mouth.

Needless to say, the fun of mocking my youthful naivety and the joy of embellishing drinking tales were far preferable to describing how I lost numerous close friends over the course of just a few short months.  When the story that I was telling one blog post at a time reached this point, I suddenly found myself unmotivated to continue.  These events weren’t much fun to write about and I assumed that it wouldn’t be much fun to read.

I had it in my head that someone out there was piecing these individual posts together and reading them like a book; that this heavily foreshadowed climax was hotly anticipated.  I put a great deal of imaginary pressure on myself to get the story right.

Now I know that this was a silly thing to think.  I understand that blogs are typically consumed piece by piece rather than as a unit and that I could have neglected the hard parts of the story and nobody would have noticed.  But it was still enough to suck the fun out of The Brantley Blog for me.

Brantley:  The Great Disappointment

A recurring problem that I had with weaving my underage drinking stories was the looming presence of my parents in the back of my mind.  Both mother and father had recently joined Facebook and had dropped comments (Mom especially) here and there that made social networking lose its luster.  Thoughts of the shit storm that would arise should they find my blog and read about my youthful mistakes (most of which were intentional) prevailed over every revision and every edit of every post.

Over the last month or so, I’ve come to realize that it goes much deeper than fear of my parents finding out that I enjoyed being a little troublemaker in college.  A big part of my tendency to hold back in my writing has been knowledge of their inevitable disapproval of what I have to say.

You see, my parents are very religious.  As a kid, I remember my Dad making this objection throat clearing noise every time a character in a movie swore.  I remember him changing radio stations and calling certain pop songs “garbage.”  I remember my Mom forbidding me from seeing certain movies and how upset she was when she found out that I had used Napster to burn CDs with cuss words in them.

I, on the other hand, have more or less oscillated between atheism and agnosticism ever since the day that my parents decided that I was too old to get away with napping during church services.  I used to lay my head down in the pew every Sunday morning and rely on my family to wake me when it was all over.  Once that was no longer an option, I found myself increasingly uninterested in the entire body of rituals.

Every part of my worldview is so radically different from my parents that it makes for awkward silences during the holidays.  It would be stupid to let my political opinions alienate me from them, but at the same time, there are certain things that I feel very strongly about and it becomes really difficult to see any basic human decency in differing opinions on some issues.

Really, the worst part is that I get the feeling that they don’t even notice these awkward silences, these times that I shut my mouth in polite dissent.  It makes me feel like they probably don’t know very much about me and who I am, who I became once I left their house.

All of this is in the back of my mind during every keystroke, every sentence.  These things that I write, they are an extension of me.  To hate my writing is to hate me.  When it comes to my parents, that’s a lot of stress to handle every time I push that “publish” button.

It isn’t easy suspecting that a falling out with my parents will inevitably be a big part of my artistic journey.  Some days, it’s enough to keep my fingers from hitting any key other than “Backspace,” but I just can’t live that way forever.

I’m 26 years old.  I’m smart, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and patient (though I struggle with this one sometimes).  I’m stubbornly optimistic and I don’t want to accept defeat, not for myself, not for society, not for the human race.

I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of my writing.  My parents should be too.  And if they aren’t, then that’s an issue upon which I can’t courteously keep my mouth shut.

From Here   

I plan on continuing to tell my stories, to laugh at myself and the things that have happened to me.  I plan on sharing my insights on petty injustices that I encounter in my day to day drudgery.  I plan on trying to make readers laugh or smile, to entertain a person or two if only for a few minutes out of their day.

I plan on doing these things on a wider level.  I’m going to share this blog with actual people that I know and if my parents find it, I hope they enjoy it.  No.  I hope that they can’t help but enjoy it, even though they disapprove.  I hope that they are just as proud of me as I am of myself.

A Brief Explanation of Chicken Pot Pies for British People

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Followers of the blog know that I’ve recently started a new job at a fancy restaurant on the tourist-y side of Orlando.

Many of our guests are from all over the world, especially the UK and Brazil.  While customer service encounters with Brazilians could be an entire blog in and of themselves, today I want to address an issue that I’ve noticed with the British.

Last week, I overheard a friend telling a British family:  “The vegetables are inside the chicken pot pie.”  It was the only sentence that I picked out over the cacophony of the entire restaurant and it was so random that I laughed about it and shared it with some friends, who also chuckled.

Then, it happened to me.  I dropped off a chicken pot pie to a British couple and was asked:  “Weren’t there supposed to be some vegetables and mash with this?”  I politely explained:  “The vegetables and potatoes are inside the chicken pot pie.”

Now I can’t be bothered to Google the history and origins of the Chicken Pot Pie.  I can only assume that it must be an American invention.  Working with that assumption, I will try and define this dish for those unfamiliar with it:

A flaky pie crust is filled with a creamy mixture of carrots, peas, chopped potatoes, and chicken.  It’s completely sealed with more crust on top and then baked together.  It’s a pretty magical little thing the way that we serve it at my restaurant, but housewives also like to freestyle with it in more casserole-like variations.

The problem with Chicken Pot Pie Unfamiliarity is that the above stated location of the vegetables and potatoes is impossible to say without coming across at least a little bit condescending.  I know that my friend came across that way, and I did too (hopefully just minimally though).  Neither of us were trying to be snooty, it’s just an impossible sentence to say without that tone.

Obviously I don’t expect people from all over the world to memorize the construction of American dishes.  If they don’t have Chicken Pot Pie where you’re from, I’m not judging you or looking down on you for having some questions.

I mostly just wanted to apologize to anyone who felt belittled by the sentence:  “The vegetables are inside the Chicken Pot Pie.”

 

 

Strange Encounters with the Strangest Strangers

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Facebook friends will find this post a bit familiar, but I got a like or two on it so I wanted to share with the WordPress crowd.

My beautiful brindle dog has only increased my magnetic effect on quirky strangers. On a long walk, Magic and I pulled off of the bike path to let a woman in a motorized wheelchair pass. This was necessary because he is a dog and so he has absolutely no idea what to do with the fact that motorized wheelchairs exist and that people ride in them, thus making this woman appear like some sort of cyborg centaur that was stalking us on our walk. Seriously, he wouldn’t stop looking over his shoulder to track her pursuit of us.

Of course when she caught up with us, she had to stop and talk to me. According to this lady, my adopted mystery mutt Heinz 57 is “Part Pit, Part Shepherd, Part Dingo, and Part Wolf.” This diagnosis accounts for his brindle coat, large ears, and something about the color of his eyes makes him Part Dingo/Part Wolf – though he was allegedly found in Georgia Animal Control and I’m fairly certain that the dingo population in The Peach State are confined exclusively to zoos and people’s imaginations. But this woman knows her stuff because she volunteers for SPCA and was born on a reservation and has two wolves at home.

Then, she wanted me to bring my terrified best friend closer to her mechanized mount for closer inspection. I halfway tried to politely oblige, but Magic dug his heels in and I soon found myself scrambling to come up with a genial way of saying: “Dog isn’t about your Hoverround, ma’am.” Luckily, she caught Magic’s meaning and dismounted her whip to introduce herself. This only further baffled my dog, who before today has never ever in his entire life met a human being that he didn’t assume wanted to be his best friend.

At this point I was trying to wrap up the encounter, which probably didn’t do much to relax Magic. The problem was that I was cornered. If we walked away, she would resume stalking us on her Jazzy (to the dog’s tremendous dismay). She had to be the one to drive off into the sunset in order for us to conclude our walk. Magic tentatively sniffed her hand and let her pet his head for a couple seconds, which thankfully was enough for her to climb back aboard her wheels and go about her business (whatever that may be for someone driving their wheelchair on a bike path).

Why do these people always find me?”

Relationship Champion

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After mentioning to a new co-worker that my girlfriend and I have been together for 6 years, I was immediately knighted relationship champion.  6 years is just about my entire adult life (see Brantleyism #001 for my thoughts on adulthood being an 18+ condition).

It’s one of those accomplishments that make people assume that you actually know what you’re doing.  When people ask me how we’ve made it so far, I give one big goofy shrug and a Scooby-Dooesque “Idunno!”

That’s too broad of a question.  When it gets more specific, it gets more awkward too.  “You’ve been together that long and you’ve never cheated?  She’s never cheated?  You never even thought about it?”  The tone that people use with these questions make it sound like there’s something wrong with the answer, “no.”  It comes out like:  “You mean you’ve never even considered potty training?”  “You’re telling me that neither of you take showers ever?”  

It really makes me think, though.  Not about cheating, but about the absolute absence of any interest in that.  There’s no place I’d rather be than with my girlfriend.  Why would cheating ever even cross my mind?

Being perceived as some sort of relationship Saskwatch sighting is nothing compared to the weirdness of situations when I’m treated like a sage.  Here’s something that most of my readers would probably guess about me:  I have absolutely no idea how to give relationship advice.

The problem is that my girlfriend is perfect.  Being in love with her is as easy as breathing.  Actually with the amount of pollen in Florida this time of year, being in love with her is easier than breathing.

She makes me want to be my best self, and she knows exactly how to tell me when I’m not living up to the person I want to be (and in a way that cuts through my impenetrable stubbornness).  It’s hard to explain, but it’s everything I’ve ever needed.

We never run out of things to talk about because we share interest in some “evergreen topics” like movies, politics, and nature.  There’s a whole big interesting world out there and neither of us can get enough of it.

Best of all, however, is our love of stories and conversations when we discuss fiction as if it’s real.  Recently, we wondered where J.K. Rowling’s Wizards and Witches were during World War 2.  Rick Riordan mentioned the role of his demi-gods in the major wars of history.  There’s no way Jo hasn’t considered these things, she just hasn’t told us her answer.  (Seriously though:  Is the privacy of a small portion of the population more important than the lives of the millions of Jews that were being rounded up and slaughtered in concentration camps during World War 2?  Wouldn’t a societal decision by the Wizarding community to do nothing to stop the Holocaust color the very psychology of their culture?).

Also part of that conversation is the notion the epic veracity of the old saying “knowledge is power” in the Wizarding World.  Why would anyone study a minute less than Hermione if it meant being able to do incredible things?  Of course, my girlfriend cited mentions of inherent talent and power in certain wizards that determines the range of their potential for magic.

Sorry.  What was I blogging about again?

In short, our relationship is great because we work together.  We are similar in all of the right ways, but dissimilar enough to prevent ourselves from becoming one with the couch in a mutual comfort zone.  We strengthen each other, nurture each other, challenge each other.

She’s perfect, so I’ve got it easy.  She’s the one with the hard part.  I’m very, very far from perfect!

Regardless, our relationship certainly impressed this co-worker.  She wanted to know how after 6 years we still aren’t bored with each other; how we didn’t “go through a rough patch” after so much time together.  It all led to that inevitable moment when I’m placed on a relationship pedestal, and find myself speechless, dizzy and disoriented from the heights.

Luckily, I was saved in this particular situation.  Conversations like these at work are frequently interrupted and rarely carried through to their conclusion.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though.  Every time I’ve ever been asked for relationship advice I feel like a deer in the headlights.  I don’t know what to tell people who are in trouble with their boyfriend or girlfriend.  If you don’t want to be with someone, don’t be with them.  Life is too short to spend with the wrong person.  As for me, there hasn’t been a single second since I first kissed my girlfriend on August 26th, 2008 that I haven’t wanted to be with her.  For all of my endless imagination, I can’t even begin to understand what it would be like to consider giving up on what we have.

Like I said, the conversation wasn’t ever finished, but I did come up with a few tips on how to be relationship champions:

  1. Don’t ever take each other for granted.  My girlfriend and I have something that people search their entire lives for and some never find.  Remembering that puts everything else into perspective.  There isn’t a single argument or disagreement that we could possibly have that would be worth throwing it all away.  When someone loves you, they will put up with you at your worst.  When you love them back, you know that they deserve nothing short of your very best.
  2. Don’t go to bed angry.  Fighting sucks, but it’s as temporary as you make it.  It’s better to be happy than right, especially because being right counts for so little in most arguments.  When it comes to relationships:  fixing things, apologizing, making up for your mistakes should be your top priority in life.  Arguments are no fun, but they happen.  Bury the hatchet as soon as you can and get back to loving each other.
  3. Finally, the most lame advice I can give people is this:  Have a little bit more money than you need. It’s not romantic at all, I know, but I can’t tell you how many fewer disagreements my girlfriend and I have now that we can pay our bills and go out for dinner and drinks every once in a while.  Being broke is an all-consuming stress that can poison your health, your mind, and your relationship.  It warps your sense of reality and your priorities, which is extremely dangerous when it comes to the most important people in your life.

It’s not much wisdom to impart and it’s probably not all that impressive, but that’s my answer.  That’s how we’ve made it so far, through so much and are still happy with each other.

Next time I suddenly find myself on the relationship pedestal and am completely flabbergasted, I won’t even try to speak.  I’ll just pull up this post, show it to the supplicant and scram before they can ask anymore broad, confusing questions!

Ice Cream Houses and Batmobiles

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As I’ve mentioned before, I recently started a new job at a fancy pants restaurant in the tourist-y area of Orlando.  It’s my first restaurant job and I’m basically learning everything by doing everything.  I’m a host/food runner/serving trainee.

If the volume of learning wasn’t daunting enough, I’m now faced with a brand new cast of characters in the co-worker department.  Most (read “all”) don’t yet understand my strangeness.

Exhibit A:  Part of training to be a server involved trying the food that the restaurant serves.  That way, you can describe and recommend dishes to the guests.

Well, the 4 or 5 other trainees and I had just tried the “Chocolate Uprising.”  That’s two cinnamon chocolate brownies forming a sandwich around some vanilla bean ice cream.  The whole damn thing is topped with dark chocolate walnut fudge and served over a bed of caramel and chocolate sauce.  I know what you’re thinking…yes, there is a dinosaur-sized dollop of whipped cream on top.  Oh and don’t forget the shaved chocolate garnish.

My review:  “I want to build my house out of this.”

My peer’s reviews:  “Wait, what the hell did that guy just say?”

Readers, I’m not sure if you’ve ever found yourselves surrounded by people who think that building a house out of ice cream is a ridiculous idea or not.  It’s not something I would wish on my worst enemies.

“It would melt.”

“We live in Florida.”

“That would be a sticky mess.”

For starters, who in their right mind would build an entire house out of ice cream in Florida?  Construction would begin somewhere freezer-like, duh.  Think Alaska, or Siberia, or something.

Then there’s the explicit temporality of a house made of ice cream.  It’s not a real estate investment.  You don’t take out a 30 year mortgage on an ice cream house.  You eat that SOB.  Not all in one day (well, hopefully not), just over a couple of months or something.  Invite friends.  Ice Cream House Party at my place this Sundae.  BYO Whipped Cream.

I suppose it’s a miracle I’ve made it this long without ending up in some witch’s oven or something.

There are moments that I’ve shared with people that “get me” that really stand out when I find myself surrounded by “realistic” people.  My closest friends not only understand exactly what I mean when I say something this ridiculous, but they go along with it and encourage it.  As I shut up and simmered in my uncomfortable skin under the weight of their judging stares, I could only appreciate the people in my life that not only reserve judgement of my lunacy, but actually love it.

Here’s what one of them would have said:

“What would the frame of the ice cream house be made out of?”

To which I would have responded:  “Probably something sturdy and capable of holding up ice cream, like waffle cone.”

It could have gotten even better from there, but not with the lot at this table.

Exhibit B:  A conversation about people building houses out of strange things (freight containers, 747s, and dumpsters to be more specific) soon evolved into anecdotes of eccentric rich people.

Me:  “Forget the strange houses, if I was rich, I would just be Batman.  End of story.”

Silence.  Strange looks.

As if every right-minded person on the planet hasn’t wanted a Batmobile at some point in their life.  I don’t know if I’m getting too old to say such awesome things or what the deal is, but these people need to get on my level.

Note:  Things have improved dramatically after these first gaffes.  I think I just opened up a can of crazy at a somewhat inappropriate time.  I can’t help it.  I think it would be awesome to live in a house made of ice cream and I don’t care who knows it.

 

 

Letters to the People of I-Drive: How to Buy a Tube of Lube

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I was recently hired to work at a fancy pants restaurant on International Drive, the most touristy of tourist places in Orlando (just short of Disney Planet and Universal Studios, of course).  With such diverse crowds coming into our city from all over, spending lots of their money, and then continuing on their merry way, this side of town is ripe for bizarre encounters.  People on vacation like to “let loose.”  Some people should absolutely never, ever, under any circumstances “let loose.”

Below is the first of (potentially) many letters to some of the many visitors that come to Orlando to let their freak flags fly:

Dear Gentleman Thoroughly Browsing the Personal Lubricants in Walgreens,

Your bedroom pragmatism is only surpassed by your total lack of interest in the opinions of others around you.  For that, I envy you.  Thank you for resting your glasses on your forehead and bringing the box to within an inch of your face to read the fine print.  I shudder to think of the words that those tiny letters spell, but you are brave in the face of unabridged (and probably horrific) side effects and disclaimers.  
Sincerely,
The Guy in All Black

 

Pressing Pause

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I owe an apology to the handful of my followers that like and comment on each and every post that I publish.  I know that I’m in the middle of telling a story, but I’ve gotta take a break.

These blog posts are about things that happened to me about seven years ago.  I was working my way towards the present slowly, because it’s hard to make an entertaining story out of wounds that are still too raw.

The gist is this:  I left my first post-college job, which I thought was going to be a really solid foundation to my career.  It wasn’t.  I ended up delivering pizzas for a year.  Now, I’m training to wait tables at a fancy pants restaurant and I’ve never been less certain about what to do with my life.

For right now, I feel like I need to get out of Orlando.  I’ve scoured this area for opportunities and have come up empty handed.  My girlfriend and I want to move to New York City.  All of the woes and heartbreak of trying to find a job down here are evidently non-existent in NYC.  Yes, I know that it isn’t easy to get an interview.  Yes, I know you need to know someone to even get your resume looked at.  I’ve heard it time and again.  It doesn’t scare me.  I welcome the challenge.

I recently fell into a nice-paying freelance writing gig.  I’m hooked.  I want more.  I want a pile of clients that pay me enough money that I can quit or at least scale back all of these other jobs that eat so much of my time.

That’s the plan:  Become geographically independent through freelancing, and then uproot and move to the big city.

There’s just one problem:  I totally don’t have time to look that far forward in my life.  Between the new job, an old job that I’m keeping just as an insurance policy, my WIP that collects dust for entire weeks at a time, this freelance opportunity that I don’t want to botch, planning for my future, this blog, and the rest of my life in general, I’m just not doing anything more than halfway these days.

I’ve spread myself too thin and The Brantley Blog has become a chore that I muck my way through so that I can cross it off the to do list.  Seriously – did you read those last two posts?  Did you notice that I haven’t bothered with a “Brantleyism” in like a month?  I just don’t want to do this halfway and I don’t want it to feel like work.  It was tremendously enjoyable once and I’m sure that it can be tremendously enjoyable again someday (hopefully really soon).

In the meantime, I’m going to try and finish this damn book of mine and establish one of those “careers” that grown ups are always talking about.

I’ll be back once I’ve got my head straight.

 

“Kids These Days”: How Criticism of Millennials Might Reshape Your Retirement

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The Call:

A few mornings ago I was listening to one of those entertainment talk radio shows that dominate the AM hours.  This was a Wednesday, when the program featured a special segment where hosts read aloud listeners’ email rants and then brought on air the rant’s author to explain their opinion/grievance/gripe/hot air or whatever they decided to spew forth into the world to help eradicate that whole “faith in humanity” problem that some people seem to have.

The point is to feature guests with unpopular opinions.  Listeners get pissed off and call in to speak their mind and sling a little mud.  It’s actually surprisingly civil.  The hosts screen the calls beforehand and they don’t connect callers directly with the curmudgeonly guest, allowing for mediation.  As soon as it gets to personal attacks, the hosts cut it off.

All in all, I believe the process of getting pissed off over the fact that someone has a different opinion is a pretty useless thing to do.  When I feel myself getting worked up, I cool down by putting things into perspective:  This is a total stranger on a silly radio show.  I will probably never meet them and their opinions will most likely never affect me.

This week’s guest was a fellow that loved to write into this particularly multi-cultured radio show to share his racism, homophobia, misogyny, and all kinds of other bile.  The hosts could never get this fine specimen of throwback intolerance to call in and defend his reprehensible opinions.

Until this particular Wednesday.

“Kids these days…” he started.

“Kids these days don’t want to work.”

“Kids these days are entitled.”

“Kids these days just want everything handed to them.“

“Kids these days are lazy.”

“Kids these days refuse to start at the bottom and work their way up.”

“Kids these days have parents that do everything for them and they can’t take care of themselves.” 

And so on and so forth.

Noteworthily, he ended with a mention that college grads should be willing to clean toilets and mop and that it angered him that they felt above such janitorial tasks.  

As I said, I try not to let the existence of people with different opinions get under my skin, especially people as petty and inconsequential as this man who makes time to write bigoted diatribes every week and send them to a local radio morning show.  But he still managed to really get to me.

Maybe it was the fact that I woke up at 6 am to run 5 miles that morning.  

Maybe it was the fact that I was on my way to work an 11-hour shift.

Maybe it was the fact that I deliver pizzas for a living.

Maybe it was the fact that I spent all of my years in public schools taking the most challenging classes available to me and working my ass off to make good grades.

Maybe it was the fact that I scored high enough on the SAT, achieved a 4.8 GPA, and volunteered for 75 hours to earn my full-ride scholarship for college.

Maybe it was the fact that throughout college (in addition to being a full-time student), I worked a part time job 25-30+ hours every week while also taking on unpaid internships.  This lazy bum right here pulled 60-hour weeks (this doesn’t include hours spent on homework and term papers) in order to get prepared for the “real world.”

Maybe it was the fact that I graduated college in the top 10% of my class.

Maybe it was the fact that after graduation employers told me that my college degree had no value and that I needed to work for them for free to gain experience before anyone would pay me.  

Maybe it was the fact that most friends my age worked just as hard because our parents told us that a college degree would open doors for us in life, and now our parents and people their age are telling us that we are entitled because we want jobs. 

Entitled.  For wanting jobs.  For wanting to work.  How the hell does that even make sense?

It could have been any of those things.  It was probably all of them.  That’s why this garbage pisses me off when it really shouldn’t.

You can criticize me in a lot of ways.

You can tell me that my optimism is naive.

You can tell me that my ambitions are silly.

You can tell me that I’m not unique, that there are thousands of others just like me.

You can tell me that I’m arrogant, that I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am.

You can tell me that my compassion isn’t practical and that someday I will outgrow it.  

I’ll take those criticisms, the same way that people my age have always taken criticisms from people your age.

But don’t call me lazy.  I’m too tired and cranky from my textbook not-lazy lifestyle to put up with that.

You know what I do for fun?  I run 26.2 miles.  Don’t lecture me about motivation.

Don’t call me entitled when my whole life I’ve been told that employers would value me once I earned my college degree.  If my parents had raised me to believe that four years of busting my butt to get a higher education would result in me mopping and cleaning toilets, I wouldn’t have bothered.

The Culprits:

People that criticize an entire chunk of our population based solely on the years in which they were born need to take a good hard look at themselves.  This gentleman that called into the radio show had previously refused to open his racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, hatred, ignorance, intolerance up to criticism.  It wasn’t until he decided to tackle the issue of “Kids these days” that he felt safe enough to face listeners that might disagree with him.  Why is it more okay for you to hate people based on their age than based on their gender, race, or sexual preference?

As I said before, this segment in the morning show is very well-conducted and it stays surprisingly civil.  This man’s peers called in to (halfway) disagree with him:

“My kids aren’t like that.  I raised them right, but I still agree that lazy ‘Kids these days’ out there in droves.”

“I know a lot of people that don’t fit into that mold, but I still see where you’re coming from.”

“It’s not the whole generation, just the ones that weren’t raised right.”

Notice any pattern here?  People buy into this notion that “Kids these days” are going to be the downfall of our world, and yet the “Kids these days” that they actually know don’t fit the stereotype.  It’s anecdotal, I know, but isn’t exposure to people of different groups the best way to end bigotry?  How many intelligent, hard-working, motivated “Kids these days” do you have to personally know before you stop automatically looking down your nose at the ones that you’ve never met?

It’s so easy to fear the menacing, ambiguous “THEY,” but once you meet one of “THEM,” aren’t you supposed to be smart enough to recognize that lumping huge groups together based on superficial criteria results in a monumentally useless worldview?

The Conspiracy Theory:

Finally, let me posit my nifty conspiracy theory on this issue.

There are many people in our country that would love to curb entitlement spending, Social Security included.  Some of them have unfathomable resources and platforms in the channels that guide our public dialogue.

Isn’t there a possibility that they’re playing both of us?

They’re turning soon-retirees against the people that will continue paying into Social Security.

And the bigotry isn’t lost on younger workers:

“According to a Pew Research survey taken earlier this year, just 6% of Millennials say they expect to receive full Social Security benefits when they retire. Fully half say they expect to get  nothing at all.”

People my age are buying into the gloom and doom outlook that so many project for our country.  How long do you think we will stew on our cynical expectations for Social Security before we decide to just liquidate the whole trust to pay off some of that National Debt that we will inherit from our parents and grandparents?

Imagine a world in which those retirement benefits that you paid into your entire life were wiped out.  That’s the world that Millennials are imagining.  Why wait until we get screwed over?  Why not go ahead and cut the cord right now?

After all, it will only affect that generation that spits on us and calls us lazy as we toil to find our way in a world that tells us that we have no value.

The Answer:

I personally don’t believe in liquidating Social Security, but a demographic that is being constantly derided and held under thumb might find the notion pretty appealing.

Anyone that clicked through and read the Pew Research link knows that “Generational War” is fairly overstated and that the majority of Americans aren’t buying into it.  I’m merely pointing out the danger of a cultivated animosity between age demographics.

I believe that there does not exist a single challenge in the history of mankind that our country can’t overcome.  You can tell me that my optimism is naive.

Just remember that when you call me lazy, when you call people with similar experiences to me lazy with no supporting evidence other than our birthdate, you are raising your hand to be counted amongst the ignorant.  And you might just be kicking a hornet’s nest that is resting right next to your retirement.

Stop.

Instead let’s start a new group, one comprising of all ages:  Americans willing to work together to solve our nation’s problems and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,  people old and young that believe in our collective ability to solve our problems and look out for each other.

No more “Kids these days” – only united Americans open-minded and militantly loyal to each other.

 

Capitalism and the Chicken Little Perspective of Pop Culture

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I recently read a blog post where an older man wrote about how he doesn’t seem to find today’s comedy movies and television shows funny.  He referred to an NPR piece postulating that mid-century comedy was more intellectual, whereas current comedy seems to stick more to slapstick.

I won’t link to the man’s post or reblog it.  I was working on a comment on my phone, but it was coming across too harsh and I don’t want to directly attack this guy just because I don’t agree with his opinion.

I have a real problem with this way of thinking.  Journalists, bloggers, storytellers, and many other groups seem to enjoy using vague generalizations to paint a picture that everything used to be so much better before the relentless march of time drove any given facet of civilization or culture straight downward into the sewer.  Depending on the source, you can sub out “relentless march of time” with “kids these days,” because people inclined to use that term seem to love this worldview.

Today, I’m going to use a unique blend of Capitalism and Pop Culture observation to explain why I will never agree with these folks.

Part 1:  The Rise of Television Real Estate in America

The television landscape has changed over the past several decades.  Dramatically.  When TV sets first became a mainstay in American homes, there were only three channels.  Advertisers didn’t have to guess which of the three given programs airing at any particular time slot was the best.  They were guaranteed an enormous amount of eyeballs, even on the lowest performing shows.  A selective viewing of TV series from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s will show that while there were some quality programs on the air, there were also some turd sandwiches as well.

The conceit of this argument is that because television real estate was so scarce, it had higher value, but I argue that comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges (that is, programs of the same genre and depth across time) would show that this argument doesn’t hold water.  There were crappy network shows back then.  There are crappy network shows now.  There are great network shows now.  There were great network shows back then.  People arguing otherwise tend to compare the great classics of the era with the disposable garbage of the modern day as most of the best stuff currently on the air flies right over their head.  We know that Real Housewives of Atlanta is not as good as The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Find your remote and change the channel rather than using one bad show as your reason for writing off everything else on air right now.

Part 2:  Enormous Growth in Viewer Options

Efforts by major networks to establish high-production value shows with maximum pop culture impact further supports my position that when competition for viewers is high, content quality must also be high.  If the shows on the networks aren’t up to snuff, consumers now have a gazillion other options on cable, premium channels, free and paid on-demand features, Netflix, Hulu, and even home video (which wasn’t around during those days when TV was “so much better”).

Targeted marketing through cable programming sells for a higher cost per thousand impressions (CPM), allowing grand cinematic visions to hit the small screen in the form of shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and actually just about anything currently on primetime AMC.

Purely by the numbers, I would argue that there are more excellent shows on air or available to viewers right now than there were in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s combined.  (And no, I’m not counting the fact that any teenager with an internet connection can now pull up an episode of Gilligan’s Island if he or she is so inclined when I say “available to viewers right now.”)

The converse of this, of course, is that there are many, many, many more horrible, vacuous, pooptastic shows on air right now as well.  And they manage to find an audience unfortunately, ensuring that we will continue to know about any and every little thing that a Kardashian ever does ever until we locate the people watching that show and cut off their cable.  (That’s a homework assignment, Society.)

Part 3:  The Search for the Lowest Common Denominator

I’ve done my best to acknowledge the counterargument to each point I’ve made so far, and this point especially will tip my hat to those who believe that television has seen better days.

Desperate major networks have adopted a popular Hollywood method of marketing:  find the lowest common denominator – that one thing that won’t put off any single viewer – and get as close to that topic, tone, theme, etc. as possible.

It’s the reason why paint-by-numbers crime procedural NCIS is the top rated show every year.  There’s nothing wrong with that show.  It isn’t awful.  It just doesn’t have any flavor.  It doesn’t go anywhere risky or do anything that might make you think.  It doesn’t surprise you in any way that might make you uncomfortable.  It is a safe, mind-numbing viewing experience;  the culmination of the perfect execution of this particular programming formula.

Same goes with the strangely popular Two and a Half Men (prior to Charlie Sheen’s departure).  Nielsen keeps telling us that millions and millions of people are watching each week, but it seems like nobody is talking about it.  It doesn’t generate buzz or spur conversation.  It isn’t a cultural phenomenon that will be remembered through the ages.  It’s just some stuff happening on a TV screen that millions of somebodies somewhere out there like to space out in front of.

Though by necessity this approach must have been the goal of the networks in the early days of television (with three stations micro marketing would have been suicidal), there was still an experimental aspect to shows back then.  With so many unknowns on a new frontier, strangeness managed to find its way into American family rooms because the suits hadn’t yet perfected their  formula for hollow success.

Part 4:  Comedy’s Evolution

The statement that comedy used to be more intellectual is a bit ridiculous to me.  To argue that humor used to reference elements of history, science, or pop culture; that a degree of knowledge used to be required to “get the joke” is totally wrong in its conjugation.  Change that past-tense to present tense, because it never stopped being true.

Turn on Family Guy for God’s sake.  They reference anything and everything and all the freaking time.  I once saw that show reference a Crest Toothpaste commercial from like the early 80’s.

These days even slapstick, screwball, and physical humor are used to wink at the viewers who have been paying attention.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the elaborate joke constructions, episode-spanning set ups and rapid fire third act pay offs of Modern Family.  Seriously, watch the recent episode titled, Las Vegas, and marvel at all of the complicated things that they pulled off in just 21 minutes of screen time.

If you’ve got even more time to kill, watch all four seasons of Arrested Development.  If that show wasn’t cancelled for being so far ahead of its time, some of its jokes would have made our heads explode a thousand times over by now.  Had those writers chosen different paths in life, their knack for off-the-wall concepts and flawless execution would have made them prime candidates to form an Ocean’s Eleven-like crime ring.

After you finish Arrested Development, check out How I Met Your Mother.  It’s an entire series structured as flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks telling one long elaborate tale that is just a prologue to the pivotal moment when a hopeless romantic meets the love of his life.  And it’s one of those shows that appeals to people who enjoy a good boob joke.

Actually, all four of those shows have goofy physical humor and crude sex laughs, but it doesn’t take a genius to appreciate the complexity of what those writers are trying to accomplish in the big picture.  Sure, there’s a lot of junk shows whoring their one dimensional characters out for easy laughs.  But there are also a ton of really ambitious, weird shows that make you appreciate the hand of the storytellers in weaving such an unconventional, detailed narrative.

Remember the moment in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince when you realized that Harry stabbing the talking diary with the snake tooth in the weakest book in the series was actually an enormous part of the overall conflict that all seven books build to?  Even network sitcoms are doing stuff like that these days, so you should check out those four shows and try really watching them.

Part 5:  Conclusion

The irony of writing a long post that speaks in broad generalizations to uphold my criticism of people that write long diatribes speaking in broad generalizations to uphold opinions that I don’t agree with is not at all lost on me.  This was a natural, human reaction.  I was frustrated and I won’t pretend that I’m not a hypocrite for responding in this way.

That being said, I don’t truly believe that television back then pales in comparison to television today.  They were different times.  Society had different expectations of their pop culture, different values, a different sense of propriety when it comes to questioning any given widely held belief of the time.  It doesn’t mean that their stories have lost value over the years, even the ones featuring now irrelevant plots and conflicts.  I grew up watching Nick at Nite – I Love Lucy, Bewitched, I Dream of Genie, The Munsters, Happy Days, The Wonder Years.  I will always love these shows, but they do NOT represent some superior time period that we will never again live up to as creative people.

My problem is this:  When people state that art, society, civilization, pop culture, and everything else  has gotten unequivocally worse over the years, they write off a treasure trove of what the world today has to offer.  Quit lusting for the past so much and you just might find that the present is pretty awesome too.

I just might write up my similar take on movies someday to go along with this post, but it will probably only happen if someone gets me riled up on the topic again.