What I learned this year

A long time ago I was admonished for saying “damn” in front of a baby. Now that baby is 35 years old and has never found steady employment and I can’t help but feel responsible.

One can use the Current Events page on Wikipedia as their sole news source and avoid a lot of exposure to horrible chatter and events that are beyond one’s control. 

No amount of retakes will make a good headshot for the company webpage.

Oolong and Rooibos Vanilla are not only good types of tea, they’re good baby names. 

If you suspect a coworker is on the Autism-Asperger spectrum and you act with empathy in that regard it can make life easier. Better than trying sticks of dynamite with hissing fuses hidden in hot dog buns.

I was venting to my boss about some trivial frustration (not looking for a solution) and rather than just commiserate, she leaned over my papers to sketch out a fix. I got a sense of something familiar in her manner. Oh my, it was the same approach you see when a mom wipes chocolate off the face of her three-year-old. My boss is, by all indications, the ideal mother to her little kids, and she was applying her expertise to ME. Oy.

Just a reminder

If a population has a median IQ of 100, then by definition, half the population has an IQ of less than 100. 

That old Stevie Wonder song

He's a man 
With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He's Misstra Know-It-All

Playin' hard 

Talkin' fast
Makin' sure that he won't be the last
He's Misstra Know-It-All

Makes a deal 

With a smile
Knowin' all the time that his lie's a mile
He's Misstra Know-It-All

Must be seen 

There's no doubt
He's the coolest one with the biggest mouth
He's Misstra Know-It-All

If you tell him he's livin' fast
He will say what do you know
If you had my kind of cash
You'd have more than one place to go oh

Any place He will play
His only concern is how much you'll pay
He's Misstra Know-It-All

If he shakes, on a bet
He's the kind of dude that won't pay his debt
He's Misstra Know-It-All

When you say that he's livin wrong
He'll tell you he knows he's livin' right
And you'd be a stronger man
If you took Misstra Know-lt-All's advice oh oh
He's the man With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He's Misstra Know-It-All

Take my word, please beware
Of a man that just don't give a care no
He's Misstra Know-It-All (Look out he's coming)

Dum bum bum ba bum bum,
Dum bum bum ba bum bum
Bum bum bum bum bum Say
He's Misstra Know-It-All

Can this line
Take his hand
Take your hat off to the man who's got the plan
He's Misstra Know-It-All
Every boy take your hand
To the man that's got the plan
He's Misstra Know-It-All
Give a hand to the man
That you know he's got the plan
He's Misstra Know-It-All
Give a hand to the man
Don't you know darn well he's got the super plan
He's Misstra Know-It-All
Give a hand to the man
You know damn well he's got the super plan
He's Misstra Know-It-All
If we had less of him
Don't you know we'd have a better land
He's Misstra Know-It-All
So give a hand to the man
Although you've given out as much as you can
He's Misstra Know-It-All
Check his sound out
He'll tell it all Hey
You talk too much you worry me to death
He's Misstra Know-It-All

Written by Stevie Wonder - Copyright © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Dear Mister Answer Man

Dear Mister Answer Man,
Should I tell a cute girl that her big ears remind me of a cartoon character?  I mean it as a compliment. 
Pierre T.

Dear Pierre, 
I don’t recommend it. In four out of seven cases it results in the girl crying, in my experience. 

Dear Mister Answer Man, 
I heard that Taylor Swift is giving up her career to become a ventriloquist. She’s going to have a ventriloquist dummy who’s a sassy girl named Lil’ T. Why would she do that?
Katie Z.

Dear Katie, 
I think anyone in show business would welcome the chance to work with Taylor Swift; she’s very popular. 

Dear Mister Answer Man,
I was walking south, carrying groceries home on a Sunday morning. The street was empty and it was quiet. Ahead of me a man in a black leather coat was also walking south. When he got alongside the auto dealership he hopped over a little divider and walked between two cars where he came up to a guy in shirtsleeves standing there. You could only see them from the shoulders up. They faced each other for just a second and then separated. 

The guy in shirtsleeves crossed the street, got into a car, and drove off. The man in the black leather jacket went back to the sidewalk and continued south. At the next building there were bushes planted out front and the man walked over, grabbed a little shrub, yanked it out of the dirt and dropped it on the sidewalk. Then he kept walking south. 

I stood there until the distance between us increased and then I went home. What should I have done?
Bill McC.

Dear Bill, 
Anything else would have been much better: (1) Yell, “Hey man, you scared those other shrubs pretty good!” (2) Yell “Freeze! Landscaping Police!” and watch him jump. (3) Yell “Hey mister, put that back!” and stand over him while he shamefully repairs the damage he caused. 

Dear Mister Answer Man, 
My mother, in her advanced age, tends to worry about everything. To counteract this, I exaggerate how good things are when I write to her. I recently had a physical exam and everything was fine. To describe this event to my mother, I said that I was found to be so healthy that the doctor’s staff was inspired to carry me on their shoulders around the waiting room singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Is there any downside to shading the truth in this way?

Dear Reggie,
It’s possible that your mother will require ever-increasing levels of wonderfulness in your stories to prevent her worrying. The next time you mention finding a good parking space you may need to add that the parking lot contained the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, led by Sir Georg Solti who rose from the dead just to honor your good fortune. As long as she believes you, no harm done.

Another way of saying yes

From The New Yorker, 9/12/16
She and her boyfriend serve the ayahuasca — “Divine consciousness in liquid form” — at ceremonies in New York, Cape Town, Las Vegas, Bali. They showed me pictures of themselves harvesting plants in a verdant Hawaiian jungle, looking radiantly happy. I asked if they made a living this way. “We manifest abundance wherever we go,” she told me. Her boyfriend added, “Consciousness is its own economy.”
From “The Secret Life of Plants” by Ariel Levy, an article about ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic tea.

I have one of the great temperaments

Travel and a change of scene can broaden the mind — the old cliché is true.  I used to take the first car on the morning train but on a whim I switched to the fifth car.  Completely different world.  I looked all around me and the people were all different.  The smells were alien to me.  The train stopped at my stop and when I got out it was like a platform in a foreign country.  I expected to see old women in shawls with young goats, or old goats in shawls with young women.  Come to think of it, you do see that last pairing on the Gold Coast.

If you buy more guns now because the president is going to take them all away, isn’t that like spending lots of money on comic books just before your mom throws out the entire collection?

I had forgotten what a good short story “Sea Oak” is, by George Saunders:
"What a nice day we've had," Aunt Bernie says once we've got the babies in bed.
"Man, what an optometrist," says Jade.

Mostly others

This is too easy but I cannot help myself: This year’s OCD Conference is held in Chicago. The keynote speech will be given July 29 at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:30, and midnight. 
Consider, as a twenty-first-century working-mom artifact, my poor twelve-year-old 140,000-mile Volvo… So many of the Volvo’s dashboard lights are on, each trying to alert me to one malfunction or another, that turning the ignition key is akin to plugging in that big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
— From The Madwoman in the Volvo, by Sandra Tsing Loh.  (Note: Despite the title and the excerpt above, there is very little about cars in this book.)

In the short story “The Introspections of J. P. Powers” by William Trevor, a driving instructor (Mr. Powers) is teaching Miss Hobish how to drive. She has been taking driving lessons for five years and she is 73 years old. Mr. Powers occasionally likes to remind her, for safety’s sake, to signal a turn not only with the car’s turn signal, but also with hand signals out the window.
On Tuesday September the twenty-first, Justin Parke Powers gave Miss Hobish her two hundred and forty-first driving lesson. He sat beside her, feet and hands alerted.
‘We’ve had no summer, Mr Powers.’ She sighed, settling herself. ‘One, two, three, four, up and back for reverse. Are we ready, Mr Powers?’
She drove raggedly from Cave Crescent to Amervale Avenue.
‘Hand signals,’ said Mr Powers, and Miss Hobish extended a scrawny arm and waved it arbitrarily about.

Please be normal

“Please be normal.  Please be normal.” A mother to her two children, heard in the elevator on the way up to the floor where the mother worked in our office building on the most recent Take Your Kids to Work Day.

My dad is at that awkward age where his stated preferences apparently contradict his economic well-being. He wants to abolish government’s role in health care. Unfortunately, my mom gets a funny feeling in her chest every few months and they have to go to the emergency room. The last bill for this situation was $5,100 and Medicare paid for almost everything. If government got out of health care like Dad wants, they'd have gone broke years ago. He continues to grind his teeth over the tyranny of government. Just one more reason to bite my tongue on the next visit. (I’d rather keep the peace.)

On the train platform the woman with wiry grey hair has old shoes. Their heels, seen from behind, are beveled at a 30 degree angle to force her to walk bow-legged. She moves like a chess piece, a knight, while waiting for the train to appear. Step-step-stop. Step-step-stop. Thirty seconds in this direction, thirty seconds in that direction. 

The old man on the train plattform has a worn-down posture. When he walks in front of me from left to right he looks like the letter S. This could be me in some years. While waiting for the train he moves like a rook on a chess board — shuffling in a straight line, head down.  He’s not looking where he’s going but the grey-haired woman is, so one piece has never captured the other. 

It did do someone a lot of good

Somewhere in the world in the early 1990s there was a woman who adored Prince so much that she sent him a gift: a purple and pink afghan that she knitted herself. She mailed it to Prince at Paisley Park Studios in Minnesota. My brother worked there at the time. 

One of the Paisley Park staff opened the package and pulled out the bulky afghan. He carried it through the building on his way to the trash bin when my brother intercepted him, got the story about the origin of this gift, and offered to take the afghan. He imagined how much work had gone into the knitting (having received one from our grandma) and he didn’t want to think about all that work lying in the bottom of the Dumpster. 

He gave it to me and that’s why there’s a cat sleeping here on a purple and pink afghan every day. What is the lesson here? That if I have a Prince story, everyone in the world has a Prince story.


I saw a discarded Victoria’s Secret shopping bag on the grounds of a retirement home.  Make up your own story. 

If Humphrey Bogart had been allowed to carry an ice cream cone on the set of Casablanca: “Where I’m going, you can’t follow. (Lick) What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. (Lick) Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (Lick) Someday you’ll understand that. (Lick)”

Voted Chicago’s Best Pizza.  Best Cheese Selection.  Best Sub Sandwich.  I have missed the voting for all these local elections.  

Voted Chicago’s Best Plumbing Company.  Best Air Duct Cleaning.  Best Children’s Magician.  Fortunately, I lack the experience to nominate someone or cast a vote in some of these contests.  

Voted Chicago’s Best Doughnuts.  Where was I for this one?  Are there term limits?  Is it too late to send an absentee ballot?  I’m willing to vote for bacon too, when the time comes.  

Voted Chicago’s Best Wedding Photographer.  Best Martini.  Best Therapeutic Massage.  For some of these elections I would have to be pretty busy in order to make an informed decision. 


The executive vice-chairman of Kellogg’s, the cereal company, recalls his long-ago one-night encounter with the college student who was the only woman he ever loved:

“On the final week of the semester, she told me that she was questioning everything in her life, that her relationship had in fact been over for some time, and that she didn’t know what to do. We continued to talk about this for the rest of the afternoon, over dinner that night, and the next morning over a balanced breakfast.”

From the short story “Kellogg’s” by B. J. Novak.

That you so richly deserve

At the office, my work email account gets a message with the subject heading “Congratulations! You reached a milestone!”  It's from an organization that tracks how many people have read work-related papers that you’ve published online.  

“Your research is in the spotlight,” the headline says inside.  Well, this is flattering to hear.  Under the title of my article is the message “Your article reached 20 reads.” This is for an article published ten years ago. 

Twenty reads in ten years.  That is some kind of milestone, technically.  I’d forgotten about it and frankly, I wasn’t lying awake nights wondering about the readership of what was truly a trivial piece.  It’s OK if no one else remembers it.  

Oh wait, there’s more to the email.  “Your achievement is shown on the home feeds of your colleagues and co-authors.”  Fantastic.  

The email won’t drop it: “Go to your home feed now to see your peers’ recent achievements.”  Yes, I need to see how popular everyone else is.

The parting comment is choice.  “Add a profile photo so they can instantly recognize you.”  No doubt so I can live through my own personal version of Beatlemania.  I should play along by sending them an image of Gollum just to see how long it stays up under my name.