Is Anybody Really Listening?

I’ve worked in customer service jobs for most of my life.  It seems to me that everyone practices selective listening.  Sorry ladies, it’s not just men.  Our minds retain only certain parts of every communication.  This was a valuable asset when I worked in sales.    Customers remembered product benefits, didn’t remember the dreary list of caveats.  This product had a lifetime warranty.  What was actually meant was “this product was warranted for as long as it lasted.” Newspaper and magazine ads have tiny print on the bottom of the page.  Radio advertising copy is read by slick talking announcers.  The disclaimers are covered by speed-talkers.  We retain information that is appealing to us and discard the rest.  We want to be entertained.  Television commercials are more entertaining than regular programming anyway.  There are annual awards for the best commercials.

Sometimes companies create a demand for a product before it comes on the market.  A television commercial shows a young couple frolicking through a meadow in an idyllic setting.  “Wouldn’t you like to feel care-free again?”  goes the appeal.  Well, who in their right mind wouldn’t find this appealing? “Buy our product and you can.” What was the product? What did it do?  It turned out to be a pharmaceutical product to fight the effects of depression.  It was not what I was looking for, but it was hard to tell.  Each year during the Super Bowl there’s a contest for the best commercial.  Everyone remembers the plots of the best thirty second productions.  When asked to identify the company that sponsored the product–most people didn’t do so well.  We’re being sold the sizzle and not the steak.

Why Does It Hurt So Bad? (The death of a pet)

It’s the day after we had our beloved pet euthanized and life goes on.  People are still going to work, birds are still singing.  Why did it still hurt so badly?  He was just a mutt–rescued from the county dog pound.  Yet, somehow he’d captured our hearts.  My wife wasn’t sure as I was, but let me talk her into adopting the German Shepherd mixed breed dog that now stood before us with his front paws on the bars of his cage.  We took several candidate dogs for walks on a leash.  Dillon was not the best walker.  The difference was, that when it was over and I sat down, Dillon sat down beside me and licked me on the ear.  In other words, he picked me.  He was a gangly youngster with the coloration and coarse hair of a German Shepherd.  We drove away from the facility and were halfway across the Bay Bridge en route to Mobile when it struck us both at the same time.  Let’s go back and get Dillon.

No one knew his exact age,  somewhere between six months and a year old.  He weighed forty-five pounds.  I would sometimes cradle him upside down in my arms and tell him he was “Daddy’s goo-g00 baby.”  His mischievous puppy-like ways were endearing.  Dillon would sneak up and untie my shoelaces pretending to want affection.  Occasionally he’d  scratch on the door as if he wanted in.  If I approached the door and he’d walk away.  What he wanted, was for me to go outside and spend time with him.  He loved to play fetch.  Throw him a stick or a Frisbee, it didn’t matter.  When he caught the Frisbee, he’d chew it to pieces.  He slept in a portable kennel at first.  I’d place a treat inside the door and tell him it was time for bed.  To our amazement he was already house trained.  There was only one unfortunate incident with some butter beans, but it wasn’t his fault.

Images of him trotting across the backyard with his tail proudly held high are now just too painful to recall.  He was such a happy dog.  I really didn’t mind being his doggy doorman.  He quickly learned how to communicate his needs.  If he needed to go out at night, he came to my side of the bed and pushed on the mattress.  He scratched on the door to be let in.  If he wanted out, he sought me out, let me pet him and walked to the door and looked back at me.  If he wanted affection, he sat down in front of my recliner.  This  eventually led to belly rubs, which he loved.  I grew to know the difference in his barks.  One was for strangers and one for acquaintances.  When my wife tried to walk him on a leash, he’d pull her up and down the block.  Dillon and I had a pact, we took regular walks through the neighborhood.   If our friend Linn from across the street called on the phone and said she was coming over, Dillon waited by the front door before my wife hung up the phone.  Apparently he recognized her voice over the telephone.

Chasing cats was something I discouraged, but one in his backyard was hard to resist.  He seemed to like the cats we regularly encountered on our walks.  He whined and wanted to  visit them.  Donna, our neighbor down the street, had a male cat named “Tat.” Dillon learned to like him.  I enjoyed our walks.  They were as much for my well-being as his  Dillon was a much better “Schmoozer” than I am.  It was very rare for him not to trust someone.  When this happened he gave out a low growl as a warning.  I trusted his instincts.  He grew into adulthood and accompanied my wife and me wherever we went.  His favorite perch was on an overstuffed chair by the front window–the only piece of furniture on which he was allowed.  From there he viewed activities of the neighborhood.  No one was allowed to sleep in on Dillon’s watch.  If the bedroom door was open, he entered and pushed on the mattress.  Last Christmas season we stayed with our friends John and Rosemary.  Rosemary intended to sleep in one morning.  Dillon pushed open the door and attempted to wake her.  When she didn’t awaken, he stared at her until she opened her eyes.  Dillon was my wife’s protector when she drove on long trips.  He growled and barked when strangers got too close to the car.

We’d been warned by our Vet that Dillon had hip dysplasia–a genetic defect in some large breed dogs.  He was our “baby” and seemed normal to us.  In hindsight, maybe we were guilty of giving him too many treats.  His weight doubled to ninety plus pounds.  The signs were there.  I guess we were too blind to see them.  He’d started limping after his naps.  On long car rides he seemed uncomfortable–which we attributed to nervousness.  He never complained or whined.  Dillon’s downhill slide began two weeks ago Wednesday evening.  On his last trip outside before bedtime he saw a rabbit.  He chased that rabbit up and down the yard like a young pup.  The rabbit got away–Dillon was limping on his back legs.  A trip to the Vet and some medicine seemed to help.  In two days he seemed back to his normal self.  Last Thursday evening Dillon took off like a shot after another rabbit.  I’d never seen him run so fast.  This time he didn’t come back.  I found him in the backyard seemingly in pain.   He got up and walked to the house on three legs.  I suspected that something bad was wrong.  We kept him on medications over the weekend.  This time there was no miraculous recovery.

The prognosis was devastating.  He’d blown out the ligaments in his left back leg.  All of this related to his hip dysplasia.  The worst part was that the ligaments in his right leg were also about to go.  There were remarkable advances in surgical procedures that would rebuild his knees and hips.  He would have to go on a crash diet for four to six weeks which would reduce him to skin and bones.  After the diet, surgery and recovery one leg  at a time.  If this was tolerated it all came down to the same thing.  Our Dillon would have to always be caged up and only taken out on a leash.  His fragile hips meant his days of chasing cats and rabbits were gone.   I found myself bargaining–what if we ignored the doctor’s orders and just took him home?  Everything lead to the same conclusion.  Dillon would not have tolerated this well.  The cure would have killed him.  It seemed entirely too cruel.  We made the gut-wrenching decision to have him euthanized.  He was still sedated from the X-Rays.  It would be like he went to sleep and didn’t wake up.  It wasn’t that easy.  We will alway miss our loyal furry friend, but only have good memories.  If there’s a Dog Heaven, and I’d like to think there is, Dillon has lots of friends.  You see, all of our three children have recently lost pets.

It’s Not That Bad

It’s a beautiful day–skies are blue

I’m thinking positive thoughts–aren’t you?

Ignoring all the negative waves

Like the mighty oak, tall and brave

It’s not that bad, try something new

Like holding your breath, till you turn blue

It’s not that bad, try something new

Chase a butterfly, play the kazoo

It’s not that bad, try something new

Skip to work, it’ll be a blast

Today put your underwear on last

It’s not that bad, try something new

Make daisy chains, smell some flowers

Do yoga, stand on one foot for hours

The funny feeling that will creep

Will be because your foot’s asleep

So have a wonderful fulfilling day

In your world everything is OK!

God’s Kisses

A

Spring day

Warm misty air

After a morning rain

Taking a walk in the woods

Damp earth, fresh smells, so good

Stomping in puddles, making mud splatter

Your young and it doesn’t really matter

Drinking it in, every sight and sound

Showing Mom everything you found

No question is too unimportant or silly

Mom, do Buttercups have real butter–really?

Picking bouquets of flowers

Walking around for hours

From the Master, an impressionist painting

Heaven’s blessing after a winter of waiting

Something so simple and so much fun to do

Mother Nature won’t mind if we take a few

Shhh! Come here, I’ll tell you a secret if you listen

Because spring flowers are really God’s kisses.

My Supermarket Adventure

I don’t enjoy supermarket shopping.  Rarely do I go unless I’m on vacation.  Recently, I was reminded why I hate it so much.  Was it my imagination?  I perceived that my wife went into s-l-o-w-w m-o-t-i-o-n.  It was like watching the final losing Super Bowl play over and over again.  Supermarkets have a sort of cruelty about them.  It ends at the check out line as I stand with head down staring at the floor.  Wouldn’t want to get caught looking at tabloid headlines.  …Other shoppers personal items would be worse.

We went through the aisles, then back through the same aisles in reverse.  It was like instant replay.  As a puzzled newlywed I asked my bride, “Honey, why do you go through all the aisles and not buy anything?” “I don’t know Sweetie, that’s the way I’ve always done it.  “That way I don’t forget anything.” It still didn’t make sense to me.  I instead concentrated on being a serious-minded shopping cart operator.  Why did she lead me down the narrowest, most crowded aisles and suddenly change directions?  She had the uncanny ability to disappear in milliseconds.  Didn’t she understand that I had a reputation to uphold.  …Now to turn this rig around.

“Honey, we need some potatoes.” “I saw them on aisle 27, Pumpkin.” “Yes, Dear.” I replied faithfully.  The supermarket was such a scary place!  Evil lurked around every corner.  You never knew when another grocery cart would suddenly pop out and collide with yours.   My mind wandered.  The calm octogenarian gentleman slowly pushing his cart toward me could be a total maniac.  …Using his cart as a weapon…The culmination of years living on a fixed income.  His eyes narrow slits. …face frozen with determination… waiting for the exact moment to prey on the unsuspecting.  If there was a God, let a yuppie shopper with a shopping cart full of gourmet foods and designer water suddenly appear.  That would be my cue to escape his evil game.

“Sweetheart, did you get the potatoes?” “Yes, Dear.” I replied proudly.  “Sweetie, those are red potatoes, I wanted russet potatoes.”  I was confused, didn’t the word “russet” mean red?  It turned out that russet potatoes were actually white.  We made our way back to aisle 27.  “Russet potatoes are better for baking.” “Oh” I said.  “Sorry” “It’s OK Hon, you just didn’t know.  “Look, they have twelve kinds of beef jerky.” “That’s nice, Dear.” “Let’s go to the check out.”

Cart pushers and sudden stops were invitations for disaster–especially if you had long objects in your cart.  Cart thieves were the lowest form of life.  Too lazy to get theirs from the front of the store, they’d seize yours.  Spend too long perusing the frozen food section and it could happen to you.  Your carefully selected items tossed aside as the thief made a clean getaway.  There should be special punishment for cart thieves, just like there was for horse thieves in the Old West.

Maybe I should look at supermarket shopping differently?  It could be a whole new realm of competition.  Discounted canned goods sans labels could lead to an exciting party game.  “What’s in the can?”  Guess creamed corn and it could be pickled beets.  Of course losers would have to eat the contents of their can.  It has the makings of a new “Reality TV” show.  Eat your heart out “Fear Factor.”  Next trip go to the end of the aisle where sale items are carefully stacked in a pyramid.  Select an item from near the bottom of the stack and carefully pull it out.  This game is similar to “Jenga,” losers collapse the stack.  Public humiliation would follow with the “clean-up on aisle three” announcement.

Perhaps the most spine-tingling challenge for shoppers happens when they enter and leave the facility.  It’s a thrilling game of “chicken” as motorists challenge pedestrians to cross.  Cross-walk markings seem to be there only as a suggestion.  Runaway shopping carts in the parking lot provide plenty of thrills.  “Attention thrill seekers!” “Step right up!” “Place your bets!” “I’ve got fifty dollars on the blue Toyota.” “Watch out, that cart is heading right for your car!”

Where Were You on 9-11-01?

It was a beautiful, clear, cool late summer morning.  My first reaction was one of disbelief, then anger that someone was bold enough to attack our country on our own soil.  Wasn’t our country the only one on earth that ever used atomic weapons?  Were we on the road to war?  After the events that surrounded the Vietnam conflict, I hoped our country would have the guts to do what needed to be done.  If this was the beginning of war, I would volunteer to defend my country.  I was fifty-two and would go if they would have me.  I found it hard to concentrate on my work and noticed the strange silence as there was no air traffic.  Any planes in the air would have been regarded as a potential threat.

My next repair job was at a state correctional facility in Central Illinois.  While repairing communication equipment in one of the residential units, the inmates intently watched television coverage of events as they unfolded.  My background was different, but we were all of one accord.  Our country had been violently and deliberately attacked by forces then unknown.  This called for a resounding and clear response in defense of our nation.  Several inmates remarked they would be willing to go and fight.  To me, this was a reminder that “Freedom isn’t free.” There will always be forces in the world that don’t like what we stand for.  We have to remain strong in defense of our nation–to think otherwise is naivety.  To quote the late, great broadcaster, Paul Harvey, “It is not one world.”

The Good Old Days

Were the “good old days” really that good? It’s the hottest part of summer and I’m sitting comfortably in my air-conditioned house. Nobody had air-conditioning when I was growing up. Half the residents in my small town didn’t have indoor plumbing. Yet somehow we survived. I could buy a bag of candy for a quarter. Gasoline was around twenty cents a gallon–less during “gas wars.” During “gas wars” stations would lower prices to drive their competitors out of business. Food and durable goods were also less expensive. To keep things in perspective, wages were lower. People of that era were accustomed to the status quo. Would I want to go back? The answer is a resounding no! I wouldn’t want to go through the years of teenage angst. I would like to recover some of the time wasted over things that I now know are not important.  While working in the unrelenting summer heat and humidity, I long for the “good old days” four months ago when I was on vacation in Hawaii.  It’s a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” thing.  My depression-era parents had a different outlook.  Their “when I was your age” speeches were warnings to appreciate the comforts of life because they could be taken away.  Like the lyrics to the Carly Simon tune, “Anticipation,” I believe “These are the Good Old Days.”