Archives for category: Life Experiences
  1. When they do something stupid, smile. For best effect, smile as close as possible to the incidence of stupidity.
  2. When they think something is funny and it’s not, smile.
  3. When they express an opinion you don’t like, smile.
  4. When they’re ignorant of something you know well, smile.
  5. When they’re knowledgeable of something you know nothing about, smile.
  6. When they don’t help you, smile.
  7. When they don’t make your life convenient, smile.
  8. When they choose to live their lives without constant consideration of what will bring direct benefit to you, smile.

Follow these 8 simple steps and the people around you will never fail to make you happy.

recycling

You’re carrying the recycling bin down the hallway, the payload of soy milk and greek yogurt cartons rattling audibly, when you see a little dog. This takes a second to process, because your brain insists that there can’t be a dog in the complex. There’s a rule against it. You round the corner, nearly running down a woman. She’s graying, swaying, stooped, and dressed in seven layers of threadbare winter clothing. One hand holds the leash which should be on the dog. The other is wrapped around the golden knob of a door which she proceeds to open several inches, then immediately close. Open. Close. Open. Close. Images of zombies come to mind.

She’s blocking the way to the recycling drop-off, nothing to do but push through. Then you make fatal eye contact, red-rimmed blue eyes pleading. Do you help or do you continue on? It’s not even a choice. You speed up, brandishing the brimming bin ahead of you as if to say, “Hey, I’m saving the Earth; no time to save you.” And then you’re through. Freedom. Relief. For once you take the time to sort every item into the proper receptacle. Then you sort everything your neighbors dropped off. You try to stay occupied because you’re well aware of what Odysseus learned. It’s that return trip that gets you.

Not five minutes later, you’re making your way back down the hallway. This time she’s ready. Her gaze locks on, and she lays in with the heavy weaponry. “Will you help me?” Now, you may be many flavors of selfish asshole, but there’s nothing in you that can refuse a direct request for help. So you stop. Fear creeps in to quietly shut down every thinking part of your brain. But falsehood comes naturally. Honey-words leave your mouth, promising assistance.  “I can’t. It won’t. The door,” she croaks haltingly, like a child just learning to shape words. You were thinking blackout drunk, but now you have to consider mental disability. That’s fine, because it’s not as if you would know how to deal with either.

But you do understand problems. That, you’re very comfortable with. The door. You reach out, twist the knob, and swing open the door. Or, begin to, but it’s caught on the chain. Of course, it’s the chain. Now you’ve got to recalculate again. If this is her apartment, why would the chain be on the door? You mentally kick yourself for almost helping her break into someone’s apartment. “Are you sure this is your apartment?” you ask in your most innocent voice. She’s a little confused by the question. “I’m going to knock, and see who else is home,” you say, and then proceed to do so. Surely whoever put the chain on the door will come. It’s 10:30. They may be asleep, but that’s fine. You need rescue.

“This is my house,” the woman exclaims, utterly bewildered. “This is my house,” she repeats. And again. And Again. Now you’re really stumped. The dog starts barking, sensing he’s been forgotten. And you’re still awkwardly clutching the empty recycling bin. “Shh, Corgi.” Your name isn’t Corgi. Then you realize she’s talking to the dog. That’s even worse; he’s more like a beagle.

“What’s your name?” Caught off guard and flustered by the misleadingly named canine, you accidentally blurt out the truth. She continues, “My name’s Marlene. Will you help me?” Aren’t you already helping her? “I’m cold. I want to sleep.” Sleep? Sleep does sound wonderful. But you can only sleep when she goes away. You need to get rid of her. To a place of safety, you amend to yourself. It occurs to you that the apartment lobby has couches. She could sleep there. It’d be indoors, and it’d be cozy. You start to urge her down the hallway, promising a comfortable couch in the apartment lobby.

“This is my house,” she says again. But she follows. Corgi pads along as well. You take her around two corners, bringing you tantalizing close to the lobby and its emancipation from responsibility. At the foot of the stairs, Marlene pauses, clearly afraid. “I’m disabled,” she squeaks out.

Then your savior barges in through a side door, overladen with grocery bags. She takes in the situation through thick English-teacher glasses, frizzy gray hair pointed in every direction. You realize with a little embarrassment that you’re leaned over, arms held out, coaxing Marlene like a dog. What a first impression. Her stern voice: “Marlene, what are you doing?”

“I’m disabled,” Marlene repeats.

“She’s drunk,” your hero announces. Then she leads all three of you, Corgi bringing up the rear, back down the hall to the stubborn door from before. Marlene opens the door, catches it on the chain, and gives up. One look tells your hero all she needs to know. “Marlene, did you take the dog out the patio door? Come on, let’s go around outside. Let’s go.”

Marlene looks at you. “He was nice to me.” You weren’t nice to her. Marlene leans in for a hug. Stale beer fills your nostrils. Images of germs, the comically green mobster-like blobs on television, float through your head. Just before Marlene can get her arms around you, your right arm shoots out to hold her at bay, turning the hug into an awkward clutching. The two of you bump temples, softly. Marlene seems content with that.

Then your unnamed hero takes off, pulling Marlene and Corgi in her wake. She has a world to save.

Orange_Water_wings

There’s already a family splashing around when I show up to swim a few laps. Well, most of a family. Three little kids bob in the water, rendered genderless by the sheer number of floatation devices strapped to their little bodies. The mother’s covered head to foot, Muslim, Sikh? I don’t trust myself to know which. I smile as broadly as possible, shooting out a squeaky hi as I fast-walk past her. She smiles back. Raptor eyes return to the three bobbing shapes. I wonder for a second about the odds of her jumping in the water after them, covered as she is, should something go wrong. But I notice how she’s perched on the lounge chair, anything but relaxed, coiled to spring.

I shuck off my shirt. For an absent moment I wonder if it’s rude to be partially unclothed if she doesn’t have that option. Am I being insensitive? Or is anxiety about offending itself testimony to my ignorance?

Sliding into the water on the far side of the pool, I try to block the family out of my mind. I start to swim. Like always, it’s humbling. When I run, I can convince myself that I’m fit. Then I try to swim, and my body screams. My lungs whine, my arms ache, and my legs rebel. It’s not my element.

Sputtering after a length, I grab the edge of the pool. I overhear a little boy’s voice say, “He’s resting. Is he resting? He’s resting, right?” I need a good deal more rest, but I take off again anyway. Why do I care what this boy thinks?

A few more lengths pass. I get the second wind (the second current?) and I’m much more comfortable. I’m ahead of my usual pace. It’s going to be a good day.

In the periphery of my vision, I glimpse a dark blur. For some reason, I reach out for the side of the pool. That’s when she strikes.

“Hi!” Based on the voice, probably a little girl. It’s alarmingly hard to tell, with short, slicked-back hair and a buoyant sheath around her middle.

“Hi.” I say it with a smile, injecting as much friendliness and non-threat as humanly possible. With first blood drawn, the other kids feel it’s finally safe to approach. They scramble our direction.

“What are you doing?” What a relief. A question I can always answer.

“Swimming laps. For exercise.” Again I smile, for lack of anything more interesting to contribute. How can I call myself a conversationalist if I don’t even know how to talk to a kid?

“Why?”

Vanity, I think immediately. I respond, “To stay healthy.”

“Healthy?” Kids don’t bother to conceal confusion.

“To stay young, like you.” It’s an almost truth if I don’t think about it too much.

“But Mommy and Daddy and Adi and Mommy don’t- Mommy didn’t bring her swimsuit- and Adi didn’t bring hers. But she’s in S’Arabia.”

That takes a moment for me to process. “Well, that’s a pretty good reason, I say,” stating the obvious.

Now the other blobs have floated their way close enough to gain genders. A young boy, and a bashful girl who’s probably a few years older than the others.

“Where are you from?” asks Big Mouth.

Again showing off my highly developed conversational skills, I point towards the apartment complex. You can actually see my window.

She flops around, spewing water everywhere, incredulously, squinting as if looking for something through the building. Then she slowly turns back and eyes me like I’ve just tried to cheat at Go-Fish. “No! I mean where are you from.”

“I’m from America.”

My lack of understanding clearly frustrates her. “No, I mean where are you from. What country are you from?”

“I’m from here,” I repeat, a little catch in my throat.

“No, what country are you from? Like, I’m from S’Arabia. And Adi’s from S’Arabia.”

I take a moment to think this over. Finally: “I’m from Texas.”

A smile takes over her face. “Are you a cowboy?”

If she’d been 15 years older, I’d be miffed by the use of the stereotype. As is, I smile against my own will. “No, no. I’m not a cowboy.”

“I’m going to ride a horse.”

“Really?”

“Yep. When I’m 4, I ride a horse.”

Now the pudgy boy has paddled his way over. “How many do you have?” he says.

I decide he’s not talking about horses. “I have 21 years, I tell him.”

“Right now I’m 5,” brags the first girl.

“Oh really? My little sister’s 5 too.”

“Really!?” The girl’s jaw drops open.

The pudgy boy has a different perspective. He starts to paddle towards the side of the pool. “Like anyone cares!”  he shoots towards me.

But my interrogator is still confused. “What!?”

“That’s impossible,” continues the boy, implying that someone might care just a little bit.

By now the three have me surrounded, positively pinned against the side. It’s a blockade Nelson would have been proud of.

“I should probably…” Again, I show off my linguistic mastery by making swimming motions with my arms.

Then the boy spits water on me. I don’t really mind. Hell, I’m in a pool. Odds are good I’m swimming in the kid’s pee anyway. But I seize on the excuse to leave the conversation. I leap between two inflatable dreadnoughts and swim another length.

As I approach that side of the pool again, another dark blur hovers nearby. I come up.

“Sorry!” the boy squeaks out. It’s a hit and run. He starts paddling away. I look over at his mother, who smiles at me and mouths an apology. They’re good kids, I decide. She must know what she’s doing.

barrel

Today we’ll score our personality tests. Or so we were told by our torso of a psych professor. Not fat, but an astonishingly barrel-like man. He rolls back and forth across the front of the lecture hall, confidently pronouncing about the distribution of different personality types in our class. Since we’ve got 80-100 students in the class, there ought to be enough to get fairly even dispersal.

For homework, we’d been instructed to fill out an online questionnaire and designate his email to receive the results. Walking in at 9:25, I took the proffered score sheet, an indecipherable alphanumeric jumble.

The barrel spews out words. Anyone with an EX score over 3.5 should raise their hands. Maybe half of our number raise the trademarked college student bent-armed salute, refined over the generations to convey as much participatory reluctance as possible. These, we’re told, are the room’s extroverts. They thrive on social interaction.

My score is way lower, a 1.6, so I don’t do anything. The barrel starts again. Now he wants everyone with an EX score below 1.75 to raise their hands. I do so. In my sleepy state, it takes a few moments to realize everyone’s looking at me. I’m the only one with a hand in the air.

Perfect. Of course the other introverts wouldn’t identify themselves. My professor addresses me. What traits do I think make me an introvert? How about the fact that I never speak up in class and I never do things to draw attention to myself? He nods, deeply contemplative of my sarcasm. “Fascinating,” he says.