Sunday, August 29, 2010

Turn Turn Turn

Since the last time I posted herein, a lot has happened in the Baskind household. My oldest daughter is learning to drive, and my youngest has begun private tutoring in preparation for her upcoming bat mitzvah; both are doing extremely well, which surprises no one. We've installed a new water heater and replaced two ancient toilets (circa 1976) with shiny, new, high-efficiency flush-u-lators. We struggled through a very hot summer with no air conditioning, save for a small window unit, which - I swear by all that is holy - has been my salvation, keeping my ladies from killing me in my sleep for the insurance money to buy a new heat pump. (Karen, if you're reading this, I just want to say that I would understand; just make sure I get that Viking funeral I want.)

Unfortunately, something very sad has also happened. Last month, Karen's mother passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. Now, I have never made secret the fact that Karen's parents are not my favorite people - but this is not about me. Not even a little. This is about Karen. Amazing, beautiful, wonderful, strong, upstanding, magnanimous, amazing Karen. (Yes, "amazing" warrants double billing.)

I suppose I never really stopped to take stock of what Karen's mom meant to her. The dynamic of their relationship is uncommon, if not unique. Virginia was, after all, Karen's mother - she raised her, fed her, dressed her, played with her, did her hair - all of the things a mom does. But, in many respects, Karen was the "adult" in the relationship from a very early age. Virginia lost her hearing at age 2, and Karen became her ears as at a young age. In fact, Karen grew to be Virginia's guardian in many ways. When Karen's dad was at work and the Kirby salesmen came to the door, Karen was the one who had to shoo them away, as her mom didn't really understand the implied obligations of allowing them into the house. Karen understood, better than her mother, that they certainly did not have the money for such an expensive machine. And don't even get Karen started on the church groups she had to keep at bay. Every minister and preacher within a hundred miles believed they could "heal" Virginia's deafness at one point or another. The Jehovah's Witnesses would send out "deaf squads" to recruit all of the poor deaf souls in the area, bible-thumping mobs with just enough rudimentary sign language skill to persuade the hearing-impaired that they should follow them home to salvation.

No, deaf people aren't stupid, but many have a lot of "social atrophy" that is directly associated with their deafness. This is especially true of deaf folks from older generations and/or rural areas, who are often treated as if they are to be coddled and pitied instead of educated and encouraged. These deaf people are often regarded as if their lack of hearing is akin to retardation or mental illness. This was the case with Virginia. Her uber-religious family loved her, but they never gave her credit for being smart. (She was.) They CERTAINLY never wanted to let her go off and marry. (She did.) And they never, ever forgave Karen's dad for "taking her away."

This is just one of the special in-fighting situations that I was certain would make Virginia's funeral such a powder keg. And, when it came time for the viewing, let me tell you, I went into full-on "secret service mode". I circled the room constantly, looking for any hint of a confrontation, always coming back to Karen and the girls to make sure they were OK. I listened for stern voices and argumentative phraseology; I sniffed around to see who was drunk or stoned, so I could pay special attention to them. I quickly located people I knew I could count on to help me "restore order" if any actual fisticuffs broke out; there were a couple of cousins, maybe an uncle or two - I kept constant tabs on where they were, in case I needed them.

I didn't. all.

I believe there are two main reasons that nothing bad occurred. First of all, despite my general distrust of basic human nature, people were being just plain nice. No, the old rivalries and hostilities have not gone away, but hey were set aside, impressively. I did not see that coming, because I failed to take into account that these people, too, were grieving. I was so worried about my own ladies that I forgot that practically everyone in the room had lost a sister, cousin, aunt, childhood friend, coworker, or even perhaps a personal inspiration. People talked about Virginia as though she had fought insurmountable odds to attain a successful life. Funerals always exalt the dead disproportionately, and that day was no exception. People celebrated Virginia's life, as a vehicle for dealing with her death. As it should be.

The other - and more significant - reason nothing bad happened? Karen. In spite of her own emotional devastation, she was tirelessly, selflessly, abso-freakin'-lutely in charge. She and her sister took care of every minute detail in the week between the death and the funeral. Nothing had been preplanned, except that the funeral plot was in place, and even that posed challenges. Karen never stopped. She dealt with every aspect of the arrangements, from choosing the casket to deciding where all of the flowers would end up. She even pulled key people aside and made sure they understood that, until this was over, there would be no tolerance for any bickering. Karen brought peace to a situation only slight less volatile than a bar mitzvah in Baghdad.

I always knew she was a force to be reckoned with, but I had no idea that anyone could be so poised, so downright together, at such a difficult time.
As for my other ladies, they were absolute angels. Addison was fine at the viewing, but very affected at the funeral. She channels emotion like an empath, and I had to pull her away to calm her down a time or two. Aliyah prefers to be left to herself when she feels emotional, so I did my best not to dote. (Newsflash: I failed.) Both girls were sad, and beautiful, and perfect in every way. And both of them have been so good to their mother. I am more proud every day.

On September 1st, Karen and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. Anyone who knows me already knows how much I love her, but I am constantly amazed at how she continues to impress me year after year. The amount of self-confidence and the presence she has developed is breathtaking. When did it happen? Was it during the same years that my first-born child turned into one of the funniest, most talented people I've ever known? Or maybe it occurred while I was busy watching my "baby" Addison blossom from cute little kitten to a gorgeous young lady with an infectious laugh and the pottery skills of a senior at an art college? I'm not sure.

Of course, I've grown, too. Mostly out...and around. I know I've fallen short of being the husband and father they deserve, but they still love me. This may be the most amazing thing of all.

I'm not really sure what the moral of this story is. I just know that I share my house with three amazing ladies, who are so impressive that it's downright scary. And I love them more than the air I breathe.

I really should get them a new heat pump.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hail To The Chef

Since 2006, I've been involved with the men's organization at my synagogue. Just about every Reform Jewish congregation has a men's auxiliary, called Brotherhood, and women's auxiliary, called - you guessed it - Sisterhood. Next month, Temple Israel Brotherhood here in Columbus will elect me president, and I could not be more excited about this great opportunity to serve. This doesn't come as a surprise; in fact, it's pretty much been the plan for a number of years. Still, you never know how these plans are going to work out, until they do.

Before I was approached to join Brotherhood , I had only the vaguest knowledge that the organization even existed at Temple Israel. Other than my normal Sunday morning routine at the Brotherhood Bistro (a topic for another post), I'd heard almost nothing about what our auxiliary was doing for the congregation, much less the community; it just didn't seem very active. In fairness, politics and finances at our temple had drastically affected the membership numbers and, as anyone who works with volunteer organizations can tell you, this is a real problem. But this was exactly why some of the younger men in the congregation (read: below the age of 65) were becoming active - to breathe new life into our Brotherhood. I was asked to make a two-year commitment to be Secretary. I agreed, unsure of exactly what I was getting myself into. This was my first foray into an organized group such as this. The journey, for me, has been a wonderful challenge.

I'll never forget the first meeting I attended. I'm not sure what I expected, but do you know what I DIDN'T expect from the Brotherhood of a congregation of well over 500 families? Six guys (including me) gathered around a small table. The minutes from the previous meeting were also not what I expected; literally a few sentences, written in cursive on a sheet of paper from a legal pad. A copy - almost certainly mimeographed - was passed out to each of us. The agenda was similar, almost non-existent. While this seemed uninspired to me at the time, it went without notice to those who regularly attended meetings; the president's agenda and the secretary's minutes met all of the attendees' expectations. Nothing more was needed, after all.

After that initial meeting, a few of us began to get really excited about the possibilities that existed for our little organization. We set up a meeting with our rabbi to talk about ways that we could be more active in the temple. We began to seek out other young (well...youngER) board members, and tried to get them excited, as well. It seemed to us that we had found an honest-to-goodness diamond in the rough, and that we had an enormous opportunity to make an impact.

In fact, what we'd really done was to take the helm of a very large ship, which was determined to maintain the present course. Turning this bad boy around was not going to be easy.

Fast forward to the next meeting that summer. This one was more well-attended, because (a) we served food and (b) it was at some one's very nice home. This time, there were three or four of us "young guns" in attendance, and about eight of the more....experienced members. "We" began to tell "them" about our grand plans. We went on and on about organizing events, creating committees, using the (substantial!) moneys in the Brotherhood accounts for the good of the congregation. What we brought forth was an agenda of drastic change and vision - what they heard was how we were going to stretch our little cadre waaaaay too thin, and empty its coffers. They would not be budged. We were beaten down.

My friend, David, and I had driven to that meeting together. He and I were, arguably, the most forward-thinking co-conspirators at the time, and as we got into the car to head home afterward, he said, "Well, Chef," using my nickname, "How do you think the meeting went?" Replying with his nickname, I said, "Well, Cosby, I think we just had our asses handed to us." We were both frustrated and battered, but we laughed out loud at ourselves nonetheless. What in the world had we expected? We walked into that meeting, both guns blazing, and tried to change the color of the sky in their world. These men were respected doctors and lawyers, fathers and grandfathers, retired business men who had all been with the Brotherhood since its heyday. In their time, they had seen this organization, currently with less than a hundred members and fewer that 20 engaged, when it bustled with activity. Many of them had served as board members and presidents time and again, long before "we younglings" came along. Who were we to change things so drastically now, especially all at once?

And, you know what else we learned that day? Those men LOVE this organization. When they looked at our Brotherhood, they did not see some dying, gasping, bloated old thing, atrophied from inactivity; they simply saw a grand old ship sailing calmer seas. Like many of them, it's busier days were behind it, maybe for good, but they loved it and respected it for what it was, and what it had been: stable, respectable, and good.

Never have I learned a better lesson about how to deliver a message than I did that very day.

The years since have been a great ride. I have learned so very much about dealing with difficult people, and how people deal with me when I'm being difficult. I've learned that perspective and delivery are often more important than reality and reason. And I've learned that a screaming genius will never be received as well as a respectful seeker of knowledge.

I still have a lot to learn, and I'm lucky to have some amazing people with whom to continue my journey. My board of directors contains some of the sharpest minds I've known. Many of the past presidents, some in their 80's, still attend meetings regularly, providing a wealth of historical reference. We're also working more closely with Temple Israel Sisterhood, an organization that has managed to stay much more viable than we, and I can only hope they someday find us as helpful as they've been.

On a personal level, my job as president will be a lot of work, and a labor of love. I'll organize and run meetings, appoint and work with committees and their chairs, and serve as liaison between Brotherhood and the temple's staff, which is also full of amazing people. And I'll learn and grow, and feel even more at home in my Brotherhood, in my temple.

Am I honored? Well, of course, but this is not an award, or a reward. This is my commitment to continuing the hard work of the presidents before me. I hope to make them proud, and to earn the same kind of respect I have for them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Wayback Machine

March is not typically the time of year when people discuss their favorite holidays. We usually hear such talk in the fall months, when most folks are looking forward to a few of "the majors." But, being Jewish, I look forward to this season for one reason: Passover!!

Passover, of course, is a celebration of a time when G-d spared His people from oppression, and freed them from slavery in the land of Egypt. I won't preach; I think everyone pretty much gets the gist of what Passover is all about. Suffice to say that it basically follows the standard boilerplate of every Jewish holiday, "They persecuted us. We won. Let's eat!"

Admittedly, I have several favorites among the holidays, each for different reasons. I enjoy Thanksgiving and Independence Day, because I am patriotic. I like Hanukkah a lot because, in addition to being Jewish, I'm also American, so I enjoy buying gifts for people that they do not need, with money that I do not have, and ending up with bills that I cannot pay. I also love Yom Kippur; for all of it's fasting and rigid dourness, it is by far one of the most emotionally and spiritually fulfilling holidays of the year for me.

Passover, however, holds a special place in my heart because of the sense of heritage it brings with it. While the Sabbath is about resting and finding peace within our household, and Yom Kippur is arguably about atonement for our individual sins, Passover is all about connecting with generations past and future. No other holiday makes me feel that my life is tied to the lives of my ancestors the way Passover can. And the Passover Seder is the single most historically significant event in my yearly Jewish life.

Because I am a Reform Jew, as opposed to Conservative or Orthodox, there are many traditional Jewish practices that I do not observe. For example, I do not wear a tallit or a yarmulke every day. I also do not keep kosher, do not strictly observe the Sabbath, and I have not yet totally disappointed my mother. But none of these make me feel less Jewish.

OK...some of them do, but that just keeps the guilt meter high, which is essential to a proper Jewish existence.

Sitting around a table at a Seder, though, is when I fully celebrate the joy of my Judaism.

And here is the most significant thing about the Seder, in my opinion: It is time spent with the entire Jewish family. At Passover, we don't just sit down with our mothers and fathers, or even first or second cousins. We gather in groups - sometimes large groups - of people to whom our bloodlines go back hundreds or thousands of years. These are people that we may not necessarily think of as "relatives" the rest of the year, but at Passover we recognize and celebrate that ancient familial connection that hearkens back to the days that we read about in the Torah all year long.

Most nights, we don't even go to a temple - we invite these people into our homes! They sit at our tables, eat from our grandparents' bowls. They pass us their wine, and tell us of their own parents, their children and their childhood memories. Perhaps more so than at any other time throughout the year, we are truly connected to one another through the foods, songs, and stories of those who came before us.

And, each year, as new people move into and out of our lives, the dynamic of the Seder changes. At it's core, it's still the quintessential traditional experience, but the nuances brought by each person at the table make every one unique; soothing and familiar, yet fun and fresh.

And this meal is ALL about the kids. Many of us say Sabbath prayers and light Hanukkah candles, but most families do not go through entire services, from start to finish, in the home - except for the Seder. And the younglings aren't just included in some token passage, or with a shiny gift or candle; the four questions read by our children at a Seder are perhaps the very essence of how all of Judaism thrives. Read by some of the youngest people at the table, these simple inquiries represent the sense of wonder, awe, and discovery that brings all Jews to G-d in their own way, in their own time.

Tonight, my three ladies and I will join our extended family here in Columbus for what promises to be a superb Seder. No, not all of my family will be there. Heck, not even all of my Columbus family, or all of my Jewish family. But these are people I love, people I mostly even like, and people with whom I wish I could break bread (leavened or otherwise) more often. We don't make time to see each other as often as we should throughout the year, but that's part of what makes a Seder different from all other nights. I am thankful for all of them, and those who came before them.

In this Passover season, my wish for all you is the closeness of loved ones, the warmth of belonging, and the great joy that I am feeling during one of my very favorite holidays. Very best to you, from me and my family.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Write Here, Write Now

Well, here it is, my first blog post in almost a year. Why such a long hiatus? Truthfully, I really thought I was through with blogging forever.

Oh, I can hear the chides now. "How can you be through when you never even started?" Or maybe, "Gee, I'll really miss your posts...ONCE A YEAR!" OK, OK, I deserve that.

One of the reasons that I thought about dropping out permanently was this feeling of (admittedly self-induced) performance anxiety. I can't help but feel that there's some sort of standard to which I should measure up if I'm going to continue posting things on the interwebs. I know a few excellent writers who blog, and I'm also aware that there are many not-so-excellent writers who blog; both find readers, either because of their writing skills or in spite of them. But I don't want to be a mediocre writer, at least not publicly. For me, it's been just plain easier to avoid blogging than to fret about quality and acceptance. You heard it here first, folks: Doing nothing is easier than doing something well.

The problem with this? I honestly like to write. And some of what I write, I think, passes for a decent blog post. To me, drafting something that I feel good about and then letting it sit unpublished feels kinda' like....well, like when I was 13 and got that $20 for mowing the rabbi's HUGE lawn while he was on vacation. I worked really hard to get it, and yet I couldn't wait to spend it. It just burns a hole in the pocket, you know? Yes, it will last forever as-is, but I want to use it. Setting it free sounds even better than getting it in the first place.

Of course, there are some glaring differences between that money and these musings. Arguably, that twenty bucks would have been better off saved than spent, whereas an unpublished blog post is more like a wasted investment. Then again, not many people look at a kid with a twenty and tell them they're stupid for earning it. Simply put, unpublished material is safe because it doesn't garner any criticism. To paraphrase Twain, "It's better to stay quiet and be thought an idiot, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

Contrary to what I've lead some people to believe, though, I know I'm not expected to be Pulitzer-worthy when I blog. Just because I don't want to sound like Homer Simpson on a bender, that doesn't mean I think I'm channeling Ernest Hemingway when I write - or even Ernest P. Worrell, for that matter. I've been told that I should stop trying so hard, that every post doesn't need to aspire to some lofty, reality-affirming treatise about the mysteries of the human condition. "Write anything," they say. "Get over yourself!" (Gosh, I didn't realize I had such a haughty opinion of me. Apparently, I really need to be taken down a peg.)

But, I know that's not it. I guess, ultimately, I'm worried about falling short of some people's expectations...or, worse, proving others right.

I believe my problem is mainly one of perception. I simply can't think of my blog the same way I think of a journal or a diary. The latter are all about introspection, even catharsis; sharing them is merely optional, and if they make the writer happy, the opinions of others don't really matter. Blogs, on the other hand, are created specifically to be read by the masses. So, when I sit down to work on a blog post, I immediately revert back to my high school Creative Writing class, where everything I put out there was supposed to be picked apart. It's not that I think anyone expects greatness, but hopefully they don't expect crap, either.

In these infant stages of my bloggitude, most of the people reading me are my friends and family (or both). They've been very kind and supportive, and I've appreciated it more than they know, but I'm still afraid of disappointing. What happens when I publish a really bad, boring, or offensive post? Wait..what if I've already done that? What if I'm doing it again RIGHT NOW?!?! GAAH...the pressure is killing me!

But, NO! I've steeled myself and decided that I enjoy writing enough to move past my insecurities and start posting again. Maybe some of the people who followed me before will come back, or maybe they never left. Perhaps I'll find some new readers. Heck, I might even get a few comments here and there. (They are like crack, you know...)

Yep, this is it. I'm definitely back in the game. I'll be posting more often, forcing myself to put things out there that I might not have been inclined to share before, tilting those windmills that have always intimidated me so. To those who will put up with my rants, I offer thanks. To the rest, I say, "Fine. Read a better blog or two. I don't blame you. No hard feelings. Go with G-d."

Truthfully, though, I have to tell you: It feels really good to be back in uber-productive mode again. Man, I can feel those creative juices flowing already. Be sure to check out my next should be ready in just a month or two.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

No Take-backs

I was recently reminded of an email I received at work a few years ago. It was very controversial, a laundry list of "politically incorrect" jokes and one-liners. (No examples included herein, lest I send the wrong message.) A coworker had sent it from his company email account, and it nearly got him fired. It even caused problems for the recipients, necessitating a conversation with our managers about "appropriate use of company resources," as if we had any control over what people sent to us.

As someone who loves a good laugh, this question has always fascinated me: What really makes a joke OK for some people to tell, but not others?

Oh yes...I'm going there. Stay with me , Tom, Tammy, Chris and my other beautiful friends - I promise this will be OK!! ;-)

For the record, I've made more than a few off-color jokes in my day. I've probably told jokes about every ethnic group, religion, lifestyle, nationality, and hair color you can think of. I've justified this, when compelled to do so, by expressing my honest belief that these jokes are about stereotypes, not people. I mean, how many blonds do you know who really fit the stereotype in blond jokes? In fact, those jokes aren't really about blond people at all; they're about people who don't readily grasp the obvious. But, we use blonds as the vehicle because it's easy, it's convenient, and because no one wants to start a joke by saying, "OK, three vapid, unobservant, clueless people walk into a bar..."

Having said that, I do understand that not every joke can be told by everyone, and sometimes the way a joke is told is more important than the punchline. Sure, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle can get away with "the 'n' word" in their stand-up routines, but I'm pretty sure Michael Richards will tell you that not everyone can. Furthermore, even Rock and Chappelle may have to restrain themselves in certain situations, and many people believe they shouldn't use that word, either. (This is me raising my hand.)

Still other jokes are just plain contemptible by virtue of their subject matter. As a Jew, I do not mind the jokes about why my ancestors wandered in the desert for 40 years, or how copper wire was invented, or how we differ from canoes. (Eventually, you know the canoe will tip. Funny!) However, if you start to tell me the difference between a Jew and a pizza, I will inform you that you'd best not finish that one in my presence.

From a purely logical perspective, it stands to reason that any joke which might be offensive should simply not be told at all. But, how many brilliant comedians would never have had a chance if everyone followed this rule? Pryor, Carlin, Radner, Bruce, Izzard, Lopez, Mason, - so many legendary stand-up philosophers have made us think and laugh by creating brilliant material which poked fun at all sorts of stereotypes, and refused to apologize for it. (By the way, if you know where I got the term "stand-up philosopher," I hereby DEFY you to deny that you've laughed out loud at stereotypical, controversial, provocative humor!)

At the end of the day, we aren't really talking about comedy, per se. Underneath it all, this is really about language and the amazing, boundless power of words. I've personally watched someone fell a budding friendship in a split second, just by making an untimely, off-color joke. I've also seen people who are otherwise kind and forgiving write someone off completely because of a single, poorly-chosen attempt at humor. On the other hand, as we all know, a few heartfelt, simple words can help to ease the deepest suffering, if only for a little while. Words are amazing.

We all have our "hot buttons," subjects about which we cannot or will not laugh; but who among us has not said something they later regretted, something that sounded witty and sharp in their head, but died gasping on the floor once it escaped into the world?

For people like me who love to dissect and analyze words, it is just too easy to pick apart a joke or a quip that was probably benign to begin with, and find fault with it. It can also be difficult to avoid assigning a negative value judgment to the person who said it which they may not fully deserve. I try not to do this, but know I fail all too often.

Here's what I hope to teach my children as they grow up: When you put words out there, written or spoken, be careful what they say about you. Once you set them free, "how you meant them" becomes irrelevant. You forever own them in whatever context they are taken. It's scary, it's unfair, but it's true. More importantly, though, you must never allow this harsh reality to prevent you from creating words - beautiful, eloquent, controversial, meaningful words. They will never fail you, so long as you treat them with the respect and reverence that they deserve.

Of course, the other side of that coin is not to judge others too harshly or too quickly for their own words.

I'm not sure which of these is harder, but I hope my kids manage to do both better than I.

Friday, April 24, 2009

As You Were

My dear friend and blogger-extraordinaire, Mommakin, recently posted a wonderful offering about the importance of being true to yourself. Her posts always make me think, and this particular gem made me contemplate the importance of allowing others to be themselves, as well. Accepting others for who they are is often difficult, but always important.

I am not proposing that bigots, racists, and other small-minded people should walk through this world unchallenged. I am simply saying that, when interacting with people - even stupid people - it is important to deal with them on their own terms.

Last Saturday at the wine shop, a group of ladies came in and sat down at the bar. I know them to be regulars, though I do not know their names. I said to one of them, "So, can I get you something to drink?" She looked me right in the eye and said, "OK, that was perhaps the stupidest thing you could have just asked me, since I'm in a wine shop, bellied-up to the bar, and looking at the wine list, obviously trying to make up my mind. I'm just going to pretend you never even said that, and continue on with my life as if you were actually intelligent."

(OK, her actual words were, "Well, yeah...," but they hit the air between us with such heavy sarcasm and dismissive attitude that she clearly MEANT what I wrote in the previous paragraph. If anyone else had heard it, they would tell you it was obvious. Honest.)

In this exchange, I was clearly the stupid person she had to deal with. What I meant to ask, of course, was, "What can I get you to drink?" But, I phrased the question a bit too passively, and she chose to act upon the opportunity to make a point of my milquetoast, noncommittal phraseology. I mean, I'm behind the bar, and it's my job to take her order, so there was really no doubt about what I was trying to ask her. If she had just given me her order or asked for a minute to decide, the whole moment would have passed without any worthwhile notoriety. Also, I would not have spit in her wine. (Just kidding - but that was fun to imagine.)

Why did this woman feel the need to make an issue of my question? By taking such an attitude, she accomplished nothing positive, whatsoever.

To further my point, I took the "high road" here (which I do not always do) and continued to smile at her and treat her as a welcomed guest throughout her visit. She clearly wanted to be dealt with directly, so I obliged. Every other question I asked her was short, courteous, and to the point. If I had returned her attitude, or grown a pissy one of my own, we both would have been miserable as the night wore on. Instead, I'm proud to say, I just smiled and "made nice." By the time she paid her tab (in fact she pad ALL of their tabs!), she had spent quite a bundle, and left a sizable tip.

Sure, the wine probably lubricated her demeanor to some extent, but still, I'd like to think that the way I handled the situation struck a chord with this woman. If this were a film, set in my imaginary universe, we would now watch a scene from the next morning. As the Guest Of The Year enjoys Cafe Americano and warm scones on her veranda, she would gaze out across her vast, manicured lawn and contemplate the previous day, replaying our exchange in her mind. "What a delightful man," she would certainly think. "Even though I acted boorish and brutish, he was kind and charming the whole night through. I've learned my lesson - I'm never going to be rude to the help EVER AGAIN!"

I imagine she would then turn right around and yell, "Consuela! El coffee-o est cold-o! More caliente, dammit!!!"

See? Even in my fantasy world I can't change people. I guess you just gotta' live and let live.

Monday, January 12, 2009

No More Mr. Nice Guy

In case anyone is reading this that does not know me in "the real world," let me share a little something about myself: I am a friendly, congenial fellow, and I like to get along with just about anyone who isn't racist, prejudiced, or otherwise small-minded.

I have also been out-blogged, so far this year, by two brilliant mothers, an uber-talented bassist, and a ceramic owl. But, I digress...

In general, I think most people who know me would say that I am likable, if not downright nice. I feel confident in saying this because I have made a serious, conscious effort to be this way. There was a time in my life when this was not so easy for me but, I am happy to say, I am now predisposed toward the positive.

Lately, however, I've become acutely aware of just what an unforgiving bastard I can still be, once in a while. So far, this year has presented me with ample opportunities to look into this facet of my personality and, I have to say, I'm not proud.

Let's start with that fateful Saturday night. I was working behind the bar at the wine shop where my lovely wife waits tables. I get to go in whenever they need an extra body, and it's always a fun time. It's a bit of work, but the people are great and we laugh & sip good wine all night long. (Now that I think about it, that's hardly "work" at all.)

On this particular night, we had a huge party in the tasting room (our version of a party room, for seating larger parties comfortably). These were not the folks one typically finds at an upscale wine bistro. No, these folks seemed more likely to be found, on any given night, at a boot-scootin' country bar, or even a friendly neighborhood beer-'n-shot watering hole. One guy, for example, was seriously miffed because my wife (their server) couldn't bring him a plastic or Styrofoam cup that he could use as a spittoon. (We have neither plastic nor Styrofoam in the restaurant.) Karen managed to find him an empty 7-Up bottle, which he filled about half way during the course of the evening, and was kind enough to leave behind for her to dispose of. (No, I'm not kidding.)

This party also presented my wife with several additional challenges. First of all, there were so many people that we didn't have enough chairs to accommodate them, even after pulling empties from all over the restaurant. The room was packed elbow to elbow, with everyone milling around. Even Karen, an excellent, experienced server, had a difficult time keeping up with who ordered what, and how to serve the food.

Worst of all, many of the people in this party were just downright rude. By the end of the night, my beautiful wife was almost in tears.

I...was LIVID.

Several times throughout the night, when Karen would walk out of that room obviously shaken, I almost went back to the room and asked people to leave. What's that you ask? Am I allowed to do this? Nope - it would have cost me my cushy, enjoyable side-job, and possibly gotten me banned from the wine shop altogether. I didn't care. I wanted every person in that room to leave, and preferably meet a fiery death on the way home as a result of their own drunken driving. I'm not exaggerating - I was literally hoping for physical harm to befall these people. Especially the rude ones.

As fate would have it, after this particularly difficult Saturday evening, Karen and I also came home to - drum roll please - her parents. Yes, my in-laws were in town. Her mother had been here since Thursday and her dad came in that night while we were at work. Now, when Karen's mother is in town, Karen is literally baby-sitting her the entire time, and it's very stressful. Her mother is deaf which, in and of itself, is not the problem. Deaf culture however, is a subject for another post (or two or three) and, while Karen smiles through it all, these visits are never relaxing. Coming home to any guests, to be sure, is less than ideal after a tough night like Karen had, when she really just needed to walk in, plop down, and unwind.

When I first started dating Karen, and for many years into our marriage, I got along with everyone in her family. Now - not so much. I won't air our dirty laundry in public, and there is no possible way for me to abbreviate the history that has led to the tension between us, but...things have happened. Despite my efforts to "be nice," I just can't seem to forgive these things and put it all behind me. Even knowing how much it bothers Karen (for whom I'd do anything), I cannot muster the will to make that happen.

So, I'm left wondering: How many other people have made such a determined effort to become a better person? I would hope that most people don't have to. I know that, for my friends, the best things about them do not seem manufactured or forced. They're great people, and they make me want to be a better person. Still, as hard as I've "worked on myself," I can't seem to get past this...spiteful, vindictive inability to forgive. Why?

I've finally figured it out: I can forgive anyone who wrongs me. I cannot, however, forgive those who wrong the people I love.

Hey...maybe I'm not so ashamed by that, after all.