Disrespectful Kids—Body Language

Nonverbal communication experts say that body language includes facial expressions, tone of voice, and noises made by mouth (sighing, grunting, etc.) Nonverbal messages substitute  for words that people are afraid to use because of the consequences.  Even though body language is as potent as spoken language, we allow people to offend us with it when we would not let them do it with actual words. The same thing applies sarcasm that’s used instead of a direct attack.

Most of us would punish a child who looked at us and said, “Fuck you.” But when the child rolls his or her eyeballs, sighs, and turns away, we might let it pass.  Let’s face it. The child’s body language is saying, “Fuck you.”  If we won’t tolerate spoken disrespect, we shouldn’t allow kids to use body language to get the message across.

Not many mothers would put up with comments like, “Your cooking sucks, Mom. I eat this stuff because I have to.” But we let the child make comments like, “Ugh, what is this, anyhow?” The message is the same.

Body language should be treated like spoken language. True, the child (or adult) is likely to deny any bad intent. But we both know the truth. And since we are the grown-ups, we should act on the truth we know, not the truth the child (or adult) is trying to disguise.

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Dream Travel—Rollerskates, Elevators and Other Transportation

When I used to dream of flying, I could lift myself slowly off the ground by sheer will, to the amazement of spectators below.  It was risky, though. Staying aloft depended on my confidence.  At the slightest trace of anxiety, I lost altitude. Another danger was telephone lines.  Flying into them meant instant death.

Then I dreamed mostly about trains, buses, motorcycles, and bikes. Trains and buses were a headache because I didn’t know where to get on or when to get off, or I didn’t have the right fare. Fortunately, I also had a trusty motorcycle—an ancient vehicle given to me by my grandfather (who died sixty years ago). It never ran out of gas, no matter how many years I had it. However, the headlights often dimmed and went out on dark country roads.

My bicycles got stolen. I’d forget to lock the bike before going into a store and then would find it gone when I returned.  Each time I’d think, “When will I ever learn? I can’t afford to keep buying new bikes.” But I’d buy a new one in preparation for the next dream and it would happen all over again.

Rollerskates are a newer, more exciting mode of transportation in my dreams. I skate with speed and skill in public places, something I could never do in real life.  I sail down streets and sidewalks, through malls, and down the corridors of large buildings such as libraries. It pleases me to pass pedestrians at three times their speed.

If I’m skating in a building such as a hospital where conventional behavior is expected, I worry about being stopped and asked to remove my skates. Most often this turns out to be the Mayo Clinic, where I was once employed.

In real life, I wore skates to work on a dare many years ago. I was manager of a department of writers at Abbott Laboratories. Company employees were horrified and titillated to see me rolling down the halls, files in hand. You’d think I was naked. Tattlers  sent reports up the chain of command to the CEO, and within four hours a decree came back down to my boss.  He came into my office laughing and said, “Sorry, Barb, you’ll have to take off your skates.”

Elevators are a recent addition to my dreams.  Usually I’m in a hurry to reach a certain office on an upper floor where I have an appointment to interview a doctor. I’m late and have trouble finding an elevator. When I do, I discover that it travels only to the fourth floor, or to floors six through ten. Sometimes a crowded elevator arrives and I have trouble squeezing in. As the doors start shutting, I thrust my arms in to force them open. Frightened occupants yell at me to get away, but I don’t.  I somehow get in.

Occasionally an elevator goes to an upper floor and then starts traveling sideways.  I have no idea where I’m headed.  I think, “Oh, well, I’ll just have to relax and see what happens.”

Maybe that’s the lesson in the dream.

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Inertia–Getting Stuck

Why is it so hard to stop doing one thing and start another?  Even when I dislike the thing I’m doing? My inertia baffles me.

I sometimes lie in bed in the morning reliving dreams of the night before. It’s a miserable way to spend time, but I’m hooked on the drama.  I know that getting up and making coffee will dispel the gloom and lift my mood. But do I do it?  No. I stay in bed another half hour, hypnotized by my thoughts.  .

Or a feeling of angst closes in when the sun goes down. I may have been happy as a clam all day—busy and productive. Then going from daylight to nightfall leaves me uneasy. I could catch the last light of day and take my dog out for a run—an activity that gives us both pleasure. But do I? No. I poke around aimlessly. It’s easier.

Inertia shadows me.  I don’t want to move out of the space I’m in just because that’s where I am and it’s easier to stay than to move

It’s crazy.  Someone please explain it to me.

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The Cockroach That Ran off with a Stick of Spaghetti

A friend recently told me that her aunt saw a cockroach run off with a stick of dry spaghetti.  I asked whether the aunt was in the habit of telling tall tales. My friend said no.

Now I wonder whether cockroaches can really do this. If I knew the aunt was a fibber, I would shrug it off.   But since I’m not sure, I have to go around wondering if a cockroach can really run around with a stick of spaghetti in its mouth.

The other day, I heard an acquaintance telling friends about her experience rescuing a baby squirrel from her yard.  After getting the advice of a wildlife center, she fed it from a dropper. She kept the squirrel for quite awhile, she said.

I asked, “But you couldn’t release it into the wild again, right?” No, she said, she got the wildlife center to take it.  However, while she had the squirrel, she discovered that it liked being stroked under one front leg—it’s “sweet spot”, she called it.  The other squirrels hanging around her house saw this. Since they were pretty tame, she tried it on them.  What do you know? They liked it, too.  So much that they stood in line waiting their turn for their “sweet spot” to be stroked.

Afterward, I thought, “Hold on here!” I enjoy true stories about animals’ unusual abilities.  But squirrels standing in line? I’ve had a lot of contact with squirrels over the years, and I can’t imagine them standing in line for anything. Squirrels push, shove and bully each other.

Why am I so irritated by this whopper?  After all, the woman didn’t con me out of money or do any real damage.  I guess I’m still smarting from being such a sucker.

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The Joy of Anger

I like to be right.  When I’m in a conflict with someone, I like to feel I’ve got the truth on my side and the other person is wrong.  What’s more, I want the other person to realize it. I’d like to lose my temper and have my adversary get all contrite and apologize.

Anger is satisfying.  It’s like drinking. Getting hammered is fun. Too bad the hangovers are hell.

I just went on a camping trip with my dog Trudy in my new RV.   Arriving at the campsite, I found that the refrigerator wouldn’t cool down.  After five hours the interior temperature hadn’t dropped one degree.  Since my food would surely go bad, I decided to turn around and come home.  I was furious because a couple of weeks earlier, I’d gone out for a test run and had a hunch something was wrong with the refrigerator.  So I took the RV to the dealer for repair.  When I picked it up, they said they’d found the problem, fixed it, and the refrigerator was now cooling perfectly.

So there I am, sitting at my campsite drinking warm seltzer water and poking at a limp salad.  It’s ninety degrees and I am mad.  I pull out my cell phone to call the dealer. I think about the sarcastic things I can say, withering him in his cushy chair.  Am I thinking about the best strategy to get his help fixing the refrigerator? I am not. I am thinking about nuking him.

Fortunately, cell phone reception is bad at the campground.  I can only stew in solitude.  Cooling down, I realize that my search-and-destroy approach isn’t likely to encourage the dealer’s cooperation.  And when my tantrum has passed, I’ll still have a broken refrigerator.

I haven’t called him yet.  I’m waiting for my serenity to kick in.

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Timex or Rolex?

Timex, hands down. Please understand, I don’t have a grudge against Rolex watches because I can’t afford one–although, at an average price of $8000, it would pinch a little.  I like the way the Timex looks–modest, practical, tasteful.  It doesn’t shout, “Look at me! I’M RICH!”  Also, a  Timex watch is not a fussy gadget. It’s a workhorse.

Lighted dial

Timex watches have lighted dials. Rolex watches do not.  Eight grand and no lighted dial?  Come on. True, some have “luminescent” dials, but Rolex wearers say that the glow lasts a couple of hours at best.  The Rolex owner who wakes in the dark wanting to know the time has to grope for a bedside lamp.  Timex wearers just push the Indiglo button.  Voila. The dial lights up clear as day.

Keeps on ticking…

Timex watches run for years on a single battery.  Rolex watches, the manufacturer boasts, are self-winding.  But only if you wear them regularly.  If leave your watch on the dresser for more than 48 hours, it’s likely to go dead.  What’s more, the manufacturer warns, “The lubricants in the mechanism may harden, causing friction within the movement. Eventually, the friction may damage the movement.”

For an $8000 miracle of technology, this watch sounds pretty touchy.

Mugger appeal

No one’s going to mug you for a lousy Timex. On the other hand, the Rolex is a mugger magnet.  Using the good sense that made them rich, Rolex owners often leave their watches in a sock drawer when they go to Detroit on business or take the family on vacation to  Mexico City. While they’re gone, the Rolex sits in the dark drawer grumbling about neglect, stiffening of lubricants, etc., and plotting revenge.  Who needs that?

Water resistance

The Timex is water resistant to a depth of 99 feet.  Rolex watches are good to 330 feet.  Yay for Rolex.  Personally, I can’t think of an occasion in this life when I or anybody I know would be submerging a watch under more than a couple of feet of water.

The manufacturer says, “This waterproofing means that not only can you take a shower while wearing your watch, but you can also swim with it. Deep water diving, however, should be avoided while wearing most Rolex watches. For such demanding aquatic situations, Rolex has created the Submariner and the Sea-Dweller models.”

Say again?  Didn’t I just read that the Rolex is waterproof to 330 feet?  What exactly qualifies as “deep water diving”?

The manufacturer goes on: “If you own or choose to purchase a non-diver Rolex watch, treat it as no more than moderately water resistant due to the age and custom craftsmanship involved in its production. To be safe, we suggest the watch not be worn while swimming or even showering, although a slight amount of water contact–such as may occur while washing your hands.” (Italics mine.)

Excuse me while I roll on the floor laughing.

Cleaning the watch

My Timex must take life as it comes. Not a Rolex.  The manufacturer writes, “Like any other work of intricate artistry and technology, a Rolex requires occasional cleaning and upkeep. There are many places on the watch where dirt, body oils, and other greasy particles accumulate–such as between the links on the bracelet, the area joining the case and the bezel, and around the Cyclops lens. With repeated use and the gathering of dirt particles, your watch will require a thorough cleaning as described here.”

Hoo boy.  I’ll spare you the detailed instructions.  Let me just say that I once had an MG TD that required less maintenance.  And it was a hell of a lot more fun.


In case you have nothing better to do with your evenings, the Rolex people suggest polishing and cleaning the wristband of the watch. “The bracelet of your Rolex needs special care, as it is prone to scratches. This is especially true of the Oyster bracelet which features polished center links.”

In other words, the surface of this fussy gadget goes to hell easily.

Are you ready for this?  “Make sure you use the cloth only on the polished surface of your bracelet. If you use it on the non-polished surface, it will damage the brushed finish. One way to avoid polishing the brushed surfaces is to use a Q-Tip, wrapping the polishing cloth around its head and carefully restricting the buffing movement to the targeted areas. Avoid using circular or cross strokes while polishing. Instead, try to follow the flow of the metal. In other words, go with the grain of the surface (not against the grain). “

Pass me the Q-Tip, please. I need to clean my ears.  What did they say this wristband was made of?  Pewter?

There’s more.  “Finally, avoid polishing surfaces that have no scratches. You will end up removing a fine layer of metal from the surface by way of polishing because the surface has not suffered any indentation in the form of a scratch. In these areas, less is more.”

Except that you’ll need a jeweler’s loupe and a microscope.

Violins, please...

The manufacturer ends on this inspiring note:  “By treating your Rolex with the respect and care that such a great treasure deserves, you will continue to enjoy a machine that looks and functions as a brand new watch for decades to come.”

Or, you could just buy a twenty-five dollar Timex, never wind or clean it, and get a new battery every two or three years. If the watch falls down a manhole or is stolen from a washroom, no tragedy.  Buy another.

The next time someone brags about his Rolex, ask to see the lighted dial.

Granny Buys an RV

A few years ago when I was in my mid-seventies, I bought an RV—a 32-foot Class C Dodge that had been driven all over the U.S. by missionaries for 35 years.  After having the vehicle repaired and restored to good working condition, I planned to camp in Florida state parks with my dog.  For my maiden trip, I went to Manatee Springs State Park, an hour from home.

Arriving at the ranger station, I pull up to a stop sign and walk across the road to sign in. That done, I return to the vehicle to drive to my campsite. But there’s a problem. The passenger door scrapes against the stop sign as I try to move forward, making the screeching sound of metal on metal. Putting the engine in reverse, I attempt to back up.  Unfortunately, the vehicle has engaged itself with the stop sign and will not move.  I can’t proceed in either direction.

Figuring that the ranger may fare better, I call her over.  She slips behind the wheel and puts the RV in first.  Then she tries reverse. Same result.  The RV and stop sign have merged to become one.

The ranger says we’ll have to dismantle the sign.  Getting tools from the office, she starts removing screws. I’m doing my best to be witty and apologetic.  When the sign is in pieces on the ground and the RV is set free, I thank her profusely.  I drive to my assigned campsite.

As I’m backing in, the gravel entry looks clear in the rear view mirrors.  However, before the RV moves very far, I feel resistance.  How can this be? There’s nothing back there! I push on the accelerator a little more.  Now I’m sure there’s resistance.

Getting out to investigate, I see that I’ve backed into the electrical outlet, uprooting it from the ground.  Red and black wires dangle from the box. How mortifying.  I return to the ranger station where the ranger is still putting the stop sign back together.  When I tell her what happened, she laughs patiently an says, “Don’t worry. Happens all the time. Just pick out another site.”  I can feel myself blushing.

At the new site, I back in with my eyes glued on the electrical outlet in the rear view mirror.  I feel resistance again.  Impossible. I’ve got the goddam electrical box right in my line of sight.  So I put more pressure on the accelerator. The RV still doesn’t want to move.  Time to get out once more. This time I’ve uprooted the faucet, which is poking out of the ground and spraying water everywhere.

There are no words for what I’m feeling.  I’d like to sink into the earth and keep going until I reach China. But I know I must return to the ranger and confess.  What the hell will I say?  I decide that I’ll offer a substantial donation to Manatee Springs State Park—say, one hundred dollars.

This time the ranger’s not smiling anymore.  Luckily, when I reach the part of my story that includes the donation, her sense of humor returns.  She sends me off to a third campsite.

Now I am top of things! My eyes are trained on both the electric outlet and the water faucet in the rear view mirrors. Yay! I’ve cleared them. Life is good again.  I keep backing up until the front end of the RV is well out of the road.

Then…you guessed it.  Resistance.  Now I am getting angry. This is ridiculous.  Absolutely nothing can be back there this time.  Reason has left me.  I’m a bulldog.

Suddenly I realize that I forgot about the picnic able.  I have pushed a massive hardwood table about five feet deeper into the campsite.  I’ve dented the back of the RV.

This time I don’t tell anyone.

*   *   *

NEWS FLASH–Louis Pasteur Busts Fruit Flies

Fruit flies appear from nowhere.  You leave a ripe peach on the kitchen counter for more than a day—Voila!  You’ve got fruit flies.  You’ve no idea how they found you.

No wonder people use to believe in “spontaneous generation”—the theory that insects and other small living things can arise from dead matter without going through a cycle of birth, reproduction and death. Fruit flies (Drosophila) were thought to come from rotting meat. In 1859, Louis Pasteur, a French scientist, debunked this theory.  His laboratory experiments proved that fruit flies mated and had tiny offspring just like other living things.

Fruit flies spend their whole lives on decaying fruits and vegetables. Mama Drosophila lays her eggs on a piece of fruit, they hatch there, and her offspring eat their bedding. Nature gave them the perfect mouth for extracting moisture from fruit flesh.  Because their eyesight is excellent, they can see danger approaching. Even a shadow cast across the kitchen counter spooks them. Off they fly, zigzagging out of reach.

Wikipedia calls fruit flies “major pests in the world.”  The only way to escape them is to move to Antarctica.

Fruit flies aren’t completely useless. They help genetic researchers study inherited diseases. Over half of the diseases afflicting humans have a match in the genetic code of fruit flies.  Laboratory scientists always have a fresh supply on hand because Drosophila live only a few days and produce about a gazillion eggs.

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Droid Addiction

At an upscale restaurant with two women friends the other night, I watched one play with her android nonstop during dinner.  She showed us over 100 photos taken with several cameras on the device.  She pulled up Google Earth and other apps and played with them.  The conversation was never allowed to stray far from her ‘droid.

This woman is in her mid-forties; the other friend and I are 87 and 79, respectively.  The 87-year-old is sharp as a tack but knows nothing about electronic devices.  While I know my way around computers, I’m a tyro compared to the ‘droid addict.  Since all social interaction was dominated by her, my older friend and I could only listen and look at the photos.  I could excuse this rudeness if my younger friend were showing off a new toy that she was enchanted with. But she’s had it over a year.

Doesn’t it ever occur to ‘droid junkies that they’re being rude?  With their fingers dancing over their devices and their eyes focused on the images, they’re only half present at best.  They don’t make eye contact. Where in God’s name are they?  Would taking their ‘droids away leave them feeling helpless and naked?

In the 1990s, I was addicted to internet chat rooms.  Sometimes I sat at my computer 16 hours at a stretch, getting up only for bathroom breaks or food.  When my computer crashed one weekend, I was desolated.  Only then did it occur to me that I’d become a chat room junkie. Fortunately, around that time the rooms began to degenerate and I lost my taste for them.

Droid addicts seem to be under a spell, cut off from their physical environment and human intimacy.  After a few hours in their company, I feel unworthy and boring.  Soon I’ll have the nerve to say, “It’s me or the ‘droid.  Take your pick.”

Parallel Universe of George Booth

This dog has been a regular on New Yorker pages for over forty years. Looking aggrieved, the dog often sits in a room with wrinkled carpets, rickety furniture, and a crochety old couple.  A naked light bulb dangles from the ceiling.

The dog belongs to George Booth, a cartoonist in his eighties who still sits at his drawing board daily and laughs out loud at his own work. His favorite themes are cats and dogs, yard sales, goofy rural couples, and incompetent car mechanics working in dog-infested garages.

Booth grew up in rural Missouri with his schoolteacher parents. His mother was also an accomplished artist and musician. After high school, Booth attended several art schools but never stayed long enough to graduate.  Drafted by the Marines during the Korean war, George was oblivious to military discipline and often in trouble. A bunkmate recalled an inspection in which recruits’ clothes were to be folded neatly and stacked on their beds.  Booth dumped his in a pile and waited.  When the inspecting officer asked, “Where’s your clothing layout?” George replied, “That’s it, sir.’  The office struggled to keep from laughing and simply said to his aide, “Put him on report.”

Before selling his first cartoons, Booth worked for a shopping catalog as an illustrator of men’s clothing, drawing long underwear. Booth recalled, “I got bored and started drawing the latest long underpants for dogs.” It almost got him fired.

Since 2008, Booth has collaborated with several children’s authors to publish books for elementary school kids.  Starlight Goes to Town is about a chicken with dreams. On the cover is a chicken trying to drive a convertible, and the first drawing shows her standing on a fencepost in red high heels.

School! Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School describes a week in the life of Ron Faster, a boy who catches a schoolbus each morning driven by Mr. Ivan Stuckinaditch. In his silly school, the music teacher is Mrs. Doremi Fasollatido, and the custodians are Janitor Iquit and Janitor Quitoo.

Booth once told a reporter, “To be a cartoonist, you have to be a little bit crazy.”