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Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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it's possible to be polite, and still be rude
january 1, 2011
Q: So was there anything interesting that happened to you in the past month you want to turn into a Lately? You've written a lot of Latelys about repairmen coming out. Or should it be repairpersons?
RRM: They're always male. I'm sure women know how to reshingle a roof, fix the air-conditioning, get the clothes dryer to blow hot air instead of just air, or repair a garage door that no longer rolls up, but we've never seen them. It is kind of interesting to me, interacting with repairmen. The thing is, you can tell almost immediately if the repair guy is someone who knows what they're doing, or just a hack. It's sort of like a blind date. Mary and I sit at our breakfast nook table while the repair is being done, so we're not breathing over their shoulder, but they know where we are in the house. Mary usually flips through food magazines, while I do Sudoku puzzles in Star magazine. There's always that point when they walk back in, in their uniform with their sewn-in name tag, or street clothes, and tell you whether or not they can fix the problem, and the other moment when they tell you how much it'll cost.
Q: That sounds kind of tense.
RRM: It usually is, especially if you wind up with someone who doesn't seem that competent, or honest. But most of them are honest. We actually have a list we've compiled over the twenty years we've been living here of repairmen who are smart and honest. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, the lot. But along with that interaction, there's also the fact that if you talk to one of the repairmen for a minute or so, they'll open up about what's going in in their lives, to a degree people in most other professions don't. Maybe because they're in your home. I don't know. Most are divorced. And kind of bitter about their exes. I find that really interesting. That so many of them would be estranged from their spouses, and have a real grudge. I've used some of their complaints in my stories.
Q: Even though you're a writer, you don't talk much about your writings in your Latelys.
RRM: You know, I don't. I have, but rarely. I don't know why. I guess part of it is because I'd be talking primarily about stories I'm currently writing, that are not yet published, and I just feel that wouldn't be that interesting to a visitor to SENTENCE. If they can't read the story I'm talking about, because it's still being formed, how interesting is it to hear bits and pieces about that story, without any context?
Q: But something happened this month?
RRM: Yeah. Which I think is kind of interesting. I hope it's interesting.
Q: So what happened?
RRM: Let me set up the situation first. When Mary and I go out these days, it's almost always to either buy groceries or go to one of her doctors. We try to arrange it so we only go out twice a month. For example, last month we had to go into Dallas so Mary could have her latest blood stick reading. The blood stick is a simple blood sampling Mary has to do once a month to measure the current level of Coumadin in her blood. The ideal reading is between 2.0 and 3.0. Anything lower than that means her blood can form clots too easily (blood clots are a leading cause of strokes and heart attacks.) Anything higher than that means her blood is too thin, to where she would bleed too easily if she gets a cut. She regulates her Coumadin level by taking a drug called Coumadin (a variation is sold under the name Warfarin.) Coumadin/Warfarin is the same drug they use in rat poison (in a high enough dose to where the rat literally explodes as its blood thins too quickly.) And I do mean literally, because I've seen exploded rats in our attic who have eaten rat bait laced with Warfarin. They even put an agent in the rat poison that creates a great thirst in the rat, so the rat, after ingesting the Warfarin-laced food, scurries out of the attic, tapping down the red bricks of the house's façade into the backyard, in search of water. It explodes outside, under a crepe myrtle, rather than in your home. It's a wonderful world.
Q: What does Warfarin-laced rat food look like?
RRM: It's actually really pretty. Turquoise crystals, like you find in some aquarium kits, to strew across the bottom of the aquarium as a substitute for sand, to give the aquarium a more exotic, tropical look. It looks like what rats with colorful short-sleeved shirts emblazoned with lime green palm fronds would eat in Hawaii. If I were a rat in an attic, I'd probably eat it.
When we have a doctor or dentist appointment, we try to schedule it on a Wednesday. The day before, Tuesday, we do all our food shopping for the next two to three weeks, which takes all day at the local markets (we're very fussy about our food. One market has great produce but lousy meat; another has great meat but lousy seafood, etc.) That night we pack all our perishable food willy-nilly into our three refrigerators, just to keep it cold, and leave all the dozens of plastic bags of non-perishable items, like canned and boxed goods, on every surface in our kitchen, including countertops and the floor. The next day, after we come home from the doctor appointment in the city, we put all the food away, including vacuum-sealing and freezing the meats (which takes several hours, listening to classical music on WRR.)
It's exhausting, but it means we're then able to stay in our home, just us, for the next two to three weeks, living in pajamas like Hugh Hefner. It's cool. It's like it's the end of the world, and we have plenty of provisions.
Q: Just out of curiosity, why do you try to arrange all doctor appointments on a Wednesday?
RRM: We used to schedule the appointments on Thursdays, because then the weekend would be almost there, but the fact is we have to change out all our kitty litter pans on Thursday (garbage pick-up is on Friday), and that's a chore that's tiring to do after putting away all the groceries.
Q: So something happened when you went into the city for Mary's blood stick?
RRM: Yeah. We drove in as usual, leaving at 10:00 for an 11:00 appointment (the blood stick test itself only takes, literally, five minutes.)
Q: What do you think about as you're driving into Dallas?
RRM: Whatever has caught my attention. Sometimes, story ideas. This particular drive, I thought about a possible Lately that would discuss obvious falsehoods in movies and TV shows. For example, almost every time you see someone in a movie or TV show looking through a pair of binoculars, when you see what they're looking at, its twin circles side-by-side joined in the middle, surrounded by black, like a fat figure eight on its side. But that's a falsehood. What you actually see when you look through a pair of binoculars is a single circle surrounded by black. That sort of flaw, which is passively accepted by moviegoers, interests me.
Q: Anything else?
RRM: There's been a recent brouhaha about how airport screeners are now performing an even more intimate frisking of passengers, as if we haven't had enough of our civil freedoms already violated. Instead of the sides of their hands, screeners now feel your body with the fronts of their hands, and also, apparently, to a more involved degree, include a much snoopier inspection between your legs.
Quite a few passengers, of course, have objected to this sort of federally-sanctioned molesting. (And I know that male screeners inspect male passengers, and female screeners inspect female passengers, but do child screeners inspect child passengers? I doubt it.)
It's a shame when a nation that arose from George Washington, Tom Paine and Martin Luther King has degenerated to where you have to allow strangers to feel your genitals. As a patriotic service, driving into Dallas, I tried to come up with a program that would allow passengers to feel a little bit better about such an invasive inspection. The idea I came up with was that to reduce resentment of themselves being violated, passengers should be able to use their hands to inspect screeners' genitals at the same time their own genitals were being inspected. As a bonus, I thought this change would also help America's image as being a country that was not "gay friendly." People visiting our great nation from overseas would see, disembarking from their airplanes, a "Summer of Love", a terminal full of males fondling other males' genitals, females fondling other females' genitals. What a positive statement that would be about America!
Q: Did you have any other thoughts?
RRM: Just my constant, naive wish that racism would completely go away, and we'd reach an ideal social state where all Americans behave like street gangs in Hollywood movies, where each gang consists equally of whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians who truly enjoy each other's company, and don't get into race-based arguments when it comes time to decide who gets to first rape the next woman walking home by herself, or who gets to initiate the pistol-whipping of some guy in a suit turning away from an ATM with a handful of twenties. That sort of racial camaraderie may be an unrealistic dream, but I guess that's why they call me a dreamer.
Q: So what happened when you arrived at the doctor's office?
RRM: Actually, Mary's cardiologist occupies space in one of those "professional buildings" that sprout up around hospitals, with their own parking garages. This one is seven stories high. If you used your fingers to split the professional building open like a wedding cake, hundreds of physicians would spill out, complaining about their stock portfolios.
Mary's cardiologist is on the top, seventh floor. So naturally, you have to take an elevator to get up there.
When Mary and I arrived from the parking garage, holding hands, to the bank of elevators (three on each side), there was an older couple already waiting in the lobby.
Q: "Older" meaning…
RRM: I'd say they were in their eighties.
The four of us waited for the ping of an arriving elevator. The ping sounded. An elevator closer to us than to the older couple opened.
Naturally, we deferred to them. Elevator etiquette. They had gotten there first, and they were older than us.
I swept my right hand out towards the open elevator doors. In other words, "after you."
The husband countered, looking at me and swinging his right hand towards the elevator.
Okay, they were being gracious. They were giving up their right to board first, to us.
When someone makes that "after you" gesture, I find it easier to simply go first, rather than get into a one-upmanship of "No, seriously, after you."
So I led Mary to the open elevator door, then started to enter myself.
The husband spoke up. "What are you doing? You can't go on next! My wife goes next! Ladies before gentlemen!"
Okay, so he wasn't going by the which couple first rule, he was going by the all the women first rule, then all the men. I had thought, since he looked at me as he made the sweeping right hand gesture, that he was indicating Mary and I should both, as a couple, board first.
I stepped back so his wife could board second. I then indicated to him that he board third, but once again, he made this sweeping invitation towards me, so I boarded third.
As the elevator started rising, this old, white-haired guy said, "People have to have good manners! Women always go first!"
Now, at this point, to be honest, I started thinking of him as an idiot. Both of us had meant to be polite, but had had a misunderstanding, in this situation, about what polite was. But for someone who was fixating so much on what polite behavior was, I did think it was impolite for him to continue the argument.
I smiled at him. In an admittedly joking fashion I said, "What was I thinking?"
Mary got the joke. I think his wife did too. She looked embarrassed. He just raised his chin. "Exactly!"
They got off the elevator at the fifth floor. He had had a little time to think about the exchange by then, and seemed a little sheepish. Told me, "Have a great day."
I patted him on his back.
He wasn't a bad guy. Probably pretty much a nice guy. Just tense when he's out in public. Like all of us.
But I found the incident interesting, something I can probably use in a story. It's possible to be polite, and still be rude.
Q: What's your Video Lately about this month?
RRM: After a year of editing the footage we shot of Mary's dad telling the stories of his life, I've finally finished. The completed documentary is 80 minutes long. We had to drastically reduce its running time for technical reasons - what would fit on two DVD discs. Mary's sister Ellen and her aunt Carolyn each received the full movie in a DVD package. Because creating the DVD packages is so time-consuming, everyone else can access the movie through YouTube, in six segments.
The link to the first segment is below. To view the entire movie, go here.