Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's a Mean, Mean, Mean, Mean World

I first noticed it in college. Overt rudeness, that is. Before that time, I was evidently lost in the syrupy oblivion of youth. But when I hit my college years, I was suddenly and rudely shaken awake by the perpetual foul moods greeting me at seemingly every turn.

I thought – hoped, actually – that it was isolated to the fine, stalwart university I attended. Boy, I couldn't have been more off-the-mark. Since recognizing blatant discourtesy running rampant at my alma mater, I have since discovered it everywhere. So when did this happen?  When did the world get mean? 

I tried an experiment. Each day while walking to class, I greeted ten people. Invariably, at least eight failed to respond. In any way. Most appeared utterly unaware of my presence. The rare subject who bothered to reciprocate would do so with a curt nod or a mumbled monosyllable. Then I started to worry. Was I real?  Had I died without realizing it and now haunted the route between my apartment and the Student Center?  Did Bruce Willis and I have far more in common than I suspected?

No. That was almost certainly not the case, though I wish sometimes it was. It would at least illuminate this inexplicable lack of cordiality.

Soon I tested my experiment elsewhere. The movie theater, a rock concert, grocery shopping. Same results. People simply did not wish to return simple salutations. It was easier to look away than it was to smile. The world has soured like a cup of cream in the sun.

I should recognize the small minority of friendly folks who prove the exception to the rule: the loud hailers, the high-fivers, the huggers, the goosers. I'd laud them for keeping me from losing all faith in humanity, but these overly-aggressive individuals are somehow worse, as if they felt invading another's personal space with as much fanfare as possible was their obligation.

Oh, we could start listing reasons we no longer seem capable of fellowship and good will. We could debate the whys and the hows. We could pontificate for hours on the subject, but why bother?  Reasons don't matter; solutions do.

Here, I'll start. I'd like to take this opportunity to extend a warm hello to everyone. If you see me on the street and don't wish to return my simple greeting, I'll not hold it against you. It is a sign of our times. Every man, woman, and child for him- or herself. Forgive me, though, if I long for the days when neighbors borrowed cups of sugar and chatted idly over fences. Human beings have turned a corner somewhere on this twisted road. We've grown up, grown jaded, and grown resentful. We live in bubbles and refuse to step outside their gossamer comforts.

It's time to lighten up, folks. I wish you no harm and I hope that sentiment is mutual. I know there are more of us today than ever before, but it's no reason to let slide our most fundamental manners. Let's make our parents proud. What do you say?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I saw the first robin of spring a few weeks ago. It touched down in the back yard, pecked twice at the soil wet with snowmelt, and took off again in search of terra firma. It was a happy occasion for me, even if Ms. Robin fluttered away empty-beaked.  

Why? Because the first robin signifies the end of winter. It is as much a symbol of spring as holly is for Christmas or Cupid is for love. A few tattered rags of snow still clung to the ground along the fence line where the sun daren't send its oblique rays, but Ms. Robin appeared undaunted. It picked my yard, of all the yards in town, to try for a meal. And even though it found the pickings slim, I still felt a wave of happiness at the sentiment.
I also felt happiness that spring had finally sprung. Because, let me tell you: it has been one cruel crone of a winter.

As a child, I loved snow. What wasn't to love? Snowballs, snow forts, snow angels. There was no worry about how to get from Point A to Point B when the roads were iced over; that was the concern of my parents. All I had to look forward to was no school over winter break, Christmas presents, and three solid months of sledding.

Of course, all that changes when you grow up. Now I am the one who must worry about frozen patches on highways and scraping windshields and shoveling driveways. And, of course, the bitter cold that Old Lady Winter flaunts like a white-frosted frock. It's no wonder many folks suffer from seasonal depression. Something to do with serotonin deficiency due to the remoteness of the sun in relation to the earth.

While I've never been officially diagnosed, I would make an educated guess that such a malady afflicts me to some degree. Winter just isn't the same now as it was twenty-five years ago. Instead of breathless exhilaration at a blizzard warning, I feel only a kind of thick, gelatinous angst . . . how I imagine Charlie Brown must feel each and every day. Instead of graduating from toboggans to snowmobiles, as seems the natural progression from childhood to manhood, I feel only a dull, devouring winter weariness.

The worst part of seasonal depression, though, is an exaggerated sense of cabin fever. That deep, numbing cesspool of the soul that comes from being closed up for weeks indoors, desperately hoping to keep subzero temps at bay. The holidays are an instant remedy to seasonal maladies, but they zoom by so quickly and often present more problems than they cure. They leave behind a nostalgic-steeped hangover before we are forced to face the wicked one-two punch of January and February, with a goodly stretch of March still squeezed in Old Lady Winter's gnarled fist.

But now I can breathe a little easier, thanks to Ms. Robin Redbreast and her brief foray in my back yard. Sorry the provisions here were lacking, ma'am. Wish I could have been more help to you, but I'll tell you what--you sure were a big help to me. Happy spring, little friend. And happy spring to all of you. 

It's about damned time, wouldn't you agree?