If it's a story about me, then I'll say so up front.

This is a blog about Truth, Justice and the American Way. The stories are true. No names have been changed to protect anyone's identity, including my own. If the story is about me, then I'll say so right up front. If I don't use a name to identify whom the story is about, then it's because it's not relevant. So please do not call me or e-mail me with your kind condolences or unwarranted congratulations about something that you believe is a cleverly disguised bio from my alter ego. These stories, like my photo, are unretouched.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dreading the Mailbox

The mailbox is a foreboding place these days. Like a 4:00 a.m. phone call, you know it’s not going to be good news. There was a time when I might look forward to a letter from a distant friend. Now friends just email me the latest YouTube link. Is it just me, or are you beginning to wonder if Susan Boyle knows a song other than “I Dream a Dream?”

Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes could be informing me that “I may already be a winner!” But I doubt it. Ed McMahon died and my hopes of an oversized check with my name on it died with him.

Nonetheless, I reluctantly trudged out to the mailbox this morning and here’s what I found:
3 magazines (I actually subscribe to one of them)
3 catalogs
2 ads
1 Christmas Card (from my insurance agent)
15 pleas for donations from nonprofits

‘Tis the season.

So I go through the stack. I pull out the “mailing labels enclosed” because I can always use more return address labels. OK, actually I can’t use more. I already have so many that I don’t know what to do with them. But I feel guilty throwing them out. Of course, that’s exactly what the nonprofit is hoping. That I’ll feel guilty about their having made up these lovely personalized labels.

The thing is: Lots of times they don’t get the name correct. Kay Lorraine. Sometimes they decide that my name must really be Lorraine Kay. Like I wouldn’t know my own name just because I’m blonde. And how do they know that I’m blonde? Worrisome.

Furthermore, my husband’s name is Brad Bate. Mostly, I don’t use his name. I use my husband a lot but his name, not so much. So I get Lorraine Bate, Kay Bate, Mrs. Kay Bate, Mr. Kay Bate, and – my own personal favorite – Mr. Brad Lorraine.

Anyway, I have too many labels. But my packrat mind keeps them all – just in case! Even the Christmas labels which, as a practicing Jew, are probably inappropriate for me, but the gas company doesn’t know that I’m Jewish so I use them to pay bills. I think of it as “Festive.” The Christmas Cards with the snow scenes are another story. As a Jew in Hawai‘i, they just don’t say “Happy Holidays” for me. But I keep the envelopes to pay bills with.

The only labels I don’t feel bad about tossing are the Jerry Lewis MD labels. Not because of Jerry or his kids. I give money every year to Jerry. But those are hands-down the most ugly labels known to man. Year after year, they never get any better. Horsy bold typeface set too close together. Yuk! Doesn’t the MD marketing department have an art director? Or someone with some esthetic sensitivity that can look at those suckers and say, “Guys, this is just crap.” It costs the same amount of money to print a nice serif typeface with decent kerning and leading as it does to print crap. Hello! So I throw those directly into the trash with no remorse.

But then there are the groups who send you a nickel. Do you peel off the nickels? Me, too. I just do it so that the metal doesn’t screw up the shreader at the city dump. That’s the only reason – I’m not really greedy; It’s an ecology thing. Sure.

At least it’s not as bad as the Indian Reservation that sends me blankets made from toilet paper byproducts.

Who knows better than I do how desperate nonprofits are these days? Each time I pass the empty building where the Hawai‘i Women’s Business Center stood, a pain shoots through my heart. They closed the doors over a year ago. I was the Executive Director. My husband says, “You have to move on.” Of course, he’s right.

In this economy, nobody has any money. So the nonprofits are glutting the mail. Can this possibly be profitable? I now own eleven free calendars for next year, filled with lovely pictures of polar bears and homeless children and whales-worth-saving. If those nonprofits took all of the money they spend on mailing labels, calendars, Christmas cards, Tibetan peace flags, and Indian blankets and did good instead, wouldn’t we all be better off? Or does no one give money to any charity anymore unless they get something or are guilted into it? Maybe that’s what we did wrong at the Business Center. Too much free counseling – not enough mailing labels. Sure.

Everyone is scrambling for every nickel these days. Not me, of course. I’m just trying to do my part to save the shreader.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Washing the Tin Foil

I’m in London, washing tin foil. That statement doesn’t make any more sense to me than it does to you, but it’s true, nonetheless.

I’m on an extended holiday in England where I am visiting friends. The advantage to staying with locals is not only the excellent room rates (free!) but also the opportunity to learn local customs — such as the ritual washing of the tin foil. You just can’t get these kinds of experiences at the Marriott.

You see, England is deeply into recycling. But there’s no consistency from one region to another. So as I have traveled around (or travelled, as they spell it over here), I’ve had to learn the recycling rules of each new neighborhood. The rules range from rational to idiotic.

In the particular borough of Surrey where I first stayed, it was pretty much only a minor bit of sorting. Paper from metal, etc. Perfectly reasonable. When I moved on to visit friends in Suffolk, it got slightly more complicated. We were up to three wheeled bins, a green box and a compost. Paper, for instance, went into the blue bin unless you had wiped your mouth with it, which contaminated it with food product (gee, one lousy spaghetti stain) and, thus, got put into the black or grey bin. I can’t tell you how many times I got in trouble on that one.

The hands-down winner for nuttiest system I encountered, however, was Newcastle-under-Lyme with a grand total of nine (9) different colored boxes, wheelie bins, colored plastic bags, and kitchen slopbuckets (one for cooked and one for uncooked food waste).

Which is why I am washing the tin foil. Right now, I’m in London and although we only have to deal with a few various bins and boxes, there are some unique peculiarities. Used tin foil, for instance, must be folded flat and put in the green box (not the green wheelie bin – that’s something else). But it cannot have any food product on it. Ever tried to get tin foil clean after broiling dover sole on it? Trust me, it ain’t easy. First you have to soak it overnight. Then you scrub it with a toothbrush. All so that you can throw it in the trash.

Why am I doing this? Why, for the very same reason that I am watering the weeds. You see, the friend that I am staying with in London keeps her garden fairly wild. She has pots all over the place. Some of them have tomato plants or herbs. Others have been sitting around untouched for years and now sprout nothing but weeds; pots of weeds. But when you ask the lady of the house if she would like to have you clean them out, she is as shocked as if you had suggested that you throw away her furniture. So, when asked to water the garden, I dutifully water each and every potted weed with the same careful attention that I give to the flowers. Because it’s her house and her rules.

It’s a lot like the workplace. Sure, you are asked to do stupid, unnecessary work that would be much more efficient with a better system. But the boss sets the rules and your job is to follow them. No matter how obvious it is that your way would be infinitely better.

Company rules and regulations are all based in some sort of good intention. But like the nine different recycling bins, sometimes the system gets out of control. You can complain. You can cram the suggestion box with improved plans. But in the end, you have a responsibility to follow the regulations, no matter how insane they are. And at some point you find yourself washing tin foil with a toothbrush.

By the way, if you are being driven insane by the minutia, you just might be tempted to wipe the spaghetti off your mouth with a piece of toilet paper, then then flush it down the loo at the end of the meal. There’s probably some rule against that, too. Thankfully, it never occurred to anyone to tell me about it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Clean Up Your Own Mess!

Note: Is this a business story? You bet it is. Dog poop and business practices have more in common than any of us want to admit.

Let me tell you about my dog poop story. When I was a kid I had a Cocker Spaniel named Skippy. OK, actually I had three dogs in succession – all Cocker Spaniels, all named Skippy. Perhaps it was through my various “Skippys*” that I learned that husbands are much like dogs – if one runs away or is hit by a car you can always get another. Just keep giving them the same name and move on with your life. But I digress…..

I loved those dogs. My parents were trying to teach me responsibility (they were always trying to teach me something – the key word there was “trying”). Anyway, we had a fenced-in yard and we would let Skippy-du-jour out the back door to do his business. It was my job to pick up the poop in the yard because, supposedly, Skippy was my dog. Never mind the fact that my father chose the dogs and purposely picked a duck-hunting breed as my own personal pet-of-choice. Nonetheless, my dog – my responsibility.

One year I got a bit lax about the dog poop and I learned a valuable lesson that has served as a personal parable for life. Here’s what I learned:

If you, or in this case – your dog(s), make a boo-boo in the yard, it helps to clean it up right away. You can try to ignore it but chances are somebody will step in it and track it through the house and there will be BIG TROUBLE. Or if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) you will be able to continue to pretend it never happened and it will just lie there endlessly with the sun's rays pouring down, heating things up until the whole backyard smells to the high heaven. Keep ignoring it and eventually winter frost will come and the snow will cover it up. By then you will have conveniently forgotten that it ever existed in the first place. Happy, blissful snowy winter!

Alas, Spring inevitably arrives and with it, the thaw. The dog poop has, regrettably, not disappeared during the winter as you had hoped; it was just covered up. But now it reappears with the crocus and, guess what? You still have to clean it up. Only now it’s all soggy and mushy and it falls apart when you try to lift it. Now it’s twenty times harder to get rid of and more likely to leave behind residue. BTW, if you think that dog poop loses its odor by being frozen you are sadly mistaken. I am saying this from experience. You can Fabreze the crap out of it (little pun there!) but it will take a long time before the vague scent of eau du dogie leaves the air.

I have never forgotten the dog poop story of my youth. We all have messes that we have to clean up in life. Some of them are of our own making, some are accidents and some are messes that others made but become our responsibility to handle. No matter how the mess started or with whom, it’s always better to go right out and clean it up immediately. It may be an unpleasant task, but the longer it lies festering in the hot sun, the more unpleasant it will be to get rid of in the end.

Even when we are trying to do the right thing all of the time, it sometimes seems as though cleaning up our own messes is a full time job. How can someone with such good intentions unintentionally step on so many people’s toes? I am not perfect, but I try to do my best. My attitude is:

1. Recognize your mistakes and own up to them;

2. Clean up your own messes without being asked; and

3. Don’t go away mad. But do go away.

Are we having fun yet?

*Is the plural of Skippy, Skippys? Or Skippies? I struggled with this.