Thursday, April 25, 2013

The First Item on My 'Do Not Do' List

A few months back, a cousin from North Carolina visited San Francisco on business. Nick and I had dinner with him and his business associates at an upscale restaurant in the city's North Beach neighborhood.

That evening led me to start a "Do Not Do" list.

I ordered duck, which I love but don't often eat, from the menu. So did at least two others at the table. When my dish arrived, I gazed upon the entree with alarm. It was the color of eggplant, looking like it had been barely introduced to a flame. The others who had ordered this foul fowl dug in and seemed to be enjoying it. I showed it to Nick, who curled up his nose and suggested I send it back to the kitchen immediately.

I decided to be brave and plunge ahead. The duck was sliced into medallions. I ate one and a half medallions before I accepted the fact I was simply enduring my meal, not enjoying it. I sent the duck back for additional cooking. But the gastrointestinal damage had already been done. I'll spare you the details of the unpleasant aftermath, except to say that the dish should have been named Daffy's Revenge.

The next day, once I had sufficiently recovered, I decided I'd reached a point in life when it was time to be clear about what I would not be doing again, ever. "Eat rare duck" became my "Do Not Do" list's first item.

That incident occurred back in January. To my surprise, I've only added four items to the list since, and they're rather half-hearted items that I probably will do again, such as "Going out more than once during the workweek."

As it turns out, I feel old enough to not want to waste time and effort, but not old enough to shut the door forever on a list of things. For example, I was tempted to add "Eat anything rare that is usually cooked" to my "Do Not Do" list. But then, about a month ago, I (hesitantly) tasted a friend's tuna tartare appetizer and loved it.

So for now, I'm living each day with a seemingly endless "To Do" list and a really short "Do Not Do" list. Somehow, the imbalance between the two feels right.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Unexpected Hero in the Boston Bombings

I'm running on the gym treadmill. I change the TV screen's channels until I come to Anderson Cooper, reporting the latest news about the Boston bombings. Three people are dead, including an eight-year-old boy named Martin Richard, and more than 140 injured.

The camera closes in on a picture of Martin who, about one year ago, was photographed holding up a sign he made that read, "No more hurting people."

I grab the treadmill rails, not sure I can go on. I slow the speed to a walk instead of a run, to give myself time to recover. I can't think of anything but this: If I'm having trouble going on right now, imagine how the people of Boston feel. How Martin Richard's family feels. Or how everyone else in the world feels, frankly, when faced with senseless, horrible acts of violence.

By now, I suspect most of us have found a way to cope with terrorism. For some, it's religion and prayer. For others, alcohol and anti-anxiety meds. Psychotherapy. Meditation. Crying. Avoiding large gatherings. Giving someone you love a longer hug than usual. Exercise.

I look around the gym. The treadmills are all occupied, and many of the screens are on CNN. I'm the only one who has slowed down. Am I being overly sensitive? Should I keep going on like my fellow treadmillers in the tried-and-true "Keep calm and carry on" style? After all, the moment we let terrorists disrupt our lives or fill us with terror, they win.

I continue walking on the treadmill, absorbed by the news reporting, struggling with emotion--an eight-year-old boy! My attention drifts back to the screen. CNN is showing an interview with Bill Iffrig, a Washington state resident and veteran Boston marathon runner. Iffrig was just 15 feet from the finish line when the first bomb went off. He fell to the ground, where he was widely photographed--his picture made the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated and is probably a shoo-in for next year's Pulitzer prize in photography.

Shaken but unharmed, Iffrig said he continued to the finish line and walked back to his hotel six blocks away. And get this: He's 78 years old. He's been in 45 Boston marathons.

In every tragedy, heroes like Iffrig emerge. He reminds me there are far more heroes in the world than terrorists. Just watching a few minutes of the news about Boston makes this fact obvious. So I turn up the treadmill speed and start running again. I know how to go on now.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Why I Loathe the Word "Like"

Agony, that's what this is. Sitting on a plane, waiting for it to taxi down the runway, but it's not moving, there are six or more planes ahead of us. Meanwhile, directly across the narrow coach aisle, sits a young woman chattering to a young man. They just met. She's telling him about herself, he's nodding his head, occasionally interjecting a question or comment of his own. But it's not easy, because the young woman speaks in an endless stream of words. Unfortunately, the vast majority is only one word.


"I'm like going home to LA for like the weekend?" "I'm like a sociology major at school?" "I like speak like a little Polish because like my father is from Poland?" "I like thought it would be cool to like talk Polish with him?" 

Like like like.

I look over at Nick, who is already scrambling for his earplugs and rolling his eyes. I realize my ear corks are deep in my bag in the overhead compartment. We aren't allowed to stand at the moment because the plane will accelerate down the runway any moment. Portable electronics are also at the moment verboten. So I have only a pair of earbuds as a defense against the Los Angeles Liker.

When did a fairly meaningless word such as "like" become so endlessly, tirelessly, appallingly overused? And why do Likers also tend to speak declarative statements as if they were questions, their voices swooping up at the end? 

It's easy to blame Los Angeles for creating a generation, if not more, of Likers. I first became aware of their existence in the parody song Valley Girl in the early 1980s, about teenage girls in the San Fernando Valley. The song was followed by the (surprisingly good) movie version. 
Perhaps L.A. is the Liker's native homeland. But when the Grammar Guards were fast asleep in their watchtowers, the Likers slipped across the borders. There was no Ellis Island through which they had to file, no stern English teachers to interrogate them, find them wanting, and refuse to stamp their passports. And so, the Likers were free to spread wide and far and spawn. 

Like like like like like.

Why do people speak this way? Is it a generational thing, primarily popular among teens and 20-somethings, and people at these ages tend to speak and act as their peers do? Is it based in uncertainty? Is that why you'd say "she's, like, all mad at me" instead of "she's mad at me?" Because you're not sure she's really mad at you? Do Likers grow out of it? (Yes, please!)

The most pressing question: What to do now that the Like genie has long escaped its bottle. We have freedom of speech in this country, and amen to that. However, freedom of speech means the freedom to heavily sprinkle every sentence you speak with more  'likes' than Justin Bieber's Facebook page.

Of course, disabling the Liker temporarily can be accomplished through ear plugs or listening to music with Like-cancelling headphones. However, this isn't always practical, such as when riding a bus or train. You might miss your stop and end up in Tuscaloosa when you meant to embark in Tucson. Mentally tuning out a loquacious Liker is challenging as well, because the sing-songy intonation of their speaking worms its way into your ear canal, where it's free to tap dance on your ear drums (and your last good nerve). Invoking the "Don't speak" command from Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway is the most tempting course of action, but it's one that my Southern upbringing won't allow me to do. 

Perhaps we may politely request Likers to donate $1 to the charitable organization of their choice every time they use the word as filler. And above all, just as in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we must be careful not to become Likers ourselves. In the past 24 hours, I caught myself using the word "like" unnecessarily--twice. And that is something I do not like.