What's Not to Laugh?

Almost everything about aging–except grave illness and death–can be funny as well as disturbing. I try to find the funny and help us all get through it!

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

I follow the rules

I believe that there’s one thing in particular that separates those of us who have lived a certain number of decades and the younger crowd. We were brought up with non-negotiable rules. Rules for behavior in public, rules for dating (basically, don’t do anything that even hints of sex), and rules for following rules. There was really only one rule for following rules: Do it.

I know there were a few rebels among us who defied the rules, whether it was talking back to a teacher or refusing to stand when the national anthem was playing. But they were people I considered a little scary. I may have been awed by their audacity, but how could they do that? In the 50s, we were sure the conformist gods would punish them—swiftly and harshly.

Once, at the end of my junior year in high school, a then-boyfriend talked me into cutting a study hall period on the last day of the school year. Study hall. Last day of school. It seemed to be a not-too-terrible infraction. But I was guilt-ridden and I remember it clearly today.

The “you will follow the rules” mentality has stayed with me. It’s not that I’ve never broken any rules. Believe me, I have…but this is not the time nor place to air out the occasional error of my ways. What bother me, as a product of my past, is those who just ignore simple common-sense rules.

Take, for example, my visits to the gym. The first thing I do, once I talk myself into walking away from TV shows and Boggle to work out, is spend 30 minutes on the track. Signs posted throughout the track area, in bold green and white, say “NO CELL PHONES.” I’ll often find at least one person gabbing and walking. They either can’t read (really?) or are so engrossed in this must-have conversation that they don’t see the signs. I hate to think that they have seen the signs and figure “They don’t mean me.”

There are three separate lanes on the track: one for walking, one for jogging, and one for running. (I still can’t figure out the difference between jogging and running, but that’s because I do neither.) Often there are groups of three friends walking slowly and talking, taking up two lanes. It forces me, when trying to get around them, to move over to the running lane, risking being run over by a runner (who’s obviously following the rules).

And staying with the track for one more whine: Before you enter the track, the sign, in large letters, states “No street shoes.” Yet as I’m briskly walking, I see so many sandals and other “outside” shoes! Do half the people disobey this rule?

Then there are the drivers who think the Rules of the Road booklet was created for ordinary people, not Their Highnessess. I do  my best to follow every traffic rule. I even wait to get into a left-turn bay until I reach the beginning of the bay. I don’t drive over the median for half a block or cross the solid white line (unless it’s absolutely necessary…).

And turn signals? There are some of us who still use them. I can’t say for sure whether it’s only the younger generations who think that rule doesn’t apply to them, but I’ll bet most of us of a certain age signal their turns and lane changes.

History has shown that, sometimes, breaking the rules is justified, even necessary. One example is a protest and actions to correct rights violations. In such a case, I’m not sure how far I would go in joining a group that wanted to disobey peacefully (don’t most of them start out peacefully?). Sixty to seventy years of following rules is a long time…and maybe too old to be a rebel. I’m afraid our children and grandchildren would start checking out nursing homes. The kind with the locked wards.

vive la différence—and similarity

As I write this, I’m thinking about my plans for this afternoon: A celebration of Greek Easter with my Greek Orthodox friends in the city. I think too about the variety of people in my life over the past several decades who come from diverse backgrounds and races.

I grew up in Albany Park, a northwest side Chicago neighborhood. At the time (so many decades ago…), it was a heavily Jewish area. At the public school, you could count on the fingers of one hand how many non-Jews were in each of our classes. When important Jewish holidays came around—the kind for which, in those days, good Jews stayed home from school—the classroom was nearly empty.

My friends were all Jewish and, except for one aunt, so were my relatives. (My uncle was somewhat of a maverick and married a shiksa. I must commend my grandmother for accepting it gracefully—although I wasn’t privvy to the “adult” conversations that might have taken place when he announced his marriage plans.) For my friends and I, most of our after-school and weekend activities took place at the Jewish Community Center.

This isn’t unique to Jews. Many Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, African-Americans, and other groups have been raised in similarly insulated communities, especially in Chicago. And we were insulated. When I was a little kid I used to see nuns in full black habits walking down the street. I came to my own conclusion that there were nuns in all religions, including Judiasm. But that, and the few kids in school who left class early on Wednesdays to attend Catechism, were nearly my only exposures to non-Jews.

What a difference a half-century made! Today, I’m married to a Presbyterian and have a very close compadre who’s Greek Orthodox and a son-in-law who was raised, in his early years, in the Church of England. My father’s last best friend, a colleague in the Chicago Post Office, was an African-American man who, with his wife, loved to host dinners for us. When they retired and moved to San Antonio, Texas, my husband and I went to visit them and spent a few days sightseeing under their guidance. 

Add to all this my work, which has given me the privilege of collaborating with people from Malaysia, France, Australia, Qatar, Japan, Venezuela, Trinidad, and many other places—and spending a little time in those countries. In other words, in my adulthood, I’ve gotten to know and be close to people from diverse backgrounds. It’s a rich life.

You’ve heard this before: The similarities armong people of different backgrounds are greater than their differences. And that’s generally true. Where there are great differences, we try to understand them. Sometimes we can’t, like the “honor killings” I heard about on last week’s”48 Hours Mystery” episode, in which a father killed his daughter because she had, in his mind, disgraced the family. (Her “crime” involved leaving home, moving in with her boyfriend’s family, wearing makeup, and a few other things most of us take for granted.) But these are exceptions.

I’m not one of those people who think it dilutes our own ethnicity if we participate in others’ festivities. So I’m ready to say Opa! and join the Greeks on one of their holiest days. After all, there will be baked ham, roast lamb, Greek potatoes, and other delicious goodies. Maybe baklava and spanikopita! (Now I’ve exhausted my knowledge of Greek foods…) And I have found common ground: There’s a holiday. Let’s eat! (Except for Yom Kippur.)

Idle thoughts and kvetches

I recently read a book review on Drop Dead Healthy, by A. L. Jacobs. (A great oxymoronic name for a book…who wouldn’t pick it up?) The reviewer’s last line was “You’ll burn calories laughing out loud.” I say, Bring it on! I intend to laugh myself into my size 10 jeans.

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I wish Internet Explorer wouldn’t call the list of web sites you want to bookmark “Favorites.” Some of them are favorites; some are just a necessary evil. For example, there’s one link I need temporarily for a miserable project that makes me squirm. So every time I open IE and pull down the Favorites list, I think the same ungenerous thought: Favorite, my eye!

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What’s with those ooey, gooey lip glosses out there? I never felt attractive with a hunk of my hair plastered to my lips or a smear of color on my scarf. And I dare you to eat with that glop on. Well, you can, but only if you like a different kind of pink slime on your bagel.  I stick to brands that dry to a smooth finish and avoid the ones that seem like I’m slathering on petroleum jelly.

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Don’t you just hate it when younger people lump all those in their upper sixties and early seventies with a group they think of as doddering, unhip, ailing, and frail? So many of us are vibrant, youthful, active, and tech-savvy. But our age range, lacking a sexy name, is at times called “the Silent Generation.” I’ve been out to lunch with groups from our generation. Silent is not a word that comes to mind. Conversations are lively, sometimes raucous, and only occasionally do we focus on our aching backs and knees—and that’s usually after lunch, as we attempt to stand up.

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It’s a cruel twist of fate. Just when we’re at the age of benign (I hope) forgetfulness, we’re asked to provide a plethora of passwords and user names—and cautioned to make them all different. Even worse, security experts advise us to not write or type them anywhere and, get this, to change them every 90 days! What? I can see myself emailing technical support several times a day asking to reset my password because I have no clue what it is. At work, we’re required to change our passwords to the network every 90 days. Don’t tell our IT department, but I write them on a Post-It and keep it in my wallet.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts and kvetches.

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