Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Cigarette lady

I have a question for all of you. What is with the worlds obsession with giving everything and everyone some form of nickname? Seems I have been assaulted by the phenomenon recently. For some reason I always assumed this was just an American quirk, but then several articles crossed my path about such unlikely subjects as the African National Soccer Team and their nicknames, followed by one that puts the Aussie’s in first place for assigning nicknames to everything to a trivia quiz on the nicknames of US presidents.

It seems every one of us has had at least one nickname we love, and at least half a dozen we hated in our life time, and now that we are all so entrenched in the use of the internet we get to make up our own. Apparently nicknames have been in use since written history began, and as far back as oral history reaches.

Almost every President has been given some form of nickname by the press or his fellow politicians. Do you know which president was called the “Illinois Baboon”, “Sphinx” or “His Fraudulency?” Nicknames are a colorful part of baseball history and most other sports as well, with both the teams and the players being fair game. Every state in the Union has a nickname as does almost every city, town or hamlet in the country. Debates have raged for years in some statehouses over just the right nickname for their state.

Even our President gave nicknames to the members of his cabinet, during his first term in office. I’ve been told that if you put any group of men together on a regular basis for any reason including being in the military or just going on a hunting trip, they will often start using nicknames for each other. And I do not know which is worse; the nicknames that men give to their private parts or the ones their wives use behind their back. Acorn Randy and Dead Fred are just two of the ones that women friends of mine have used to describe their husbands member. So, it seems nicknames, both affectionate and insulting are a part of the fabric of American life.

I am no stranger to nicknames and not all of them were meant to be flattering or affectionate. Growing up I was a chubby, short, glasses-wearing, opinionated, overly responsible eldest of 13; so I heard most of the insulting nicknames. Besides being from a large family, I have a mother from the Deep South, so I am no stranger to folks being called by family, pet or nicknames. There is more than one Bubba, Cricket, Junior or Billy Bob in my family tree. I can remember my mother adamantly saying she chose names for her children that could not be shortened or altered. She did not succeed because most of her sons have chosen to go by the shortened forms of their names. They may be William, Robert, David, Andrew, Jeffery, and Peter to my mother; but they are Bill, Bob, Dave, Andy, Jeff and Pete to the rest of the world.

My first husband was always known as Tim and it was not until we were standing in the registrar’s office applying for our marriage license that I learned his given name was actually Melvin. I also admit to still calling my 11 year old grandson, who is taller than I, Munchkin. His mother was called Bear by her father until the day he died.

Do you have any nicknames you are unaware of? Are you sure? Well, don’t be so positive you know that answer. Why, you ask? There are nicknames we pick up in life we are unaware of. Names others give us based on our habits, personality or even the way we dress. Names we would work to expunge if we knew they existed. Let me tell you about a few of the people I have known. But, first check out what Wikipedia has to say about nicknames.

Over the years, I have known people that were called, behind their backs: Purple Lady, Dumpster Diver, Fagan, Backward Charlie, Trash man, Bow Lady, Coupon Cheat or Cigarette Lady by their co-workers, neighbors, church members, store clerks or friends. Many of the names were self explanatory while others had quite a story behind them.

One of the first people I met after moving to a new town was a sweet elderly woman named Arlene, who lived with her husband in a house across the street. At some point in every conversation with each new neighbor I met, I would be asked if I had met the Cigarette Lady yet. One morning I was waiting in the checkout line at the gas station when I heard one clerk mention to another that the Cigarette Lady had been in again. Another day I was in a training class for new checkers at the Shop ‘n Save when the trainer began to mention problem situations and how to handle them. One of her examples was someone called the Cigarette Lady. A few days later I finally met the Cigarette Lady when she knocked on my door asking to borrow a pack of my husband’s smokes. If only took me a second to figure out that my sweet neighbor Arlene was in fact the infamous Cigarette Lady. I soon learned that shortly after being diagnosed with a respiratory disorder and having her cigarette budget cancelled by her husband: Arlene began making the daily rounds of anywhere she thought she could mooch a cigarette. She would hit up all the neighbors and even their guests if she saw them smoking. She would stand outside the gas stations and ask each person that purchased a pack to give her one until the complaints got her evicted from the lot. She would do the same on the parking lots of the super markets and drug stores. As a result she was known my most of the people in town simply as the Cigarette Lady and when they saw her coming they would go the other way to protect their expensive smokes. Did Arlene know how she was perceived by those around her? Did she care? You will have to ask her, but after years of being her neighbor and friend I don’t think so. Her addiction to cigarettes trumped any embarrassment she may have felt. I asked her husband if he was aware of her activities and her nickname. He said that it was a shame and hoped it caused some reduction in her smoking, but it did not change his stance on providing Arlene with cigarette money.

One of the ladies who regularly checked out through my grocery line was known by everyone as the Bow Lady. I never learned the Bow Lady’s real name but I did learn that she was a high school teacher and also taught Sunday school classes at the Baptist church. She was very nice and seemed well liked by her students but even they called her Ms. Bow Lady. The Bow Lady was a attractive matronly woman who wore business suits with white button down collared blouses. She came by her nickname because she had the habit of wearing multi colored package bows made of curly ribbons at the neck of her blouses. Did she know or care that she was considered a strange duck?

If you are a creature of habit and often visit the same places, eat the same food, wear the same color or style of clothing or make the same purchase from your local store----------watch out. You may already have a nickname you may wish you did not have.

As for me I know that I have been called the “Purple Lady” by many of the customers in the stores in which I have worked and that is fine with me. It is my color of choice and two thirds of my wardrobe is made up of something purple. Thankfully, I grew into my eyes and the term “frog eyes” has not been heard since elementary school. My first husband rarely called me anything but “Babe” and my dear Frank ………….. Well that’s for me to know and you to find out.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

procrastination really is the thief of time

I can’t believe how long it has been since my last post. Where does the time go? Today I realized I had a dozen posts started and none completed. It has been weeks since my last post.

The reasons are many and varied, but the basic truth is that I have been so busy enjoying the day to day events of living life with my Frank that I have not taken the time to complete very many of the projects that I somehow seem to start.

Today, I am forcing myself to buckle down and clear my deck of some of my unfinished work, so, do not be surprised if several posts show up here all at once.

I’m also very overdue posting updates of the events in the lives of Rita and Frank, so here goes. Besides getting all of our medical insurance details worked out and hunting down new doctors we can trust, who take Frank’s military insurance, we have been spending a fair percentage of our time house hunting.

Since Frank is new to this part of the country, I wanted him to have a real sense of what is here, before committing to a specific town or house. Therefore, we have been exploring all the little towns, hamlets and villages in this county while touring almost every home in our price range. I’ve lost count of the houses we looked at but I doubt there are many we missed. We toured everything from an 1880’s converted school house to civil war era houses made of bricks so soft the foundations are crumbing into the cellars. We have been in everything from 600 square feet to over 2000 sq. ft.; homes that still have coal chutes or oil tanks sitting beside modern electronics in their basements. Apparently home owners in this area have never heard of the importance of staging their houses to sell. We have seen everything from perfect to gross. I can overlook having a few breakfast dishes in the sink but toilets that have not been cleaned in years do not get any interest. We have seen houses sitting a few feet from the street and others with yards it would seemingly take days to mow. Houses with great views and ones that faced a factory or some ugly shed. We have toured everything from fixer-uppers to pristine showplaces and even a few that could only be improved by a wrecking ball.

Ultimately, we did find the perfect home for us. We let our first choice go when the building inspection noted a fatal flaw. Then just as we were about to commit to our second choice, we got a call from the agent who showed us the first house we looked at months ago. He said a home just listed the day before might be of interest to us. It turned out to be the one we were looking for. Of course, we had to look at dozens of other homes in order for the image of what we really wanted to form. We are now scheduled to close on November15th.

While house hunting, we still managed to squeeze in a few weekend trips and purchase a new mid-sized SUV. Good thing too, because, now we have tons of things to haul. We have been shopping for everything from appliances to plumbing fixtures during the day and working late into the night to get our condo ready to put on the market and making a dent in the needed packing.

We also discovered that while we do have many differences in our home taste we can compromise when needed. Somehow we are managing to combine my love of country chic with Frank’s love of modern minimalist. We should have a very interesting home to say the least.

So stay tuned to find out if the move goes swimmingly.


The events of the last few weeks have me convinced that the world has skipped the chance to “go to hell in a hand basket” and moved on to something much larger. I am even sure that “going to blazes in a barrel” would not give us a container large enough to handle all the evil in some people. Perhaps the phrase should be revised to read “going to Satan in a silo” or even “Going to Beelzebub in a barn.”

I have written in earlier blogs about the differences in today’s world versus the one I grew up in, and not a day goes by where some newspaper or TV news show refers to the ill effects modern technology is having on human relationships. While that may be true, I think the use of euphemisms, sometimes called “politically correct speech” is one of the ways we distance ourselves from really seeing and caring about the people around us. It allows us to see others as less than a flesh and blood person whom we should care about. And, losing the ability to care for and support others is what I believe is allowing so much evil to creep into our world.

One day I was working as a slightly more than minimum wage employee of K-mart and the next day, after punching my time card, I learned I had been given the title of “Associate” without any wage increase. Since that day I have been an associate of several other large corporations including Wal-Mart. Regardless of the title, I was still nothing more than a minimum wage employee. Let’s go back to the good old basics of life and call a spade a spade.

If you work for wages and have no say about how your job is done but must respond, without question or comment, to the directions of others, then you are an employee not an associate.

By the same token, I am not an economically marginalized, gerontologically advanced, uniquely coordinated, vertically challenged, melanin-impoverished, mattress appreciator who is nasally repetitive. I am, however, a poor, old, clumsy, short, white woman who hogs the bed and snores.

While I find fault with a lot of what George Carlin has to say I do agree with most of what he says about Euphemism’s. The following text is quoted from one of his CD’s. with the language cleaned up a tad.

I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. I'll give you an example. There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the First World War, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I'll betcha. I'll betcha.

……...soft language. That language that takes the life out of life. And it is a function of time. It does keep getting worse. I'll give you another example. Sometime during my life, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn't notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the landfill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest-room dining. And constipation became occasional irregularity. When I was a little kid, if I got sick they wanted me to go to the hospital and see a doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization...or a wellness center to consult a healthcare delivery professional. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing. And they're broke! They're broke! They don't have a negative cash-flow position. They're broke! Cause a lot of them were fired. You know, fired. management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area, so many people are no longer viable members of the workforce.
……………people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It's as simple as that. The CIA doesn't kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people...or they depopulate the area. The government doesn't lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they? Never mention that part of it.

The language I learned in school seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. So I have to end by once again quoting George Carlin: “I'm telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit. Makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.”

As for me, I am just going to say what I mean and mean what I say and treat others with fairness and genuine concern and stay with the policy of spreading brotherly love to all I meet. Why don’t you join me?

Monday, October 08, 2007

The green eyed monster

I was educated in a parochial school system where nuns; real nuns, still ruled the classrooms. By real nuns, I mean those pious angelic looking creatures dressed from head to toe in black with long veils and flowing skirts who silently glided down corridors in heavy square heeled orthopedic shoes. They were gender neutral beings with clean scrubbed faces poking through circles of starched white linen. They wore heavy crosses around their necks and giant rosaries around their waists which reached to the hem of their skirts. That saintly packaging hid formidable and stern characters who swatted knuckles with rulers and matched professional pitchers with the accurateness of thrown erasers that magically appeared from hidden pockets. The Nuns of my generation could outdo even the best Jewish mother when it came to instilling lifelong guilt trips while making every subject and situation a life lesson on the damnation of our souls.

High on the list of things that led us to the weekly confessional were the repeated lectures on the Seven Deadly Sins of Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. I have had my small encounters with most of the mighty seven but the one cardinal sin I have struggled with most is the sin of Envy. I once read that Envy is the desire for others' traits, status, abilities, or situations because we think other people are so much luckier, smarter, more attractive, or better than we are. Envy in literature is often linked symbolically to a dog or the color green, thus the term the “Green eyed monster” or Green with envy”. According to those wonderful Nuns who taught in my elementary school the punishment for dying with the sin of Envy on our soul was not only being banished to Hell but having to spending eternity in a tub of freezing water as well.

Now, I certainly know the difference between envy and jealousy and do not get me wrong, I do not want to trade places with any of the people I envied and I am thrilled and happy for them and all they accomplished in their lives, but, I am somewhat envious that my life has not yet found a way to walk the same path as some of the people I have known during my 60 plus years.

Just yesterday I found myself once again being envious of my dear husband who traveled the world visiting so many interesting places while serving in the Navy. When I mentioned this to him he admitted that he was just as envious that I had been able to spend my life in one place with my family.

Oh well, I guess it is back to the confessional for me.