Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's best not to lie about these things

WARNING: This post is purposefully a little gross for the only intention of being humorous....But I’m pretty sure you can handle it. Pretty sure.

There is a common understanding that we shouldn’t stereotype. We shouldn’t resort to baseless generalities. We aren’t supposed to label people or put them in categories. There is not one single box that can define you - so don’t even try.

Well that’s a cute idea and all, but the concept of knowing what we “should” and “should not” do rarely stops anyone. There will always be the beliefs that blondes are stupid. Every gay man talks like that and every gay lady can caulk your tub and she’ll do it wearing Birkenstocks. Smart, nerdy people are socially inept. Every mother keeps a pack of Oreos hidden in the coffee table...or perhaps that was only my experience. Sorry, mom.

Even broader than these social stereotypes and the stigmas that come with them, people are willing to divide the entire population into two columns. That’s right. Seven billion people on the planet and you’re either in this boat or that boat. Please, you know what I’m talking about...

“There are two kinds of people in this world...”

That’s right folks, nothing new here. There is always someone willing to separate the world right down the middle.

There are two kinds of people in this world... those who love kitty cats, and those who don’t.

...those who are Batman people, and those who are Superman people.

...those who love Tarantino, and those who just don’t get it.

...those that can speak to squirrels, and those that can’t.

Some believe there are three types of people in this world... those who can count, and those who can’t. And for the abundantly nerdy, there are 10 types, those that can read binary, and those get the picture.

It begs the question: With all of these combinations is it even plausible to find only two categories to distinguish the population? Can we really make only two labels? Everyone is either this one or that one?

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try.

I relied on what I do best - observing my surroundings. I watched people. I promise there was so stalking involved. You say tomato, I say...never mind.

There were several moments and circumstances that were adding up - adding up so I could adequately make two categories in which to place the global population.

One of such circumstances includes a friend of mine who has spent her entire life living in the Rich and Famous Sector of Los Angeles. The fascinating part about her is that she talks with an accent - an Eastern European accent. Yet this accent is not a consistent one. Sometimes it doesn’t exist at all. Sometimes it’s thick depending on whoever is her conversation holder. Why, dear lady, do you pretend Southern California is the “new E-Europe?” You would most likely find it annoying, I find it intriguing.

Another occurrence of “hmmm?” happened when I received a text from my friend Darcy. From time to time, Darcy is the person who likes to send a loaded text. Do you have someone in your life who does this? A simple “Have a great day!” text turns into a “I’m wishing you a good day because we don’t talk anymore and I’m mad about it so I’m going to send you a fake-happy-text to make you feel guilty.” This was the exchange:

Darcy: Hey friend! How are you?

Me: I’m fine. Still trying to be a writer and feed myself. Two things that are not always mutually exclusive. How are you?

Darcy: I’ve had the worst day of my life. But I’m ok. Have a good week!

This is the part where I grab the closest solid object and inflict blunt force trauma to my face. What happened here is not a genuine, “How are you?” but instead an “ASK ABOUT ME” plea. It always ends with more texts and inevitably a phone call where I play Brook Ellen Counselor in all things Life. Add this to the pile of things that make me yell WHY WHY WHY.

But the “Ah-ha!” moment occurred when I was talking with Julia (fellow gnome snatcher). We were talking about love. Sometimes we dissect the serious stuff, and therefore, we rule. We both currently find ourselves in rather fulfilling relationships. YAY us!

We were discussing “what makes our current relationship better than the Demon of Relationship Past?”

The answer is honesty.

Julia simply stated, “Significant Other knows so much about me...and doesn’t hate me for it.” When someone knows everything there is to know about you, and still loves you in the morning, you are released from judgment and facades. You’re free from hiding. You can just be you, and be loved for it. Quite a remarkable feeling indeed to be void of deceptions and half-truths. Not to say every relationship is a “lie” but there are moments of withholding that are birthed from the fear of ending up alone. That topic is enough for another post.

Back to the mission at large, here they are, the three circumstances for me to base two categories for all of human kind. The person who fakes an accent. The person who sends loaded text. The person who defines love as a product of honesty. Isn’t the common denominator SO SO obvious?

In some capacity... we are all liars.

To the accent faker - it is a reflection on how we project ourselves. We become different people, depending on the audience. I wouldn’t talk with Julia the same way I would the President. But the accent thing is still a bit dodgy.

To the loaded text texter - we try to blanket our feelings with subtlety. By saying “I have had the worst day and I need someone to talk to,” one could perceive this intention as weakness. Instead, we relay a message of strength while exposing a crack in the exterior, hoping for someone with the heart to mend it.

To the definition of love - I agree, only in the absence of Emotional Walls and I Will Never Tell You can one find themselves submersed in your Awesomeness.

Using this knowledge I can profoundly define each and every person on this earth.

There are two kinds of people in this world... those who pee in the shower, and those who pee in the shower and lie about doing it.

Which one are you?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Gnome and I

Adolescence is a time of growth. A time for zits. A time for curfews. A time for rules and a time for them to be broken. Rebellion. Bad poetry. A time for firsts. First experience with alcohol - whether it’s your dad sneaking you a taste of beer, or a stolen wine-cooler shared between three friends at a sleepover, or guzzling gin in a friend’s hot tub (or was that just my experience? Anyone?). First kisses. First dances. First boyfriends/girlfriends. First jobs. First...lots of things.

Imagine the courage it took your teenage-self to tackle all those firsts. Never knowing what to expect and having no clue how to behave. There is a fearlessness about it. There is a certain amount of bravery and gumption that growing up asks from us all. You took risks. You took chances. For most, your adolescent-self was more bold and daring than you could ever hope to be now.

Looking back, once again with my trusted friend Retrospect, I have to laugh at myself. I have to shake my head, roll my eyes, and think, “I can’t believe I did that.”

Once upon a time, in the Land of Adolescence, I stole lawn gnomes.

Yes, you read that correctly.

There was one house in this one neighborhood whose lawn was covered in everything ceramic figurines. There were gnomes, miniature deer, a Santa Claus or two, and everything else fun sized and creepy. Naturally my sixteen-year-old me, and Julia (a close friend and fellow schemer), HAD to do something about it. Under the cloak of darkness we tip-toed up that house, in that neighborhood, on that lawn where the little ceramic eyes stare at you, and filled our arms with their cold, hard figures.

I must state, as insane as this sounds I still had (have) a moral compass. We did not actually steal anything...we moved them. With our arms clinching the gnomes against our bodies, Julia and I trotted across the street to the neighboring house and lined the gnomes in the next yard - one by one, ceramic arm to ceramic arm, like a line of soldiers marching to battle.

That’s right, two sixteen-year-old girls moving ceramic gnomes from one yard to another.

On our way back for the second round of gnome snatching we triggered a motion light. Then we heard a man’s voice yell, “Hey!” with enough authority for us to SPRINT LIKE THE WIND down the street.

I can imagine the man was not very thrilled. Some “people” were “lurking” in his yard and he didn’t know what the hell was going on. It wouldn’t have been until the morning light shined down with all its truth would he know - his gnomes were in the neighbor’s yard.

Julia and I had made it safely to the getaway car with only an abundance of laughter and the presence of urine-moisture (a consequence of too much adrenaline coupled with heavy laughing).

If Julia was sitting next to me now, as I type this, and asked, “Wanna go to that house with all the gnomes and move them to the other yard?” there would be no words, only that stare you give a crazy person who cuts you off in traffic and still manages to give YOU the finger.

I will ABSOLUTELY NOT move gnomes with you.

Why? I ask. Why did teenage me do it, but not mid-20s me? What was I before? Na├»ve? Stupid? No foresight? No understanding of consequences? No thoughtfulness? No respect? I can’t believe any of those things because I would be selling teenage-me down the river. And even if I did believe it - that I was lacking all of those characteristics before - what changed? Who turned the magic switch from gnome-swapping-girl to how-dare-you-ask-me-that?

As a teenager I know I was thoughtful, respectful, etc. I am also aware that as a mid-20-er I know a thing or two my teenage self did not. I have learned more about love, sacrifice, and that hangovers are NOT like wine and do NOT get better with age.

Still I ask, what gives? Why are my gnome days behind me?

I refuse to stand here and preach that all teenagers are void of compassion, respect, and the like. I also refuse to believe that I turned some emotional switch between the ages of 16 and 24. It is one giant process and I can’t point to one instance and say “that’s what did it.”

I’ll tell you what I do believe. I believe there is a freedom that comes with adolescence that no one can adequately describe or duplicate. The curious part about this freedom is that you didn’t know you had it until it was gone. You don’t realize you had it until you sit at the reflecting pool and shake your head, and roll your eyes, and say “I can’t believe I did that.”

When you’re growing up, everything is new - everything is a first. The freedom comes from being void of expectation. You were brave because you didn’t know to be scared. The world hadn’t told you otherwise.

Perhaps that’s the trick - not having any expectation. You have a first date? Great, enjoy it, don’t go expecting to meet The One over endless bread sticks at Neighborhood Pasta Place. Let it be your first FIRST date all over again before everything had to mean something.

I think people rarely look back on their teenage years with any type of romantic sentiment. But the truth is, there are things I did then that I wouldn’t do now. I had something in me that said leap, and don’t bother looking. Ever.

We all had our first everythings and the courage to execute them. The next time you find yourself facing another first, take yourself back to a time where the new zit on your chin was the biggest inconvenience of your day and remind yourself - if sixteen-year-old-you could do it, so can you.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A day at the bank

Ok, I watch people. SO WHAT.

I do it without notice. I can’t help it. I observe. I dissect with my eyes. You might call it “creeping” or “stalking,” I call it studying the human race. You say tomato, I say...

Every time I’m around people it’s another opportunity for me to try to understand why we behave the way we do. Waiting at the post office, a two-hour layover, half-time at a basketball game, all present unique opportunities to examine the lives of others. It’s an intense form of people watching. Intense because I’m not just staring at you, I’m thinking about why it is you do whatever it is you do.

Everyone has a mother. Has slammed their finger in a door. Has been embarrassed. Has been hurt. Scared. Unsure. Everyone puts their pants on the same way you do - one leg at a time. Every person on this planet has a story. It fascinates me that we all share these common experiences, yet we still see each other as strangers. Sure, I don’t know your name or where you live or what kind of car you drive, but that doesn’t define you. It’s life that we all share, and I love witnessing it.

Excuse me while I put my soap box back in the closet.

Yesterday I went to the bank. As always, it was another chance for me to watch my fellow earth inhabiters. This bank is especially accommodating for my people-study because this branch does not have drive-thru teller windows. It promotes human interaction that way, and that’s something I can appreciate.

I went inside to see a long line. This is typical because this branch is awesome and has its own FREE parking lot (which is conducive to people wanting to use this location), but they usually have several teller windows open and the line moves pretty fast. Not to mention, they are always friendly. I love friendliness. But this day was a bit of an off day and only because I was in line for ten minutes - which is quite longer than usual. Still, it was just ten minutes and hardly long enough for me to even think about getting worked up over it.

But in these ten minutes, I witnessed two significant human interactions, both of which deserved prolonged eye-rolls.

The first of the two happened as I entered the line. I was standing there refusing to play with my phone. Call me old school but I can wait patiently with my thoughts like they did in the olden-days. Six or so people in front of me there was a woman, who was standing on the defense and she wanted everyone to know about it. She had her arms crossed in front of her and I watched as she threw her head back, gave a loud sigh, and shook her head with those short-angry-nods. Out of everyone in line she had my full attention. I began to wonder why she was so upset about waiting. Did she have to rush to work? Did she have a friend in the hospital and was late for visiting hours? Did she have chronic diarrhea? There had to be some reason for her anger and I wanted to know why.

Then she stomped. She literally picked up her right foot and slammed it into the ground. Right where she was standing. Another head shake. Another heavy sigh. This was a grown woman who didn’t want to wait one more second. From the time I entered the line, she was at the window in less than five minutes, which to me seems hardly worthy of a foot stomp. When it was FINALLY her turn she stomped stomped stomped to the window. I kept watching. The teller man was friendly, gave a big smile, and asked “How are you today?”

The woman slammed her deposit slip under the teller window and said, “NOT GOOD, ACTUALLY.”

The poor teller did not see this storm coming. He probably greets a hundred people a day with the same smile, the same enthusiastic “how are you?” and endures dozens and dozens of half invested conversations. But apparently this lady had made her target, and it was this guy.

“I have NEVER had to wait like this! I can’t BELIEVE I had to stand in line!” said the crazy lady. The teller was very apologetic. Over and over again he said he was sorry. Sorry she had to WAIT IN LINE. Hello hello, come-in come-in, lady, welcome to civilization. The woman continued to shake her head, refusing any of his kind words. The saga ended when the teller handed over her receipt, which she snatched, and stomped stomped stomped away.

I never did find out why she was so upset about her less-than-ten-minute wait. Or what exactly she was late for, if anything. Maybe she had a fight with her boss, or her partner, but took it all out on unsuspecting teller at window #8. I try to understand and empathize, but this time I am left unsatisfied.

I was the second person in line when human-observation-story number two happened. Another customer at one of the teller windows pulled out his wallet and in the process dropped a few $20 bills on the floor. I quickly surveyed my comrades in line with me - yep - everyone saw it and was staring at the cash on the ground. The guy at the window was clueless. I paused, wondering if anyone was going to say anything.

After a few tense moments I couldn’t take it anymore and spoke with a purpose, “Hey, I think you dropped something.”

The guy looked around, saw the money on the floor, and was grateful. “Thank you, wow, I didn’t even notice.”

No kidding you didn’t notice! But everyone else did...why was I the only person to say something? If I hadn’t said anything would the guy have walked off? Would someone have had the will to actually snatch this guy’s money off the floor?

Within a ten minute wait I found myself clinging to a small thread that has become my faith in humanity. Are we so troubled by waiting in line? Are we so detached from compassion we’ll let someone drop money on the floor as if it were a soggy newspaper?

We all have our lives. Our troubles. Our joys. Victories and losses. Sleepless nights and funny bone injuries. Vending machines that eat your quarters and socks that disappear into oblivion during the laundry. Just because I don't know you personally - name, birthday, job, favorite movie - doesn't mean your life is worthless to me. I don't know you, but I'm going to tell you when you drop cash on the floor. When you're pissed off because you had to wait in line, I'm going to wonder why you have to take out your frustration on the teller. I'm also going to wonder why you're acting so childish. It's a bank. There's a line. Deal with it - if that's the worst part of your day then realize how lucky you really are.

My point is my faithful reader(s), and I do have one, when you find yourself surrounded by strangers remind yourself that they are just like you. Find the commonality and relate knowing we are all trying to play this game of life at the same time. Don't trouble yourself so much over the little things - like the line at the bank. Identify with the person who drops their money, or keys, or whatever, because how would you feel if it happened to you?

We are so obsessed with being different we forget how much we are the same. Try to relate. Listen. Empathize. What's the worst that can come from a little understanding?