Well, it has been a busy 24 hours for my beloved wife, Cheri. After a full day working as a nurse practitioner at a women’s health clinic, she decided to finish the day by getting her second and final vaccination against shingles. Lots of needles getting poked into skin these days, aren’t there? Anyway, through the evening and into the morning, she succumbed to the same icky feelings that come when you get shot with a pretty tough vaccine. She’s pulling through, and continues to say that it’s much better than actually getting the shingles disease. Just a short public service announcement: if you are of the age (older than 60), you may want to explore getting the Shingrix vaccine. I’ve known folks who got the shingles (known officially as “Herpes Zoster”), and it’s a plain miserable time, with lots of very uncomfortable symptoms. It’s not always a picnic getting older, I guess.
So, the next task on the list for Cheri came this morning, when, after a number of months, I finally convinced her to go and get her new driver’s license before her old one runs out in December. Up here in the Northland, it’s just plain easier to do that kind of stuff before December rolls around. This new license is the one the entire nation eventually will need to have – called the “Real ID” (as though the other licenses we all have had since we turned 16 were fake?), it looks like all the others, except for a little gold star in the upper right corner. The star means that you have gathered up a huge pile of documents and carried them into the driver’s license office, where they were scanned, supposedly into your permanent record (the same place all your school grades and such were kept, I guess), which goes to prove that you are an upstanding and reliable citizen who can be trusted with the national secrets of our country, and so you get the gold star to show to the world. It also means that next year you are going to be allowed to fly on a plane, and lots of other neat stuff, I guess. Anyway, Cheri’s was going to expire in December with her birthday, so I lined up an appointment for her first thing this morning.
Thinking it would take about five minutes, I decided to just wait in the car, especially if they were going to make everyone wear masks (which is pretty ironic, since you have to have your picture taken as identification, but in the meantime, everyone looks like they are getting ready to rob a bank or something…). Well, five minutes stretched to ten, and then fifteen and on and on – after about a half hour, Cheri walked out waving her new license like she was 16 all over again. Apparently the process took a bit longer than she expected. Good thing that her dear faithful husband lined up the appointment, and gathered up all the documents she would need and put them in a folder, and then drove her to the license place and waited for her… but I’m not one to curry praise or anything….
Well, after that ordeal, and since we now both had the day off – I of course have every day off, but Cheri usually takes Fridays at home – I suggested we actually go out for breakfast at the nearby Perkins. Breakfast out has become a rare thing, for some reason, especially since they tore down the great restaurant that was close to where we live so they could put up a new bank – as if we needed a sixth bank in a two block strip, instead of a great place to get eggs and pancakes. Anyway, it sounded like fun, so off we went to act like grownups and order from a menu and drink coffee…
One of the things I had forgotten about eating out, is that outside of a couple of requests, where you sit is really a potluck of its own. I always ask for a table, since sitting in a booth usually means the seat cushion is never a match in height to the table top, so it always feels like I am sitting with my chin at table height. No problem – tables were available, so the hostess dropped us into a pretty nice spot, I thought. Perhaps the only problem was that it’s nearly the day of the autumnal equinox, and so the sun rises nearly due east, which for our table meant we were fairly blinded by the reflection on the table and chairs. Still no problem, though – we are tough.
The bigger problem came in the “ambience.” That is, there is no way to avoid other diners when they sit about two feet away from you. To our left were two fellows, who seemed to be in some kind of law enforcement or fire station business. As they talked – very loudly – every 45 seconds or so, one or the other of their cellphones would blast out a ringtone that was close to the decibels you would endure at a rock concert in a metal Quonset. No kidding – it was almost jarring. Now, in some settings, you might think that when people are sitting at a table in a restaurant, surrounded by other folks, they would actually put their cellphones on mute or vibrate (the cell phone makers came up with that switch for a reason, you know), so that the entire world wouldn’t need to hear that someone’s phone was ringing, and then needed to be answered with a voice level needed to talk over a jet engine running. Like I said, jarring – and made Cheri’s and my conversation almost non-existent. Still, we had our coffee, right?
Now we turn to the booth behind me, and entire 3 ½ feet from my right ear. Now, I believe you can’t call something eavesdropping on a conversation when the conversation could probably be heard across the restaurant, and perhaps even across the parking lot to the Burger King next door. A middle-aged brother and sister were “talking” (read loudly) about some land “up north” that they owned with another two siblings as an inheritance, and there was some pretty dicey issues around paying taxes, and possible liens against the property, and not wanting to get “hooked” with having to dole out lots of money because of the apparent misconduct of another sibling. Really – it couldn’t be eavesdropping because their voice levels were akin to having two people “talking” with each other across a farmyard. The fellow, you could also tell, was very comfortable and rather adept at using a wide range of profanity and obscenities to make his point concerning the land and the pickle they were in.
Eggs benedict doesn’t taste nearly as good when eaten with cusswords in the air. Finally, in a flash, however, the two guys with the cell phones got up and left, and then within another minute, the cussing guy told his sister he had to go get a smoke, and so that conversation was done, too. I’m sure you know the experience of, after a huge loud, noisy, ear-shattering pounding finally goes away, how your ear drums almost ring and it feels like a deafness has fallen. Cheri and I sat there, in blissful quiet, once again enjoying the cup of coffee without soundwave rippling across the surface.
So, we ended breakfast well, but it is rather remarkable how, with the first time in over a month since we ate outside the home, we would be treated with such a sonic boom-like floor show at a Perkins restaurant!
Now, I’m not trying to sound like a snob or the only ones with culture – but I do believe in many parts of our culture, we have lost the ability to do a couple of things right. First, I do wish everyone would just put their cell phones away when they are in earshot of another person. Very –VERY few people live in such and urgent or emergency-laden lives that to constantly connected with a phone or text or whatever is so critical. Second, we need to all remember what Mom and Dad used to say to us seven kids: use your inside voice. Not everyone needs to know what you are talking about. I really do believe much of our culture has either lost or set aside a real sense of self-awareness, and the context one finds oneself. Little kids yell and shriek and make all sorts of noises because they are in the midst of learning how to regulate and be aware of others. Adults, I guess, and most teenagers, would be well-served to Google “How to conduct yourself in public places” and memorize those little, simple rules. Without them, we lose capacity to listen, to control our tongues and to respect the lives of the people we come in contact with.
I do hope this is only a pendulum swinging, and that soon the sense of appropriate speech and actions will return to our world. In any sense, I for one refuse to give over to being anything but polite. Again, that’s not being snobby – it’s being what I hope is just a better way to live and act. With intention, and with a respect for the world around me.
Word for the day: stentorian. Pronounced sten-TOR-ee-un. It’s a Greek word, all the way, and it comes from an interesting root. The Greek, stentein means “to groan or moan. Our word, though, comes out of a character in literature, specifically The Iliad by Homer. Stentor, it seems was a Greek herald in the Trojan War. It was said that his voice was a loud as 50 men! I wonder if he was at Perkins this morning… Anyway, our word, stentorian, reflects the qualities of Stentor, and means almost anyone who is truly loud, earsplitting or strident in her or his voice projection. Stentor never had an indoor voice.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.