Category: Essay

Beware of the dog, you spoiled brat.

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On the street where I grew up, we knew better than to misbehave because we had 30 sets of parents–60 pairs of eyes–who were keeping a watch on us. Any parent could correct another child’s behavior, followed up with a telephone call to the child’s parents to explain the circumstances. In loco parentis worked quite well on our street.

That is not always the case, however.

Many years ago, I was having lunch with my parents. There was a table nearby where two families and their children were having lunch. The adults were laughing and enjoying the moment and ignoring the children, who were done with their meals and playing a game of tag in the restaurant. We endured the annoyance for 15 minutes as they ran back and forth around the tables. Finally, when a little boy ran into our table, spilling the water from our glasses, my mother quietly looked up from her meal and looked him in the eye.

“My goodness,” she said quietly. “Aren’t you a little brat?”

She went back to her meal. The child stood frozen for a moment, then ran back to his place at the table.

I assumed he would whine to his parents that the mean lady scolded him, but instead he took his seat and sat quietly.

Fast forward to last year.

I was helping a friend move from  Florida to Ohio. She had most of her possessions loaded onto the van, but she needed help driving her dog and two cats, so I volunteered.

We arrived in town late and checked into a motel for the night. There was a restaurant — a burger joint, actually–across the street from the motel, so we walked over without unloading the car. It was winter but the car was warm. The animals would be fine in the car for a few more minutes while we ate.

I opened the restaurant door and we stepped into what looked like a food fight. There were chairs overturned, spilled sodas dripping onto the floor, half-eaten sandwiches strewn across the floor. Children running this way and that, laughing, screaming, throwing ice cubes at each other. One of the boys — a freckled redhead who reminded me of Opie on the old Andy Griffith Show–seemed to be the ringleader.

Four tables were pushed together.  At one end was the flotsam and jetsam of these maniacal childrens’ meals. At the other end sat a half-dozen adults engaged in lively banter. Laughing, sharing photos on their cell phones. Having a lovely time. What they were not doing was paying any attention to the children.

We thought about leaving but decided to wait them out. Mercifully, they did leave. When we went to pay the bill, we commiserated with the staff.

“They are here for a wrestling tournament. This is their second night here and we have two more to go,” the young man behind the cash register said. “The manager said we can’t refuse to serve them.”

He had to have been a high school student. I admired his maturity and restraint. As we spoke, the rest of the staff attacked the mess with mops and disinfectant. It seemed like an extraordinary amount of dedication to a minimum-wage job.

We went back to the rooms: she with the cats and I with the dog. Our rooms were on the first floor.

When you travel with animals, they usually reserve the first floor rooms for pets. It makes it easier to get he dog outside to do his business, but it also segregates the animals into one area of the hotel.

Apparently, unchaperoned children fall into that same category.

We were only a few feet down the hallway when we heard the familiar screams and laughter. Children in footed pajamas ran past us in the hallway. I spotted Opie and his friends.

We passed a room where the adult chaperones had congregated. They were half-in/half out of the room. The music was blaring; they were again  paying no attention to the children in their charge.

I went into my room and set my things down. The dog was going to need a walk before I could convince him that it was time to go to bed.

As we walked down the hallway towards a door, the children were still running about. I headed toward the exit door and came face-to-face with my old pal Opie, who was frozen in place. He was focused on the dog. He was, I realized, afraid of dogs.

I shortened the leash so that the dog could not possibly jump on the boy. (Not that this sweet dog would ever do anything other than lick someone.)

We walked towards the door and Opie remained frozen. As we walked past him in the hallway I said,” “Don’t worry. The dog only bites children who are very loud or obnoxious.”

Opie let out a gasp.

I took the dog out do to do his business and I cleaned up after him.

When we walked back into the motel, the hallways were clear and quiet and we enjoyed and good night’s sleep.

I have had meals, trans-continental flights, and theater performances ruined by children allowed to run wild while their parents ignored them. I certainly understand  the stress of raising children and having to get away from them a bit.

But I must ask: If you don’t want to discipline your children while you go out to eat, wouldn’t it be better to just hire a babysitter?

I, for one, would appreciate it.

In praise of Title 9 (from someone who never benefitted from it)

iStock_000016768724XSmallI’ve been watching the Olympics, as you probably are, too. This is the first year that women were allowed to compete in the ski jump competition.

What took you so long, IOC?

To someone who was excluded from participating in sports, this is wonderful news for women. I wish I’d had the option to participate. I wonder what would have happened if I’d had that choice.

In the spring and summer in my hometown, we made our own adventures. For the boys who played sports, they could join a Little League baseball team and play their way through the summer, but there was nothing for the girls.

I got to watch the Little League games. My mother would make popcorn and scoop it into little brown paper bags for the concession stand. My father was an umpire. Since I couldn’t play, I learned how to score the games, not that it mattered to anyone but me.

My Girl Scout troop took tennis lessons one summer. Our troop leader was a nurse and one of her doctor friends let us use his private tennis court for lessons. I loved what we learned and would have played regularly if I could have found an opponent. On the few occasions when I did, our matches went something like this:

  1. I’d serve the ball and she would miss. Time out while she retrieves the ball.
  2. I’d serve the ball and she would return it! i’d miss the ball. Time out while I retrieved it.

At some time, one of us would suggest that we not keep score. No point to it, really.

Let’s be honest: many of us never entertained the thought of excelling in sports because “Girls don’t do sports.” I was never taught to throw or catch a ball. It never occurred to anyone that I might enjoy it.

My father did buy me a single golf club (a 7 iron) and taught me how to swing a club. I did get good at that.  We didn’t belong to a country club, though, so I’ve never been on a golf course. Besides, I think it would have taken me a long time to play a round of golf with just that  7 iron.

He showed me how to bowl and bought me a powder blue left-handed bowling ball. I joined a league but was never very good at it. Then I discovered that the boy who was purportedly the best bowler in our junior league cheated. He would always be the scorekeeper and managed to pad his score by 4 or 5 pins each frame.

In high school, there were many team sports for the boys. But not the girls.

Physical education was mandatory for freshmen and sophomores and that is where I grew to hate sports.

They hired a woman who had played tennis competitively, but she did not teach us tennis. She did not teach us anything. She made up ridiculous exercises for us to do.

We would play volleyball with a beach ball because we did not want to smudge the low-ceiling of the gym. If you did mark up one of the ceiling tiles with your ball, you were given a detention.

We played an equally ridiculous version of basketball called half-court. We could only dribble the ball three times and then we had to pass it off to another one of the fragile females on the team.  Offense and defense had to stay on their respective ends of the court.  I could have easily done my Geometry homework while playing a game.

So why wouldn’t I hate sports?

Then I went to college where I had to endure another 2 years of physical education. I took bowling and golf and learned nothing. One semester I accidentally got registered for curling. I walked down to the Ice Arena to see what it was: shuffleboard on ice. I quickly dropped the class and signed up for another semester of bowling.

Our university had about 15,000 students. At that time, there were few opportunities for women who wanted to participate in sports. As I page through my college yearbooks, there are no women represented in the “Sports” section, save the intramural sports.

I would have been fine with the differences between mens’ and womens’ sports except for this: Scholarships.

I remember a friend who was a wrestler. He was there on scholarship because he was a good wrestler. The fact that the man could not arrange a subject-verb-object into a 3-word sentence didn’t seem to matter to the university.

I’ve never seen the point of a sports scholarship. Women didn’t matter in sports. Academic scholarships were another matter entirely.

I graduated from college two years before the United States Congress passed a law commonly referred to as Title 9. It says:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…

And that, as they say, changed everything.

Now I see the women competing in hockey, and skiing, and, finally, ski jumping and I think this is long overdue. Women can finally participate as equals on the sports field. I cheer them all on.

I must admit that I still don’t get curling, though.

Studies have shown: Southpaws die sooner

"Ouch!"
“Ouch!”

I was cleaning out some file drawers last night when I came across an old newspaper clipping that I’d saved for decades because of its ominous headline:

“Left-handers could have shorter lives”

Well, great. I really needed to be reminded of that in the middle of an already-depressing winter.

Usually, I ignore the hackneyed articles expounding the foibles of the left-handed citizenry, of which I am a member. I know that gauche is French for “left” and that adroit comes from the French word droit, which means “right.” I also know that it hurts when I try to write in a spiral-bound notebook because my left hand is pressing on the wires.

These tired facts pop up in every article on the subject, causing me to suspect that these articles are written by right-handed authors because left-handed writers hate to do research.

But this article, now brown with age, was different. This had to do with life and death–my left-handed life and death.

The study was conducted by Dr. Stanley Coren, a well-known professor of psychology and neuropsychological researcher at the University of British Columbia. The professor studied death records (Oh, how many times has a Blind Date used that line??). He determined that left-handers died at an average age of 66, compared with a lifespan of 75 years for right-handers.

He concluded that the reason is not physiological so much as it is the left-handers proclivity for accidents. Apparently, left-handed people are five times more likely to die of injuries sustained in an accident.

As I read the article, I was expecting the old “gauche/droit” routine, but the professor said that he was not saying that left-handers are especially clumsy. Rather, they are accident-prone because the world is filed with products designed or right-handers–from “can openers to power tools.”

Well, that would explain a lot of mysterious deaths, wouldn’t it? (more…)