The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Going On Down the Road

I used to love to drive. Even wrote a poem about it. There is such a feeling of exhilaration, of freedom, of mobility without the achey joints. Driving is good, and if the car is running right, doesn't have any odd noises to concern me, and if there is sufficient gas in the tank, driving is a downright joy.

Now I don't recall paying really close attention, but it seems that more and more drivers on the road either got mail-order drivers licenses, or the rules changed while I was singing along with the radio, be-bopping on down the road.

It used to be that a driver needed to keep an "assured clear distance" of so-many feet between himself and the vehicle ahead. I remember reading it in the manual and I remember it being on the written portion of the driver's license test. I don't remember the answer to the question - but I can measure the distance with my eyes. More and more lately I find a driver so close behind me I think he is trying to see what I have in my back seat. It is usually the same driver who will weave in and out of traffic so I can never be sure where he is. I was taught to drive with mirrors, my instructor of old telling me how important it is to know where all the cars on the road are -- in my immediate area -- at all times.

And what is with the roadway lines these days? In the old Wisconsin manual I read, lo, those many years ago, a solid color line, whether white or yellow, down the middle of the road or approaching an intersection meant do not pass, stay in the lane you are in for now. If there are two lines, and one of them is solid colored and on your side of the road, you stay put in your lane, even if the other side has a broken line. You don't pass another car on the left or right. Doesn't seem to matter much to the drivers I see on the road these days. Keeping track of who is where on the road isn't easy anymore, that's for sure.

And speaking of lines, it used to be common knowledge that the wide lines going across the lanes at a stop light would trigger the light to change if you put your wheels (I am assuming that, for clearance, it is the front wheels, not the rear wheels, that should be) on that wide line. Lately I find that my fellow stop light sitters sit 'way back from the light, almost half a car length away from the wide line with the trigger in it. This is especially annoying when the intersection is at the entrance/exit to an apartment complex or parking lot in the wee hours of the morning. You can sit behind one of these drivers who don't know for a full five minutes before the light cycles by itself, even if there is no traffic on the road.

My favorite bumper sticker that I've seen on the Florida roads these days says, "Just Be Nice."

Now, I know we all have bad days, but I believe we should always keep an eye out for Stupid -- because he is out there on the road. On some days (oops) no matter how good a driver I may be, Stupid is me. Or you. Or one of my kids, or one of yours. None of us sets out to be Stupid on any given day - it happens, and the result, if not actually an accident, is a close call that provokes some of us more than others. Those who react strongly in a negative, I took-that-personally-way behave badly. And if you think Stupid is bad, wait until you run into Stupid in a Snit - which is what we call "Road Rage." Road Rage is furious, frustrated, and not thinking with true clarity, although he/she will tell you he/she is perfectly rational.

Now, if it was my turn to be Stupid that day, I make the 'oops' gesture and mouth the word "sorry" - thereby claiming my title as Stupid. More times than not, this diffuses the wronged driver and we carry on, me being more cautious so as not to be Stupid again, and the other driver getting as far away from me as quickly as he/she can. But too often I see people who have just been Stupid see the driver of the other car (that Stupid just put in danger) raise his hand in a one finger salute - or other meaningful gesture. If Stupid retaliates with an unkind gesture involving his/her hand and fingers, the wronged driver can develop a good and immediate case of Road Rage.

Now here's the thing. When we drive, each of us is in his/her own personal little world. Except for those we see around us if we are paying proper attention, we know nothing about any of the drivers with whom we share the road. That red Civic over there might have a worried mother in it, anxious to get home to a sick child. The guy over this way in the silver Buick might have just been fired. The pick-up truck ahead of you may contain a man who has just finished a 24 hour shift at the Fireshouse. We know nothing about the goings-on in the lives of anyone save ourselves. What if we unwittingly add the last straw to the backs of these folks? What if we actually provoke them to behave badly? Well, now, maybe those we provoke may not poke a gun out the window and shoot at us. Instead he may have no patience with his children; she may miscalculate the entrance to her garage. If it has been an especially hard day, none of us needs even one horn honked at us unnecessarily. After all, these days you can't be sure the other drover doesn't have a gun to poke out the window at us. Just be nice. Don't provoke someone else to behave badly.

On the other hand, if you can not only wave a car in ahead of you in traffic, but do it with a real smile, you can make a difference for the good in those you encounter. Be gracious on the road and it may run over into the rest of your public persona. Imagine the world if everybody did this.



Monday, November 22, 2004

Stuff That Churns One's Innards....


I suppose my age is showing when I talk about little niceties people used to show one another - those little respectful thing like calling a person by his/her name (and grown-ups were always Mr. This, or Mrs. or Miss or even Ms. That!)

I remember when men wore hats (not baseball caps) and all boys were taught that hats (or even baseball caps) were removed inside a house or school or other structure out of respect. Hats were also "tipped" as one appoached or greeted a lady. 'Lady' denoted a certain civility about a female, whereas 'woman' (as in, "She is THAT kind of woman!" ) referred to a less refined, more 'common' female. 'Common' meant something approaching 'sleazy' - because it hadn't the 'class' or 'breeding.'

I really am getting old, now that I think about it. The only place nowadays that one can see this sort of respect shown on a regular, habitual basis is in the Armed Forces. I don't know as that it is a part of basic training, but it seems to me the uniformed people I've met of late have had a refresher course in manners from somewhere.

I imagine a young person who behaved as they were taught in my day would be out-of-place, ridiculed, today. What a shame. It was the little niceties such as these that kept the fact that we are all people on this planet right out there in the open, reminded us that we are all worthy of respect just by being alive. It softened the harshness of such things as wars, the Great Depression, the Industrial Revolution.

I guess what started me off on this tangent is the idea of people treating one another as less than human. If a person is no more to you than another object in your house, you don't feel any obligation to treat it any better than you would treat the floor you walk on. Think about this: the floor has no feelings, so you can stamp all over it if you want to. You can drag furniture across it if you like, because it is just a floor. You can clean it with whatever is handy, trying to make it look new again because if it becomes scarred or ruined, well -- there is always the option of wall to wall carpeting. It's only a floor. Or a parent or a sibling or a child, a spouse, a partner, a grandparent.

If we were to teach simple ways to express respect to others around us, perhaps we would be seen as human, as beings who share the planet with those around us. As it is, the disregarding of other persons is widespread, and I can only think it is because we are so spread out. In small towns of yore, our parents knew our friends' parents, our grandparents went to the same luncheons, shopped the same stores, lived down the block from one another. We were always being watched by those who could "tell" on us - but I think there was more to it than that. We had something to look forward to. Growing up meant more than reaching a drinking or driving or voting age; it meant reaching an age where one could earn and receive the respect of those who come after us. To keep that respect, we all minded our own manners and presentation in public and in private.

Now we have sports figures joining in with melees begun by rudeness, by spectators showing their disdain by demeaning other beings. We have renegade spectators who should be banned from the game venues.

Of course, back in the pre-TV days of my parents, boxing was an entertainment quite ppopular with the masses. Back then of course, participants were accorded respect as was the sport itself, with rules and penalties for breaking those rules. I used to wonder about that, watching men hit eachother for entertainment. But I understand the rules were the rules and the referee was respected and obeyed as a matter of course.

I think what I am missing, as I write this on a sunny Florida afternoon, is the civility of people, the treating of one another as though we are all related (if you go back far enough, we probably are) and according to one another that sort of respect.

I shall now yield my soapbox.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

What I Did on my Saturday ..

It’s called a gallbladder. It is situated somewhere in the abdomen around where the liver is, because it has ducts that go to the liver (or from it) and excess cholesterol gathers there, often forming crystals of varying sizes – commonly referred to as ‘stones.’

I didn’t know much about it, really. A few years ago a friend of mine went in for same-day surgery, the removal of hers. It was done laproscopically – which means the surgeon makes a small cut somewhere over here, inserts these remarkable instruments that include a teeny tiny camera to allow the surgeon to see ‘way over there, where the gallbladder waits to be removed. All in all, it is supposed to be fairly easy. It is, I have learned, one of the most common surgeries in grown ups these days. And I am about to pencil the date of mine in on my calendar. I was the designated driver for my friend's surgery, and she seemed to enjoy herself immensely.

Yesterday I had what they call a ‘gallbladder attack’ – which is not a warlike thing at all. Rather, it is a sort of crushing gripping spasm pain that compares with no other – except maybe labor. And there is nothing good to show for such discomfort, as opposed to labor, wherein you are presented with the blessing of the day.

I have a very high pain threshold. When something hurts that much, I know there is something really wrong. But I didn’t know what it was. It started early in the morning, and by noon I decided to go to the emergency room, where they kept me half undressed and hooked me up to an EKG (I am still finding stray patches on my person – and soap does not remove the glue) then there was the IV for six hours, through which they poured increasingly large doses of Demerol – which did nothing – until the last dose, which must have been enough to put a horse to sleep. I got drowsy, but the pain didn’t go away. I even had an ultrasound done. I saw it. There’s this pouch – not unlike a small purse – and it was full of large irregular stones. My good doctor-of-the moment suggested I stay overnight so they could keep pumping me full of stuff. Or, she said, she could send me home with large dosages of prescription drugs. I opted for the latter – I prefer my own bed. It comes complete with a solicitous cat. However, finding a pharmacy open at 6:30 on a Saturday night was tricky. Fortunately I had enough cash on me to pay for the drug – normally I don’t carry money at all, just my bank card, and since I hadn’t balanced my checkbook yet, that was uncertain.

I was again reminded that pain – be it physical pain or pain of the spirit – is exhausting. But it is temperate in Florida now, the windows are open and a soft breeze comes in – and I have my own bed, complete with cat. And I know that it is something that can be fixed. Now if I can just convince the surgeon to take out some of the fat whilst he is burrowing around in there. At least, while he is in my innards, the surgeon may be able to fix the hiatial hernia that I never knew I had until 2 months ago, but which I must have had all my life.

So now I am behind in everything I had hoped to get done – but I am older now, and I can blame lapses in production to such things without batting an eye.

So here’s to pain pills!