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All Is Not Won

Believe Me

An important (yet obvious AF) lesson in today’s world:

When everyone stops arguing with you, and you’re the last one standing, the argument hasn’t been won. You’ve just created a safe space with your crazy.

And the same goes for retreating into a world of the like-minded. Nothing has been proven correct by more voices.

Psych wards are full of people who think both are true.

Oui c'est Macron!

Macron Is the New Chocolat

(Mah-krOHH Is the New Shah-kol-AHH)

Every few years a delectable French word splashes into popular culture to the absolute delight of many. They lust for an opportunity to say the word with a robust, over-pronounced French accent, even if they don’t actually speak the language beyond “bonjour,” “oui” and “fromage.”

Allow me to take you in the Wayback Machine for a quick trip to the year 2000. The movie “Chocolat” had just been released and countless people were imploring me to see it, just so they could flamboyantly drop the movie title into conversation. They never said the title just once. “Chocolat” coming from their mouths was more tantalizingly delicious than actual chocolate going in. Their hands and faces were sticky with saying it. They couldn’t resist repeating the movie title over and over with a flourish of Frenchification, often joined with a flip of their hand or hair. And, it was never a movie. It was a “film.”

Have you seen the film ShahkolAHH?

You absolutely must see ShahkolAHH!

ShahkolAHH is such a divine film!

ShahkolAHH is to die for!

Please do tell me when you’ve seen ShahkolAHH! We must discuss ShahkolAHH!

With every insult of “ShahkolAHH!” I flinched and knew something mean was being conjured out of me. I couldn’t help it. I would respond to the offense with my face contorted in obvious confusion and then suddenly smile broadly with recognition and say “OH! You mean Chocolate! Yup, yup, pretty good movie. A bit pretentious, though. It seemed odd to have a French actress speaking English in France, instead of using subtitles. But, I guess that’s just so the American audience could understand it. Unless you speak French…? No? Oh, that’s a shame.”

I believe that outburst is my involuntary defense mechanism in response to overt pretense. Whenever a lofty & haughty conversation becomes overly conspicuous in its flamboyance, a force may be released from within me to drag the conversation down in order to restore balance in the universe. This internal force is the anti-pretense hero, put on this earth to combat the evil forces of extreme pretense. My ability to contain him is inversely proportional to the extent of the pretentious transgression. When faced with overt pretense of fabulously grand proportions, I am no more able to contain him than a werewolf can resist the full moon. We all have our cross to bear.

I struggle to suppress the furious anti-pretense hero whenever someone speaking typical American English throws in one foreign word with a flourish of over-pronunciation. This is true for any language, but always seems most obvious with French. There will always be internal rumblings from my anti-pretense hero when foodies vigorously praise fancy restaurants awarded stars by “Meeshaylahhn,” and when recent travelers breathlessly describe their visit to “Paree” where they went to the top of the “Toohr EefEHLL” in a conversation otherwise devoid of French. There is always a consistent baseline occurrence of these offenses for my inner hero to endure. The anti-pretense hero usually stays quiet on the outside during these ostentatious skirmishes, but I am struggling mightily to contain him within. It’s a hard-fought battle nobody ever sees.

A few years ago, there were intense rumblings from my anti-pretense hero when the Broadway show “Les Miserables” was made into a heavily promoted movie. The entire country immediately learned how to over-pronounce “Lay MizEHRahblooh.” I feared the worst from my anti-pretense hero. This was luckily a brief uprising from the evil forces of pretense, however, softened by the many years over which everyone had become accustomed to simply calling the stage show “Les Mis.” The movie was quickly referred to by the same abbreviation. And, so was the film.

The anti-pretense hero was adequately mollified. This allowed us to endure the overtly pretentious academy awards show during which Meryl Streep and many other Hollywood elite put their heavily practiced language skills on grand display with lofty compliments for the fully pronounced “Lay MizEHRahblooh!” Thankfully this only lasted a few hours. Any more of that nonsense and the insuppressible hero would have mercilessly advanced on Hollywood to lay it in complete ruin.

Other than the brief Les Miserables insurrection, and the consistent baseline assault level of unnecessary Frenchification, it has been relatively quiet since Chocolat. The constantly agitated hero has been contained. Until now…

The evil forces of pretense are once again swarming aggressively ever since the final month of the French presidential campaign battle between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. The speed with which our entire nation taught themselves to over-pronounce “MahKrOHH” and “Le Pehh” without learning any other word of French was nothing short of incredible.

This startled the anti-pretense hero, and that is not without consequence. The belabored enunciation of those French names thrown into a sentence otherwise spoken in a thick New York or Boston accent has me writhing on the floor and foaming at the mouth in a losing effort to suppress my anti-pretense hero. The hero is fueled by the magnitude of a pretentious action embraced by so many with persistent duration. We learned this from Chocolat. But…this is so much worse.

Please help. My inner battle with the anti-pretense hero has escalated dramatically. Ever since “MahkrOHH!!” won the election, his name has become everyone’s new favorite French word. Please understand me…I get it. I really do. Macron is worth celebrating. A win for Le Pen would have suggested that the world supported the nationalistic ideals of Donald Trump. Everyone on the right would have proudly called it “the Trump effect” and felt validated in their affection for The Donald and all that he does.

Macron is the anti-Trump hero for many. They want to show how much they appreciate Macron…and well they should! But, if we go about this the wrong way, there could be disastrous consequences. A display of support for Macron cannot be confused with a need to flamboyantly butcher the man’s name. Otherwise, the anti-pretense hero may be forever on the rampage, viciously stomping his boot into the neck of pretense until it behaves itself. I fear that if I lose this greatest of battles to suppress my anti-pretense hero, he will take me over completely and I will cease to exist.

I fear that a permanently unleashed anti-pretense hero could wreak unending havoc on this earth at cocktail parties, museum exhibit openings and book groups everywhere…perhaps near you. Anywhere. No one would be safe. I’m begging you to help. Please. Pull back hard with all your might on the reigns of “MahkrOHH!!” Don’t just do it for me. Do it for the safety of all those poor souls at polo matches, gallery openings and poetry readings whose events will be ruined if the anti-pretense hero is unleashed. An incensed anti-pretense hero rampaging to quell such a substantial uprising of overt pretense is incapable of distinguishing good intentions from bad. The collateral damage could be extensive. My only request…unless you are speaking fluent French…please pronounce “Macron” with only the very slightest roll of the “r.” Nothing more. Don’t overdo it. Don’t bring attention to yourself. Please. It hasn’t been this bad since ShahkolAHH!!

Cali the dog

My Dog is a Racist

The black & white dog pictured above is our Cali. She is a cross between a border collie and an Australian cattle dog. Cali, my wife and me makes three. And our little family is struggling with a difficult situation.

Cali has a problem with little white dogs. She hates them. Just because they’re white. We’ve tried reasoning with her. We do our best to teach her about diversity, the need to coexist and the importance of loving all dogs equally. Our mantra is that she needs to appreciate what’s on the inside, that character matters above all else. We endlessly encourage, scold, preach & lecture… to no avail.

Nothing we do has made any difference. We fear that her prejudice may be permanently ingrained. A feature rather than a bug. This pains us to admit, but…

Our dog is a black & white supremacist.

You Got Kids?

So…Do You Have Kids?

Asking someone whether they have kids is one of the most over-used conversation starters. It is usually asked without even thinking, as though the banal question might have no consequences. Maybe we should give this thoughtless question more thought.

Hey, not everyone has kids. And, there are many reasons for that. Maybe they simply don’t want kids, and they know that anyone who kicks off conversations with such a question might not easily understand that. So, that’s a topic best avoided in polite conversation, as with religion or politics. Maybe their reasons for not having kids are very personal, or even deeply troubling. The topic of children should then be avoided at all costs. Why take the risk of causing anyone harm when simply getting to know them for the first time?

This question is usually asked automatically by people who have kids, looking for others with whom to discuss kids. The question assumes that having children is so much more common than not, that the answer will most certainly be yes. This strong assumption only exacerbates any concerns of the person being asked. So, why is this question even acceptable? Why are we so polite to people who start conversations this way? Maybe we should make a pariah of this question, and drive it into an exile of well-known unacceptability.

Even if the person being asked does have kids, unless they respond with a unique & creative observation about their children, the question usually kicks off one of the most mundane conversations known to man. It could lead to feeding schedules, carpooling, youth sports, braces and sleepovers. Maybe even hobbies that can’t hold kids’ attention for more than a month, and whether their pet gerbil/hamster/turtle/snake/parakeet/goldfish lasts any longer than the hobby. Well done. Banality at its best. Bravo.

And…what if the answer is no? No…I don’t have kids. The person asking the question has done so without thinking, and usually isn’t prepared for that. Now the topic needs to be changed quickly and awkwardly. No fun for anyone. Excellent work. But, even this tension won’t deter everyone. At a party, I once overheard the follow-up question; “Well, do you plan to have children?” Now, how is THAT acceptable? We all know not to ask a plump woman whether she’s pregnant. If she’s not, you’re automatically a jerk. We also wouldn’t ask a plump person whether they’ve lost any weight. No? Well, are you trying to lose weight? C’mon now. Somehow, we don’t dare cross that line, but we do cross the line when it comes to whether someone has children.

Sure, there are lots of people who have children. You could strike up a nice conversation with any one of them about their kids, if they weren’t completely sick of them that day. Yes, it’s okay to admit you get sick and tired of your kids, even though most people won’t. But, there also many, many people without children. That may or may not be their choice. Why would anyone take the risk of stepping on that conversational landmine when just casually getting to know someone?

Consider this…remember that awful story about the kid snatched by an alligator at Disney World? They found him dead a few days later. Those parents are out there. Somewhere. I forget how long ago that happened. But, to them, it probably feels like it was just yesterday. How would one feel after asking THEM…so…you got kids? I hear awful stories every day of kids getting hit by cars, falling off amusement park rides, getting attacked by dogs, succumbing to illness, drowning, suicide, whatever…and those parents are all out there, too. Just waiting to get hit with that dreaded question upon first meeting someone.

There are also many people trying to have kids, and they’ve been trying unsuccessfully for a long time. Maybe they’ve been spending every spare dime on in vitro fertilization, and it hasn’t worked. Every month they get the same horrible news, like a gut-wrenching Groundhog Day. Maybe they’ve endured multiple miscarriages. Maybe this is tearing their marriage apart, and they’re despondent. They’re suffering more silently than the parents from the tragic Disney World story. But, they could be suffering just as much. They’re all out there, too. Just waiting to get hit with that horrible question.

There are also many people going through bitter divorces. Maybe it involves a massive custody battle which they would only discuss openly with their closest friends & family. If a stranger asks this person if they have kids, the answer is of course yes. Great! We have so much in common! Next comes the barrage of follow-up questions about age, gender, where they go to school. All easy enough to answer. But, if the custody battle has driven a wedge between the parent and their kids, deeper questions about recent likes & dislikes can become painful. Sure, they have kids, but maybe they don’t have all those answers, which can be painful and embarrassing. These poor folks are out there, too.

Then, there are those who have chosen not to have kids. Probably the least understood by those who would ask this question without thinking. I once heard a brave woman at a party answer the question with a quick “Oh hell no. No, no, no thank goodness!!” Good for her. She obviously had that shut-down answer at the ready after being asked so many times.

Try this…Why not ask about someone’s greatest passions outside of work? Or, simply ask what they do for fun? They’re not forced down a conversational path about either work or children…the two-headed monster of boring getting-to-know-you conversation. If they choose to respond with “my children” or “my career” then go with it. The green light has been given. But, if they start talking passionately about painting, beekeeping, flying planes or racing cars…well, isn’t that far more interesting? And, it’s clearly what they would rather talk about anyway, which is what starting a conversation is all about.

If you don’t think any of this is an issue, then maybe you’re completely surrounded by people who live their life exactly the way you do, and it’s all about the kids for everyone in your circle. That’s absolutely wonderful. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever. But, it’s good to be aware of that when leaving the parent bubble and you decide to ask the question. And, if you simply can’t stop yourself because this what you want to talk about most…then maybe you should only ask “so…do you have kids” when you already know the answer is a happy and enthusiastic YES.

Most Dangerous Animal

The Most Dangerous Animal On Earth

Of all the creatures roaming this earth, I used to think the most dangerous was perhaps the death stalker scorpion, maybe the black mamba snake, the saltwater crocodile or possibly the Bengal tiger. They’re all deadly, and any one of them could be considered the most lethal.

But, nope, years of experience has taught me that the deadliest creature you can encounter is a woman shopping for her guy in the men’s department. She’s convinced her lazy idiot is incapable of doing it for himself. The lady has had enough of his ineffectual buffoonery.

She’s showing him how it’s done with a bloodthirsty display of territorial box-out moves, jabbing sharp elbows and exceedingly rapid decision-making. She’s flicking through the hangers faster than a bank’s cash counting machine devours a stack of dollar bills. This gyrating F-5 tornado of razor blade body parts is followed by oppressive demands that he try on every single item she picked out and sheepishly parade around in his socks with his head down while she loudly casts her verdict on his improved appearance. About time he wore something that actually fits. She’s doing the best she can given the horrible shape he’s in. Now, get your rear end back in the changing room while she charges like a rhino to the clothing racks for more.

This is the moment of greatest danger. If you should happen to get in her way with your typically plodding male shopping habits, especially when her guy is within eyesight to learn from momma “how we hunt for food,” she will bulldoze right through you for his awe and edification. And, if you should just happen to grab the item she wanted in his size before she can get to you, well, you’re done. There is no surviving this. You may as well have picked up a grizzly bear cub right in front of its mother and repeatedly smashed its little head on a rock.