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New Year Resolutions: Fun or Serious

Making New Year resolutions is a time-honored tradition.  It is a time when many people jokingly make self-improvement goals they have no intention to honor.  Year after year, people from presidents to school teachers engage in making such resolutions in the name of harmless fun.  However, there are those of us who take such traditions seriously.  We would never think about lying, even in fun, about anything as serious as how we intend to face a new beginning.  No one is perfect in this world!  All of us have certain undesired traits and behaviors that could stand improvement, and as a Believer in the Sanctity of New Year Resolutions (BSNYR), I – along with mega tens of like believers – am thankful for the chance to address my shortcomings and improve as a human being.  Unfortunately, there are those who have no qualms wasting this valuable opportunity, and they readily show their irreverence for the occasion through their tongue-in-cheek approach.

The news media is a prime example!  They go out of their way to support the ridiculous and embrace the New Year with a facetious simplistic approach.  These perpetrators of fake news wallow in laughable self-indulging septic resolutions that cast a shadow over the first serious event/tradition of the new year.  Sadly, such a mindless jocular beginning sets the tone for the rest of the year.  The remaining 364 days never fully recover from the year’s raucous upside-down beginning.  As dubious as that may sound, the recurring lunacy that follows throughout the year – year after year – is a testament to what happens when people do not take their New Year resolutions to heart.

Therefore, please forgive me if I proclaim my resolutions with a bit more “ump” than the average Joe.  Resolutions are the yearly life blood that spurs me to continuous improvement as a human being, and folks I don’t take that lightly.  But, if your approach to New Year resolutions is little more than fun and games, I say kudos if that tickles your pickle, but for me, I choose to be a bit more impish in my annual reproach to the New Year.  However, regardless of where you stand on this issue, have a joyous and happy New Year, and above all, give your family a hug and a kiss.  That is truly the best way to start the New Year with or without resolutions!  

2019 New Year Resolutions:

1.     I will never walk when I can ride (It doesn’t make sense);

2.     I will buy new underwear (A year is about the limit for Fruit of the Loom);

3.     I will answer my cell phone when I can find it;

4.     I will go to the gym.  (I try to visit at least once a year);

5.     I will travel, travel, travel (Have I said it’s good to be retired);

6.     I will keep my opinions to myself about self-serving meathead politicians;

7.     I will give up uncooked bread and pasta;

8.     I will remember to zip my pants when I leave the restroom (At my age, there is little cause for alarm, but the draft is not good for old folks during flu season);

9.     I will be more assertive if no one is opposed;

10.  I will spend less time listening to FOX NEWS, CNN, FACEBOOK, CONSERVATIVES, LIBERALS, DEMOCRATS, REPUBLICANS, and CRACKPOTS IN GENERAL; and

11.  I will make breakable or adjustable New Year resolutions (It’s more truthful and less stressful).

This article has been approved by the 2019 Believers in the Sanctity of New Year Resolutions (BSNYR) membership board.  All lies and responsibility for belief, disbelief, offense, feelings of betrayal, shock, and repulsiveness in the content is a figment of the imagination and squarely rests on the shoulders of the believer, disbeliever, offended, betrayed, shocked, and repulsed. 

HAPPY NEW YEAR ya’ll!

JL

©Jack Linton, January 1, 2019

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Are You a Rude and Disrespectful Cell Head?

Definition of a Cell Head:

noun
  1. short for cellular head or empty head

(1)  A person obsessed with his cell phone.

(2)  A person who lives with his eyes or ear glued to a cell phone

(3)  A person with a stronger relationship with his cell phone than with people

(4)  A person whose life is dominated by his cell phone

(5)  A rude and disrespectful person

If you are guilty of any of the following 10 cell phone behaviors you are a CELL HEAD.  Your use of your cell phone is often RUDE and DISRESPECTFUL:

  1. You are rude and disrespectful if you use your cell phone at the dinner table;
  2. You are rude and disrespectful if you use your cell phone in a restaurant while dining with others;
  3. You are rude and disrespectful if you constantly check your cell phone for new messages in the presence of other people;
  4. You are rude and disrespectful if you use your cell phone to message, text, tweet, or surf the web while visiting in someone’s home;
  5. You are rude and disrespectful if you use your cell phone in your car to message, text, tweet, or surf the web while stopped at a traffic light and it causes you to hold up traffic when the light turns green because you are not paying attention;
  6. You are rude and disrespectful if you use your cell phone to message, text, tweet, or surf the web in a movie theater during the movie;
  7. You are rude and disrespectful – but primarily disgusting – if you use your cell phone in a public restroom while sitting on the pot or standing at the urinal;
  8. You are rude and disrespectful – as well as obnoxious – if you carry on a cell phone conversation while walking down the street. walking in the mall, or doing your business in a public restroom loud enough for those around you to hear;
  9. You are rude and disrespectful if you use your cell phone while engaged in a face to face conversation with another person.  Few things are more rude or disrespectful than having a conversation with someone and in mid-sentence or story they take out their cell phone to check for messages; and
  10. You are rude and disrespectful if you cannot turn your cell phone off, leave it in the car, leave it in your purse, or place it on silent when visiting or engaged in a conversation.  Instead of being RUDE and DISRESPECTFUL, why not pleasantly surprise everyone and join the conversation?  It might surprise you to discover all the endless calls and messages that titillate and inspire your life will be waiting for you after the visit to grandma’s house or the face to face conversation with a friend.

My Advice to Cell Heads:

  1. People first – Cell phone second!
  2. If dealing with a major emergency or health issue that you must closely monitor by phone, let people know, put your cell phone on silent/vibrate, and excuse yourself politely to take a message when it buzzes. Other than that, turn your phone off and forget it for a few minutes while visiting in someone’s home or engaged in face to face conversations;
  3. Always be present for the people you are with by focusing on them rather than someone floating in cyberspace;
  4. When you enter a public restroom, put your cell phone away while doing your business. When finished with your business, wash your hands before reaching for your cell phone unless you don’t mind nasty toilet microorganisms transferred from your hands to your phone to your face;
  5. If your cell phone is the first thing you hold in the morning and the last thing you hold at night, you have a problem.  GET A LIFE!

People, there is no other way to say it . . . .

IF YOUR CELL PHONE TAKES PRIORITY OVER PEOPLE (especially family and friends), YOU ARE A RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL CELL HEAD!

You have the power to control your cell phone!  Of course, if you are a CELL HEAD, the cell phone controls you.  IT’S A CHOICE!

If someone must play second-fiddle for your attention, it should be the person on the other end of your cell phone.  There is an old adage that says “Love the one you are with!”  So, why not start a new one that says, “Be attentive to the one you are with!”  Who knows, with a little more personal interaction, we might actually break down some of the barriers, such as HUMAN DISCONNECT, that plaque our world.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 31, 2018

How to Deal with Harassing Phone Calls

One of the most annoying things about modern day life is the constant bombardment of unwanted calls to our cell and home telephones.  Telephone solicitors call day and night.  They have little, if any regard, for personal privacy, but in today’s world, that is not surprising.  Our lives are anything but private.  In fact, most of us are guilty of privacy suicide.  Daily, we toss intimate details about ourselves to the wind via social media windows such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  As a society, we readily lay our lives open to the world, so why should a few invasive telephone calls bother us?  It’s simple – it is one thing to open your front door of your own free will and invite someone inside, but it is entirely different when someone uninvited tries to slip in your backdoor by hook, crook, sham, or scam.  When the phone rings at 8:00 p.m. and it is John from The Save a Duck Foundation, how do we know John is who he says he is or if he is just another jerk trying to separate us from our hard-earned money?

On average, I receive at least ten to twelve unsolicited phone calls daily.  Callers have informed me my home computer is sending malicious code, I have been threatened the IRS will arrest me for delinquent taxes if I do not go immediately to my bank and forward money to the caller, callers have asked for donations for WOWA (Worn Out Wrestlers of America) as well as every other charitable organization known to mankind, and it doesn’t stop there!  I cannot count the number of unsolicited calls I have received for insurance, medical relief, political surveys, and save the squirrel campaigns.  It is mind boggling the schemes these modern-day bandits devise to get my personal information or inside my pocketbook.  I have placed my name on a “No Call” list more than once, but I have come to believe the service is little more than a cruel hoax.   It does not provide relief!  If anything, the harassing calls seem to increase after I place my name on the list, so what is the use!  As a result, like so many people, I am terrified to answer my phone for fear of another dip wad scam. sales pitch, petition for donations to help aging poodles, or a thinly veiled political survey.  However, lately, I have started answering my phone again, especially if I am in the mood for a little fun.  Believe me, there is fun to be had if you know how to deal with telephone solicitors.

What to do When a Marketer or Scam Artist Calls:

  1. Answer the phone and get sucked into the sales pitch or scam: If you are this gullible, you are probably the benefactor of millions of dollars that a Nigerian prince reserved in your name in a bank vault off the coast of a lost South Pacific island, and you are too busy counting your money to be concerned about harassing phone calls;
  2. Rip out all telephone landlines, and drown cell phones in the toilet: This is probably the best solution of all, but few people in today’s world can survive without a phone glued to their ear;
  3. Don’t answer: Not a bad idea but be sure to change your ringtones to something you can tolerate since whatever ringtone you choose will be perpetually ringing, singing, and hooting.  In a “no answer home,” earplugs should be mandatory for all family members;
  4. Pick up the ringing phone, and if you do not recognize the number hang up: There is a bit of satisfaction and pleasure in doing this, but it doesn’t seem to reduce the number of harassing calls at all.  If anything, now that the caller knows you are home, he often calls back within minutes.  Also, any time you answer and hang-up, your phone number is placed on a “This is a Live One” list for eternity;
  5. Pick up the phone and start breathing heavily, make clucking sounds, or yell, “Mom, we are out of toilet paper! This is the third time we have used this roll!”  The unwanted caller usually hangs up immediately, but if not, add, “Can you hold a moment while I wipe?”
  6. Answer the phone and have a little fun by wasting the caller’s time. [SEE conversations at end of blog]: This is one of my favorites.  It seems to slow down the number of harassing calls, but more important, it is heart warming to know you have wasted the time of a shameless phone solicitor.  I encourage everyone to tape a list of worthless questions to ask phone marketers to your landline or to the back of your cell phone.  The goal is to make the call as unpleasant and unproductive for the caller as possible.  Waste the caller’s time like he is wasting yours.  Strive to make the time-bandit hang up first, which he will most certainly do if you follow these three simple guidelines:  (1) Answer anything a phone marketer says with a question, (2) Never give a straight answer or confirm anything, and (3) interrupt the marketer every chance you get.  Follow these simple guidelines, and you will be amazed at how fast you begin to look forward to answering harassing phone calls, so you can harass the caller; and
  7. Always play by these five rules:
    • Do NOT play the caller’s game – control the conversation;
    • Do NOT cooperate with the caller.  Remember, the caller is not your friend;
    • Do NOT lose your temper or curse. Losing your temper and/or cursing does nothing but raise your blood pressure.  If you get so annoyed or frustrated you must curse, hang up – you have lost control of the game;
    • Remember, they called you – you did not call them!  Your space has been invaded to enable a stranger to make a buck off you or manipulate your time.  Time is money for these people, so waste as much of it as possible; and
    • Never agree to payments of any kind over the phone. With charities, you never know who you are talking to, so ask them to mail you information if you are interested.  If they are legit, they will do so.  Even if a solicitor and his cause sounds legit, the chances are good he is a fraud, so beware.

I hope you find a way to turn the tables on the phone pests.  Better yet, I hope you have a little fun at their expense.  You might as well since it is doubtful they are going away anytime soon.  Give them hell but be nice!

JL

©Jack Linton, August 18, 2018

 

The following conversations are examples of what a conversation with a phone solicitor might sound like if you decide to have some fun.  Ninety-percent of the times I engaged a phone solicitor in one these conversations, the caller hung up on me, and one-hundred percent of the time, I had a blast doing it:

CONVERSATION #1:           [Pretend you are a two-year-old, and ask “WHY?”]

Caller:             I call for Mr. Jack.

Me:                 This is he.

Caller:             Mr. Jack, can confirm you live at _________________?

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Uh . . . Sir, I need confirm I talk to Mr. Jack.

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Must confirm for security.

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Both our security, Sir.

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Must confirm. Law require.

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Sir, must you say why?

Me:                 No.

Caller:             Thank you.  May we continue?

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Uh . . . Sir, your computer send malicious signal.

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Uh . . . uh . . . We identify malicious content.  If open computer and follow my instruction can correct problem.

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Mr. Jack, you not cooperate?

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             Do you wish to speak to supervisor?

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             We may report to Microsoft authorities.

Me:                 Why?

Caller:             [muffled voices]

CLICK and dial tone  – YOU WIN!

 

CONVERSATION #2:           [Be uncooperative!]

Caller:             I call for Mr. Jack.

Me:                 This a Mr. Jack.

Caller:             Can confirm you live at _________________?

Me:                 No.

Caller:             Uh . . . Sir, I need confirm I talk to Mr. Jack.

Me:                 Who did you call?

Caller:             Mr. Jack.

Me:                 I answered, so you have confirmation.

Caller:             Uh . . . okay . . . Sir, your computer send malicious signal.

Me:                 Really!?  What kind of malicious signal?

Caller:             That why I call.  We identify malicious content.  Will correct if open                                         computer and follow instructions.

Me:                 I don’t have a computer.

Caller:             Uh . . . Yes Sir, you do.  We receive signal.

Me:                 Are you calling me a liar?

Caller:             No . . . no . . . I need fix computer.

Me:                 I don’t have a computer.

Caller:             You have computer.  We receive signal.

Me:                 You can’t.  I don’t have a computer.

Caller:             Sir, I try to help.

Me:                 If you want to help, hang up.

Caller:             First, we fix computer.

Me:                 I don’t have a computer.

Caller:             We get signal.

Me:                 Have you checked your computer?

Caller:             No.

Me:                 Maybe you should.  I don’t have a computer.

Caller:             Sir, would you like speak to supervisor?

Me:                 Yes, put him on.

Caller:             One moment please. [muffled voices]

                        CLICK and dial tone

[A couple of times a supervisor or someone playing the role of a supervisor has picked up the call]

Supervisor:     This is Bombo Ahlalli.  Mr. Jack, I understand you have problems.

Me:                    I don’t have problems.  You called me.

Supervisor:     Sir, your computer in violation of Microsoft policy.

Me:                    What policy is that?

Supervisor:     Policy against malicious virus or malware threats.

Me:                    Does that cover malicious phone calls as well?

Supervisor:     Sir, we are most legit.

Me:                    No, you are not.

Supervisor:     Yes, we are.

Me:                    Not.

Supervisor:     We are!

Me:                    Not.

Supervisor:     Why not cooperate?

Me:                    Why not hang up?

Supervisor:     Why not you hang up?

Me:                    You called me.  It would be rude if I hung up.

Supervisor:     Sir, you waste time.

Me:                   I am lonely.  I have plenty of time.

Supervisor:     [muffled voices]

Me:                   What would you like to talk about?  I have all day.

CLICK and dial tone   – YOU WIN!

 

PHONE CONVERSATION #3:        [Interrupt, Interrupt, Interrupt!]

Caller:             I call for Mr. Jack.

Me:                 This is he.

Caller:             Sir, I am . . . .

Me:                 I hate to interrupt, but how is the weather where you are?

Caller:             Sir?

Me:                 The weather.  It is hotter than Hades here.

Caller:             The weather hot here as well.  I would . . . .

Me:                 I feel your pain.  Have you seen any good movies lately?  That is a good way                          to stay out of the heat.

Caller:             No.  I call to . . . .

Me:                 I hate interrupting, but I am so glad you called.  My wife is shopping, and I                            don’t have a soul to talk to today.  I bet you make a million calls a day and                              don’t have that problem.

Caller:             Sir, may I say why call?

Me:                 You like harassing people.  That’s why you call.

Caller:             I no harass people.

Me:                 Is this the best job you can find?  I bet your mama is so proud.

Caller:             Sir?  [muffled voices]

Supervisor:     Mr. Jack, so sorry.  Our agent seems to have problem communicating.  We                           call about your computer?

Me:                   I bet you are calling on behalf of Microsoft?

Supervisor:     Yes, we . . . .

Me:                   I really appreciate the way you guys keep calling to remind me my                                          computer is doing awful things.  One of these days, I might have to take                                  you up on your offer, and I’d do it today, if I wasn’t so absolutely sure you                              are running a scam.

Supervisor:     This no scam.

Me:                    Sure, it is, and you should be ashamed.

Supervisor:     I may notify Microsoft authorities if no cooperation.

Me:                     Report away, but in the meantime, do you mind if we talk sports?  What                                do you know about sumo wrestling?

CLICK and dial tone – YOU WIN!

Choose a conversation and put it into action the next time you receive an unwanted telephone call.  It is time we start taking back our homes!

Testing, Budgets, Movies, and Free Days – Oh My!

Since the late 1990’s when the current testing craze first started to dig its heel into the throat of K-12 public school education, I have been an advocate for testing as a means of holding educators and students accountable for learning in the classroom.  I still am, but with growing reservations.  Originally, State Testing was intended as an accountability tool to measure student academic growth and improve classroom instruction; however, regrettably, I have watched it morph into a teacher eating, time wasting monster.  It, along with its local test counterparts (STAR, NWEA, and other commercially designed software programs aimed at remediation, student tracking, and general test taking prep), has become an accountability system of excessiveness void of accountability for the chaos and harm it is causing in the classroom.  I still believe K-12 education needs accountability, but not at the expense of the learning environment and profession it was created to protect and improve.

State Testing, Oh My!

  1. State testing was never intended to cut or waste instructional time! Countless instructional hours are replaced each school year not only by testing but by overboard remediation, test prep, and classroom filler time such as movies and free days.  It is hard to blame school administrators and teachers for short changing instruction in favor of test prep when their careers are judged by marginal black and white data that has little regard for real world data.   Beginning in April, sometimes earlier, and extending to the end of the school year, teachers are busy prepping/remediating kids for the BIG TESTS.  During these months, kids spend classroom time doing little to nothing in class other than prepping for the upcoming state tests, watching movies, and enjoying free days.  What is the use in teaching anything new once test season arrives seems to be a widespread teacher mindset.  As a result, there is very little new material taught the second half of the school year, especially the last quarter.  It could effectively be argued the last two months of the school year are instructionally a waste of time;
  2. State testing was never intended to chase good teachers out of the profession by adding stress, stress, and more stress! Why would any sane young person want to be a grade school teacher or a core subject area teacher in high school?  In today’s test happy, under the microscope world of education, I would strongly consider a non-tested area if I were a young teacher beginning my career.  All teaching can be stressful, but the same money is made for a non-tested area as for a tested area, so taking the less stressful, less scrutinized option makes the most sense; and
  3. State testing was never intended to dehumanize children and teachers. However, data is “black and white.”  It does not consider the gray areas, such as home life, that often have more impact on student success and growth than what the teacher does in the classroom.  I encourage anyone who has never walked in the shoes of a teacher to talk to one or many and hear this all too true side of the testing story.  Humans tend to be much more complicated than the data gathered to represent them.

Testing Budgets, Oh My!

  1. Nationwide, 1.7 billion dollars is spent each year on accountability testing in public schools. Mississippi alone spends over 10 million dollars annually on K-12 standardized assessments.  That does not include the dollars individual school districts spend on assessments such as STAR, NWEA, and ACT;
  2. State testing means Mississippi education dollars are padding the pockets of big testing companies while Mississippi teachers remain the lowest paid teachers in the nation; and
  3. State testing means many school districts, especially larger districts, are forced to hire extra administrative help to handle the volume and logistics of testing. Much of this extra work also falls on the shoulders of counselors and teachers who are already stretched to the maximum limit for time.

Movies and Free Days, Oh My!

  1. State Testing means classroom instruction in many schools basically comes to a stop in April and May as teachers prep and cram for the end of month and early May tests. In addition to the prep time, classroom movies and free days with no instructional purpose are widespread in the days before and after the state assessments;
  2. State Testing means as much as 25% of a school’s Instructional time is wasted on testing each year; and
  3. State Testing means over the course of a K-12 school career, students lose as much as 2.5 years of classroom instruction due to standardized testing and wasted classroom time. No wonder the United States ranks 14th in the world in education behind South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland, Denmark, Germany, and Russia.

Questions all Mississippians need to ask about State Testing?

  1. Is state testing good for kids? Over the years, the testing model has changed frequently, so how effective it is measuring student growth and instructional strengths and weaknesses depends largely on who is asked – teachers or test makers.  Are students better off testing or would they be better served staying in the classroom and receiving the instruction they are currently missing is the question that needs to be seriously studied?
  2. Is state testing good for teachers? The stress of state testing, poor pay, wide spread disrespect for the teaching profession, and lack of or poor administrative support are four major reasons teachers leave the profession and highly intelligent young people choose other professions over a teaching career.  How long can public schools survive the growing teacher shortage is a serious question that needs to be addressed and soon!
  3. Is state testing worth the loss of instructional time? As a grandparent and former educator, the loss/waste of instructional time is my greatest concern with present testing practices.  As a grandparent it concerns me when I talk to my grandchildren about their school day and discover instructional time is being used to review for the state tests.  As a former educator, I understand there may be a need to review the week before the test but shutting down class for a month prior to the test is, in my opinion, bordering on education malpractice.  Also, it concerns me greatly when my grandchildren tell me they have spent a week watching movies and having free time in class!  I am sorry if I step on some teachers’ toes, but that is wrong and unacceptable!  Using class instructional time excessively to prep for state tests as well as waste class time showing movies or allowing classroom free days because teachers feel it is useless to teach anything new during test season is harmful to kids.  Some teachers will argue movies can be educational, and in small teacher guided increments, I might agree, but there is little educational merit in showing whole movies in class or giving students a free day in class for the sake of keeping students entertained and out of the teacher’s hair.  Such practices are babysitting and should be monitored closely and stopped immediately; and
  4. Do state tests hold anyone accountable other than teachers? Under the present accountability model, all accountability lies on the shoulders of teachers and to a small extent the students. For a system to be truly accountable, it must hold all shareholders equally accountable including educators, students, parents, and state and local government.  I bet the state legislature could find adequate funds for public schools if they were held to the same accountability fire as teachers.

    What is the bottom line for State Testing in Mississippi?

  1. State testing has led to wasting significant classroom instructional time that is negatively impacting the education of children;
  2. During the last quarter of the school year, state testing turns the school house into a house of remediation that instructionally short changes all but the lowest functioning students; and
  3. I believe state testing has helped bring about needed improvements and accountability in Mississippi public schools, but I have also come to believe it may be doing kids more harm than good, especially when the loss of instructional time is thrown into the equation. Today’s students may be short in their knowledge of geography, but they can engage in movie trivia with confidence and take a test with the best.

I am deeply saddened and disappointed to say accountability testing in Mississippi may have reached a plateau surrounded by shear drops of rocky hazardous canyons with no bottom in sight and no bridge sturdy enough to cross to the other side.  In the quest for continued improvement, good intentions have pushed public schools to the edge.  Mississippi has grown from a state education system with little accountability to a system so deep in accountability, it has lost sight of what is most important – TEACHING KIDS or DATA COLLECTION?  All too often, too much of a good thing can result in diminished returns, and that is the case, as I see it, for testing in K-12 public schools.  The current state of standardized testing has become too much of a good thing.  Testing has become a good idea gone bad!  As a direct or indirect result of state testing, classroom instruction has been abused.  Schools have traded instruction for data that is compromised by the demise of classroom instruction resulting from an overabundance of data collection.  Some testing is reasonable and needed, some loss of instructional time due to testing is to be expected, but the monster that the present system has become is unacceptable and hurting kids.

Can it be fixed?  Can a device that has morphed into an almost exclusive tool for ranking and calling out teachers be saved?  Is it possible to find a solution that would be more fiscally responsible, learning friendly, less accountability biased, and less stressful?  Is it possible to have an accountability system that doesn’t bring teachers to their knees and public schools to a standstill and maybe to the brink of extinction?  YES, it can be fixed, and it should be fixed.  Like any organization, schools need accountability, but if the accountability model jeopardizes the organization through disenfranchisement of its core practitioners (teachers) and practice (instruction), changes must be made to right the ship before it is capsized, and irrevocable damage is done.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 14, 2018

Our First Cruise:  Seven Days to the Bahamas

One of the things my wife and I said we would do when we retired was go on a cruise.  We finally accomplished that goal in April when we joined another couple on a seven-day cruise out of New Orleans to the Bahamas.  Our biggest fear was my wife would get sick during the trip from the motion of the boat, and I would end up pushing her around the ship in a wheelchair as I have on two occasions at Disney World.  The first time was after she rode the Tower of Terror, which with her vertigo issues was dumb on my part for letting her ride.  I always wondered why Disney has so many wheelchairs available at their top thrill rides; now I know.  However, not willing to settle for dumb, on our next trip, I convinced her motion sickness was all in her head and she could ride Thunder Mountain.  That elevated me to the stupidity level, and for the second time I had to wheel her across Disney in search of a cool place to throw up and lay down for a spell.  So, when it came to a cruise, she wisely tuned me out, and visited her doctor for help.  I have no idea what kind of chemical wonder drug is on the patch he gave her to stick behind her ear, but it worked!  Even during a few wobbly moments when the boat rocked a little more than usual, she held her lunch and we had a wheelchairless fantastic time.

I was amazed at the organization of such a huge operation.  For a ship with 3,900 passengers and over 1,500 crew, I couldn’t believe how smoothly everything worked from boarding, to room service, to activities, to getting everyone off the boat in an orderly and time efficient manner when the cruise was over.  When it came to customer relations, I can think of several local businesses that would do well to take the cruise and study how customers should be treated, especially if return business is expected.  The only thing that was slightly disconcerting at times was the language barrier that existed when trying to communicate with ship staff.  Most of the ship personnel we encountered were Indian with a few Germans, Swedes, and Italians thrown in for good measure.  Sometimes their less than perfect English and our Southern drawl and language bias ears conflicted.  That didn’t happen often and when it did, the ship employee slowed down and listened more intently and patiently to our question.  When dealing with the customer, they never lost sight of their commitment to provide a smooth and enjoyable experience.  They were extremely friendly and helpful.  They did not exhibit an attitude they were doing us a favor to wait on us like so many local store employees often do.  The employees on the Carnival Dream acted like they enjoyed their jobs and were genuinely appreciative we had chosen their ship for our vacation.  Some of our home town businesses could learn a lot from them.

Food!  I had always heard there was plenty to eat on a cruise, and I was not disappointed in the quantity.  Italian, Mongolian, Asian, Pizza, Guy Fieri Burgers, salads, deserts, and ice cream were available throughout the day, and at night there was fine dining in the ship’s more elegant restaurants.  Overall, the fine dining experience was excellent with a waiter who called you by name while serving your table each evening.  The restaurant food was excellent, but I would strongly advise against the lasagna.  The Indian chef did not have a clue how to prepare lasagna, but he more than made up for that disaster with the prime rib and steamed mussels he prepared the last night of the cruise.  However, my favorite food on the cruise was the soft serve ice cream!  I stopped for a cone of soft serve vanilla or strawberry every time I passed a machine, which was frequently.  I don’t know where my wife can find one of those machines, but after this cruise, it is number one on my Christmas list.

Shore excursions are a big part of a cruise, and we took full advantage of our time off the boat.  Our first stop was Key West where we opted out of a paid excursion and chose to tour the town on our own.  The weather was in the 80s but otherwise perfect.  We had no idea where we were going when we left the ship, but after following the wives through countless tee-shirt, trinkets, and beach bag shops, we found a guitar store where my good friend and I were allowed by our wives to browse for a solid five minutes.  From there we toured Earnest Hemingway’s house, and ended the afternoon with key-lime pie at a little joint off the beaten path.  After the pie, we continued our leisurely stroll through the streets of Key West.  We were in no hurry until we realized we were in danger of missing our ship’s departure time.  We made it, but we were close to becoming Key West residents.  The ship was scheduled to depart at 4:30 p.m.; we made it back to the ship at 4:20 p.m.  In our minds, the only thing that mattered was we made it, but from the rolling eyes of the ship crew members who hurriedly ushered us aboard, I am not so sure, they felt the same way.

The second stop was at Freeport in the Bahamas where we were introduced to driving on the wrong side of the road by a very lively 75-year-old bus driver.  Freeport was one of the saddest places I have ever visited.  As we rode to Paradise Cove, our destination for the day, I was struck by the poverty of the area.  Most of the homes were run down if not completely crumbling.  Weathered blue tarps ripped into threads by the wind and rain covered many homes, a reminder of the destruction tropical storms and hurricanes brought to the little island of 40,000 people.  However, listening to the bus driver, you would have thought he lived in paradise.  He did not shy from talking about the poor conditions, yet he spoke with pride and hope for his island home.  At one point, he pointed out his home as we drove by, which was humble, but a castle compared to his neighbors.    He dropped us off at the cove where we spent the day relaxing on a small beach and snorkeling in crystal clear blue-green water.  What struck me most about Freeport was how appreciative the bus driver and the adults and teens who operated the Blue Lagoon facilities were that we had chosen to spend our time and money with them.  Not once, did I see a frown in Freeport.

The third stop was Nassau where we took a ferry to Blue Lagoon Island.  Like Paradise Cove in Freeport, the water was crystal clear and changed from blues to greens throughout the day depending on the light reflecting on the water.  We relaxed on the beach and tubed in the shallow water and enjoyed a buffet lunch as part of the excursion package.  A major attraction of the lagoon was swimming with the dolphins (an extra charge, which we did not choose to pay).  With the assistance of guides, paying customers were treated to an afternoon of swimming and playing with the beautiful and amazingly intelligent animals.  If I go back, I will spend the extra money to swim with those beautiful creatures.  The people I watched in the water with them were having too much fun for me not to give it a try.  Swimming with the dolphins in the Blue Lagoon is now on my bucket list.

As much fun as we had on the ship and the shore excursions, I must admit, the ship itself reminded me of a prison.  A very relaxing and beautiful prison but confining nevertheless.  For me, it will never replace a cross country camping trip in my travel trailer.  I enjoy open spaces, and there is little of that on a cruise ship.  However, I enjoyed the food, the live entertainment, the shore excursions, the company of good friends, and the soft serve ice cream enough to go again at the first opportunity.  However, the biggest reason I will continue to take cruises is my wife.  Not once during the trip did I have to push her in a wheelchair!  By itself, that made for a very enjoyable trip and gives me the motivation to return to the high seas as soon as possible to continue my adventures on a floating luxury shopping mall.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 4, 2018

First Love

“I remember my first love,” the man said, closed his eyes and sighed deeply.  “She was as sweet as dew at first light.  I have never met another like her.”  He knelt before the altar and worshiped First Love.

For most people, first love is a careless delicious surplus of sugary puffs of nostalgia.  They swoon in memories of white lace, tender moonlight strolls, skin as soft as silk floating on feather down, and a touch so smooth and delicate it speaks of a refreshing summer lemonade or a delicate red wine with floral undertones.  Over time, first love has a way of growing into a whimsical dream-like longing that paints it as more than a simple charity of nature.  For many, it morphs into a cosmic life event colored by all that is innocent, sweet, and righteous in the world – a lavish desert and entitlement of youth.

If man could negotiate time and the universe in a single breath and look upon the original blueprints for his existence, he would find first love was a gift, a charity, orchestrated by gods with nothing better to do.  They were spirits with no motive other than creating a smile and a warm place in the heart, who, to this day, toast one another with each first kiss of starry eyed first loves.  We should also toast first love and fall in love over and over with the honey scented nostalgia that cloaks it.  Yet, unlike those candied memories, we must take care not to place our first love on a wistful pedestal like a trophy.

First love is not an altar to kneel before.  It is not a stuffed panda, or fine wine to share openly as a prize, but a keepsake to fold into your wallet for safe keeping for fear it might sour with overexposure.  Like a mother’s womb, it is not intended as a warm cubby hole to hibernate forever.  Its sole purpose is to prepare for what is to come – to open eyes to the truth that two are better than one.  First love is training wheels on your first bicycle; the first cross you bear; the first callous on your heart.

Sweet as cherry blossoms in spring as it may be, nuzzling the fuzz on that first peach is meant as a personal curio to be placed on a sheltered shelf out of the way when done.  After all, it is charity, a gift, not intended for flaunting.  Unfortunately, human nature does not always allow first love to be treated as such; it will not permit it to be dignified by fading softly until vanquished respectfully and honestly.  No, we dig up the bones, cover them with wisps of Camelot and roses, regurgitate a surreal fleeting experience that never was as we wish to remember it.

Those first palpable pricks of the heart linger in a shadowy recess of the brain reserved for what might have been, what never was, and what we wish, want, and believe to be.  Its memory is the byproduct of an underdeveloped flap of grey tissue that utilizes spotting sparks of corkscrewed energy spitting from a humping brain stem to fabricate superficial intrigue and horny syrupy sweetness for a fleeting delusional moment in our lives.  We hold to that moment with a fondness reserved for high school pranks and fetching our own switch for Mama to tan our backside.  Those good old days and memories we sweeten with saccharin.

That most people are indebted to a name they only speak in moral seriousness is without question.  That they are ensnared deep within a constantly gentrifying lair of sugarcoated indulgence of half-truths is also without question.  In the name of first love, they allow themselves to be imprisoned by plain prose exuding romantic mediocrity blinded by sunlight caught in crystal windows.   Their reason is intermittently waxed incomprehensible; they are blinded or at least enveloped by a fantasy shrouded in essentialist qualities of love – a fantasy inseparable from reality.

A charity of nature designed to unlock hearts and open souls to the beauty of the human bond, first love should be smiled upon and thought of tenderly for its intended good.  It should not be allowed to fester into a gauzy distraction or a model holding all future love accountable.  It was never intended to be idolized or placed on a pedestal that might bring the adoration of future love into question, nor was it ever intended as a gauge for future romantic relationships.  First love is a foyer to a greater room; it is simply the beginning of the grandest adventure of all – love.  It is practice for the real thing to come; it was never intended as a prototype of the real game.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 9, 2018

Henny Chicken’s Escort Service:  A Story with a Moral

Henny Chicken left her job after working nineteen years for KFC corporate.  She had thought of leaving many times, but each time she was about to pull the plug, she moved up the pecking order, and edged a little closer to the proverbial wire ceiling.  It was different this time though!  She had endured her tail feathers being stroked for the last time, and hush promotions to ease her squawking no longer mattered.  Just once, she would like to move up the corporate ladder for what happened from the neck up, rather than the neck down.  The paper promotions resulted in slight improvement, but in some ways set her up for even more harassment.  The bosses looked at her as willing to do whatever to get a promotion, and the rest of the employees looked at her as a chicken lipped Jezebel sleeping her way to the top.  She loved her job, and did not want to leave, but what else could a hen do?  Being treated and thought of as less than a chicken stuck in her craw, and made her miserable.  All she wanted was to work and live in a place where a chick could cross the road and not have her motives or gender questioned.

The cutesy office breast and leg jokes grew old even if breasts were the foundation for the company and her pension.  She simply could not take being considered a piece of meat any longer.   Scratching out a living for chicken feed instead of living off her fluffy corporate paycheck would be difficult, but for a new life, she knew she was up to the challenge.  Besides, she couldn’t wait to see the company struggle without her; after all, the rooster may crow but the hen delivers the goods.  KFC would be a chicken with its head cut off without her.  So, Henny built up her nest egg, and flew the coop to set out on her own.

The first morning after leaving her job was the best.  She slept until noon, dressed like a stinking sloppy crow, and relaxed all day on her balcony.  Wrapped in the warmth of sunshine and her new life, she couldn’t believe how free and renewed she felt.  It was an incredible feeling!  No roosters interested more in what was under her feathers than what was between her ears; no obligatory seductive cackles to massage rooster egos; and no constant greasing the skillet to keep peace!  The only time her tail feathers were ruffled was when she scratched.  What more could she ask for; her new life was simply heaven.

Unfortunately, outside her modest coop, the same was not true.  To her surprise, the outside world was more twisted than the corporate world.  She could not walk past a street corner without hearing a breast, thigh, or leg joke.  Unlike the office, on the street there was no pretentious cutesiness, it was strictly hard core, and there was no promotion if she was offended, which of course she was.  At least the roosters at work engaged in a certain amount of quality control, and treated her to her beak like a real chicken.  All the cock-a-doodle-doos she met now were interested in was tenderness, juiciness, and flavor as if she was a USDA commodity.   Bottom line, they were only interested in the amount of usable lean meat on her carcass.  The cool cat raccoons and possums were the worst of the lot.

Her social life also suffered.  Engaging in hen parties with friends from her old job was not fun anymore since she was no longer privy to the latest greatest gossip from around the feeding and water troughs and had little to share.   Even the chick flicks she at first attended twice a week left her feeling violated and used since they were nothing more than a banty rooster on a June bug story.  She also found going to the Cock of the Walk with her girl-hens for cocktails was no longer as much fun.  She had nothing in common with her old friends, and new friends were as hard to find as hen teeth.  The only bright side was she no longer had to put up with the cock and bull of the workplace.

One morning, after a less than fun night out, Henny woke and went for a long walk.  She had to admit that her new life had turned out to be egg on her face, she was still miserable, and KFC was doing wonderfully without her, which left her with little to do but brood.  After a while, she noticed a possum and armadillo following her.  From the look in their eyes there was little doubt they thought she looked finger licking good, so Henny picked up her pace.  She walked around the block several times hoping to lose them, but with each lap they gained ground until they were virtually parting her back feathers with their breaths.  But, she was not hatched yesterday; she knew exactly what to do.  She crossed the street.  Not thinking, the possum and armadillo followed her, and were immediately flattened by a Sanderson Farms chicken truck, proving once again that unlike a chicken some creatures indeed cannot cross the road.

Roadkill always made her feel safe and at ease, but there was also a slight tinge of sadness.  She couldn’t imagine living a life confined to one side of the road.  Being so cooped up would have driven her crazy.  At that moment a light clicked on in her head.  There was no time draining incubation period; the most marvelous idea of her life merely hatched!  It was a made from scratch idea that would allow her to finally come home to roost.  Instead of being subjected to constant poppycock as she was in her old job, she would rule the roost.  She might have to wing it at first, but the more she thought about it, the better she liked her idea.

Two years later, Henny was the talk of Egg Street.  She not only manipulated her idea into a multibillion dollar enterprise, but she bought KFC and opened a line of fleece and feather lined lingerie as well.  However, the kingpin of her financial kingdom remained embedded in that one brilliant roadkill inspired idea known to investors as HES and globally as Henny’s Escort Service for Potential Road Kill Victims.  For the first time in the history of the world, raccoons, possums, and armadillos could travel anywhere they chose safely.  Henny’s only stipulation other than getting paid was raccoons, possums, and armadillos had to swear off ruffling tail feathers, breast and thigh jokes, and other obnoxious behavior toward hens.  As for, boastful strutting harassing roosters, the business world followed Henny’s lead and stripped them of their management positions and relegated them to assist at diaper changing stations in public restrooms.  As for Henny, she slept until noon every day, dressed like a stinking sloppy crow, and relaxed all day on her penthouse balcony reading, For Whom the Chicken Crows, which of course she wrote.

Moral of the Story:

With a cool head and imagination, it is possible to make chicken salad out of chicken poop.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 6, 2018