Archive for the ‘Manners’ Category

A Disappeared Family

December 18th, 2014

A college chum made his family vanish in his self-written obit. A wife and four daughters vanished in his detailed recap of life and kin.

I feel a double connection. I introduced, really connected, him and the woman he’d marry….first Then over 20 years later, he’d ask me to be a witness in the bizarre and hypocritical Roman Catholic annulment tribunal.

It’s not my thought to demean any religion’s dogma or processes. Yet from a post written at the time of the declaration-of-nullity proceeding, I clearly was stunned at the acrobatics involved. Likewise, reading the obit he wrote, I marvel at the duplicity.

His second wife, also Roman Catholic, insisted on an annulment, so they could marry in their church. Her will be done. Meanwhile, while he pressured me to fill in the complex tribunal questionnaire from the Savannah diocese, I was and remain uneasy.

As requested in the tribunal cover material, I did check the papers and answers with a local priest. He heads one of the region’s largest parishes and certainly understands his church’s rules, if not MA history.  He nimbly clarified the how and why of the process. To this UU, he was an animated FAQ on nullity. While I still see it very much as a game and a fund raiser, annulment is not otherwise part of my life and that is not my church.

The puzzlement comes when the theater extended to my friend’s death statements. The RC Church is careful to claim a nullified marriage did in fact exist when it occurred and that any children resulting did not become illegitimate as a result of the declaration. With his heart conditions and knowing his end was at hand, he could not drop the ruse.

The longest paragraph in his obit lists his relatives, sort of. His second wife’s folk abound. She is “the great love of his life.” Her parents, children, grandchildren, siblings and appendices all appear. On his side, his late father appears in the previous résumé-style paragraph. At the very bottom of the survivors he mentions his late brother.

Invisible are his aged mother, his very alive sister, his first wife and his four daughters. I can surmise that he was estranged from his family, perhaps as a result of his leaving, divorcing and getting that annulment from wife #1. I can imagine wife #2 insisting he drop contact with his birth and previous family.

I’ll likely track down and call his first wife. That will mean confessing my role in the nullity process, which she may already know. That would probably be good for my psyche.

My erstwhile chum seems to prove the idea in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon that “There are no second acts in American lives.” My old buddy avoided the complications and development of his personal play, going directly to the resolution, comfortable if delusional.

 

Heir B&B

August 6th, 2014

Sure enough, you can stay at Suzy Cunningham’s on Gravel Lane in Romney, West Virginia. That means little to folk, even those who live in Hampshire County.

SuzysWhen I was thinking about a trip to my only constant home of my childhood, I was very surprised thato Airbnb had anything at all in Romney. I was very pleased to see that the Gravel Lane Guest House was one I knew well.

I tuck a cropped image of it here.

I have to wonder how many of these deep-memory/ghost houses are in the Airbnb catalog.

The back of her house shared the yard with the back of my grandparents’. Suzy and my grandmother, Mable Michael, were best friends for many decades. Suzy was maybe a decade older, likely born at the end of the 19th Century and they could chat long enough to drive all the rest of us away.

My grandfather, Bill Michael, grew patches as he called his massive gardens, every summer. Mable and Bill would play a little vegetable or fruit game frequently. She say, “Bill, I could use a few pole beans.” That was code for I’m ready to can and freeze. He’d put me to work helping him harvest several bushels. Likewise if was fruit, he’d drive up the adjacent mountains and return with huge wooden baskets of fruit.

Then the community gathered under the massive maple tree between the two houses. Suzy and Mable, other friends, relatives and any kid who didn’t hide would be put to work. We’d shell peas, string beans (remember when they had strings you had to strip?), and Lima beans. Adults got the heavy metal lawn chairs and kids squeezed onto picnic-table benches or sat on the grass.

Hours of food prep led to hours of washing and bagging or boiling and sealing jars. After a few of these episodes, the whole basement wall of shelves became stocked with several layers of beans, tomatoes, beets, picked cukes and more. One of Mable’s two basement freezers had labeled, dated freezer bags and Tupperware. (The other freezer was for meat; her son often brought by a butchered half deer too.)

My grandmother often used me as courier. I’d ferry things to or from Suzy. Mable was the great baker, so it was often a pie, cobbler or bread loaf from Marsham Street to Gravel Lane. Suzy always insisted that I come in and sit. The curtains were half drawn or more. The living room should have had the feeling of a horror movie, but Suzy was ever cheerful and every visit offered really good hard candy.

For her part, Suzy liked Mable’s front porch. It faced the mountains. We saw the apple and peach orchards. More impressively, we could watch the rain. It was a science lesson as the rain clouds formed behind the mountains, gathering and darkening as they crested. We knew what kind of rain Romney would get by seeing it fall first on the orchards. It was the weather version of a phalanx of soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder straight ahead.

Suzy even had me bring her favorite rocker to Mable’s porch. It had upholstery like a carpet bag and elaborate curved arms carved like swan heads and necks.

Suzy died long ago and Mable maybe 15 years later. My grandmother inherited and used the swan rocker. The massive maple gave into old age, no more to host the 17-year cicada invasion. That was a highlight of one youthful summer watching them push out of their shells,which were left clinging to the bark.

Suzy was not a relative, but then again was at least as good and familiar. Her house was not ours, but we were always welcome…without knocking. Like most of my grandmother and mother’s friends, she insisted I call her by her first name. As a Southerner, my default was Ma’am or Sir to anyone older than I, at least any adult. Somehow I was on a first-name basis with many who were 50 to 80 years older than I. That worked for all of us.

So seeing Suzy’s house in the catalog (only $95 a night for two and a little more for three or four) was homey in a commercial way. Over the years, the house was lightened up considerably. The beautiful wood floor aren’t smothered in oriental rugs. The appliances aren’t the creepy post-WWII colors and on and on.

But its Suzy’s house and when we visit next, I intend to stay there.

Freedom of Peek

March 5th, 2014

With mixed thoughts, I see that MA’s high court ruled today that perverts on the subway can legally take upskirt pix. (The news broke on Universal Hub, here. The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision is here.  )

Of course, doing so is intrusive, tacky, and and, well, sort of, some kind of assault.

Sure, you can state the all too obvious — women ought to wear underwear, whether they do or not, they should keep their legs together if they wear a skirt or dress. Most do. Too many don’t. I don’t want to see flashes or swathes of underpants of women or men.

Yet, what is it that seems to excite so many? Why are there websites devoted to upskirt images? Why would anyone watch a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show? Why is lingerie the, if you pardon, butt of so many comedy routines? Why do women as well as men fixate on bras and panties?

Truth be told, I remember in early puberty being turned on by men’s magazines in barber shops and plain old catalogs showing women déshabillé. That was the euphemism for in your underwear. Back then, a movie was really risqué if an actress appeared in underwear, without the dress covering the clothing that in fact covered their prurient parts.

Even today, there cultures and subcultures titillated not by the actual body parts, rather the garments that hide them. For example, Japanese press and literature frequently alludes to men’s fascination with and hope for glimpses of underpants.

As I began dating, I quickly learned to favor and choose the real over the fantasy. Is that all this fetish is about?

Even if the crotch clickers with cellphones don’t grow up and out of their fixation, even it the SJC says that’s legal, you’d hope that the targeted women and the other passengers would at least call them out.  That might stop them…unless they are into public humiliation.

Passive-aggressive porch

November 23rd, 2013

redbagsAn amusement, an annoyance and a puzzlement in one, the passive-aggressive stance of many around here to free paper bundles continues.

Here’s one example on our hill. Six weeks of Globe Direct junk ad packets clutter the porch and its steps. It’s as though the homeowners expect the advertising elves to acknowledge their errors and remove the rubble. They’ll be waiting a long, long time.

We too are getting this junk. We subscribe to the Boston Globe, so we already get the grocery and other circulars bundled in the red bags. The stuffing in the G section, the daily maggy with comics and stuff includes all this drivel on Thursday.

We’ve called the number printed on the bags and asked for them to delete us from their delivery lists. Allegedly that will happen. However, f they goof up, we’re not inclined to let the bags heap up on our stoop. We put the papers in recycling and the bag in with bags to recycle at a supermarket. Honest to gourd, anything else says slob and arrogant.

We see the same craziness and hostility when the various annual white and yellow page books appear on front walks and porches. Some neighbors let them rot in situ. Nothing else is as good as saying, “I don’t give a crap about what my house looks like.”

On occasion, I get my own flicker of craziness about this. I’d like to knock on the various doors and ask:

  • Why don’t you call the number on the bag to get out of the delivery cycle?
  • Why don’t you recycle the papers and bags in the meanwhile?
  • How can you justify just leaving this junk lying on your stoop?
  • Do you honestly think that someone else is going to clean up your front porch?

That would be crazy. I have no reason to doubt this is some sort of self-righteousness.  Someone else littered on their property. Therefore, that someone should clean up. So there.

The real so there is you have a bunch of ugly crap out front. You need to deal with it. The elves are off duty.

Plots Against Shyness

November 15th, 2013

Yes, I write this personal blog. Yes, I have a weekly audio podcast. Yes, I advocate for marriage equality. Yes, I’ve interviewed and written about many folk in politics, business and beyond over a long time.

I’m still shy, moderately introverted and far more comfortable when the attention is on someone else.

I got a double dash of public yesterday headed to and then in my fiction-writing workshop. I think such surprises can only be good for us shy sorts.

The class is in the main Copley public library, starting after dark. I was perking along, head down, when a TV reporter popped out of his van, leading with the innocuous, “Do you live in Boston.” It turns out that along Boylston Street close to last spring’s Marathon bombings, various crews were getting guy-on-the-street quotes about Bill Maher’s provocative attempts at humor on the subject.

Maher surely should have realized how lame he had been when Anthony Weiner, of all people, sitting beside him modulated the situation. When Weiner is the voice of reason, compassion and morality in the situation, Maher seriously goofed up.

I had little to say. I did manage to tell the BZ mic hand and cameraman something like Maher was being a fool. Normally he’s bright and insightful but not then. I was turning into myself in shyness and likely would not have added the Weiner judgment had it come to mind then and not 20 feet later as I headed to the library.

I very rarely watch any TV. I would not have been aware they used my ho-hum clip if chums had not let me know.

Inside, much more intense and prolonged was the psychodrama that was the last half of the class. An out-there writer who joined the class had us act out. She’d don’t corporate training and such. She said she had a useful exercise to help us commit to regular writing schedules. That sounded good but quickly stretched my comfort elastic.

The way it worked for the five of us, her included, was that one after another, we stood in a close circle. The person of the moment identified three obstacles to writing, actually writing. One person would take the role of each, such as the lure of social media drawing us away from creative work. One person would be the support. The subject heard simultaneous bombardment of reasons to procrastinate or doubt, while the lone support person and whatever messages the subject could play internally played. There was four or five very intense minutes.

Each of us came to a sort of denouement, believing that we had a handle on responses to the distractions. That was her intent and we’ll see how it plays out. We have pledged to bring in one to five pages of new work next week as proof…and then each week.

For extroverts, that kind of psychodrama without having to dress up must seem benign. It was about all I could handle. Of course, the hardest moments were when I was in the center of the circle, the focus.

I suspect both events last evening were good for me. I don’t know that I’m ready to seek more like those, but I survived.

Thumb-thing Silly

October 7th, 2013

What this neat pop-science Boston Globe article does not address is why so many of us believe, no, know, that we are splendid multitaskers. If we were anywhere as bright and observant as we pretend, we’d see frightening reflections galore that suggest otherwise.walking thumb

Adults, teens, even wee ones stumble and career into shelves, each other, closed doors and worse while punching into a (insert irony symbol, traditionally ironymark) smartphone. More poignantly than the clown bumps and pratfalls, one aspect of device-distracted humans is texting while driving, too often, killing while doing so.

The article does deal extensively with another key aspect, how iPhones and their like are great programming tools. That is, they program their ostensible owners. In fact, they are the owner in the relationship.

I’ve dealt with and even obsessed on the whole mess here numerous times. Samples are in links to posts using multitask.

A current cliché is how smart the millennials and young folk are. Aren’t they masters of technology?

That would be a resounding, “No!” for them as a group. In fact knowing how to use the icons, menus and keys on a cellphone, being comfortable with numerous social-media and their keywords, do not translate into broader intelligence or even technology skills. Instead, as many of us note, we as a populace are being dumbed down, just as we are increasingly under the control of our devices.

By cracky, Mable, it isn’t just the kids either. In a supermarket, on the street and well, everywhere, the seemingly ubiquitous Androids, iPhones and such make humans hop. 60-year-olds as well as middle-schoolers largely cannot control themselves when their device tones or jiggles. They, the nominal owners, are dancing to the notes.

A few years ago, Boomer and older folk lamented the rudeness of folk putting their phones on the restaurant table, constantly scanning them, and unhesitatingly answering them should they command so. Of course that’s ill mannered and speaks poorly of whoever raised them. And, an alter kaker like I am tells people not to bring their phone out. I, perhaps self-righteously, tell them that in my house, if we’re having a family dinner when a cell or other phone rings, that call just goes to voice. We’re busy and in the moment.

Still, for all those people who believe they are smart enough to multitask, I wish awareness. When they respond like birds or other lower animals conditioned to push a button for food or perform some other stupid pet trick, will they please see that? Will they get a grip and realize they are in thrall to their $500 gadget?

My hope would be if a 17-year-old gains that level of awareness, it would be a teachable moment. Each enlightened lad or lass would show peers how to be in charge of the device, instead of the other way around.

That smarter lifestyle might even spread to their parents and grandparents. Honestly, humans can decide what’s really urgent.

 

Self-appointed Nemesis

May 10th, 2013

A few good guys have somewhat offset the inhumanity and sociopathic deeds of the Tsarnaev butchers. Major good guy was funeral director Peter Stefan and more recently do-gooder Martha Mullin in Richmond, VA, who made federal. commonwealth, and MA city officials out to be the bozos they so often are. The two of them got Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the ground, simultaneously satisfying legal, moral, religious, and political needs.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?Newelskull

Honestly, for the People of the Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — the proscriptions and prescriptions were quite plain. Regardless of the alleged or proven sins of the previous possessor of the corpse in question, the body needed to be buried. In particular, as he was a Muslim, his remains should have gone in the ground as soon as possible and not be cremated.

Now that wasn’t all that hard was it?

Oddly enough though, the flogging by the crazed avengers has not and will not end. For a hint of only the latest vitriolic irrationality, check the comments by Boston Herald fans on the burial article.

For People of the Book, they forget that it is God who judges and not we mortals. Yet let us keep in perspective that these are likely the same hateful sorts who want to see perpetual punishment on those convicted of crimes. The concept of having served your debt to society is meaningless to them. In fact, being imprisoned for a crime is not punishment by itself, rather it is prelude to punishment; the facility must be as inhumane and dreadful as possible; prison itself is for punishment; pile it on.

Then once the sentence is complete, the ex-convict should not be allowed to earn a living or reenter society or be cleared and forgiven. Allow no forgiveness or fresh start, damn it!

I  don’t know where these people were during sermons, homilies, Bible readings or home teaching. The idea of perpetual punishment is not in our religious teaching. It came from elsewhere that they should have the authority, the right, to rain a life of anguish on sinners.

Instead, let us keep our perspective. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is nearly two months gone. His corpse remained, though he is gone. The hate and bile and faux retribution over what happened to his corpse is inane and cruel beyond belief.

Let us pause to pity those who proclaimed themselves judges of the corpses of fellow sinners. They understand neither our common commandments, nor our golden rule, nor societal decency that binds most of us. I forgive them.

 

No Need to Keep Tamerlan Alive

May 8th, 2013

stonebonesWhile it might amuse those who know me to read it, I sometimes feel I lack self-control…st least in stifling myself in commenting.

I’ve been pretty good staying away from the brothers Tsarnaev matters, despite my many thoughts and feelings. Ryan and I did riff a bit on it at the very beginning of our most recent Left Ahead show, which actually introduced the Boston mayoral contest.

I can quickly get my fill of spite and bile from protesters interviewed on the news in Worcester or Boston, or if I can stomach it, reading the comments in any related Boston Herald article. More surprising have been the preemptive moves by the nearby government officials. The Worcester cops are piling (can we say pig piling?) it on Peter Stefan, the noble funeral director who has had the guts to take the body and work for its burial by saying he owes them $30,000 for doing their jobs. That is, they directed traffic and such around the protests by his establishment. This has whiffs of when the Boston police encouraged attacking the Sacco/Vanzetti corpse transfers from the North End to Forest Hills for cremation. Self-righteousness has no place behind badges and guns.

Stefan has a long career of such as burying AIDS-related corpses and those of gang-violence victims when no one else would help their loved ones in fatal crisis. He deserves respect, not reviling. He’s one of the good guys.

Then in Cambridge, City Manager Robert Healy and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino each preemptively said publicly not to consider asking those cities to find a burial spot. Eh? I don’t know Healy, but I do know and like Menino. Such a position is beneath him.

At least some at the Globe have a more historically and humanitarian and reality based view. Consider Adrian Walker’s column today that in effect says bury the elder Tsarnaev brother, let the story fade from the news and give some peace and a little closure to those affected. A fitting companion piece by Peter Schworm cites how other hated mass murderers, child molesters and such were quickly and quietly planted without endless public drama and ceaseless coverage.

The classic message for no rest to the wicked is holding around here. Think the multiple places in Isiah, such as 57:20, But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

If MA history holds, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be convicted of the Marathon bombings, he will get life without possibility of parole instead of execution, and he will die in prison not too long away — either by his own hand or that of another inmate. That’s what we do here with the infamous and despised.

Given my classics background, my first thoughts when so many began making so much of the disposition of the corpse was to reflect on Plato’s Phaedo, describing the last hours of Socrates’ life. The philosopher had the long view and made sport with follower Crito over what he viewed as petty concerns about his corpse.

With death pending for Socrates, Crito tried to be helpful and respectful, going for the mundane details. He even asked, “How shall we bury you.” The old wag started with a joke — “Just as you please. if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you.”

Then he got more to the point. He said not to refer to the body as Socrates. It will be just a body and not the person. Thus usual or customary disposal is fine. “You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws.”

So it is here. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died three and one half weeks ago. Only those who involve themselves in keeping him alive to the public through their arrogant and self-centered proclamations cannot let him die.

My Family Didn’t Bargain

April 22nd, 2013

Surely it’s too late to become a person who dickers for everything…or anything. I wasn’t raised that way.

However this afternoon I found myself forced at my end of a complaining phone call to negotiate. It’s damn tough for me.

I grew up observing people who haggle, which suddenly became common when I went to high school in New Jersey and later lived a decade in Manhattan. Although here living in Cambridge for a while during college, I had one chum who took her sport to the Haymarket and got phenomenal deals, matching resolve with the stall vendors.

In many ways, I envy the hagglers. I’m not clear why I can’t get over this part of my upbringing. I feel very uncomfortable where others would jump right into proposing a deal, and then enjoying the back and forth, then being ready to walk away at any moment if there’s no progress.

Today’s haggle was thrust upon me. A tub refinishing company showed up to work when I was not back from the gym yet. The $399, plus $50 for a color other than white, bid suddenly shifted. The tub tech said the residual glue from the liner needed to go to get the glaze to bond — at an extra $150. I had gotten and agreed to the bid and she felt kind of stuck. The rest of the bath rehab depended on the tub refinishing.

I called after the job and the check writing. The manager alternated between unctuous and paternal.  Ha ha ha, he called his tech, and reported back to me that the extra cleaning was absolutely necessary, it took over an hour, and that we got off lucky, at the low end of the service fee. Then suddenly, we want happy customers. And so it went, with me expressing my surprise, disappointment and anger. He said he not only had the smart-phone image, but that my wife had approved the big bump. I said $445 suddenly becoming about $600 was unreasonable and that I’d told them before they arrived and even before our bid that there was glue from the old liner, as well as that their site said cleaning was part of the operation. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us added angles and details and posits.

I continued to feel and think the fee unreasonable. Then just as suddenly, he shifted to bargaining. When we were at an impasse, he asked what it would take to make me happy.  Suddenly I was back at the Haymarket, watching Peggy at work, dickering for a box of fruit. While I normally would turn away, I did feel the discomfort but felt compelled to get some morsel from the deal.

We went back and forth a few more times, but now to force the other to make an offer. He wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. I remembered from my articles for business magazines that the first one to make an offer loses.  Eventually though, he wore me down. He had no intention of telling me what he thought would make me happy. So, I looked internally at the $150 and figured he’d bite on on the low end, $50, or the silly fee for biscuit, instead of white.

He did. We did.

That is nothing to someone who grew up in a haggling family, but it was remarkable for me. I don’t do that.

I thought of Peggy and how easy that would have been for her. She attributed her attitude and skills to being Jewish. I have come to downgrade that stereotype. I do believe it is cultural though. My tub refinishing manager seemed by accent clearly Middle Eastern. Peggy was from a German, Ashkenazi heritage. As I learned working for a Roman Catholic, German deli owner, the traits that many attribute to Jews are often common among Eastern Europeans instead, everything being negotiable included.

phsToday’s bargaining session also made me recall the only time I got shipped to my adviser’s office in my three years of high school. I was a smart ass but skilled at knowing my edges, my limits. I’d push a teacher with over-familiarity and wisecracks, but ease up when she or he tensed.

My tub guy said a few times, “I want you to be happy. What will it take to make you happy?” That put me back in history class, senior year, in Mr. Sidney Mace’s room, and my moment of ignominy.

The wisecrack that broke my three year of magic was far from my funniest or worst too. Mr. Mace (or Misssssssster Maccccccccccccce as we said for his hissing sibilants) would on occasion scold me and my best friend, who sat directly behind me in the A-B row, for talking in class. That happened often as he still lived lived his WWII personal history and that was the period we studied.

It was only three days before classes ended, we’d done our papers and exams, all we had to do was to listen to yet more stories of the war campaigns he remembered.  He hissed, “Misssster Ball, it would make me very happy if you and Misssster Blumert would stop talking.” I recall then my throwaway line, “We want you to be happy, Mister Mace.”

There was a long pause and I knew that was another safe insult. However, perhaps it was the proximity to graduation or something less obvious about the moment, but after a few seconds, the whole class of perhaps 30 exploded in joyful laughter.

That was all too much for Misssssssster Macccccccccccccccce. He in turn exploded. He ordered me to report to my adviser, Mr. Otto, the short, patient guy with the fly-away wispy hair. I showed, he seemed confused, saying he hadn’t seen me in trouble before, noting that we had only a couple of days of classes, and told me to walk about the halls until the period ended and go to my next class.

The tub guy wanted me to be happy. I wanted Mr. Mace to be happy. None of that was sincere, but everything worked out for all involved.

I bet this is not the start of a bargaining life for me though.

Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.