Some Days I Feel Like Ruth Langmore

I got called out this week for what was perceived as an over-reaction to a recurring problem in our neighborhood. Point taken. There’s probably some validity to the comments. And yet, for those of us who keep trying to put up, shut up, and allow for what is flat-out unacceptable because of this or that extenuating circumstance—we’re reaching our limit. A constant grind of recent annoyances made we want to go all Ruth Langmore from Ozark and spew obscenities at the top of my lungs. Ruth’s character is feisty white trash with a heart of gold and barrels through life with an arsenal of spectacular profanity. Most of the people on the receiving end of Ruth’s F-word-laced tirades deserve them.

I don’t know—maybe it’s the heat or the constant barrage of depressing news or simply being officially old, but I keep looking out at the world and wondering how we managed to reach this point. (This  interminable virus doesn’t help matters, either.) Has the lack of responsibility, the rudeness, and the entitlement always been here but social media makes it more obvious? Why is it so hard to say I was wrong and accept that there are going to be consequences for our words and behavior? We don’t accept consequences anymore. Instead, we make excuses, lie, and file lawsuits.

Ok, Boomer alert, but I didn’t grow up this way. If I did something wrong, I was punished. Period. No one looked at me and said, “Let’s talk about your choices.” I learned to apologize when I said or did something to hurt another person, and woe unto me if I said or did anything disrespectful to an adult. I was fortunate to have good parents and a stable home life, and sadly, I know that’s no longer the case for a significant number of young people. But the guardrails of common sense, respect, and decency that most of us managed to stay within, have all but disappeared, and that’s scary. People who work in jobs that involve dealing with the public are at their absolute breaking point.

Most times, I suck it up and keep my mouth shut. You can only wander into the weeds in so many places. But constantly trying to take the high road is hard, and holding back too many times can have a toxic cumulative effect resulting in potential Ruth Langmore-like implosions. Sooner or later, those of us who try not to over-react eventually do, and that just adds to the chaos.  My former teaching colleague used to say to particularly annoying students, “You have just plucked my last nerve,” and that’s where I find myself right now.

I wish I had answers. I’ve found that singing helps. So do long lunches with old friends and swimming laps in the pool. For me, simply putting my frustration and anger into words is cathartic. I try to find ways to send a little something positive back into the world, whether it’s texting a friend who needs some support or letting a car go ahead of me in a stopped line of traffic. I’ve always followed the simple advice given in a long-ago teaching seminar about discipline. In a bad situation, you’ve got two choices. You can make it better or make it worse. But these days it’s getting  harder to figure out how to make it better.

Update from the Kitchen

It started with a mighty crack that sent both dogs into full defcon 5 barking. The dishwasher, my stalwart kitchen companion who served 25 years without a single repair, had finally broken a door spring, and I knew there was no hope of a replacement part. It limped along for a few more weeks, loyal to the end, but a getting a new dishwasher was inevitable.

All new appliances seem to come with an attitude and require much drama with their installation. This time around there was no shut-off valve for the dishwasher and the one for the kitchen faucet wouldn’t turn the whole way so the hot water heater had to be shut down and well, on it went. I was informed that I needed to get a plumber to put in new valves (which I did but now there’s an issue with the hot water pressure in the faucet but that’s another story.)

The new dishwasher swept in like a fashion model on the runway, dressed in her chic chrome ensemble with this annoying (but oh so trendy) handle that sticks out a little more than I’d like but there was a six- month wait for one with a “concealed handle.” I put a load of dishes in, forcing myself to give up my long-ingrained habit of scraping and rinsing them first. “Put them in dirty,” the installer said. “The stuff in those little packets dissolves protein and food particles and if it doesn’t find any food, then it turns around and leaves etching marks on your glassware.” Wow. Nice, ok, so I’ll leave them dirty because I don’t want to be punished by the Cascade pod.

I was used to a dishwasher that sounded like a crew of sailors on KP duty laughing and joking as they slammed pots and pans around. My old dishwasher went to work with a vengeance and there was no question that it was running. If we wanted to watch TV, we didn’t turn on the dishwasher.

This machine takes polite sips of water and occasionally produces little sighs of effort but there is no raucous clamor of things being cleaned. This one is stealthy and just a touch arrogant.  I opened the door after the first load was finished to discover everything in it was wet. Not just a few droplets wet but needing to be hand-dried wet. A few phone calls later, I was told by a very helpful GE employee, that a “dry” setting must be chosen before each load or otherwise it defaults in all its ecological correctness to not drying at all. Who knew? I was used to just pressing “normal” and expecting the machine to operate that way. (In my defense, it should be noted that full instructions no longer come with an appliance. You must go online with your model number, sift through the website to find your 79-page product manual, select what pages you think you’ll need, and print them yourself.)

I suppose we’re settling in. The machine is cleaning my dishes (quietly) and drying them. I do like the top rack for utensils, and I’m gradually learning to leave food residue on the plates although at times that causes me great anxiety. (What if that cheese gets baked on forever???)

Meanwhile, across from the new dishwasher, the oven lies dormant, suffering from a blown baking element. The technician didn’t know for sure because the baking element in this five-year-old oven is hidden to allow for the less than effective “aqua bath” cleaning of the unit.  The “part is not currently at our distributor in Ohio, so it’ll be a few weeks.” Fortunately, we’re coming into grill season, and baked potatoes are great in the air fryer.

Pushing Back

I saw you. You didn’t think I did because I was busy putting grocery bags in my cart and talking with the young man at the register. I saw you glance down at the sign taped at the end of the conveyor belt that said “trainee.” I saw you turn away even though the belt was empty, and I was nearly finished. I suspect  you turned away because when you heard the cashier speaking, you thought it best not to choose this lane, even if it meant waiting longer somewhere else. Honestly, I hesitated for a moment, too.

The young man at the register had a significant speech impediment and some other physical challenges. In the time it took for him to expertly check out my groceries, we had a wonderful conversation. He was a student at Johnson and Wales University studying hospitality management and was in the area for a summer internship with Hershey enterprises. He told me he had just interviewed the new incoming coach of the Hershey Bears and that based on his presentation in a seminar, he was invited to meet with the CEO of Hershey. He said it took him a while to find his way through college as well as to be hired by this particular store chain, but he persevered and was obviously making a success of his life.

It’s so easy to pass by the opportunity to learn from someone different from us, to make assumptions and to judge based on what we see or think we see. I’ve been guilty of it many times in my life, but I can honestly say that is changing for me. I am looking for ways to get my head out of my white, privileged bubble and see the world from the perspective of those who are different from me.

At the same time, I am sickened by the constant barrage of cruelty directed at that with which we don’t agree or perhaps, don’t understand. Laughing emojis in response to legitimate information about the covid vaccine. The hurtful words and intentional deception coming from the mouths of politicians. The comments about Dr. Rachel Levine. A large sign displayed in someone’s front yard with President Biden pictured in the circle that used to end Bugs Bunny cartoons saying “Th- th- that-s all folks.”  And sometimes the cruelty is insidious and subtle –the knowing glance and the whispered aside at the cocktail party or the conference table that will determine who’s hired and who’s fired.

I’ve always been one to keep my mouth shut because it just fans the flames of divisiveness, especially online. We’re all picking our way along paths filled with social and political landmines.  But if I’m uncomfortable or offended by something expressed to me personally, I am now more likely to respond. There have been times when I deeply regret taking the safe road and not speaking up for what I believed to be right. Those experiences taught me it’s okay to push back, even at the risk of changing how I am perceived by others. And sometimes pushing back simply means choosing a different lane at the grocery store and listening to someone’s story.

Grocery Store Madness

Just came back from a trip to one of our local grocery stores and wanted to share a few tips about using the self-check-out lanes. I’m not talking about the ones for when you just have a gallon of milk and a bag of dog food. They’re convenient, and I’ve seldom had a problem with them.

But, my friends, beware of the I’m-now-a-store-employee ones with the moving belts and the multiple bagging stations. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

First of all, I totally understand that grocery store chains are trying to cut overhead costs and like so many other businesses, they can’t get enough help. But really? Only two full-service lanes open on a Friday morning?? They still have to employ people to help customers negotiate with the self-check scanners so why not just put them to work as cashiers?? Might want to see what your competition with stores in nearby towns is doing. I can honestly say I have never waited for more than one person ahead of me in their check-out lanes, even on a day before a holiday. And their cashiers graciously and efficiently bag your groceries all the while carrying on pleasant conversations about how to cook the items you’re purchasing.

But I digress. Today, I had what I would call a moderate number of items in my cart. Too many for the quick lanes but a glance at the two staffed registers showed long lines of people who would potentially write checks to pay for their groceries or argue about expired coupons. So I took a deep breath and headed for the varsity self-check lanes.

Do not attempt this method if you are by yourself. One person cannot unload the cart and get the items scanned and bagged to meet the standards of the dis-embodied voice inside the computer. It can’t be done. I felt like I was in that famous scene from the old Lucy show where she and Ethel were working in the candy factory, and they couldn’t keep up with the conveyor belt. Fortunately, I’m someone who always weighs and labels my produce, because I can’t imagine what trials await those who must “look up” an item.

The first prompt is “Please place your item in the bagging area.” Yes, I’m doing that, give me a minute for God’s sake. When I tried to put the filled bags back in the cart (which still wasn’t empty), the computer yelled at me. “Please do not remove items from the bagging area.” What? Where am I supposed to put all this stuff? And what about my twenty-five pound box of cat litter that doesn’t fit in the bag-holder space? What do I do with that? Then it’s “Are you ready to complete your order?” No, damn it, I’m trying to figure out where to put these bags I’m not allowed to remove from the bagging area. The teenager monitoring all of this came over numerous times to wave his badge in front of the computer which acts as a sort of sedative for the machine. It sighs, re-sets itself and allows you to continue scanning. On one of his trips, he leaned over and said, “I’ll tell you a secret. If you wait until you see the red light on the scanner, you can move your bags into the cart.”

WHAT??? Why don’t they freaking tell us that?? Nothing on the screen says that a red light means you’re in a neutral zone and you can move groceries wherever you want. I missed that during orientation. Oh, I forgot. There was no orientation. I’m just a customer trying to make it easier for the corporate bigwigs to buy another yacht. Sorry—didn’t mean to be snarky but there is some truth to that.

I finally completed the transaction with my groceries shoved haphazardly into bags—not my usual neat and efficient process which has prompted cashiers to ask, “Were you ever a bagger?” It probably took as long as if I had stood in line behind the check-writers. Here’s a thought. Maybe take that creepy robot who wanders around the store dodging carts and making a general nuisance of himself and teach him to run the registers.