I’m mostly glad that the rick-man and I decided to skip this summer’s travel season. The travel news from multiple friends bemoans the high temperatures gripping much of the nation, the wildfires that are creating so much destruction in the west, the severe storms and flooding in both the expected and unexpected locales, and the onslaught of mosquitoes that are a byproduct of an unusually warm winter past. Not to mention the impact of travel destinations packed with summer crowds that I casually stereotype as screaming that campy song: “Schools out for summer!”
But regardless the weather, I get a wee bit “difficult” if I don’t get at least an hour of outdoor time each day. Early morning and late afternoon walks are my fallback baseline, but they forfeit the possibility of an afternoon breeze and encourage the accompaniment of mosquitoes. And so I’ve spent most mornings on my bicycle, with two hours of riding through the connecting neighborhoods of this corner of suburbia. Neighborhoods can provide an interesting backdrop to watch Mother Nature doing what Mother Nature does.
I ride my bike and watch a juvenile Red-shouldered hawk, perched on the wrought-iron gated driveway of a mini-mansion. Two mockers swoop in and give chase. Mockers can be viewed as the bullies or the security guards of the neighborhood—it depends on your view as a witness, or as a victim, of their behavior. But you have to love their consistent “This is mine!” attitude, especially when they give chase to a predator multiple times their size. And like most of Mother Nature’s creation, their species behavior is based on objective instinct for survival, as compared to a few of Mother Nature’s creation, whose species behavior may add subjective opinion into the mix. Or at least that’s what I think.
I ride my bike and watch small groups of American Robins that made the decision to spend this summer homesteading the wooded edge of a golf course community. I wonder their choice not to migrate to the cooler locales that Sibley points them toward for summer residency.
I ride through the older neighborhoods, with less material wealth and more of the grand old Live Oak trees, with gnarled and bent limbs sweeping to the ground. Why do we view trees as beautiful when they are old and gnarled and bent—and view humans as not? These oaks are alive with Blue Jays and squirrels, openly bickering over fallen nuts, homestead rights and HOA regulations.
And the common theme that unifies all of these neighborhoods? The smell of Bounce escaping from dryer vents. The smell of Bounce seems to be a uniting characteristic of middle-class American neighborhoods.
My bike ride weaves through the connecting neighborhoods that represent the stylized categories of suburban living, and I note the commonality and uniqueness of what could be categorized as lower middle-income, average-middle income and upper middle-income neighborhoods (to the point of what appears wealthy). And yes, both the easy access by bicycle and the apparent income categories reinforce the understood (but rarely discussed) architecture of suburbia: low income neighborhoods are not directly connected by street routes that are easily traversed by bicycle.
I can readily oversimplify the differences in lower-, average- and upper-middle income neighborhoods by noting the numbers of commercial lawn companies frequenting each neighborhood. My observations would propose a direct correlation between the wealth of a neighborhood and the number of diesel trucks pulling trailer-beds of mowing and lawn equipment. Simply observed: the wealthier the neighborhood, the greater the number of lawn service trucks I must avoid. The economics and environmental impact of residential commercial lawn services would make an interesting discussion--but not here.
I pause for a drink of water, an hour’s ride away from my corner of suburbia where small townhomes and shared green space are the norm. I gaze upon the manicured lawns and gardens of one of the area’s wealthiest of neighborhoods:
I won’t be a hypocrite. I like riding my bike through the wealthier neighborhoods. The streets are smooth and wide, and the yards and gardens are lovely. And riding my bike through the wealthier neighborhoods provides the added benefit of helping me increase my lung capacity, due to the number of times I hold my breath.
I hold my breath (and pedal faster) each time I ride past a commercial work crew pushing mega-lawn mowers and backpacking mega-leaf blowers across those well-maintained yards. The lawn equipment expels the smells of combusted gasoline and oil fumes, and throws the smells of freshly mowed St. Augustine grass clippings (until the clippings seemingly disappear further down the street or into storm drains). I hold my breath as I quickly pedal past the hard work at hand, avoiding the smells of expelled carcinogens and thrown allergens, exhaling and sucking air as soon as I’ve ridden past a smell’s throw from the yard. And just as suddenly as I catch my breath, pondering the health of the lawn crew, I again suddenly suck in a gulp of air and hold my breath, this time pedaling slower, yielding the street to yet another mowing company’s diesel exhaust-fumed truck as it pulls its trailer-bed of mowing equipment past me, on way to a next customer’s yard.
Yes, these wealthy neighborhoods give my lung capacity good exercise. And almost always the diesel trucks are carrying a work crew that shares a friendly wave as they go by. The economics, environmental impact and employee medical benefits of residential commercial lawn service companies would make an interesting discussion--but not here.
But this week I’ve most wondered about two separate sightings of the same bumper sticker. The second sighting afforded me a quick photograph:
I’ve pondered this bumper sticker more times this week than I should probably admit. And I’ve come to one conclusion: this expression, albeit crudely phrased, may be one of the few universal truths that most people, regardless of their country of citizenship, their race, or religion (or other categories of people-grouping labels), might all agree with, in principle, if not in phrasing. I’d love to watch an international news reporter poll people from around the world and get their vote as to the likelihood of agreement for “Mean People Suck” as being a universal truth.
Not only do I believe that most people would readily understand this three-word meaning (when translated as required), but I also believe they would agree with the expression’s intended meaning. And if we are honest and transparent, I think most of us would also admit to an occasional (or frequent) bout of meanness of manner. I can understand this behavior because I can demonstrate this behavior.
“Mean” is a fascinating English word. It has so many different meanings (pun is intended). As a verb, it can express intent or purpose, such as “I mean to write shorter blog posts.” As a noun it can express several different intents, including the middle position of a group of objects or numbers. (Standardized testing will certainly expect a mastered differentiation between the mathematical mean and the statistical average.)
But this bumper sticker means to express a well-understood adjective for a people-type: the mean people among us (including ourselves). And I don’t mean the often complementary use of the word to express excellence or effective behavior, as in “She plays a mean banjo.” Nor would the bumper sticker be mistaken as expressing an action worthy of little regard (and most often used negatively). An apolitical ready example would be “Whether in agreement or not, that was no mean feat of Chief Justice Roberts.”
I think almost all people groups would recognize this bumper sticker as expressing the impact of that ever so common human behavior that causes trouble or bothers; behavior characterized by selfishness or malice; behavior that is sharply unpleasant and frequently caustic; behavior that at best can emotionally wound, and at worst can result in physical violence. I believe Tom Hanks expressed it well in “You’ve Got Mail” as he anonymously referred to someone (himself) as Mr. Nasty.
I know I can be mean, as mostly demonstrated as a verbal act of behaving badly. But sometimes I can be mean as an act of intended omission. Either way, I know I’ve just crossed the line into the world of the meanies—and it never feels good. And it is never a pretty site.
I’ve been in the presence of other people being mean, sometimes as a behavior directed toward me, or toward a friend, a co-worker, a family member. And I’ve observed, from a distance, the meanness of people as individuals and as groups. It is never a pretty site.
The older I get the less universal truths I easily grasp, or accept. But one is for sure: “Mean People Suck”