Friday, June 29, 2012

"Mean People Suck"

A week of mostly three-digit temperatures (complemented by of the upper gulf coast’s infamous humidity) has “driven” me to explore travel destinations via books, maps and on-line searches.  I find that travel planning provides the best medicine for cabin fever.  But there is no getting around the consequences of my personality:  too much time spent in our foundational home, rather than in our beloved condo-on-wheels, leaves me feeling isolated from Mother Nature and acting a tad bit cranky. 

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”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Falling Off, and Climbing Back On

The rick-man fell off his bike two weeks ago.  I’m thankful to say that other than an internally bruised shoulder (and ego) he is fine.  The shoulder took the brunt of the fall—which is a good thing, especially since he did not dislocate or break bone.  He was wearing his helmet.  He is good about the helmet habit. But the shoulder saved the head and neck from any traumatic forces.  The shoulder saved hands and elbows from harm.  But only a different set of tires could have saved his ego.

Ask any city or ‘burb biker for their opinion as to the leading cause of “falls” and I’m guessing you’ll get two consistent answers:  loose dogs and cracks in concrete.  I have multiple friends that lived to tell of broken bones, cuts and bruises after each experienced a bike wreck when colliding with a loose dog.  The stories carry the common theme of a dog “coming out of nowhere” and attacking their wheels with a suddenness that throws the rider over their handle bars.  The solution seems obvious:  dog owners have no excuse for loose dogs on neighborhood or city streets. 

My personal opinion regarding country dwellers with loose dogs (for property protection) is a subject of personal frustration to me. I’ve experienced multiple hikes that suddenly turned fearful when face-to-face with a large, loose, hostile dog (or in one case, three dogs).  I don’t claim to have a ready solution or firm position.  I’ve simply given up on solo country-road birding.

But the more common bike-wreck experience seems to be the infamous fall that occurs when a skinny-tired front wheel of a racing bike lodges in a crack or expansion joint in concrete streets.  The resulting “stopping on a dime” lock-up of the tire (and the mandatory conservation of energy of the natural sciences) propels the rider in the required direction—away from their saddle.  I am a self-proclaimed anti-skinny-tire lobbyist. At least for city and ‘burb biking.
But the rick-man’s fall, caused by his skinny-tired bike lodging in a significant crack in his concrete path, has impacted MY behavior in three ways: 

1)  I’ve started wearing my helmet again; 

2)  After over 5 years of “gentle” nagging, I no longer feel the need to point to the rick-man’s skinny tires and warn of their inherit concrete-crack danger; and

3)  Rick fell off his bike two weeks ago and yesterday climbed back on and started riding again.  I fell off my writing and blogging habit four months ago and it is time for me to climb back on and start writing again.

 I have lots of excuses for not writing:  We haven’t wandered around much in our beloved Airstream.  We missed most of the spring season's camping and birding due to a major re-roofing project; due to my own medical health challenges and a series of tests, some more invasive than others; and due to a family member’s recent surgery and recovery that warranted my attention.  All resulted in good outcomes:  a roof that doesn’t leak; medical test after medical test that resulted in “negative” reports  that are the most positive of results that we humans hope for; and a surgical recovery that is on track with no current complications.  I’ve wondered a lot about each of these events—but didn’t believe them blog worthy or blog appropriate.

 And all the above lead me to confess that this spring I’ve watched and listened to much more local, national and world news than is my normal allotment or interest.  I’ve wondered A LOT about the news; about the stories of senseless murders by Americans on home soil and abroad; about the murders and abuse by world-citizens in the name of whatever seems to be the passionate cause of that citizen; about our national politics of division and differences; about the legislation of agendas with catchy phrases that drive me crazy as a middle-aged woman.  But I’ve only known ONE THING FOR CERTAIN:  I needed to keep my mouth shut and my keyboard and blog-link silent regarding these topics.  None of these are the topics I choose to opinionate, out loud.  (unless, of course, you ask.)

But it is time for me to climb back on, after my February 18th fall from writing.  It is time for me to write, because I find it therapeutic and fulfilling--even though I’m not always wandering.  And I’ll push myself to wonder about this world’s creatures and their habitats and their natural instincts, to the exclusion of human nature.  I Know I’ll continue to spend A LOT of time wondering about the human element, but silently, by choice.  Except if I note you are riding a skinny-tired bicycle…