A Week in the Life

Moment One:  It’s Morning Meeting in Ms. K’s third grade class this past Monday.  I’m interloping.  She’s displaying a November calendar and taking the class through the highlights of the upcoming month.  “So, friends, Happy November.  This month has several important dates for us to remember.  Tomorrow there is no school (loud cheers) because it is Election Day, when the people of our town will be choosing who will be on our Board of Education and who will be our First Selectman.  Then, Thursday is A’s birthday, so we’ll sing Happy Birthday to her.  Does anyone else have a birthday in November?

C. raises his hand.  “Yes, C. Do you have a birthday this month?” 

C. replies, “Yes.”

Ms. K. asks, “What day is your birthday, C.?”

C. replies, “August 4th.”

“Okay, well, let’s continue with the important things that are on the calendar in November.  Next week on Thursday the 11th is Veterans Day, when we honor the people who have served our country during wars.  The week after that we have Parent-Teacher conferences, so you’ll have half days (loud cheers), and I’ll get to share some of your work with your parents. And the week after that is Thanksgiving, where we remember all the things that we are thankful for.”  As she finishes the rundown of the month, R’s hand shoots into the air.  “Oh, I think you forgot one of the holidays!”

“Thank you for raising your hand, R., but next time please wait for me to call on you.”

R. keeps his hand in the air.

“Yes, R.  Thank you for waiting. Which holiday did I forget?”

R. is ready, but his response.  “I think you forgot Black Friday.  (Loud cheers), But what is Black Friday celebrating?  I forgot.”

Ms. K. being a better teacher and person than I, manages to stifle her snort, and replies calmly and without sarcasm.  “Actually, R.  Black Friday is not a holiday.  A while back some stores realized that since many people had the day after Thanksgiving off, it might be good to try to get them to come to their stores on that day.  They started having big sales to attract shoppers.  Other stores liked the idea and it caught on.”

Most of the kids nod their heads respectfully at this explanation, though they have lost some confidence in their teacher, for they know full well that it was a huge oversight to omit the biggest holiday in November, the day for which all kids are thankful, the day when deep discounts allow Santa to bring them their most desired toys.

Moment Two:  Walking Farley around the neighborhood, we notice that one of our neighbors has undertaken only a partial dismantling of the elaborate Halloween decorations in their front yard.  While some neighbors have pivoted sharply to their Christmas paraphernalia, leapfrogging effortlessly over All Saints Day, Election Day, Veterans Day, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Thanksgiving and Black Friday, others find it a little harder to let go of their gruesome decor.  They’ve put away the quaint ghosts hanging by their necks from the tree branches.  (I don’t want to get too woke for  my neighbors, but that’s an image that just doesn’t really say, charming, wholesome, kid-centered fun to me).  They’ve put away those cute little gravestones, the bony hands reaching out of the ground, and the absent-minded or temporarily-blinded witch who’s crashed into the tree.  I note the one item spared by the decor reaper.  That would be the realistic 13-foot-tall poseable skeleton.   “I guess once you set one of those up in your yard, you don’t just take it down on November First,” I mutter to Nancy.  

She has her own theory. 

“I think maybe it’s one of those skeletons that you fatten up throughout the fall, and then by late December, when it’s nice and plump, you can just put a red suit and hat on it.  It’s really a very sensible and versatile decoration.”  

I can’t wait to see the holiday transformer.

Moment Three:  While eating french fries on Friday night, we have the unpleasant experience of dipping the fry into a blob of generic ketchup.  I’m not really a super taster, but even I can tell this is a knock-off condiment.  Nancy is repulsed.  She heads out the next day to remedy the situation.  She returns home distraught.  It’s bad enough having to trek up and down every aisle at Stop ‘n Shop, (Our Stop ‘n Shop has recently embarked on one of those 52-Pick-Up type remodeling experiments.  You know, where they dismantle all the shelves, dump the contents in randomly-chosen aisles and then take secret videos of the disoriented customers to air on some remake of Candid Camera?).  Right, so it’s bad enough having to deal with that, but then to come home without the Heinz ketchup, well that’s just rubbing hot sauce in the wound.  

We joke that it is probably a supply chain issue.  Then, because I have more free time than usual (with that bonus “fall back” hour!) I Google “Ketchup shortage.”.  Sure enough, The Wall Street Journal has an article about ketchup scarcity.  I know you want to read it yourself, but I’ll summarize the tragic chain of events.  1. Pandemic hits U.S.  2. Hungry people resort to takeout. 3. Heavy demand for ketchup packets.  4.  Food establishments run out of ketchup packets, raid Costco, and later ransack our very own Super Stop ‘n Shop.   

Result:  Innocent home consumers are forced to endure knock-off catsup.

Postscript:  Nancy finds a guy in a shady lot selling Heinz ketchup out of the trunk of his Maserati.  Crisis averted. Phew.

Moment Four:  We come back from our Saturday walk with Farley to find another of our neighbors celebrating the Paris Climate Summit (not mentioned in Ms. K’s calendar overview) by sacrificing a healthy Maple tree.  While I have tended to see things from the tree’s perspective, I realize that’s sort of a snowflake outlook.  Upon further investigation, I’ve come to see things more clearly.  The tree, it seems, is “not so innocent.”  No.  I’ve come to find out that this particular one has apparently been sucking up more than its share of the water from the in-ground sprinkler system.  Talk about selfish. Speaking of which, I’ve had my own little epiphany. This afternoon, when I had to pick up after my slob of a maple tree for the second time in the same weekend, I thought, “It’s one thing to pick up after someone occasionally, but this habitual disregard for my free time is…well…exasperating.  You speak to them sternly, trying to reason with them.  They dip their boughs with apparent contrition, but then you turn your back for one day and they do the same thing, leaving their detritus all over the yard.  I think we have a right to be indignant.   Am I right?  My neighbor also told me that that whole “lungs of the earth” stuff is fake news.  “Lungs! Right!” she snorted.  “When was the last time you heard a tree cough? Didja ever think of that?!” She had me there.   And finally, you know trees have this reputation as the strong silent types, but my neighbor set me straight on that, too.  “The darn maple is always throwin’ shade on my turf, and I’m tired of it.  I’m takin’ her down.”  So there, trees.  Don’t mess with the righteous and well-educated suburbanite.   She’s got chainsaws and she’s not afraid to use ‘em.

Postscript 2:  Nancy says I may need to change my blog’s name to “More Grousing about Neighbors and Trees.”  It’s kind of catchy. 

Super-sized skeleton before transformation.

Loyalty vs. Stubbornness

It’s a rainy Sunday evening in 1996.  A baby is crying.  A man is trying to watch a football game.  Upstairs, a woman is making a late dinner to accommodate the man and his football schedule.  The man attempts to soothe the baby.  He picks her up.  She continues to wail.  He pats her back.  No change in mood.  He paces.  She bawls. He turns toward the screen, straining to hear the announcers.  He’s wearing his team jersey and his good luck charm, a ridiculous hat with burgundy and gold fake dreadlocks, his team colors.  Suddenly his team scores.  They’re in the lead.  He whoops.  On the TV he hears the band strike up the team’s fight song.  The man sings along.  “Hail to the Redskins.  Hail Vic-to- ry…” It’s a tune he’s sung with gusto since he was a young child.  “…Braves on the warpath/ Fight for old D.C.”  To his surprise, the baby stops crying.  He continues his triumphant march, chanting the ridiculous song, his contented 5-month-old resting her head on his shoulder.  It’s a rainy Sunday evening in 1996, and all seems right in the world.  A wholesome harmony of family, sports, music, and tradition.

Now it’s 2021, and I’m having a sports crisis. You can stop reading if sports bores you.  As with many of my problems, this is a classic first world sort, so you can stop reading if you’ve grown tired of first world complaints.  Sometimes I prefer to think of it as a problem with insignificant consequences, but I’m beginning to fear that that’s a rationalization.  This started as a slice of life, but it may turn into more of a therapy session.  You can stop reading if you dislike eavesdropping on other people’s internal conversations.

This year, the World Series pits the Atlanta Braves against the Houston Astros.  I don’t have a horse in this race.  My team finished in last place again.  In general, I have a knack for rooting for teams that…well…suck.  But that’s not the problem I’m talking about today.  Some have characterized this World Series as a match-up between good and evil.  The Atlanta team is the “good” and the Astros, who cheated their way to a World Series victory in 2017, are the evil.  It’s fun when sports boil down to that choice. But finding the good side is getting more complicated. Some observers have pointed out that the Braves have failings as well.  Their name, for one, makes a mascot out of Native Americans.  Other teams have found a way to change their offensive names and still maintain a following.  The Atlanta fans also do a tomahawk chop and chant that many Native Americans find demeaning.  They pointed this out in 1999, the last time the Atlanta team was in the World Series.  Twenty-two years later, the fans aren’t any more sensitive to the feelings of the people they supposedly honor with the “Braves” name.  And then there’s the fact that they aren’t really the Atlanta team anymore.  A few years back, the team moved to a new stadium in the suburbs.  One local politician stressed that they wanted to bring the product closer to the suburbanites rather than bring suburbanites into the city.  Yeah.  So, I’m having trouble seeing this as a “good vs evil” series.  Both sides are tarnished…but I’m still watching.

So how does this affect me?  I mentioned that I don’t really root for either of these teams.  Nor do I root for the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, which for ten years covered up the fact that one of its coaches sexually assaulted one of their own players.   Phew.  Glad I don’t root for that team.

No, but a team I grew up rooting for has been making its own news lately.  Yes, they did finally agree to drop their offensive name.  It took years for them to acknowledge that “Redskins” was actually a slur used by people who forcibly displaced Native Americans from their lands, but maybe it’s not quite a noble gesture when the only thing that moved them to make the change was the fact that their two biggest sponsors said they could no longer associate with the team.  Thank you Nike and FedEx.  I’ve stopped wearing their merchandise.  I’ve stopped singing their fight song.  But I haven’t stopped watching their games.

Believe it or not, the name controversy is not the reason they’re in the news these days.  I don’t know if the new reason is worse or just equally icky.  It’s hard to evaluate when it’s between racism and sexism, bigotry or misogyny.  Apparently, the team’s  front office has condoned, ignored, or abetted some really awful behavior for many years.  Within the last two years, more than a dozen women who used to work for the team have come forward with stories of mistreatment, discrimination, and abuse.  Under pressure, the team agreed to have an independent investigator look into the “culture” problem.  The investigation happened, but no written report was made, and the NFL won’t release the findings.  The NFL fined the owner $10 million.  Yes, that’s a lot to me, but I don’t think that really pinched the man with the yacht, the private jet, and the football franchise valued by Forbes at $4.2 billion.  In fifth grade terms we’d say, “Umm, ten million goes into 4.2 billion 420 times.”  He got his wrist slapped.  Recently people have been pressuring the NFL to release some of the emails that the investigator secured.  A few of them were leaked last month, and the content was so offensive that a coach for another team had to resign.  He had been emailing with the president of the Washington football team.  People are pretty sure the offensiveness wasn’t just going in one direction during these conversations.  The NFL refuses to release the emails.

In writing all this, I’m seeing one rational conclusion:  Don’t follow professional sports anymore.  Or, at the very least, don’t root for this team anymore.  Don’t watch their games.  Certainly don’t advertise their brand by purchasing jerseys or hats or socks or Christmas tree ornaments (Yes, I own several).  That seems clear and rational.  

But what about my irrational side?  The part of me that remembers caring so much about their team that I papered my bedroom walls with posters of the players.  The part of me that got so excited about games that I would wear their jersey to bed for good luck.  The part of me that would sulk for hours if they lost…a pathetic trend that even lasted into my married days, when my wife would make “consolation custard” to get me out of my funk.  I know, embarrassing.  Once I got mad at her for starting the custard before the game was officially over.  “They could still have come back!!!”  Even more embarrassing.

Now, though, I’m not sure how this organization can come back from their deficits.  Yes, they’ve fired their president and hired someone who says he’s going to clean up the culture.  Yes, next year they’ll unveil their new name and logo.  Yes, the owner has stepped back and put his wife in charge of daily oversight.  But isn’t all that just to preserve a $4.2 billion dollar asset?

I think, in writing this, that I’ve convinced myself.  My old allegiances and traditions were part of my childhood, part of a blissfully ignorant past.  It’s time for me to grow up and move on from a stubborn loyalty to a toxic team.  

It looks like I’ll be needing a new Sunday diversion.  Maybe I’ll learn how to make my own consolation custard.