An Afterthought to Alleviate Boredom

Today, my mom started her 17th year as a special education paraeducator at Mead High School. Her summer break has come to an end and she has my sympathies. However, my mom “going back to school” has also left me feeling a little down in the dumps.

My mom started her 17th year at Mead High School today.

You see, during the summer I am able to call my mom during my commute home from work. Now that school is back in session, I am unable to do this because she is still on the job when I am clocking out. As someone who doesn’t call home as much as I should, I am going to miss our summer afternoon phone chats. Worst of all, I recently found out that I was taking our calls for granted.

It would work like this: After I called Sidney and checked in with her, I would then call my mom a few minutes later. We would usually chat right up until I turned onto our street (about 10 minutes), at which point I would start to wrap the conversation up. By the time I was parking in the driveway, we were saying our goodbyes. Little did I know how rude I was being.

In a Dear Abby column over the weekend, a reader complained about people who call her only to pass time while driving. She noted that friends will phone her while in their vehicles, only to end the conversation once their destination is reached. In a damning rebuke, she writes “It’s as if the recipient of the call is merely an afterthought to alleviate boredom while driving.” See below for the entire letter.

This opened my eyes to something that I was doing.


Truth be told, the reader has a point…and the advice columnist thought so too. Abby called the act “insensitive” and mentioned that her own late mom would complain about callers doing the same thing.

To put my lack of sensitivity in perspective, I admit that I had never even thought about the rudness of ending a call when I arrived home. My first priority was always to get inside as quickly as possible so I could see Sloan and Sid. But I never took a moment to consider the disrespect I was showing when I told my mom “Well okay, I guess I should probably let you go…” once our house came into view.

In life, just because you didn’t have the intention of being rude doesn’t mean you weren’t rude. I need to own up with this one.

Mom, I hope you had a great first day. Please accept my apology and know from now on that I will let all phone conversations between us end naturally, even if it means sitting in the driveway for several extra minutes.

We can be oblivious to our actions. However, I do believe in the old adage of better late than never. I plan to never make someone an “afterthought to alleviate boredom” again. Don’t Blink.

Seniority Card Not Working Here

In a Dear Abby column on Sunday, a reader described her recent frustration at her apartment gym. She had a longstanding routine each day where she would arrive at the gym, hop on her favorite machine, and turn the television to a certain channel. At one point, the reader noticed a younger woman arriving shortly after she started her workout. After a couple weeks, this younger woman started arriving before the reader did. To the reader’s horror, when she would walk into the gym the younger woman would be on her machine with the TV set to a different channel. The reader explained that this new development was ruining her exercise time.

The reader asked Abby if it would be appropriate to pull her “seniority card” and ask the younger woman to defer the machine and the television remote to her. The woman was obviously hitting the gym earlier so she could beat out the reader for the preferable equipment and the TV privileges. It wasn’t fair, the reader reasoned, because her work schedule didn’t allow her to “one up” the younger woman and get there even earlier than her.

Rightfully so, Abby told the reader her proposal was out of line. It is gym etiquette, Abby responded, that equipment usage and amenity availability is distributed on a “first come, first serve” basis, not a “seniority” system.

I will say this, I know the reader’s frustration. A fan of routine myself, or, as my wife calls me, “a creature of habit,” I like doing certain tasks in a predictable manner. This translates to my workouts as well. Depending on what I am focusing on that day, I have a specific plan on what benches, machines, equipment, etc. I will be using. In a perfect world, everything will be clear and available to me at the exact minute my body says I need it. One reason why I exercise right when the gym opens early in the morning is so I can increase the chances of this “perfect world” scenario.

But, it doesn’t always happen that way. When I am in a groove and all I want to do is keep the momentum going by jumping on the incline bench, nothing sucks more than when someone else is using the only incline bench that happens to be in the gym. It might cause me to say a bad word in my head.

Although I am already at fault for letting it get to me, I always do have a backup plan. I have created my workouts in a flexible manner so that even if the backup to my backup to my backup is being used, I have something else to turn to. Although having this many alternatives is easier said than done in an apartment gym, the Dear Abby reader needs to learn to cope.

We don’t just need backup plans in the gym, we need them in all facets of life. If a meeting goes off schedule, a trip is delayed, a show is sold out, or weather ruins an occasion, we have to respond the best way possible by countering with an alternative. In most cases, pulling the “seniority card” or writing to an advice columnist is not going to solve the issue. Don’t Blink.

Those Smartphone Fact Checkers

Are you one of those fact checkers? No, I am not talking about holding a legitimate role where you scrutinize a politician’s speech or verify claims made during a Presidential debate. I am talking about the gifted individual who can whip his smartphone out during a conversation with a few of his best friends and inform his buddy that he was wrong about the year Babe Ruth played in his first Major League game. I am talking about the person who gracefully pulls her phone out of her purse to correct someone on a recipe they were discussing, confidently stating an ingredient that was missed.

So, are you a fact checker? I have to admit, I am.

Every now and then I write a blog post based on a question that is submitted to Dear Abby. Today’s lead off question was too funny not to comment on. Please take one minute to read the below:

I got a good chuckle out of reading this today.

I got a good chuckle out of reading this today.

When I read this I couldn’t help but laugh. Immediately in my head popped a vision of someone listening to every word a group is saying, hastily grabbing his phone out at every moment someone says something that is remotely questionable. At the mere utterance of a possible falsehood, the watch dog is making his thumbs go 100 MPH as he looks up the subject in question on Google. Then, after finding something that seems to contradict what the person said, the fact checker blurts out whatever it was he found online.

We all know these people, right? We still love them but sometimes they are a little too energized to prove someone wrong.

But wait one second. Didn’t I throw myself under the bus and say I was a fact checker as well? I sure did. I am not disputing my flaw at all. However, I like to think I am not at the level yet where I fact check just to make someone look bad.

Rather, I am the type of fact checker who will look into something online if the person or group I am talking with is genuinely stumped. If we are all talking about what street a building is on but we can’t seem to identify what street it actually is, I will look it up. If we are trying to figure out what football game we wanted to go to in a given season, I will look up the team schedule just so we have it in front of us.

Probably the characteristic I have that makes me closest to being a full fledged fact checker jerk is the need to be first. Let’s say a group of us find ourselves stumped on something and a person suggests “How about we look it up?” As this is an open invitation to everyone to start looking, I will take it as a challenge and will do my hardest to find the answer first.

But my insanity ends there (or so I think). I don’t hang on someone’s every word in hopes of proving him wrong. I don’t have my phone out at all times. I don’t think my ability to use Google illustrates my intelligence.

But to a degree I am a fact checker and I have to own it. However, if I ever reach the level of the “brother’s girlfriend” described in this Dear Abby column, please approach me and break my thumbs and fingers so I will stop. Thank you. Don’t Blink.

Disagreeing With Dear Abby

As I have mentioned before, I read the advice columns. Many times I will just read the question from the puzzled reader and skip out on the advice from the “expert.” However, earlier this week I read a question that was interesting enough for me to read the response.

Here in Myrtle Beach the local newspaper runs Dear Abby. In the Monday column, a high school teacher wrote in. She explained that a fellow teacher had a fundraiser where she sold brownies for $1. A student came along and cleaned her out of the brownies, buying every single one. He then proceeded to re-sell those brownies for $2 each to his classmates during lunch. The teacher who wrote for Abby’s advice praised the student for his entreprenual spirit. However, her co-workers didn’t. The fellow teachers thought it was wrong to profit off a fundraiser. Talk about a dilemma!

Abby responded by siding with the person who wrote in. She explained that the young man was entitled to do whatever he wanted with the brownies. Never one to miss out on the opportunity to slip in a zinger, Abby added “If other students were willing to spend $2 for $1 brownies, well — that’s capitalism.” Nice one.

Here is my opinion. Please, take it or leave it…

I disagree with Abby and the person who wrote in declaring that the student should be praised for making a profit. However, that doesn’t mean I agree with the reasoning offered by the other teachers either.

I think it was in bad taste for the student to buy the brownies and then re-sell them. But I don’t believe it was wrong from the standpoint that he was profiting off of a charitable cause. The fundraiser had a maximum amount of money it could make with the prices that were set. The noble cause reached the maximum goal as the product completely sold out. The money was raised and the effort was a success.

With that said, I think the student acted inappropriately. In my eyes, what he did was incredibly disrespectful to the teacher who originally sold the brownies.

I think it is safe to say that the teacher put some planning into the fundraiser. Most likely she baked those brownies or at least made arrangements for someone else to make them. She arrived on campus and put herself out there by selling treats for a good cause. The product of her labor should have ended with the selling of the brownies and the enjoyment of them by the student and whoever he wanted to give them to (free of charge). The fact that the student bought her out and then immediately started re-selling them doesn’t sit well with me.

Although probably not his intention, the actions of the student is a slap in the face to the teacher. He showed her up in front of the whole school by making it look like he was more savvy than her. What he did displayed no appreciation for the efforts of the school employee and minimized the teacher-student relationship.

I do wonder what the teacher felt like as she watched the student sell her brownies. I bet it was a personal blow and a direction she never thought her good intentions would take.

How about you? Do you agree with Dear Abby and the teacher who wrote in? Do you agree with the co-workers? Or do you side with me? I am interested to hear your opinions. Don’t Blink.

For those curious, this is the question and answer as it appeared in Monday's Dear Abby column.

For those curious, this is the question and answer as it appeared in Monday’s Dear Abby column.

An Interesting Restaurant Question

This past weekend I was reading Dear Abby and I came across an actually interesting conundrum. The reader asked Abby for her advice about a recent dining experience at a “chic” restaurant (for my Missoula readers think Plonk, Spokane readers think Twigs, and Myrtle Beach/Conway readers think the Bistro). This reader was celebrating a birthday with a large party. The appetizers had already arrived and the entrees were ordered when something happened.

The fire alarm went off. The whole restaurant was evacuated and customers waited patiently in the parking lot for over twenty minutes while the fire department arrived. A small fire had occurred in the kitchen. Upon re-entering the restaurant the reader and her guests had a lively conversation on what type of action should be taken by the business. It basically boiled down to the birthday guests taking one of two sides: The restaurant should comp the meals for all people in the place at the time or, on the other side, a heartfelt apology with other minor concessions would be sufficient.

A real good question! One that had me thinking for a little bit. After contemplating it for about fifteen minutes while driving in my car I came up with my answer: The restaurant should NOT have covered the bills for anyone in the restaurant so long as everyone still received their orders and it was satisfactory. In the long run, the people still received the product they asked for. Just because the restaurant did what they could to keep the diners safe by evacuating them it doesn’t mean that they should have to undergo a night of terrible monetary losses.

What I hope happened was that the manager or owner personally visited each table and genuinely apologized for the inconvenient disruption and updated the customers on what happened. Then, in a humble gesture, I would have advised the restaurant management to offer a free dessert to each person impacted by the fire alarm. Abby answered the question by deferring to one of her restaurant friends in California. This restauranter stated that he would personally apologize to the customers and make an adjustment to everyone’s bill to cover the inconvenience but that he wouldn’t flat out waive the entire check. What would you do?

As we are on the topic of dining out, here are two quick nuggets I witnessed in my own dining out adventures this weekend:

Please Smile: On Friday evening I went with some co-workers to the premiere of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Before the movie we went for food and drinks at the nearby Gordon Biersch. We had a waitress who seemed by all accounts to really hate her job. Either that or she was having an awful day. Whatever it was she seemed very troubled and seemed to have a permanent scowl on her face. About 45 minutes in we had a discussion at the table and agreed that we would enter into a friendly competition to see who could get her to smile first. She returned to our table and our Director of Creative Services made her smile after just a couple sentences. Honestly, even if you aren’t happy please just try to make the effort to seem like you are. People go out to eat because they want to have a nice experience.

Separate Tabs: Last night Sidney and I went to California Dreaming, a popular restaurant in Myrtle Beach. Next to our booth sat a large party of about twenty. When it came time for the crew to take care of the bill we watched mild chaos ensue. The table needed about ten different checks and according to the customers wrong items were put on the many receipts. We watched the poor waitress go back and forth, back and forth as she printed out new receipts to try to make things right. The ordeal kept dragging out and the trips back and forth kept coming. The patient server finally had enough as we watched her snap at a little boy who went up to ask her something in the hysteria of it all. My take away from this disaster is if you must split up a tab a hundred different ways take one for the team and just shut your mouth and pay for the extra side of nachos that incorrectly gets placed on your check.

A look at our meal from California Dreaming. Even with the commotion right by us, we still had an enjoyable time.

A look at our meal from California Dreaming. Even with the commotion right by us, we still had an enjoyable time.


Tomorrow my office is celebrating the birthdays of several of our staff members by eating lunch at El Patio, a famous Mexican restaurant in Conway. It should be a fun gathering but would it be bad if I said I am kind of anxious to see if any blog worthy stories occur during the course of the meal? You can be sure that if they do I will let you know. Don’t Blink.

My Advice Regarding Advice Columns

As a daily newspaper reader and an avid magazine fan, I run into these features whenever I pick one or the other up. Right up front I will say I think they are stupid and repetitive but at the same time I must admit that I still always read them. Think of it in the same way that most of us feel about the Macarena (hate the song, still will move to the beat). What I want to talk about tonight is the standard, cliché advice column.

First magazine I ever read was Highlights. As a seven or eight year old, I would tear through the hundreds of issues we had at my house skimming through the various sections of jokes, riddles, Goofus and Gallant, and the hidden picture feature before I finally got to the end of the magazine and to the very remedial advice column. Usually in two sentences, some young reader who supposedly drafted the question and sent it in all by himself/herself would ask the author of the column for help on some problem. Usually it would be something as dumb as “My parents want me to do my homework but I don’t want to. What should I tell them?” or “There is a girl I think I like. Is this weird?” The author would then respond in a very grandmother-like tone an obvious answer to the very obvious question. Stupid.

I started reading the newspaper when I was ten years old. As someone who read it from front to back, I inevitably encountered the advice column each morning. Back in the day in my hometown paper, we were treated to the “life-saving” advice of Ann Landers. At first I thought it was pretty cool, the questions asked seemed much more grown up and sophisticated than what I was getting in my Highlights magazines. But although the questions were more grown up, it didn’t take much to realize that the answers were not that hard to come up with. Even as a ten year old boy, I knew the correct answer to tell the married mother of three who asked if it was okay to secretly carry on an affair with the next door neighbor. As I read more and more of Ann Landers’ column, I realized something else: Many of the questions seemed to recycle themselves over and over. While the occasional off the wall, crazy queries made print from time to time, almost everything else was predictable: I am sweet, cute, successful, and thirty-two years old but still single, what is wrong with me? My adult son is forty years old and he still lives at my house, should I continue to let him stay here? I cheated on my wife and I have an overwhelming guilt, how do I get over this? My child’s little league coach thinks winning is everything, should I say something to him? I think my co-worker has an eating disorder, should I get her help? My mother-in-law is extremely rude, should I confront her? etc. etc. Questions like these seemed to re-enter the fray every other week. Then something happened; Ann Landers died.

When Landers died, my paper was hell-bent on filling her space with another advice columnist. In a move that brought loads of excitement to me at the breakfast table each morning, the paper ran four different advice columns over four weeks. Each column had a one week trial and whichever one got the greatest reader response would be installed as the permanent column. Some of the columns featured a little bit more of an edgy feel to them while others stayed more true to the Landers’ formula. But while styles and column photos differed, the same no-brainer questions were asked and even after just one week, content seemed to be repeating itself. If I remember correctly, my paper ended up running two advice columns that switched out every other day. The first one was, ironically, Annie’s Mailbox, a column identical to the Ann Landers column except for the subtle name change and the fact that the author was now one of Ann’s daughters. The second column was called Ask Carolyn and it dealt with the same BS as well, just maybe with a larger emphasis on relationships.

As I grew up more, started to read more papers, and became a bit more intuned with the world, I started to see advice columns for what they really were: Regurgitated common sense Q&A meant to fill up space and appease people with way too much time on their hands who might kid themselves into finding the information helpful.

I have thought to myself for a long time: How cool would it be to have an occupation as Advice Columnist? You pick out three to four questions a day, think for about five seconds on the appropriate way to answer, and send it off to the editor. I think I could handle that…hell, I might get really crazy and answer five questions each day. Not trying to disrespect the hard-working advice columnists out there, but I just don’t see much to it. I do wonder if these people in this unique occupation take their job seriously or if they kind of have an idea that they might be getting a pretty decent deal.

I am at the point where all what I do when I read the advice columns is read the questions. I don’t even care about the answers. Hate to say it, but I am much more interested in the problems that people are having rather than the generic, obvious answers. If and only if the question is somewhat unique, I haven’t heard it a thousand times before, and the advice could go a few different ways then will I have my eyes cross from the italics and down to the text that is typed out after the big A.

Speaking of the people asking the questions, I do sometimes wonder if they actually exist. I could totally see the editor of the column simply making up stuff and then having the author answer it. I mean, you really do have to be desperate to actually write in. By writing in, you are pretty much saying that 1. You can’t figure out the problem by yourself and 2. You don’t have someone close to you, someone who has your best interests at heart, who can answer your dilemma for you. Also, when people have issues, it is usually a time sensitive deal. Who would want to wait out the time for a letter to get to a national syndicated advice column office, have it sit in a mail cart with numerous other letters, and then have the tiny chance that the letter might actually even make print? By the time all of those things run their course, that problem of yours will most likely be way in the past.

Like newspapers in general, I feel advice columns are just losing their purpose. Now more connected than ever with more resources than ever, there is no need to depend on a nice old lady to answer our problems. Then again, I don’t think we ever needed them in the first place. Advice columns are gimmicky and sketchy. We have friends and family for a reason and we also have our own brains. Let’s use any of the combination of the three to answer life’s questions before we defer to Dear Abby. Don’t Blink.