Tag Archives: daily life

Push the Panic Button!

Many, many years ago I had a summer job in the research and development arm of IBM.  It may seem very unlikely today but back then IBM was known solely as an all-male organization where you wore only white shirts, black ties, wing-tip shoes and all-blue or all-black suits.  Those of us in R & D were considered wildly outré because we were allowed to wear patterned ties, loafers and sport jackets.   I know this is hard to absorb so please take a moment, sit quietly, take deep breaths and react calmly.

I was joined by a motley crew consisting of a chemist, an electrical engineer and two lab-technicians who rebelled, in a modest way, to the straight-jacketed marine-sergeant like rules that the company imposed on us.   For example, the chemist’s office was in a noisy corridor and mine was in a quiet cul-de-sac.  Since my job was temporary, he asked if he could switch his office with mine.  I did not care but the Oberfuhrer office manager objected vehemently.  My office was too small, according to the official IBM manual on office sizes, for the chemist’s pay grade.  The chemist had no objection and I had no objection but this carried little weight with the office manager so we stayed put.  It made the chemist furious and it was then that we found a way to relieve the oddities and irregularities of our work environment:

The Panic Button!

Remember that this was way before personal computers, Photoshop, cell phone cameras or other conveniences.  The lab technicians went to their workshop and created a panic button.  They made the top of a semitransparent plastic with instructions.  It did, in fact look remarkably like today’s Office Depot Easy Button except that it was white instead of red:

Panic1

We added a switch, a light, scribed the appropriate symbol on the underside of the plastic, mounted it on the nearest wall, stood back and waited for the first case of panic relief.  We didn’t have to wait long.

Every week we crammed into our boss’ office to review the work we were doing.  Our boss – known affectionately as “Shaky” because he daily smoked about a million cigarettes and drank about a million cups of coffee with the resulting shakes – would review our fruitless efforts to create a new substance that would improve the performance of computers worldwide.  Each week we failed; were told to repeat the same experiments and come back in a week with, supposedly, better results.  The repetitive and useless endeavor began to get to the electrical engineer whose frustration started to boil over.

Quick, we said, push the Panic Button!

Panic2

Yes I know it was childish and tame by today’s standards.  It also didn’t make sense.  Why would you push a Panic Button to relieve stress?  But it worked: It amused us and annoyed the up-tight, straight-laced guys in white shirts, black ties and dark suits.  We could all use a Panic button from time to time.  In the words of George Ade, “A good jolly is worth what you pay for it.”

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London Pub Signs

The British still have a way with words:

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Masters of the Universe

I have, of late, been beset with a literary drought of curmudgeonly material but, thanks to people in my nearby neighborhood, I have been restored to my usual crankiness.

Have you noticed the great incivility that many people show you by not removing their caps, bowing down in supplication and moving back as you walk by?  Me too and it’s very annoying.  I live near a community of the most noble and lordly people on earth, at least according to their not-so-modest opinions.  These are the MOTU or the Masters of The Universe.

This exalted assembly of lawyers, doctors, athletes, executives, lobbyists and entrepreneurs lack only racks, burning oil, grand inquisitions and executioners to keep us, the serfs, in our place.

Nowhere is this exhibited with such fervor and vehemence than the parking lot of our local village center smack dab in the middle of the MOTU universe.  (Yes, I know, if you expand “MOTU universe,” you get “master of the universe universe.”  I said that MOTUs were uncivil, not literate.)  In a strange reversal of The Great Gatsby, the MOTU neighborhood sits between the city and the exurbs and countryside of the working classes.  Heaven help the poor working stiff who wanders unsuspectingly into this seemingly innocuous but dreaded purgatory.  In fact, unless there is an immediate acknowledgement of MOTU superiority, even lesser MOTUs (if there is such a thing) may be unsuspecting victims.

The purpose of the MOTU, like that of Greek gods, is to do whatever they want in whatever manner they choose.  The purpose of the rest of us is to get out of their way!  On one occasion, a MOTU was backing his behemoth out of his parking spot and ran into an obstacle which turned out to be a smaller behemoth (owned, undoubtedly, by a lesser MOTU).  It didn’t stop him: he merely crushed half the other car by backing over it and went on his way.

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What happens when two MOTUs meet?  Two possibilities occur.  Either 1) they divvy up the universe between them or 2) they battle for superiority and the rest of us get crushed beneath their feet.

I go with 2), which makes me wonder now about the vultures I sometimes see along the road.  Much maligned, vultures are very courteous about waiting their turn for a piece of the carrion that often lies on a roadside shoulder or in a ditch.  I have always assumed that the carrion was non-human but, in the land of the MOTU, who knows?

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

First of all, I have NO IDEA why I chose the title I did for this post.  It just seemed appropriate even though this post is about hearing (or, more precisely, what I heard) but it would not make sense to title it “the sound of one ear clapping” or “the sound of one ear hearing” since one ear can hear.

I had returned to my boyhood home to visit my parents.  My mother and I sat in my old bedroom which she had converted into a small den.  It was spring in the Northeast but still quite cool so the windows were all closed.  As we sat and talked, I could discern a muffled noise coming from outside.  Listening closely, I could distinguish two separate voices – one a lower gruff voice, like a pirate captain barking orders to his crew and the second a higher shrill voice, not unlike a screeching night heron.  I don’t know that these are really the most descriptive terms for these voices.  Other descriptors are a fog-horn that smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and fingernails scraped across a chalkboard.   I only know that one voice was lower and male, the other was higher and female and both were harsh and unpleasant.

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After a while listening to the voices, my mother and I looked at each other and I said “I think I recognize those voices.  That’s Uncle Fred and Aunt Ethyl.”  [Not their real names, of course.]  My uncle and aunt were having a knock-down, lights-out screaming argument.  There was nothing particularly astonishing about this since arguments between them were commonplace.  My uncle drank heavily, my aunt was shrewish and they made no bones about what each thought of the other.  I will soften this description by pointing out that I recall no physical exchange between them despite the vehemence of the arguments.  The arguments were commonplace and not astonishing to any of us in the immediate family.

What was astonishing was that my aunt and uncle were having this argument in their house – which was two blocks away.  Moreover, they were having the argument inside their house which was two blocks away with all the windows closed!  If I, today, had living witnesses, I would submit this incident to The Guinness Book of World Records as the loudest argument ever held between two people without artificial amplification.

My uncle’s heavy drinking and my aunt’s shrewish disposition and irritation with my uncle continued unabated for a number of years until my uncle’s death, which occurred early on Christmas morning.  To this day, I carry a crystal clear memory of both incidents and it may account for the reason that I have never, since that day, even thought of having a screaming argument with anyone.

After all, how could I compete?

What do you REALLY want?

We start our lives full of innocence and without pretensions.  Along the way, we start gathering aspirations – some small, others  grandiose – the ones that our parents or guidance counselor or life coach dream up for us so that we will, like Pavlovian dogs, salivate at the mere mention of them.

Of course we want to grow up to be all-star athletes or beauty queens or Phi Beta Kappa Rhodes Scholars or dot.com billionaires or rock star/athlete/movie celebrities with our own yacht and castle and gold Bentley.  Of course we want to write the next great novel.  Of course we want our children to grow up to be doctors or lawyers or CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies.

And we want to win the lottery.  And we want world peace, an end to hunger, weight loss without exercise…

But let’s get real here, folks.

What do you really want to achieve in this life?  I mean, really?!  When I started life, I had delusions of grandeur.  Now, in old age, I have delusions of adequacy.  I started life wanting to be a teenage Nobel prize-winning PhD Physicist.  Given the changes in my life, I’ll now accept unsoiled underwear as a major achievement.

So, what do I want?

  • I want to be an underachiever.
  • I want to be an Oscar-Meyer wiener.
  • I want to jam radio-free Europe in my Maiden-form bra.
  • I want to watch television for an entire week without, even once, seeing a commercial for vaginal yeast infections, erectile dysfunction or colostomy bags.
  • I want to fire Donald Trump.
  • I want the person who gives me the finger and cuts across my lane in traffic and nearly causes me to spin out and crash to end up being pulled over and ticketed by a state trooper so that I can give him the finger as I breeze on by at required speed.
  • I want the person whose dog always poops in my yard to receive a UPS package every day for a month with dog poop enclosed.
  • I want to live without hemorrhoids, heartburn or the heartbreak of psoriasis.
  • I want the sneering, smart-ass person who takes the last seat on the subway and won’t relinquish it to an old, doddering lady to be forced to fly from New York to Pretoria non-stop with the restrooms always occupied after being force-fed a diuretic (a really BIG diuretic).
  • I want a vitamin supplement that tastes like bourbon.
  • I want to have a day where I can answer every single question posed to me with the clarity, assurance and calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces at a poker table.
  • I want Rush Limbaugh to get laryngitis.
  • I want to see the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Petra, the Pyramids, Hagia Sofia and still be home in time for a dinner of shrimp and grits.
  • I do not want to be called old: I want to be called “certified pre-owned.”
  • I want a creamsicle.  A real creamsicle with a vanilla inside and an orange sherbet outside and not those fake ones without sugar or with some sort of ice cream substitute that tastes like cardboard.
  • I want to be part of a world where a chicken can cross a road without being questioned as to his intentions.

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  • I want to see Paris once more.  (The REAL Paris, not Paris Hilton).
  • I want to break even.

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So, what do YOU want?

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