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Why Black Friday Needs To End

The days of waiting in line all night for a chance at a bargain need to be over.

 

charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

[Note: The following article was originally published at Charles I. Letbetter Creative about this time last year, which is why some of the image content is NSFW. They kindly gave us permission to re-publish the entire thing so that the Old Man wouldn’t have to write something all-too-similar this year. We’ll stop complaining when the situation changes, which means we’ll have to do something else again this time next year.]

I am doing well to move this morning. No longer being accustomed to standing on my feet for hours on end, yesterday’s marathon of ten hours in the kitchen did me in. My ankles were throbbing as I fell into bed early last night. This morning, walking the dog was painful. None of my joints wanted to cooperate. This is all beside the fact that I still feel totally overstuffed from dinner. After yesterday, I don’t see how anyone can even think about getting up too damn early and standing in line for an alleged deal.

Black Friday used to be a tradition for a lot of families, but that tradition seems to be waning rather heavily.  I took note as we walked through the neighborhood this morning. Several cars were missing yesterday as many had gone to visit relatives for the holiday. However, everyone was back home this morning. No one was out shopping at 4:00 AM. The only vehicle out was the local newspaper carrier.

While it’s still much too early to get many reliable reports, lower numbers seem to be the case elsewhere. Britain tried adopting the U.S. tradition a few years ago, but reports this morning are that UK shoppers and retailers have largely turned their backs on Black Friday. We’re accustomed to hearing tales of chaos and fighting, but Business Insider sent someone out early to Wal-Mart and they reported everything was quiet, calm, and not the least bit overcrowded. Black Friday as we once knew it is dead. Sure, there’s still shopping, and greed, and one-day sales, but the whole event has changed and isn’t likely to return to the madhouse it once was.

This is a good thing.

The Myth Of Black Friday

charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

Black Friday has never been the big savings bonanza people tend to think. Prices are marked down on a few highly visible loss leaders in an attempt to get people into stores. For decades, that plan has worked. Here’s a hilarious video that explains the whole concept:

For years we’ve fallen for this piece of retail fraud. We like the idea of sales. In fact, we’ve conditioned ourselves to not pay what we think is full price for anything. Retailers know this. So, that “full price” is falsified so that the actual “full price” looks like a bargain. We fall for the trick every time.

We also like the holidays and for many Black Friday shopping is a part of their holiday routine. Whole families have been known to go out together, setting up tents in frigid temperatures, and pretending to love every minute of it because, hey, it’s the holidays and it’s families. Retailers know that as well and they’ve pushed store openings earlier to the point that many now open on Thanksgiving day itself. Why? Because they know you just can’t wait to start the holidays.

So, while retailers may be guilty of starting the whole Black Friday ruse, we’re the ones guilty of perpetuating it and making it worse. The ridiculousness only works because we buy into the whole myth. If we actually applied intelligent thought to the matter, the whole event would quickly go away.

 

But Wait, Something Is Changing

charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

This year Black Friday is noticeably different. Multiple news sources are finding that Black Friday is losing its focus and online sales surged yesterday as more people decided to stay home and shop online. Major big-box retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy as well as online powerhouse Amazon all started their Black Friday sales two weeks in advance for those savvy enough to be paying attention.

In some ways, Black Friday isn’t just a one-day event, but an entire shopping season unto itself. With online sales having grown by over 16%, brick-and-mortar retailers are having to scramble harder and getting much less in return. Last year’s Black Friday numbers were some of the most disappointing ever, leaving a large number of stores still looking at red on their accounting books rather than black. The hope this year has been that by expanding the sales as well as embracing online shopping that disaster might be averted.

Take note, though: US retailers weren’t hurting nearly as bad as they let on. Sales numbers at discount merchants, which is where most of you are shopping in the first place, have been booming. Deep discounters, such as Dollar Store and Dollar Tree are actually expanding, building more stores, and hiring more staff. Who’s left hurting are high-dollar luxury goods stores and high-end department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom.  Mall stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel are at risk of having to close more stores if this holiday season does not improve dramatically, and there’s no indication it will.

Sure, we still love a good sale, but fewer of us are willing to get out of bed at some ungodly hour on a cold morning in November to actually take advantage of those sales. We’d rather sit home, surf on our phones, and buy that cute sweater online. Black Friday as a day of chaos and high sales appears to be all but dead.

Controlling Our Greed

charles i. letbetter - goodbye black friday

I’ve complained about Black Friday before. In fact, these photos were first part of a Black Friday rant four years ago. Unfortunately, we lost that particular article when the server crashed a couple of years ago. Still, my point is that this exercise in sheer greed is not new. Just because the shape of Black Friday is expanding beyond a single 24-hour period doesn’t mean that we’re buying any less. We’re not. If anything, our constant consumption has taken our shopping to new heights. While the bash-em-in-the-head version of Black Friday might be over, what we’ve done is expand the scope and methodology of our greed. We’re buying more.

Sure, where we’re shopping has changed. We’re buying more from local stores, which improves our local economy. We’re buying more online, which helps the environment a little bit, allegedly. We’re still buying, though, and not necessarily so we can give to others. While the numbers vary wildly from one report to another, a fair portion of us useBlack Friday sales to buy things for ourselves. That new big screen TV? Yeah, that’s going in our own living room. We can call if a family gift if you want, but we still know the actual reasoning was pure selfishness. We deserve it, right? That sweater? Hey, it’s getting colder out and that one you bought last year is looking a bit ratty. And you can never have too many pants.

We don’t need to have a Black Friday to be greedy. We just are. We always have been. Each year, we say we’re going to give more to charity. Each year, there are more opportunities to real good. Each year, we just let those opportunities slip right on by. Why? Because those boots are40% off the price previously marked up 50$. We’re not buying them for the kids, or for Aunt Ella. Those are going in our own closets. We’re greedy.

Herein lies the perpetual hypocrisy of Thanksgiving, a reflection of much of the hypocrisy other countries see in all of America. We claim to be so concerned about others. We claim to want what is best for the world. But in the end, it’s our own fat asses we take care of. We give thanks for what we have and then demand more.

I made sausage balls yesterday and set them out for everyone to snack on throughout the day. My hope was that they would be enough to keep the little ones out of my hair. It didn’t work. They looked at the overflowing container and asked, “It this all we’re getting?”

We learn greed young. We need to get over our fat selves. Let’s kill Black Friday for good. Stay home. Don’t shop for what you don’t legitimately need. Stop the greed.

Reading time: 7 min
New bill introduced, president to resign

NOTICE: THIS IS SATIRE, NOT THE NEWS

We know the headline grabbed your attention but we want to be extremely clear: what follows is satire, not the news. We want you to share the article, but please make sure everyone knows this is satire, not the news. There is enough of a problem with fake news without anyone adding to it. Nothing that follows is real, at least not when we wrote it. We do not have any control over what may or may not happen in the future. Thank you for reading and sharing.

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THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON

OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
21 NOVEMBER 2017

(WASHINGTON) The White House announced this morning that it is backing a bill introduced to both the House of Representatives and the Senate known as the Anti-Sexual Assault Surveillance Bill of 2017. The bill is co-sponsored in the House by the female members of the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus, and the Congressional Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. The Senate version of the bill, which contains nearly identical wording, is co-sponsored by Senator Jeanne Shaheed, representing the Senate Ethics Committee, and Senators Shelly Moore Capito and Amy Klobuchar, representing the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. The bills were introduced under special rules that allow them to be passed without the vote or participation of any male members of Congress.

The 237-page bill, initially distributed only to female members of the White House Press Corp,  details a system wherein all U.S. citizens receive and must wear at all times video cameras attached to the forehead. Cameras are inherently in the “on” position and can only be turned off in the event of the death of the citizen. Cameras would utilize a proposed national Internet wi-fi system to live stream the activities of the wearers wherever in the nation they might be. Additionally, cameras would be required of foreign guests, including visiting heads of state, for the duration of their visit to the United States. Live streams would be monitored and police would be immediately dispatched at any moment any form of sexual assault or unwanted sexual advance was detected. Perpetrators would then be detained and tried by an all-female court. Punishments established by the bill would range from fines of $500 for the first offense committed by someone under the age of 18, to life in prison for a two-time offender over the age of 25, or a three-time offender between the ages of 18-25.

“We are obviously doing our best to deal with an epidemic of sexual assault,” explained Victim’s Rights Caucus staff member Melanie Horrorwitz. “Studies by the women on these committees and caucuses have determined that one hundred percent of men over the age of 35 are sexual predators. Some have been sly enough to prevent any of their victims from actually remembering their crimes, but we are as sure that all men are guilty just as we are certain that all women are victims of male sexual assault, domination, and oppression, regardless of their age. This is the first serious step toward preventing any other women from becoming victims and re-educating the entire male gender of the population to respect women and keep their distance unless specifically beckoned.”

Senate Ethics Committee staffer, Stephanie Richmond, added, “Women across the United States have sent a very loud and clear message that they’re fed up with the continued litany of sexual harassment and the difficulty of bringing charges against those who perpetrate such crimes. The Anti-Sexual Assault Surveillance Bill provides hard evidence and allows anyone watching a live stream to serve the interest of justice by registering as a witness to the crime. The testimony of those witnesses then corroborates the victim’s account of the situation, providing for quick and certain justice. Our hope is that once this system is fully operational, courts can move quickly and achieve justice within 48 hours of the commission of a sexual assault crime.”

While none of the Members of Congress were immediately available at the White House press briefing, staff members for Senators Kamala D. Harris and Patty Murray of the Senate Budget Committee confirmed that the measure would be funded by removing funds currently earmarked for items such as 3D-printed pizza for Congressional staff birthday parties, surveillance droids still searching for former-President Obama’s real birth certificate, the remote-controlled flying pigs project, and slashing by as much as two-thirds President Trump’s self-tanning allotment. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the budget revisions could free up as much as fifteen billion dollars from the self-tanning allotment alone.

Ms. Horrorwitz denied that the bill is inherently “anti-men,” stating, “We’ve looked at the numbers and realize that there are some predatory women out there who are going to be caught in this net, and that’s as it should be. Sexually predatory activity has to end regardless of how it is being wielded or who is wielding it. We’eve existed too long on this planet being treated as objects of possession. This bill gives women the opportunity to take back their lives, to find respect as a human being.”

Ms. Richmond added, “Not all men are monsters, but men are a minefield. Not every inch has the power to devastate but devastation lies hidden everywhere. We’re willing to give up a little privacy in order to turn the tables on this long-standing ‘good ol boys’ network of power and corruption. We are fairly certain that the world is going to be a better place once this bill becomes law. No one should have to wear a mask of complicity as a survival tactic.”

White House To Lead Implementation

White House head intern Janna Mueller confirmed that the bill has the full support of the Trump administration and that the White House plans to lead by example. “Cameras have already been secured and labeled and are ready to be distributed to all White House staff members, including the White House Press Corp, just as soon as the bill is passed. We appreciate the efforts of special envoys Jessica Drake, Karena Virginia, Cathy Heller, Summer Zervos, Kristin Anderson, and Jessica Leeds, among others, who helped convince the President and his administration to participate in this vital program. The program enjoys especially strong support from the First Lady who has said that she will personally help fit the President with his camera.”

“The President was a little reluctant at first,” added Terri Scott, spokeswoman for the First Lady. “Terms like ‘witch hunt’ and ‘all Obama’s fault’ were thrown around for a while, but once the First Lady put his cell phone in a place where the President isn’t allowed to grab he came around and agreed that this really is the best thing for everyone. This bill is a giant step toward making America great. We all believe that.”

According to the terms outlined in the bill, once the White House staff has been fitted with cameras, Members of Congress and their staffs, as well as the Justices of the Supreme Court and their staffs are next. From there, implementation is based upon a hierarchy of historical abuse with Hollywood producers, musicians, fashion photographers and editors, comedians, and light-night television hosts being among the first non-elected citizen groups to receive the video cameras. 

While the majority of Americans should receive their cameras within the first six months after the bill’s signing, there is some concern that citizens in more rural areas of the United States, specifically places currently without Internet, cable news, or easy access to newspapers, may receive their cameras in the mail without understanding their purpose or how to use them. The Congressional Budget Office report estimates that as many a 1, 397 people could be affected. Ms. Richmond downplayed that number, however, stating that special agents would be dispatched to these areas to help people fit the cameras to their foreheads and teach them how to use the viral network. 

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Voyeurism Key To Program's Success

Critical to the success of the program is the assumption that Americans cannot resist the opportunity to spy on the lives of other people, especially those they don’t like or they feel have wronged them in any way. As the images are streamed live across the Internet and accessible on all Internet-capable devices, Americans whose cameras are also online and registered will have the ability to watch any feed and vote on the “C-Factor” of each particular feed. The “C” stands for “Creepiness,” a subjective level of predatory activity that causes the viewer to feel uncomfortable or that persons involved in the interaction might potentially be in danger.

“Actually, we got the idea from an episode of “The Orville” on Fox,” Ms. Mueller explained. “Since what is or isn’t creepy differs from person to person, we decided it would be best if everyone viewing a stream was allowed to weigh in as to whether the activities of the person they’re watching warrant intervention by law enforcement. The whole process is very democratic. If the majority of people viewing feel that a person’s actions are out of line, the system automatically notifies local authorities and that person is immediately picked up and their trial scheduled. We don’t want perpetrators on the street any longer than necessary, but at the same time, we want to give everyone a fair shake. Letting viewers from all over the country watch each other is probably one of the most democratic actions Americans have ever undertaken.”

Adding to the incentive of camera use is the ability for people to make money according to the number of viewers watching their live streams. “We understand that in live streaming one’s entire life that we are giving up a certain amount of privacy,” Ms. Richmond explained. “We compensate people for giving up that privacy by paying them $100 a day for every 10,000 viewers they have watching their feed. So, people whose feeds are likely to be popular, such as Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, could easily earn several thousand dollars a day from the program. At the same time, we hope that it leads people to think about engaging in more interesting activities so that other people have a reason to watch. No one is going to want to watch you eating a plate of nachos or reading a blog on how to boil water. They are much more likely to be interested in those accounts that involve some level of action, such as snow skiing, playing sports, or masturbating in front of a mirror.”

The bill immediately came under fire, however, from diverse groups such as the Catholic church, the American Psychological Association, and the American Bar Association. Robert Mugambo of the American Bar Association expressed alarm at the implications for invasion of privacy. “This absolutely strips away any hint of attorney/client privilege. No one is going to be free to talk with their attorney in an open and honest manner if they know that everything they say is being broadcast across the Internet. “

Gary Kakaramen of the American Psychological Association expressed similar concerns. “The bond between a therapist and their clients is sacred. The information shared in therapy sessions is not something to be voted on or subject to public discourse,” he said. “The last thing we need is a couple hundred thousand amateur psychologists sitting at home watching these sessions and passing judgment on people who are simply trying to put their lives back together. When someone goes to their therapist and admits they have a problem, they need compassion and understanding as they work through that issue, not a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.”

Especially vulnerable is the Rite of Confession, something considered necessary for forgiveness within the Catholic church. “I can’t imagine any priest being able to hear confession under these circumstances,” said Cardinal John Paul George Ringo of the Liverpool diocese. “The confession is sacred and must be held to the utmost secrecy. Priests are forbidden from ever revealing what is told to them in the confession. Allowing live streaming of those confessions is absolutely not possible.”

Ms. Richmond challenged those assertions, however. “Consider who it is complaining,” she said. “Lawyers, so-called therapists, and a group of clergy with a long-running record of pedophilia they’ve been trying to hide for centuries. Why would we want to allow them to continue practicing in secret when we already know that the secrecy is being used to prevent women from talking about these long-standing patterns of abuse? These are exactly the types of people this program is designed to expose.”

 Ms. Mueller added, “This is just part of tearing down the misogynistic infrastructure of power that has dominated lives and abused women for centuries. I think the key is a zero-tolerance policy and that is what this program provides. Too many people grew up thinking that the scenes in movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, and Porky’s are the correct way to treat women. Those people need to be removed from society and re-educated, introduced to movies such as Raise the Red Lantern, The Color Purple, An Angel at My Table, and Meek’s Cutoff. People are slowly waking up to the fact that a woman’s positive demeanor is often hiding fear, confusion, disgust, or misplaced shame. The days when men in power could ride roughshod over women are no more. This bill ends the nonsense.”

President To Appoint New VP Before Resigning

In a separate statement, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks announced that President Trump, Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and all male members of the President’s Cabinet will resign in the interim between the bill’s passage by Congress, making way for a new President, likely the country’s first female President, to sign the important bill on her first day in office. “Circumstances being what they are, the President and other male members of his administration see no way that they can effectively govern without the inherent misogyny that brought them to power,” she said as she read from a prepared statement. “The President has consulted his closest advisors and we think the plan being introduced today does a good job of transitioning power to more intelligent and level-headed people capable of governing from a position of compassion while maintaining the agenda set by the current administration.”

According to the agenda distributed to the White House Press Corp, Vice President Mike Pence will resign first, most likely within an hour of the passage of the bill in the Senate. At that time, President Trump will send the Senate his nomination for a new Vice President. While no one was willing to speak on the record as to who that nominee might be, speculation runs high that the President will nominate his daughter, Ivanka.

An anonymous White House source, known by the code name “first daughter,” told gathered members of the press, “I think the President would have liked to nominate his wife, Melania, so he could at least continue living in the White House but apparently, there’s some silly clause in the Constitution about having to be a natural-born citizen to be President and, at the moment, there really isn’t time to change the Constitution. So, the President’s next choice is likely to be one of his daughters and we all know that Tiffany just doesn’t have what it takes to run a country. I mean, she has trouble picking out a decent ensemble for going to the gym. Ivanka really is the President’s only other choice.”

Once Congress has approved a new Vice President, then President Trump and members of his staff and Cabinet will resign, making way for the new Vice President to become President, something that has not happened since Gerald Ford took office after the resignation of scandal-ridden Richard Nixon. According to sources close to the situation, the elder Trump would then be referred to as Trump I while Ivanka would officially take the title of President Trump 2.0. 

When asked whether she would keep the existing female members of the Cabinet, Ivanka stated that Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao was likely to be the only Cabinet member that would maintain her position. “She’s so cute and has such an infectious smile, there’s no way I could let Secretary Chao go,” Ivanka whispered through a keyhole in her White House office door. Other Cabinet members would not be so fortunate, however. “DeVos might as well pack and leave with the guys,” Ivanka said. “She reeks of old lady soap and whoever is doing her makeup needs to go back to beauty school. I might keep Elaine Duke at the Department of Homeland Security, but only if she can change the codes on the nuclear football so that my dad can’t play with them.”

Ms. Richmond said all male members of Congress were expected to resign as well, though no timetable has been established for that to happen. “There is some question as to whether we need to first wait for male Governors to be replaced so that we have reliable, compassionate people in place to appoint new Members of Congress,” she stated. “In most cases, I think the Governor’s wives are likely to take their places, ensuring that general political agendas continue and the partisan imbalance of power is maintained going into the 2018 general elections. What we don’t want to risk is another massive foul-up like that whole Roy Moore debacle in Alabama. That kind of nonsense is exactly what we’re trying to eliminate from Capitol Hill.”

Once the new Congress was in place, then male members of the Supreme Court would likely resign, though, being in place for life, they are under no obligation to do so. “I think the cameras will help determine whether further resignations are necessary,” Richmond said. “No one has really had any clue what goes on in the judges’ chambers before now and I’m sure there will be plenty of people watching those live streams to see what exactly takes place. Should any justices commit an act of sexual assault, they would, of course, be subject to the same arrest and re-education as anyone else, which would likely force them to resign. We are already concerned about Justice Thomas, given his personal history.”

Ms. Hicks stated, “I heard someone on television say that this is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. There is no excuse for the behavior that we have tolerated and are just now giving a voice. We cannot walk back from where we are. We cannot allow men to continue to dominate and ruin lives. The cameras are the only way to stop this infection. No longer is it going to be my word against his. No longer is a perpetrator going to shame his victim. Never again will any accusation be doubted or belittled. This situation is systemic and pervasive and this bill is the first step toward ending this horrible problem that men do their best to ignore.”

When asked what additional steps might be taken following the passage of the bill, Ms. Richmond said that no firm plans have been made yet. “I think we have to do something about changing some basic laws, but I don’t think there have been any firm conversations as to how to make that happen. I do know that I, as an attractive young woman, want the freedom to be able to walk stark naked down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue if I want without feeling any fear, or threatened by any catcalls, or shamed for that pudge I get after eating a whole plate of cheese fries the night before. Free the Nipple should be more than just a slogan. That’s a goal, but we’ve not really discussed how to get there from a practical perspective. And that’s really just a warm-weather activity. My skin dries out below 65 degrees. We’ll just have to see.”

Some of the statements in this article were borrowed, revised, or summarized from the Twitter accounts of @stannieholt, @ClaraJeffery, @MonicaHesse and @NorahODonnell. Under no circumstances is any endorsement implied in either direction, though we’re sure they’re all wonderful and compassionate people who are fed up with men behaving like jackasses.

Disclaimer

We again want to emphasize that THIS IS SATIRE! Nothing in the article above is real. Should you choose to share this article on social media, which we encourage, it is up to you to present it as SATIRE. Help fight against fake news by clearly labeling this material as satire, no matter how much you might wish we were being serious. 

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

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Reading time: 17 min
How to be single without starving

Americans will eat garbage provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup. -Henry James

My mother started early teaching me how to cook. She was convinced, even when I was a child, that I would likely grow up to be single and alone. Fortunately, at least for the larger portion of my adult life, she was wrong. However, her lessons have been valuable as frequently I have been the one responsible for the family’s meals.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pass that trait on to my own children. At least, not the oldest. I’m not the only one from my generation to have made that mistake, either. As a result, there is an entire generation of people who don’t have the first clue how to take care of themselves. This is why many of them are still living at home. We don’t necessarily want them to live at home, but we’ve not given them the skills to survive so we’ve left them with little choice. If our children don’t live with us, or at least with some other reasonably skilled and responsible adult, they will die.

We have to fix this situation. I’m sure I speak for many parents when I say we want our lives back. We thought we would get them back when the youngest of our children turned 18. No, that didn’t happen. There’s still a 25-year-old living in the basement. While there are admittedly times when that extra set of hands and feet come in handy, for the most part, their presence is that level of intrusive that keeps us from being able to have sex during the day while the little ones are at school. Not cool. 

While there are actually a number of survival skills a young single person needs before they can successfully leave home without boomeranging right back at us, I’m choosing this morning to start with teaching them the basics of feeding themselves. This is important because young adults are well known for eating their weight in food every four hours or so. Not only is that rough on the ol’ food budget, but it’s time-consuming when they are constantly asking, “Hey, parental unit, can you nuke me some food or something?” Saying “no” that often really does eat into my productivity.

So, while we’re not risking any serious culinary feats, what we provide here is a set of basic instructions that, at a very minimum, keep our children from starving.  This isn’t an especially healthy menu, mind you. If they want to bulk up or adjust their weight one direction or the other, or if they feel compelled to eschew meat and go vegan, they’re going to have to figure out those details for themselves. My time and willingness to help is limited. I’m just covering the basics for now and if they can survive that without burning down their house or apartment then they can move on to more advanced culinary concepts.

Boiling Water

Boiling water sounds so very easy. I mean, it’s water. It boils. How difficult could that possibly be? Yet, entire houses have burned down because someone who was attempting to boil water wasn’t paying attention and/or didn’t know what they were doing. Believe it or not, boiling water can be a very dangerous event in the hands of the wrong person. Please, don’t be that person.

On the plus side, there are many things one can do with boiling water if it is handled correctly. One can make tea, or coffee if your skills are advanced. Boiling water also opens the door to various adventures with Ramen and other dried food. In short, boiling water can keep your ass alive, especially when your food budget is next to non-existent. Don’t feel bad, almost everyone has been there at one point in their life or another. What’s important is that you handle the pot and the water carefully. Pay attention.

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Step One:  Find a clean pot, not a pan or a skillet, and fill it with water. What’s the difference between a pot and a pan? A pot is deeper for things like boiling water and often comes with a lid. You don’t need the lid for this, though. Leave the lid alone. Boiling water and lids lead to explosions. Stay away from the damn lid.

Step Two: Put the pot with water in it on the stove. We assume you know what a stove is. If you don’t, stop now and go ask a real adult for help. Once the pot is on the stove, turn on the appropriate burner under the pot. Don’t turn on any of the other burners as that leads to fire and things blowing up. Only turn on the burner under the pot. Yes, you can turn it on high. This is only water.

Step three: Watch the pot. Ignore the saying that “a watched pot never boils.” That’s nonsense. A watched pot boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) if you are at sea level. If you are higher than sea level, the water boils faster. Since you probably don’t know your exact altitude and probably don’t have a kitchen thermometer, do not leave the pot unattended. When the water reaches a full boil it will look like the picture at the left. Turn off the burner under the pot. Make sure it is all the way off. Then, using an oven mitt because the handle is hot, remove the pot from the stove. 

There. Now you have successfully boiled water. Give yourself a pat on the back and pour the water down the drain before it hurts someone.

Cold Cereal

I’m pretty sure my younger brother would not have survived college without cold cereal in his life. The nice thing about cold cereal is that, when hard pressed, one doesn’t actually have to put the cereal in a bowl or pour milk over it. Cereal can be eaten straight out of the box in emergencies, such as when you’re already 15 minutes late for work. Not that we encourage that kind of behavior, mind you. 

On the plus side, we don’t have to worry about cereal catching fire and burning the house down. While there are a few other dangers, cereal, for the most part, is relatively harmless and benign. Even better, cereal is always there for you, even in the middle of the night or after a good cry. No popcorn while you’re watching that movie? Try cereal. The fact that most cereals come fortified with vitamins and such make them the single person’s best friend. Develop this skill early and use it often.

Note: We were not compensated for the use of a Cheerios box in these photos. We were not compensated by anyone for any of the pictures here. We just grabbed what was handy. No endorsements are intended. That being said, try to eat healthy so you don’t end up too fat to leave your parents’ basement.

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Step one: You will need a box of cereal, a clean bowl, milk, and a spoon to successfully make cold cereal the way General Mills intended. The kind of cereal is largely irrelevant, though the older one is the more one should probably stay away from those cereals that are nothing more than brightly colored sugar. Diabetes is a real thing. So is heart disease. Eat healthy, dudes.

Step two:  Carefully pour the cereal into the bowl until the bowl is about half full. Don’t just tip the box up and start pouring, mind you. That’s a good way to end up with cereal all over the floor. Use care. Pour a little at a time. Don’t over-fill the bowl or you won’t have room for milk.

Step Three:  Carefully pour the milk into the bowl. Again, use caution or you’re going to have a mess to clean up. Pour just enough milk until you can sort of see it under the cereal. If the cereal is floating you probably poured too much. If the bowl goes from being half full to completely full you probably poured too much. When the milk sloshes over the side, you definitely poured too much. Take it easy, don’t get so excited, and you’ll enjoy your cereal more.

Don’t forget to put the milk back in the ‘fridge before you eat your cereal. Leaving the milk out on the counter leads to bad things, like sour milk. You’ll forget the milk if you don’t put it back in the ‘fridge right now. Do it. Don’t argue with me, Felicia, you know I’m right.

Prepackaged Salad

Eat your veggies. Your parents always taught you that you needed more in your diet than candy. Vegetables are a necessary part of nutrition. In fact, not eating enough fruits and veggies can result in some rather nasty ailments that you really don’t have time to suffer through. The problem lies in cooking those veggies. While many can be eaten raw, we know you’re not inclined to do that. Heaven forbids you to wash a head of broccoli and start munching.

Lucky for you, prepackaged salads are available. They come in a variety of styles and sizes so you can decide whether you want carrots or spinach or cabbage in your salad. None of those are bad choices, by the way. Prepackaged salads remove the risk that you’ll open the refrigerator door three weeks from now and find an entire head of lettuce wilting on the shelves and replaces that with the risk that you’ll open the refrigerator door to find a wilted half-eaten bag os salad. At least you ate half the bag.

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Step one:  You need a package of salad, a bowl, salad dressing of your choice, and a fork. Again, we make no brand or flavor endorsements. However, be aware that high-fat dressings can remove the health benefit of the salad. Also, be aware that there is no health benefit to iceberg lettuce. It’s nothing more than filler, which is okay if you’re trying to lose weight. You’ll be hungry again in ten minutes, though.

Step two: Pour the salad into the bowl. More. No, that’s not enough, pour a little more. I’m telling you, this isn’t cereal you’re pouring here. Fill that bowl as high as you want. One thing about salad is that it’s never quite as much as it appears. There’s also the theory that one can never have too much salad. We cannot confirm that, however. We’ve never tried having too much salad.

Step three: Pour on the salad dressing. Now is when one has to exercise some caution, especially if the salad dressing bottle doesn’t have a squeeze top. Salad dressing is one of those condiments that tends to start slow and then pick up speed suddenly so that one ends up with a lot more on their salad than they had intended. If one has a measuring spoon and knows how to use them, about two tablespoons of salad dressing is all one needs. Not many single people have measuring spoons, though, nor do they know how to use them. Your mom may have snuck them into a drawer someplace. Just be careful with the dressing, okay?

Salads can be topped with things such as cheese, or croutons, or even fruit in some cases. Leftover sliced chicken breast works well, also. Be careful with anything that requires cutting, though. If you’re eating prepackaged salad should you really be playing with knives? Our experience is that single people damage themselves more frequently than coupled people. Exercise caution.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or PBJs as they’re often known, are a fundamental staple of life in the Western culture. We start eating them pretty much as soon as we can tolerate solid food and don’t give them up until we can’t figure out how to fit our dentures in our mouths. There are many different kinds of sandwich in the universe, but PBJ is the original gateway sandwich from which all other sandwiches derive. Master this skill and the sandwich world opens its door to you.

Here’s the thing: my nine-year-old can probably make a better PBJ than can the average unskilled single adult. He understands that a good PBJ has to balance the basic elements or else it becomes one giant mess that ends up all over you, your clothes, and half your belongings. Once the peanut butter and/or jelly falls off the bread, it spreads, infecting everything that can possibly succumb to its sticky gooeyness. Clothes are destroyed. Recorded media is ruined. Lives are permanently altered in ways we dare not mention. Pay careful attention to these instructions. The world you save may be your own.

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Step one: Assemble all the necessary ingredients: bread, peanut butter, jelly, and at least one clean butter knife. If you’re not going to wash the knife between the peanut butter and jelly, go ahead and get two. No wonder you’re still single. We also don’t distinguish between smooth or crunchy peanut butter nor between jellies and jams and preserves. We prefer preserves but if you want to be a jelly heathen go right ahead.

Step two: Using a butter knife, because it’s not as sharp and won’t shred the bread, spread the peanut butter across the width of the bread. A thick application of peanut butter is okay as it’s not likely to run. However, never put peanut butter in the ‘fridge as that makes it impossible to spread without tearing the bread. No one likes torn bread. Now, put the lid back on the peanut butter and wash the knife. 

Step three:  After washing the knife spread the jelly/jam/preserves onto the other slice of bread. Do not spread it directly on top of the peanut butter as that makes a ridiculous mess. Also, be careful to not spread the jelly/jam/preserves too close to the edge of the bread as jelly/jam/preserves tend to not stay in place. Too much jelly/jam/preserves on your sandwich increases the likelihood that you’ll be wearing said jelly/jam/preserves. Being single is difficult enough without looking like a toddler who has escaped its mother. Go easy on the jelly/jam/preserves.

Now, put the two pieces of bread together with the peanut butter and jelly facing each other. If you have either peanut butter or jelly on the outside of your sandwich, you did it wrong. Go back to the prepackaged salad. You’re not ready for the sandwich.

Grilled Cheese

Now that you have the basic skills of sandwich making down, we’re going to risk actually cooking something and make grilled cheese sandwiches. Recipe change alert: we’re not doing this in a skillet like your mom did when you were a kid. Your mom was not only skilled but talented. You’re neither at this point in your life. You’re single. Still. We still have high hopes for you, but you’re not there yet. If you were, you wouldn’t need this tutorial. We’re going to take it easy and use the oven instead.

Be careful, now, as making warm sandwiches is a semi-advanced skill. We don’t want you causing any danger to yourself or others. If you have any doubts about your skill level, especially if you’ve not quite figured out where the oven is in your kitchen, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Follow the instructions with extreme care. For safety, you might want to put any potentially flammable pets or roommates in a different room. 

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Step one: Preheat the oven to 400° and assemble the ingredients: bread, butter/margarine, pre-sliced cheese, butter knife, baking sheet. Preheating the over means turning it on and leaving it alone until you’re ready to use it. A baking sheet is a thin metal pan like the kind your mom used for baking cookies. If you don’t have one, you’re screwed. Butter can be used in place of margarine only if you left it on the counter and it’s soft. Cold butter doesn’t spread at all.

Step two: Spread butter/margarine on the outside of each piece of bread. We use 100% whole wheat bread in this example because it’s healthier. You need to start making healthy choices, you know. At this rate, you may be single forever and who is going to take care of you when you’re old and broken down? Mind your health now so that no one has to help you change your adult diapers when you’re old. Place the bread, butter side down, on the baking sheet.

Step three:  Place the pre-sliced cheese onto one of the pieces of bread. The cheese goes on the side that is not buttered. The kind of cheese one uses doesn’t really matter a lot. Cheddar, jack, and mozzarella do really well and taste good. Crumbly cheese such as blue and feta isn’t really the best choice. One can also add other things like pre-cooked bacon, tomatoes, or spinach, but you’re not ready for that yet. Don’t over-extend yourself on the first try.

Step four: Place the other piece of bread on top of the cheese, butter side up. This is important if you want your sandwich to take good and brown properly. Position the bread in the center of the baking sheet and put the baking sheet in the oven. Yes, you should use oven mitts. Yes, you will burn your hands if you don’t. 

Let the sandwich bake for four minutes. Set a timer. No, seriously, you’re going to get distracted. Set a freakin’ timer already so the sandwich doesn’t burn. After four minutes, open the oven door and use a spatula (that thing your mom used for flipping pancakes) to turn over the sandwich. Do not touch the sandwich with your hands! Hot! Burn! No-no! Shut the oven door and let the sandwich finish baking another four minutes. Set a timer. Yes, again. You know damn good and well you can’t focus on anything that long. Set the timer so you don’t burn down the whole house.

When the timer goes off, use oven mitts to remove the baking sheet from the oven.  Set the hot baking sheet somewhere safe, such as the stove top. Use the spatula to transfer the sandwich from the baking sheet to a clean plate. Allow the sandwich to cool for at least one minute before you pick it up and try to eat it. The cheese is going to be hot, silly. If you take a bit now it is going to burn the roof of your mouth. 

This may be too complicated for you. After all, there’s a good reason you’re still single. We’ve talked to your mother. She told us how you tend to self-sabotage your relationships. If you’re not ready to love you may not be ready to cook, either. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. Maybe you’ll even have grandchildren before your parents are too old to hold them. Parents have dreams too, you know.

Frozen Burritos

This final skill involves using one of your most valued appliances: the microwave. Microwave ovens are wonderful appliances because they allow us to create warm food without actually having to use fire. Keeping single adults away from fire is often a good thing. Not everyone has the skill necessary to successfully manipulate an open flame. That’s okay. There is a whole word of frozen, pre-packaged food just waiting to be warmed up and eaten.

Microwaves come with their own danger, however. Specifically, THEY BLOW UP! What is critical to understand when dealing with microwaves is that you can never, ever, put anything metal into a microwave. This included the metallic-painted trim on some dishes. Here’s a hint: if the item does not have the words “microwave safe” stamped on it somewhere then assume that it isn’t and don’t put it in the microwave. Very, very bad things can happen in you do.

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Step one: Remove the frozen burrito package from the freezer. We strongly recommend buying the family pack because you know damn good and well that you’re going to eat more than one. Family packs are cheaper, provided you don’t eat all of them in one sitting. If you do eat all of them in one sitting you’re in more trouble than we anticipated and should probably call your therapist first thing in the morning and make an appointment. You’re single and your life is a mess, Karen. You need help.

Step two: Read the directions on the burrito wrapper. Place one or two burritos on a microwave-safe plate and put them in the microwave. Set the timer according to the directions on the package. Note that the directions are often for a 1,100-watt microwave. Your microwave may not be that powerful. If not, you’ll need to add about 30 seconds more time. If you are cooking two burritos, as we show here, you need to double the time, though, again, different microwaves produce different results. Start with what’s on the package and increase in 30-second increments until your burrito is done.

Step three: Remove the burritos from the microwave and let sit for at least one minute. Warning: the plate is freakin’ hot! This especially applies if you cooked more than one burrito. Use a hot pad to remove the plate or else you’re going to burn your fingers, drop the plate, and have a mess all over the floor. The dog will end up eating your burritos and you’ll have broken glass all over the floor. Is that really what you want? No, of course, it isn’t. Use a hot pad.

We should also mention than microwaved foods don’t always brown. Don’t be surprised if your burritos come out looking the same as when you put them in the microwave, just less frozen. Also, don’t be surprised if the very center of your burrito is still cold. That means you have a weak microwave. Just add 30 seconds more time the next time you make one. 

A Single Person Can Survive

We know that being single isn’t easy. Even the Old Man was single once, but that was long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. [It’s just a coincidence he has a passing resemblance to actor Mark Hammil. ] Things were different then. Being single was just a temporary condition before one got married. Now, a lot of people are staying single their entire lives. They never know the joys and sorrows of sitting down to dinner with their spouse and children who don’t care about ever giving their parents grandchildren to love. All they know is late-night loneliness and a sea of empty take-out containers littering the floor because they never learned to pick up after themselves. We know, it’s all our fault. We coddled you too much and failed to teach you. 

Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. Take these recipes one at a time. Don’t stress yourself. You have plenty of time to learn how to cook. After all, it’s not like you’re going to have a hot date coming over anytime soon expecting you to be a four-star chef. Learn from these recipes and if you do well, that is, you don’t burn down the house, we’ll consider adding a few more in a couple of weeks or so, after the holidays, where you can go home to mom’s cooking and actually have a good, well-balanced meal for a change. You’re coming in early, aren’t you? Your parents will have your old room all fixed up for you.

Uhm, that’s assuming you actually left home at some point. If you haven’t, then don’t worry, we’ll just spray pine-scented air freshener to cover whatever the hell that smell is coming from your room. Just try to wear something that doesn’t look like it came from the failure box at Goodwill.

A single person can survive on their own. There are lots of single people out there. Surviving. Sort of. More or less. Disappointing their parents. Don’t worry, we still love you.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

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Reading time: 20 min
god isn't real but santa's bringing presents

“On a busy day twenty-two thousand people come to visit Santa, and I was told that it is an elf’s lot to remain merry in the face of torment and adversity. I promised to keep that in mind.”

― David Sedaris

Living with a seven-year-old around this time of year gets interesting. On one hand, she’s in second grade now and is learning all sorts of things. We are so very thankful that she’s learning. Heaven forbids the child to grow up ignorant and marry a Republican. On the other hand, however, she doesn’t always get her facts straight. The child is easily confused, such as the difference between God and god. She doesn’t get it. Therefore, when she’s told that “gods aren’t real,” in reference to Greek and Roman mythologies, our child comes home sounding like an atheist.

“God isn’t real, you know” she announced recently. “He’s just something somebody made up.”

Uhmmmmmm … Now how the hell am I supposed to respond to that?

“Okay, baby girl, if that’s what you want to believe.” That’s what I said. I didn’t feel comfortable saying it, but I felt the need to support her.

I waited for her brother to respond. After all, he’s eight years old, almost nine. He knew everything we did last year and now he’s pretty sure he knows more than us. He typically takes the exact opposite view of anything his sister says, so I was interested in his opinion. I didn’t have long to wait.

“Some people believe in God even if he isn’t real,” he said. “It’s okay for people to believe in things that are not real. You know, like San …” He caught himself and saw the stern look I shot his direction. He had pretty much stopped believing in Santa last year, all on his own. His conversion to full-scale nonbeliever happened this past Spring when he looked up the North Pole on Google Maps. Somehow. I tried it and came up with nothing. OF course, there’s North Pole, Alaska, but what he saw was a barren field of snow. No houses. No way to build a house. Therefore, nowhere for Santa to build a house. No house, no elves. No elves, no Santa. So goes the eight-year-old’s logic.  He’s been warned, with the threat of getting no presents, to not spoil Santa for his sister. He stopped himself just in time.

His sister, in true sibling fashion, doubled-down on her argument. “God doesn’t exist and believing in something that doesn’t exist is just stupid.”

I winced. 

Her brother shot back, “You don’t get to tell people what they can believe, you know. They have to make up their minds for their self.”

Okay, maybe the kid is smarter than we are. He’s definitely more on top of the game than many adults I know.

That deal with kids and God

The Young Woman (TYW) and I are very careful in how we approach any manner of religious conversation with the kids. We each grew up Southern Baptist. She even had the displeasure of attending a parochial school through eighth grade. We each made our own journey away from those teachings for different reasons. She had taken the kids to church a couple of times before I showed up, but wasn’t consistent in going and didn’t make a big deal of the whole religion thing, to begin with. Moreover, she had a copy of the Q’ran sitting on the shelf next to the Bible and can speak with relative fluency to either belief system.

We had the discussion about religion when I joined the family. I was well into my general agnosticism and specific disdain for evangelicals by that point but was occasionally known to slip into a back pew for special services just because I like the music. I didn’t want my lack of belief to interfere with whatever she had going with the kids. She filled me in on their bit of history and we agreed that should the kids have any questions that we would answer them as fairly and reasonably as we could, but leave things open so they could make their own decision. If they want to go to church, or synagogue, or worship center, we are willing to accommodate that so long as we can verify it’s not a doomsday cult (which is getting increasingly difficult). 

Of course, those who are religious are adamant about teaching children about their belief system from the earliest moments possible. TYW and I went through that indoctrination ourselves. Yes, let’s be totally honest, Sunday School is indoctrination. What adults do is Bible study. The difference is that ability to judge for oneself what is or isn’t real, whether what one is being told is true or not. Adults have the ability (allegedly) to make that differentiation on their own. Children, for the most part, do not. When we push a given belief system onto children in an authoritative manner, we are indoctrinating them. The only choice they’re making is whether to obey their parent(s), not whether they want to follow a belief system.

Our daughter is proof that they don’t always understand the religious concepts being taught. She still doesn’t understand the difference between God and god but her opinion as to whether a deity exists wavers back and forth, depending on the day and what is being studied at school. Earlier this week, she told me that the seasons change, “because God’s wife keeps coming and going to hell and back.”

I had to think about that one for a moment. God’s wife? She took my pause as the need to explain.

“Hades was in love with her but God didn’t want to give her up and so she goes back and forth so they’ll both be happy and that’s why we have our seasons,” she explained, complete with hand gestures.

Ah, I got it. “You mean, Persephone?”

Her little eyes grew wide with amazement. “How did you know about her?”

Daddy’s not quite as dumb as he looks, or feels for that matter. I just love that the school is inadvertently teaching polyamory along with the mythology, too. I wonder how many of the kids can identify with splitting their time between two different sets of parents? Love who you choose to love, even if you have to divide your time between seasons.

This is not getting any easier.

The whole Santa Claus thing

While our little one may be confused about the deities, she is quite certain in her belief of Santa Claus and no, we’re not doing anything to stop it. Our take has been that it’s one of the few innocent elements of childhood that hasn’t yet been corrupted for her. We’ll let her keep that belief as long as she wants, even if, somehow, that goes into adulthood (not that we actually think that might happen). Her belief in Santa doesn’t affect her generosity toward others nor does it undermine her social progress significantly. Most of her classmates still believe, her teacher supports that belief system, so we’re all good.

Yes, I’m aware that certain psychologists say that children are better off knowing the unvarnished truth about Santa right from the beginning [source]. These so-called “professionals” use the reasoning that, “when we use a coercive, manipulative strategy to get our kids to behave, we are relying on extrinsic contingencies by telling them to be good in order to get what they want. And once that motivation is gone, how do we know they’ll still feel compelled to behave?”

Uhm, who the fuck uses Santa to get kids to behave all year long? Hell, it has never worked on any of my kids more than a week out from Christmas, and even then it’s shaky at best. No, it is quite possible to support a child’s belief in Santa and still teach them to behave appropriately. Children don’t believe in Santa out of fear but because he represents love—and presents. Children are greedy little bastards.  

Then, the psychologists say that Research shows that kids who are lied to by their parents are more likely to lie themselves. They are correct on that one. Lying to your children repeatedly, especially when they catch you, sets them up for some real problems in dealing with the truth as teens and sometimes even as adults. 

When it comes to Santa, though, we’re not lying so much as we are supporting a belief system. If believing in Santa is lying, then the same argument could be made that telling them about God, or Allah, or Vishnu, or Buddha could also be lying. Any religion one might want to choose is on as equally tenuous ground as is Santa.

I asked the little one when she wanted to write her annual letter to Santa. Her response was filled with the skepticism she has picked up from adults.

“Not now. Next Friday is Black Friday and we need to see if we survive that first,” she said, while thoroughly occupied by a learning game on her Kindle. 

I just sat there and blinked at her. We don’t shop on Black Friday.  Never have. I didn’t realize we are in danger. 

Balancing our personal mythologies

Let’s get real for a moment. We all have our mythologies. Not all of them are necessarily religious in nature, but we have them. For example, how many of us were taught that if we would just “work hard” we would be successful? All my life I have been force fed countless examples of people who worked hard and made a lot of money. The truth, however, is that maxim applies to fewer than one percent of the world’s population. Most people who work hard end up with exhausted bodies, dependent on government and family support to survive their waning years, and typically die without enough money to pay for their funerals. My parents and grandparents are all good examples of how wrong the myth is. Yet, we still pass the myth along to our children as though it were gospel.

Mythologies have their purpose. They teach us to be better people, to be compassionate, loving, and merciful. They also warn us what happens when we do the opposite. One thing about mythologies is that they don’t tend to let bad folks get away with much. Being bad typically results in some rather extreme consequences, such as losing one’s head, being turned to stone, or swallowed by a snake. All of these are great moral tales that reinforce the lessons we should carry with us through life. Tell the truth. Be kind to other people, even if you don’t know them. Don’t lie or deceive. Don’t take what isn’t yours. 

As adults, we theoretically have the reasoning capability to decide for ourselves which mythologies, if any, we wish to believe. Some choose to follow the teachings of a particular deity, a decision that can be quite popular when everyone else in one’s community supports that same belief system. Some choose to not follow any mythologies at all, arguing that lies are lies even when their intentions may be honorable and that we are better off seeking the truth for ourselves.

Children, however, don’t have that reasoning capability yet. While we can tell them stories and hope that they pick up on the moral lessons they contain, their “belief” is typically limited to following along with members of their own communities, such as their classmates or playtime friends. Forcing a belief on them that cannot be fully supported by science and established rules of research is potentially damaging as they inevitably discover the fallacies of the myth.

There’s no long-term harm in allowing a child to believe in Santa, nor is there any real danger in a disbelief of Zeus, or Hercules, or Jesus. At this point in our children’s lives, there are much more important struggles to face. Picking up one’s own laundry is a constant struggle. Dealing with the natural consequences of our actions is a challenge we face every day. Not bullying one’s sibling seems to come up about every five minutes or so. Those are the lessons that are important.

Most critical of all, though, is that children learn to love. While myths can do a great job of reinforcing that value, the primary source of a child’s belief in love and their ability to practice it depends almost wholly on how it is taught through their parents’ example. What you and I do, what we say not only to them but to other people, how we respond to the challenges life throws at us, teaches them how to treat others. If we demonstrate love in all we do it is almost impossible for them to do otherwise.

I asked our little one what she thinks is the real meaning of Christmas. “Snow day,” she said. No mention of Santa. No mention of gods. No mention of Persephone. I can’t argue with that reasoning, though. We live in Indiana. There is almost always snow by Christmas. Why would she expect anything different?

Kids. Look at them constantly reminding us that we’re over-thinking things. Maybe they really do know more than the rest of us.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

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Reading time: 11 min
Does my relationship give you the creeps

“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” –Actor Clint Eastwood to his wife, Dina

Relationships are really big in the news rights now, specifically dysfunctional and largely illegal relationships. I hadn’t wanted to comment on any of the mess in Hollywood or New York or anywhere else because anything I might say one way or the other would just be noise. When the allegations against Alabama GOP Senate nominee, Roy Moore, surfaced last week, I rolled my eyes. We already knew the former state Supreme Court judge was a piece of shit trying desperately to cling to the hem of Jesus’ legacy; this seemed to me to be merely more noise that the thick-headed Republicans in Alabama would just ignore. Those folks haven’t elected a decent politician since … uhm … ever. No need for me to wade into that useless fracas. No amount of logic is going to sway the minds of the willfully ignorant.

However,  in recent days since that story first dropped, I started noticing things popping up here and there, in a comment on a news story, in a reply to a tweet. Nothing really major, I suppose, just personal opinions regarding large age gaps in relationships. The topic gets under my skin a bit, but the people making those comments were not people of significance and are entitled to their own opinions, even if they are misinformed.

Then, this piece of garbage showed up on my Twitter feed, thanks to someone’s reply to the attempt to misdirect the conversation:

does my relationship give you the creeps

The tweet references an article in People magazine in September of this year, talking about the revelations in a book by the woman involved, Mimi Alford, who had just released a book detailing her experiences as Mrs. Kennedy’s personal assistant [source]. Presuming the allegations are true, and there’s no reason to assume they aren’t at least based on some level of fact, then sure, President Kennedy abused the power of his office for sexual favors. So did Bill Clinton, in case you slept through the 90s. 

What makes the allegations against Moore so much worse, and Coulter’s attempt at distraction more despicable is the fact that Moore’s victims were teenagers, under 18, making the act one of pedophilia which is illegal. The law sets the age of 18 as the point at which a young person can reasonably be expected to have enough information, education, and life experience to make her own decisions regarding the when, where, why, how, and with whom they want to have sex. The further removed one is from that age, the less they have sufficient maturity to make knowing and responsible decisions, putting them in the category of inherent victims regardless of what the child might have said at the time.

What angers me, though, is when people like Coulter associate all May/December relationships with the despicable acts of pedophiles like Moore. Pedophiles aren’t looking for relationships, they’re looking for control and power. Comparing the two is like trying to compare mustard with treated lumber—they’re not remotely the same thing.

Why, you might ask, does this matter upset me so much?  Because I’m in one of those May/December relationships, I’ve experienced the negative response, and quite frankly, I’m rather fed up with people patting me on the back as though I’ve won some award while looking at The Young Woman (hereafter referred to as TYW for brevity) as though she’s either lost her ever-loving mind or presuming she must be a gold digger. That response is every bit as wrong as expressing disgust with a biracial relationship or a same-gender relationship.  We are in love because we both chose to be in love and the only creepy factor is among those who think our relationship is creepy.

Part of the problem is that some seem to think that May/December relationships only happen because one was stalking the other. The dialog goes that either the older person had some latent pedophilia going on or the younger person was merely looking for someone from whom they could mooch a comfortable existence. Either of those assumptions would be wrong. While I can’t speak to every such relationship that has ever occured, I can speak to ours, so let me enlighten you.

How Our Relationship Began

Scroll back up for a second and take a look at the photograph at the top of this article. That photo was one I took the night TYW and I first met: December 6, 2012. She was 28, I was 52—25 years difference. We met at a non-holiday party thrown by a mutual friend who had the week before posed for this photo for my birthday:

Does my relationship give you the creeps

photo credit: Brian Logan, processed by charles i. letbetter

Yeah, that’s me in the center there, back when my hair was just a tad longer than it is now. Our mutual friend is down front, wrapped in brown cloth. Her intention was to throw a party for other girls who, like here, was over the whole holiday party scene. She asked me to come along and take pictures. Then, one of the girls asked to bring her fiancé. TYW asked to bring a friend as well. She brought her boss. Not kidding. He was freshly divorced and rather lacking in dating skills. She was trying to help. As it turned out, the party had almost as many guys as girls, but it was okay. I was only there to take pictures.

I didn’t presume anything from meeting TYW that night. She was friendly enough, but she seemed rather distracted by our host. The brief gallery below is a sample of the photos I took that night.

Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps

I’m going to just assume that one can pick up on the obvious theme there. I was not the person to whom TYW was paying attention that night. We talked politely, but I left before she did and slept sufficiently not knowing that I’d ever see her or anyone else from the party again. I wasn’t looking for a relationship and neither was she.

Then, we started talking. I don’t remember exactly what prompted the conversation. Presumably, I still have the conversations but trying to dig that far back was going to take several hours of time I really don’t have to give up at the moment. Still, we talked. We met up for coffee a few times and discussed, among other things, how that neither of us thought love was real. She had been married and divorced twice already and was gunshy of relationships. She was also a U.S. Marine, tough, fit, and very independent.

Our first non-coffee date was an art gallery tour about a month later. While it went nicely enough, there was still no signs of romance. She wouldn’t even let me buy her coffee afterward. We kept talking, though. We enjoyed that and conversed about several things. As I got into the February fashion season, I’d be online at 3:00 in the morning and more often than not she’d be waiting for me. She came over a couple of times to watch me edit photos (thrilling time that is) but always left with nothing more than a hug.

 Later that month, I mentioned a need for a model for a very special art project shared with a rope artist. The art was erotic, well out of the mainstream, and not the sort of thing just anyone can do, even if they want. This was the kind of art that can trigger all manner of anxieties and psychological issues. To my surprise and pleasure, she volunteered. A few nights later we met up at the artist’s studio and took a few pictures. I managed to find one that is reasonably work safe.

Does my relationship give you the creeps

Yeah, it was pretty intense, but again, she wouldn’t let me buy her a drink or anything afterward. She took me home, gave me a hug, and left. We were making good friends.

Eventually, the romance did kick in and by March she had moved me in with her. She didn’t give me a choice. I was sick, again, and as I sat shaking on her couch she informed me that she was sending someone to pick up my stuff. I could either go with them or just tell them where everything was. End of conversation. We were a couple in a relationship who hadn’t planned on a relationship. Pleased, but surprised, we weren’t ready for what was about to happen.

The fallout begins

We knew not everyone would approve of our relationship because of the gap in our ages. We tiptoed around the issue, passing it off as TYW just helping out a friend. We pulled off that ruse until her birthday, which just happened to be when her best female friend had a baby. We were at the hospital and while I knew her friend, I didn’t know any of the other people in the room and let it slip to her friend’s sister that I was TYW’s boyfriend. Her friend didn’t find out until after we left, but her response was no positive.

Eventually, her parents figured it out and TYW went ahead and told them. Interestingly enough, her mom, who is only four months older than I am, took it better than her dad, who is 11 years older. But then, most of her dad’s reaction was just watching out for his only girl. I can appreciate that.

What was disappointing, though, was the number of people who completely ghosted. Poof. Gone without a word. Sure, it got back to me all the murmuring on the grapevine, how that some found are relationship disgusting, others thinking that I had been predatory, and still others convinced she was just wanting all the pictures to be of her. I did my best to ignore it all, but don’t think for a second that the betrayal didn’t hurt.

TYW met my boys for the first time when the middle one graduated from Marine boot camp at Parris Island, the same place TYW had gone. Not only were the boys accepting of her, she hit it off well with their mother, which I totally wasn’t expecting. If my former wife could be okay with this new relationship, which couldn’t everyone else?

Yet, what we’ve experienced in the ensuing years is that those who really care about us are accepting and those that never were run and hide.  And in some cases, they make faces.

A mere three weeks after I moved in with TYW, I twisted my ankle stepping on a tree root during an outdoor shoot. By the time I got home, the ankle was swollen, presumably sprained. The Marine wrapped it, put it up, and made me stay off it. That should have worked, but it didn’t. Three days later, I was in the ER with both legs severely swollen and in need of attention. TYW had stayed with me long enough for the doctor to notice her presence. He assumed she was my daughter. Upon correcting that information, the doctor’s response was less than positive.

We encountered the same problem with other doctors, all of whom were visibly surprised, and one of which even restricted my access to pain medication out of fear that TYW might steal them for herself. I did not continue treatment under that doctor long.

Every time we meet someone new, the stigma is there. We see it on people’s faces, even if they don’t say anything. We see the looks of surprise, the curiosity, and the disgust. Rarely do we meet someone whose response is positive. We’ve grown used to those reactions but they still hurt just a little.

And now, it’s all coming back around again, a little stronger and with more bias this time, because of a stupid fuck-up of a politician.

Relationships of our own design

May/December romances such as ours are nothing new. They go back at least as far as Classical Greece and probably further than that, though there’s little written record one way or the other. As society has changed and mating habits have changed and our understanding of human development has changed, we have altered the moment at which such relationships are justifiable and legal. There are reasonable arguments to be made whether any person between the ages of 16 and 20 have the level of understanding and emotional maturity necessary to engage in a sexual relationship with anyone of any age.  For that matter, I’ve met people my own age who still don’t have the emotional maturity necessary for a relationship. 

To take advantage of someone, regardless of the situation or their age, is wrong. We’ve not spelled that out well before, and at times our culture has even celebrated the “boys” getting drunk and rowdy. Remember the 1984 movie Porkies? Everyone laughed at the shower scene in that movie back then. Yet, that is the very type of media influence that encourages the behavior we’re now fighting against. 

When two adults agree to a relationship, though, whether it be physical or friendly, there’s no good reason for making age a factor. In fact, if one were to ask TYW, she would likely tell you that it was the relationships with people closer to her own age (one slightly younger than she was), that caused her the most trouble. When we are free, as adults, to fashion our own relationships we are far more likely to find someone with whom we are better suited for the long-term, someone who gives as equally as giving, and maybe even someone who knows how to love.

What is even more strange in this situation is that we care less when both people are older than we do when one is still what society considers young. Consider that the age gap between Clint Eastwood and his wife, Dina is exactly the same as mine and TYW: 25 years. Does the fact that Eastwood is now 87 and his wife is 62 make it any more or less acceptable, or is it simply that one has more difficulty imagining them having sex at that age so we’re not so perversely interested? Perhaps consider that Harrison Ford is 72 while his wife, Calista Flockhart, whom he married in 2010, is 53.  Does their age gap matter all that much or might it have mattered more when we still knew Calista as the character Ally McBeal? Here’s another one: comedian Jerry Seinfeld is 63. His wife, Jessica, with whom he’s had three children, is only 46. Does that 17-year difference in their ages really make any difference? I’m willing to bet that their kids would say no.

Public perception and acceptance of our relationships is important to our social well-being. When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were first married, they changed their ages so that it appeared that they were both the same age, born in 1914. The truth was that Lucy was six years older than the 23-year-old Desi and they knew that difference would be a problem for them in the fickle social circles of Hollywood. Most people don’t think of a six-year gap as being that significant when the man is older, but our prejudice is born out in how we respond when a woman chooses a spouse who is significantly younger.

Destroying Relationship Bias

One would think American society would be getting over its stupid inbred attitudes toward relationships, but we’re not nearly as accepting as we want to think. Families of mixed race still face significant amounts of hate, especially within their native cultures. Same-gender marriage has been the law long enough that it really shouldn’t be an issue but Roy Moore is actively campaigning in Alabama on a platform that includes not merely overturning the Supreme Court’s decision but putting gay people in jail. We’re not making anywhere near as much progress as we should be and the fact that we’re not is, quite plainly, disgusting. We know better. We know we know better. Yet, we continue to choose prejudice everywhere we can possibly find it.

Let me ask you a very important question and one needs to be extremely honest in answering it. What harm does it do to you if I love someone who is 25 years younger than me?  What harm does it do to you if I love someone a different race than me (technically, that is the case)? What harm does it do to you if I love someone who is the same gender as me, or someone who is gender fluid, or someone who is trans?

Here’s the honest answer to those questions: none. Zero. Zip. Nada.  The sooner we, as a society, can figure that out the sooner we can get on with really important issues such as keeping real creeps like Roy Moore not only out of the United States Senate but away from little girls in Alabama shopping malls. Apparently, we need to be much less concerned about which restroom transgender people use and more about the ones movie producers and politicians visit since there are far more cases of the latter molesting people. In fact, there are ZERO cases of trans people molesting children or committing a sex crime. Too bad our own President can’t say the same thing. I’m still waiting for us to get back to that issue.

If my relationship gives you the creeps, then YOU are the one with a problem and you are the only one who can fix that problem. The same goes for every other relationship between consenting adults.  Nothing about anyone else’s relationship is any of your business on any level for any reason. Sure, you may be jealous because we’re having more and better sex than the rest of you (on Tuesdays, at least) but again, that problem is on you, not anyone else.

America, as a country, needs to get over its relationship bias problem. Gossip columnist Liz Smith is dead. There is no breaking news here. Fix yourself or go away. Far, far away.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Reading time: 16 min
Blurred Lives
How strongly are we influenced by what we hear, what we see, and what we experience without ever actually giving the matter direct thought? Is there such a thing as an original thought any more or is everything merely a re-interpretation of what someone else created?

[ed. note:  The Old Man has been a bit under the weather the past few days and hasn’t been able to write. Rest assured, he’s getting the care he needs and will be back to his normal orneriness soon. Meanwhile, please enjoy the following article he wrote that was originally published in March, 2015 on charlesiletbetter.com. We’ve updated some of the references a bit to help keep it current.]

One of the big news items back in March of 2015 was a jury’s decision to award the family of late singer Marvin Gaye $7.3 million for copyright infringement after determining that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had used, or been strongly influenced by, portions of Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” when writing their hit song, “Blurred Lines.” While the amount of the award is staggering, and some naysayers predict this is the end of original music, the fact is we’ve been here before (Michael Bolton vs. the Isley Brothers, 1994) and the music industry will continue to produce “new” material to meet demand.

The larger question, though, is to what degree we are all influenced by the more subtle aspects of our environment? We go through the day with music playing in our ears, but we aren’t consciously listening to the songs. We read various headlines and snippets of stories without paying particular attention to their source. We see ads and commercials almost everywhere we look, but can’t tell someone what product was being sold. How much of what we experience is sticking?

Memory is difficult to quantify and is an extremely large field of scientific study. Just about the time scientists and doctors think they have a complete picture of the situation, there is, even more, adding to the constantly increasing bulk of information regarding what we remember, why we remember, and how much we remember. Midst all this ongoing research, though, one thing is for certain: we are all affected by the experience of our environment.

The Young Woman and I sometimes converse along a topic that is fun to consider: what would a person such as one of the country’s founding fathers think were they to suddenly be transported into modern America? While there would unquestionably be a high amount of astonishment, and perhaps even fear of outright sorcery, one thing almost for certain is that they would experience sensory overload. We have so very much going on around us that our brains are required to process external information almost 24/7. There is little time to relax, to absorb, or to ponder because of the near-constant barrage of new information coming at us.

So, how do we know what part of our consciousness is us, original, new, having never existed prior to this moment, and how much is simply a re-manufacturing of material recycled from all our experiences and the things that influence us? There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on the topic.

National Public Radio’s Ashish Ranpura writes:

Fundamentally, memory represents a change in who we are. Our habits, our ideologies, our hopes and fears are all influenced by what we remember of our past. At the most basic level, we remember because the connections between our brains’ neurons change; each experience primes the brain for the next experience, so that the physical stuff we’re made of reflects our history like mountains reflect geologic eras. Memory also represents a change in who we are because it is predictive of who we will become. We remember things more easily if we have been exposed to similar things before, so what we remember from the past has a lot to do with what we can learn in the future.

That first sentence is the kicker: what we remember changes who we are. What sticks now helps determine what sticks stronger, later. So, consider the maxim that a lie repeated enough times becomes Truth. The more we experience the same thing, whether it’s a statement, a song, or a photograph, the more likely we are to not only remember that one specific item, but items similar to it, even to the point our memories no longer distinguish between different but similar entities. Everything becomes a giant blur.

Consider the image at the top of this article. At first glance, it appears to be a double-exposure, what happens when the shutter is opened more than once onto the same piece of film. This is a digital image, though, and what we are seeing is very similar to what our brains must at time experience: an over-abundance of information. Taken at ISO 100, the shutter was open a quarter of a second with a wide-open aperture of f/2.8. The image appears to be doubly exposed because it was left open to an excessive amount of information. As a result: everything is blurred.

So it is with our lives. Very little of our experience is clearly defined. We are so inundated with information that even our own memories can’t be trusted to be accurate. Our very lives are blurred to the point of not being sure who we really are. Are we individuals, or are we a conglomerate of our experiences?

Perhaps we need to step away more often. Psychologists have been telling us for several years now that having quiet time, alone, totally disconnected from all the unending madness of the world, is critical to our development, if not our sanity. Most people try to “get away” perhaps once or twice a year on something called a vacation, but too often even those attempts end up being little more than exchanging one set of overwhelming experiences for another. We rush to get in as much “vacation” as possible before having to go back to work and, as a result. our brains get no rest.

Here’s the kicker: we control, for the most part, how much we experience. We’re the ones who spend hours on social media, keep earbuds glued to our ears all day, watch endless hours of television or streaming media. Little is actually being forced upon us. The blurriness of our lives is of our own doing.

Not only do we blur our own lives, but what we say, and how it is said, blurs the lives of others. We influence the people around us in ways we could never imagine. The winner of the 2015 Toastmasters International speaking competition, Mohammed Qahtani, drives that point home quite eloquently in his award-winning speech. It’s only a little over seven minutes, so let’s watch it together, shall we?

So perhaps, this weekend, we step away for a while. Go for a walk in the woods. Sit for an hour or so besides a babbling brook. Go bowling. Take a nap. Better yet, take two. Eliminate all the experiences manufactured by someone else and take some time to create your own; do something that is totally you. Then, when we are with others, we watch our words, we make an effort to be positive in what we say. We can reduce some of the blurs in the lives of others simply by being kind and encouraging, or take a moment to listen.

We might be surprised at just how much more focus we have come Monday if we spend more of our weekends defining our own lives.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

And now, we pass the hat

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blurred lives

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Reading time: 6 min
Death of the American Mall

“I think now, we think of malls as these things that double as minimum security prisons or something because they’re so boring to visit and so walled in, and now they’re not the cool, new place to be.” -Jan Rogers Kniffen

I remember the first mall I ever visited. Woodland Hills Mall was located in what was then a remote field on the Southeast side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. As we were driving out to the mall, with absolutely nothing around it for miles, it seemed preposterous that anyone would drive so far just to go shopping. Yet, as history shows, people did drive that far. South Tulsa development boomed and billions of dollars were made in the process. Similar situations occurred in every major city across the country. Indoor malls, the very concept that one could shop at more than one store without being out in the elements, were exactly the solution shoppers were wanting.

Malls were wonderful. We hung out there. We met friends there. We dined there. We saw movies there. One could go to the mall when it opened at 10:00 AM and reasonably find enough things to do until it closed at 9:00 PM, provided one had sufficient financial backing. As my generation got older, malls were the safe place we would go to walk, get in that little bit of exercise our doctors keep hounding us to do. We saw school choir performances, fashion shows, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Malls were an integral part of our world.

Today, though, not only has that world changed, we have actively turned our backs on malls for the past ten or so years. When we look at the state of malls today no one can be surprised because we’ve not been going to malls except when there was no other choice. Our disdain with malls has become so severe, that the development companies that run the malls, such as Indianapolis based Simon Properties, are doing everything they can to even avoid using the word mall [source]. You’ll find “The Shoppes At Such-And-Such Crossing,” or, “BlahBlah Town Centre,” or even, “Whatchamacallit Village.” Anything is better than the word mall. The word is poison.

If we want to be honest, and many of us would rather not, malls themselves are poison. Malls have completely destroyed the retail economy and created an expectation among shoppers that there is always a sale, no one has to pay full price, and that you’re not a savvy shopper if your receipt doesn’t tell you how much money you saved. As a result, retailers operate on such a thin profit margin that they cut corners anywhere they can, especially in product production. Want to know why very little of what you buy is made in America or Europe? Blame the mall economy. In order for stores to survive, they’ve long had to resort to buying from whoever could produce goods the cheapest, even if that means they’re using slave labor. Just tell us we’re getting a good deal on that cashmere sweater and we’ll look the other way.

Mall developers, of course, are trying desperately to salvage their investments where they can. The battle is being lost, of course. We know that. We’ve known it long enough that when Business Insider ran a story on Thursday with the headline, “These haunting photos of the retail apocalypse reveal a new normal in America,” our first response is, “Yeah, and …?” The information in the article isn’t new. Neither are the pictures.

The day of the mall as a dominant shopping experience is not only over, it’s completely dead. There is very little reason for any city of any size to have more than one mall and very few reasons for stores, especially fashion retail, to participate in them. In their place, property developers would do well to look at alternatives that better fit the needs of generations younger than myself. Baby Boomers are no longer the demographic anyone needs to be courting unless they’re selling adult diapers and emergency bracelets. We need new ideas and I just happen to have a few suggestions.

Convert existing malls into self-sustaining communities

This is a concept that is already being tried in some of the more progressive, or perhaps desperate parts of the country [source]. Taking away the duplicate department stores selling slightly different versions of the same merchandise and replacing them with housing and workspace is a concept that has existed since at least 2007 but has found only a handful of developers willing to take a chance on the idea. By converting former mall properties in this way, developers have a chance to address multiple community issues such as affordable housing, food deserts, and urban blight. Such communities could go a long way in transforming challenging urban neighborhoods that have seen many retailers pack up and leave in recent years.

For this concept to work, though, requires not only the cooperation of retailers but business owners who might employ the people who would choose to live in such communities. Big tech firms such as Google and Apple have experimented with their own live/work campuses to varying degrees of success, but we’ve not seen non-tech companies grab hold of the concept at all. Success for this kind of development requires a variety of employers, including those who hire unskilled workers, or else the concept is ultimately unsustainable.

Better integration with online services

Online shopping is given a lot of the blame for the demise of mall shopping. Never mind that too many malls were built to be sustainable or that the mall economy ate its largest retailers for lunch. Online shopping is an economic force that is coming into its own and dominates not only retail but things like construction, shipping, and logistics. There are too many advantages to online shopping to everything that it is going to decrease in the near future.

What we’re still missing, though, is full integration between online ordering and brick-and-mortar stores. Some larger retailers, such as Home Depot and Walmart, have figured out the advantage of providing same-day pickup on items ordered online. Grocery giant Kroger launched a curbside pickup service earlier this year as well, though it has yet to fully capture grocery shoppers who are notorious for browsing the aisles. While these are a beginning, there is a lot more that could be done; things like ordering a garment online then having it fitted in-store or using stores as a basis for same-day delivery of items. No one really likes having to wait three to seven days for free ground delivery. Having retailers more tightly integrating brick-and-mortar stores with online services creates a winning scenario for everyone.

Build experiences, not shopping centers

Just a few miles away in Columbus, Ohio, developers and retailers are experimenting with a variety of different concepts that put an emphasis on having an experience rather than going shopping [source]. We already know that younger generations prioritize experiences over materialistic purchases [source]. Yet, retailers and developers are being extremely slow and cautious about latching onto that concept and creating spaces where shopping isn’t the main attraction. This is a situation that desperately needs to move beyond the experimentation in Columbus and into the mainstream as quickly as possible.

While Millennials get a lot of the blame/credit for this shift in thinking, the fact is that those of us who are older are rather tired of the old way of shopping as well. As we get older, we need a stronger reason for getting out of our climate-controlled houses than picking up a new pair of orthopedic shoes. We already know what size we wear, we can get those online and the nice delivery person brings them right to our front door. If someone wants us to leave home they need to start giving us all more reasons to do so. Give us new generation parks where we can watch our grandchildren play. Give us live theater that doesn’t cost as much as a week’s grocery budget. Build places that are never going to necessarily smell of commercial-grade disinfectant.

Solutions are there

I think what bothers me about the continued spate of articles such as those in Business Insider and Fashionista this week is that they’re not bringing to light any problems we haven’t known about for at least ten years. We’ve also known about the solutions equally as long. Yet, here we sit in 2017 still bemoaning the loss of the neighborhood mall.

Get over it. Malls are dead. We should celebrate their demise and move on to something more vibrant, more exciting, and does a better job of addressing the needs of the communities in which they reside. Americans like almost anything that is new and shiny and gives them a chance to feel good about themselves. There is a lot of space for creative developers and retailers to turn lackluster sales into booming business if they can just get away from the 50-year-old concepts that have dominated the industry since I was a child.

The time to make a choice is now. 2018 is going to be pivotal for many companies. The American mall is dead. Give us a new experience, though, and we’re there. Go ahead. Try us.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Time is up for America's Malls

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Reading time: 7 min
Surviving mornings when you're not a morning person

I am not a morning person. Not even close. If it were up to me, my day would start somewhere around 10:00 and ease into work mode somewhere around noon. I start slow. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually been able to follow that schedule, though. Real life doesn’t care what my body’s natural rhythm is. There are deadlines to meet. People want answers now. Contacts over in Europe would really like me to respond before they close up shop for the day, which, coincidentally, is about 10:00 AM Eastern Standard Time.

Add to that schedule the fact that we have school-age children who dominate the early morning. Currently, they get on the bus right at 7:00. That means they need to be on their feet no later than 6:15 if we want them to catch that bus. They’re not old enough to responsibly get themselves ready every morning, so we have to be up and awake and in charge. We control how their day starts, which subsequently relates to whether they have a good day at school.

In an ideal world, we would all be able to follow our body’s natural circadian rhythm. For those in the back who haven’t been paying attention over the past 40 years, circadian rhythms are “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle [source].” If we were as smart as we pretend to be we would adjust our schedules and routines so that we’re working during the times when our bodies are most inclined to be productive, exercise when our muscles are best toned for stretching, and sleep when our bodies tell us. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Without question, we would all be healthier, get more done, and live happier lives if we were to follow our body’s natural timing.

However, one of the downsides of the industrial revolution is that corporations need everyone in the same place at the same time in order to get things done. Despite all the advances we’ve made in distance and remote working, there are still too many instances where we need people in an office, or a boardroom, looking at each other face-to-face. That means we have to put aside out circadian rhythms and follow a unified schedule. More often than not, unified schedules mean being in an office by 9:00 every morning, a time when many people’s bodies would much rather be sleeping.

Forcing ourselves into schedules outside our circadian rhythms has its downside. Not only are we likely to be less healthy, we are also more prone to making mistakes [source]. Errors may not be a big deal if one is in a dead-end job where their efforts are duplicated a couple of dozen times, but it can have devastating effects if one is, oh, a brain surgeon or something really important like that. So, when we find ourselves in a schedule that is oppositional to our natural circadian rhythms, we have to make some adjustments to keep everything around us from exploding (hopefully using that word in a metaphorical context).  I’m about to give you some life hacks. Pay attention.

Prep your morning before going to bed

There are certain things in everyone’s life that we just know we’re going to have to do before we walk out the door in the morning. Things like getting dressed, personal hygiene, and probably coffee. We know we’re still going to be half asleep when we do those things, though, so the best way to combat potential areas in this department is to prepare for them the night before. Go ahead and decide what you’re going to wear and set everything in a safe place where you can find them literally with your eyes shut. This avoids time lost and mistakes made when we go searching for clean clothes when our brains have yet to start functioning. Set out a towel and washcloth. Prep the coffee so that all you have to do is turn things on (better yet, get a coffee maker with a timer).

When we do this, we make morning life a lot easier for ourselves by reducing the amount of actual brain activity required before our brains are ready to be active. Give yourself some space where you’re able to reasonably function on auto-pilot until you’re fully awake and aware of what’s going on around you. Don’t force yourself into a position of having to jump out of bed and start making decisions before your eyes are even open.

Nix the bright lights

Our brains respond to light in a very interesting fashion. Bright, cool light tells our brains that it is time to be awake and productive. Warm, soft light tells us that it is time to chill, relax, and prepare for sleep [source]. Having super-bright lights in your bedroom makes zero sense because that is the one place where you need your brain to take it easy, not try and keep you up all night. This means you’re probably going to have to make some adjustments like leaving your cell phone on a nightstand turned face down and changing the wattage of the bulbs in your bedroom from 100 watts to something more in the neighborhood of a soft 40 watts. Most importantly, make sure the room is as dark as possible when you go to sleep. Even nightlights disrupt your sleep pattern and keep you from resting as well [source].

Non-compensated plug here: GE makes a special bulb called C-Sleep that is designed to fit our natural sleep patterns. These are LED bulbs controlled by an app on your smartphone. You set the times at which you need sleep light versus wakeup light and the bulb adjusts to give you the right kind of light for the time of day. The bulbs are a little pricey on the front end ($75 on the front end when ordered directly from GE) but only use 11 watts of electricity so they’re likely to save money on your electric bill. Most importantly, they give you the right light to help you rest and get your morning started off well.

Eliminate distractions while you sleep

This is a big one for me and one that, quite honestly, I don’t do well enough. I’m a light sleeper. I grew up in a family where the phone was likely to ring in the middle of the night and when it did it was never good news. Depending on the severity of the situation (whether one or both parents were needed), we could find ourselves getting dressed and having to jump in the car at 3:00 AM without any warning. That uncertainty set up a life-long habit of constantly listening for sounds that might indicate an emergency. Sure, I no longer have to worry about my phone ringing at 3:00 AM, but my brain won’t turn off that switch. any noise and I’m up and assessing the danger level. It doesn’t help that I have a dog who is even more sensitive to sound than I am.

The general recommendation to help us get a good night’s sleep is to listen to white noise, such as the sound of waves crashing, while we’re snoozing [source].  Generally speaking, I rather like that idea with one exception: we have children. Those of us who have children know that we have to keep one ear open all night in case one of the kids wakes up and needs attention. The younger your children are the more critical this factor.

While we may not all be able to enjoy falling under the spell of white noise all night, we can do other things to minimize distractions. Things like taking down wind chimes, keeping pets sequestered outside the bedroom, and using sound-reducing shades to block out external traffic noises can all help. We may not be able to eliminate all the distractions but we can minimize them enough to help our sleep be more effective.

Establish a morning routine

Just because our eyes are open and our body is out of bed and mobile doesn’t mean we’re actually conscious just yet. This whole waking up thing takes a minute, you know? If we have a routine, though, we can allow our bodies to operate on auto-pilot as long as we have a routine that is safe and efficient to get us through the first five-ten minutes of our day. Mine is pretty simple. When my feet first hit the floor, the first thing I do is let the dogs out the back door. I can almost do this with my eyes shut because the dogs flank me every step of the way. They won’t let me deviate from the appointed path. While the dogs are out, I put food in their bowls and check the cats’ food supply as well and then fill the community water bowl. By this point, the dogs want back inside. Making coffee and pouring my morning cereal (necessary for taking morning meds) are next in line. The first 20 minutes of my day are a set routine that never deviates even on weekends (the animals don’t care if it’s Sunday or Tuesday, they still want out and to be fed).

There’s no right or wrong to what one puts in their morning routine, simply that it be consistent. Personally, I like things peaceful and quiet so my brain and slowly ease into gear before the children get up and start demanding that I think. Those whose existence is more solitary might find benefit in turning on music and there are even some crazy people who find an early morning run to be helpful. The nature of your routine depends largely on your circumstances and the rhythms in which your body wakes up. Find what works for you and stick to it. After a couple of weeks, muscle memory takes over and the routine becomes automatic.

Give yourself plenty of time

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to leave the house to go to work. My commute consists of turning my chair around and looking at the computer. For most people, though, going to work means getting in a car, fighting their way through traffic, and struggling to make it into work on time every morning. I’ve been there and know that it’s not easy. One is tempted to wait until the last possible minute to get out of bed and then rush to work like a bat out of hell. The problem with that approach is that it increases our stress levels and makes it much more likely that we will make mistakes and even leave things at home, such as the notes for that all important meeting you had right at 9:00.

Give yourself some time before you have to put on your super suit and be an action hero. I set my alarm at 5:00 every morning not because I’m a morning person but because I’m not and I need that hour and fifteen minutes to mentally prepare myself for children. On the very rare morning something happens and I don’t get up well before the demons, their morning doesn’t go well. I’m crankier than normal (and that’s never a good thing), I’m more easily frustrated, and my blood pressure meds haven’t had time to kick in yet so I’m more likely to yell and scream over insignificant things like why no one can find one of the 50 million combs and brushes I know we have in this house. Your time may vary, of course, but waiting until the last minute isn’t helping you. Get out of bed a little earlier and give yourself a chance to start the day better.

Avoid the negative

I cut my adult teeth on the news. Working first for a local newspaper and then a major news syndicate, the news is in my blood and something that will never leave. The news is rarely a positive starting point, though, and having the Internet at my fingertips only makes the obsession worse. I have aggregators that assemble all the important stories that have accumulated overnight and place them in my inbox for my convenience. What I have learned, though, is to not start my day by opening those email. As tempting as it is, I leave those alone until I have found something, somewhere, to make me laugh. Not a big, loud guffaw mind you. I want everyone else to stay asleep for a while. Just something that makes me giggle on the inside and maybe turn up the corners of my mouth for a few seconds.

Our lives are filled with enough negative things. The instant that those emails are opened I’m going to go from smiling to concerned or worried or angry. If I can put off all that negative emotion for a bit I’m less likely to let that negativity spill onto the people around me. Sure, there are days when the news is so bad and so unavoidable that the people around me are affected; there typically isn’t anything I can do to stop that from happening, especially given the current state of chaos. There is a lot I can do to reign that in, though, and much of that starts with making my own morning as positive and upbeat as possible. When I wake the little ones, the first voice they hear should be cheerful, not angry.

There is no perfect solution

Lives are different and everyone’s circadian rhythm is different so don’t think that what works for me has to work for you. If you are one of those people who work third shift and has to sleep during the day, there are different precautions you have to take to make sure you are not disturbed. Those of us who work remotely from home can be much more flexible in our morning schedules than can those who are slaves to a corporate taskmaster who doesn’t care what’s going on in your personal life.

What’s important is that you find what works for you and don’t let anyone interrupt your flow. If you need to be in bed by 9:00 at night, don’t let someone shame you into staying up later. If you need your first cup of coffee to be stronger than what you drink the rest of the day, know that you’re not alone. You can make this work.

We have been born into a society that doesn’t really work for the vast majority of people. If it did, offices probably wouldn’t open before 11:00 in the morning and we’d all take a nap around 4L00 in the afternoon. Since corporations dominate a third or more of our lives, those schedules are not likely to change. We have to find solutions that help us fit into that routine in the best way possible. Hopefully, these tips work for you.

Abide in Peace
The Old Man

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surviving mornings when you're not a morning person

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Reading time: 12 min
Naked Dining is the answer to gun violence

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — The gunman who killed 26 people at a small-town Texas church went aisle to aisle looking for victims and shot crying babies at point-blank range, a couple who survived the attack said. [Source]

Naked dining doesn’t sound like it has a damn thing to do with gun violence, does it? In fact, one might be inclined to think I’m setting up a satire piece or that I’m being intentionally facetious. Neither of those assumptions is true. I’m being quite serious in the discourse that follows and I hope you’ll stay with me long enough to see the point I am making. Gun violence is a serious topic. Naked dining doesn’t feel like a serious topic, though, so please give me a moment to show how the two merge.

First, though, let’s talk about First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Even though I’ve never been there, in some ways I know exactly the kind of town Sutherland Springs is because those are the kind of towns, population just under 700 people [source],  and those small Southern Baptist churches were exactly the kind of churches my father pastored for over 40 years. Sutherland Springs is a town where not only does everyone know everyone else, everyone is largely related to everyone else in one way or another. The community is close-knit and while they may not always get along with each other when a death occurs in a family the entire town is affected.

Sutherland Springs lost 4% of their population on Sunday morning. To some, that number may not sound all that high, but to a town like Sutherland Springs, it’s like cutting out the town’s heart with a piece of dirty, jagged glass. This is a wound that scars every person in that town and I won’t be a bit surprised if the pain and sorrow do not contribute to subsequent deaths of family members whose hearts are completely broken by the loss.

Sunday mornings in small Southern Baptist churches are nothing like the services in big city megachurches. There’s a routine, a template, that these churches have followed for more than a century. How the service flows is a tradition that no one messes with. Trust me, Poppa tried on more than one occasion and was severely chastised each time. For the sake of most who are unfamiliar with this template, let me describe it for you.

11:00 AM: The stated starting time for the morning service passes without acknowledgment because half the congregation is still milling about, making the transition from Sunday School, visiting and catching up with each other. Even though the town is small, for many people in attendance this is the only time they see each other all week and catching up on life’s little details is important to them. No pastor in their right mind forces a hard start time. Instead, the pianist quietly plays hymns until the service is ready to begin.

11:06 AM: The music director, which is typically the person in the church with the strongest voice, who was strong-armed into service, steps to the pulpit and announces the first hymn. “Good morning,” he’ll say. “Please turn to hymn number 446, Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine. Let’s all stand as we sing.”

11:11 AM: The pastor, or a delegated deacon, offers an opening prayer. This is one place a bit of variation may occur. Some read a passage of scripture before the prayer.

11:13 AM: Church announcements are made. Yes, most of them are printed in the church bulletin everyone received as they entered, but the pastor knows that half his congregation isn’t going to read the bulletin at all, and in most small churches there’s a decent number of people who can’t read the bulletin. Therefore, verbal announcements are necessary. Most pastors try to keep this portion of the service as short as possible but the reality is that it can go on for as much as fifteen minutes in some churches. Any community event is likely to be mentioned here.

11:17 AM: Welcoming visitors. Okay, so the “visitors” are actually someone’s grandchildren who are in for the weekend. Everyone knows who they are. Still, this is another excuse to stand up and say hi to each other before having to sit still during the sermon.

11:20 AM: The music director signals the end of visitation time by stepping to the pulpit and announcing the next time. “Let’s all take our seats and turn to hymn number 308. Jesus Paid It All.” Depending on how much time was lost during the announcements, the hymn may be shortened by singing only two or three of the four stanzas in some churches, though be sure someone in the church isn’t going to like that. Typically, that person was me.

11:24 AM: A second hymn, for which everyone stands. Last chance to stretch those legs, or slip the little ones out to go to the potty before the sermon. The music director announces, “Let’s stand as we sing hymn number 429, Sweet Hour of Prayer. Again, depending on the time, the song may be shortened. Be sure that in a small church like this the tempo on this song crawls which often leads to only the first and last stanzas being sung. Ushers walk forward during the final chorus in preparation for receiving the

11:27 AM: Offertory prayer, typically given by one of the ushers, some of whom look upon this honor as an opportunity to demonstrate just how pious he is. The congregation is trying to stand there with their eyes shut, gripping the back of the pew in front of them so they don’t fall over. This can be really difficult. Go ahead, try standing in the middle of the floor with your eyes shut; it’s not easy. I’ve seen these prayers go on for as much as five minutes. I’ve also known Poppa to stop asking certain people to give a public prayer unless he needed an excuse to take a nap.

11:28 AM (hopefully): Offering. Typically, the pianist plays a quiet hymn during this time. There is a sense of reverence. No one talks or moves a lot. Parents return from the restroom with their children who have been strongly warned to sit still and be quiet for the remainder of the service. Said children are likely armed with crayons or some other form of distraction.

11:30 AM: Special music. If the church has a choir, they typically sing at this point. Understand, the choir may only consist of five or six people and half of those likely have some difficulty finding the pitch. Chances are high none of them actually read music, which makes choir rehearsals a whirlwind of fun (yes, I’m being terribly sarcastic). That’s assuming there was any rehearsal at all. In many small churches, they just gather before the service and the music director tells them which hymn they’re going to sing. If there’s no choir, someone sings a solo or duet. The pastor always hopes the song has something to do with the topic of his sermon, but on nine Sundays out of ten, it doesn’t.

11:34 AM: The morning sermon begins. The pastor typically has 20 minutes to say whatever he’s going to say. This is a small Southern Baptist church. Taking a morning service past noon is the type of offense that can get a pastor fired. No, I’m not kidding. I saw this happen more than once while growing up. 12:00 noon is the deadline. Folks have things to do. In our family, Mother often had a roast in the oven (we typically lived right next door to the church). If Poppa’s sermon ran long, the roast was burned. Poppa knew better than to let the roast burn. Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is the rule.

11:55 AM: Invitation. Some folks refer to this as an altar call. In the minds of many, you’re not Southern Baptist if you don’t give an invitation at the end of every service. Typically, the music director leads the congregation in singing a hymn such as Charlotte Elliot’s Just As I Am set to William Bradbury’s familiar tune. If you’ve ever caught the end of a Billy Graham crusade you’ve heard that song. There are five verses to this song. If the pastor is really applying the pressure he’ll wait for all five verses to be sung. He has the option to end the invitation at any moment, though. There are some Sundays the dear pastor just knows his sermon bounced off the hard heads in the pews and there’s no sense in belaboring the point.

11:59 AM: Benediction. This is likely to be the shortest prayer of the entire morning, typically offered by a deacon. Everyone’s tired and anxious to get on to more exciting things. “Thank you, God, for this sermon (that no one actually heard). Please help us to apply it to our lives (as though we actually think we need to improve). Bless us through the week ahead (because you won’t hear from us until next Sunday). Amen.”

At this point, the pianist plays another upbeat hymn to usher everyone out the door. The pastor stands at the entrance to greet everyone. “Good sermon, pastor,” is the polite greeting from congregants. “Good to see you this week, Mrs. Fester,” is the pastor’s polite reply.

Week after week, year after year, every little Southern Baptist church in every little town across the United States follows a similar pattern. They rarely waver from this tradition. In fact, if one were to take a poll they would likely find that a number of congregants likely believe that the order of worship is a hard and fast rule set down by some ecclesiastical authority. It isn’t, but woe to the newcomer who suggests changing anything. This is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents worshipped. Therefore, we must do the same.

Devin Kelly grew up in a church like the one in Sutherland Springs. He knew the routine. When he pulled up to the gas station across the street from the church, he waited. Chances are reasonable that he could hear the congregation singing. He waited until the music stopped. Everyone except the guest preacher for the day was sitting down. At 11:30 AM, he drove across the street, pointed his rifle at the clapboard building, and started shooting. Nothing that followed was routine.

We’re not to the naked dining part just yet

Hold on, we’re getting there. First, though, we need to understand just why it is alternative solutions to gun violence are necessary. One would think, logic would seem to scream, that the correct response to gun violence is to limit who has guns and regulate how they are purchased. Multiple opinion surveys have been done in recent years and they consistently show that anywhere from 88% to 92% of Americans support universal background checks [source 1, source 2, source 3]. We know what we should be done so why have we not done a damn thing about our gun violence problem? Over and over and over and over, within minutes after another shooting takes place, someone says we need to do more to limit who has access to guns. Yet, never has a mass shooting resulting in any restriction on gun sales. None. Zero. Zip.

The United States is alone in the category of gun violence. No other developed nation in the world can touch us. Americans are 20% more likely to die as a result of gun violence than are residents of any of our peers [source]. Even in Switzerland, where gun ownership is every bit has high, per capita, as it is in the US, gun violence is a mere fraction of what it is in America. In fact, to find a mass shooting of any kind in Switzerland, one has to go all the way back to 2001 [source]!

Our president, who is walking proof that the zombie apocalypse has already begun, says that the Sutherland Springs incident is not a gun problem but rather a mental health problem [source]. So, we’re to believe that the reason America has such an appallingly high rate of gun violence is that we’re all crazy? If that’s the case, then why the fuck did Congress recently decide that it’s okay for those who are diagnosed mentally ill to have guns [source]? Doesn’t that seem to be just a wee bit counter-intuitive if not outright self-destructive?

Oh, wait, Congress might have allowed that bill to pass because, you’ll love this, there’s no evidence supporting the assertion that the mentally ill commit more gun crimes. If anything, the research piles up on the exact opposite end of the equation. Approximately one in five American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness and that’s okay because it is pretty much the same anywhere else in the world [source]. So no, we’re not crazier than everyone else in the world. Don’t go blaming the mentally ill for all the violence, either. Research shows that mental patients released to the public very rarely use any form of violence against strangers at all [source].

For all the talk about mental health in relationship to gun crimes, suicide, not mass shootings or even aggravated homicide, is still the leading cause of gun deaths in the United States [source]. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 10-25 and the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 25-44 [source]. If there is an advantage to legislation that keeps the mentally and emotionally challenged from buying guns it is the possibility that doing so may save them from dying at their own hands, not that it will prevent mass shootings such as the one at Sutherland Springs or Las Vegas. We need to get it out of our minds that mass shootings are the fault of mentally deranged madmen; that assumption simply doesn’t hold true.

When we attempt to address America’s gun violence problem with gun control legislation or mental health regulation, we will inevitably reduce some levels of violence because any measure is better than the absolute nothingness we’ve done to this point. What we’re doing, though, is treating the symptoms, not the cause. Until we address the root cause of violence in America any legislation we might pass is ultimately limited in its effectiveness. We will still have more mass shootings than anyone else, still have run-away domestic violence, and still have an alarmingly high suicide rate because the reason we’re predisposed to violence in the first place has yet to be addressed.

Americans need to learn to chill—naked

Sitting at the root of the gun violence problem in America is a problem known as Violent Socialization. By broad definition, violent socialization is the culmination of all the things in our society that leads us to be more violent than anyone else. There isn’t just one thing we can eliminate and suddenly everyone be okay and the violence completely stops. Rather, there is a multitude of factors that, when combined, lead us to a greater tendency toward violence [source 1, source 2]. These factors not only include the prevalence and ease of gun ownership but other variables such as income inequality, lack of financial opportunities, insufficient education, the prevalence of aggressive sports coaching, overly-competitive attitudes in the workplace, and loss of personal time due to work demands. In all, there are over 40 factors that, when combined, lead us to be a more violent society than what is found in any other first world country.

In short, Americans have no chill.

Here, finally, is where naked dining comes in. The precedent has already been set in Paris where a restaurant opened this past Friday (1 November 2017) [source]. The restaurant, named  O’naturel, is but the latest opportunity for Parisians who enjoy running around in the buff. Paris is a city that already has a public park, a public pool, and approximately 460 other areas where people are welcome to run around naked. While all this nudity does not protect Paris from violence related to religious extremism such as Daesh, the whole generally chill attitude residents have there goes a long way in diffusing the tensions that result in some overly angry person deciding that the slaughter of innocent people is a good idea.

One of the first questions one might have regarding the opening of a naked restaurant is how it affects its local neighbors. The answer, at least in this case, is that it doesn’t.

“It doesn’t bother me at all, or my neighbours,” a man called Mehdi told Le Parisien.

“We don’t see anything from the street. We know what’s happening. It’s not a massage parlor.”

Another factor that probably makes a difference is that the restaurant only holds about 50 people at a time, max, and those people are going to pay roughly $25 US (€30) per plate. This isn’t the fast food crowd we’re talking about. Patrons don’t disrobe until they’re inside the building, where they are provided with upscale lockers and changing facilities before being shown to their seats.

Granted, there are some limitations to dining naked. The menu at O’naturel includes relatively safe food such as escargot, medley de légumes, gravelax de saumon, and braised truffles with polenta. There’s nothing here that’s likely to give one severe burns if it happens to fall onto your lap while dining. Right away, those limitations could be a factor for Americans who tend to like their food bathed in grease and too hot to handle without a utensil.

There is also the matter of public health concerns. You know those signs about “no shirt, no shoes, no service?” Those are there by choice, not a legal requirement. While health codes stipulate various requirements for employees of dining establishments, there is no such requirement of their customers [source].  Most Americans think that there is a law requiring at least minimal cover, but they seriously don’t exist. We checked. Employees (especially those preparing the food) have clothing requirements, but not the customers. That being said, Americans are notoriously lacking in the area of personal hygiene. I mean, a large number of us don’t even wash our hands after going to the bathroom [source]. Maybe handing patrons a warm rag coated with disinfectant before being seated might not be a bad idea.

Why are the French, and Europeans in general, so into running around naked? Because they are more comfortable with who they are. Nudity is not over-sexualized and most Europeans long-ago nixed the religious morality argument that still holds sway in the US. As a result, they are very relaxed about being naked. Europeans, in general, don’t mind being naked because they don’t see where it is a big deal.

Nudity leads to a more relaxed attitude about life altogether. Being relaxed in attitude results in being relaxed in practice. Less stress leads to a variety of social benefits, not the least of which is a significantly lower rate of social violence.

Using only France’s crime statistics for comparison, since they seem to have more naked options than anyone else, here’s how severe the discrepancy is [source]:

  • General crime levels: The US has 13% more than France
  • Drug (Opiate) use: The US has 43% more than France
  • Rape: The US has 69% more than France
  • Homicide: The US has 19 times more than France
  • Suicide: The US has 33% more than France

Am I beginning to make my point? There is zero evidence that these numbers are a coincidence. The same attitude that allows the French people to be comfortable with naked dining is the same attitude that keeps their rate of violent crime significantly lower than in the US.

There’s also a practical matter to toss into consideration as well. There’s no place for a naked person to hide a weapon. If we increase the amount of public nudity we decrease the ability of someone to sneak weapons into places where innocent people are vulnerable. Sure, I suppose someone could,  in theory, lube up a  small pistol sufficiently to stick it up their ass, but even if one was successful in doing so, extraction is going to be painful and not the type of thing one easily hides. Everyone in the room is going to know what you’re doing. Then, once you have it out, that thing is going to have to be cleaned before it can be fired safely.  Plus, the caliber is small so there’s no standing at the front of the room and mowing everyone down, and the clip is only going to hold six shots. Naked shooters are too impractical to be taken seriously.

Sure, I suppose that if we all start going around naked, and even if we go so far as to make it a law that everyone who is in a public park or restaurant has to be naked, then only criminals will have clothes.  Stop and think about that for a moment though. If we know that anyone wearing clothes in certain places is a bad guy, doesn’t that make it a lot easier to stop these idiots? One of the issues we have with preventing violent crimes now, especially mass shootings, is that we too often don’t know that someone’s up to no good until they start shooting. If only bad guys are clothed then they are immediately easy to spot and can be eliminated before they have a chance to cause any problem.

Yes, naked dining can absolutely reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States.

Practical Analysis

Okay, so Americans, in general, have this giant log of religiously-motivated morality stuck up their butt that makes them disinclined to support anything that includes nudity. The United States is one of the few developed countries where one is still likely to be jailed just for walking around without a shirt if one is female. Yes, it’s a double-standard. Yes, it is gender discrimination. Our attitudes regarding nudity, though, are symptomatic of just how uptight we are about everything. We are so afraid of doing something that is morally wrong, doing something that might offend someone else, doing something that causes us to make less money, that we have created an environment where it is almost impossible for us to relax, to be comfortable with ourselves and each other.

We need to do something drastic, though, to address this problem of gun violence that has reached epidemic proportions. The cost of violence in terms of real dollars is somewhere around $45 billion [source]. When we reach the point where newspapers have good reasons to publish articles on  How to protect yourself during a mass shooting we have jumped the proverbial shark to the point where no solution can be considered too silly or too ridiculous to not be considered.

Americans have been screaming, “we need to do something about gun violence” ever since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. If there is one thing we’ve consistently proven since then is that the jellyfish elected to Congress lack anything resembling a spine when it comes to gun control. I’m over ever expecting that they are going to do anything meaningful to adequately reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. Families like yours and mine don’t have as much money to buy Members of Congress like the special interests groups can. Therefore, the interests of families are ignored. We have to act for ourselves.

What can we do? We can dine naked. We can diffuse the stresses that feed violent socialization. We’ve tried thoughts and prayers and that didn’t work, not even in a church on a Sunday morning. We’ve tried religion and that only made the problem worse. What we’ve not tried is being naked, learning to be chill, to say “fuck it” a little more often, to not become so upset if we don’t win every damn time at everything we do.

Consider starting with your own family, minus the children. Try one naked dinner a week. Sure, the first one or two may be a bit uncomfortable because very few of us are accustomed to lounging around in nothing but our own skin. Give it some time, though. Maybe after three or four months, you can invite someone to join you. Keep a lid on the whole sexual thing, mind you. Part of what makes this work for Europeans is that they don’t think that being naked means having sex every time. Just be naked, enjoy the meal, have a pleasant conversation, then everyone goes to their own home.

More than anything, we need to learn to chill, en masse. We can’t rely on anyone to solve this problem of gun violence for us. Legislation might remove the opportunity for some but it’s not going to solve the underlying problem.

Get naked. Have dinner. Stay alive. It’s a recipe worth trying.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Naked Dining might be the solution to gun violence

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Reading time: 20 min
5 Films Someone Needs To Make Right Now

Everyone loves a good movie. In fact, the whole concept of Dudeism centers around The Big Lebowski and the character of The Dude. There’s just one problem with all these movies we’ve been watching our entire lives: they’re male-dominated. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with the guys, there are just way too many of them compared to the number of films featuring strong, intelligent female characters.

We think there need to be more films created for and produced by women that feature characters who never look expectantly at a guy and utter those horrible words, “I don’t know what to do next.” We want to see films where women have the answers, the creativity, and the know-how to solve problems for themselves just like real women have been doing for centuries.

So, we created and developed these five films someone needs to make right now. We’d do it ourselves but the Old Man doesn’t have a freakin’ clue how to produce a movie and besides, if he did it that would just be perpetuating the same male-dominated environment that needs to just go away for a while.

We would like to see the women at major film studios grab hold of these concepts and run with them. To help, we’ve created both imagery and storylines to help get you through the pitch process. If you need more, you can contact us here, or here, or here, or here, or here. We’re rather easy to find and the Old Man is in a deal-making mood. Also, if you want to see all the pictures related to these concepts, you can find them here.

Enough banter. Let’s get to those stories!

The Woman Who Would Be Pope

The Woman Who Would Be Pope

Cardinal John Wallace O’Malley was one of the most revered and respected Cardinals in the Catholic Church. A man of integrity and faith, he was known for possessing a wisdom just short of God himself. When Pope Alexander VIX died, the College of Cardinals quickly elected Cardinal O’Malley on the first ballot. Rejoicing commenced throughout Catholicism.

Taking the name of Pope John Paul III, O’Malley began his duties as pope much as any other man who held the office: selecting a cabinet, meeting with world leaders, and setting out his agenda for the Church. Like any good Catholic, he understood the Pope to be specially ordained, the representative of Christ on Earth, and as such, infallible. He was careful in choosing his words so there could be no doubt that he was speaking for God. For the first time in centuries, the Church was united behind a pope they considered both doctrinally sound and socially compassionate.

Six months into his reign, however, the Pope had a late-night encounter that changed his life. Wandering the quiet halls of his personal residence, John Paul was met with a vision of Christ himself who confronted him with a secret from his childhood.

“You know you were not conceived to be a man. There was a biological error in your birth. Your father intended for you to be a woman. You cannot serve me while denying who I intended for you to be. Repent of this lie and serve me as who you really are.”

John Paul returned to his room deeply troubled. Surely Christ had not asked him to do something that would be in direct violation of how he and the Church interpreted scripture. He decided to chalk the experience up to some bad sausage and attempted to proceed as normal.

The vision of the Christ would not go away, though, and with each iteration of the message John Paul was confronted with memories from his childhood when he had explored his sexuality and been told that he was wrong, that he was a sinner most vile, and that he needed to repent of wanting to be a woman. The challenge had become so great that it had driven the young John Wallace O’Malley into the priesthood. Yet, now the very image of Christ himself was telling him to repent and become a woman!

John Paul weighed the options. Perhaps he was going crazy and the visions were a sign of his senility. Sure, 58 years old was a little early for dementia to kick in, but it wasn’t unknown and would explain such visions. He considered the possibility of a demon impersonating the Christ as well, but found that argument lacking given the holy ground on which he resided. Either way, John Paul saw no option than to resign his post and go into quiet exile.

Sitting down to write his resignation, however, another miracle occurred. Every time he started to write words to the effect of stating his resignation, the paper would catch fire and become consumed. Trying repeatedly, the Pope became fearful that all the smoke would set off the fire alarm. Only when he changed his mind and wrote a sermon outing himself and coming out as a trans woman did the paper stay intact.

The reaction upon reading the sermon was predictable. The Pope had changed his name from John Paul to Pope Magdalene. She had implored those in attendance to refer to her as Pope Maggie and the press had blasted the news across the world. While the secular response was supportive, though, within the Church there was an immediate backlash. Cardinals in the Vatican immediately began resigning. Charges of heresy were formally filed with the College of Cardinals the next day. The L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, ran the headline, “Il papa è diventato pazzo,” or “The pope has become crazy.”

Magdalene was expecting a fight, but she wasn’t prepared for just how severe it would be. Leaving the balcony from which she had declared the transition, one of the Swedish Guards appointed to the pope’s protection attempted to kill her. Similar attacks from within the Vatican became so prevalent that Magdalene had to hire an outside, non-Catholic security firm to protect her. Within the College of Cardinals, there was loud vile and contempt for what many saw as a deception against God and proceedings were undertaking to unseat her, something that hadn’t been done since the days of the antipopes.

Through it all, however, Magdalene kept going. Her messages of love and inclusion were accepted by parishioners who loved her, even as their own priests preached against her. Then, an amazing thing began to happen. Nuns began to voice their support. Other women in the church became vocal in their support as well. Two months later, a bishop in Germany announced his desire to transition to a woman as well. With each incident, support for Pope Magdalene grew, becoming a force the Cardinals found difficult to fight.

Ultimately, a showdown occurs when, void of any legal precedent, Magdalene reluctantly agrees to resign if it can be shown that her papacy has no support in the Church. Convening a tribunal of Cardinals, charges of heresy are leveled against Magdalene in a speech that is harsh and full of hate. Then, at the end of a passionate defense advocating God’s love of everyone, Magdalene if there is but one who will stand by her side. Dramatically, an aging and crippled nun, Mother Agnes, make her way through the crowd to stand by the Pope. As she does, others in the assembled audience stand and do the same. Crowds watching on large screens in Vatican Square cheer in response, a yell so thunderous that it is heard inside the proceedings. The Cardinals realize they have lost and rule in favor of Magdalene.

Note: Making this film carries some inherent dangers. Not only is the Church going to officially oppose its production, the very question of unseating a pope for heresy was raised just this past summer. Be sure the Vatican will apply what influence it has in an attempt to stop the movie. However, history has shown that such controversy only improves ticket sales. Who wants to miss what the Pope has forbidden?

Also, we should mention that the model in the related images for this concept is herself a trans woman. If Hollywood is serious about supporting all women, they will cast a trans woman in this role, making it all the more authentic and impactful. Yes, there’s going to be controversy, but it’s the kind that results in wonderfully free PR and fills theatre seats when released.

Reporting From Home

Reporting From Home

Fade in from black to the sights and sounds of yet another firefight somewhere in the Middle East. A squadron of U.S. Marines has the enemy on the run but the action is violent and loud. Grenades and mortar fire explode as mud and rocks and pieces of walls splatter in front of the camera. We see bodies fall, blood on the ground, and the forceful yell of Marines as they move forward.

Sounds of battle fade and over the video we hear the voice of embedded reporter Jennifer Ashton-McCullough narrating the action. “We moved forward with caution, knowing that the next step could be our last. IEDs were invisible beneath a layer of mud, blood, and dying bodies. The platoon leader,  Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Lockey, moves deliberately through the rubble following well-established rules for this kind of no-holds-barred engagement. 15 years across Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria has taught these Marines to not take chances.”

A thunderous explosion occurs and as the camera fades to black the sound of the explosion is replaced with equally thunderous applause. The scene changes to a large banquet hall where an audience in formal dress cheers the awarding of a Pulitzer prize to Jennifer Ashot-McCullough. As she accepts the award dressed in a sparkling evening gown, there is no sign of the blood and mud of the battlefield. In fact, the reporter seems to have escaped the experience unscathed. She delivers a gracious acceptance speech supporting the Marines with whom she was embedded and more applause follows.

As they’re leaving the ceremony, Jennifer’s editor, Margaret Attenborough, reminds her that she needs to get her expense report turned in and then asks if she’s ready to get back out in the field. Jennifer looks at her editor incredulously, complaining that she hadn’t been back home long enough for her houseplants to die from neglect. Attenborough offers to re-assign the reporter for a month while she considers the offer.

Jennifer returns to her surprisingly small and cramped New York City apartment, changes from the evening gown into sweats, and pulls a box of leftover Chinese delivery food from the refrigerator before sitting down at the small table and opening her laptop. She’s checking through email and Facebook messages, laughing at memes and fawning over friends’ baby pictures when Skype dings with a video request.

The Skype window fills the laptop screen and we see a Marine of the other end of the call, Corporal Lindsay Rice. Jennifer is excited to see her and as they go back and forth asking each other how they’re doing and how much each misses the other it becomes obvious the two are a couple, though we’re not quite sure whether it is a matter of convenience or deep emotion. The banter is light, slightly flirtatious, but cautiously appropriate to avoid questions from Corporal Rice’s bunkmates.

After a few moments, Jennifer tells Lindsay about Attenborough’s question. “What do you think? Can you handle being my eyes and ears for another round?” she asks.

Lindsay leans in close to the camera and whispers, “Are you crazy? Do you know how close I came to getting caught out there?  Brass has already been snooping around asking how you had such intricate knowledge of our operations when they don’t have any record of you actually being here! If I get caught both our careers are over!”

Jennifer responds, “I have a new, smaller camera, won’t interfere with your other comm gear, practically microscopic …”

Lindsay eventually agrees to wear the camera and as the movie goes back and forth between Jennifer, Lindsay, and the newsroom, we begin to realize that Jennifer has never been embedded with the Marines. Instead, she uses the camera Lindsay wears to watch everything from her apartment, taking screenshots and treating them as though they were live photos Jennifer splits the extra pay and expense money with Lindsay on the premise of saving up for a wedding when the Corporal is discharged.

.Everything seems to go well for a while. Lindsay gets the new camera and works it into a position on her hardcover where it isn’t noticed. When she’s deployed back onto a patrol again, Jennifer watches every move, making careful notes that then become her “front line” articles the next day.

Trouble begins brewing when a Marine inspector shows up at the newsroom questioning Attenborough about Jennifer’s reporting, accusing her of revealing classified information. When he tells Attenborough that they have no record of Jennifer’s attachment to any detail, the editor defends her in the moment but begins to wonder what’s really going on.

Jennifer, for her part, is careful to only come and go late at night when few people are likely to notice. She leaves her mail piled in the box, her door looking as though no one has been in or out. She doesn’t know she’s being followed.

Then, one evening, Jennifer is watching Lindsay on patrol when a firefight suddenly erupts. Without warning, there’s an explosion and Lindsay’s cam goes dark. Jennifer assumes the camera was damaged but the news the next day reveals the sad truth. Five Marines killed in fierce fighting. Listed among the dead: Corporal Lindsay Rice.

Jennifer knows the gig is up if she doesn’t act fast but she’s not sure what to do and there’s no one to whom she can confide. Ignoring the ever-increasing phone calls and incessant knocking at her door, she realizes she’s being followed and starts using the fire escape to sneak out of her apartment.

Meanwhile, back at the newsroom, Attenborough expresses concern about the safety of her reporter who seems to have gone missing. Missing, that is, until someone delivers a flash drive with pictures of Jennifer coming and going at her apartment. Attenborough is furious at the deception.

In the closing moments of the film, police force their way into the apartment only to find it empty, Jennifer’s laptop and other personal belongings, any hint of her correspondence, as well as her Pulitzer, missing.

Flash to a scene at Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot where a freshly-shaved recruit is being sworn in. “I, Jennifer McCullough Rice …”

Note: this story has the potential for all the action and mystery one wants to pack into it. There’s also plenty of personal drama as Jennifer deals with the loss of her lover and the dilemma of what to do next. Her decision to honor Lindsay by enlisting and taking her last name should pull extra hard on every emotional string a viewer has. The emphasis has to be on Jennifer’s desire to humanize a war politicians created with deference to the brave men and women losing their lives. The troops, especially the women in “support” roles, are the heroes while the politicians who put them there are the ultimate bad guys.

The Girls Without A Tattoo

The Girl Without A Tattoo

Set in the near future, say 20 or so years from now, The Girl Without A Tattoo is a tale of cunning and survival in a society where looks not only matter, they can mean life or death.

We open on a table at a restaurant where six young adults are gathered, laughing, finishing up their meal. As the camera pans around the table, we see the various tattoos each of them has. One young woman has a heart on her wrist while her partner’s entire arm is covered with a floral sleeve. A waiter passes with a tribal tattoo on his face and the backless dress on a passing patron reveals an elaborately tattooed scene. We get the impression, correctly, that everyone in the room is sporting some kind of tattoo.

Finally, the camera comes to rest on Caroline Mocambo, a 26-year-old consultant for a major agency. She’s attractive, sexy, quick with a smile, and flirtatious with everyone at the table, especially the other girls. No one pays attention to the fact she’s wearing a jacket and slacks, never a dress, never short sleeves. Caroline has always complained about being cold so no one makes a big deal over her attire.

Someone at the table suggests they all walk over to Arctic Tang, a nearby nightclub, where they can dance. Everyone is in agreement and they start paying their tabs. Most of the young adults pay with their cell phones, but one young woman at the table holds up her hair and has the server scan a barcode tattoo on the back of her neck. The payment is recorded and the girl’s phone beeps with a receipt. No one acts like the procedure is anything out of the ordinary.

As the group approaches the bar, we see a line queued outside and a person scanning the back of people’s necks. “Wait, when did they start scanning here?” Caroline asks/

“This week, I guess,” one of the other girls answers. “No big deal just slows down the que a bit.”

Caroline feigns a sudden illness and, blaming her condition, excuses herself and hurries home. When the young woman gets home, though, we see her in a full-scale panic attack. Rushing to the bathroom, she holds her hair with one hand and a hand mirror with the other so that she can check the back of her own neck. Unlike everyone else, there’s nothing there.

Flashback to a night 14 years prior when Caroline is a girl of twelve. We see her parents hurriedly packing their car while Caroline stands nearby with tears in her eyes.

“Don’t worry, baby,” her mother reassures her. “Canada’s not that far away. Everything’s going to be alright. We’ll have a new house, you’ll make new friends, and everyone will be safe.”

Flash forward to the family car successfully crossing the US/Canadian border, then again to Caroline walking into an empty bedroom in their new house.She walks back downstairs where a newspaper sits on top of a stack of boxes. The headline reads, “Mandatory Tattoo Leads To Mass Immigration.”

Flash forward once more to a 24-year-old Caroline, fresh out of college, driving back across the Canada/US border. She pulls into the parking lot of an apartment building where she is greeted by friends who have already moved in. When one of them suggests they go out for pizza, Caroline quickly excuses herself and runs to the restroom. There, we watch as she removes a temporary tattoo from her purse and applies it to the back of her neck. As the camera pans to her open purse we see that she has several tattoos available for use.

Back in the original timeline, it is the next morning. Caroline is in bed and hears something in the hallway. She reaches into her nightstand and pulls out a taser. She tiptoes toward the hallway and is about to fire the taser when she sees her boyfriend, Jeff, in the kitchen making coffee. She hides the taser in the pocket of her robe and kisses him on the cheek. “I didn’t hear you come in,” she says.

He gives her a discomforting look and suggests she have a seat. He tries to gently break the news that her friends were murdered as they left the nightclub. He tells her of his relief in coming home and finding that she hadn’t been with them. Then, he shows her a picture police are circulating of the prime suspect. The picture is Caroline.Police are asking for help identifying her because they can’t find a matching bioscan.

Jeff suddenly grabs Caroline’s hair and looks at the back of her neck. Seeing nothing, he is incredulous. “Who the fuck are you?” he asks. “We’ve been dating for almost two years and there’s always been a tattoo back there. What the fuck is going on?”

Panicking yet again, she runs to the bedroom and begins throwing clothes in a suitcase. She knows she has to get away. Jeff tries to get her to stop, begs for an explanation, and even offers to help her prove her innocence. Tearfully, Caroline reminds him that if he helps her and she’s found guilty that he will be executed as well. She kisses him and leaves.

Knowing that police will be checking private cars and public transportation out of the city, Caroline sneaks her way into a cargo container bound for Canada. Once there, she heads to her parents’ house. Her mother welcomes her in and together they begin trying to piece together all that had happened and how to clear Caroline’s name.

Caroline and her mother visit an underground tattoo parlor that gives them a specially-inked tattoo sufficient to fool government scanners. The catch: the ink is radioactive and, if left for more than a week starts to affect the nervous system. They sneak back across the border and start looking for the killer only to find that Caroline’s friends aren’t dead at all. Jeff had set everyone up, telling the other girls that Caroline was dead. As they are talking, though, they are ambushed by an unseen shooter. Caroline’s mom is hit and later dies after Caroline sneaks her back to Canada.

The women band together, assuming Jeff is behind the shooting. When they start looking for him, though, they find he’s already dead as well.

As the mystery unravels Caroline begins to feel the effects of the radioactive ink. She starts feeling dizzy, has trouble remembering what she’s been told, and eventually collapses in the middle of a parking lot. Someone calls emergency services and Caroline is whisked off to the hospital before her friends have a chance to respond. If the hospital discovers Caroline’s tattoo is faked, she’ll be euthanized.

This is a tale full of endless twists and turns that keep viewers guessing at every step of the way. Part conspiracy theory, part spy thriller, the movie follows Caroline through dark streets and moments of self-doubt as she maneuvers through the various events. While she survives the ink and makes it out of the hospital alive, the personal toll is high. She loses friendships, family, and a bit of sanity, ending up alone.

Note: Being set slightly in the future, the opportunity exists to incorporate fictional technology that doesn’t yet exist but reasonably could. There is also a chance to do some sociological shaping by showing what are currently non-traditional relationships as though they are generally accepted and normal. Body modification and tattoo art should be emphasized as well, increasing the rate of acceptance for those who enjoy both.

Magnetic

Magnetic

Magnetic opens with close up shots of a young woman bathing from an old-fashioned ceramic washbasin. Natural light streaming through sheer curtains is the only illumination. The young woman, Muriel, Plant, carefully braids her hair, weaving strips of foil into the braid before putting on a slip and wandering into the kitchen, dominated by a wood stove with a smoldering fire. She stokes the fire, adding more wood, then steps outside to a hand pump to draw water. As the camera pans around the kitchen, we see there is nothing electric. No appliances, no clocks, no phones. In many ways, the viewer might be tempted to think the scene is set in the late 19th century, save for city’s tall silhouette in the background.

Muriel Plant is a unique young woman, an orphan raised in an Amish community because it was there that her parents had died in an automobile accident. She was never actually one of them, though, and was kept at a distance. Muriel knew she was different, she just didn’t know why or to what extent. While other Amish teens were given the option of returning to the community after their Rumspringa, Muriel was not. Her adopted parents gave her the money they had saved for her then sent her away, telling her she needed to find “her own kind” and live with them.

Not that Muriel had any idea who “her own kind” were. Having had no contact with the modern world, she was lost in the city. Everywhere she went, chaos ensued as lights suddenly turned off, cars stopped working, electronics went dead, and anything with a motor fell silent. Confused by what is happening around her, Muriel finally lands a job in a flower shop, employed by a sympathetic older woman who doesn’t understand Muriel’s challenge but is willing to work around it.

With the money her parents give her, Muriel rents a small house nearby and settles into the simple lifestyle to which she had grown accustomed. A very quiet and introspective young woman, she is liked by everyone at work, is very friendly and engaging with customers, and seems to have a natural knack for floral design. Outside of work, though, she keeps to herself, choosing to stay home and reads that her boss, Grace Hoffsteader, borrows for her from the local library.

Muriel is also aided by a slightly-older co-worker, Clarice West. Clarice is the first person of color that Muriel has ever known and has a lot of questions. Clarice finds Muriel’s innocence endearing and humorous, especially when she takes Muriel home with her for Sunday dinner. Clarice appoints herself both Muriel’s educator to the ways of the city as well as her protector from its more predatory citizens.

One afternoon, while Grace is away from the flower shop, a middle-aged, professionally dressed woman enters looking for an “exceptional” floral arrangement for a dinner party she’s giving that evening. Clarice shows the woman several different options but nothing meets with her satisfaction. Looking past Clarice, the woman sees Muriel putting together a new arrangement of her own design and falls in love with it. Muriel tries explaining that she was merely experimenting and that the arrangement wasn’t intended for sale. The woman won’t accept no for an answer, though, and offers them an extraordinary amount of money for the flowers.

When Grace returns and hears of the sale, she promotes Muriel to lead designer and gives Clarice more sales duties, which pleases everyone. Grace tells the women that her mother is in ill health and that she’s depending on Muriel and Clarice to keep the shop running during her frequent absences. The only catch is that Muriel has to stay in the back room to avoid interfering with the point of sale system, an arrangement that suits Muriel just fine.

A few days later, the businesswoman returns and this time insists that Muriel create another custom arrangement for her. Expecting another large sale, Muriel is taken back when the woman not only approves of her design but announces she needs several copies of the arrangement for a banquet being held in two days. Again, she pays the women a large amount for their services.

The business woman’s visits become more frequent and each time she insists upon working directly with Muriel. We find out her name is Evelyn Caskill, owner of a large electronics firm in the city. She’s a powerful businesswoman with a political agenda that has her rumored to be running for mayor in the next election.

Clarice notices that Evelyn is using any excuse she can find to visit Muriel almost every day. With each visit, she lingers a little longer, stands a little closer, and even starts to laugh at Muriel’s innocent sense of humor. When Clarice mentions to Muriel that she thinks Evelyn is attracted to her, Muriel finds the idea appalling and is sure that Clarice is wrong.

Speculation ends, though, when a couple of visits later Evelyn gently leans in and kisses Muriel on the lips.Muriel panics and runs out of the shop. Evelyn tries to apologize but Clarice tells her, “You have no idea what you’ve just done to that poor girl’s world.”

Grace sends Clarice to check on Muriel who is at home, sobbing. Muriel confesses to Clarice that she rather enjoyed the kiss but that same-gender relationships go against everything the Amish had taught her. Clarice has to carefully help guide Muriel to an understanding that love is love and that no one gets to dictate to her what kind of love is right or wrong. Love simply is.

The next day, Evelyn returns to the shop in hopes of apologizing but is surprised when Muriel, in her own clumsy, innocent way, kisses her. When Evelyn asks what changed, Muriel responds, “Love is whatever love chooses to be.”

Evelyn invites Muriel to her home for dinner and, without thinking about her personal magnetic issues, accepts. Naturally, from the moment Muriel arrives at the mansion heavily-endowed with electronics, things stop working and the whole evening turns into a frustrating disaster that has Muriel running home, crying.

When Muriel returns home, though, she finds a woman dressed in a dark suit waiting for her. She says she knew Muriel’s parents and has come to take her “home.” The woman explains that Muriel’s magnetic problem is because she’s not actually human, but an alien race that has been living among humans for several centuries. She gives Muriel a necklace that reverses her body’s natural polarization, making it possible for her to live peacefully among humans for a time but with the warning that the longer she wears the necklace the more her alien body will begin to fail. The necklace is not a permanent solution.

Given two weeks to get her affairs in order, Muriel is faced with multiple daunting decisions complicated by the death of Grace’s mother, making her more dependent on Muriel than ever. Her relationship with Evelyn strained and unable to explain her predicament to Clarice, Muriel struggles between what her heart wants to do and what she’s been told she has to do.

Angry when Muriel quits the flower shop, Clarice follows her home only to be surprised by Muriel’s new alien mentor. Once Clarice understands Muriel’s dilemma, she helps her formulate a plan where she can stay at the flower shop, renew her relationship with Evelyn, and not die from having to wear the necklace all the time.

This is a unique love story that should be both teaching and endearing. The challenge is a careful treatment of the alien aspect so as to not make it too weird or given to the aspirations of outrageous science fiction. The alien aspects need to be believable. One possible outcome might be discovering that Evelyn is of the same race, which is what has allowed her to become a technological power.

Note: I would like to think this story is best served with a light touch, nothing too heavy, nor judgmental, and definitely not preachy. There are plenty of opportunities for humor as well as a chance to teach about overcoming biases and bigotry in the context of loving whom one wants to love. The story could become an endearing favorite as long as no one feels an ideology is being shoved down their throat.

Writing My LIfe Away

Writing My Life Away

Meet Danica Erkholster, a dynamic and independent young woman who likes living life on the edge, wears her clothes in strange pairings, colors her hair with bright colors, is fluid about who she loves, and forceful in her opinions. Danica is that person who makes mainstream adults uncomfortable from the moment she enters a room challenging everything within the status quo but manages to do so in such a way that everyone wants to be part of her social circle.

Complicating Danica’s life, though, is her decision to not speak to anyone, ever, under any circumstances. Her reasons are both personal and political. Having seen her younger sister become the victim of and eventually commit suicide because of sexual assault, Danica is on a mission to not only challenge laws that allow perpetrators to hide but also confront and embarrass the powerful people, both men, and women, who commit such acts. The silencing of those victims is Danica’s motivation

Danica’s primary means of communication is the iPad she carries with her everywhere but she also is very adaptive when it comes to leaving messages on just about any surface from coffee cups to the sides of skyscrapers. Danica even outs a powerful businessman by draping a banner off the side of his company’s headquarters with pictures of his sexual assault victims.

While Danica’s public life looks exciting and important, though, her lack of willingness to talk makes personal relationships difficult. One night stands with both men and women that have the potential to develop into relationships end before they start when Danica refuses to make exceptions to her no talking rule for any of her lovers. As a result, she spends large amounts of time alone, depressed, and suffering in her silence.

Danica’s campaign takes her from city to city, her unique and alternative appearance providing a strange sense of anonymity as people tend to dismiss her as punk which allows her to gain access to information without being noticed. She realizes she may be in over her head, however, when she uncovers damning evidence showing that the president raped and killed a young coed while he was in college. Danica feels a moral obligation to bring the president to justice but knows that doing so could easily put her life as well as those of her friends in danger.

At first, Danica’s friends encourage her to ignore the president’s crimes, perhaps wait a couple more years until he is out of office and less protected. She is inclined to take that advice but the more she tries to step away from the case the more she stumbles across evidence proving him to be a very dangerous person. Before long, Danica and her friends become convinced that the president must be stopped before he enacts laws that would make it almost impossible to bring perpetrators like him to justice.

As Danica gets closer to the president, she knows she needs an ally on the inside of the system and finds that ally in Special Agent Colette Murkoff of the FBI. Colette works on a special sexual assault task force and is frequently the person tasked with arresting perpetrators after Danica has exposed them. She admires Danica’s commitment to gathering firm evidence before making an accusation against someone and tries with each case to convince the young woman to join the ranks of the FBI. As Danica builds a stronger case against the president, however, Collette is torn between orders from within the agency to stop the troublemaker and her personal admiration for what Danica is doing.

Convincing her supervisors that she’s working to gain Danica’s trust, Colette gets increasingly close to Danica and their relationship eventually becomes physical. When Colette becomes aware that Danica is about to receive some information that would convict the president, however, she whisks her away on a passionate weekend at a private chalet in Vermont, causing Danica to miss the connection.

Colette doesn’t realize, however, that Danica long-ago hacked the special agent’s communication devices, including her supposedly secure laptop, and has been aware of every instruction the FBI has given her lover. When Danica “misses” the connection because of the weekend in Vermont, she knows the FBI intercepts the information and promptly steals it from them.

When the theft is discovered, the Deputy Director obtains a warrant for Danica’s arrest, advising agents that she is a threat to national security and should be eliminated through any means necessary. He then attempts to call Colette back in, but Danica intercepts the messages.

Much of the remainder of the movie becomes a matter of Danica staying two steps ahead of those who are trying to kill her. She knows she has enough evidence to convict the president but the only way to stay safe is to go into hiding. Armed only with her iPad, she slips away from Colette and disappears into Northern Europe where her appearance blends in and provides her with even greater anonymity.

A complicated game of cat and mouse ensues and government agents know that silencing Danica isn’t enough. They have to make sure she hasn’t shared the evidence with anyone. While Danica sits alone in an apartment in Oslo, Norway, Colette is charged with treason for interfering with the case against Danica. When news of Colette’s arrest reaches Danica, she sees an opportunity to not only bring down the president, but the head of the FBI as well, all while freeing Colette and escaping to Switzerland.

There’s no shortage of drama here and supplemental characters could provide necessary plot twists and unexpected shifts in the storyline. Is Danica successful in her quest to bring down the president? In today’s political climate that is a matter full of controversy and might be seen as attempting to take advantage of public opinion for political gain. That controversy could certainly help fill theater seats, though, especially with a strong script rooted in contemporary headlines.

Note: The biggest challenge to this concept is the fact that the heroine never speaks. Ever. In fact, frequent and creative use of subtitles is necessary so that the audience is aware of what Danica is typing on her iPad. Casting a strong actress who can communicate through facial expressions and body language is ultimately what determines whether this movie is successful. The story can go any of a dozen different directions and all fail if the actress playing the role of Danica doesn’t nail the part from the very beginning.

Who Is Going To Make These Movies?

We’ve laid everything out and given someone everything they need to begin turning these basic concepts into reality. All of the movies fit contemporary issues and concerns, making them viable for audiences right now. The only question remaining is who is going to take the risk of producing these movies?

Obviously, we would love to see a major studio such as Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Disney, Universal, Sony, Dreamworks, MGM, New Line Cinema, or Paramount. Yet, I’m realistic enough to entertain offers from independent filmmakers as well who can put together a reasonable offer. We’ve seen smaller studios produce some amazing films over the past 20 years so it would be crazy to leave them out.

What is critical in all of these is that the strong female roles are not compromised. We cannot continue treating women in film as though they are somehow inferior. The stories we’ve presented offer ample opportunity for character development and work best with actors whose talent is strong enough to overcome some of the inherent biases the characters might bring with them.

We need more images of strong women in film. We need fewer images of women being helpless, dependent, and in need of being rescued. I hope we’ve provided someone the inspiration to bring those films to life.

 

Reading time: 33 min
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