When Life Imitates The Dukes of Hazzard

downloadDo you remember the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard” (CBS Jan ’79-Feb ’85)? Even if you aren’t old enough to have waited anxiously on Friday nights for each new episode like I did, you may have seen reruns on CMT. No? Well, it was a pretty simple premise-a family of cousins with the last name Duke get mixed-up in the schemes of County Commissioner Boss Hogg, who along with his sheriff, Roscoe P. Coltrane, enjoyed trying to put Bo and Luke Duke in jail for cause or not. Filmed in California, but set in a rural Georgia community known as Hazzard County, the show depicted a sleepy town where not much would happen without the money grubbing ploys staged by Boss Hogg to line his pockets. Does Hazzard County, GA actually exist? Not on any map, but speed traps targeting out of state drivers to generate revenue for Georgia towns are a reality. This vignette is my personal experience of being pulled over by a local county sheriff in Georgia.

Traveling in the middle of a three lane stretch of I-95, I cruised along with predominantly Georgia plated cars. When blue lights flashed behind me, I pull into the right-hand lane to allow the policeman to pass by and ruin someone else’s day. Inexplicably, he stuck to my rear bumper until I eased onto the shoulder. When the policeman insisted I was driving 87 in a 70, my jaw dropped, but as much as I wanted to call out his BS, I was wise enough to restrain myself from arguing with this local county mountie on the side of a highway. Few laudable accomplishments remain in my mid-life pocket, but a clean driving record was one I intended to preserve. After accepting the ticket, I scanned it quickly to find out which day I’d be returning to clear my name it in court.

 In my younger years, I received speeding tickets in other areas of the country, but in those instances, I was guilty. So, I paid the fine by mail and moved on with my life. This time I was ready to fight. Besides, the officer would not bother to show up and the judge would let me off. Isn’t that’s the way traffic court usually works? Well, not in Hazzard County and like that soundstage in Hollywood, this little Georgia town ran its circus a bit differently from most. The two-story brick courthouse was tucked off the main drag just behind town hall. After parking under the moss covered oak trees, I took the five minutes necessary to stroll around town. I read the requisite civil war placard, admired the tidy brick buildings with painted wooden calling cards above the doorways, and marveled at the solitude. Neither tourist nor resident strolled the abandoned sidewalks at mid- day and no cars needed wait as I navigated the four-lane main drag at a snail’s pace in my black flats. This little town was lost somewhere too far from either I-95 or the ocean to be relevant. 

After waiting on a hard wooden bench outside the court room where the other speed trap victims gathered, we were eventually ushered in a slow moving mostly straight line into the old-fashioned wood paneled court room like a chain gang headed for sentencing. Before court began, a jester-like bailiff explained how the judge would call each of us by name and ask how we chose to proceed. Since more than 50 anxious out-of-staters like me fidgeted on the now thinly cushioned benches, it appeared that proceedings might take a lot of time, but she assured us that things would move quickly. “You’ll see” she winked. The judge entered and everyone stood. After being instructed to sit, her honor explained that each of us would be called by name. When our name was called, we should stand, and let her know which if the two options we chose. Option 1: Speak with the prosecutor, or Option 2: plead “not guilty” and set a future date for trial. The crowd began to murmur, but she assured us that after the first few, the rest of us would “get the hang of it”.

 We learned fast that despite the illusion of choice, only one correct answer existed. “I’d like to speak with the prosecutor ma’am” is what her honor wanted to hear. If anyone insisted on pleading “not guilty” she re-instructed them to speak with the prosecutor. After every single person in the room relented, we were lined up in two rows and hurried through our chat with the prosecutor based on our violation. Anyone driving less than 90 mph (in a 70 mph zone) had their charges dismissed as long as they forked over the $180 fine plus court fees (a total of $240) in cash. Luckily, I came prepared after noticing the large bold print at the bottom of my summons indicating that no credit cards or checks would be accepted. Easily 85% of the culprits were set free after paying the fine, though I did see one woman escorted to the pokey (as Sherrif Roscoe P Coltrane of Hazzard County called it) after it turned out she had been speeding at 107mph and (I’m guessing), she was not so flush with cash.

After walking out of court, I felt certain to spy Boss Hogg in his white three-piece suit checking his pocket watch as he crossed the town square with Roscoe hot on his heels. I took one last look around the little town that was not named Hazzard but probably should have been, and thought about how I could have insisted on having my day in court where I called out the system for its unfair targeting of out of state drivers and questioned the legitimacy of my infraction, but that would have required a second trip to rural Georgia to defend a not guilty plea. So, myself, and most of my fellow victims (one man drove down from Baltimore, MD to fight his ticket) sold out for an expunged driving record and no need to travel hundreds of miles for a second court appearance. 

I believe we all do our best to stay on the right side of the road in life, but when the potholes grow deep and there is no money to fix them, blazing a new route is the most sensible way to keep moving forward. I could see that this town needed help to survive. It didn’t have appeal enough to draw industry or forward thinking to encourage innovation. Maybe they identified with Hazzard County a little too much. To an outsider like me, it seems unfair and dishonest to prop up a town with revenue gathered from unsuspecting passersby, but it is this subtle style of moral degradation that increasingly permeates current American society, and no one complains too loudly as long the targets are strangers  rather than neighbors.

What Do We Do Now?

It kind of feels like Dumbledore died all over again, and Voldemort has risen.

Sadness, fear, and uncertainty are pervasive, and one question lingers, “what do we do now?” The answer is we do exactly what Harry, Ron, and Hermione did-we hunt horocruxes.

The Republican version of a horocrux isn’t quite as hard to find as those in the JK Rowling series. The life blood of a red states is hatred, division, and lies (mostly lies told to kind, trusting Americans to convince them to support Voldemort). We destroy these with truth, love, and acceptance. Defeat the bad with good.

The trickier part of the hunt comes when faced with actual threats of racial bias, intimidation against those of different sexual orientations, misogyny, religious persecution, and a populace educated with an overkill of mis-information.

“If you see something, say something” takes on an additional meaning going forward. It requires each of us stand up for marginalized citizens being persecuted. Not getting involved is the equivalent of condoning bad behavior.

Remember that the final horocrux presents the biggest challenge. To eradicate bias in another person requires each of us to acknowledge our own bias. None of us is perfect. Everyone has a valid perspective. We can learn a lot from others, especially when their words are not the ones we want to hear.

Take a walk in the other person’s shoes. Send you love before you. Be respectful of all.

Give Some to Get Some

Most days I have better conversations with my 8 year old nephew than I do with other adults. Kids are pretty easy, though. Give them a little attention and you’ve secured a captive audience. The same rules don’t always apply with adults.

At a certain age, big people revert back to chasing flashy things like an infant who has not yet mastered language. Not being an expert in attention grabbing myself, I end up feeling like white paint on the wall. I exist, but, nobody pays attention. People assume they know everything about me because they know where I live and what I do, but there is so much more than those basic facts.

Partly, it is my fault. I shy away from having eyes on me, so I don’t make a big deal about my personal victories. Still, it is disappointing to be approached by a friendly face who is only anxious to hear about how my sister is enjoying her latest adventure, or what my brother is up to these days. I smile and respond politely all while looking at the person and thinking, “Did you know that Winter Orchard White has a subtle tinge of gray that compliments any decor?” White paint, like people is more complex than it appears.

It has become so normal for me to feel unseen that I’m shocked to the point of disbelief on the rare occasion when someone actually does notice me. I grow immediately skeptical searching for their angle. At some point, I started assuming that anyone who takes an interest in me may have mistaken me for someone else.

Earlier this month, an old friend came to visit. I have not seen him much in person, but we stay in touch on social media. I know where he lives. I know a little bit about how he spends his time. What more do I need to know, really? But in person, as one conversation led to the next, the Acadia White Benjamin Moore paint that covered him slowly washed away, and I was amazed to discover the fun, smart, kind, and clever man underneath.

I had taken my friend for granted in exactly the same way I hated people taking me for granted.

I learned a lot during his short visit. Not only do his niece and nephew adore him, but adults revere him as well. I tease him for too being chatty, but the truth is he is friendly. He doesn’t wait for others to notice him. He sees people and acknowledges them. He is interested. He makes an effort, and in return people remember him.

Looks like I was wrong, things don’t change so much as you get older. With adults, just like with kids,you have to give some to get some.

Scratch Below the Surface

The other day, I watched my nephew play with his Lego figurines. His brow furrowed in concentration as he swapped heads and legs, helmuts and hair. I was struck by how the activity mirrored my niece swapping the outfits and shoes on her dolls. Same game, different toys.

We focus so much energy to highlight differences among us. Perhaps, if everyone looked more closely, we might begin to notice all the ways we are alike.

We all have opposable thumbs and carry both red and white cells in our blood. We all cry the same salty tears. Too many tears, lately.

The next time hate, anger, doubt, or fear focuses the attention on what sets people apart, pause and take a breath. Then, try to note some of the multitude of ways we are alike.

Different hair color, eye color, skin color: same fears and insecurities. Different religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status: same hopes and dreams.

Scratch below the surface, and recognize we are all human.

 

 

 

 

Something is Missing

Last night I woke at 2:30am convinced that I’d left something at the dry cleaner weeks ago and forgotten to pick it up. What was it? Where was the little green paper slip I would need to pick it up?In the dark, I tried to scrawl a note to myself to deal with it in the morning, but I couldn’t let go of the feeling. A few minutes later, I stood in my closet with the light on pushing through articles of clothing. The last two items I remember taking to the dry cleaner were there, still encased in the plastic film not meant to be used as a crib liner. Was it a shirt? a dress? Nothing was missing. Returning to my bed, I was still bothered by the feeling.

In the morning light, the episode feels like a metaphor, perhaps to help me sympathize with my uncle who is rapidly losing his memory. Maybe it is a window into my own future memory loss, but if I really listen, I hear the whispers from something in the past. Something I once had is now missing, and what is unclear is whether to continue to search for it, or embrace the loss knowing that having less makes room for more in the future.

Stumbling Toward Enlightenment

I attending a wedding a few weeks ago, and ended up cloistered at a table with other singles: all divorced or widowed and at least 25 years older than me. I was able to make polite conversation, but often glanced around at the other tables full of my contemporaries, all coupled up.

My friend, the groom was beaming. After searching for a wife (including two engagements that never made it to the altar), he finally achieved his goal at age 44. The newlyweds story helps to legitimize online dating. They seemed like a perfect match. Not the same, and not without flaws, but their hearts compliment each other very well.

As the band played and I watched all the couples dance, I reflected on my uncoupled conundrum.

My most major mistake is obvious-I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Anytime a cute guy smiles at me, I swoon, and he could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. I’d pay top dollar, too because somehow his good looks translate into a man who is also smart, trustworthy, and caring-at least in my mind. It doesn’t matter how many times this illusion has been proved to be completely, and utterly untrue by a statistically significant margin, I dismiss the data and proceed naively believing THIS one is different.

Not surprisingly, they all end up all being the same narcissist

On the drive home, I stopped to fuel up both the car and myself. The cashier tried to help me select something to eat, but I was distracted by the black, blue, and purple balloon where her left eye should have been. Whomever’s fist broke her face, it happened not too many hours beforehand, but she was hard at work, and though she looked to be in pain, she did not complain, likely a veteran of physical abuse.

I drove off wondering how someone could stay with a man who speaks with his fists, but I quickly realized, who am I to point a finger? The emotional abuse I’ve suffered at the hands of my narcissist companions doesn’t show outwardly, but still leaves a mark. Yet, I walked away only half of the time, and only after a long time trying to rationalize staying. The other times, I was left behind with my heart ripped to shreds.

Why do we tell ourselves we are not worthy? I’d argue that I do believe in myself, but my reality tells a very different story. I’d like to blame the guy. I’d like to believe he doesn’t understand me, or he just wasn’t the right one, but the truth is I seem to lack a clear understanding of my value in this world.

Since Ann Landers says I can’t accept my dog’s admiration of me as conclusive evidence that I’m wonderful, I’d better set my sights on looking within.

“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened.” -Lao Tzu

Mother’s Day Perspective

It’s Mother’s Day, but Hallmark doesn’t make a card for the many children who don’t have June Cleaver for a mother. I am one of them.

I remember growing up both confused and awed by the close relationship some of my friends held with their moms. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how my mom endured sickness, injury, tantrums, and the selfish, ungrateful energy from her four offspring. She packed picnics, wiped snot, threw parties, swabbed skinned knees, offered encouragement, and restricted empty calories often without a thank you from anyone. I took without giving back. I pushed, tested, and undermined, as mom struggled.

It’s never too late to say thank you. My mother was far from perfect, but she gave me a gift of immeasurable value, the blueprint on life’s pitfalls:

Do not let alcohol take over your life.

Do not use others as an excuse.

Do not say one thing and do another.

Do not double down and dig in when you know you are in the wrong.

Do not focus on the negative.

I spent my early years being afraid of/angry with my alcoholic mother while simultaneously mirroring her. Like a crystal ball, her mistakes showed me my future life.  Eventually, I paid attention. I quit drinking. I learned to take responsibility, tell the truth, and sincerely apologize. Most importantly, I learned to be grateful. I learned to focus on the good, and find the silver lining in hard times, and now I practice daily to embrace love rather than be swallowed by fear.

I witness the children of my friends and siblings challenge their parents, and I can understand how my mother’s insecurities plagued her, how her children and husband undermined her, and how her negative mindset fed the depression that led her further into darkness, away from the perfect person she so longed to be.

My mother died seven years ago, and I am grateful that in death she found peace.

 

Being Human

I recently watched, “The Social Network,” and concluded that Mark Zuckerberg may be a billionaire programmer extraordinaire, but his social skills certainly needed some work during those college years, but who am I to judge? I made a lot of missteps at that age, and though none of them ended in a lawsuit, I still have regrets. My biggest social blunder didn’t even come to light for nearly two decades.

After graduating college in the mid 1990’s, I laid low in the early part of this millennium after a string of disappointments left me feeling less than human. When I finally began to reconnect with college friends, the catalyst was (ironically) Facebook. I joined in 2008 to keep track of my sister who was working overseas, but by 2009, a friend from college stumbled across my name on a Facebook friend suggestion list, and I was inundated with connections. Some long lost friends took the opportunity to reach out over messenger to learn more about my decade off the grid. Frank, who I dated briefly junior year, asked a lot of questions, and I responded with inquiries of my own. Once we had covered our personal lives, we began sharing updates on other members of our college clique.

We had a mutual friend, Mike, who was not on Facebook. Mike and I met in the early weeks of freshman year when I briefly dated his roommate, Andy (who left school before the end of first semester). Mike and I were best friends from the start. We even visited each other over summer vacations to attend music festivals, or just chill at the beach together for a few days. He was a great guy and a lot of fun.

Mike and I never dated. Our friendship was a simple “be yourself” relationship without the usual sexual attraction stumbling block that trips up most male-female friendships. I remember he dated an underclassman briefly, and some girl from another school during his semester at sea program, but he remained solo for most of our four years. Honestly, I didn’t think much about his dating habits (or lack of them) at the time because I was too wrapped up in my own drama, dating a new guy every term. Mike was always there to listen, and give me advice.

Mike and Frank had been quite close, and when I asked Frank about Mike, he was unusually slow to reply. Eventually, he told me that Mike had recently married and was expecting his first child. Then, I asked Frank if he would give me the contact information for Mike since he was not on Facebook. This time the reply was swift, “Don’t try to find him.” Only adding that it was not a good idea. “Had Mike entered witness protection?” I joked. Again, the reply was slow, and when it came, I was confused.

“It took him a long time to get over it, but he is finally happy. Just leave him alone.”

What did Mike have to get over? I received no reply, but there was only one possible answer. The platonic friendship I assumed we shared was one-sided. Mike had been in love with me.

At first I was mad. How could Mike not tell me? But the thought barely formed when the answer washed over me. He knew I wasn’t in love with him, and sharing his feelings would have ended our friendship. He kept his secret to keep me close. I wondered how long Frank had known. I seriously doubt Frank would have dated me during fall term of junior year if Mike had told him prior to that. Frank had a lot of flaws, but he was a loyal friend. The truth must have come out sometime after graduation. Who else knew? It didn’t matter, I felt terrible, and the only person I wanted to talk to was the one person I couldn’t because Frank insisted I leave Mike alone, but I couldn’t let it go. I Googled the company Mike worked for and emailed him, but received no reply.

Anxious and impatient, I attempted to assuage my jumbled feelings by looking back through my college photo albums and was surprised to discover that among hundreds of images of me and the girls, or my ever rotating boy of the term, were few pictures of Mike, and no good ones-more evidence of how much I took him for granted. I resorted to flipping through our actual freshmen facebook to find an image of his full smiling face.

My Linked In connection was eventually accepted, but I still don’t know if it was Mike or an assistant in his office that cleared my request. His profile image is a cartoon drawing. He will not reply to any personal correspondence. I considered showing up at his office the next time I’m in New York, but I know that isn’t fair. He is happy. I need to quell my own ego, and respect the life he has built for himself.

And because karma is a bitch, the same situation has occurred again, this time with Sam, but now I’m the lovelorn best friend being taken for granted as Sam moves from one drama filled relationship to the next. We hang out in between his liaisons, and I listen to him lament his latest loss, but just as Mike knew better than to confess his feelings to me, I know Sam doesn’t love me. So, instead of seeing my current situation as punishment, I’m trying to be thankful. I’ve been granted perspective on Mike’s experience that allows me to excuse his secret. From my knowledge, I generate the courage it takes to leave Mike alone, to allow Sam to be himself, and to forgive myself for being human.

Is My Dog Sexist?

KayleeMy dog loves me. She follows me around when I’m home. She sleeps on my bed. She obeys my commands (unless I tell her to stay and then walk out of the room. She can’t stand to have me out of her line of sight). None of this is unusual. Dogs adore their masters. I feed her. I walk her. When her paw hurts, she offers it to me to fix. When the skunk sprays her, she submits to me to rid her of the stink. I provide her whatever she wants or needs, but there is one exception. It’s my Dad. On a normal day, the dog doesn’t pay Dad much attention at all. If he reaches out to pet her, she will sometimes move away and other times allow it depending on her mood. She doesn’t dislike him, but he clearly makes her nervous. Then yesterday, I come into the living room and my dog is curled up on Dad’s lap as hail from the storm outside pelts the windows. A clap of thunder sends my dog running to find Dad every time. No amount of cooing or cuddling from me will do. I do not understand this especially when a storm rolls through in the middle of the night, and she jumps off my bed to find him.

She doesn’t seem to realize that he can’t protect her any better than I can. He is nearly 84 years old and has the physical strength of a 7 year old girl. He doesn’t see or hear well, and he smells like an old guy. How do I describe that smell exactly? Well, it is similar to the scent of rotting pumpkins or wet bales of hay in the Fall. Since smell is relied on by canines, I’m sure she understands the implications of his aroma, but still he is her ultimate protector. Is it because he is a man? Do dogs display gender bias? I Googled the concept and got zero hits. Why has no one studied this? Would a male dog gravitate toward a male or female human when feeling threatened? I would chalk this up to one of life’s unexplainables, but in the past 10 years, I’ve found my dog to be purely predictable. There is no mystery in her method. Therefore, I know there is some answer to my question. When she and I lived alone (without my Dad), she hid under the bed during thunderstorms (still not relying on me for comfort). I look down at her and then up at him. He is very tall. Does she think he can fix the thunder because he is closest to the problem? That sounds like dog logic. Get the tall guy to turn it off, and if he has trouble, offer him a ladder. By running to Dad, she is selecting the appropriate person to cater to her needs. My dog isn’t sexist, she is just smart!