Burning Leaves

(An Autumn repeat – from September 11, 2016)

For millennia, folks have been burning garbage and “stuff” with relative impunity.  The smoke was often choking.  And sometimes toxic.  Now – there are limitations on such activity.  

But. . . . as a kid, I remember my father – and other men in the neighborhood – raking leaves in the fall.  And ushering them out to the street – at the curb – and lighting them up.  Saturdays and Sundays in October were the optimal days for raking, gathering and burning leaves.  And the distinct smell of burning leaves was overpowering.  And – from my recollection – not so unpleasant.  Everyone burned their leaves.  I mean what were families supposed to do with them?  My dad would stand – smoking his pipe – and talking with the other men.  As the leaves burned. . . . .   

I tend to think it would be nice if for a few hours in the fall, everyone could spoon some dead leaves out to the street.  And burn them.  Like the “good old days” (did I really say that?).    I don’t need a “bad for the environment” speech.  Or “think of what it does to your lungs.”  Or “aren’t there regulations?”  Just think about sharing an indelible olfactory moment of an autumn afternoon long ago . . . . .

The Road to Abilene

[A repeat from March 23, 2016] It was a hot, dry, sun-drenched afternoon in Coleman, Texas.  A family played dominoes on a steamy porch.  The father-in-law looks up and suggests that they get in the car and take a drive to Abilene which is 53 miles away.  One by one, the family members nod acquiescence.  They pile into the car.  The drive is hot.  Dusty.  And long.  The family arrives in Abilene.  They go to a diner where the food is as bad as the drive.  They get back in the car and take the same hot, dusty, long drive back to Coleman.  They arrive home exhausted.   

One by one, the family members admit that they never really wanted to go to Abilene.  They agreed to go because they thought the others wanted to go.  Thus – everyone decided to do something — that no one wanted to do . . . . . 

The “Abilene Paradox” was first introduced by Jerry B. Harvey in a 1974 article “The Abilene Paradox:  The Management of Agreement.”   The article suggests that individuals are normally averse to acting contrary to the inclinations of a group.  Social conformity and social influence — “peer pressure” — drive agreement.  The reservations one might have – with a decision or direction – is subsumed by the feeling that their concerns must be “out of step” with that of the group.  This leads to reluctant silence.  Grudging acquiescence.  And frequently poor decisions.  We see this in families.  Businesses.  Organizations.  And politics.

I Need to Invent Something. . . .

[A repeat from October 9, 2014]  In my post of August 16, 2013, I spoke of sitting on a crowded train while a woman sitting next to me called her credit card company, loudly repeated her card number, security code (“noooo, two THREE eight“) and expiration date – and then proceeded to discuss several contested charges (“They Dwell Among Us”).

I also sit on the train while some people blabber so loudly on their cell phones that people in the next car can hear them (“Hi Sweetie Pumpkins Dooty Dooty, I love you sooooo much. What’s for din din Sweetums?”  “Hey Frank.  I got a big deal cookin’ with the Smorgasbord Company.  Nobody knows about this.  Relates to that property on Western Avenue. . . . “).   Let me say this — it’s one thing to talk with your hand over your mouth – and receiver.  And speak quietly.  And quickly.  I’ve done it (“Donna, I’m on the six o’clock.  I get in at six thirty” CLICK).   But there are people who believe it is their public obligation to let everyone on the train know their personal and private business (“Man – I really got wasted last night. . . . “).   YOU HEAR THIS STUFF! 

So how about if we develop a device that will cause someone’s phone to emit a screech.  OR – a device that will remotely hang up a call (“Oh Bambi – I can’t wait to see you in your new . . . . Bambi?  Bambi?).  Ninety-five percent of the people on the trains I ride will cheer.  ZAPPP!!  

Don’t You Like Our Looks?

Some years ago, Donna and I were in Galway with some friends. We decided to go exploring with another couple.  We reconnoitered the town and saw a pub called the “Quays” (pronounced “Keys”).  It was night.  Raining.  The place was off the beaten path.  Donna and I and our friend Ivo and his wife walked in. The pub was dark and filled with smoke.  Big men.  Heavy.  Bellied up to the bar.  Beards.  Black leather jackets.  Noise.   Many of the occupants turned to give us the eye.  Have you ever been somewhere and gotten that feeling you just don’t belong?  Once inside, we looked around and got that feeling.   

As we moved toward the door, a loud voice from a corner booth holding about 8 people caught our attention “what’s the matter?  Don’t ya like our looks?”  Ivo and I looked at each other and I – respectfully – pointed out that the place was “very crowded” and there was no room for us to sit.  The chap who’d called us out started to move – “sit here.  We’ll make room for ya.”   And people began shuffling.  Shifting.  All watching us.  I looked at my friend.  He raised his eyebrows like “let’s see where this goes.”  And we moved into the group – squishing ourselves into corner seats. 

They were curious about where we were from (Chicago/Edgartown, MA), why we were there (a meeting) and where all we were going (we detailed).  They bought us drinks.  More drinks.  And refused our offer of reciprocity.  After an hour or so, Morris – the chap who’d called out to us – invited us to join him and some of the others at another pub.  The Tribesman.  Where he was playing a horsehide drum in an Irish band.   At that point, how could we say no?   We walked a few blocks.  The Tribesman was packed.  Morris shooed people away as he pushed his way to the small alcove stage with us in tow.  He set two small stools right in front of the band.  Donna and I sat.  Listened.  Enchanted.  Then we traded seats with our friends who’d been standing in the back.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had.  It could’ve all turned out verrry differently if we’d said “gosh thanks anyway.”   And scurried out the door. 

A Sixth Grade Lesson

(The RH has been in and out of town.  Here’s a repeat from November 23, 2011). 

 On April 2, 2007, I presented a paper to the Chicago Literary Club on 5 lessons that I had learned in life (see post of August 16th for one). A big one occurred in 6th grade.

One afternoon between classes, I saw Tim H in the hall. In a show of 6th grade bravado, I grabbed him and pushed him bodily into the girls’ bathroom. And I held the door closed – chortling – while screams of girls and cries from Tim resounded down the hall. What happened next occurred in a kind of slow motion though I’m sure it took place in a flash. I felt a hand on my shoulder which spun me around. Suddenly a bright light exploded on the side of my face. My teacher, Mrs. S, had slapped me. Hard.Don’t you ever do that again.” Tim escaped. I wobbled back to the classroom. When I got home, my mother was there – arms akimbo. She knew. . . . Instead of hugging me and spitting about the mean teacher, my mother simply commented that she hoped I’d learned my lesson. I had.

I learned a lesson. It was epiphanal. I learned that there were lines that were not to be crossed. In today’s world, Mrs. S would’ve been summarily fired, the school system would have been sued by some money-grubbing plaintiff’s lawyer and there would’ve been nasty articles expressing righteous outrage.

I tend to think our educational system needs options for teaching lessons (even like this one) — without the consequence. After all, who wins? I sure did. . . . .