Six Tires, No Plan has a rating of 4.7 out of 5.0 on Amazon, so I shouldn’t be complaining about grade inflation…but it does seem that we’re all getting trophies for showing up these days.
I must admit that I am a true curmudgeon about praise. I don’t clap when some famous actor walks onto the stage, because he hasn’t done anything yet, and I seldom applaud when the fat lady sings, because that what she was paid to do in the first place. And, yes, I am the same guy who wrote that I want applause for finishing my dinner and tying my shoes, but that was about me, not other people. I am special and deserving, but the rest of the world? Not so much.
Like Yoda, I believe that there is no try and coffee is for closers. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate effort, but I don’t like participation trophies, either. Maybe it’s okay for toddlers, but we all need to be weaned by the time we’re seven. (This is the point at which readers will begin to feel bad for my daughters.)
I am clearly in the minority, though, because I cannot go to a play without enduring a standing ovation at the end. It doesn’t matter how good or bad it was> Everyone’s on their feet for the close, clapping like seals who just snagged a mackerel.
The same puzzle awaits me every time I take a Lyft ride. I always start with four stars and the driver can work up or down from there, but Lyft assumes that four stars is a mediocre rating and the only acceptable rating is five stars. Give the driver four stars and the caption comes up, “Okay, could be better,” and then they ask what was wrong.
Nothing. Nothing was wrong. It’s a *&#@$% cab ride, not a private jet. I’ve had two or three rides good enough to bump my rating up to five, but really? Five stars for taking me to the dentist?
All this grade inflation has made the ubiquitous rating systems meaningless. A 4.5 rating on Yelp! could mean “very good” or “entrails with sriracha.” There’s no way to know. Ratings become meaningless when the top score becomes the starting point.
Clearly, we need a six-star scale to restore meaning to this quagmire, and we should institute jumping-jack ovations for truly exceptional acting. Grade inflation will creep in, of course, and we’ll need seven or eight stars, and headstand ovations, in another year or two.
In the meantime, I probably need to lower my standards for pretty much everything. And you need to rate this post 27 stars.
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I come to you today to issue an apology, not only from me but from all the people of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, including people in Gurnee and Gray’s Lake and even the Buffalo Grovesters, who didn’t know they needed to apologize.
But we do.
Because the whole polar vortex thing was not our finest hour and, in fact, it exposed us for the frightened little weenies we are.
Every winter, people in our area read from the same script whenever it snows or sleets or drops below freezing in Washington, D.C. or Atlanta or Memphis or any other town that’s south of 95th Street. We watch the video of the cars skidding or the closed stores and we bray like asses.
"What a bunch of wimps, whining about a little bit of snow or ice or sleet or hail. You’d never last a minute in a Chicago winter. Hah. Hah. Hah."
And what did we do last week when the polar vortex paid us a visit? We closed our stores and skidded our cars and posted memes about Chiberia and pointed out that it was colder here than in Antarctica. Except, of course, that it’s summer in Antarctica and temperatures above zero are what they call a heat wave.
Then, almost all of us enjoyed a day off like federal workers on a furlough (too soon?), pretending to work from home while we spent the day online. In other words, it was like pretty much any other workday for 75 million Millennials.
Yes, the polar vortex was absolutely cold and dangerous and a miserable thing, but Chicagoans need to take a lesson in stoicism from some of our northern neighbors. You know what they were talking about in Cotton, Minnesota? No, you don’t, because it isn’t a major media center and the entire population is three lumberjacks and a reindeer. Ditto for Norris Camp, Minnesota, although they just got their second reindeer.
When the temperature dropped last week to 56 below in Cotton and 48 below in Norris Camp, and even Cedar Rapids hit 30 below, the locals dealt with it. In Chicago, we were all beating our chests and sobbing—at the same time—about 21 below. Who’s the wimp now?
In Grand Forks, North Dakota, the local paper dismissed the whole month of January as cold, but not as cold as in other years. That’s what tough people do. They scoff at the also-rans and the nice tries. Come back when you’re a real man, Jack Frost. Clearly, I want someone from Grand Forks with me when the going gets tough.
Our alternating braggadocio and whimpering is a basic human condition, of course. We all need to be better than, smarter than, holier than, hardier than…even more-put-upon-than. It’s the same need that drives consumerism and elitism and racism and the insufferable smugness of political purists. We don’t just want to be special. We want to be more special than everyone else, even when we're not.
The fact is that winters aren’t nearly as bad now as they were when I was a kid, and not only because my grade school was swallowed by Mastodons. Back in the '60s, people worked in factories and had to show up at the plant if they were going to make anything. Now, we all sit at computers in coffee shops and communal workspaces, or we work from home when the mood strikes us. Weather simply isn’t the same issue it was in the old days.
Even better, we have the gig economy today. When Ma Nature dumped 23 inches of snow on the city during one day in 1967, we had no choice but to grab the sled and dig through the streets to buy some milk and bread at Jewel. Then we dug out the car and called dibs on the parking space until the thaw in June. Today, Instacart delivers our groceries and we leave our cars buried in the snow while we order rides from Lyft. Except for a handful of drivers, delivery people and the folks who keep the electricity flowing, we can all stay home and not be missed. In a few years, we won’t need any people at all.
Before then, I’m hoping my fellow Chicagoans will awaken from their weather benders and regret all the things we said last night(s). We were wimpy, whiny, little babies who sat at home and made screen shots of weather.com pages and craved the sympathy we deny to other cities when they get a few days that are colder than the norm.
I, for one, am so, so sorry, and embarrassed, and contrite and I want to send an especially sincere apology to the people who soldiered on, without complaint, through much worse conditions in Grand Forks and Cedar Rapids and Cotton and Norris Camp.
And your reindeer.
If those reindeer could read, they'd be signing up to subscribe to dadwrites and absorbing all our wisdom every week. Be sure to obtain a gift subscription for Prancer and Vixen, or for yourself, by clicking here. If nothing else, you'll have something to read if you're stuck inside during bad weather.
Every so often you get a brilliant idea. You wake up in the middle of the night and say, "GADZOOKS, THIS IS GENIUS!!" And maybe you grab a note pad by your bed and write down your $billion$ idea and then, when you wake up the next morning, you look at the note and try to figure out what you meant when you wrote, “put it online and phzilkygiiisz.”
I know how you feel. My penmanship, which is somewhere between doctor and dachshund, gets even worse in the middle of the night. If I could have read the notes about all my great ideas the next morning, I’d be so rich right now that I’d have someone sitting by the bed all night, just waiting to take dictation.
Until then, I’ll just have to content myself with the recognition that some of those billion-dollar ideas might not have panned out quite as well as hoped. For every idea that hits it big—Pet Rocks, Hula Hoops, carpal tunnel syndrome—another 500 turn out to be expensive flops. I know, because I invested in most of them.
There is something much worse than a bad idea that flops, however. Far more expensive and irritating are all the bad ideas that succeed. We are plagued daily by timesavers and solutions that cause much more trouble than they’re worth. They might have seemed like good ideas at the time, but they come from a box labeled Pandora. My own Hall of Shame includes:
The list goes on and on, but all this whining is tiring me out. Time for me to go take a nap and dream about some great new ideas to improve our lives. If we’re really lucky, I’ll forget all about them before I wake up.
Of course, the best idea of all is to subscribe to dadwrites.com and learn all the things we'll be mumbling about on the subway in the coming week. Just click here, or maybe here, or even here, and all your problems are solved.
Some days, you just marvel at how crotchety you’ve become, although in my case there has been a veritable landslide of provocation behind my agitation. To wit…
End of rant, at least for now. Stay tuned for the next time I’m really cranky.
BTW, I get really cranky when people fail to subscribe to our weekly outbursts. You can help me become a much better and reduce my need for meds, simply by clicking on this link and signing up for our weekly posts.
Right on the heels of Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control reported another decline in U.S. life expectancy, driven largely by a soaring suicide rate and opiate overdoses. It's a national trend, but also very local, possibly involving our friends and family.
Year-end melancholy is no surprise, really. It’s normal for people to get depressed as three gigantic downers converge to cancel out the joy that’s supposed to come with family gatherings, shopping sprees and wassail.
It starts with Thanksgiving, which promises to deliver the all-American trifecta: food, family, and football. But Uncle Billy was passed out on the couch before halftime, Dad and Aunt Bev kept arguing about who gets the silverware when Granny dies, and Aunt Sadie wouldn’t stop griping about her daughter’s choices in men. Then there’s Gramps, who started every other sentence with, “I’m not a racist, but…”
Even better, all of them are coming over again for Christmas dinner. Yipeeeeeeeeee! Uncle Billy swears he won’t be bungee jumping into the egg nog, Aunt Bev and Dad have promised to wait until Granny dies before they duel with her shrimp forks, and Aunt Sadie says, fine, she never wanted to have grandchildren, anyway. No promises from Gramps, though.
Fun fact: By the time Christmas rolled around, even Norman Rockwell had given up on painting family dinners. Clearly, he couldn’t figure out how to draw “Freedom from Relatives.”
Then there is the solstice, which brings the shortest stretch of daylight on the calendar. Of course, almost nobody will notice, because the sun is only out during working hours and the cloud cover is non-stop in December. (If Jesus had been born in Chicago, the Magi would still be looking for him.) Lack of sunlight leads to Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects about 10% of the population, and then they pass it on to 100% of their friends. Who says this isn’t the season for sharing?
Finally, the end of the year delivers the coup de grace, as people consider unkept resolutions, unmet goals, and unpaid credit card bills that will be delivered by forklift in January. There’s no better way to say Happy New Year than with a bright, shiny, new debt-consolidation loan.
Meanwhile, we’re inundated all month with happyjoyfunjoyhappy posts from all our friends on social media, and every one of them is simply having a wonderful Christmastime. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’re alone in our sadness, that we are the singular despair in a world of glee.
People feel isolated when they travel through a dark place, because they can’t see the friends who are alongside them on a parallel journey. Each of us has the opportunity to shine a light, to illuminate the journey, to help them break free of their isolation. It might be as simple as a “how are you” that’s more than a platitude. It might be an assurance that there’s no stigma to seeking help. It might be a coffee break that includes a ton of listening. It can simply be a reminder that they have a friend, that they aren’t really alone.
At this time of year, that perspective can be a lifesaver.
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Okay, so maybe I missed the boat just a little bit on this one.
When the girls were young, they loved the weeks after Thanksgiving when the Sunday papers were filled with “toy mazagines.”
They scoured the circulars like they were researchers at the Library of Congress, and the item they circled most often was Nintendo. Neither girl was big on Barbie or all that girly stuff like Little Miss Make-up and Junior Nail Salon, which saved me from joining in the fun for all ages and the blackmail-worthy photos that would follow.
What they did want, though, was a Nintendo console. Wanted, wanted, wanted, needed, needed, hadtohaveitbecauseitwasthemostimportantandbestestgameever. And I knew they would play it, because they loved to play Super Mario—or maybe they were just Mario Brothers then—at other kids' homes. You could take Stephanie to her cousins’ house, plop her down in front of the Nintendo and watch her get to level 847 within minutes. She wouldn’t get around to learning to read for another year or two, but learning Nintendo was worth the effort.
Dad, on the other hand, viewed video games as a waste of time and a missed opportunity for learning. Educational games, smart games, games like chess and that thing where you flipped the cards and had to remember where the matches were—those were the games for my girls.
So I decided to let the other kids rot out their minds while I gave my children the gift of a refined intellect, superior analytical skills and only a remote risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
I bought them (imagine a drum rolllllllllllll….) Socrates, the “educational video system” that “stimulates children’s minds” and “helps them become better students.” And all of it was true! Through Socrates, the girls learned some incredible lessons that have stayed with them and influenced their thinking to this day. Lessons like:
Ah, the lessons that last a lifetime.
Also, Socrates provided a lifetime of opportunities for the girls to remind their father that they were, um, disappointed by his choice. They capitalized on that opportunity relentlessly, telling strangers everywhere that they were cheated out of a normal childhood, condemned to solitary confinement with a Socrates console.
"Look, Lin-Manuel Miranda just won his 9,000th Tony Award. He must have had Socrates when he was a kid. Isn’t that right, dad?"
"Yes, Mr. cabdriver, I'm 27 years old and I can sing the entire ABC song because my dad got me Socrates. Aren't you so proud of me, dad?"
"I’m glad your surgery was a success, but getting new kidneys isn’t nearly as great a gift as when my dad bought me Socrates. Hey, dad, remember that year?"
I get it, kids. You’re being just a bit sarcastic, aren’t you?
I can’t say I regret the choice, though, because Socrates has been a running gag and a family story for a long time. Many years of therapy have relieved the girls of some of the post-traumatic disorders they developed without Nintendo. And my daughters are now so much more sensitive to the needs of others, mostly because I destroyed their dreams and hopes when they were tots.
A couple of years ago, the girls bought me a Socrates console they found on e-Bay or Craig’s List or somewhere. We couldn't play with it, of course, because it doesn't have a USB port or an HDMI cable any other connector that would work with a video screen today.
But connectivity isn't the real reason I haven't played with Socrates yet. Truth be told, I’m waiting for them to get me a Nintendo.
(While the kids are out shopping for my Nintendo console, you can give me another great gift by sharing this post with a friend or two and, by all means, subscribing to our occasional rants. Just click here to subscribe, and thanks much for reading.)
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.