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Ray Gleason

Reflections on John Donne and the Passing of Robin Williams.

Like millions of Americans, I was shocked and saddened when I heard of the passing of Robin Williams.

The next day, the news of his death dominated the pages of the USA Today I picked up in the lobby of the hotel where my wife and I were staying. Of course, outpourings of grief and a sense of tragedy filled the pages and posts of Facebook, Twitter and the other social media.

However, after getting over the initial shock, and feeling certainly some pangs of regret, I didn’t see this as a tragedy, not in my life at least.

I have always been a fan of Williams’ work, but I never knew Williams as a person. I knew him only through the characters he portrayed and his public persona.

I’m sure that for his wife, family and friends, his passing is heartbreaking, a great tragedy. I feel a great deal of empathy for those who have lost a husband, a father, a friend.

But again, I never knew the man himself.

With Ebola ravaging Africa and threatening to go world-wide; with Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border bringing about the threat of war; with Islamic extremists slaughtering Christians in Iraq; with Israel again pounding Gaza; with the mad Ayatollahs in Iran and the Stalinist Gilbert and Sullivan generalissimos in North Korea close to getting their hands on a nuke, etc., etc., etc., I was amazed that the death of one man, a major entertainer and celebrity certainly but one man none the less, could receive such strident media attention.

You can assume, if you wish, that the explanation for my lack of participation in this outpouring of national grief is I just don’t get it socially. I’m an old crusty boomer totally out of touch with today’s society.

You can also write me off supposing that, after three tours in Nam and over twenty years as an Army ranger, my emotional responses are shut down or so carefully guarded that even I can’t detect them anymore.

If that’s what you want to believe, I can live with that.

My suggestion to you, then, is stop reading now and rest comfortably in those facile rationalizations. It will save you some time.

I don’t buy it!

One of the valuable legacies of my PTSD therapy is that it taught me how to examine my subconscious and to understand my emotional responses to external stimuli. After some reflection on the matter (there’s not much more to do here in Edison, NJ) here’s what I’ve come up with.

First, as I mentioned before, I didn’t know the man. I do know his characters. So, my sense of regret is not so much for the man himself; it’s for his manifestations in my life through Mork… Adrian Cronauer… the Blue Genie… it’s for Simon Roberts with whom I will not be able to spend more time. In my mind, that’s who died, not an individual named Robin Williams.

This leads to my second point. I’m not really feeling sorry for Williams and the loss his family suffered; I’m feeling sorry for myself!

But, I can watch the reruns. Within a few months I may not even consciously register that the man himself has passed as I watch Parry help Jack Lucas find some closure in The Fisher King with my Arthurian Legends class at Northwestern.

This leads to my third point. In my life, I have lost my parents, a daughter, all my aunts and uncles, a few cousins, comrades in Vietnam, friends, whom I loved dearly and mourn for daily.

I didn’t know Robin Williams.

Certainly, his death stirs up all the feelings that I have for the loss of these others. So, the sorrow evoked by Williams’ death is more about myself in the context of the loss of my loved ones than it is for the loss of the man himself.

In fact, I suspect the unexpected and premature death of this man, with whom we are connected through his characters, cracks the façade of that great act of denial that we all practice… we are forced to remember, even for a brief moment, not only our own mortality, but that it is likely to be “unexpected”… “premature.”

In this way, Williams is “everyman.”

So, for Robin Williams, “Na Nu, Na Nu, Buddy!”

We’ll miss you! Your wacky irreverence helped us forget the problems and tragedies of our own lives so we can get though another day. We hope you’re happier where you are now than when you were here with us. Say “hey” to Orson for us!

For myself and the rest of us, I recall the words of John Donne,

Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.

 

“Guys” and Other Pet Restaurant Peeves of an Aging Boomer in the Land of the Millennials, Part 2, “No Problem” and “How’re we doin’?”

Here are two of my real pet peeves in restaurants: “no problem” as a response to a thank you; and “how’re we doin’” as some sort of screening question to qualify for being handed a menu in a restaurant.

Fussy Lady (2)I could only imagine how my dear Aunt Mae would have responded to “no problem”!

She had a way of turning her blue-green eyes into veritable lasers when she was irritated at someone’s (usually my) lack of manners and decorum. I have no few scars from this; half my PTSD therapy was Vietnam and the other half was growing up in my crazy family.

Aunt Mae wouldn’t even accept a mere “thanks”; it had to be the full, “thank you.”

As far as strangers-bearing-menus seemingly creating a goodwill cooperative and quizzing patrons to ensure that everyone impressed into this bubble of pseudo-benevolence are enthusiastic participants, I could only imagine how my darlin’ Aunt Mae would have responded to that!

Before you, my esteemed reader, dismiss me and my entire family as hopeless, pretentious snobs, let me attempt to offer an ameliorating explanation I, and my dear Aunt Mae, are New Yorkers.

Taxi (2)In our native land, not only does one not ask strangers, “how’re you doin’”, one doesn’t make eye-contact unless inviting the object of the seeming interest to respond, “who you lookin’ at!” And, as the punctuation indicates, when a New Yorker says it this is not a question (v. Robert De Nero in Scorsese’s in Taxi Driver).

This is not because New Yorkers are reclusive, distrustful misanthropes.

No! No! Not at all!

Most of us are real big, cuddly teddy bears… really… I swear!

Perhaps I exaggerate just a bit. Living in New York is like being in a combat zone. New Yorkers are so consistently bombarded with noise, crowds, and sensual stimulation that they are constantly in a state of reclusive shock. To protect their psyche and make it through the day, they compartmentalize and establish a buffer zone between themselves and their crazed, frenetic environment. No one enters the protective bubble without permission.

So, a possible response from a New Yorker to the unexpected and uninvited question “how’re you doin” is “what the f#$% is it to you!”

Or, just a punch in the mouth!

As far as my darlin’ Aunt Mae herself, I need to tell you that my family could be divided into “dark Gleasons” and “happy Gleasons.” My dear Aunt Mae tended toward the dark side.

Flapper (2)On the other hand, everybody in the family called Aunt Mae’s younger sister, Helen, ” Bobbi”  because of her “flapper” hair-do in the early thirties.

My Aunt Bobbi was a happy Gleason. She was a bit of a wild child during prohibition. My grandfather, another “happy Gleason,” made illegal hooch in the bathtub of their apartment, from which Bobbi would fill her hip flask before going out for the evening… the night… and at times well into the next morning.

If I learned manners and decorum from my Aunt Mae, my Aunt Bobbi taught me all about playing cards, telling jokes, and drinking beer. Thanks to Aunt Bobbi, I know not to draw to an inside straight, a few dozen renditions of “A priest, a nun and a rabbi walked into a bar…”, and why my beer is Rheingold the dry beer.

But, I digress. Let’s return to the matter at hand.

 

  1. “No problem!”

As in, “Thank you!”

“No problem!”

no prob (2)My usual response to this is, “I know, but thank you anyway.” And, reduce the putative tip by 5%.

“But, sir! You didn’t leave me a tip!”

“No problem!”

I sometimes imagine that this response on the part of a Millennial is a subconscious avoidance of gratitude… maybe a slight act of passive aggression. “Don’t thank me! I don’t want to owe you an acknowledgement! So, I’ll just tell you I didn’t do anything material!”

Okay! That’s why God created shrinks!

But, the way my subconscious works is, if I don’t acknowledge service done for me, regardless of how insignificant, I will feel Aunt Mae’s “dope slack” up the side of my head.

 

Thank you for reading this…

 

I’m waiting…

 

  1. “How’re we doing?”

You walk into a restaurant, sit down, your server comes over with the menus and, before distributing them, asks, “How’re we doin’?”

I have no idea!

hostess (2)I have a pretty decent estimate about myself most of the time. And, I’m sure that my darling wife has fully briefed me on what’s going on in her life.

But, what’s going on with this stranger standing at my table holding back these menus waiting for a positive response to an inane question… I have no idea!

Nor do I really care… I’m hungry… FEED ME!

I imagine that asking this question made a lot of sense during the Black Death. A server didn’t want to spend much time around plague carriers, lepers, scrofula victims and other sorts of contagious customers. “Come closer and let me sneeze some demons on you!”

I do sometimes wonder if the answer to that question is some sort of prerequisite for actually getting a menu. “We only serve extraverted, healthy, friendly people here!”

Besides, what if a customer frankly told the server “how we are doing.”

“Not so good… cough, cough… the consumption has taken hold down in my lungs… the doctors give me a few hours… cough… a day at most… I just wanted to die here in this Applebee’s booth… cough, cough… tell me… cough… what are the specials?”

Or

I’m good! You on de udder hand are totally screwed! Don Vito, whom youse distoibed yesterday during his bowl of pasta e fagioli by asking him, ‘howyoudooin’, is paying me ten grand to whack youse! But foist, whadda duh specials?”

Next week, we explore the wonderful world of cell-phones-in-crowded-restaurant etiquette, which is code for “don’t do it.”

“Guys” and Other Pet Restaurant Peeves of an Aging Boomer in the Land of the Millennials. Part 1.

This is one of my Andy Rooney moments!

Andy RooneyI’m a boomer… born during the Truman administration… the same year he was defeated by Dewey according to the Chicago press. Do the math.

In general I have been bombarded by the “abuse” of the proper social protocols as they were laid down and carved in stone ages ago by my Aunt Mae, our family maven of manners.

For Aunt Mae, nowhere were proper manners more important than on those rare and precious occasions that I, as a mere stripling of a child, was allowed to go out with the adults to a restaurant.

Aunt Mae would hand out such sage advice across a restaurant table as,

Don’t lick your knife, Skippy. You could cut the string that holds your tongue in and it’ll fall out right on the table!”

And…

Skippy, tuck the end of your tie into your pants or it will end up in the gravy!”

And…

The napkin goes on your lap, not around your neck, Skippy!”

Fussy Lady (2)Granted, some of my Aunt Mae’s rules of restaurant decorum sound silly today… it did back then to a seven year old… but more importantly, this was the era of “children should be seen and not heard.” So part of Aunt Mae’s restaurant manners for me as a child out at a restaurant with and among adults was to sit quietly, eat my food, speak when spoken to, excuse myself when I wanted to get an adult’s attention, and keep my elbows off the table!

Many of Aunt Mae’s rules were straight out of Emily Post. She knew which fork or spoon to use; she would only smoke while seated; ladies wearing hats at the table in restaurants was permissible, but not at home, etc., etc…

She especially knew what was expected from the service staff…

  • Be attentive to the needs of the quests,
  • Remain invisible unless summoned
  • Take from the right; serve from the left
  • No discernable gaps between courses
  • Don’t bring the check until it’s requested…

Back then, server decorum wasn’t much of an issue. Most servers did what they did as a career, not as an after-school or summer job to pick up a couple of bucks. And, they were well trained.

I had a waiter job between my junior and senior year in high school. The Maître d’ would not let me near a customer for weeks; I stood near the door to the kitchen polishing the silver wear and glasses, watching  how the experienced servers conducted themselves.

When I was finally allowed out on the floor, I hovered as invisibly as possible behind experienced members of the waiting staff, who not only did not introduce me to the patrons, they did not introduce themselves either. It was part as the “invisibility” rule; “if a patron has to become aware of your presence, something’s wrong,”

I can still remember my instruction from the Maître d’,

Maitre d (2)The meal should progress flawlessly, as if the dishes appeared and disappeared magically. In fact, a patron should never have to summon you; you should either anticipate or react immediately to the patron’s needs. You will never initiate a conversation. When a party is first seated and I summon you to the table, you take the cocktail order, serve them and give the patrons a few minutes to relax, enjoy their cocktails and review the menu. You keep an eye on the table. When the head of the table puts down the menu, you approach the table to take the dinner orders, ladies first, then gentlemen, then children if the adults haven’t ordered for them. You start with the head of the table’s escort, by making eye contact and saying, “Madame?” Then, you serve the remaining ladies in descending sequence of age. Then, the gentlemen, starting with the head of the table. You will answer their questions about how food is prepared, ingredients, whatever they ask, but only when asked. If asked about wines, you will excuse yourself and summon the sommelier. While waiting for the first course to be served, you will refresh the patron’s water glasses and cocktails unless you are told not to by the patron. You will ensure that from the time the patrons are seated until the time they depart, there is always something in front of them… cocktails, food, desert… a patron will never sit at a bare table! When a patron is ready for a plate to be removed, the patron places the knife and fork across the middle of the plate… high class, parallel… low class, crossed. That’s your signal to remove the plate. You will never interrupt a patron by asking “are you done with this?” The plate should be removed as soon as possible after the patron is finished… always remembering “Simon Legree, Teddy Roosevelt”… serve left, take right… etc.

If I can remember my training as a server – and this wasn’t a five-star joint in Manhattan; this was a “family restaurant” in Astoria, Queens – you can imagine what’s going through my mind when “Hi-my-name-is-Cindy-Lou-how’re-we-this-evening” gets my darlin’ wife’s order wrong, delivers dishes of cold food, or leaves me staring at a plate of congealing gravy for twenty minutes. Here are my top five pet-peeves,

  1. Guys,
  2. No Problem,
  3. How we doin’,
  4. Cell Phones, and
  5. The Day-Care Center

Shall we begin?

  1. “Guys!”

At a restaurant, I’m not a guy!

I may at times be “one of the guys,” and I may “go out with the guys,” but to servers in restaurants, I am not a guy. Especially when I’m laying down good money to enjoy a meal. Call me, “sir,” “Dr. Gleason,” “Ray,” even, but don’t group me into the “guy collective.”

For me a “guy,” is somebody you see in a bar; you don’t know him, but he vaguely annoys you; and he doesn’t seem to fit in with the place.

So, you ask the bartender, “Who’s that guy?”

To which the bartender responds, “Oh, that guy! Don’t know… he comes in now and then… usually keeps to himself… don’t think he’s from around here.”

grandfather (2)I guess I could blame my guy-sensitivity on my French grandfather.

The French equivalent to “guy,” is <<un type>>. It’s better than being <<un mec>>, but you would only say this about someone, never to someone, and best out of the person’s hearing unless you were trying to get a coup de pied à ton cul.

My grandfather insisted, that the polite, and correct, salutations are <<monseigeur>> for a gentleman, <<madame>> for a lady, and <<mademoiselle>> for a young lady. Anything else and someone’s going to <<cracher dans ta soupe>>.

My darling wife and I were at a nice restaurant in Union Pier, Michigan, just off the Red Arrow Highway… vaguely Italian… run by a guy who’s in “waste disposal” down in Chicago… so you got to be careful.

waitress (2)After we were seated, our server, a perky, young twenty-something on summer vacation from some college, greeted us, “How’re you guys, this evening?”

She then proceeded by ending, embedding, or starting, every sentence with the word “guys,” like it was a Millennial’s attempt at the second person pronoun.

“Can I get you guys something from the bar?”

“Do you guys know what you want to order?”

“Will you guys be having any desert?”

“Will you guys please take your hands from around my throat?”

We actually asked her to stop calling us “guys”!

We took the full blame for the request… it’s a generational thing, we told her… we didn’t use that term back in the day. But, the poor girl couldn’t stop herself. She would get one or two sentences out without using the “g” word, then fall right back into it.

We thought the poor girl was going to have a nervous breakdown.

We finally gave up, and being good New Yorkers, still left twenty-five percent.

Next week we’ll explore my subconscious further to discover why I cringe when servers respond, “no problem,” when I thank them for service, and why being asked “how’re we doin’” when I sit down in a restaurant pushes me toward homicide.

Meanwhile, love to hear from you on this. What are your peeves? Am I just a crotchety old boomer with a platform?

New York Man Wakes Up in Hospital Missing His Penis.

Earlier this week, a New York man woke up out of anesthesia in Brooklyn’s Cedars of Zion Hospital missing his penis after a “cosmetic” procedure to reverse a circumcision.

Mr. Dick Zucker (which since the sixth grade he pronounces “zooker”) of the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York, woke up in his hospital bed last Tuesday evening and requested a bed pan. When his nurse told him that he now had to pee sitting down, Mr. Zucker (like “zoo,” where they keep all the animals in the Bronx) lifted his sheet, looked down to where the surgery was done and began screaming.

He was still screaming when he called his lawyer, the Honorable I. Cheatham, Esq., a personal injury lawyer with the Manhattan legal firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe.

Tanya Hyde, a spokesperson for the law firm, stated, “Our client is devastated! Devastated and mutilated. This is a most egregious and outrageous assault on his most private part. What if you went into a barber and asked for a little off the top and he cut your head off? Mr. Zucker just wanted his foreskin back and woke up not only still without his foreskin, but also his aft-skin! We plan to pursue the hospital, the Peter and Putz Urology Pavilion of the hospital, all the doctors, most of the nurses, a few of the nurses’ aides, the nice old lady who works in the gift shop, the janitor and Mr. Zucker’s mohel for some modicum of restitution for damages and our client’s suffering.

Mike DeWitt, a spokesman for the hospital’s parent company, The Doddering Sisters of the Holy Yardstick Medical Mega-Consortium, Inc, said in a prepared statement that Zucker’s allegations were totally without merit.

“We intend to defend ourselves aggressively against all counts. Mr. Zucker cannot even prove that he had a penis when he checked in for the procedure. No dick, no lawsuit, Dick!” he stated.

Meg A. Zucker, Mr. Zucker’s wife, when hearing of her husband’s plight, just shrugged her shoulders, saying, “Nu! What’s to miss? The last time he used the thing, other than to pass water, was… let’s see… our little Zucker will be eight next month… nine months before that… 2005? November, 2005? And then, it was only after an entire bottle of Manischewitz… the Concord Grape… who’ll miss the thing? I still have the nightmares!”

Canadian scientists try to crack the code over what makes us cool

An argument between two academics over the British actress, Dame Helen Mirren, may have finally led to an answer for that complex and burning question asked by any adult trying to understand the teenage-psyche, “What is cool?”

The most immediate and direct answer from seven out of ten teens is, “If you gotta ask the question, not you, old dude!”

However, applying an empirical investigation to discover the essential nature of coolness, three separate Canadian studies were devised first to  identify through a survey qualities that were cool, then ask respondents to rank those qualities in desirability and finally to rank their friends on these qualities.

Basing their research on the notion that cool is being attractive and desirable, Dr. Sal Minella, who works at the University of Guelph Center for Ennui and his colleague, Dr. Marion Money, of the Canadian Institute of Beer Pounding came to some interesting and almost scientific conclusions.

Beginning their research after a few beers, when Money dismissed her colleague Minella’s assertion that Mirren is cool, dismissing the British actress as a “dish-water blonde skank with an attitude and a pack of Marlboros,” the two scientists decided to discover why Mirren would even be considered cool in the first place.

With her unusual nose and husky voice, Mirren is not the quintessential movie star. However, she has starred in some arguably “cool” roles such as Morgana in Excalibur and Victoria in Red and Red 2, not to mention her brief but memorable voice-cameo as Babette the Caller in the popular US Sitcom, Frazier. And, who could forget her role as the malevolent high school teacher in Teaching Mrs. Tingle?

She has also appeared in roles that were decidedly uncool, like that of Queen Elizabeth in various productions. In fact, there is a consistent rumor that Mirren has been impersonating the monarch of Great Britain since the real monarch passed away in 2008 in order to keep Camilla out of Buckingham Palace and to mess with Charles’ head.

So what is it about Mirren, other than multiple pitchers of beer, that would cause a Canadian academic to consider her “cool”?

Being academics and nerds in a nanny-state, Minella and Money of course decided to waste piles of government funds and university time doing a scientific study.

The pair came up with three separate studies which asked 353 Canadian college students at a pub near the University of Guelph to first submit words they thought described cool. The most common were “hockey,” “hoser,” “Mayor Bob Ford,” “beer,” and “Celine Dion,” which was tied with “curling.”

Of course, being a publically-funded university in a theoretically bi-lingual country, the results were also reported en Français comme ça, <<le hockey>>, <<un Canadien qui ne peut pas parler Français>>, <<le bien ivre clochard>>, <<la bière>>, <<la belle Celine>>, et <<le curling, comme si je m’en fiche>>.

Then, the students deemed these qualities as how desirable they were and then used them to judge their friends, as usual.

“We wanted to tease apart coolness and social desirability,’ said Sal Minella, according to a report on MSRENARD. “There is a lot of overlap between social desirability and coolness.”

Indeed, the majority of responses that the two psychologists received as words to describe cool focused primarily on Canadian sports, beer consumption and quasi-media celebrity, none of which had anything to do with Helen Mirren, who has been known to fancy a sedentary existence of vodka and unfiltered Marlboros.

“Our research was designed to settle a bet at government expense,” said Marion Money. “And my assessment of the results indicates… I win! I win! I win!”

When the results of the study were published in French-speaking Quebec, tous les académiciens dismissed it with a sneer. When interviewed, le Professeur Al Ouette of L’Université de Chicoutimi, dismissed the study and Helen Mirren, saying she could never hold a candle to La Belle Catherine, although Ouette admits that both actresses are très sexy when they smoke.

Dame Mirren refused an interview for this article, a spokesperson for the actress saying, “Sod off, you silly bugger!”