The Thou Shalt Nots of Happiness

So my attention is caught by a list of fifteen things we must give up in order to achieve happiness. 

tabletsThey have me at commandment number one.  Number two is also close to my heart.  I begin to feel uncomfortable:  How many of the next thirteen will lay essential parts of me to waste?

Nearly all of them, as it turns out.  In order to achieve happiness, I must stop being myself.  I’ve long suspected this, of course.  Just hadn’t seen it laid out in a perky little web-lite list before. 

The #1 hint for happiness is, “Give up your need to always be right.”   Now, being right is one of the few perks of my existence.  I may not manage my own life very effectively, but I generally know how everyone else should run his.  My instincts are good.  Even Husband will grudgingly admit that I am usually right (although he is sometimes somewhat surly and slow about doing so). 

The article quotes Wayne Dyer.  He instructs me to ask,Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?”

I would often rather be right.  Does the foaming-at-the-mouth driver who road-raged me deserve my kindness?  No.  He deserves to be flipped off and to flip over in the ditch at the next intersection.

Did I say that out loud?  You see my problem.  I don’t wish fatal injuries upon him – just a totaled car without replacement insurance and perhaps permanently lingering whiplash and sky-high interest rates on all future car purchases.   I am in the right, here, and he is altogether in the wrong, screaming and trying to force me off the road for no discernible reason.

People expect me to be kind.  I look like a meek and mild middle-aged matron who never cussed aloud (or even to herself).  It’s a curse.  My first impulses are indeed generally kind ones.  But I’ve learned that people mistake kindness for weakness and are quick to pounce and take condescending advantage.  I am right about this.  Wimps are kind; winners aren’t. 

Not everyone deserves kindness.  I am right about this, too.  “Do Unto Others” does not mean “stab someone thirty times, slit his throat, shoot him in the forehead, drag him into the bathroom to rot, lie about it, and then expect to have your hand slapped for being naughty.”  The Golden Rule does not say “shoot up a crowded movie theater” or “attack school children with assault weapons.”  It does not mean “bomb a marathon.” 

Wouldn’t it be refreshingly wonderful if an evildoer stood up in court and said, “Yes! I did it, I’m glad I did it, I’d do it again, and I’m ready to take responsibility for it?” 

Now, don’t you quibble and suggest that celebrity murderers chose their own versions of being “right” over being “kind.”  You know perfectly well what I meant.

Happiness rule #2 reads, “Give up your need for control.”  I just finished telling you what to do, which made the manager in me happy.  Yet I’m supposed to abandon control of everything that happens to me and around me.  I’m to smile placidly at loved ones, coworkers, and strangers I meet on the street, and “just allow them to be.”

Did you ever hear of such nonsense?  If one is always right, then one should be in control.  It’s a merit-based system.  My father taught me that someone always has to be Chairman (and, yes, we call him The Chairman, even to his face).

You’re stiffing the tab and our waiter’s tip, and I should shrug it off? You’re surreptitiously switching tags on second-hand junk to save a buck at Goodwill, and you don’t think I see you?  You’re my beloved son and you’re a slacker, and I’m not supposed to care?  You’re cutting the line in front of that old woman with the walker, and I should smile and let you?  You’re my esteemed husband and you’re neglecting your health, and I shouldn’t say a word?  You’re a mouth-breathing schoolyard bully, and I’m to let you be?  You’re a fit and trim woman parking in a handicapped space, and I shouldn’t mind?  You’re an affluent man tossing fast food trash out of your sports car, and I should nod graciously and wish you peace?

buddha blue 2“Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are and you will see how much better that will make you feel.” 

That does not make me feel better.  Even writing it down makes me twitch.  I’m no Buddhist (despite my belly).  I’m a Virgo.  A perfectionist.  A librarian, even. I see messes and meanness and inequity and ignorance and incompetence and laziness everywhere (starting with myself; perfectionism is its own punishment).  Perhaps, sometimes, “controlling” means “caring.”

To be happy, I must also give up “the luxury of criticism” (tenet #7).  Now, criticism is not a luxury.  If one is right and one cares enough try and control chaos, then one is entitled to criticize.  Often, it’s the little things that get under my skin, the things I actually could meddle in for the betterment of all and for my own righteous satisfaction.

Petty public greed, for instance.  A week ago, I’m part of a big public awards breakfast – 400 people gathered to celebrate student accomplishments.  We provide free coffee and muffins and bagels and fruit and cheese.  There is an abundance of nice food, and as a gesture of goodwill the emcee says, “Be sure and take a muffin back to work with you.  We have a lot left over.”

 

Pigs get a bad rap.
Pigs get a bad rap.

An acquaintance whose kids grew up with mine is there.  As people are leaving the room and we’re starting to clean up, she grabs one of the large deli serving trays and goes around the food tables with tongs, piling all the most expensive fruit and the fanciest muffins and the best cheese on it.  She takes her time.  She picks out blackberries and strawberries and blueberries, and leaves the cantaloupe.  She takes the Swiss cheese and the extra-sharp cheddar, and leaves the American.  She takes the dessert muffins, but not the dried-out bran ones.  I chat with her, picking up trash, bustling about officiously, but she is unperturbed.  I follow her around, more or less in astonishment.  I am a grunt; it is not my place to ask questions.  When the tray is heavily heaped, she finds one of the plastic dome covers, snaps it on, and waltzes complacently out of the building.

I ask around, wondering if perhaps someone has given her permission to share a small banquet’s worth of food with some other organization.  Nope.  She heard “help yourself to an extra muffin” and decided that meant “hog all the free food you can possibly carry.”   

Number six on the happiness list is, “Give up complaining.”  Please note that I am not complaining about this woman’s greed.  I am indulging in #7, the luxury of criticism — there’s a big difference.  Complaining is for passive-aggressive whiners; I am a conscientious objector.

The tenth commandment is, “Give up labels.”  I suppose that means I shouldn’t say things like “passive-aggressive whiner” or “greedy pig of a woman.”  But I can’t help myself – blame rule number nine, “Give up your resistance to change.”  I like using phrases like “passive-aggressive whiner” and “greedy pig of a woman.”  I don’t want to change.

I am saved, finally, by the fifteenth precept:  “Give up living your life to other people’s expectations.”  This unhappy happiness how-to list was written by other people.  I will therefore give it up.

Spring Things and Hope Springs

Spring is really as annoying as hell with its tiresome eternal promise of renewal and rebirth and unity and love. It’s too goddamned cheerful.  I almost prefer the foot of cold wet isolating snow that hit the foothills of the Rockies in the middle of May.  I’m not quite ready to face the wakening world after my cold and cloistered winter hibernation.

For one thing, all my summer clothes shrank in the cold cloisters of the winter closet.  Nothing fits.  Hibernation, when managed properly, involves the consumption of lots of fats and carbohydrates and alcohol.  Hibernation also involves layers of thick fuzzy clothing to cover thickening fuzzy bodies (scrupulous leg-shaving tapers off after the holidays; that is why they make black tights).  Most creatures emerge from hibernation thinner.  Spoiled middle-aged middle-class middle-American women don’t seem to.

Spring with its burgeoning life and optimism and hope insists that we start over and be our Best Selves.  It asks that we diet and exercise.  It demands that we open our hearts and forgive the rude drivers and the weird friends and the whacked relatives and the impossible co-workers and the irritating other people that fill and frustrate our lives.  Spring expects the very best of us – as do our mothers.

Spring brings Mother’s Day, vying with Valentine’s Day for Best Fake Commercial Holiday Foisted Upon Guilt-Ridden Consumers to Boost Sales of Flowers and Chocolates and $6.99 Greeting Cards (if you want a card with sequins and feathers and sound, which all mothers certainly deserve and have come to expect).

In truth, every day is Mother’s Day.  I was thinking that just yesterday, on my hands and knees in the bathroom scrubbing my sons’ dried stinking pee off the floor.  And the wall.  And the shower curtain.  Little moments like those are what motherhood is all about – it’s not all over-priced shrink-wrapped wilting roses.  The unexpected hugs, the sullen looks, the occasional honest smiles, the dirty socks, the sudden flashes of wit and thoughtfulness, the moldy dishes under the couch, the hints of possible maturity, the empty milk cartons put back in the refrigerator, the eyes rolled at you, the turn of the head in which you see your own parents, and yes, even the pee, all add up to something worthwhile.

Saddled With Me
Saddled With Me

Please, God.

I hope it’s felt worthwhile to my own mother.  On Mother’s Day, I always want to apologize to her.  Not for the standard sins of neglecting her or taking her for granted, mind you (six Hail Marys and six Our Fathers).  I want to apologize for my very existence, or at least for arriving when I did (there aren’t enough rosaries).

She was saddled with me at age 22, stuck in a strange city in a strange state, surrounded by a sea of cloth diapers to wash and glass bottles to sterilize and heavy cotton baby clothes to iron.  She was a kid herself, and there I was, dependent and needy and peeing (you see, there’s a theme, here).   She and my dad had been married a year – they barely knew themselves or each other, and suddenly had sole charge of a strange helpless crying creature whose wants were unceasing.  God bless them.

Does God bless all mothers?  If he did, wouldn’t he spare them menopause? Menopause is why I’m certain that any God out there is male.  We women labor for the survival of the species, we bear children and lose waistlines and bladder control (my peeing theme continues), we sacrifice our youth to their youth, and we’re ultimately rewarded with years of hot flashes and irrationality and sleepless nights and raging moods of despair and fury (this rewards our husbands, too).  Mother’s Day, even given $6.99 cards with sequins and feathers and sound, does not compensate us adequately for this.  But at least the holiday makes a token effort.  God just shrugs and watches us lose our looks and our sanity.

Yesterday, an otherwise sane reporter for The Denver Post began a serious news article with, “Prince Harry, a bachelor whose good looks cause women to swoon.”   His mother would not care for this shallow fixation on looks.   I actually looked to see if the Post was running a pre-fab AP article or if I’d picked up the The National Inquirer by mistake.   But this was an honest-to-god journalist, following the Prince on his diplomatic Colorado tour.

Now, we cast Mother England aside over 200 years ago. Should her son Harry really excite so much stateside swooning? It’s not like he’s a reality TV star or a movie actor or a pop singer or a celebrity chef, after all.  He’ll never do for us.  Harry’s just the product of a noble bloodline reaching back through the annals of Western history.

We Americans like our kingly class crass and commercial.  It’s how we like our Mother’s Days, too.  Me?  I’ll grant Harry the nobility of his birth, but I admire my mother’s nobility after my birth a whole lot more.

And she’s much better looking than he is.  Only Harry’s mother could find him handsome enough to swoon over.

God’s Handy Work

tea2
Handy Worked Sandwiches

When I see phrases like “God’s handy work” I think of Mrs. Helen (William “Pug”) Williams, who writes a social column for my hometown’s weekly newspaper.  Mrs. Williams lives in one of the village suburbs (yes, a village can have suburbs) and reports at length upon the comings and goings near her rural crossroads.  She is not afraid to note who was excluded from some area luncheon and why, or to advise that Mrs. Robert “Curly” Roberts neglected to cut the crusts from the green-olive-and-cream-cheese tea sandwiches she provided whereas Mrs. Robert “Buster Brown” Roberts trimmed her watercress ones into festive shapes.

Welsh slate workers came in droves to settle the Champlain valley where I grew up, all sharing first names and last names indiscriminately.  Nicknames are crucial in maintaining personal identity when three unrelated men named Edward Edwards live in close proximity. No-one ever confuses “Stump” Edwards (the war vet) with “Vet” Edwards (the veterinarian) or “Carstairs” Edwards (the veteran drinker).

But I digress.  And I take poetic license:  Watercress was not available in my hometown in the 1960s where, on a good day, you might find a nice head of iceberg lettuce.  When I was a child, there were two small grocery stores in town.  Both had sloping creaky wood floors and dusty haphazard shelving and vegetable aisles that stank more than the milk coolers did.  The A&P, though, ground its own coffee – a delicious decadent smell if you were lucky enough to be there while the machine was running.  It smelled like adulthood to me.  It offered heady hints of wonderful things in store, if only I were patient.

I was not patient.  I wanted watercress, which I’d read about in Victorian novels.  I didn’t want iceberg wedges.  I wanted coffee that tasted like it smelled, not instant Taster’s Choice.  I wanted champagne, and didn’t believe my mother when she claimed that her first sip of it was one of the biggest disappointments of her life (as was my first bite of watercress).

Doggie Dogs
Doggie Dogs

My mother cuts Mrs. Williams’ crusty columns out of the paper and faithfully sends them to me.  Our all-time favorite one begins, “In this doggie dog world,” wherein Helen recounts some wanton cruelty that befell one of her own.  We latched onto that wonderful phrase and sometimes catch ourselves using it in public.  It’s often too much trouble to explain, so we let people judge us as we judged Mrs. Williams.  It’s only fair.

This morning, reading over the world’s wanton cruelties du jour, I found a cheerful consoling comment about the power of “God’s handy work” to save us.

It’s man’s handiwork that makes this a dog-eat-dog world — or, sometimes, a child-shoot-child world.  In rural southern Kentucky last week, a 5-year-old boy shot his 2-year-old sister in the chest with a rifle he received as a gift last year.  She died because the boy’s gun was not a toy.  It was a real .22-caliber rifle, loaded with live ammo and left leaning in a corner of the living room.

While I find math rather intimidating, I am confident about handling this subtraction.  That boy was four years old when given a real firearm to play with.

Four-year-old boys can’t possibly hold a gun correctly.  They can’t even hold their pencils or their penises correctly. They can’t write their names without screwing up their faces and struggling mightily to aim their crayon.  They can’t hit the toilet bowl without screwing up their faces and struggling mightily to aim their pee.  Even then, they fail.

cricketts
Cute Little Cricketts

Fortunately for four-year-old boys, Keystone Sporting Arms fills that market niche, making real guns scaled to fit a child’s developing body.  Pink ones for little girls, and blue ones for little boys.  Said Gary White, county coroner in the Kentucky case, “It’s a Crickett, a little rifle for a kid . . . the little boy’s used to shooting the little gun.”

“Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation. You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything,” said he.

What is “everything,” I wonder?  Self-defense when protecting yourself from your two-year-old sister?  Does the Make My Day law now extend to sibling squabbles over control of the TV remote?

Substitute “up” for “down” and “New England” for “Kentucky” and you’re describing the area where I grew up. Mrs. Helen Williams might have written that coroner’s words.  A boy’s first gun is a masculine rite of passage.  He is taught gun care and hunter safety by some responsible, esteemed and admired role model – his father, his grandfather, his family friend.  It’s an important part of the culture.

Here’s the thing, though:  Where I’m from, rites of passage into adulthood don’t take place before the first day of kindergarten.

Something vital is missing here.  I daresay it’s intelligence – and we’re not talking effete highbrow stuff.  We don’t need elaborate gun control laws.  All we need is basic IQ testing.  Morons should not be armed. They are dangerous enough without weapons.

“Accidents happen with guns. They thought the gun was actually unloaded, and it wasn’t,” the coroner said.   A bright-eyed innocent two-year-old girl is dead, and he shrugs it off as, you know, one of those things.

The doggie dogs ought to be howling in rage over this one. It wasn’t a good day in Kentucky for God’s handy work.

Beating the Bends

Invariably after being sucked into the vainglorious vacuum of Facebook I develop decompression illness and have to re-acclimate to real life in gradual stages to keep my head from exploding.

Save me from The Bendz
Save me from The Bendz

Diving into Facebook is like sneaking peeks at the National Enquirer while waiting in line at the grocery store – you simply can’t help yourself once you start.  Imagine Gwenyth Paltrow’s shame at having to forego underpants to accommodate her latest sheer gown – we can only pity this exploited slave of fashion, forced (at least in retrospect) to go commando against her modest wishes.  Or consider the tragic plight of Victoria’s Secret Angel model Kylie Bisutti, who realized to her Christian chagrin that men were ogling her nearly-naked body.  Who knew, when hired to pose provocatively in lacy push-up bras and skimpy thongs, that that might happen?  All Kylie wanted to do was spread those wings to honor God and her husband.

So is everyone out there stark raving bat-shit crazy?  While I’ve long suspected that I am (at least crazy, but perhaps thus far without all the adjectives), I’m not out flaunting it on the runway.  I need to believe that a thread of normalcy stitches the rest of the world together.  There’s a certain comfort in thinking it’s just me who’s quietly unraveling.

mercedes“I even let Junior take The Bendz to prom,” wrote a Facebook acquaintance.  This doting father dotes primarily on himself – the posted picture of his son standing beside his Mercedes is all about the car, not the kid.  The Bendz?  Is referring to your $100,000 vehicle in this casual fashion supposed to fool the rest of us into thinking that you’re just one of the guys?  We’re not fools.  (OK, we are – but I wanted to tie in with “to fool,” so I’m giving us the benefit of the doubt for a moment, here: We know a bombastic braggart when we see one).

My car has a name, too, so I understand that impulse.  My car is Bessie, as in “old, faithful, reliable, run-down, nondescript, and dented.” Like me.  Like most middle-age mothers.

Mothers are more like refrigerators than cars, though. It’s one of my pet theories, so I’ll risk repeating it. We are large faithful featureless appliances, utterly taken for granted, waiting patiently in our assigned corner of the room to dispense whatever is needed at any time of day or night.  We are always there, always fully stocked and always ready to be of service.  We give freely.  We make no demands.  We even hum, if things are running smoothly

The bends strike when I’ve been submerged too long and deep in Facebook.  Resentment bubbles in my blood, and Missy the Frigidaire starts longing to be Missy the Mercedes.  I read those glowing and glorious accounts of the lives of others and start to drown in unfavorable self-comparisons.  And I’m not a strong swimmer – nervous dog-paddling barely keeps my head above water.

I know better than this, of course.  That guy with The Bendz?  Probably has been impotent for years.  That woman with the perfect children?  Probably a lonely alcoholic.  Those perfect children?  Since when are children ever perfect? (OK, I do have friends with perfect children.  I’m intensely jealous, since mine are certainly not). That beautiful tanned couple smiling in the tropics?  Probably on the brink of divorce.  That stunning 55-year-old who looks 35?  Anorexic and shot full of expensive Botox.  That man with all the trappings of success?  Has only his cat for company, and the cat’s only using him for food.  We’re all a pretty sad and lonely lot.

maskedThat’s the fascination of Facebook. It’s like going to a masquerade ball where you never have to show your real face.

This does get a little tricky when you have Facebook friends who know you in real life.  If I post about my marvelous counseling job, they know perfectly well that I’m a clerk in a counseling department.  If I post glowing status reports about my basement remodel, my real friends know that it’s an endless do-it-yourself-on-a-budget struggle of personal incompetence.  If I post a flattering picture of myself, they know it’s one of 150 unflattering ones, and that I happened to be caught at just the right angle about eight years ago.  If I post about my Writing Success, my real friends know that just means managing to send an email or two.  If I brag about my impressive vehicle or my impressive children or my impressive social status, my real friends just snort.  Supportively, of course, but a snort is a snort.

There’s really no need to invent happiness on social networks.  Drugs can do the trick.  I discovered this weekend that women who consider themselves abject failures as mothers can simply feed their children morphine to bask for a time in filial love and gratitude and appreciation.

Older son wound up in the emergency room last week with a kidney stone, of all things. Husband happened to be the parent on duty at the time.  When Husband called me from the hospital, I confess I sat there at work rolling my eyes and thinking, “Honest to God, these men can’t handle anything.”  I figured Older Son had thrown his back out shoveling the 15 inches of snow we had on the first of May and that Husband was over-reacting.

How dare men think this is sexy?
How dare men think I look sexy?

I stand corrected and in shame – just like Gwenyth without her underwear or Kyli strutting around in hers.  I was wrong; Missy’s males needed to go to the emergency room.  The hospital pumped Older Son full of opiates and sent him home to pass the time and pass the stone.  He is fine, now, and I can cherish the memory of a drug-hazed evening full of fond family warmth and affection. I will not boast about this on Facebook — sounds too much like mothers who give their babies bourbon to make them be quiet.  Me?  I give mine narcotics to make him talk to me.

Rat Dogs, Road Rage & Refrigerator Magnets

fifi3“It’s to shield her eyes from the sun,” says the large scowling man with the little rat dog.  He is referring to the frilly pink polka-dot bonnet his dog is wearing, which perfectly matches the frilly pink polka-dot skirt that’s been tied pertly around her middle.

Husband has just paused, all delighted, to point out Large Scowling Man’s cute  pet.

Husband generally dislikes rat dogs.  His mother kept a vicious little poodle named Igor who’d sink his teeth into Husband’s ankle and then seize up and pee on the carpet when Husband bellowed and bled.  Husband was a young boy at the time.  Husband’s mother would comfort Igor and fuss over the carpet; Husband was left to find his own BandAid and worry about rabies.

That dog’s betrayal was even worse in that Husband named him – after Igor Stravinsky.  In retrospect, perhaps the dog didn’t care for Husband’s fervent adolescent musical obsessions.  Husband’s mother immortalized Igor in a gaudy acrylic painting that was still hanging in that house when I first visited, decades later.  She captured his beady little bulging eyes beautifully.  Husband refused to enter the bathroom where it hung (although he was pleased that Igor only rated backroom-bathroom wall space).

The frilly pink dog does indeed look cute – I am smiling, too.  Large Scowling Man feels we are irreverent.  He says again, giving the dog’s neon pink leash a shake, “The sun is tough out here.”

Everything is tough out here – Large Scowling Man has chosen to take his little limitsrat dog hiking in the foothills of the Rockies.  Husband and I, hot and tired and sunburned, are heading back down the steep path toward the trailhead.  We have backpacks and hiking poles and sensible boots and water bottles and far too much yuppie outdoor paraphernalia.  We are prepared.  Large Scowling Man is headed up the mountain wearing dress shoes and church clothes; it is Sunday afternoon.  He is holding a bright pink plastic leash attached to a frou-frou dog.  He is not prepared.

But he is expressing himself, via his polka-dot dog. He is free to do so.  He is not hurting anyone (provided we don’t consider the personal dignity of his dog).

womenMe?  I am always and forever wary of expressing myself; it’s fraught with peril.

On the way to work yesterday, I am honked at rudely from behind for not turning heedlessly into oncoming traffic at an intersection.  I cannot see, you see.  I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that seeing is important when driving.  So I choose to wait perhaps ten seconds until two large vehicles have crossed in front of me and approaching traffic in the side lane is no longer obscured from view.nice

It is 6:45 AM.  The man behind me is flipping me off and honking again; I see him in the mirror.  When I am finally able to turn, he turns as well and comes up beside me in the road.  He’s shouting and gesturing.  He stays there beside me; it’s a two-lane road.  He is another Scowling Man.  I have not had enough coffee.  I am upset by this uncalled-for rudeness and incivility.  I look across at Scowling Man and yell, “Bugger Off.”  I am scowling, too.  I have never done this in traffic before.  I have on occasion given other drivers the middle finger, but only surreptitiously and only when very vexed, under the dashboard where they won’t see me and decide to shoot me.stupid people

Scowling Man II then leans over to roll down his passenger side window, manually, while still keeping abreast of me in traffic.  I look steadfastly straight ahead.  He is shouting and gesturing.  We hit an intersection and I take a quick right to escape.  I then drive an extra two miles to work.  I am shaking and furious and scared.

Freedom of expression has its limits.  I hate being scared. truth

Last week, out of the blue, I receive a two-page, single-spaced, carefully typed letter via US mail from yet another Scowling Man, an acquaintance I’d not seen for years (no, this is not some spurned lover from my seething past.  I only wish I’d had a seething past).  The letter scares me.  It, too, concerns freedom of expression.

parenthoodScowling Man III attended a big Christmas party at my house a decade ago, where he studied the magnets plastered all over my refrigerator.  Scowling Man III writes to me ten years later to say that I bear partial responsibility for violence against Christians in the world because I have a magnet on my refrigerator that reads, “Christians aren’t perfect.  They just want you to be.”

perfectScowling Man III actually has the quote somewhat wrong. But given the fact that he’s been brooding about this for a decade, I think it best to avoid correcting him.  That would be like telling the rude threatening driver to bugger off, and I have learned my lesson.  I don’t ask much of the world.  “Don’t hurt me,” is pretty much all.

thinkThe refrigerator in my kitchen is one place where I (used to) feel fairly safe in expressing myself.  I don’t do bumper stickers, I don’t do T-shirts, and I don’t carry placards.  I don’t crusade on Facebook. I don’t campaign at work.  I blog under a pseudonym.  I don’t harbor a secret meth lab or voodoo altar or S&M dungeon or kiddie porn distribution center in my house.  I have always been a Good Girl.  Sort of.  In a manner of speaking.  More or less. rock

What I do have is a vast collection of irreverent, mordant, ironic, funny, stupid, politically-incorrect magnets on my refrigerator that all poke fun at hypocrisy.  I don’t wish to wind up maimed and beaten and dismembered in a ditch over these magnets; they’re not that important.

And yet they are, to both Scowling Man III and to me – although in very different ways.  It’s a good thing he hasn’t been here in ten years.  The collection has gotten bigger and better.