Saturday, June 1, 2019

6.1 - Connections

Our mailman retired last week. His name was Kermit and he loved Manchester City Football Club. Kermit was about 5'8 with grey hair and he often wore shorts on his indoor delivery route in the skyway. He sounded like a guy who didn't yell or get angry very much. He's probably a fantastic grandfather if he has grandkids. If I'd catch him making a delivery to our bar association office, we'd chat for a few minutes about our respective English Premier League teams, and it was often a highlight of my day. We got a gift card for him and his wife to go out to a restaurant, and a thank-you note was hanging in our office last week. I'll miss him.

Our going-away gift for Kermit wasn't the same as what this neighborhood did, but the thought it is all the same. The whole thing is worth a read. (Bring tissues.)
I worry we'll lose things like this: moments of geniune gratitude and thankfulness for the people who do seemingly minor things in your life. We're obsessed with specialization, efficiency, and removing any sort of friction between you and an end product. Self-checkout lines remove the need for eye contact between you and a cashier. Restaurant delivery removes you from talking to a human being until the last second of exchange. Hell, even self-serve tap walls remove you from talking to a bartender about what beer is good. I'd be a hypocrite if I said these things are all bad. I'll use a self-checkout line if I only have two things and everyone else seems to be stocking up for the apocalypse. And we'll use Amazon Prime when we need toilet paper and we just don't feel like going to the store. Sometimes you just don't want to talk to people, I get it.

However, I'm worried that that's become the norm, rather than the exception to the rule. And removing those small relationships in our day has real consequences. We need a "network of low-stakes, casual friendships." And I don't have to remind you that loneliness is a public health epidemic. Seriously, just google "millennials lonely."

So what can we do about this? If you have something nice to say, say it. Compliment your cashier's glasses. Say how wonderful you love the produce at a farmer's market stand. Ask about the janitor's day. The place we're spending more and more of our time, online, is still mostly awful, so we should combat that offline.

Be polite. Be kind. Listen. And when you can, chat with your mailman.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

This I Believe: 31

Today, I got choked up over four popcorn bowls. The bowls were empty. They had been sitting on the top shelf of my kitchen cabinet for over a year. I hadn’t ever used them. And yet, there I was with my wife, crying when she handed me light brown, wooden popcorn bowls as we cleaned out my cabinets for things to take to Goodwill.

I cried because these bowls are one of the last links I have to my maternal grandparents. At some point during every trip to their house, those bowls were filled with popcorn. It was the best popcorn. It was air-popped and smothered with real butter and salt. Conversations had to stop when they made it because the popper was so loud. I eagerly watched my grandpa doll out the popcorn, in order to make sure my brother didn’t get more than me. I remember digging my way through the bowl to find those few kernels that were absolutely drenched with oil and salt. My brother and I would lie on our stomachs in front of the television and eat popcorn out of those bowls as we watched a movie. Since then, I’ve never had a popcorn experience as good as those.

In the year 2019, I believe in popcorn bowls. More specifically, I believe in those items that are so full of memories, they make you cry.

Being emotionally manipulated by powerful entities is nothing new, but I believe in my popcorn bowls this year because everything is vying for some of your emotional spare change. Whether it’s social media,  the day’s news, or trying to keep up with the inane all-day group chats, they all chip away at your emotional well-being.

Sometimes I get emotionally paralyzed by the cascade of things I’m supposed to care about. I hate that feeling. I felt that way as we cleaned out my kitchen cabinets.

There are going to be things in life you’ll use once and then forget about, like the Noodelizer. There are going to be things in your life that you probably should have thrown out a long time ago, like that loaf of Johnnie bread in your freezer from December 2017. There are going to be things you shouldn’t have brought to your life in the first place, like that bottle of mint-infused Captain Morgan. There are going to be things in your life that you think you absolutely need, but they only end up cutting your hand, like the mandolin slicer I bought at Marshall’s for five bucks. And there are going to be things you’ll have such an abundance of, that you’ll wonder why you had so many in the first place, like my many, many take-out tupperware containers.

But then you’ll have your popcorn bowls. And you’ll remember how great your grandma and grandpa’s popcorn was.

And everything will be just fine.