1-(959) 207-1043 (preferred)

“The Scream” depicts someone yelling. I wasn’t yelling.

The impossible happened: a phone solicitor hung up on me.

I didn’t think it was possible to be cut off by someone who trolls the phone lines every day looking for suckers to foolishly answer their cell phones, but I managed to do it during a drive through New Haven, CT.

And though I try very hard to be kind to people, particularly with the season of Lent upon us, I have no regrets about standing up to someone who has called my phone 20 times over the past week and asking a simple question:

“What do you want?”

“You don’t have to be rude to me ma’am,” said the telemarketer. “I’m not being rude to you. Why are you being rude to me?”

I wasn’t being rude, though I was blunt and impatient. Whoever is behind this number, which pops up as “preferred” on my cell phone, has called me dozens of times, including 13 times on Saturday during a family excursion to visit my son at college. They even called during dinner on Saturday night, though I quickly ignored the call.

As I see it, calling anyone 13 times in one day is harassment. It’s one thing if they’re calling for a charitable cause – I can usually summon my manners and tell them I don’t make donations over the phone. But having your phone ring repeatedly and seeing the same number pop up is maddening.

Like the majority of Americans, I can’t stand phone solicitors and don’t ordinarily answer their calls. In my opinion, they have ruined cell phones by polluting us with unwanted and in some cases, illegal calls. The beauty of cell phones when they first came out was solicitors could not call them. But that changed in 2012, and boy, they’re making up for lost time.

If I see an unfamiliar number, I usually just hit “ignore,” “sorry I can’t talk right now” or my favorite, “please leave a message.” I figure if someone truly has legitimate business with me, they’ll leave a message on my voicemail and I’ll get back to them.

But this solicitor has been been particularly persistent and annoying, prompting me to answer the phone during a 20-minute car trip back from Lowe’s to pick up potting supplies. If nothing else, I wanted to answer the call just to make it stop.

So when +1-(959) 207-1043 popped up again, I answered. The caller addressed me by my first name, which set me off from the start. He’s greeting me by name without identifying himself. I didn’t say “yes” when he said my name. I said simply, “What do you want?”

“Why are you being rude to me?” he said. “I’m not being rude to you. I’m just doing my job.”

“I asked you what you want,” I said. “You called my phone 13 times on Saturday and I just want to know why you’re hounding me. I’m not being rude. Just tell me why you’re calling me.”

(And by the way, repeatedly calling someone you don’t know and not identifying where you are from immediately is being very rude, at least in my book. When I used to call people from the newspaper, I’d always identify myself as a reporter and ask if it was a good time. If it wasn’t, I always offered to call back. It’s ridiculous to assume that a person is free or wants to talk just because you are.)

“I’m required by law to call you,” he answered, still skirting my question. “And I don’t understand why you’re yelling at me.”

“I’m not yelling at you,” I said. “You’d know it if I was yelling at you. This is not yelling.”

And it wasn’t. I was perturbed, annoyed and snarky, but I wasn’t yelling. I know what yelling is. Yelling is what my father and many dads of his generation did when their kids did something dumb. I still remember hearing my friend’s father scream, “How could you be so stupid?” from the road after he dented his car when he was about 16.

His Dad was usually so nice and soft-spoken that it was a shock to hear him raise his voice. But it made me feel better to know other Dads yelled too.

Yelling is sometimes the only effective tool you have to convey feelings of anger and complete frustration. I recently told the Curmudgeon that I don’t think he yelled enough when our kids screwed up, that a little fear of your parents isn’t the worst thing when you do something wrong.

But he isn’t the screamer in the family, I am. And though I try not to do it too often, I know what constitutes yelling.

Yelling is screaming at the top of your lungs when you make an errant golf shot and shout, “Fore!” Yelling is trying to get a dog to stop attacking your sister’s Maltese, which you are pet-sitting and will be killed if anything happens to him, on a hiking trail.

I can yell, and I wasn’t yelling at this guy, who may be the world’s most hyper-sensitive telemarketer. I simply wanted to know why he was calling me, something he seemed intent on keeping to himself. But I have news for him. If he thinks I was yelling at him, he’d better toughen up because there are a lot of people out there with way shorter fuses than I have.

“I suppose you’re going to tell me you’re calling from Social Security and my number has been compromised,” I said.

“I’m going to call you when you are a little calmer,” he said, still refusing to tell me who is represented or what he wanted. “Have a nice day.”

I tried calling the number back several times and no one answered, no big surprise. But he hasn’t called back, so maybe he finally got the message. In the meantime, I’m putting my cell phone on the DO NOT CALL list, something I meant to do years ago. If you haven’t done it, here’s how:

https://www.donotcall.gov

You’re welcome.

Feeling Our Age

Doing the college thing in your 60s is tiring . . .

I felt a like a derelict over the weekend, stretching out on a cushioned bench in the student center during my daughter’s college orientation.

This was no time for decorum. After six hours of welcome speeches, break-out sessions for majors, chitchatting with other prospective students and parents and wolfing down a catered lunch, the Curmudgeon and I still had two hours to kill before our daughter returned from a tour of Washington, D.C., landmarks.

I suggested returning to our hotel in Old Alexandria, VA, and taking a nap. The Curmudgeon refused, noting we’d spend at least an hour in the car and have to drive back to the hotel after picking up our daughter. At some point, I wondered aloud why college administrators hadn’t put cots in an auditorium for weary parents.

Too tired for more walking and chilled from an arctic blast that descended on our nation’s capitol, we splurged on two hard cover books from a nearby Barnes & Noble and decided to spend our spare time reading. With books in hand, we rushed over to the Catholic University of America’s Student Center and climbed the stairs to the second floor, claiming a 10-foot-long vinyl sofa as our temporary home.

I’m not the type of person to make myself too comfortable in public. There are rules of acceptable behavior and I generally abide by them. I guess you could say I’m modest; some have even called me a prude. One of my brother-in-laws once caressed my sister on a store escalator and was admonished by an older woman: “This ain’t your house.”

I get that, and I generally play by the rules. But there’s a point where exhaustion and exposure to the elements take over, making you do things out of your comfort zone.

And that includes laying on a couch and balling up your coat into a pillow, stretching out as though you’re in your living room. As I read, the Curmudgeon sat at my feet, trying to read but nodding off instead.

In Old Alexandria
One of the things I did was play around with Instagram filters to pass the time. I particularly liked Valentine Eyes, which eradicates crow’s feet. My daughter is only pretending to drink the Curmudgeon’s beer.

And as people passed and tried not to notice us, I thought of how pathetic we looked and didn’t care. Well, I did a little. At one point, I thought someone might call campus security to complain about a suspicious couple sleeping on a couch, but I quickly dismissed it. We looked too old and decrepit to be dangerous.

Sending off a kid to college in your 60s isn’t easy, or at least it feels a lot harder than it did four years ago when my son went away.

First, there’s all the walking. I can tell parents who are veterans when they show up in running shoes. They know that fashion takes a back seat to comfort when they’re on college campuses, and only a fool would show up in heels to navigate all the hills and steps.

But there’s also the general sense of being a little long in the tooth to be doing the college thing, of being the elder statesmen in the crowd. I found myself scanning the crowd and noticing other older parents, in some cases wondering if they were grandparents. And I noticed how young some parents are. One woman looked like she could be her son’s date, a fact I found admirable and troubling at the same time.

The older folks were the quiet ones, biting our tongue when parents asked questions like, “How can I make sure my child is taking his medication every day?” and rolling our eyes when a mother asked four questions during a break-out session for history majors.

You’d think the parents were the ones going to college, not the kids. About all I could think was there’s going to be a lot of letting go over the next six months or this isn’t going to work for either the kids or parents. Like I said, I’m older and wiser this time around.

There were no orientation sessions or “vetting days” when I entered Wheaton College in Norton, MA., in the fall of 1976. After moving me into the dorm and shedding a brief tear, my parents drove off, leaving me to eat my box lunch by myself on the campus’ sprawling lawn adorably named “The Dimple.”

Things are so different today, perhaps reflecting the current trend toward over-parenting in which parents have to be involved in everything, including college orientation. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I’m not so sure it’s so great. I’m a big believer in baptism by fire.

I don’t know how my children feel about having older parents, mainly because I’ve never asked them. But lately, my daughter has been dropping hints that we’ve both seen better days and I can’t really argue. At a certain age, maybe around 60, you reach a point of resignation. You start to think, “Hey, for my age, I’m not doing so bad. Let’s see how great you look when you’re this age.”

***

When my daughter arrived in June, 2001, I was two months shy of 43. I remember being shocked by how much more tired I was than when my son arrived when I was 39. Four years makes a huge difference, especially when chasing around toddlers.

I didn’t think of myself as an old mom, and tried to be as active as possible. My brother-in-law had dated a woman who was adopted by an older couple and he was always telling me that she never did anything because her parents were so old. Yikes. I didn’t want my kids to suffer a similar fate.

I taught my kids to roller-skate at a young age, and disco roller-skated with them on most school holidays, becoming the brunt of jokes among some kids who made fun of my ’70s moves. I taught my son to play tennis, and our daughter picked up running like her father.

But parenting children gets harder as you age, perhaps due to waning physical stamina. If you doubt me, ask anyone who watches their grandchildren for any length of time. Most look like they’re shell-shocked, at least until they have a few days to recover. My father had seven children 11 years apart, and when I’d complain that the younger ones were getting away with stuff that we never did, he said simply, “I’m tired.”

As an “older” parent, you try not to focus on age but sometimes people remind you. When my daughter was still very little, one of my sisters said, “Do you realize that you’re going to be 53 when she’s 10?” Well, yes, I’d done the math, but tried not to think about it.

My mother began having children when she was 23, and was a grandmother by 52. One of my sisters and many of my friends are now grandparents, a concept that’s hard for me to wrap my head around. After all, I’m still in the trenches, driving to orthodontist appointments, discussing comforter options for dorm rooms and jean shopping at Banana Republic.

It’s all good, and believe me, parenting is absolutely the best thing I’ll ever do in my life. Still, I can’t help thinking the cots were a great idea.

Bowl Like An Egyptian

The Curmudgeon at the bowling alley.

When we sent our son to college, we had certain expectations.

We expected him to go to class, do his homework, party mostly on the weekends and learn how to live on his own. We did NOT expect him to fall in love with bowling, though I suppose there are worse things in life.

He sets aside Tuesday nights when he’s home to bowl with his cousin and friends at a bowling alley about 20 minutes away. I think the initial draw was the drink specials, but slowly and steadily they’ve become pretty serious about their scores.

We thought bowling was reserved for home visits until we discovered that he’s bowling at least once a week at an alley near campus in Worcester, MA. One night, he couldn’t get anyone to go with him so he used two alleys and bowled 12 games in two hours. Like I said, this kid is full of surprises.

Why bowling? Why not?

That’s my score third from top. Yes, I was my team’s weak link.
The Curmudgeon calculates scores to determine individual and team winners after the Pickleball bowling party. Like a kids’ party, we had trophies.

It’s a great way to blow off steam and socialize with friends, particularly in the dead of winter when a lot of sports are in cold storage. And it’s probably the most democratic game in the world: nearly everyone has bowled at least once in their life at either a duckpin alley or with the gutters up at a kids’ birthday party.

It should come as no surprise that bowling is one of the oldest games known to man, dating back to about 5,200 B.C. in Ancient Egypt. The game’s primitive roots are obvious: you can just imagine early man picking up a small boulder and rolling it at targets in the distance, can’t you?

Image depicting bowling in Ancient Egypt.

Like our hunter/gatherer and maternal instincts, perhaps a need to look, aim and knock down pins is ingrained in our DNA. It certainly would explain why so many people around the world love to bowl, about 70 billion at last count.

I realized that most people have a soft spot for bowling when I organized a 10-pin bowling party a few weeks ago for my Pickleball friends. I had no idea who’d bite, but within a few days nearly 30 people said that they’d bowl and moreover, were looking forward to it.

Most hadn’t bowled for years, but that wasn’t important. They were looking forward to picking up a ball, rolling it down a sleek oiled wooden floor and seeing how many pins would topple. A simple proposition, but not so easy to accomplish as my dismal scores proved.

Getting strikes and spares is difficult, even with a measly eight-pound ball. And hand-eye coordination is no help when rolling a ball that insists on lilting to the left and missing pins, seemingly with a mind of its own. It doesn’t help that my teammates are criticizing my piddly ball speed, which is visible on the overhead score screen.

“Put a little more oomph in it,” the Curmudgeon screams as I roll my second ball. Seriously? Do I really need to be heckled doing something I do once every decade? Bowling is one of the few things besides writing that I do left-handed. And what I’m discovering is that despite being my dominant hand, my left side is very weak.

The biggest challenge is reminding people when it’s their turn to bowl to keep things moving. I swear some of these Picklers came to socialize and bowl between conversations or sips of beer and wine.

But there are also a few ringers in the crowd. The husband of one of my friends scores an impressive 212, notching the highest score of the night. No real surprise though. He was the only one of the gang who entered the alley carrying his own ball in a mesh sack.

The law firm goes bowling too.

On the heels of the Pickleball bowling outing, the Curmudgeon’s workplace organized a bowling party. This would mean I’d be bowling twice within two weeks, a record for me. I skip the pizza and beer party beforehand at a local brewery – I’ve got enough problems without being weighed down by carbs.

But I’m eager to bowl again. I’m even beginning to get the concept of a bowling league, though I wonder whether they even have leagues for raw beginners like me.

The Curmudgeon wore his interpretation of a funny bowling outfit: a bright yellow Hawaiian shirt from a college reunion 25 years ago and a backwards baseball cap. I’m not sure if it qualifies as bowling attire, but he thinks it does so who am I to argue?

As lanes are assigned and people begin to bowl, I begin to realize the magic of bowling. Everyone lets their guard down, focusing on one thing: getting the ball from point A to B. And the letting up of the guard, even momentarily, is freeing and unifying. As corny as it sounds – and believe me, it does – bowling brings out our inner child.

In some ways, I think that bowling is a metaphor for life: roll the ball with confidence, skill and precision and you score well. Roll it sloppily or with indifference and you’re in the gutter, where no one wants to be.

Thankfully in life and bowling, there’s always a second ball to roll and a shot at redemption. And that’s not such a bad proposition in either case.

In Defense of Facebook

This Facebook video really got to me, making me realize how many special moments were captured over the years.

So here’s the thing:

A lot of people don’t have a good word to say about Facebook, and I get that. Over the years, it’s evolved from a place where we shared photos of our family, friends, celebrations and travels into a collection of shared posts with very little original material.

Scrolling through Facebook is a lot like sifting through junk mail. The ads and sponsored posts drive me crazy, as do people’s insistence on sharing their political beliefs.

I could feel my blood boiling after reading one woman’s post after the State of the Union address, and nearly posted a comment before getting ahold of myself. Anyone who jumps into the fray in a political argument on Facebook is open to verbal attacks and ridicule and I want no part of that.

But just for the record, social media brings out the bully in a lot of people. It’s easy to make fun of people or take cheap shots when you’re hiding behind a computer screen. But consider this: just because someone disagrees with you or supports a different political party does not mean they’re stupid. And suggesting that they’re stupid, foolish or ignorant says a lot more about your character than your support of a certain candidate.

Here’s an adage that summarizes my feelings on the subject:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
— ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Like a lot of people on Facebook, I trash it: it’s a major time suck, an opportunity for people to post photos of their adventures, brag about their kids, make us jealous with their tropical photos of freshly manicured toes in sand in the dead of winter, and worse still, close-ups of their five-course meal.

But my stance softened when Facebook compiled a video tracing some of my highlights since I joined in 2008. Back in the early days, everyone shared photos of their kids, and I realized that Facebook had traced my kids’ childhood. My daughter was 6 and my son was 10 when I joined. I’d forgotten how many special moments I’d shared: my daughter’s First Communion, my son’s baseball games, my tennis team’s Christmas gathering, and even the dog donning a silly plaid raincoat.

Watching the video to the strains of sentimental music reminiscent of the “Terms of Endearment” theme song brought me to tears. There were so many good memories in that video that I realized that Facebook isn’t all bad. In fact, it could be really good again if people would stop trashing it and get back to what made it great in the early days.

The best part about Facebook are the personal connections. Yea, it’s social media, but it allows you to be in touch with people – however remotely – who you’ve known throughout your life. My Facebook web includes my cousins, distant relatives, childhood friends, former co-workers and high school and college classmates.

I attended a high school reunion for the first time a few years ago because of Facebook. The organizers used Facebook to generate interest and support leading up to the event and it worked. Somehow being part of the process made it very appealing, so I went and had a great time. I’m pretty sure I would’ve sat it out had it not been for Facebook.

Facebook is also a great way to disseminate information quickly and efficiently. Over the years, I’ve used it as I would a newspaper, sharing information so people know about deaths in the family or other pressing matters. Facebook has proved invaluable in this way, sparing families the ordeal of calling distant relatives and friends when a crisis hits. For this, I’m very grateful.

Wishing people a happy birthday on Facebook doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I think it’s a nice thing to do. The only exception to this was when one of my sisters used Facebook to wish me a happy birthday. I told her that I expected a call, and she hasn’t made that mistake again. Yea, I’m her older sister.

Facebook is also a great way to share my blog with readers who wouldn’t follow me on WordPress. In the beginning, WordPress had a button that let you automatically share your blog on Facebook. About a year into it, that changed and WordPress told bloggers they’d have to share their posts by copying and pasting a link to Facebook. “Are they kidding?,” I thought.

Some bloggers didn’t bother after the switch, but I always make a point of copying and pasting. It takes a second, and is a good way to share with an audience who isn’t on WordPress. Plus, I need all the followers I can get.

Like a lot of things in life, people love to criticize Facebook while at the same time checking in with it every day. For me, it’s a bit of a habit: I check it in the morning after I check my email and texts and before I see if there’s been any action on WordPress.

But I think it’s up to all of us to make it a better place to spend (waste?) our time.

What do I mean?

  1. Post some original material. My sister posted a photo of her German shepherd Dakota smiling last week that was a real pick-me-up. Post things that you think will bring a smile to someone’s face.
  2. Stop lurking in the shadows and make your presence known. Yea, we know you check your Facebook page on a regular basis, though you don’t want anyone to know it. Stop being such a voyeur and join the party.
  3. Resist the temptation to post pithy quotes all the time. You’re a creative person: just tell us what’s on your mind.
  4. Stop posting photos of your food.
  5. Continue to use Facebook to poll people. One Facebook friend just asked people for their mattress recommendations. What a great way to get information quickly and efficiently for an expensive item (by the way, we bought a Therapedic BackSense Juno mattress at a high school fundraiser for our daughter’s band trip. It’s awesome.)
  6. Don’t be mean or condescending. Honestly, I can’t believe how rude some people are when making comments on Facebook, particularly on our town’s Facebook page. (See quote above by Abraham Lincoln.)
  7. Don’t take cheap shots. Take the high road, or you will be unfriended.
  8. Be forgiving. One Facebook friend routinely unfriends people when they don’t respond to his posts or wish him a happy birthday. When I went days without seeing any of his posts, I checked. Yea, I’ve been unfriended too.
  9. Don’t be stingy with your likes. Everyone likes to be liked, so take a second and make someone’s day.
  10. As with all things in life, take the good with the bad. After all, it’s only Facebook.