Monday, January 21, 2019. The great snowstorm over the weekend passed by New York on its way northeast, leaving us with a steady, cold rain on Saturday night. Sunday clear, grey, cold Sunday with temperatures dropping into the single digits by late night.
Today is Martin Luther King Day. He was only 39 when his life was taken. He told it like it is for all of us. But he provided the key ingredient for universal change: hope. It continues.
Today we’re running a Guest Diary of Stephen Duncan. Mr. Duncan has his own website byduncan.com. He and I met digitally quite a few years ago when JH and I started the NYSD. He wrote in with compliments that were recognizably sincere. His missives were down home real in a way that you don’t get often. He didn’t say much about himself except that he was a retired school bus driver, and was from Indianapolis and he was interested in what we were doing and was thinking of doing something along lines himself.
I was aware that he wanted to start a page for himself. The scene was, culturally speaking, Norman Rockwell Middle American Life in the early 21st century, that world long referred to as the great American Midwest, now often referred to in media and politics as “flyover country.” In other words, the core.
Duncan’s world is of an American generation, of its time and era. Mine, actually. I learned from his resume that he’s basically a writer/artist. His ByDuncan.com is an authentic record of a large segment of American life in the early 21st century, the farmland for the spirit as well.
When I read this installment, I wrote to Steve Duncan to ask if we could run it. Sitting here in my half-a-tower lair contemplating the Zeitgeist of the world that is New York, I loved this portrait of getting around, changing climates, traveling light and living the day to day in American life. You learn something. And it made me laugh. It’s good to know.
Rules and More Rules by Duncan: I recently became aware of a popular new book called, 12 Rules for Life, by Dr. Jordon B. Peterson. My first reaction to the title of the book was, is this more rules piled on top of the other rules? Or are these the only Rules for Life? If there’s anything I fear, it’s more rules in my life. More on this book and the 12 Rules for Life, in a moment.
I’ve also figured out how to record a bunch of podcasts to my cell phone to keep me company when I take my daily walks around the lake or when I get on an airplane. In fact, I make it a habit of listening to podcasts when I fly from Indianapolis to southwest Florida. The flight is a straight shot, no stops, no changing planes in Atlanta, no going through Dallas. Just two hours and twelve minutes and I’m back in warm and balmy southwest Florida. But, you got to know the Allegiant Airline Rules on how to get a seat at a great price. Again, life has rules.
I was so proud of myself; I grabbed a one-way seat from Indy to southwest Florida for $57.00. Okay, how do you do that? What’s the catch? Well, first, you only buy a one-way ticket. Second, don’t pick your seat, let Allegiant Air Lines choose your seat for you. The third rule is don’t bring luggage, or when you buy the ticket, you are not carrying baggage on the plane. In my case, they generally assign me in a middle or window seat. I can easily handle two hours and twelve minutes of being elbow to elbow depending on who is on my left and who is on my right. That’s when my recorded podcasts come in handy during the flight.
Full disclosure here, there seems to be a problem with a one-way ticket. TSA seems to cast a jaundiced eye on people with a one-way ticket and a backpack. (Allegiant doesn’t consider a backpack, luggage.) I carry a backpack with two laptops, 3 cameras, battery chargers, and I almost always get pulled out of line for a full body search.
TSA: “Do you want to do this body search in a private room?”
I inform the TSA person with the blue rubber gloves, “No, let everyone watch!” This is the only time my life I can get anywhere near what you might call “kinky.” I fear one of these days they’re going to ask me to “Turn my head and cough.”
After the full body pat down, they want to look through my backpack. So, TSA directs me to a stainless steel table. The man very carefully opens the backpack zipper. He lifts my two larger cameras out of the bag and asks, “What do you use these for?” I look at the young man, and he is almost always a younger man. I repeat his question back to him. “What do I use cameras for?” He normally is not listening, as he is focused on rubbing a small white pad across the bottom of the camera battery compartment. I just stand there and wait until he’s finished. When he looks disappointed, and they always do, I know it’s time to reload my backpack. I am trying to keep my facial expression as non-confrontational as possible. After all, we the flying public are nothing more than cattle. Think about it; they deal with how many people every day? “Get-em in and get-em out.”
Just follow the TSA Rules. Take off your shoes, take off your belt, empty your pockets. “Did you empty everything out of your pockets?” Don’t forget to remove your laptop computer from your luggage and place it on a tray. How many times a day do you think they say that?
For the person who flys all the time, this is a standard way of life. For me, it’s amazing how a system can program so many people to stand in line and endure this procedure. When the young man with the blue rubber gloves gives me the nod, I know I have reached the Pièce De Résistance. I know this part of my flying experience is over. I gather my stuff and move to a different stainless steel table. I hold my shoes and pants up with one hand and place my backpack on the table with the other. Then I dress all over again. I put on my shoes, I put on my belt, making sure I hit all the belt loops. I slip my cell phone in the holster. Then, I search my bag for my wallet with my credit cards, cash, and other relevant documents. Oh, I need to put my driver’s license back in my wallet. Then that beautiful final moment. I slip on my winter jacket, toss my backpack over my shoulder and head for the boarding gate.
My next challenge is scanning the boarding area for farm animals. Let me rephrase that indelicate term “farm animals” and let’s call them “Emotional Support Animals.” As a more gentile population has become pummeled with fear and doubt about this world coming to an end. There is a certain demographic that needs the comfort and support of a barnyard beast to control their blood pressure. Or, so they tell us. I sometimes wonder if all they’re doing is getting their pet a free plane ride. I also read somewhere that the Airlines in the United States transported one million “emotional support animals” in 2017. Delta says they carry about 700 comfort animals every day. I scan the people waiting at the boarding gate for what might be sitting next to me on the plane. I understand the airlines will allow dogs, cats, mice, rabbits, birds, hedgehogs, rats, minipigs, and ferrets. And I also read, some people try and bring on miniature horses, turkeys, possums, monkeys, snakes, and spiders. Where will this trend end? Will the passengers be put in cages, and the animals left free to roam the isles? Airlines have predicted the “emotional support animals” in the cabin with passengers will increase by 150% over the next five years.
I ask the flight attendant which side of the plane is seat “E.” It is at this point I know where I will be sitting. I’m in the middle seat again on the left side. I usually wait until the other passengers are on the plane before I walk the tube. I have an old man on the left, a younger woman on my right next to the window and me in the middle. I’m eleven rows back. I settle in for the ride. At this point, I plug my earbuds into my cell phone and search my list of podcasts. The plane throws me back into the seat, and we go thundering down the runway and all of a sudden the rumble of the tires are gone, and we are in the air.
I first discovered Malcolm Gladwell years ago when he gave a TED TALK on spaghetti sauce. I was very impressed with this young fizzy haired, skinny guy talking about his friend Howard Moskowitz. Malcolm gave a compelling story about Howard’s detailed study on spaghetti sauce and used the word horizontal segmentation. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as horizontal segmentation. After 18 minutes listening to Gladwell’s take on the business of spaghetti sauce I was hooked. I was a fan of Malcolm Gladwell. He made the subject interesting and made me laugh. I wanted more of Malcolm.
I looked at the titles of the podcasts on my cell phone and found a Malcolm Gladwell story about Dr. Jordon B. Peterson, and his new book, 12 Rules of Life. So, I thought I’d listen to it first.
Dr. Jordon B Peterson’s 12 Rules of Life are as follows:
1. STAND UP STRAIGHT WITH YOUR SHOULDERS BACK
2. TREAT YOURSELF LIKE SOMEONE YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HELPING
3. BEFRIEND PEOPLE WHO WANT THE BEST FOR YOU
4. COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY
5. DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN DO ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU DISLIKE THEM
6. SET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE THE WORLD
7. PURSUE WHAT IS MEANINGFUL, NOT WHAT IS EXPEDIENT
8. TELL THE TRUTH – OR AT LEAST DON’T LIE
9. ASSUME WHOEVER YOU’RE LISTENING TO KNOWS SOMETHING YOU DON’T
10. BE PRECISE IN YOUR SPEECH
11. DO NOT BOTHER CHILDREN WHILE THEY ARE SKATEBOARDING
12. PET A CAT WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER ONE IN THE STREET
I’ll admit I had a hard time following Gladwell’s podcast. I’m not a big fan of cats. But apparently, Peterson’s book has sold over two million copies. The demographic buying this book appears to be younger men. Or, that’s what the critics are saying. A lot of self-help and motivational material is focused on young men and young women who are just starting life or beginning a business career. I can’t comment on the book I haven’t read the book. However, I did see a video where Peterson is giving an overview of his book, chapter by chapter. Again, I was not able to make a connection with most of Peterson’s 12 Rules of Life.
So, I get off the plane. I’m back in southwest Florida. I’ve been away for a couple of months. I need to pick up a few things on the way home. I stop at a Walmart. It’s noon. This is a big mistake. You see my personal Rule of Life, is never to enter a grocery store in the middle of the day in southwest Florida during “Season.” I always go at night, after nine PM when the snowbirds are falling asleep at home watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
The place is jammed! I was in the beer–wine aisle and I was physically picking up a case of beer. A well-dressed man was standing behind me. I was in his way. So, with a case of 24 glass bottles of beer in my hands; I leaned back to allow him to pass. He pushed his shopping cart next to mine, then stopped and began looking at the wine selections on the shelves across from the beer. I’m standing there pinned in holding a case of cold beer against my chest. I can’t put it down until he moves. So, all I can do is wait for him to make a buying decision. He takes his time. He just can’t make up his mind. Finally, he picks two bottles of Moscato and puts them in his cart and moves on down the aisle. He never looks my way, didn’t say thank you or acknowledge me in any way. As he left, I decided to chalk it up to a senior citizen from the North acting like a senior citizen from the North.
I placed the beer in my cart and looked behind me. I noticed a woman employee of the grocery store with a cleaning cart parked in the aisle watching me. She had a big grin on her face. In fact, she was almost laughing. I suddenly realized she had watched the whole experience.
I walked over to her and offered a few words.
“The smile on your face has made that experience all worthwhile. I’m pleased you enjoyed my dilemma.”
She lamented, “It happens in here like that all day long.”
You know there are Rules of Life everywhere. On my way out of the grocery, I happened to see the Rules of Life violated one more time in the parking lot.
Do you see the white lines? The lines on the pavement are to give you a guide on how to park your car. Call it the Rules of the parking lot. I placed my provisions in my mean yellow hot rod convertible and decided to take a picture of the vehicles, nose to nose. I walked behind each car to find out who was local and who was out-of-state. Then, another question crossed my mind, who got to the parking space first? I assumed the car belonged to the guy in the beer aisle.