The Dissed Dead Guys: Respect Them on President’s Day, Too

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No. Not George C. Scott as Scrooge. It’s President Martin Van Buren

Happy President’s Day. It’s one of those holidays I don’t complain about because I’m sitting here drinking coffee knowing in a half hour I’ll still drinking coffee instead of going to work. I love work, mind you–teaching obscure things to teens is a cool job. They never know when they might need a fact about a dead guy to impress people at a cocktail party later in life.

Today, instead of teaching teens, I’ll share with the nation. It’s President’s Day. It seems America does not know its leaders. Buzzfeed’s Adam Davis proved this by subjecting a roomful of coworkers to ridicule when they couldn’t correctly name ten dead presidents from official portraits. Only Ford and Adams fared well. After all, Ford fell down the stairs so much he ended up honorary co-founder of Comedy Central, and Adams was a Founding Father–he gave us things like the Alien and Sedition Acts, where criticizing the government could–and did–get you locked up. Good for me he’s not around to read this.

President Tyler playing Cratchit to Fillmore's Scrooge.

President Tyler playing Cratchit to Fillmore’s Scrooge.

This President’s Day–which America knows is the best time of year to buy a car and go shopping at the mall–we must do something more. Let’s remember the presidents that make you say, “Who?” They did something to make this nation great, too. Or at least avoid getting it wiped off the map. It’s their holiday, too.

Give a shout out to the eighth president, Martin Van Buren–the first President who spoke English as a second language. I bet someone’d try to deport him today or demand his birth certificate. He presided over the Panic of 1837, a pretty big depression caused by unregulated banks going crazy with lending at the same time as unemployment rose and monopolies formed. Déjà vous? The nation was indignant as the price of cotton fell and cost of slaves increased. Businesses folded, and there wasn’t a thing President “Van Ruin,” could do.

William Henry Harrison took over for Van Ruin. He didn’t wear a coat at his inauguration, being a native of Virginia where coats aren’t necessary. He died of pneumonia about a month later. In the days before internet, that’s not even time enough for a political cartoon to travel the nation. #firstworldproblems. The primary lesson here–“Your mom was right! Wear a coat. And your face really will freeze like that!”

John Tyler, #10, tried to shore up the banking crisis by demanding a national bank. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson had fought this fight when the nation formed. Tyler’s dad, incidentally, was Jefferson’s college roommate. A national bank? To regulate fiscal policies? Speak no more! John Tyler became the first sitting president to be impeached–not over a girl, but over his use of the veto. His party wouldn’t nominate him for a second term. He went back to Virginia, serving on the Confederate Congress and overseeing his plantation. Tyler was one of twelve US presidents who owned slaves, and one of eight who owned them while in office.

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Millard Fillmore. A pretty good guy.

Millard Fillmore tried to solve the growing slave-free conflict in the United States with the Compromise of 1850, giving us the Fugitive Slave Act and keeping the balance of free and slave states equal. This was important, because without an equal number of votes on either side, no one could impede progress, which is in the Congressional job description.

James Buchanan took sides, however, secretly supporting South Carolina’s succession and the Dred Scott case where the enslaved Scott sued for his freedom, stating that he’d been taken into a free state, therefore, was free. The Court said it was a moot point. Scott couldn’t sue because slaves were property, not people. Tensions rising, Buchanan never took a stand, leaving that to Abraham Lincoln, making Lincoln’s job really, really difficult.

Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote but became President in an election worse than Bush-Gore. Mark Twain supported Hayes, who was an upright, moral guy who started the White House Easter egg hunt. Hayes stated he’d appoint people to jobs based on merit, not political connections, making everyone mad. But everyone was bound to be mad anyway–the Civil War just ended. Hayes tried to be fair and balanced even though FOX news wasn’t invented yet. He tried to heal the nation’s wounds by removing federal troops from the South, redirecting a couple to squash Great Railroad Strike of 1877 in Virginia and Maryland, where workers demanding to be paid a living wage took a few bullets for the team.

And finally, who can forget Chester Arthur, #21, who rose through the New York political machine to become a reformer. Arthur surprised the nation by signing the Pendleton Act which legally required jobs to be given according to merit not patronage. I wonder if he’d known the Chinese civil service exam had done this centuries earlier. With one stroke of his pen, Arthur guaranteed he’d never be invited to a DC dinner party again.

These are just a few of the presidents we don’t fully appreciate. They don’t have a used car sale in their honor. Think of them. Think of Harding, who had a sex-scandal while in office, or Hoover, who tried his best during the Depression, and all he got was a vacuum named after him.

Give these men–yes, no women–homage. Do something in their honor, today.

Me, I think I’ll vacuum like a good woman who won’t be president. Hoover has inspired me, and the house needs cleaning. Enjoy your President’s Day, America!

 

[credits: inspiration today goes to Buzzfeed and to this Time article “Fail to the Chief” which inspired my reflection on these great men buried in history books no one reads.]

 

 

Have Tons of Kids: It’s the New Social Security

That's a lot of kids.

That’s a lot of kids.

I make fun of my friends with large families. I say insensitive things like, “Here, take Declan. You’ll never know he’s there. You have too many kids to count anyway.” I’ve said that twice this summer alone. Just this week I said it to my friends up from Texas… They’re amazing. They have three boys that eat vegetables, go to bed on time, and march around in an orderly manner being polite and stuff. AND they don’t even have cable TV. Incomprehensible! They’re much better parents than me.

My three nephews, by contrast, do not march around quietly… visiting there puts me in the middle of a cyclone of activity that moves so fast, it’s where Dyson got his vacuum idea.  I love when my nephews fight and don’t eat their dinner, because I feel like a better parent myself.

“My kid’s whining, but their’s just popped each other in the head.” It’s what I like to call the “judgment free zone.” I get to relax, and not worry how bad I am as a mom. One. Two. Three. Four. Everyone’s alive and inventoried. If I left Declan behind, nobody would notice there either…just one more boy running around in circles not eating peas.They’d shove a baseball glove in his hand and he’d be off on a field somewhere, catching fly balls instead of mayflies. Easy enough.

What's bigger than a minivan? The Partridge Family bus!

What’s bigger than a minivan? The Partridge Family bus!

How do you know how many kids are too many? The minivan. Buying a minivan is a commitment to expand the human birth rate. It has no other purpose. It neither races nor looks cool.  Growing up, I was trained to laugh at minivans. Several friends, among them a somewhat manly man and two cool women have said, “Once you try a minivan, you don’t ever want a car again.” Could I, without a large family, be the one out of step with society?

I have a couple friends with four kids. That’s nothing next to my hometown friends with the family of twelve. They had to eat really fast to avoid getting their food stolen by someone hungrier.

Four kids–The respect and awe I feel battles with my desire to make minivan jokes. Four kids is almost a basketball team. Impressive. Especially when they eat vegetables and go to bed on time.

When Four-Kid Friend Number One was contemplating Kid Number Five, she sent me an article to read. It was an in-depth commentary that professional families were indeed having more kids. That it was a trend. She was part of the norm, not bucking society’s expectations to reduce the surplus population.

Yet she didn’t have a farm, so she didn’t need those kids. In fact, she lived on Long Island where reducing the surplus population gives you a greater chance you won’t have to cuss someone out for a parking space in five or ten years.

I was mystified. Researching further, I realized she did need those kids. It wasn’t all about love and raising a family.

Here’s the bottom line. Having kids is like gambling. You don’t know the outcome. We can’t afford college for them, and some turn out bad. It’s like playing the long odds in Vegas. You put all your chips on the black 22, or the big green 0, and if it doesn’t hit, Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 8.10.03 AMyou die a poor shriveled geriatric whose pension is enough to eat a can of cat food while you watch Wheel of Fortune. The more you play, the greater the odds you might win once.

Higher birth rates are important to your future. Nobody invests enough in retirement, college breaks the bank, and Social Security pays out enough to buy you the postage stamp for your back tax payment. After the Baby Boomers spend all the money in the coffers and Congress votes itself a big, fat pay raise with the last few coins in Ft. Knox, I’m going to need some way of taking care of myself into old age. Thankfully, I’m already starting to forget things, so I may, by that time, forget I have no money. Just in case, I’m planting vegetables. I’ll have lots of cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, carrots, and corn. But that’s hard work.

My friends did it right. They had tons of kids. When you have tons of kids, you are, in fact, increasing the odds that one will do really well.

“We love all our kids equally.” You can say that, but you really have to put a couple more eggs in one basket. The kid who’s going off trying to create world peace is impressive and worth bragging about, but, let’s be honest, that’s not the one who’ll pay off your mortgage like the one who wins American Idol. Much more important to get that one singing lessons than pay for Yale for the first one, I think.

I’m not having any more kids–I’m too old, and having a ton of students makes me feel like I have a million kids. I have a couple who said that if they ever make it rich, they won’t forget me. One’s in Hollywood right now. But by “forget” do they mean “send me a spare million after their episode of MTV Cribs airs” or “give me a shout out on national TV?” It makes a difference. I need to plan my financial future.

Just in case, I’m going out to plant my fall crop now. I don’t have four kids, and so I’m going to have to make my way…all on my own.

 

[images: eonline.com, formerchildactors.com and firedoglake.com]

 

 

Financial Literacy Is Overrated

Robin Hood“Mom!”

“What?”

“Can I borrow five bucks?”

“You’re five. What do you need five bucks for?”

“My Junior Bow.” We went to the Bass Pro Shop about a month ago. We passed by the hunting section. I wandered in looking at the bows. I don’t hunt. I’m a vegetarian Gandhi-loving pacifist. Archery is fun, though.

“You need this,” said Rusty, showing me a cross-bow so complex it required an auto mechanic.

“No,”  A few days earlier, after the banning of dodgeball hit the news, we’d discussed all the things you can’t do in schools nowadays. I learned archery in school. Now that we have land, I contemplated picking it back up again. I don’t want to kill large animals. A crossbow is unnecessary.

“How about this?” he asked. It was a huge compound bow. I don’t want to be on a Homeland Security list, either.

“No, a simple bow. Like Robin Hood.”

“Oh, you want a longbow.” Helpful Salesman advised they didn’t have longbows. This was the hunting section. Longbows aren’t best for killing. I didn’t want to kill anything but targets. Maybe even study kyudo, zen bow. Samurai hunted. Kyudo supplies should be in the hunting aisle.

Declan picked up something at eye level. I thought it was a toy. It was the Junior Bow. Helpful Salesman informed him that the $149 starter hunting bow was a real bow. Seeing my face, he advised that it was only available when you turned seven, but he’d put this one on hold. I thought that’d be the end of the subject. Alas, I was mistaken.

Declan has been scrounging, saving, and trying to earn money. When asked why, he says consistently, “For my Junior Bow.” He remembers the price, counts pennies, and makes piles of coins in Mr. Smiley, the bank my dad gave to me for my pennies and Declan now has on his dresser.

“Mom, I need cash.” He does this a lot lately. I worried that he was developing a drug habit he needs cash so often. He reminds me, “For my Junior Bow.”

Today, it was a whole five bucks–usually he scours the car for pennies, or tries to see if there’s change in my pocket.

“But it costs more than that.” I said.

“I know. You can lend me five dollars today. Then $144 dollars a different day.” He shrugged his hands in the air to illustrate this was basic common sense.

WHAT? At five, he can already fleece me into the hundreds? I’m not even saving for college. I’ve got two words for that–West and Point.

I’m in deep trouble with this kid.

He taught me a lesson. Financial literacy is dangerous. I’m canceling all references to the subject in my teaching. True, I think financial literacy is one of the most critical yet undertaught skills in schools. I always integrate it in my lessons, no matter what subject I’m teaching. I tell students who “hate math” that they can continue to do so–if I hire them for my business, I won’t have to pay them correctly. I win. But truthfully, finances are important.

Years ago, a student I’ll call Jonathan (that’s his name) brought me a bank statement.

“Miss! What are all these minuses?” They were overdraft fees.

“Did you put any money in this account? Here’s where you got gas, and where you went to the store.” There were three days’ difference between the two transactions.

“No. They forgot about this one so I went shopping.” He hadn’t realized that could take multiple days to clear. There may be a delay between when you spend the money to where the cyberbank delivers it. Ouch!

But now I had this little five-year old Alex P. Keaton staring me down for five dollars today so he could “borrow” $144 tomorrow. And the totals equaled out. Sans tax–that’s a lesson for a different day.

Money grows on treesTeaching financial literacy is dangerous. It’s too expensive. If the next generation knows more than Congress and the IRS about fleecing me for money, I’m going to be broke, no matter how much I work and how well the business does, taxes aside.

Today it’s $5, tomorrow it’s $144, what’s next? Real estate? “Mom, I saw this property down the road–it’s a fixer-upper, but I think I can flip it for a nice profit.”

Suze Orman and Clark Howard are getting put on the back shelf before it’s too late.

I’ll just tell the kid to watch Les Stroud on the Discovery Channel, and go into the woods to make his own Junior Bow. He can invest that $149 somewhere else.

But if I see him turn the cartoons even once for Financial News Network, I’m canceling cable.

[images: http://mafabaalaso.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/robin-hood-or-robin-bis/ and http://drboycefamilyfinance.blogspot.com/2009/04/recession-promotes-literacy.html]

Happy Tax Day America–Enjoy Your Ramen

I am a patriot. I'm paying today.

I am a patriot. I’m paying today.

God Bless America on Tax Day

Happy Tax Day! Because it follows my birthday by five days and I always get money back, I feel like the government’s sending me a gift.

“Casey, you’re a great citizen. Happy birthday! Don’t spend it all in one place.” This year, I had plans. My new house has a 1930’s cesspool I’m upgrading to a septic system.

Instead of the usual “in which account do you want to deposit your refund,” email from my accountant, I got “Here’s the amounts due.” I never get those. Something about “pass-through income,” “S-Corp,” blah blah blah, “Counts as income and reinvestment,” blah blah blah… Someone explain to me how much America loves small businesses? I’m not feeling it today.

Therefore Uncle Sam is getting the money I saved for my septic system–and then some. He probably has more shit than me.

I’m a grateful citizen–this country is wonderful. I enjoy freedoms earned by my friends and family who have fought for me. I honor them by paying my taxes–I’d rather send each one a thank you check personally. “Andy, thanks for your career, go out to dinner.” “Mike–you did three tours–buy yourself a new Yankee hat,” and so on.

I was thinking of ways to make paying my taxes easier–I considered putting a note in the state tax envelope, “Dear Governor Chaffee, although I teach, I’m technically a state employee. Please deduct $2500 from my salary in lieu of state taxes to cut out the middleman. I hope this finds you well. Fix the roads.”

To simplify payment of my federal taxes, I thought about paying them in yuan. We owe China money. If I convert my liability to Chinese currency, the government can send it over directly to pay down the debt. I’m patriotic. I help where I can. I drafted a note to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew–he’s new in this job–being White House Chief of Staff is very different:

Dear Secretary Lew,

I hope this finds you well. I attempted to pay my taxes in yuan to help expedite repayment of the national debt, but in accordance with IRS code 54, requiring taxes be paid in US dollars except in extreme situations, requiring the use of Form 3244 (Code 5.21.4.3), I was unable to do so. Although repaying our debt is “an extreme situation,” I lack Form 3244. Please find my payment submitted in USD, but consider allocating my portion for the following:

1. The purchase of a freshman senator, funded do the good work of The People before lobbyists get him.

2. Allocation of 1000 cases of paper or 36-50 iPads for a school in need.

3. Funding of the next Race To The Top round, or endowment of a national standardized test in my name showing we can beat Finland after all.

4. Fixing of the bridge on the highway that’s crumbling. Could I please send the text I want on the bronze plaque engraved with my name?

Thank you for your time. On behalf of my “small business,” I am honored to contribute toward the running of this nation at the highest levels possible. I hope this helps. Small businesses are, indeed, the backbone of this nation.

Sincerely,

Dawn Casey-Rowe–Teacher, Writer, Consultant, Small Business Owner, runner and gardener. 

It was a tough letter to write. I had a lot of money to allocate, but there are many worthy causes to consider when pondering state redistribution of my income. I want to give to good causes–government spends too much money on dumb stuff.  I’d give to small farmers who struggle against industrial agriculture. I’d help people in need who fall through the cracks. I’d bring doctors into schools for kids with no insurance and fund a system of school lunches that brings food of the same quality served in the Congressional cafeterias to America. I’d support small businesses that keep jobs in our nation, and I’d endow scholarships to students who might otherwise be unable to train for things like curing cancer. I know Jack Lew is busy–I don’t want to take up too much of his staff’s time.

Don't spend it all in one place.

Don’t spend it all in one place.

I wonder, instead of letting Congress argue about  budgets, if we could do a a series of Kickstarters. Americans would get tax bills and click to kickstart Congresses initiatives. Senators would pitch their ideas and the people would decide what got funded after our obligations were met.

I wouldn’t mind paying so much money without getting a new car in return, because I’d get emails and updates following all my Tax Day Kickstarters and I’d know America was truly a better place–a land where the people made decisions accomplishing things important to us–cutting out the middleman, saving some cash, which we could then allocate to more national Kickstarters. This would make Tax Day a holiday indeed.

[images: intelligentspeculator.net and my tax bills]

How Much Manure is in Your Job?

The snow has melted. There is a really loud bird singing outside the window. Crocuses poke through the dirt, and the Yankees just got clobbered by the Red Sox–it’s spring.

Time for growing stuff.  This weekend, we constructed the garden. At the old house, I built a ton of raised beds built when my husband wasn’t looking. It was a suburbanish-urban area right under the flight path of the airport. Our yard was first thing important people and foreign dignitaries saw upon approaching the runway. Our urban homestead had the potential to make everyone smile.  I waved as planes approached the runway, hovering three feet over my treeline. The guy in the third seat behind the wing tipped his glass, waved back, mouthing the words, “Nice garden.”

“Thanks,” I mouthed back, “Enjoy your stay.”

My husband didn’t feel the same way about my homesteading. “It looks like you barfed vegetables all over this yard, like someone with ADHD invaded!” He wanted rows. I wanted production. I stuck vegetables in every pot, raised bed, and crack in the sidewalk I could. Production.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 6.01.39 AMWe’ve relocated to the forest and fenced in space for an epic garden–the kind that’ll feed a small nation through the winter. It required more than the usual couple bags of manure–it was time to get real, so I visited the family farm down the road. Ironic that I grew up in a rural area–we all laughed about chickens, tractors and cows, and now I want to be a pseudo-farmer.  I respect them. They work hard on behalf of the nation for very few accolades–kind of like teachers. We share a common affinity.

“Oh, we have manure,” said the farmer, leading me to the bags. Point to note, you must request  “aged manure,” or “composted manure.” It makes a difference. You can’t just let the cow poop on your carrots; that’s a health hazard.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 6.01.23 AM“Why can’t I just poop in the garden?” my son asked looking to cut out the middleman and be naked in public.

“Can’t I use the cat’s litter box?” another friend wondered.

No. It must be aged manure.  I handed over the measurements, and faster than I could say “Jimmy Cracked Corn,”  three cubic yards of manure appeared in the middle of my freshly tilled land.

Three cubic yards of manure is a lot of shit. We’ve been telling poop jokes all weekend.

The size of the pile made me wonder–if I could measure all the nonsense I’ve put up with in my careers in a tangible manner, what would it look like sitting next to this pile? And whose job would have the biggest pile?

Would a lean startup have less than a corporation, because they are so quick to measure and move, whereas corporations would let the pile sit, waiting for stockholder approval? Would police and emergency personnel have a larger pile because are paid to put up with it, or would they have zero because they have authority to do something about it? Would teachers have insurmountable piles because we can’t pick up a shovel without three layers of approval, filled out in triplicate after a national test, and by the time we get the ok, three more cubic yards would have been dumped on top?

Martha's vegetable garden. Not mine. Someday.

Martha’s vegetable garden. Not mine. Someday.

Would government officials have big piles, or would theirs be kept to reasonable levels because they have can donate parts of their piles to the rest of us? Would theirs be compounded by the manure added by opportunists, lobbyists, and extremists?

Who’d have the largest pile?

I started to think it wasn’t the size of the pile that would matter, but what happened to it. Would we smile, pick up our shovel, and use the manure to make things grow or would we let it fester into a pile that grew ever deeper… How do we make a difference in whatever we do, enjoy going to work, and grow a beautiful garden of results?

One shovel at a time, I think. Never look at the pile in front of you, just take a shovelful, rake it around, and then plant some seeds. You’ll be eating carrots, radishes, and tomatoes in no time. Everyone else will be standing around looking at their piles while you feast.

[Images: hacer.org, green.autoblog.com and marthastewart.com.]

Can a Man Marry a Man? A Five-Year Old’s Position on Marriage Equality

"I have two mommies. I know where the apostrophe goes."

“I have two mommies. I know where the apostrophe goes.”

“Mom,” Declan said

“Yes?” I replied

“Can a man marry another man?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“Would they love each other?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“Can they have kids?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“But then there’d be two Dads.” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“How would they get the baby? Babies come from moms’ bellies. Would it come from dads’ bellies?” (Declan)

“No, they would adopt. Or they would raise a child who didn’t have a mom or dad like you do. And they would love that child.” (Mom)

“Okay.  I don’t want to marry a guy.” (Declan)

“You can marry a girl. You can marry anyone you want as long as you love the person, and just pick one person out of the world.” (Mom)

“I don’t want to marry anyone.” (Declan)

“Why?” (Mom)

“Because I’m going to be a paleontologist, not a husband. Paleontologists don’t get married. They dig up dinosaur bones. And I have two best friends. One is a boy. One is a girl. It’s tough to choose.” (Declan)

“Paleontologists can get married. Whoever you marry goes with you when you move. If you  get married, who would you marry?” (Mom)

“PALEONTOLOGISTS DON’T GET MARRIED! THEY DIG UP DINOSAUR BONES! And I’m taking the dog with me to my paleontologist tent…Can I marry you, Mommy?” (Declan)

Now that, I fear, is an entirely different issue. “No. I am already married to Daddy. You can only marry one person.” (Mom)

“Can two moms have a baby?” (Declan)

“Yes.” (Mom)

“How would you know which mom you needed if you sick? Would one be called ‘Daddy?'” (Declan)

“They would both love you the same and help you if you were sick. Some families call one mom ‘Mom’ and the other ‘Mommy.’ Then you know.” (Mom)

“I’d like TWO moms AND two dads.” (Declan).

“That, would be an awful lot of people to tell you to clean your room.” (Mom)

“Paleontologists don’t clean their room. They dig for dinosaur bones.” (Declan) I think he wants to follow that with “Are you stupid? Do you not understand the words coming out of my mouth?” But lucky for him and his life expectancy, which still has a lot remaining, he does not. Instead he just informs me, “I’m going to leave my room a mess. Even if I have two moms and a grandma.”

End of story.

[Image credit: New Yorker Magazine, May 2, 2011]

 

 

Rhode Island Culture Lesson 1: Giving–Good. Bribery–Bad.

In the blink of an eye, comes a new day.

It seems I have just put my head down upon the pillow, swirled some dreams around for a moment, and it’s time to start again.

Each day starts like this. Each day ends in the same way…so very quickly. Each holding its own promise, like a little gift waiting to be unwrapped.  When you get older, the pile decreases, so it’s important to treasure each gift. Savor and relish it–like the pile on a birthday or under the Christmas tree. You never know which one will be your last, and you don’t want it to be socks or loose leaf paper–you want it to be something cool. I always try to make the best of each moment. Sometimes I succeed.

GraftI had an important meeting. For once, I did not bring a gift. I always bring something, no matter where I go. This time, I left the homemade jam at home.  Once, I swiped a few jars off my homesteading shelf to serve as token thank-yous to the assistant who had done so much work with me.  She had horror written all over her face. Perhaps she was a diabetic, I thought. No. It was “a gift.”

In the private sector, she would have said “Thanks, you made that?” but in a public sphere, it could be a bribe–no different than Tony Soprano. Tomorrow’s headline, “hard-working assistant takes jar of jam from state employee. Sells out for a thousand calories.” It’s a real threat in these parts. Countless officials are discovered each year with envelopes bulging from their pockets–recently most of a city council. Usually, it’s an envelope, never “try my food.”

I felt ashamed of myself for the accidental near-bribe. How could I be so stupid and thoughtless? I’m self-aware now. I’ll try not to smile today, because I don’t want to delve into the grey area of nepotism either.

I live in Rhode Island and spent some time in Russia. “Gifts,” are how people got stuff done in The Day. I didn’t have to participate in this ritual, because I’m not that important, but I absorbed the understanding. You bring something that shows thoughtfulness and appreciation, as if you were going to a housewarming. If it’s too small, you clearly don’t have enough “appreciation.” If it’s too big, it’s definitely a bribe. “Me? Corrupt?” The insinuation is inconceivable. Doors slam. Even among the most honestly corrupt.

cannolisIn one of my past jobs, gifts were shady territory. The old-timers were accustomed to bottles and baskets of things at Christmas, but by the time I made my way into the sphere, most of that was gone in my industry—the perception of favoritism linked to overpayment was just too great a risk–people took that stuff seriously. Once or twice I missed a cue, and was educated by a friendly co-worker.

“Yeah, he doesn’t want to meet you to ‘discuss’ anything. That’s going to be a bribe.” I’d find a polite excuse to cancel the meeting and “discuss,” over the phone.

One day, however, I just couldn’t avoid a tough situation. I was working out-of-state near where my grandparents used to live—I smiled, recalling how they had taken me to this very bakery. I had a meeting with the owner.

I was shown into the back room. In that back room, there was a circular table–maybe five or six men in suits, some with their jackets off, others with their jackets on, all wearing suspenders with a few bulges on one side or the other, deep in conversation. I sized up the situation. I had interrupted an important “meeting.” The men looked up. No one appeared happy to see me. Thankfully, I knew the proper etiquette for handling such things. Be very polite and act dumb.

“Excuse me. Mr. X, I hate to interrupt—I’m here from The Company to resolve That Situation for you.” I’d interrupted something intense. This would take more than an “excuse me.” Being a girl, I would not end up like Spider on Goodfellas, but it’s always better to be polite.

“If I could just say one thing,” I continued. “I just moved back down to the area from Rhode Island. I was born here, and my grandparents lived down the street. They used to bring me in here when I was little. I haven’t been around in a very long time. I just wanted to say how much I love your establishment, and how many good memories it brings to meet you today.”

Perfect! Both true, and laden with “respect.” Respect is important. He cracked a smile.

“Christine!” he shouted. “Give her a tray of cannolis!”  I was dismissed from the group of gentlemen, all smiling, thinking of their grandparents and cannolis. They “God blessed” me and sent me on my way.

I took a large box from Christine, handing her a twenty.

“Oh, no,” she said, “I can’t take THAT,” she shook her hands back and forth, looking over her shoulder.

“It’s no trouble…” I said. “I’ll share these with the office.”

“He SAID to GIVE you the cannolis.” I tried to pay again. Her voice nearly trembled. I didn’t want her to end up like Spider on Goodfellas, so I accepted the cannolis with gratitude. We were both going to have a good day.

Sometimes it’s hard to accept a gift. I’ve read several articles on this subject, and it keeps coming up in discussions. I had a 4 AM one today. Giving is a hot topic these days–maybe people need to give more. Maybe it’s just that it’s tax season and we should be prepared to patriotically donate to our country. Perhaps, humanity is short of basic kindness. The research says that it is important to learn to give. For me, it’s always been more difficult to learn to receive. Giving’s been the easy part. Receiving is part of the process, too.

Not giving, as I will practice today, is nearly impossible. Funny how society can put negative perceptions on a basic human kindness.

Ultimately, though, each day is a gift–they come quicker as we get older, and there are fewer of them left. Unwrap each carefully, and savor it. Even if it’s socks or loose leaf.

[images: family corner.com and When Bribery Succeeds]