Distractions

[A response to today’s prompt from The Daily Post]

“I mean, do they ever wash these things?” Lana’s scowl, and the way she held the fencing jacket at arm’s length after pulling it from the team’s equipment sack, told Annie that she needed to work with the newest potential recruit for the Bark Bay High School fencing team.
Stepping in front of Lana, Annie took the jacket from her. “Coach Dan sends them to the cleaners once a month.” The fencing team captain shook her head, waving her brown pony-tail, then released the jacket — “That one’s too small.” Squatting, she began rummaging through the sack, finally pulling one of the other jackets from the heap. Annie stood, and nodded at Lana — “This one should fit.”

Like all of Bark Bay’s jackets, this one was zippered in the back; front-zippered jackets were just as common and no more expensive, but since right-handed fencers could only use a jacket zippered on the left side, and left-handed fencers required zippers on the right, back-zippered jackets were more suited to the fluctuating membership of the Bark Bay squad. After explaining to Lana how to put on the jacket (first, step a leg through the hole formed by the nylon strap at the bottom of the jacket, then insert your arms), Annie fastened and raised the zipper.

“I mean, doesn’t it bother you?” Annie knew Lana was still talking about the distinct scent of the team’s equipment, the stale perspiration that permeated everything, even after it came back from the cleaners.

“A little, at the start.” Annie actually couldn’t remember her initial reaction to the scent, but felt she needed to establish some sort of bond with Lana. “But when I started scrimmaging, trading touches with other fencers — I didn’t care what I smelled.” She laid a hand on Lana’s shoulder, and smiled. “I knew right away, that fencing was the coolest, most exciting sport ever. From that point, all the smelly equipment, the noises, the bruises — those were all distractions. And I was too busy having fun, to let any distraction get in my way.”

For a moment, Lana stared back blankly. And then, to Annie’s relief, she smiled. “So when can I start scrimmaging?”

“Soon as we find you a mask.” Annie then led Lana to the team’s other equipment sack, which promised to have an even more pungent odor.

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Eric Blair

orwell-id-card

You warned us back in forty-nine
About the stamping boot.
The blow could come from right or left,
And render freedom moot.

We fought a frigid war for years
Against an iron curtain.
Your corpse became freedom’s hero,
And the freshman’s burden.

But die Mauer came down, and then
Your words seemed old and tired.
Your famous work a distant year,
No more to be admired.

Our victory seemed so complete –
History at its end!
But the coming years unfolded
In ways we didn’t intend.

We spent our aspidistral lives
In shopping, while asleep.
And sold our freedom on eBay
To a vain, huckster creep.

We thought that meanings chose the words
But we were so naive.
Our leaders tell alternate facts
And ask us to believe.

You never felt comfortable
Born in your evil time.
Perhaps we share a bond with you –
Our eras seem to rhyme.

What would you make of Amazon
And your resurgent fame?
And would you like the adjective
That we’ve made of your name?

We need you in an age like this,
Your words so clear and true.
For none should face despots alone  –
Not Smith. Not Jones. Not you.

Platitudes Are Not Always Right

This week’s Discover Challenge from the Daily Post is to “write a post that goes against the conventional wisdom — reinterpret something for us.” I’ll take this opportunity to take shots at a particularly annoying platitude.

The assertion that the customer is always right has about as much value as an apple a day keeps the doctor away: you may feel good about yourself when making either statement (I’m providing excellent customer service! I’m taking care of my health!), but using either slogan as a guiding principle is ludicrously short-sighted. I’ve got nothing against apples; there’s even a couple trees growing in my back yard (the blossoms in spring are a particular joy). They’re nutritious and certainly more beneficial than many other things we routinely ingest, but if galas and fujis and golden delicious are a substitute for a balanced diet, exercise, and routine medical exams, you’re in for some serious problems.

Now, about those customers. Let’s cut out the nonsense first: yes, we need to listen attentively to them; yes, we need to show respect for their opinions; yes, they will ask for products and services we wouldn’t purchase. I gotcha, boss. But, always right — please. Let’s return to the business of health, and consider a conversation between a doctor and patient, the doctor’s customer:

“You have the flu. Go home and rest; here’s a prescription for the pain.”

“Thanks, doc.” Patient examines prescription. “Is this an antibiotic?”

“No. You have the flu, which is a virus. We’ve tested you for bacterial infection, and it was negative.”

“OK, but the thing is, I got sick this time last year, and I got better right after I started taking the antibiotic.”

Doctor checks the patient’s file. “That’s right, you had a bacterial infection last year, so that’s why the antibiotic made you better. Antibiotics only fight bacteria — they do nothing against a virus.”

“But my cousin took an antibiotic a few weeks ago, and he got better right away? I just want to get better, doc, and I KNOW the antibiotic will help. What’s the big deal?”

Yes, the customers are always right — except when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Or they’re trying to defraud the buyer. Or they’re sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term gain. Or they’re trying to purchase materials for a weapon.

Aphorisms are fun and convenient, but are poor subsitutes for wisdom. Anyone who seriously believes the customer is always right has no business being in any position of customer service.

Ignorance is strength

George Orwell

[Today’s prompt from The Daily Post: Devastation]

Over this past weekend, a dystopian novel first published in 1948 entered the bestseller list on Amazon. The “alternative facts” promoted by President Trump’s leading spokesperson has evoked comparisons to doublethink and newspeak, concepts introduced in George Orwell’s 1984.

I’m glad to see Orwell re-enter the public conversation. My doctoral dissertation in the 1990s relied heavily on the writings of Eric Blair, but as I studied and wrote I wondered if Orwell would remain intellectually and culturally viable in the 21st century. He had a lot going against him — deceased for almost half a century, the title of his most famous work evoking a year sinking further into the past, ridiculed by academics as a lightweight (“let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about” was a frequent punching bag for postmodern philosophers, who argued that meanings didn’t exist outside of language), castigated for his role as a government informer in his later years. Orwell seemed headed for the dustbin of history; I’d been fascinated by his work since high school and was still moved by his call for simple human decency in defiance of political oppression, and I regretted what I saw as his coming demise.

Well, perhaps that’s changing. Trump’s America is certainly no Oceania, but in less than a week we’ve seen this administration intimidate the press and attempt to control how information is communicated. The Conways and Bannons in the regime seem to realize that while any third-rate despot with enough guns can temporarily control a population by force, a tyrant who controls people’s thoughts can remain in power much longer — and what better way to control people’s thoughts, than to bring devastation to their language?

So welcome back, George Orwell. You felt out of time in your own age, and for all the wondrous technological advances since your passing, I’m sorry to say we’re no less fearful and brutal than what you remember. Maybe it’s that sense of alienation, your feeling of not belonging in an age like this, that gives you an insight that, for all your faults, make your voice still so valuable at this time.

Price

[A response to the latest prompt from The Daily Post: Privacy]

Leonard did not have the patience for cooking, yet also abhorred restaurants. He knew that having food delivered to him was costly, but justified the expense as the price for maintaining his privacy.