Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

So This Happened:

So this happened:  On our way home from a craft thing at a friend's house, Joan and I stopped at an Indian restaurant in Richardson to have an early Valentine's dinner.  As often happens, about six more parties followed us in (we draw crowds wherever we go, what can I say).  One of the parties was seated right behind us; a couple, evidently from around town, and some friends from out of town (they didn't have Texas accents; if I had to guess I'd say South Africa).  Anyway, we'd just put in our order when the guy of the couple started opining, loud and long, about transgender people and "men using the women's room".  I distinctly heard him say, "I feel like a woman today, I think I'll use the ladies' room."  Among other things, using some words I haven't heard in better than 20 years. Meanwhile, we got increasingly uncomfortable.  No, neither one of us is transgender (though I wouldn't tell you if I was, so munch on that), but we know people that are and, well, I'm just not happy about people dissing other people in public.  In general.  And in particular.  Are you?

Anyway, Joan leaned across the table and said, "Let's go."  And I said, "We just put in our order."  So she flagged down the waiter and asked him if he could box up our order to go.  And then Mr. Opinionated said something else--I actually didn't hear it, or didn't understand what I did hear, and Joan said, "Let's go. Now."  And we did.

We left a nice note for the manager, letting him know it wasn't his fault, and some money for the appetizer that had already come.  And on our way out the door, Joan leaned over and announced to the table, "Thank you for ruining our dinner."

Lemmee back up and say that again.  Joan leaned over and announced to the table, "Thank you for ruining our dinner."  

I mean.  I just.  Wow.  Those of you who don't know Joan, she is a quiet and nonconfrontational type of person.  She has a temper (who doesn't?) but it doesn't come out very often.  So she must have been pretty pissed.  I was just really uncomfortable and wanting to leave because I was listening to a person who plainly understands nothing of what he speaks and has to say it loudly, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to actually confront the table.  I mean that was ballsy.  Oops, I just referred to Joan with the wrong genitalia.  My bad.  You see how complicated this sort of thing can get?

A couple of minutes later, as we were getting into the car and driving away, I said, "I've never walked out on a check before.  Are we going to jail?"  Joan said, "Relax.  I left some money."  So I relaxed.  A little.  But if you guys hear anything about the Richardson police looking for two fat ladies who walked out of a restaurant Sunday night, I'd appreciate it if you'd pretend you don't know us.

This ends happily, sort of.  We drove over to Afrah, my favorite restaurant, which not only serves great Lebanese food, but is really warm and friendly and welcomes everybody.  We got a great meal and if anybody was talking loudly about transgender persons, they were doing it in Arabic so I didn't understand them.  (I can say a few things in Arabic.  Hello, how are you, he'll be out in a minute.  I thought I was going to get a job with the Holy Land Foundation Defense Fund there for a while, so I learned a little Arabic just in case.  I've forgotten most of it, though.)

So I guess the moral of this story is, you never know who might be seated next to you in a restaurant. So don't spew your prejudices about, loudly, to a room where you don't know who might be hearing them.  Or that people will be assholes sometimes.  But I think the real moral is, don't ever, ever piss off Joan.  She can be fierce when roused.  I'm going to take her a nice iced coffee now.  Cheers.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trolling For Outrage

A while ago the manager came into my office and caught me on Twitter, as I sometimes am (@jenstrikesagain).  She asked me what in the hell I was doing and I told her I was trolling for outrage.

"Trolling for outrage?" she said.  "Yes," I said. "Usually I can sit down and do my job just because I like what I do.  But sometimes I come in here and I don't feel like it or I'm tired or I don't feel well or whatever.  And that's when I have to go trolling for outrage.  I get on Twitter or I get on Yahoo News and I look for a news story that's outrageous.  It never takes very long to find one. And then I'm outraged and I have all this energy and I feel like smacking somebody but instead I get to work and do my job because maybe there'll be a little less outrage out there if we win this motion or we settle this case or we mediate this dispute.  Trolling for outrage. That's what I call it.  What do you do when you don't feel like doing your job?"

The manager gave me a long, slow blink and said, "I drink another cup of coffee."

Well, hey, that may work for some folks, too.  But ever since November 9 of last year, it's been ridiculously easy to find outrage.  I no longer need to go trolling for it. It shows up at my doorstep daily in freshly wrapped packages.  Here's a sample just from this morning:

  •  Trump fired his acting AG for refusing to defend his unconstitutional order banning people from seven different countries from entering the US.  (In case you don't know this, attorneys can't argue for or defend anything they know is unconstitutional. They can be disbarred if they do.)
  • The entire upper echelon of the State Department has also been fired.
  • Fox News spent all of yesterday and part of today stating that the Quebec mosque shooter was from Morocco. In fact the shooter was a French Canadian university student.
  • The Education Secretary nominee apparently plagiarized her answers to written questions propounded by the Senate.  Let's get this straight, people: Only legal professionals can plagiarize at will, and only from other legal professionals.  Educators must do their own work and keep their eyes on their own papers. 
  •  A Danish citizen has been denied entry to the United States because he excavates archaeological sites in Iraq. Really.
  • A Mississippi lawmaker has submitted a bill that would make wearing saggy pants a crime. I would argue that's double jeopardy, since it's already a crime against fashion. 
You see what I mean?  It's getting ridiculous.  It's almost to the point where I think a long, extended break from all social media would be a good idea, though realistically, I'll probably never do that.  But the whole thing does raise some questions about the role of social media in life, anyway, how we're shaped by our environment and how we may be doing the shaping, without even knowing it. And how Buddhist-y it is, anyway, to deliberately go look at things you know are going to piss you off?  Probably not very.

One argument against spending time on social media, for example, is that it puts you in a bubble. Unless you really like to argue with people, you're probably going to follow people who think the way you do and tweet the way you tweet (or Snapchat, or whatever).  So you're bouncing the same old, tired ideas off people who are bouncing the same old, tired ideas off you, and pretty soon it's like being in an echo chamber, and then when you happen to run into people who disagree with you out in the real world, you're first shocked, and then angry.  How dare they. Which, of course, leads to increased conflict, more arguments and more suffering for all beings.

Another thought: Docs are telling us now that more than a small amount of screen time is bad for people.  Parents all over the country restrict their kids to no more than a certain amount of time on the iPhone or the tablet for fear their eyes will fall out, or that they'll meet predators in chat rooms. Yet, when the kids suggest maybe Mom and Dad should put their phones down, too, a lot of moms and dads find out that they just can't do it.  When a day care center put up a sign about it, outrage followed.  People have become hooked on the instant-information fix. Well, a lot of us have. You are, after all, reading this, aren't you?

(Incidentally, the Thai Buddhist temple here on Dallas, off of Forest Lane, has handpainted wallpaper that depicts, among other things, old Buddhist stories and modern dilemmas.  It's got an illustration of Siddhartha meeting the sick man, the old man, and the dead man, for example,  It also has a picture of a man with a computer, on Facebook, drowning in the Sea of Delusion.)

In Plum Village, the Thich Nhat Hanh hamlet near Bordeaux, France, they have a "second body" policy when it comes to going online (and yes, monks and nuns do go online; it may be a monastery, but it isn't a 12th century one). That means that somebody else sits there with you while you get on the Internet and do what you need to do.  Kind of a pain if you feel like pulling up some good porn, but then I suppose monks and nuns aren't supposed to do that anyway and it's probably great for not getting lost in the clickstream for hours at a time. (It's a little culty, though, if you ask me.)  I don't have a "second body" that I can haul around when I need to get on the Internet, so I installed this little chime thingy that rings once an hour. That at least tells me how much time I've been there, and since I'm on the Internet at work basically all day, it's a good reminder to get up, stretch, walk a little, take a few deep breaths.  You know, interact with the actual world.

I get sucked in by bad news; other people get sucked in by fantasy football, Twitter, the Kardashian sisters or who's winning American Idol (is that even still on?).  We've managed to design a world where it's hard to live without instant tech. In 2010 we had a huge power outage that affected most of the northern part of the state, and besides being freezing and having to cook in the dark, Joan and I were terribly worried about how we were going to charge our cell phones.

Anyway, I don't know what the solution is.  But maybe taking an hour or so a day to unplug would be a start.  Seriously, an hour a day without your cell phone close to hand.  Can you do it?