Nice person assumption has limited shelf life

“He’s a nice guy.” How many times have we heard that and its gender-adjusted variation, “She’s a nice gal”? It’s one of those innocuous statements that’s as much filler as is plugging in a “nice” someone on the dance card of your life when you are feeling desperate and just need a body to fill a role.
I think back to my father’s milk hauler, who hit on me when I was barely starting to wear a training bra, let alone board the dating train. He asked if I wanted to go out somewhere for a “real nice” dinner. In return, I told him that while he was “nice enough” (and I was jailbait), I reserved my Saturday nights for babysitting jobs because I had driver’s training the following summer and was saving toward a car, hoping to buy something “nice and affordable” when the time came.
See what I mean? “Nice” is chameleon-like in how it shape-shifts according to context. More often than not, nice serves as a cover-up, especially with dating.
When a friend used the descriptor “nice” during my teens, it meant the guy she wanted to set me up with likely had acne twice as bad as mine. In my 20s, nice meant the blind date in doubt was socially-retarded. In my 30’s, nice meant he might be successful, but equally boring. In my 40s, nice meant the guy was a pansy, living in an ice shanty after being taken to the cleaners by his now-ex, who left him for a bad boy met at a NASCAR event. In my 50’s, nice means the guy has maybe a few teeth and morals left.
Even though “nice” rarely means “nice,” we can’t stop saying it. Of course, there are some truly nice people out there. So to convey actual niceness, you must say, “She is GENUINELY nice,” as opposed to innocuously or artificially nice. But I’m wondering how long does nice last, even when it is genuine? Does the expression, “once a nice guy, always a nice guy” hold true?
Once acquired, the Dudley Do-Right image is pretty hard to shake it, short of ax-murdering someone at vacation Bible school. Even then, your attorney might advise you to excuse it as a mere misunderstanding. Even more interesting, you might be tempted to excuse yourself, too.
I didn’t have the time to perform a literature search on this one, but I suspect that once we label ourselves as being “nice” or a “good person,” we continue to believe it forever, despite however much evidence we display to the contrary through our thoughts, words and actions. Based on my observations of myself and others, “Nice for life” is a bigger-than-Paul Bunyan myth.
Having recently been sacked by someone who, undoubtedly, thinks of herself as a nice person, I can attest the nice assumption has a very limited shelf life. She may once upon a time have been a genuinely nice person, but that ship sailed long ago, without informing its delusional passenger.
How would one retain his/her niceness journeyman’s card? Good question, so pay attention. As a licensed social worker and certified family life educator, I have to complete an average of 15 and 20 annual continuing education units (CEUs), respectively, to keep current in my field. It’s how each discipline keeps practitioners focused on continued self-development. Nobody assumes our credentials are good for a lifetime. Further, ethics education is a mandatory component. Honesty and accountability are considered to be as important as skills. Amen!
“Nice” plays by a separate set of rules. Like mail-order minister ordinations, “nice” requires no study, self-examination or tune-ups. That renders character optional and/or secondary to skills. You can easily rest on the laurels of childhood Catechism values, avoid accountability and pretend you are still nice. No moral auditor bloodhounds will track you down and demand to see a list of your self-improvements. But maybe they should.
When I confront un-nice behavior from self-proclaimed nice people, including myself, the most common defense is, “But, I’m not a bad person.” News flash: the absence of bad does not guarantee good. Genuinely nice people hold themselves accountable for nothing less than doing real good.

Cause of the Grange far from a lost cause

April is many things to many people. However, for column purposes, April is National Grange Month. I will be referencing all things Grange, but mainly the Fredonia Community Grange #1713, to which my family belongs.

“What?!” I hear people say in disbelief, “Granges still exist?!” Rest assured, they do. I’ll tell you about that and more. But first let me define some terms.

A Grange is a fraternal organization, “frater” being Latin for “brother.” That means the organization is a brotherhood or type of affiliation where its members come together for mutually beneficial purposes – social, occupational or shared principles.

The official name of the Grange is The National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry. It was founded in 1867 by U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Oliver Hudson Kelley. In traveling through the south on official business, he became disturbed at the absence of sound agricultural practices. So he founded the Grange for educational advancement and social purposes.

The name Kelley gave the organization reflects its farming focus, as husbandry is the care, cultivation and breeding of crops and animals (hope no one thought it was some kind of matchmaking group where women went to find a husband). While the agricultural education aim was likely foremost in Kelley’s mind, the conviviality aspects of the Grange were what the farming community more lingeringly embraced. Hence, its modern-day appeal to a wider cross-section of people.

In rural communities, where many families remained relatively isolated outside of trips to town for supplies and church activities, the opportunity to gather socially was especially appealing. The depressing economic climate of the time, featuring low farm commodity prices, growing indebtedness and discriminatory treatment by the railroad, became a rallying cry for the agricultural sector.

Banded together, the newly-formed Grange Movement members took action. The Grange became known for grassroots, non-partisan advocacy, something that remains one of its values today, along with being family-centered, knowledge-focused, and community service-oriented.

I grew up on tales of the Grange, specifically the Nye Grange, which was the social hub of my father’s youth. Good food, information, music and dancing. My Aunt Sharon (Katz) (Smith) Goble, who grew up in Rural Branch County, saw my recent Facebook post about the Fredonia Grange Family Night Out and said she was delighted good, old-fashioned Grange halls still exist.

“I remember attending Nye Grange Family Night Dinners before 1946, when we moved from Burlington Road closer to Union City. After dinner we’d all go upstairs. Members of the Grange made up the band: Art Hagerman was a fiddler and dance caller; Pauline VanSchoick played the piano,” Aunt Sharon recalled. “My Daddy (Lewis Katz) taught me to dance by standing on his shoes. The younger kids would fall asleep on the pile of coats stacked as a soft cushion for them … Such good memories!”

Well, such memories are not distant to those of us who belong to Fredonia Grange. We hold potlucks and educational meetings on the first and third Saturday evenings of each month, along with a stringed instrument musical jam/dance sessions each Wednesday night at our Grange hall on C Drive South, a few miles outside of Marshall. The public is always welcome.

Grange meetings start with prayer, the singing the National Anthem and recitation of the Grange salutation, “A good Granger places faith in God, nurtures hope, dispenses charity and is noted for fidelity.” We don’t just say the words, but strive to embody them.

While times have changed over the past 148 years, one constant is the fellowship found among Grangers. Fredonia Grange is a second family to me and my kids. Our Grange family has come together on so many community projects, from community pancake brunches, benefit softball games, Outdoor Safety Day, Relay for Life, our kitchen at the Calhoun County Fair, to relocating the Houston School and Old Maple Grove Church to the fairgrounds, that we work like a well-oiled machine.

Fredonia Grange is the epitome of community-building: always ready to lend a hand or give funds. True to our motto, we are “Good People Having a Good Time for a Good Cause.” My dad would be pleased with our community contributions. I know I am.

Hotels rooms bode ill for personal morale

I am not much of a traveler. Usually I blame my small dairy farm heritage for it because our family had too much responsibility with twice-a-day milking to lift our noses from the grindstone long enough to read a travel brochure. Travel was something other people did.

My friends whose parents worked at factories that shut down for two weeks over the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holiday were always the lucky ones who traveled to Florida or at least as far as the Carolinas each year. I remember hating their cool butts while I was still in Michigan, freezing mine off, feeding and bedding cattle and shoveling manure. Their brightly-colored, sandy beach scene postcards with their “Ha ha, you’re not here” subtexts wedged themselves in my craw worse more firmly than the sand between the senders’ toes.

I grew up thinking that someday, when I officially “made it,” I would travel to exotic locations and send postcards to my childhood friends and actually write on them (on the cards, not the friends) “Ha ha, you’re not here.” But as an adult, I’ve been hard-pressed to spare the cash for the stamps, let alone the trips.

God gets the first 10% of my earnings and he has done an excellent job providing for my needs. However, my wants have been left wanting. The basics, from groceries, to heating fuel and electricity, to insurance, to home and vehicle repair, to kids’ expenses, continue to consume all my earnings.

Additionally, the advent of the Internet, on which I am and my kids are expected to transact work and school business, and the cell phone on which I am expected to be reached, and the television on which I can no longer get reception without a satellite dish, have heaped more unwanted expenses onto the pile. At the end of the month, there’s less than nothing left, including time. At this rate, I’ll have to steal a postcard to send. No end in sight.

Divorce’s financial reality has severely limited my travel, except for work, which basically amounts to the irony of going to an interesting place, only to see its airport, conference rooms and hotel rooms, with some good restaurants thrown in. Worse, it further underscores what an economic have-not extra I am on the set of the depressing reality show known as my so-called life.

Hotel rooms, with their full-length mirrors, illuminate realities I would prefer not to face: I should be at the gym rather than sitting in my car, commuting long distances; I should have those suspicious moles looked at; and I should be at home, investing more in my kids than my 401(k). Things are not looking good on multiple fronts and backsides.

I check into hotel rooms where I am able to quickly climate-control my surroundings using the thermostat, unlike at home, where the combination wood/oil furnace and high ceilings make temperature adjustments akin to trying to about-face a battleship: it neither turns on nor costs only a dime.

I relax and watch a television roughly twice the size of my family room model, with no one interruption of viewing by pseudo-urgent demands. Before retiring, I step into the shower, noting a professional did the caulk job around the edges, unlike my DIY home caulking efforts that look like Lucy and Ethel frosted the cake with a garden trowel.

The unexpected force of the hotel shower stream bowls me over, simultaneously reinforcing applying my eagerly-awaited income tax refund toward having a real plumber investigate why my home hot water has been reduced to trickle. Sometimes denial is the only affordable alternative.

When I fall into my hotel bed, it’s between triple-digit thread count sheets, unlike my own sheets, which are much more like a PGA nine-hole golf score, with a weave as obvious as a children’s summer camp loop potholder project. The hotel mattress is so revitalizing it shouts the next rotation of mine back home needs to be out the window and onto the curb for garbage pickup.

But alas, I still have many miles to travel. My faith and I remain at the transport station, waiting for a ticket to prosperity. Postcard forthcoming.

Practical joke primer to prepare for April 1

I come from a family of jokers. Grandfathers on both signs were noted for loving to get one over on someone. I’ve mentioned elsewhere Grandpa Leo Donovan welding a nickel to a nail and then nailing it down to the wooden floor of his grocery store. He had hours of laughs watching customer reactions to spotting the nickel. Many contrived a story that, “Yeah, I thought I dropped something.” And they would stoop to pick up the permanently-placed nickel. Gotcha!

Grandpa Paul Smith always had a story to tell, and some actually repeatable. He also was great at rebuttals on the fly. One summer day, his neighbor, Lou (who walked around with his nose in the air), made the mistake of asking my grandfather why he always walked around with his head down, instead of holding it up in the air, like Lou.

“Well, Lou, it’s like a field of wheat,” Grandpa Smith reeled him in slowly. “The heads on the plants that have something in ‘em are bent down, while the empty ones stand straight up.” Lou stalked off, exasperated that Grandpa got the upper hand. And it’s too bad, as that may have been the same day my grandfather set fire to a witness pamphlet a religious zealot stopped by the farm and ill-advisedly shoved into his face, thus giving new meaning to “being on fire for the Lord.”

My heritage inspired a practical joke when I lived in a larger city and was a patron of its public library and friends of the library bookstore. While in the bookstore, I overheard the (volunteer) bookstore manager complaining to another volunteer about some unreasonable demand the library had just put upon their organization.

“Who do they think we are, Barnes and Noble?! Next thing you know, we’ll be expected to run a stupid café,” she sniped. “Nobody ever asks my opinion!”

Although I liked the manager, her complaining in front of patrons was wrong. It also sparked an idea. I went home and made up a convincing-looking flier that stated the library board had voted to institute a café within the friends of the library bookstore and needed donations of coffee, cups, sugar, powdered creamer, stir sticks and napkins for startup supplies. The flier directed supply donations to the bookstore manager.

On a creative roll, I made several copies of the flier on salmon-colored paper, folded one multiple times and shoved it into my purse for an authentically dog-eared appearance. The following Saturday morning, when the friends bookstore manager always worked, I filled a brown paper grocery bag with a canister of coffee, Styrofoam cups and some napkins. I carried my bag of café supplies into the bookstore, sneaking my stack of fake fliers into a literature rack just outside the door.

“Where would you like this stuff?” I asked the manager, placing my bag on the bookstore checkout counter. She looked puzzled.

“Some supplies for your new café,” I explained, keeping a straight face.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” she said. I whipped the flier from my purse and handed it to her. Her jaw dropped as she read.

“Bill, come and read this,” she cried to the other volunteer, the same guy to whom she’d been complaining the prior Saturday. “Now they’ve really done it!”

I moved behind a bookshelf and faked browsing so I could eavesdrop on their terse conversation about library administrators of illegitimate parentage who perpetrated asinine mandates on unsuspecting volunteers. I was dying trying not to laugh.

“Where did you get this,” the manager demanded. I demurely pointed to the literature rack just outside of the door. She snatched the whole stack of fake fliers, mumbling something about it being the last straw, and, “We’ll see about this!”

I let her stew another 10 minutes, but intervened when she began wild-eyed contemplating making phone calls to library officials. I admitted I had overheard her complaining conversation and come up with the joke. Eventually, she saw the humor in it, but I got the heck out of there before she could kill me.

Three practical joke lessons here: 1.Study your subject; 2. Play into existing fears; 3. Always have an exit strategy.

Science quantifies alcohol-fueled attraction

To kill some time spent in a hotel room, I had already written my column ahead for this week. Naturally, six days later I came across a provocative online headline that made me put it on the back burner: “This is Exactly How Much You Need to Drink to Seem More Attractive, Backed by Science.”

I immediately abandoned my mission for whatever noble tidbit of information I had been researching and darted off in hot pursuit (faster than you can say “squirrel”) of what researchers had to say that could potentially change the face of dating as we know it.

Speaking of back burners, the one on my kitchen stove recently went out. Yes, I was smart enough to try plugging in that socket the other large burner coil, but to no avail. So until further notice, I will be able to put nothing on the back burner and instead will have to take life on life’s terms and deal with stuff in real time. Great. Just what I need right now!

That brings me back to where I started. According to Science Daily, scientific minds in the United Kingdom have determined consumption of 250 ml of wine (the equivalent of one very large glass) enhances the attractiveness of both genders. Let me clarify: the wine drinker was the one perceived by others as more attractive, as opposed to the others being thought of as more attractive by the wine drinker.

Alcohol-enhanced beholding had previously been studied in a publication called “Country Music Digest,” which concluded through anecdotal evidence from family court paternity cases and the lyrics to country songs, that “all the girls get better lookin’ around closin’ time.” No further research needed there.

However, actual science was behind an experiment posed by researchers at the University of Bristol’s School of Psychology. As reported by Rishi Iyengar in Time Magazine’s March 10, 2015 online edition, researchers took three different photos of models’ faces: 1. Before consumption of alcohol; 2. After consumption of 250 ml of alcohol; and 3. After consumption of 500 ml of alcohol.

Sober volunteers were shown the series of three photos asked to rank them according to attractiveness. The photos of the models after consumption of 250 ml of wine were rated as the most attractive, followed by the sober model photos. The photos of the models after consumption of 500 ml of wine were rated as the least attractive. Take note, college students.

Researcher analysis of the results attributed increased attractiveness after 250 ml of wine to the increased facial flushing associated with consuming low amounts of alcohol, as well as facial muscle relaxation, including subtle (“come hither?”) smiles that are judged to indicate a heightened positive mood.

This bodes well for barflies, who can now spend less money on getting drunker and bolder, themselves (thereby rendering themselves measurably more unattractive), and instead train their eyes on other bar patrons who are just downing their first drink, versus all out drowning their sorrows.

Earlier come-ons to less inebriated bar patrons spell substantial savings for bar crawlers trying to gauge how many drinks it will take someone before he/she will unquestioningly go home with them. Of course, that means watering hole doors won’t need to be open as late.

A separate study needs to follow to determine the economic impact this alcohol-enhanced attractiveness research will have on the pub business, as the ramifications of the study could potentially have one-night-stand-bound couples leaving taverns within short minutes after arrival to parking lot consummate the relationship before alcohol-induced ugliness strikes.

Clearly, alcohol-enhanced attractiveness is not without its own set of unintended consequences. Instant intimacy pregnancy rates are likely to skyrocket, as less alcohol consumption will equate to fewer alcohol-impaired temporary hookup performances.

On the up side, I am predicting a few savvy singles will read the research and strategically target one another. Perhaps they’ll enter a drinking establishment in tandem, split two-thirds of a bottle of wine (500 ml) and together experience that rare phenomenon known as simultaneous alcohol-enhanced attraction (equal yoking) in mutual lust.

In the meantime, best to moderate drinking to maximize your own attractiveness and suggest the same to your relational interests.

Hot flashes remain untapped energy source

In the fall, I lost a part-time job that helped me nearly make ends meet through providing me with money to pay to heat my house. Although the demands and deadlines of that job frequently required me to burn the candle at both ends, it was fun and interesting and ignited the possibility something else might catch fire and give off free warmth. But such was not the case.

So as I pondered how to afford to make it through this winter without the much-needed, non-optional income, an idea came to me in a flash: a hot one! What if we could somehow harness the power of hot flashes and transform the problem of female mid-life crisis into the answer for the energy crisis?

Driving to the airport last week, I was listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR, with the usual suspects panel of energy experts. I pictured myself as a panelist, somewhere between the windmill proponent and the off-shore oil exploration advocate, offering up my own off-the-wall solution for saving the world through my own symptomology.

Yes, as a representative of the most renowned post-reproduction researchers, I would tout this revolutionary new power source that’s as bountiful as female baby boomers and as infinitely/infantly renewable as their youth is not. No fracking required, just freaking energy collection panels strapped to our chests. We’ll light up the world the same way we used to light up a room.

Call me a dimwit, but that beats dimly lit. My idea has the potential to set the world on fire rather than just my own, private universe when all I want to do is get some sleep, but am awakened by what the t-shirts, bumper stickers and Facebook memes refer to as “power surges.”

When the heat is on, however intermittently, how about we capture and convert that which is otherwise an inconvenient scourge into a life-giving property? You can’t get much more meaningful than that: moving middle-age from the dark-ages to cutting edge.

Instead of those ridiculous “work from home doing data processing” ads found in the back of women’s magazines, you’ll start seeing this call to arms: “Turn your power surges into earning power.” The magazines, themselves, will feature stories such as, “Woman uses menopause to fund daughter’s college education.” Excessive degrees fueling degrees. I like that.

Might as well profit from nature’s process. During some episodes, I swear I could single-handedly light up the entire eastern power grid. Why let that untapped power source go to waste? Energy Commission officials, lend me an ear and I’ll lend you my turbulent hormones for turbine-turning transactions. Dark horse becomes workhorse.

Don’t ask me why, but such ideas sometimes just come to me, possibly due to faulty wiring. But on my own home front, hot flashes are what enabled me to keep my thermostat set ridiculously low this winter. Yeah, I’m a little sorry my kids had to suffer along with me, but they can always throw on a sweater of some fleece – much more quickly than I can tear off garments in the heat of the moment!

As useful as they may someday become, my hot flashes remain a pain for now. I suffer greatest when I am in environments I cannot control, such as my taxi ride from the airport to the hotel in Nashville. The fact the weather was about 40 degrees warmer there than in Michigan did not help.

“Could you please turn down the heat?” I requested of the cabbie. In an unprecedented bit of poor customer service, he declined, saying he was cold. So I took off my coat. A few minutes later, off came my blazer. When that didn’t offer enough relief, I rolled up my shirt sleeves. Next I took off my socks and leaned my right arm against the cold window, the way I tell my kids not to. Still overheated.

Time to pull out the big guns. Summoning the Taco Bell from lunch, I passed a silent, but deadly missile dedicated to the cabbie. In a couple of seconds, he couldn’t roll down his window fast enough. I happen to think my hot-flash power source idea is equally ingenious.

Insurance assurance is a major family issue

If someone would have told me when I was a child that I would be delirious over health and dental insurance, I wouldn’t have believed them. But try going without it as an adult who is the parent of two active and athletic children and you will understand my delight.

I was basically fearless as a kid and took physical risks all the time. From tree-climbing, to daredevil bicycling, to riding cows, swimming on horseback and participating in multiple sports, I consistently put myself in harm’s way. Fortunately, I survived relatively unscathed, save a few superficial scars.

My kids aren’t much different than I was activity-wise. They don’t think twice about throwing themselves under the bus for the sake of work or fun. So it was good I have been fortunate for the most part to have good, affordable insurance coverage. While a policy does not prevent injuries, it at least caps the financial hemorrhaging that occurs without it.

But that changed and fear set in when I changed jobs and no longer had family medical or dental coverage. For the first time, I saw my kids’ physical vulnerability through a different lens. Instead of being on the offensive with preventive care, including vaccinations, we were suddenly on the defensive, an unvaccinated, unbounded accident waiting to happen.

I had just enough income to miss qualifying for low-income coverage, but not enough income to purchase anything beyond the crappiest catastrophic plan that amounted to spitting into the wind, but would effectively wipe out my ability to pay out of pocket costs on something as basic as an immediate care visit or prescription.

The precariousness of the situation made me sick, but I was careful not to transmit my illness to my kids, lest they come down with something and need the care we couldn’t afford.

At the risk of being perpetually politically incorrect, I’ll admit there have been times the threat of sporting event-induced physical devastation was not as great a worry to me as the very personal possibility of financial ruin stemming from the injury. That sounds incredibly shallow, but it’s a legitimate concern. Don’t wanna be paying on a dead horse or kid.

With mixed emotions I watched my son play football, me yelling, “Go kick some butt” while simultaneously praying his would not get his handed back to him on a wallet-emptying medical gurney. The real kicker came during softball season when super-duper base burglar Kate slid into home plate and was unable to put any weight on her ankle, which swelled up immediately.

“Better take her to the ER,” advised the coach and another parent, both of whom had family health coverage. “Will do,” I lied, thinking, “Yeah right.” And do what? Write them a bad check? Dip into my non-existent savings? Steal splinting supplies?

“Are we heading to the hospital?” my daughter asked on our way home. I swallowed hard and told her no, we’d first be stopping by the home of a friend who is a nurse, to get a “pre-medical commitment assessment” (my made up name for “stalling” on engaging costly medical treatment). I gave her some ibuprofen from the supply I keep in my purse and took a couple acetaminophen, myself, for the tension headache I had developed.

My nurse friend said although the ankle was not looking good, it was also not looking especially bad. The first-aid cold pack and the ibuprofen were reducing the swelling. The new game plan was continuing ankle icing and borrowing a set of crutches from a family member to prevent weight-bearing. But I knew if it looked worse come morning, I’d have no choice but to build an altar and sacrifice our family to the medical gods.

Fortunately, morning brought greatly diminished swelling and soreness. Yesss! Kate slightly favored the ankle, but was back playing softball two days later. That meant paying the mortgage and buying groceries that month. Whoo hoo! Gingerly choreographed touchdown dance! Until the next crisis.

Like many other people, I took the assurance of insurance for granted until that safety net disappeared. Now I appreciate coverage for the precious commodity it is, enabling this struggling parent to remain middle-class.

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