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Friday, December 26, 2008

Adventures in English: The Urinal Note

I found the following hand-written note taped to the wall above the urinals at a New York State rest area:

"Please don't put tobacco pruduces in the irlnes!"

Forget tobacco. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to take up marijuana.

At least the "Please do not remove" note taped to the electric hand dryer had everything spelled correctly.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rediscover Christmas

I first posted this entry during the Christmas season of 2004. I re-read it every year. I post it again this year in the hope that it will reinvigorate someone's--anyone's--interest in the original Christmas Story, or that some reader somewhere will see this "tired old story" from a new perspective as I did when I first put these passages together. Merry Christmas; or, in other words, rejoice in the communion we have with Christ as we celebrate that day when God in heaven became Immanuel--"God Is With Us."

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(Original introduction from December 21, 2004)

The Bible weaves an incredible story from Genesis to Revelation. It is amazing how every piece fits perfectly into the whole. I tried looking at the Christmas story from a different perspective this year, rather than simply reading straight through the first couple chapters of the Gospel of Luke like we evangelicals usually do. We recognize December 25 as the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but there is so much more to Christmas than is apparent on the surface.

I urge you to read straight through this post, as strange as its arrangement may look at first, then to get a Bible and read the verses again within the passages that encapsulate them. In so doing, I hope we can rediscover the profound significance of the Christmas story.

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“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

You, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31)

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:9-10)

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)

“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:7)

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us–to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Luke 1:67-75)

And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)

Merry Christmas and may the grace of Christ be upon you this holiday season.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Greet Every Customer 100%!

These are the words that sprawl across the break-room wall at my Barnes & Noble like a banner: "Greet Every Customer 100%!"

I must've stared at this sign for ten minutes trying to decide what it was supposed to be telling me. What does it mean to greet someone one-hundred percent? Is it possible to greet someone only fifty percent? Or twenty-five percent? Or ten?

Is a 10% greeting like, I don't know, making eye contact with a customer but then ignoring him? That doesn't sound like any kind of greeting at all.

Maybe I make eye contact, then walk over with my hand stretched out in a gesture of hospitality, only to walk straight past him and keep on going in the other direction--would that qualify as a 50% greeting?

Let's say I do shake his hand. While shaking his hand, I say, "Hell!" See, that's "hello" with the "o" chopped off. "Hell" is, what, about 80% of "hello"--if you count each letter of a five-letter word as 20%? Would this then be considered an 80% greeting?

I'd argue that this customer would feel considerably less greeted than if I had made eye contact with him but NOT come over to him at all. Now, I'm in this person's space, vigorously pronouncing "Hell!" to his face. If I were him, I wouldn't feel greeted. I'd feel worried, anxious, possibly terrified.

What if I see a customer from across the store and yell, "Hello! Hello!" until she realizes she is the one I'm hello-ing. What percentage of a greeting would that be? If I were her, I wouldn't feel greeted so much as, again, worried, and possibly paranoid for the rest of my shopping experience that I would eventually get closer to that yelling employee, maybe even have to rely on him for some kind of customer service.

Or maybe "Greet Every Customer 100%" is supposed to read more like, "Greet 100% of customers." This, of course, would require being at the store every minute of every business day, answering every phone call, personally replying to every email--you see the ridiculousness of this scenario.

I'll be a little more realistic and infer that it means to greet every customer who comes into the store while I'm actually scheduled and clocked in. What if I get there in the middle of the work day? Greeting 100% of customers would require me running around the store saying hello to everyone there. Also a ridiculous scenario--and one that, if I were a manager and witnessed this kind of behavior, would cause me to second-guess my wisdom in hiring this person.

Or maybe I'm just supposed to say "Welcome to Barnes & Noble" to every personwho walks in the doors and "Thank you for shopping at Barnes & Noble" to every person who exits, even if this requires interrupting their personal conversations or shouting it at the backs of their heads till they acknowledge my friendliness. (This is roughly the kind of customer service one will experience shopping at a Wal-Mart--albeit by much scarier-looking people in much more hostile, I'm-one-step-away-from-stalking-you-to-your-car tones.)

By the time I reason "Greet Every Customer 100%" down to inferring that I'm expected to greet--and possibly even help--every customer I encounter while working at my respective station, I have to conclude that the intended meaning of the motto is quite different from the motto itself. Not even the worst manager in the world (and I've worked for her, too) would expect me to greet 100% of the customers who walk into the store. See, that is why they always have more than one person working in the store at a given time, and often more than a few.

And if it is, in fact, supposed to mean that every greeting should be a 100% greeting, I would LOVE to hear a manager explain that one. I'm sure it would give me far better blog fodder than anything written here. (Here's an activity you can try with the kids: say "far better blog fodder" five times fast. Careful what you say in front of those kids, now.)

So, here's my question: Why this ridiculous banner, which sounds like something translated from English into Chinese and back into English again? "Greet Every Customer 100%" looks like a sign you'd see surrounded by fish heads and cheap watches in a market. Surely, in the largest, most sophisticated bookselling corporation on the planet, we can do little better on the employee motivation than Soon Go Fatt's Asian Cousine.

What is Real?

I found an "original edition" copy of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams at my Barnes & Noble while I was organizing the children's classics bay. This was fortuitous. I generally don't buy things unless they seem as if they were placed there specifically for me to find (or unless I have a really sweet employee discount). I do have a rather large book collection, including many classics, but the majority of them I've liberated from yard sales, library basements, or acquaintances' throw-away boxes.

I used to own a large, beautiful, full-color hardcover picture book edition of The Velveteen Rabbit, but it was tragically destroyed in a flood in upstate New York, along with many other classic children's books I was saving for posterity. That day was a sad day for me.

This day was my first day ever working in the children's section. This copy was the last copy in the store. This unassuming little paperback was hidden amongst all the larger, flashier re-releases of classic children's literature. And with my sweet employee discount it would only cost me two-and-a-half bucks.

This book was waiting for me. This book wanted to come home with me. It's as if the nursery magic Fairy had placed it there just for me to find. Okay, that's a stretch, but the point is, The Velveteen Rabbit went home with me.

The reason I am telling you about this at all is to share my favorite passage of The Velveteen Rabbit. It is the heart of the story. The Rabbit has only two desires: he wants to be there for the Boy who loves him so dearly, and he wants to be Real. He asks the Skin Horse, the oldest and wisest of all the nursery toys, "What is REAL?" Here is the conversation that follows:

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"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are Real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

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What is Real?

Real is a becoming.

Real is painful.

Real is beautiful.

Real is everlasting.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Brief Review of My Attempt to Read a Long, Boring Novel

I'm about 180 pages into this 500-page opus, and it occurs to me that every time I pick up the book to read another chapter, it feels like a chore. I realize that I'm spending an awful lot of time reading a book that I neither enjoy, nor appreciate intellectually, nor feel is important in my attempt at a self-imposed education in the classics.

Do you know what the difference between watching a movie that does nothing for you and reading a book that does nothing for you is? After the movie, you lament the two hours of your life that you'll never get back. After the book, you think to yourself, "Man, I spent three months on that stupid thing!"

That is why it is unlikely that I will ever finish Tom Clancy's Patriot Games.

Do I really need three pages of Jack Ryan going over his stock portfolio? Four pages describing in detail Jack Ryan's travails in putting together a dollhouse? An entire chapter devoted to Jack Ryan's uneventful flight home? This is a thriller, right?

I was only reading this book because Patriot Games is my favorite of the Jack Ryan movies. But Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan is nothing like Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan is more like Alec Baldwin's Jack Ryan. And as good a movie as The Hunt for Red October is, and as much as I like Alec Baldwin as an actor, I have always been partial to Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan. Aw, heck, I'll even say it: I think Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan is better than Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan.

What do you think about that, Clancy, you right-wing, Ben Affleck-loving, hire-hacks-to-write-books-in-your-name-so-you-can-cash-in sell-out?

(I'm sorry, I got a little riled up there.)

Well, if Patriot Games did anything postive for me, it's ensured at least for now that I hold no literary pretentions. No self-respecting literatus would openly claim to prefer the movie over the book. (On the other hand, I did just publicly debase a best-selling author by calling him a right-wing sell-out.)

The New York Post raved that in Patriot Games, "Clancy delivers the suspense," but I'm not buying it. No really, I'm not buying the New York Post. Did you ever wonder what a truly sorry excuse for a journalistic endeavor looks like? Read the New York Post. Read it cover to cover. By the time you reach the Sports section, you may find that you've drooled onto your chin, that your left eyelid is twitching, and that your capacity for intelligent conversation has dropped by thirty or forty percent.

Maybe someday when I'm old and bored, and I've read all the classics and have caught up on all my Michael Crichton and then read all those great books and all those Crichton thrillers a second or third time and seen Patriot Games the movie another dozen times on top of the dozen times I've already enjoyed it--then maybe I'll pick up Clancy's Patriot Games again. Maybe my bookmark will still be stuck in there between pages 186 and 187. Maybe by then I'll be 86 or 87 and won't be able to see that tiny print anymore anyway.

Until then, I'll be happy with Harrison Ford.

Visit me at Goodreads.com: http://www.goodreads.com/profile/roxton_malone

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Random Scribblings

I like to record random things during my work day: things I overhear people say (I call it my "Completely Out-of-Context Quote Collection") or random little things that amuse me, disturb me, or make me stop and think. Sometimes, they're just brief thoughts that spring from my own slightly off-kilter brain.

Here, entirely as-scribbled, are three random things I wrote down at work:

1) "Lord help me, I've got this exuberant 50 yr old woman yelling to me in the middle of a store full of customers, 'Smell me! Feel me!'"

You know what, I think I'll put that one in context. This particular exuberant woman works in the jewelry store that connects directly into the bookstore where I work. That morning she'd been working in a shop called the Apothecary, sampling perfumes and lotions to customers by dabbing them on her arms, as is the custom in such silly stores. She's actually an alright person to work with--just exuberant. And Texan, I think, which is its own brand of exuberance.

2) "I think that 4-yr-old just shot me a gang sign on his way out the door."

Looked like a West Side. But more cowboy-ish. And more 4-yr-old-ish.

3) "What is the opposite of 'sexually active'? 'Sexually passive'?"

That last one was one of my random thoughts--a capricious one, if you will.

I'll close with a quote from a book: "There is nothing more likely to ruin a night's sleep than the imperative of having to get a good night's sleep or else." (from Weird Hikes by Art Bernstein)

The Closest I've Ever Come to Rudely Laughing in Someone's Face

Today, somebody asked me, in regards to a problem with an electronic device, "Is it just unplugged, or is it not plugged in?"

My Wooden Co-Worker

I work in a tourist attraction, a Western-themed mini-mall, along the corridor of which sit scattered statues and things referred to as "picture-taking props." There's an old wooden cowboy, a horse saddle sat astride a horizontal wooden barrel, and a wooden statue of Poker Alice sitting on a bench with five cards in her hand and a cigar in her mouth.

Just outside the entry to the bookstore in whic I work is what has to be the most popular picture-taking spot in the entire place: a wooden statue of a well-endowed, bare-legged, blonde-curled saloon girl wearing only a tiny red bustier-type piece and a flamboyant hat. She sits on a bench with an arm draped across the back, beckoning the passers-by to come and sit with her for a bit: curious little boys who don't yet understand how impolite it is to grope a woman's chest; doughy middle-aged men in khaki shorts and polo shirts dragging along begrudging wives and small armies of pre-teens; awkward teenage boys who try not to look like they're contemplating the improbable size of that heaving wooden cleavage; and old men who do know the improprieties of groping a woman's chest but laugh heartily as they do it anyway.

This tourist prop is an endless source of amusement for me throughout the day. The occasional dirty old man aside, I do enjoy seeing people's reactions to my scantily-clad colleague. I laugh at the two-year-olds who climb her like a jungle gym and open-palm her bosoms as they stare into her expressionless wooden face--many of them don't yet fully grasp the difference between real and fake. (Wow, I just realized what a double entendre--no, triple entendre--that sounds like.)

I derive great satisfaction from listening to the Mid-Western moms who cajole their embarrased pre-teen sons--"come on, don't be so shy, put your arm around her"--while they fumble with the camera. I especially enjoy, and was at first quite surprised by, the bus-loads of senior citizens, who seem to have the most fun with my wooden co-worker. The old gentlemen put a hand on her knee while the gray-haired women laugh and snap their pictures. Not to get too deep, especially on a subject such as this, but it makes me think about the cyclical nature of human life: these aged, wrinkled, arthritically-bent folks who laugh like children--albeit children who are past, or more likely well into, a sexually active life, fully get the joke, and are perfectly at ease casually joking about it with one another.

The only thing is, I've noticed, this poor saloon girl never gets a thank-you. People come, people laugh, people touch, people take pictures, people leave. People.

I've collected a handful of things I've overheard said about her in particular, the best of which are:

Teenage girl: "What's with all the wooden people?"

Young girl: "I think she had plastic surgery, Dad."

and,

Old man: "She's what ya call a hard body."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Random Things I Overheard

I like to collect random bits of speech I've heard in passing--phrases and statements heard completely out of context of the private conversations in which they were spoken. Here are three good ones:

1) "It's like the Buddhist says: 'One must strive for balance.'"

2) "Those are just a bunch of pipes! Why are you even looking at that?"

and my personal favorite,

3) [Spoken in a very hushed and serious tone] "I've been doing a lot of thinking... and I know what kind of cat I want to get."