Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When Did I Become Obsolete?

A recent study showed that more women in my age demographic have remained childless, for whatever reason, than ever before. It makes me feel a little less weird, I suppose, but I had my reasons- the foremost being that I was medically advised against it on repeated occasions.

Another is that I've never married. Oh, I've gotten close a few times; I've even been engaged twice, but it's never quite worked out. In my mother's family, you don't have children outside marriage- you have a shotgun wedding, if necessary, but that's only happened among the men- with the exception of my cousin Dan, whose significant other presented us with the charming Rose about three years ago. The family closed rank, absorbing Rose into the fold without question or comment, because "that's how these kids do it nowadays" (I don't think anyone was more stunned than Dan himself when this happened). Knowing their somewhat misogynistic bent, though, I don't think they'd roll with it if one of the girls did anything similar.

The other reason is that I'm pretty sure I got a dose of both of my parents' tempers; my mother's was a sarcastic, tightly controlled anger, and my father's was legendarily explosive. I got a handle on my own temper in high school, shifting more to Mom's mode of delivery: if I go off on somebody, they'll be using a dictionary and a thesaurus for the next month to figure out how much of a burn I've actually laid on them. Either way, these aren't particularly good traits to have as a parent.

In short, the only context I have for my observations on children/youth and the current state of their affairs is my own childhood and adolescence. In the last couple of days, a friend of mine who is a teacher kind of put me squarely in my place about it by pointing out that I'm older and, more to the point in his opinion, out of touch with "today's reality". Painful though it is, I guess he's right, but there were more tactful ways of putting it. I'm acutely aware that I don't have children who would better connect me with the current state of affairs, that I'm 'old-fashioned', and that apparently, my personal experiences count for nothing because they took place in the Mesozoic Era. It was also a bit patronizing, since I do happen to work with college students freshly hatched from high school and I know how they think and learn...that's something about which I do have a qualified opinion.

As Weird Al so succintly puts it, "Everything You Know is Wrong"- I'm just an antique spinster with obsolete experiences and no right to an opinion regarding anything child-related.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

They're Just Little Rays of Sunshine

Because of my car accident, my parents ask that I alert them when I pull out of my driveway on the way to their house. It takes roughly an hour, door-to-door, so they start calling if I'm running late. When I spoke with my mother, she told me that Dad was out at the grocery. The heat index reached almost a hundred and five degrees in Smalltownland yesterday, so he'd forbidden her from going out. She has a couple of fairly serious respiratory disorders that are further complicated by extreme heat and humidity- plus, Dad's trying to curtail her smoking by cutting off her supply. In short, she was furious. She must be out of cigarettes...

When I got there, Mom was sitting in her chair wheezing, with her Papillon, Gigi, frantically licking her elbow. This dog really can't hold her licker- that little tongue is constantly going, so much so that she's worn a pink streak up the center of her nose. Mom got frustrated and started whining, "Oh, Gigi, stop that!" This was accompanied by an arm-flapping motion intended to shoo the dog off the arm of the chair. Not only did it not have the desired effect, she looked like she was about to take flight.

She and Dad had been arguing off and on all day. Both of my parents are sarcastic, which is where I get it, so Dad jumped out of his chair and started yelling, "Oh, Gigi, STOP THAT! Ewww, wheewww, eeek!" while flapping his arms and hopping up and down on one foot; Mom picked up her cane and whacked him in the shin. He decided he'd better hotfoot it on out before she really got after him, so he called the dogs and followed them out to the yard.

As soon as the storm door clicked shut, Mom turned to me and hissed, "If he retires, he will drive me insane! If he so much as says the word 'retire', you tell him 'absolutely not'!"

When he came back inside, I was showing Mom my new Kindle- she has the first model and was interested in any improvements in the more recent one. Dad announced (because he hates anything electronic that remotely resembles a computer) that he thinks he will take up hacking as a hobby...Mom shot back that he'd have to learn to turn the computer on first. This is what Karnak predicts every waking moment will be like if he does retire. It ain't pretty, kids.

I'm really needing that referee shirt, and probably a whistle and an air horn like the one I use to stop arguments between my dogs. My parents have become that curmudgeonly old Southern couple who do nothing but sit around and insult each other- it's almost a study in the Eighteenth Century French culture of ridicule, and I am stuck squarely in the middle.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Danse Macabre

It's been a little over five years since the last time I was almost killed. Faced with the choice of taking a ditch at the risk of my own life, or hitting and killing an eighty year-old man who was standing on a blind rise as I crested it, I took the ditch. The state trooper who witnessed the accident is a friend of my father's; he later told Dad that he was sure I was going to be an ejection death. The car went airborne, flipped, and rolled five times before coming to rest (upright) in the drainage ditch. Nobody was more surpised than Trooper Smith when I opened the door and stepped out into a stew of frigid water and broken glass- except, perhaps, me. When the Camry launched, I was pretty sure I was going to die.

Later that night, as I dug my sunglasses out of a twenty-pound red clay clod in the back seat of my car, I touched my temple and realized that it was what had left the muddy streak up the left side of my face- that clod blew out the window. My sunglasses had been on top of my head; they were so deeply embedded that I wasn't sure I would get them out of the heavy chunk of soil. When I called my father over to show him, he went white as a sheet, because he knew, too: a few millimeters of different trajectory, and my neck would've been broken by a lump of mud.

One of the young women from a class I taught today was singing and dancing as the group walked out of the library. When one of the older ladies admonished her to be quiet because it's a library, she replied, "Give me a break, will you? I found out yesterday that I'm in remission! I won't have to do chemo anymore! I'm pretty excited about that!" She was probably about eighteen years old, and if she'd wanted to do a production number on the service desk, under the circumstances, I would've let her. Hell, I would've helped.

My library director says that each of our students has a story; true enough, but everyone has a story. Thank God for the opportunity to live long enough to tell it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SUPERTOILET!

About three years ago, the summer immediately preceding my mother's heart attack, the Airedaleparents schlepped forth to the outdoor Shakespeare performance in Louisville. At the time, my brother-in-law was the managing director of the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, so my folks and two other couples who were in med school at at the same time used to converge annually for this event. For years, Mom has slept in a recliner instead of a bed, so the trick was finding a place that could provide her with something comparable...which ended up being The Inn at Jewish Hospital, a hotel that caters primarily to families of patients at one of the downtown hospitals in Louisville.

What makes The Inn unique is that the rooms are fitted out for patients, and all of them have the same special toilets that are installed at both Jewish and Norton hospitals. Not only could my folks get a room with a hospital recliner in it, Dad was absolutely fascinated with the toilet; the flush mechanism is hydraulically assisted, you see. I've been a patient at Norton and a guest at The Inn before, so I am well-acquainted with the Bionic Supertoilets. I don't care for them, because I don't like the idea that these toilets are the plumbing equivalent of a Black Hole: you could easily disappear over the Event Horizon and be torn to pieces by sheer force.

A couple of months after that stay, Mom, as aforementioned, had a mild heart attack, culminating in a few weeks as a patient at Norton. Before it was all said and done, Mom, Little Sister, and I were all thoroughly sick of Norton, including the toilets...Dad, however, had developed a serious fixation. He had to have one of those toilets in the master bath at the Chez, so on top of everything else that was going on, Little Sister and I had to figure out how to obtain one and get it installed.

It turns out that you, too, can have your very own hospital-grade, hydraulically-assisted-flush toilet, which can be special-ordered through your local Lowe's Hardware for a staggering number of Benjamins. You have to arrange separately for someone on the Canonical Approved List of Plumbers Who Are Supposed to Know How to Install Bionic Supertoilets to come to your house and put it in. That's probably the most difficult part of the whole exercise.

Long story short, the Chez is now home to one of these miracles of modern plumbing. It is referred to by all and sundry as "Dad's Toilet" because nobody else can stand it. If you've never experienced one of these gems, you might have the general idea if you've ever used an airplane toilet: when flushed, the Bionic Supertoilet sounds like it's going to implode the entire house, let alone suck whoever happens to be standing within a hundred yards into some vast sewerly abyss. I imagine it's probably the most complicated and expensive (not to mention the loudest) toilet in all of Smalltownland.

Dad is very proud of his special potty; it's far and away his favorite home improvement of all time. I hope he enjoys the blasted thing, because the rest of us are, quite simply, scared of it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Galaxy in the Front Yard

Tonight, after I finished doing my parents' shopping and as I stood in the driveway, talking with my father about my mother's respiratory problems and secret smoking, we looked out across the front yard (which is almost an acre) and saw the lightning bugs rising from the grass. This is one of those phenomena that I'll always treasure from growing up in a small town, where there's not a lot of traffic and little things like that mean a whole lot. My current house is a lovely rented World War I-era bungalow that sits across from the triangular side yard of the house across the street; because there's no street light directly in front of either, the lightning bugs show up really well as night descends.

When I was a child, before my uncle married when I was eleven and my grandmother moved to town, I spent endless hours beating the tall grass next to the corrugated-metal outbuilding we called "The Structure" in order to drive the grasshoppers onto its walls. The object was to see how many and what sizes of grasshoppers were there at any given time. Because I am allergic to grass, my grandmother would always dress me in denim overalls and Keds for this routine- I was a painfully ladylike child who wore dresses without exception until the third grade, but stick me on the family farm and I morphed into this howling little tomboy who got switched for climbing the barbed-wire fences and cherry trees when I was told not to.

Both in Smalltownland and on the farm, we had a wide variety of birds. There were whippoorwills and bobwhite quail in the woods behind my uncle's house, and redwing blackbirds in the fields. Later, my aunt put out hummingbird feeders that attracted a colony of around a hundred tiny, buzzing, brilliant flying jewels- my parents followed suit and attracted at least two pairs of ruby-throated hummingbirds every year with the feeder staked at the corner of the patio. At home, there is a colony of ordinary house wrens who've populated everything from a string mop head to a Boston fern to a small painted birdhouse suspended from the support post for the sundeck; on Derby Day, as I sat at the breakfast table, a wren zipped in, snatched an insect from a spiderweb on the window, and zipped off...no doubt another descendant of the wrens who've always been there. Every once in a while, we'll look out to find the odd North American bluebird in the milieu under the feeder my father hangs from the maple in the back yard.

One summer night when I was a sophomore or so in high school, Will, a friend from band who also attended my church, appeared without warning at the house. He asked my mother if I could leave with him for a little while, but he was mysterious as to why. When we arrived at the high school, he pointed to the embankment between the vocational school and the second-tier parking lot cut into the hillside between the two buildings: there were thousands and thousands of tiny white moths covering the grass in a snowlike blanket. It was really spectacular and I've always been glad that he shared it with me- I was probably one of the only other kids he knew who would be excited about a bunch of moths!

Last summer, I went to the movies with The Boyfriend and heard, as we stepped out of the car, a familiar call. In the small marsh-like drainage area adjacent to the theater, among some volunteer cattails, was a small colony of redwing blackbirds. As we neared the edge of the parking lot, two dozen or so took flight, the red and yellow streaks on their wings flashing in the dim light of the setting sun. I realized then that the blackbirds and I had been too long divorced, and that I had become too jaded about so much that I had lost sight of the beauty in simple things.

So tonight I stood there in the dark up at the Chez, watching a thousand tiny blinking lights rising around us, and found a little comfort-and a little peace. Who knows when we will have those things again?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Here's a Rope, Here's a Tree

My sister and I have inherited a really deep-seated stubbornness from both sides of the family. This has proved a little wearisome as our parents have aged, since once one of us really digs in, nothing's going to change our minds. Mom and Dad are very much determined to stay in their own home, unassisted, for as long as they can manage (with a little help, I might add, from us- I'm headed to Smalltownland to do their WalMart run tomorrow, along with washing whatever laundry happens to be lying around). To that end, we've tried to convince them to make a few modifications to the house, such as converting the formal living room into a downstairs bedroom and adding a full bath on the ground floor.

This has met with some resistance.

Today's round involves a dispute between my sister and our mother over putting in one of those walk-in bathtubs. While that's a fantastic idea, Mom wants to install it upstairs (not fantastic). Since the real problem is her inability to easily scale the stairs, my sister had the temerity to point it out and suggest that the tub needed to be downstairs. Mom blew up at her, and I got a voicemail from Little Sister warning me that they'd had this argument. Since I have to be over there tomorrow, I will inevitably catch the fallout.

Why is it that I didn't see this coming? It's a family-related holiday, after all. Naturally there had to be some kind of blow-up. I just loves me some holidays at the Chez, lemmetellya! Oh, and for extra fun, I'm transporting an Airedale to Louisville and have to stay with my sister overnight on Friday. Just direct me to the nearest uniform supply house so I can buy the vertically-striped referee top and a whistle. I think I may need them before the week is over...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bitter, Party of One (or Two, depending)

For about twenty-four years, I've nursed a bitter hatred for both a city and a university. As I toured around Washington, D.C., last week, I encountered repeated reminders of this. We were headed through Georgetown on the tour bus when I started seeing a proliferation of the university's car stickers. I was seriously considering honing my spitting ability from atop the bus, and I posted something to Hopkins's sister's Facebook wall about it. She inquired if I meant to get out to Baltimore while I was in DC, and I replied that if she heard that Memorial Residence One had burned to the ground, she'd know that I'd made it to campus.

Yes, it's ridiculous and juvenile to lay the blame where I have, but that's where it's staying until I am advised otherwise by Hopkins or, conversely, I change my mind. Simple enough. While the former may someday occur, the latter will be either subsequent to it or when hell freezes over, whichever comes first.

I won't fly into or through Baltimore. I will not speak the university's name, and I was loath to even type it in bibliographies in grad school, so strong was my hatred then (they have a fine university press that publishes a lot of history of women's property rights, so I was compelled by my research to read those things even though I'd rather not). My library director's sister retired from that august institution after many years as a researcher on its faculty; the director travels to Baltimore to visit from time to time. I don't know that she's ever noticed that I won't say the name of the city in conversation, or that I try to change the subject when the university is mentioned.

This was especially difficult, again, in graduate school, since my secondary field is Early Modern Europe, specifically British history. Lord Baltimore figures somewhat prominently, and I am also of Catholic Marylander descent myself. I can't escape from it. It's the most ludicrous intellectual convolution you could ever witness, but my mother's Scottish Catholic Marylander family is known for its intractability...and its notorious ability to hold a grudge.

A few years ago, a colleague whom I admired and respected contracted pancreatic cancer. Because our college president's son was a medical resident at the university, her husband had gone there for cancer treatment, and she recommended that our colleague also go. Go she did, where she underwent the Whipple procedure and the removal of her diseased pancreas. It bought her a few extra months that she might otherwise not have had...and I will add here that I have the utmost respect for that university's medical school, which is the finest in the world. I just have no love for the undergraduate program.

It's just easier to blame the school and the place, because to me they are both formless and abstract. The damage inflicted by that ill-fated year is real, concrete, and unfortunately, lasting. I understand that it's finally beginning to diminish, at long last, so perhaps I can soon abate my loathing of Baltimore and bluejays and the university associated with both.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Mattress Olympics

I'm in Washington, DC, at the Omni Shoreham to present at the American Association of University Professors conference...and as of this writing, in about an hour and a half. Much like the first time I took the LSAT, however, I haven't had much sleep due to my next-door neighbors. Before the LSAT, the girls next door were reciting the Greek alphabet for their sorority initiation and screwing up, every single time, after the letter psi. I finally got upset, knocked on the wall, and recited it back to them, loudly and correctly, concluding with, "Now will you shut up, because I'm taking the $#!@*!#* LSAT in the morning???"

I had that same feeling last night. The folks next door were having a pretty good time judging by the speed and frequency of mattress squeaks. It went on for about an hour and a half, until nearly 1 a.m. . I was seriously considering what we used to do back in the dorms at SFU: knocking on the wall and screeching, "GET IT OVER WITH, ALREADY! Some of us need to SLEEP!" Eventually that session of the Mattress Olympics concluded and I fell asleep. Since we were meeting to review the presentation first thing in the morning, I was up and about around 7 a.m. - and as I was brushing my teeth, the mattress next door commenced to squeakin' AGAIN.

What are these people, test subjects for Pfizer? We saw Monica Lewinsky in the lobby earlier the previous day...maybe she was doing a test run on a new dress? I don't know, and I don't care. My give-a-damn is seriously broken, just in time to go face seventy-five people whom I don't know and attempt to coherently explain adult workplace bullying. The Chronicle of Higher Education had asked us for an interview, too, and me without any sleep. Gah.

Friends have suggested that I ask for a new room. Both of my co-presenters have better rooms than mine, but mine isn't bad. It's not the room, it's the neighbors. This is why I like business hotels: they have better soundproofing so business travelers can sleep.

This happened once before years ago at a conference in Tennessee. I happened to know the colleague in the next room, who was a friend; I cornered him quietly the next morning to explain that not only did I hear them, his unmarried status would attract unfavorable attention from the administration...ergo, if I could hear them, the person on the other side could, too, and might narc on him for 'fornicating' at a conference (we worked for a Baptist college). He spoke to his lady friend, who decided to go home rather than endanger his job.

I have no such recourse at this conference. I wish people were a little more considerate of others about having semi-public howler-monkey sex. Maybe it's because I'm a Southerner (or cranky from lack of sleep), but it's just not polite.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Have You Met My Friend Ralph?

I'm on the verge of making my first international conference presentation in about two days. I'm a little stressed-out, and what happens when I'm that stressed-out isn't pretty. To not put too fine a point on it, I barf under extreme pressure.

The whole stress-barfing thing started my junior year of high school, due largely to chemistry. My father was obsessed with my chemistry grades, and were it not for my lab partner's fabulous math skills and Hopkins' determination that I really wasn't as stupid as I believed, I probably would've failed.

In the meantime, however, I developed peptic ulcers. Back in those days, they didn't care what prescription drugs you had in your purse at school, so I hauled around a stock bottle of Tagamet (prescription at the time, but keep in mind that my dad's a doctor). Chemistry was first period, so I spent the first twenty minutes of so of the day before homeroom sitting at our table in the concourse, trying not to hurl- and not always succeeding. I'm still not sure Hopkins was thinking too clearly when he presented me with the notorious acceptance letter early one morning, prompting a mad dash to the girls' room with our friend Her Honor hot on my heels. I was in such bad shape by first period that the chemistry teacher took one look and told me to just put my head down on the table and sleep.

The next time I remember it happening was just before my second interview for Yale. I threw up in the interviewer's driveway. At least it was dark...

Then there was my interview for the Rhodes Scholarship nominations- SFU takes a recommended pool of applicants and culls their two nominees from that pool- and I, naturally, threw up right before I was called into the interview.

Oh, and the first time I saw Hopkins after high school, I was so nervous that I not only threw up as my mother let him in the front door, I subsequently fell down the stairs in front of him. Grace under pressure, people, that's what it's all about!

So, flash forward to the Mother of All Academic Conferences, and I'm scared stiff. Luckily I'm presenting with a couple of colleagues, one of whom is a very close friend, so it shouldn't be too bad. Friendly warning, though: if I can't be found just prior to time, check the ladies' room, and, well, don't block my path to the nearest door, either.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

If You Ever Did Believe

Sometimes we need to know that other people have faith in us, even when we can't really access that ourselves.

Having said that, if Hopkins tells me one more time how much less intelligent he's gotten in his old age, I'm driving down there to strangle him.

It reminds me a great deal of the day that I sat behind the reference desk at the small Christian college where I used to work, listening to one of my classmates, a recently laid-off factory worker, bemoan the fact that she "wasn't college material". I knew she was upset over losing her job and frightened at the prospect of being a first-time college student at twenty-eight, so I handed her my Kleenex box and let her cry it out. When she finally stopped talking, I told her, "You know, you were sitting next to me in all of those honor roll pictures they took for the paper back in high school. There is nothing wrong with your mind. You are going to graduate if I have to strap you on my back and drag you through this." I left for my current job before she finished, but finish, she did.

In nearly every academic-related yearbook photo in which I appeared between my freshman and junior years of high school, Hopkins is either seated or standing beside me. All joking about lost and/or killed brain cells aside, I'd have to actively witness the cleaving of his skull to believe that he's become even slightly less intelligent since high school. I also really don't care how many undergraduate hours he's completed and whether or not they've culminated in the piece of paper...college isn't life. (I'm a career academic, so that's something that the last fifteen years in my field should've demonstrated; that's above and beyond the nineteen and a half years that constitute my formal education.) The greatest education that anyone receives is by the act of living, and in our collective cases, also surviving.

I make a pretty rotten cheerleader most of the time, but the irresistibly whining force has just met the intractable immovable object. My belief in Hopkins has never wavered, regardless; it doesn't because it simply can't.

Meet Me at the Fair

The county fair is getting underway back home on June 14th, and this is a momentous thing in Smalltownland...nearly as momentous as Cow Days, our local fall festival.

Now, the thing that I hated the most about the county fair between my freshman and senior years of high school was the parade. Any band kid will tell you, happily, how much parades suck. I missed the fair parade in eighth grade because I didn't join the drumline until the end of the next month, but I did not miss the subsequent four years of fair parade HELL. Ask any percussionist who's marched in that kind of heat, uphill, wearing between fifteen and forty pounds of equipment, and they will give you a real piece of their mind. The Cow Days and homecoming parades were not a thrill-a-minute either, since those were in full uniform in September. At least we got to do the fair parade in band t-shirts and jeans.

My mother was a huge 4-H'er growing up and won all kinds of clothing construction awards every year at their county fair. 4-H is still a big thing back home, although I never deigned to compete in the 4-H contests...I started entering the adult baking competition when I was twelve. After three solid years of beating venerable little old ladies of longstanding in the local Homemakers clubs (in the chocolate cake category), I was asked to not enter again.

When one of my history students at the college told me that she would be missing class to exhibit her prizewinning heifer at the state fair, I think that she expected me to laugh. All I said was, "Bring me the program as evidence." I grew up around this. There's money involved, and sometimes, scholarships; it's nothing to sneeze at, as they say. Hopkins's sister exhibited sheep; one of my sister's friends exhibited Hampshire hogs. Yes, we're country, and this is what we do for entertainment...

There was a children's day, Thursday, if I remember correctly, when they'd have stuff like the three-legged races and the horseshoe toss, and yes, the greased pig contest. If you've never seen a greased pig contest, I assure you that they are real and it's pretty funny if you're not trying to catch that little bugger. A pig is quick, and if he's covered in Crisco, he's slippery. You'll just have to trust me on this if you've never done it. The prize was, well, the pig. My mother was consistently relieved that we never won, although my sister, who was much faster than me, actually laid hands on the pig a few times without really catching it.

My parents were always hit up to buy a box at the horse show. Ours was pretty famous and drew a lot of very fine horsemen and -women, although my godparents only showed their Tennessee Walkers there a couple of times that I recall. The pageants were also held in the horse ring. Once, and only once, my sister entered the Junior Miss County Fair pageant; my father had a phobia of pageantry because his mother was a former Miss Arizona. He feels very strongly that pageantry promotes an overemphasis on superficial beauty and that his parents had ignored his three sisters' intelligence in favor of pushing them to be pretty and popular- something also reflected in his burning academic ambition for yours truly. Little Sister was a runner up, and that was that; she lost interest in ever doing another pageant again.

Attendant to all of this is that you can hear, see, and yes, smell the county fair up at Chez Airedaleparent, which overlooks the park where it's held. For a solid week every June, my parents' house smells like horse apples and fried onions, and you can hear both the jaunty organ music from the horse show and the loud rock from the midway. Of course, on the last night, everybody wanted to be our friends- because we had a spectacular view of the closing fireworks display at our house. If you want a good idea of what this throwdown is like, rent Doc Hollywood and watch the parts about the Squash Festival.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like eating elephant ears, cotton candy, candied apples, and brownies from the Band Booster booth and then riding The Scrambler- your cool factor is judged on whether or not you hurl afterward (always wear closed shoes to the fair, no kidding). Gentlemen, let me remind you that your relative masculinity will be questioned if you cannot win your wife/girlfriend/little daughter a cheesy stuffed animal somewhere on the midway. Ladies, try to be patient while they waste a ton of money doing it, too, especially if it's for your child...somewhere in the back of my closet at the Chez is an old stretched Pepsi bottle full of blue colored water, won for me by the older brother of one of my babysitters. When I was six, that was the coolest thing I'd ever owned.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Not Enjoying the Silence, Thanks...

The digital age has made it increasingly easy to avoid people. I realize that the general complaint runs more along the lines of being too easily found, but hitting the "ignore" button or allowing calls to roll to voicemail on one's cell phone is far too easy. We saw a little precursor to this with call screening on the answering machine, back when everybody had a land line phone...before Caller ID. I'm old enough to remember when you had to answer the phone when it rang, just to find out who was calling; the rules have changed, though. Etiquette evolves over time, although I'm not sure that patently ignoring people will ever be considered polite.

When I was in high school and my sister was in junior high, her little friends discovered the phone. We also did not have 'call waiting' then, so if somebody tried to call while the line was in use, they got a busy signal. Our father also had a couple of inviolable rules about telephone use: we had to have his express permission to give out the unlisted home number, and we could not use the telephone after 10 p.m. . Anyone who called after 10 was permanently banned from calling the house, i.e., Daddy would answer the phone, ask who it was, bless them out, and hang up. Being the doc-tor, he rarely answered the main extension, although woe unto you if he did...he was impatient with everyone, regardless, if they were under the age of eighteen. A few of my friends were so intimidated that they'd simply disconnect if Daddy answered.

Of the great many things I wish that I could send to 'core dump' are the phone numbers of several of my childhood friends. The town was so small that there was only one exchange, so for years one had to dial only the last five digits of the number for the call to go through. I can't remember what I was going to buy at the grocery without a list, but I can recite, from memory, about two dozen phone numbers of my various childhood friends.

The other side of this is ignoring personal e-mail. I reserve the right to delete anything that's from a bot or a commercial site, but e-mails from people I know and websites (my various animal rescues, etc.) that I've joined get read. Generally, I make a point of answering them pretty quickly. Allowing e-mail to gather too much dust eventually leads to a jammed-up mailbox and angry and/or hurt friends. Even if it's, "I got it", you should at least acknowledge it- not doing so is the equivalent of burning an unopened letter.

People took the time to call you or write to you because it meant enough to them to do it. Even if you're going to say, "Hey, that's great, but I don't have time for this," at least they'd know not to bother again. Funny how deafening silence can be, when well-aimed.