Trash man bags enthusiasm

The happiest jobs right now, according to online jobs site Careerbliss.com, include real estate agent, senior quality assurance engineer, senior sales rep and construction superintendent. The unhappiest jobs include nurse, teacher, customer service rep and associate lawyer.

I’d like to see a poll on the jobs that make other people happy. If our grandkids were polled, and granted toddlers shouldn’t be talking to pollsters, their answers would be identical—trash collectors.

Adults like trash day, too. It’s always a small sense of victory to see the garbage disappear.

Whenever our grandkids in Chicago hear the rumble of the trash truck, they scramble for the big window overlooking the alley. From a third-floor view, they watch him back up the truck, roll the dumpsters on the lift, pull the lever that hoists them high and drop the goods. They scream and cheer like their team just made the Final Four. They pound on the window and yell, “Amigo! Amigo!”

When was the last time someone cheered and applauded you at your job?

Amigo acts like he’s all business, but he always looks up, smiles and waves as he jumps back in his truck.

It must run in the family. When our son was little, he lived for Thursday, which was trash day. All week he would ask, “Is it Thursday yet? Is it Thursday yet?”

What kid doesn’t love a truck that rumbles and roars and crushes things? Besides that, the trash collector gets to handle the stuff your mother says is off limits: broken appliances, cardboard boxes, beer bottles, old tools, used furniture and ride toys missing wheels.

These days, our trash day is Monday. If the grandkids are here, they run from window to window watching the activity as long as they can keep it in sight.

I chased after the trash collector myself a few weeks ago to give him some homemade cookies and let him know he is always a highlight for the kids.

You should be good to your trash collector. Why? Because it’s a tough job—and because he probably knows more about you than any other service professional.

He knows when you get a new television and a new computer. He knows when your dryer breaks and when you remodel a bathroom.

He knows if you recycle, how much milk you go through in a week and if you subscribe to a newspaper. He knows if you bag your lawn trimmings or mulch. He knows if you drink, what you drink, and how much you drink. He knows when you have a party and when the entire family comes home. He knows where you order pizza.

He knows what you drive and when you go on vacation. He can probably also tell if you’re neat and tidy or a slob by the way you bag your trash and set it out.

When you think about it, your trash collector knows so much about you it’s almost like identify theft without the stolen numbers.

Need another reason to be kind to the trash collector? We missed putting our trash out early enough a few weeks ago. He made a second pass by and picked it up.

Seeing can be believing in History’s ‘The Bible’

If you’ve missed “The Bible,” airing on the History Channel, you’ve missed something worth watching. The miniseries, co-produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, is well done. The premiere episode drew a record audience of 13.1 million viewers.

Meanwhile, Hollywood movers and shakers are shaking their collective heads, confounded by the popularity of an “overtly religious program.”

While the immense subject matter has been condensed, is fast-paced and subject to artistic license, the casting, filming and special effects are impressive. One of the most intriguing depictions has been the angels. These are no Hallmark cherubs or Precious Moments figurines. These angels are large, muscular and mysterious, brandishing swords and possessing a presence that does not lend itself to fragile porcelain. They take the wimp factor out of faith.

The Old Testament stories are brutal and violent, each one connecting to the next with a running theme of man’s fickleness toward God – faithful one moment, unfaithful the next.

When stories move from words on a page to visuals on a screen, it is always surprising how a familiar story, retold in a different medium, can bring new dimensions of understanding.

As the story of Abraham and Isaac was about to unfold, there was a knot in my stomach. The celebrated story of Abraham’s faith is uncomfortable at best.

Abraham, childless for years, was promised a son by God. This son would produce descendants that would populate “a multitude of nations.” Abraham’s wife Sarah, well past her childbearing years, miraculously conceives and gives birth to a son. A few chapters later, God instructs Abraham to take his only son, now a child, to the mountain top and offer him as a sacrifice.

It is a difficult story to teach in Sunday school classes. A boy once asked, “What did Isaac do to make his dad so mad?”

Seeing Abraham and Isaac on screen makes the story even more gut wrenching. As an aging Abraham prepares to sacrifice his terrified son, God intercedes and points Abraham to a ram caught in a thicket to use as the sacrifice instead.

In a way that was never so real when the words were on a page, the cinematic version made clear. Yes, it was a demonstration of Abraham’s faith in God’s deliverance, but it was also a foretelling of another father who one day would indeed sacrifice his son. It was an Old Testament glimpse of Good Friday. Of course, the New Testament narrative did not end with Christ on the cross. The real climax was the empty tomb three days later, the event Christians around the world celebrate and commemorate as Resurrection Sunday and Easter morning.

How refreshing to see someone use their wealth and good fortune to produce a series like “The Bible.” What a wise use of resources. Naturally, there are critics and detractors, those for whom nothing is ever good enough. That said, it is always good when truth comes to life and even better when truth comes to the heart.

The softer side of Jersey

A branch on our family tree has stretched to New Jersey for the second time. One of the silver linings of grown children moving far away is that you discover places you might not otherwise visit.

Jersey is a difficult place to describe to those who have never been there.

There is the Jersey you see on the news with the boardwalk, the crime, the hurricane fury and the big and bold and popular governor, Chris Christie. There is the Newark airport, a cramped, gerbil-tunnel sort of affair that sits across the street from a prison. There is the Jersey that is old brick, shipping ports, box cars and towering cranes.

And then there is the other side of Jersey. It is the unexpected Jersey, the quiet Jersey.

Borough after borough, small town after small town seamlessly fold into one another. The very old blends with the mildly old and the new. A third-generation Italian bakery sits sandwiched between two new storefronts with crisp awnings. A pizzeria with a 93-year-old oven is next to a house built in the 1700s and adjacent to a mini-mart with a fresh facelift.

Sidewalks serve pedestrians, restaurants, delis, small shops and professional offices. A jumble of above-ground power lines border the streets, dipping to homes and businesses and linking each utility pole to the next.

Wander a half mile or so off one of these main thoroughfares and you are suddenly on winding roads that hug the rivers and creeks. These two-lanes weave through woods, dappled sunlight and over rolling hills. This is the Garden State, so named for lush fields and good soil. Farmers markets and produce stands punctuate the countryside.

Deer are thick in these parts. They bound across fields and roads and leap fences, their white tails held high like the feather plumes of can-can dancers. In Central Jersey skunks are the opossums of the Midwest, mighty in number but frequently flattened.

Stately colonial homes sit precariously close to the road, while others are back a stretch, down a gravel lane or behind a low stone wall. It is easy to picture a rider on horseback clip clopping from one place to another.

Horse barns and dairy barns and homes in their shadows have a gracious amount of space between them, but there are few wide expanses of open land. They’ve been building for centuries in this neck of the woods.

Old and crumbling buildings are undisturbed. They just stand there, slouching, sighing, boards buckling. Nothing appears subject to the wrecking ball. Someone just sticks a plaque in front of a dilapidated structure and declares it history.

May we humans fare as well in old age.

It is always a pleasure to have reason to travel an unfamiliar road. Most of us are partial to the place we are from and, consequently, reluctant to leave. It is good to be jarred loose, tugged from the familiar and led somewhere new. There is a satisfying enjoyment in seeing that no nook or cranny has escaped the beauty of God’s brush.

How about some coffee, Sugar?

New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to ban sugary sodas fizzled when a judge struck down the ban. Bloomberg’s restrictions were so detailed that some establishments had already created colorful posters with graphics and pictures to explain to the children, I mean the customers, what they could and could not do.

Mommy Bloomberg, I mean Mayor Bloomberg, planned to institute regulations that would jolt morning coffee drinkers. Servers would no longer have been able to add sugar to large or extra large coffee for customers. Customers would have to add the poison themselves. After adding the sugar, perps would then sit in the time-out corner for 15 minutes, or until they were willing to look Mommy Bloomberg in the eye and say they were sorry.

I’m just kidding about the time-out corner. How ridiculous. A far better idea would have been for offenders to write “Sugar is bad for me” 100 times on a smart phone or a tablet. Perhaps photos of repeat offenders, along with their name, weight, waist size, BMI and home address could be distributed to news outlets.

In addition to banning sugary sodas over 16 ounces and forcing customers to sweeten their own hot beverages, the new regulations further decreed that New Yorkers would be forced to add their own sugar to their iced beverages as well. The same would have been true for sweet artificial flavors. If you wanted a shot of coconut, orange, cherry, hazelnut, mocha or caramel in your drink, it would be by your own hand and of your own doing, or undoing, according to the Mayor’s perspective.

On the up side, potty breaks would still be allowed at the top and bottom of the hour. Rest time would be from 2 until 2:20. Bring your own towel or mat from home.

Many establishments have been forced to change the sizes of their beverages in anticipation of the new regulations. One can only imagine the chaos this would create at Starbucks, where a tall is already a small, a grande is really a medium, and a venti may get you five-to-life.

One thing that would not change? All New Yorkers would still be encouraged to wash their hands after using the lavatory, cover their mouths when coughing, and say please and thank you.

It is hard to fathom where the Mayor might strike next. Alcohol sales restricted to those little bottles the airlines sell? Rationing pizza? Selling carb credits to the golden arches? Labeling chocolate as a controlled substance?

My deepest red, white and blue condolences to freedom-loving, coffee-slurping, soda-craving Americans being treated like imbeciles. It is a nanny state—as well as a very sorry state—when citizens are forced to give up the fundamental liberty of determining what they eat and drink.

Think long and hard before waving the white paper napkin of surrender.

Pajama pants need a wake-up call

For an advanced people, we sure have a lot of problems with our pants. You wouldn’t think pants would be that big of a challenge. You put your right leg in, you put your left leg in, and you shake it all about — no wait, that’s the Hokey Pokey.

Pants: You put one leg in, you put the other leg in, zip, snap, you’re done. Yet we struggle.

In January, a small eclectic band of subway riders indulged themselves in No Pants Subway Day. They rode the subway without pants.

Is it wrong to hope they got frostbite? For years we have endured the mystery of young men whose pants kept sliding down their backsides. Fortunately, that trend has faded and you don’t see as much of those fellas anymore. Literally.

Now the prevailing confusion is over which pants do you wear to sleep in and which pants do you wear in public.

The first time I saw pajama pants in public was at a hotel with a breakfast bar. Three kids shuffled into the dining room wearing pajamas. A small odiferous cloud trailed behind them. I wondered what their mother was thinking. Seconds later she appeared wearing pajama pants, too. A medium odiferous cloud trailed behind her.

One of the boys went over to the waffle maker, started a waffle, stood there while it cooked, picked a sleeper from his eye, and then vigorously scratched his backside. Just like that, the dining area cleared. They had the waffle maker and entire breakfast bar to themselves.

Today you can go to the grocery, the mall or a fast food place and see people in pajama pants. It used to be you never saw anyone in their pj’s unless you were 8 years old and at a slumber party.

It is more likely to be females than males wearing pj’s in public, but every once in awhile you see a grown man wearing his jammie pants, too.

“Love your SpongeBob ‘jamma pants, sir!”

I understand there may be unseen circumstances that compel people to wear their jammies out of the house. Some may have sleep disorders and need to lie down with little notice. Others may be lacking opposable thumbs that enable them to maneuver zippers and snaps.

Still, pajama pants draw attention. The implication is that you have slept in them, perhaps even night after night. Which means you just rolled out of bed, didn’t bathe, shower, shampoo, or use deodorant and now here you are at Dunkin’ Donuts. All I’m saying is this: That’s a pretty thin piece of cotton between you, me, and everything God gave you.

Of course, when it’s all said and done, there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Or in this case, flannel. At least people in pajama pants are wearing pants. Thank you.

Brain storage space in jeopardy

The longer we live, the more history we have to learn.

This is the reason our founders were smarter than we are today. At least we often think this is true, based on things like the admissions standards for Harvard in the 1700s that included Greek and Latin. People back then had more room in their brains for classical languages because they had 300 fewer years of history to cram in their heads.

A history class I took in college was to cover U.S. History since 1877. It was an overview that turned into a partial view, like cheap mini-blinds that won’t fully open. We made it through World War II on fumes and ran out of gas near the 58th Parallel.

Age has a great advantage over youth when it comes to history. The older you are, the more history you’ve experienced. Been there, seen that.

We used to enjoy watching my father-in-law, who lived to be 97, watch Jeopardy. He rarely missed a history question because he was nearly a century old. It also didn’t hurt that he had a photographic memory.

My father-in-law would have been indignant over the recent Teen Jeopardy winner. Leonard Cooper won $75,000, but didn’t know the answer to the final question, “Who said, ‘The eyes of the world are upon you?’ June 6, 1944.”

“Who is some guy in Normandy?” was Cooper’s answer.

I could identify with Cooper. Let he who is without a memory lapse cast the first brain cell. Cooper illustrated my point that the younger you are, the more history you have to learn. I subscribe to the theory that we all have fixed memory storage. If only we could add a few megabytes with the swipe of a credit card.

But we can’t. So there are days when our brains are packed, the wheels struggle to turn and recall grows foggy . . . somebody said . . . I read somewhere . . . weren’t you the one who told me . . . I can’t remember where I heard this. . . I might have the numbers wrong.

We have a firm but slippery grasp of the facts. We are certain what we are saying is true, or reasonably true, we just have no memory of where we heard it, read it or saw it. Consequently, the conversation we are repeating may have come from a completely different setting, the chronology could be off by a decade or two, and the quote from Normandy might have been from Patton.

A lot of my memory storage was regrettably squandered on things like the theme song to Gilligan’s island and the lyrics to “Wild Thing.” Let this be a lesson to you young people lip syncing with Lady Gaga. Use your storage wisely. Save some for later when you will learn important things on your own once you are out of school and have more time to watch Jeopardy.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The guy in Normandy.

Organized crime in the kitchen cabinet

There are some things most men simply should not do.

Messing with a woman’s kitchen is one of them.

In an unprecedented move, the husband recently attempted to relocate my waffle maker. He said the cupboard he put it in made more sense than the cupboard I had it in for years.

He claims the look I gave him left burn marks.

When our oldest daughter and her husband recently moved, our son-in-law went ahead of the family and received delivery from the moving van. Since it was going to be several weeks before the family arrived, he unpacked everything — everything except the kitchen.

He’s a smart guy. Aside from the fact that his own mother says he could starve to death in front of a fully loaded ‘fridge, he is intelligent, capable, resourceful, reliable and appreciative of a good meal. He knows that a woman’s kitchen is her domain. He knows that a woman likes to organize cookware and tools for accessibility, workflow and convenience. He knows a woman likes to set up her own kitchen so that she can find her paring knife, zester and jar of whole nutmeg with her eyes closed.

All of which makes the following hard to explain. For some reason, he changed his mind and decided to unpack the kitchen.

“You’ll like it,” he told his wife by phone.

“I don’t want criticism, only praise,” he said.

“How hard is it to set up a kitchen?” he said.

If my better half had assumed the task of setting up the kitchen in my absence, I know exactly where he would put everything. Coffee, coffee filters, crackers, chips, all foods salty and or crunchy, would go in the most easily accessible cabinet. He would keep the second most accessible cabinet clear for the Top Ramen, Hamburger Helper and mac and cheese in the blue box, which he would later buy by the case.

He’d take one look at boxes of dishes cradling dinnerware, china, pedestal plates, serving pieces, tea pots, demitasse spoons and miniature trifle bowls, and put two forks, two coffee mugs and two plates in a cupboard and move everything else to the garage.

Men and women both organize by logic and convenience, but logic and convenience can look very different in different brains.

Our son-in-law set up the kitchen by – drum roll, please – color.

It made perfect sense. He opened boxes, saw red dishes and white dishes. He put all the red dishes in one cabinet and the white dishes in another. White 9x13s, white square baking pans, white serving bowls joined the white dinner plates, salad plates and bowls. Anything clear glass —drinking glasses, juice glasses, measuring cups, glass bakeware — went in another cabinet. Everything dark or metal, including cookie sheets, soup pot, muffin tin, cast iron skillets and a black salad bowl, went in another cabinet.

What did he consider the most frequently used item needing prime real estate?

Quesadilla maker — front and center.

Four steps to the life of the party

For men, the most terrifying aspect of a wedding is that the ceremony is followed by food which is often followed by dancing. Many men would rather rivet their own thumbs to plywood with a nail gun rather than be dragged onto a dance floor.

We had precisely such a male in our circle recently, who happened to be doing double duty as the groom.

After expressing concern several times about making an idiot out of himself on the dance floor, a soon-to-be sister-in-law of the groom jumped up and announced she could teach anyone to dance. This was a shock to those of us who know her because (a) she can’t dance and (b) she can’t dance. After a brief demonstration it was clear that we had been wrong. She can teach anyone to dance. Here it is, straight from our bad-dancer dance instructor, four easy steps that will put anyone at ease on the dance floor.

Step one is to take up as much space as possible. Our dance instructor demonstrated by flailing her arms in large circles. Picture a wind turbine crossed with an airline worker waving orange sticks marshalling a jet to the gate and you’ve got it.

“Don’t worry about finding the beat,” she instructed. “Just move your legs as well as your arms.” She scissor stepped to the front, back, side, and gave a small jump. “The more limbs you move,” she said, arms and legs now propelling in opposite directions, “the greater your chance one of them will hit the beat.” Someone leaned over to the groom, nodded toward the instructor, and said, “It only takes one loon like that on the dance floor to get the party moving. No one will even notice you’re out there.”

The second step, our instructor advised, is to add interest to your flailing arms and legs. Unfortunately, this is often the place where men divide themselves into two categories: the-easily-intimidated and the don’t-know-when-to-quit. The first group cautiously rocks back and forth without so much as lifting a foot looking like both shoes have been gummed to the floor. The latter group overdoes it by bouncing up and down resembling a trick poodle jumping for a treat.

The dance instructor advised keeping your moves real using movements from real life. Like cleaning your ear with a Q-tip, or working out a crick in your shoulder, or virtually anything having to do with lawn maintenance. She mimicked an oscillating sprinkler, pushing a lawn mower, shoveling dirt, and the best one, rolling an imaginary power cord onto a reel.

“If you run out of everyday moves,” she gasped, “throw in a few steps from a workout video.” She inserted some Billy Blanks Tae Bo moves, followed by basic Pilates and several reps with imaginary hand weights.

“The third step,” she wheezed, “is to use a microphone.” She grabbed an invisible microphone and proceeded to lip sync. It was like Beyonce at the inauguration.

“My last piece of advice,” she panted, “and the most important piece of advice is this: If you are on the dance floor and you sense a large circle forming – get in the middle of it!”

Don’t look for her on “Dancing With the Stars” anytime soon.

Mark my words (yours, too)

If people who love technology are called techies, and people who love food are called foodies, then people who enjoy words must be wordies. I’m a wordie.

Words are not only intriguing but revealing. Words and phrases are to language what bread crumbs were to Hansel and Gretel. They say something about where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

A new phrase getting a lot of traffic these days is “low-information voter.” I like it. But I always wonder exactly who they are and whether they know who they are. This could be a case of everybody thinking it is everybody else.

Artisanal is a very trendy word right now, too. It means anything made by hand using a traditional method. Various cheeses and wines are touted as artisanal. Artisanal sounds earthy, warm and inviting. Artisanal bread can elicit audible gasps. It can be plain old white bread, but if it has an artisanal label, you can expect foodies to pay a couple bucks more.

An awkward phrase gaining momentum is “Shop this outfit.” It used to be people would shop the stores or shop the mall, but now we shop the outfit. It hints of aggressive tactics and reckless credit card use.

Another newbie that is rapidly becoming engrained is BOGO. It means buy one, get one (free). There’s something about it that prevents instant processing. Whenever I see BOGO on a reader board, my first thought is that someone misspelled POGO.

The phrase “have a good day” is long gone (thankfully), having been replaced by “have a good one.” An even newer greeting, or farewell rather, is, “Be well.” Clerks at a particular chain drugstore routinely say it. The first time I was told to be well, it seemed sincere and thoughtful. Two hundred times later it approached grating. I keep hearing “be well” because I keep going to the drugstore to pick up medications for family members who haven’t been well. To keep telling me to be well is nearly a taunt.

“Be well.”

“You be well! If we were well, we couldn’t keep coming to the pharmacy.”

The standout newcomer to our ever-changing lexicon, bar none, is “health sinner.” A health sinner is someone who smokes, is obese or overweight, or eats any sort of food the food police have condemned. Health sinners are about to be flogged in the public square as the new health care plan takes hold.

Clearly, the health righteous are eager and willing to berate the health sinners. All of which leads me to ask the following: If you’re not certain such labels are helpful, does that make you a health agnostic?

We’ll see. In the meantime, be well.

Foster family a respite from the battle

Friends are celebrating a new addition to their family. It’s a boy. He has dark hair and dark eyes. And he weighs 105 pounds.

That is National Enquirer large for an infant, but he’s not an infant. He’s 14.

With their biological children grown, and more love and resources still to share, this couple became foster parents. They fell in love with this young man and adopted him. He’s nearing the peak of teenage boy awkwardness, yet he nearly beams and is at ease with his new family.

Ironically, the finalization of his adoption nearly collided with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He is one of those that easily could have been an abortion statistic. But he wasn’t. He has had a brutally hard start to life, but now he has a good family and a bright future. We think we know from the beginning how every story will unfold, but we don’t.

We don’t know how Roe v. Wade will continue to unfold. According to a Pew Research poll only 44 percent of adults younger than 30 know that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. They’re like the young tart in “Monster-In-Law” who thought Roe v. Wade was a boxing match.

In the early days following Roe v. Wade, it was not uncommon to find family practice doctors performing abortions. Today, 87 percent of all counties lack an abortion provider. Abortionists have become the pariahs of the medical community. There are only four abortionists left that still perform third-trimester abortions, a grizzly procedure too gruesome to describe here, but a procedure nonetheless voted in favor of twice by our sitting president.

During the past four decades, post-abortion syndrome has been identified as a disorder needing treatment. Even Planned Parenthood clinics offer post-abortion counseling.

Abortion is an issue that ties your brain in knots. People drop from the trees to fight for animal rights, but those same activists are usually pro-abortion when it comes to the rights of unborn humans.

Here in Indianapolis, a pregnant woman tried to take her life two years ago and failed, but the poison killed her unborn baby. She was charged with murder and feticide. Unravel that one with any semblance of logic if you can.

NARAL quotes a poll that claims 63 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade while pro-life camps cite a CNN poll that says 62% of respondents want abortion illegal or legal only in certain cases.

In the early days the debate centered on whether “it” was life. Technology has answered loud and clear in 3-D ultrasound. Today, the consensus is that it is life; the question now is whether one life has the right to terminate another.

In a sense, adoption and opening the doors to foster children have become the pro-life counterattacks on abortion. It is a case of actions speaking louder than words – it is the answer to the scurrilous charge that pro-lifers only care for life in the womb.

In the midst of an ugly battle with no end in sight, giving life, caring for life and making a home for the homeless is a beautiful act of both courage and charity.