Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Littering Just Makes Sense

Now and then, a girl just has to rant. Since I’m certain none of my readers are litterbugs, my goal today is to help you see the error of your ways and begin to convert. It may seem unnatural, at first, to throw trash on the ground, but you can grow used to anything with practice. 

Five days a week, weather permitting, I walk to work and back. Within that six-block stretch (which includes the Tupper Street overpass) sit two trash bins, provided by our fine City. I try to make a game of moving at least one piece of trash from the ground to the inside of each bin per trip. That’s four pieces per day times five days, equals 20 pieces of trash per week. I can usually accomplish this without leaving the sidewalk. From this little exercise, I gain tremendous feelings of self-righteousness and superiority. 

Here’s my dilemma. By Friday, finding litter becomes more challenging. Sometimes I abstain from my game and sometimes I must take steps off my beaten path, which becomes really irritating. Over the weekend, I can usually count on litterbugs coming to my rescue, dropping more offerings and thereby affirming again my conviction that I am better than most run-of-the-mill citizens.

Littering just makes sense, although you may not see it at first. Most vices provide an obvious payback factor. People overeat because it tastes so darn good, or get drunk because it helps them escape for a while. Lying might protect one from recrimination; cheating on a spouse may make one feel attractive and desirable. But you probably think there is no reward in throwing garbage on our streets and sidewalks. That’s where you’re wrong. 

It’s a matter of convenience, and convenience is highly valued in today’s world. It really is far more expedient to drop your trash where you are than it is to carry it ten feet further and put it in a smelly garbage bin, or—Heaven forbid—unashamedly hoard it in your car until you’re home. If folks don’t catch on to this, I could find myself stuck in a much cleaner community. 

Thank goodness I no longer live in Texas. If you’ve ever visited, you’ve seen their famous “Don’t Mess with Texas” signs along the highways. In Texas, you can be fined up to $500 for trash up to five pounds—and yes, that includes even apple cores. Repeat the offense and you could face a fine of up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail. I don’t know what people like me have to do to feel superior in Texas. Volunteer at soup kitchens, maybe? Teach Sunday School? Sucks to be them. 

Wherever you live, you can do your part to ensure do-gooders like myself never need to suffer the indignity of feeling average. Tomorrow is Halloween, a perfect opportunity to supply us with candy wrappers, empty chip bags, and pop cans with which to maintain our general holier-than-thou-ness. Please drop it liberally, and teach your children to do the same.

Because now and then, a girl just has to play devil’s advocate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ziggy 'fesses Up

By popular demand (okay, it was just one person, but she's very popular), here is a rerun of a purely fictional story I ran in 2010, written while imagining what could happen following a civic election before I understood why it never could. Can you spot anything particularly atypical about it?

Adored by many, His Worship Mayor Zigfried Johnson stepped to the podium to address the citizens of Quincy one final time.

“Before my 20-year career as your mayor draws to a close,” he said, “I have something I must tell you. Confession is never easy, but it is good for the soul. Disclosures of this nature are uncommon from a man in my position, and I sincerely hope this will not result in your becoming cynical toward my successor. Even I voted for him, and I am confident he would never stoop to the type of behaviour which I am about to divulge.”

Five hundred voters held their breath, awaiting the mayor’s next words. George Xander, although voted in by an overwhelming majority this time, would never be as loved or trusted as Mayor Johnson had been. He had, after all, run against Johnson in every election held since they were college boys together and had lost every one. If not for Zigfried’s voluntary retirement, a new mayor would not even have been considered by the good people of Quincy. Just what was their beloved leader about to share? 

Kay Johnson, his wife of 43 years, stood by his side looking adoringly up at her Ziggy, assuring her fellow citizens that his revelation would not be of a licentious nature.

“Let me begin by taking you back to that Election Day 20 years ago,” the mayor continued. “Maybe you remember that I won by only one vote that first time. Never one to settle for such a close count, my worthy opponent here, Mr. Xander, demanded a recount. Of course, the election officials complied.

“Perhaps it was fate, perhaps it was something else,” the Mayor continued. “Quincy residents may remember the near tornado conditions that prevailed that day, but what you probably don’t know is that as the votes were being recounted, an assistant opened a window, causing ballots to go flying around the Council Chambers. Results were delayed, but after all the ballots were gathered up and counted yet again, it was confirmed that I had indeed won by one vote.

“Six months later, while moving the heavy oak table in the Council Chambers, what did I discover but four uncounted ballots wedged inside a drawer in the table. Three of them were votes for my opponent, George Xander. Unless there were still more uncounted ballots hidden somewhere, George, not I, had actually won the election by one vote. Vigilantly, I searched the room for more lost ballots to no avail, then discreetly shredded the four I’d found and remained your mayor for the next 20 years.” 

With tears in his eyes, the Mayor removed the chain of office from around his own neck and placed it around his successor’s. Xander humbly received the adornment and stepped up to the microphone.

“You are forgiven, my friend,” His Worship Mayor George Xander said, silently recalling the windy day he’d stood outside that Council Chamber window enjoying a cigarette, when two ballots had come floating his way—both votes for Johnson, and both quickly stuffed deeply into his own pocket.

Ziggy Johnson smiled and sighed, a 20-year weight off his weary shoulders at last.

Did you notice? This is an “acrostic” story, where each sentence begins with a different letter, in alphabetical order from A-Z. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to Elect Minnie for Mayor

Rarely have the skills I gained through twenty years of leading a drama team proven useful at my City Hall job. This month, however, my two worlds collided as I’ve assisted with training the 54 voting officials who will be on duty October 22.

Sitting there handing out ballots all day and collecting a nice paycheque at the end probably looks like a pretty cushy job. But given that our workers will put in a 14-hour day as well as the two hours of training (not counting homework), their rate of pay works out to $10 - $15 an hour.

And as far as ease goes, workers must familiarize themselves with eleven different forms. Would you believe thirteen separate envelopes are needed to divide various components, including: Accepted Ballots, Spoiled Ballots, Declined Ballots, Discarded Ballots, Unused Ballots, Rejected Ballot objected to, and Rejected Ballots not objected to. All of this to ensure no inaccuracies occur, all ballots are accounted for, and each elector has opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote.

My task was to stage a mock election so our workers could practice correct procedures. I created fake ballots and, like writing a dramatic script, came up with a variety of scenarios that could arise. We assigned two people to be voting officials and another to play scrutineer. The others were each handed a slip of paper revealing their name and address and their situation or instructions. They played their roles with the dedication of Broadway actors. 

First of all, the straight-forward situation. John Q. Public turns out to vote, announces his name and address. Sure enough, he’s on the voters’ list. His name is crossed off and entered into the voting record. He’s given his ballots, he checks off his choices, his ballots go into the ballot box. Easy.

But suppose someone isn’t on the list because he wasn’t home when enumerators came? Suppose he carries no I.D? Suppose he’s unwilling to sign an oath? Suppose an eligible voter is blind or illiterate or doesn’t speak English? Suppose someone’s identity is challenged? Suppose someone owns land in the municipality but doesn’t actually live in it? Suppose someone takes a ballot but then chooses to decline, announcing he doesn’t like any of the candidates? Suppose someone accidentally spoils his ballot and would like a new one? 

At the end of the day, workers must correctly assess the ballots. Suppose someone wrote his own name on it, spoiling the secrecy of the ballot? Suppose someone voted for seven councilors when he’s only supposed to vote for six or fewer? Suppose someone placed his “X” between two names and it’s unclear whom he voted for?

 Election officials must know how to handle each case according to the regulations laid out in the Municipal Councils and School Boards Elections Act, how to correctly tally all the votes and confirm everything balances. Their job includes calling the Election Officials with the results for their own poll, sealing the ballot box, and returning it to City Hall.

At the close of our mock voting, workers went through the tally procedure and discovered we had elected Minnie Mouse for Mayor (over Elmer Fudd and Donald Duck). Our councilors of choice were Mel Gibson, Sandra Bullock, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Harrison Ford. (Now wouldn’t we suddenly see a lot more “concerned citizens” attending Council meetings?)

When you vote on October 22, I hope you can now better appreciate the time and effort required to make an election happen. You may be surprised to know the voters list is created from scratch every election, so if enumerators missed you, you won’t appear on the list even if you lived at the same address for many years. Please don’t feel offended if officials ask for I.D. and have you sign an oath. They didn’t write the rules, but are duty-bound to uphold them. They do a great job serving their community.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Thanksgiving Lesson from Alfalfa

Grandpa and I took our three little rascals to the Assinboine Park Zoo on what may have been the last summery Saturday for this year. The place has sure changed since our kids were little, and even more so from when I was. The cost of admission is higher even though the variety of animals is less, unless my memory fails. I remember black and brown bears, even a grizzly. I recall zebras and giraffes and gibbons. Relatively few primates seem to live there now. I thought the zookeepers might be interested in our three monkeys, but they declined my offer.

The perspective of a child is always fascinating. Four-year-old Buckwheat announced that his favorites were the bats. Which was interesting, because none of the rest of us saw any bats. The highlight for Spanky, not quite three, was catching a lady bug and carrying it in his hand most of the day. Meanwhile, seven-year-old Alfalfa’s best thing was the Polar playground. 

I think my favorite part was the butterfly garden, a chance to sit and relax amidst the sweet fragrance of the flowers (a definite step up from the scents offered by the animals). The butterflies fluttering by made me want to sit much longer than three rambunctious rascals allowed.

When we returned the boys to their parents, we stayed for the evening and I had the privilege of tucking Alfalfa into bed. As he said his prayers, I needed to bite my cheeks to keep from laughing out loud. He was so exhausted, he could barely squeak. But he wanted to thank Jesus for the good day we’d shared and found it necessary to name every animal he could remember seeing. As his voice got smaller, his pauses grew longer. “Thank you that we got to see the polar bears and the lions and tigers and camels and snow leopards and … kangaroos and monkeys… and butterflies and buffalo and eagle… and frogs and…chipmunks…and … a type of bunny…”

We said “amen” and kissed goodnight, but I think he was gone before my “I love you” even hit his ears. 

Alfalfa had just demonstrated a wonderful way to fall asleep, thankful for every detail of his day. 

When I lay me down to sleep, I’d love it if God sometimes chuckles. I want to fall into slumber rehearsing all the blessings of my day and feeling truly grateful for them—even on the ordinary days. My comfortable home, a hot shower, clothes to wear, books to read, food to eat, a job I enjoy, likable co-workers, freedom to live without fear, grandsons to snuggle, columns to write and readers to read them, a body that functions, a car that mostly works, soft mittens and warm slippers, a bottle of my favorite lotion, a cozy bed to lay my tired body in. Our public library and whoever invented such a thing. My church. Sidewalks. Garbage pick-up. Dishwashers. Dahlias. I could go on, but I know you have a list of your own. May it put you to sleep smiling tonight.

Happy Thanksgiving.