Breakthrough!

Whenever I work the day shift, once I’ve survived the commute and parked my car, I make my way over my drawbridge to the bridge tower. I’m usually not living my best life at that exact moment. I could never be mistaken for a morning person.

But during that foggy-brained walk, I almost always pass a guy who is walking in the opposite direction. I could set my watch by him. We both are creatures of habit, it seems.

I often wonder about this guy. Where is he going? Where is he coming from? He’s a bit scruffy, but he’s punctual as all get out.

So, about 9 months ago, I decided that I would say good morning as we passed each other. He did not even look up at me, and he said not a word. But this is Seattle, after all. People don’t just say good morning to strangers, as a general rule. It’s just not done. (I’ll never get used to that.)

The next day, I thought that maybe this time, my good morning wouldn’t take him by surprise. But I got the same reaction. No eye contact, no response.

Okay, this has become a challenge. I began to want, very badly, to get a good morning out of this guy. I was determined.

Months went by, and I continued to do my daily experiment. It became a bit of an effort to keep my pleasant tone when I could only assume I was going to get nothing back. But I did so because, when all is said and done, I really did hope he had a good morning.

After all that time with no eye contact whatsoever, I began to wonder if this gentleman had some sort of anxiety disorder. If so, were my good mornings construed as a type of bullying? Was I adding stress to his life? That certainly wasn’t my intention.

But I really didn’t know a thing about him. Maybe he was just less of a morning person than I was. Maybe he was a Seattleite from birth and his greeting muscle had atrophied. Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he just wanted to be left alone, but on the other hand, maybe he’s desperately lonely and just socially awkward.

I decided to press on, because if he never responded, it wasn’t like I’d beat him up or something. He’s an adult and can make his own choices. I’d just be a little sad.

Somewhere around month three, he began to give me eye contact. He didn’t smile, but he didn’t give me a hostile glare, either. Progress.

By the end of month six, I began to detect a change in expression. Was that a very slight, hesitant smile peeking out of his scruffy beard? Yes, I think so.

Then in early February, I got really sick with the head cold from hell, and I missed a week of work and sidewalk greetings. I wondered if he noticed. But I didn’t dwell on it, because I was too busy coughing up my lungs.

When I came back to work, to be honest, I still felt like utter crap. I’m sure I didn’t exactly look like my old self, either. I was so busy trying to ambulate through my vertigo that I didn’t bother to say good morning, or even look up, to him or anyone else, for about two weeks.

The following week, though, I was back to our old routine. This time I got the biggest smile ever. That really made me happy.

After that, his smile was more subdued, but it was still there. I’d like to think that I was a bright spot in his morning. I hoped so, at least.

And then today, it finally happened. I said good morning, and he smiled brightly. “Good morning!” he said.

I almost jumped for joy. I wanted to dance the rest of the way down the bridge. I wanted to look over my shoulder at him, but I didn’t want to intimidate him in any way, so I just walked, casually, to the bridge tower, climbed the stairs, and then started jumping up and down. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Do I plan to escalate this contact? No. I look forward to exchanging good mornings, of course, but I’ll leave it at that. We are strangers, and I’m perfectly content to let it stay that way. But now we’re strangers with benefits of a rated G sort.

Can I get a high five for persistence?

Good morning!!!!!!

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The Limit of My Tolerance

We have reached a point of such divisiveness in this country that it’s really hard to even get through a day without disagreeing with someone. That’s fine. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, I’d find this world rather boring if everyone did.

But what is even more tragic is that we are losing the ability to maintain a respectful discourse. I blame social media for this. We are now, more than ever, able to interact with total strangers and yet remain virtually anonymous to them. For some reason, that seems to allow the more crass amongst us to be outright hostile.

My whole life, I have put up with a mountain of crap from people who make these Facebook trolls seem like punters. Because of that, rightly or wrongly, my threshold for abuse is rather high. But I do have a hair trigger when someone attacks one of my friends or loved ones. You do that, and you have then entered the no-fly zone.

I will warn you once. But if you don’t correct your course to a more courteous trajectory, I will shoot you right out of my airspace. And I’ll have absolutely no regrets about it. Because life is just too freakin’ short to put up with hostility.

This isn’t the same as unfriending someone whose posts are irritating to you. A cousin did that to me, and I was shocked by that. It’s something I’d never do. This isn’t about ruffling feathers. It’s about basic decency.

I have very little control over the direction in which this country is going, but I sure as heck can control the tone of my Facebook page. Believe that. So agree or disagree with the people that I care about. That’s your business. But do it with courtesy, or we’re done.

No Trespassing

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I Don’t Have to Respond

It’s really weird when it suddenly occurs to you that you’ve been operating under a self-imposed rule. Because, just like that, you realize that if you were the one making the rule in the first place, then, hey, you don’t have to follow it anymore, do you? Ah, the freedom!

For example, if you live alone, you don’t have to make the bed if you don’t want to! Woo hoo! If you’re the only one who ever sees the back yard, you only have to mow it when you feel like it. Sweet!

I had one of those epiphanies just the other day. Here it is: I don’t have to respond to everything. That’s huge.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in common courtesy. I make it a point to say thank you and excuse me. That’s the type of lubrication that’s required to keep a civilized society running smoothly.

But I don’t have to respond to unsolicited advice. I don’t have to correct rude behavior (unless I’m looking for closure). I don’t have to explain myself or justify anything. (But I still believe in doing the right thing.)

Just because someone asks an idiotic question, that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to answer. Not every comment requires my input. Not every insult needs to be avenged.

There’s also really no point in carrying your side of an argument if, when all is said and done, it’s not going to change a thing. Your energy is limited. Save it for the positive stuff.

Sometimes it’s okay to let the other person have the last, stupid, selfish word. Whoa. What a concept.

Boy, oh boy, am I about to save myself a heck of a lot of time!

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Are You Sure?

From a recent conversation:

Me: “I need someone from maintenance to come out and remove some car parts from the middle of my drawbridge, as they are backing up traffic.”

“Um… That drawbridge is no longer in our system.”

“Er, yes it is. I think you’re thinking of the Montlake Bridge.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m a City of Seattle Employee.”

“But do we maintain that bridge?”

“Yes we do. Yes, you do. I’m standing on it right now. I’ve worked here for 3 ½ years.”

“Was a tow truck called?”

“I have no idea. The cars in question are long gone. They just left parts behind.”

“Yeah, but was a tow truck called?”

“Not by me!!!! Please, are you sending someone out to remove the bumpers? I have traffic backed up for miles.”

Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Welcome to my pet peeve. Not being taken seriously drives me absolutely insane. Why would I lie? I mean, honestly, just get the damned bumpers off the road, already!

My whole life, this has been a problem. As the youngest in the family, I was not taken seriously at home. Even though I graduated at the top of my class, I was quiet and shy and not in with the in crowd, so I wasn’t taken seriously at school. As a female in a male dominated workplace, to this day I am not taken seriously at work. Now that I’m fat and old, I’m generally not even seen when in public. I’m completely invisible. It’s maddening.

The reason that I try so hard not to be dismissive of people, the reason I’m extra polite to cashiers and wait staff and the elderly, is that I know what it’s like to be discounted. It’s an awful feeling. And it’s completely unnecessary.

Common courtesy and mutual respect ought to be everyone’s default position. Listening to people and trying to understand what they’re saying is a necessary survival skill, so it shouldn’t be so hard to come by. As the planet becomes increasingly crowded, we need to behave all the more decently, or life will get pretty unbearable up in here, people.

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Actually, No.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I was raised to be a good girl. My default position is to respect authority. Be cooperative. Don’t make waves. Accommodate others. And above all, always, always be polite.

Well, you know what? Fuck that. All those values are great if everyone is playing by the golden rule. But it’s been my experience that most people do not. As a result, I’ve been bullied and taken advantage of my entire life.

I’ve had it up to here. (No, not there. Much higher than that. Here.)

I’m over it. I’m done. I will not be pushed around anymore. Not by strangers, not by loved ones, and definitely not by politicians. I am establishing the sharp boundaries that I’ve always allowed to remain fuzzy at best. This far, and no further.

I’m not planning to become a bully. I’m not going to be gratuitously rude or selfish. But I won’t be passively stepped on. I am learning to stick up for myself. I’m learning that I have a right to say no. It’s frustrating that it’s taken me so long to figure this stuff out.

We need to teach our children to be respectful, yes, but also not to take any crap. Because as the world becomes more crowded, there will be plenty of crap to go around. And then some.

It is possible to be kind and strong at the same time. It’s okay, and very necessary, to stand in your power. It may take practice to reach that acceptable balance. But it can be done.

kindness

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How to Piss Off a Bridgetender

I have spent a great deal of time writing about how much I love my job. I really do. I swear I do. Just… not today.

Perhaps it’s because we are marinating in the last, bitter dregs of the holiday season, and everyone is getting cranky. Perhaps I’m the bitter one, because everyone is out on the water, celebrating in their Christmas light bedecked boats, and I’m stuck in this poorly insulated tower, alone, and will never own a boat. Perhaps my nerves are on edge due to political dread, or because I haven’t really seen the sun in weeks. I don’t know. But I’m in a foul mood.

I think everyone should be allowed to vent once in a while, even those of us who realize that in the overall scheme of things, we have a great deal to be grateful for. So fasten your seat belts. I’m about to rant all over you.

After 15 years as a bridgetender, I think I’ve pretty much seen it all. But here are some of the more annoying things that come up time and time and freakin’ time again. It’s enough to make me turn into a bridge troll.

I shall divide my rants up into the various forms of stupidity involved, just for clarity’s sake.

Boater Stupidity

  • You wouldn’t buy a very expensive car and hop into it without knowing the rules of the road, would you? Well, a distressing number of boaters seem to do this. If you have achieved enough financial success to own a vessel, kindly take the time to know what the hell you are doing. The life you save could be mine, or that of someone else.
  • If you can afford a boat, you can afford to invest in a working marine radio and learn how to use it. First of all, this isn’t a convoy. We don’t use “10-4” or any of the other 10 codes. And if you call me and have your own volume turned down, I can respond all day long and you’re not going to hear me. Don’t blame me for that.
  • My voice isn’t that deep. Why do you assume I’m a “sir”?
  • Do not call me on the phone. This isn’t a date. Contact me via the CORRECT horn signals (which you’d know if you read the Coastguard regulations), or call me on the radio.
  • Be polite. I’m not your servant or your minion. If you “demand” an opening “immediately upon” your arrival, there is nothing on earth that will be more apt to tempt me to make you paddle in circles for a while. As in all other parts of your life, you’ll be amazed at how far a simple “please” and “thank you” will get you.
  • Don’t tie up the radio with unimportant chatter. Someone could be sinking out there.
  • Know your mast height. A shocking number of boats don’t actually require a bridge opening. Operating a bridge costs the taxpayer money. And slowing down street traffic for no good reason is never appreciated.
  • Know where the hell you are. You should get charts, but even a Rand McNally map is better than nothing. The other day, I had boats calling me the Ravenna Drawbridge and the Washington Drawbridge, neither of which exists in Seattle.
  • And just calling me “drawbridge” doesn’t work, either. There are often several drawbridges within the sound of your radio. And no bridgetender, to my knowledge, can read your mind.
  • All drawbridges are bound by the Coastguard Federal Regulations. This means that many of us have time periods in which we cannot open for most boaters. Don’t argue with me about it. That won’t change anything. And don’t take it personally. I was not put on this earth to make you late for your golf game.
  • And by the way, if you’re on a sailboat, why on earth are you so impatient? You. Are. On. A. Sailboat.
  • This isn’t my first rodeo. If you ask for an opening and I tell you that I’ll start it upon your approach, continue your approach. I’m timing it based on your rate of speed. If you come to a dead halt before I’ve opened the bridge, that will just make the time the bridge has to stay open for you that much longer. Your lack of consideration backs up traffic for miles. Surprise! The world does not revolve around you.
  • Don’t call me for an opening when you’re still 10 minutes away. I can think of a million things I’d rather do than stand at the operating console, idly waiting for you to show up.
  • Don’t assume I’m asleep. It’s insulting. I’m never asleep. I’m a professional.
  • It is every bit as illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated as it is to operate a car in that condition. When you are drunk, I cannot effectively communicate with you. Ineffective communication on the water can be deadly.

Automotive Stupidity

  • The average drawbridge opening is only 4 ½ minutes long. And you knew you were taking a route that took you over a drawbridge. So there’s no reason to throw a tantrum when you have to wait while a drawbridge opens.
  • There’s also no reason to do a u-turn. By the time you take your detour, that 4 ½ minutes will have passed. It’d be far more pleasant for you to just step out of your car for a minute and enjoy the scenery. Life’s too short.
  • Turn off your engine. Why pollute the atmosphere, when it’s been proven that idling more than 30 seconds is much less fuel efficient than turning your car off and restarting it again?
  • You can honk at me all you want. It’s not going to make the bridge opening go any faster.
  • Rude gestures just make you look like a jerk.
  • When the bridge closes and there’s a pause before the traffic gates go up, it’s not that I’m up here picking my nose. The bridge locks are being driven beneath the street. Just because you don’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Hold your freakin’ horses.

Bicycle and/or Pedestrian Stupidity

  • If you see lights flashing and/or hear gongs, that means STOP. Don’t cross the drawbridge. It does NOT mean stop halfway across the bridge to take a selfie. It doesn’t mean stand there and take in the view. It doesn’t mean slow down. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should crawl under the gates. The rules apply to everyone, including you, and they’re there for your safety.
  • Barges can’t slam on the brakes. You need to get out of the way.
  • Cursing at me won’t speed up the opening any more than honking at me does.
  • Projectiles are not appreciated. People in Seattle don’t throw as many eggs and rocks and beer bottles and tomatoes as the people in Florida did. But I’ve never been in a bridge tower anywhere in the country that hasn’t been shot at at least once. What have I ever done to you that merits my death or injury?
  • Please don’t vandalize the bridge. We are proud of it. And many of your fellow citizens are, too. Also, please don’t vandalize my car. I’ve done nothing to you except work hard to ensure that you are safe.
  • Climbing over an opening drawbridge might look cool in the movies, but it can get you killed. And I’ll be the one who has to carry that for the rest of my life. Be a daredevil someplace else.
  • There is nothing more terrifying than being all alone, and going into one of the machinery rooms below the street only to find that someone has broken in and is still there. And it happens just enough to make me jumpy. Can you just… not? If you’re curious, ask for a tour.

Hoooo! I feel cleansed! Now, back to work.

But don’t get me wrong. The vast majority of the boaters, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are polite, friendly and easy to deal with. I only wish the rest were as cooperative and pleasant. Bridgetenders really do care about all of you. That’s why we’re here, doing what we do. So you’ll have to forgive me if I sometimes get irritated that there are a few out there who don’t care as much as we do.

Oh, and did I mention? It’s my birthday.

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Fireworks Fallout

Apparently I have moved into a very patriotic neighborhood. Even though the 4th of July is several days in the past, my neighbors on all sides are still setting off fireworks at random moments. Very random moments. Mid day. Three in the morning.

As I write this, my dogs are cowering behind me, under the covers. They will be shaking for a long time. This is never a good month for them. I have to force them outside to do their business. It takes them a long time to feel safe again.

I can understand the desire to celebrate, and I actually do love fireworks. I just like them to be predictable and properly monitored and not close enough to set my house afire. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

And if my dogs are terrified, I can’t even imagine what this month must be like for combat veterans with PTSD. It must feel like they’re back in the thick of things again, risking their lives. It must feel like death is imminent. Most of us cannot comprehend what that’s like.

Just like not everyone wants to hear your blasting radio as you go down the street, there’s a distinct possibility that not all of your neighbors find your fireworks fun. Patriotism doesn’t mean, “I’ll pursue my happiness, and to hell with you.” Freedom doesn’t mean freedom from common decency. That concept seems to be one of the finer points of democracy that has fallen by the wayside, and it’s a shame.

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Waiting to Exhale

I’ve been through some of the most stressful months of my entire life. Death, job hunting, moving, evil and unscrupulous landlady and her ex-convict son, even more evil and unscrupulous internet provider (more about that in a few days) all piled one on top of the other, and it makes me tired. If I were the gun loving type I’d probably be a menace to society right about now. I’m on the ragged edge.

What I need more than anything is to be cut a teeny tiny bit of slack, m’kay? Could you do that, universe? Just for a second?

And I have to constantly remind myself that the average asshole on the street has absolutely no idea how close I am to the breaking point. It’s not their fault that their behavior just feels like piling on to me. So I am forced to cut everyone else the slack that I so desperately need right now, and it’s taking an enormous amount of effort on my part.

I admire my dogs. They can go from states of extreme agitation to complete and utter relaxation in 2 seconds flat. Apparently it just requires turning in a circle three times (never two, never four) and then heaving a heavy sigh, and whoosh, they’re the poster children for total tranquility.

I need to learn to do that. But in the mean time I am learning how important it is to treat strangers with courtesy and respect. You have no idea what they might be going through. Your kindness may be just the balm they need to carry on for a few more minutes. Many of us are taking life just one minute at a time. So be good to one another. Please.

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[Image credit: claimthevictory.org]

Bully for You, Maybe, but not for Me

Brace yourself, dear reader, for I am in a foul mood.

I am gratified to see that there are now many campaigns out there designed to stop bullying in our schools. Three very good ones, but by no means the only ones, are www.stopbullying.gov/, www.stopbullyingnowfoundation.org/‎, and www.meanstinks.com/‎ .

I wish there had been programs like these when I was growing up. I was the smallest kid. I wore glasses. And I was often the extreme minority in schools located in very rough neighborhoods. I learned to curl up into a ball and let them beat on me until they got bored and walked away, the whole time praying that my kidneys would emerge from the fracas intact.

And except for one brief shining moment when I snapped and beat the living crap out of a girl who had been beating me up for months, the passive route has been mine, either literally or figuratively, my entire life. If stuffing one’s anger were an Olympic sport, I’d definitely have a chest full of gold medals.

Always be polite. Don’t make waves. Pick your battles. Take the high road. Do unto others.

But this morning I woke up furious and thought, dammit, WHY? Why should I just take it and take it and take it?

I am beginning to see a clear pattern, and it has me outraged. Bullying, you see, takes on many, many forms, and it’s not simply reserved for childhood. It’s not as if people suddenly start treating you decently once you graduate.

Have you ever experienced one of these types of bullying?

  • Being picked on or manipulated by a sibling,
  • humiliated or beaten up by a schoolmate,
  • beaten by another adult,
  • harassed by a coworker,
  • intimidated by someone,
  • treated like crap by a supervisor,
  • or raped (and yes, in my opinion this falls under the bullying umbrella because it’s a form of violence and aggression in the extreme)?
  • Have you been on the receiving end of road rage,
  • treated rudely by a stranger,
  • or treated rudely by a loved one on such a regular basis that you begin to think you deserve it?
  • Has anyone ever tried to make you feel crazy for feeling the way you feel,
  • or tried to make you feel stupid or silly for not sharing their opinion?
  • Has anyone ever robbed you,
  • cheated you out of money,
  • lied to you in order to get an advantage,
  • or manipulated you to make you do something you didn’t want to do?
  • Has anyone put you at risk and expected you to keep quiet about it?
  • Has anyone gossiped about you to damage your reputation,
  • gone out of their way to ruin an experience that you were enjoying,
  • or gotten drunk or drugged to have an “excuse” for their unacceptable behavior?
  • Has someone you loved or trusted told you to just sit back and take outrageous behavior so that they themselves don’t have to deal with the drama?
  • Have you ever been a victim of a troll on Facebook or your blog?
  • Has someone ever hidden behind their internet anonymity to behave obnoxiously when they wouldn’t have the courage to do so otherwise?
  • Has anyone ever cut in front of you in line?
  • Has someone scammed you out of your hard earned money? (For my personal experience with that, see “Andy Johnson, SHAME on You!!!“)

I have experienced all of these things at one time or another. And I’ve made excuses for people, looked the other way, maintained my dignity, done the right thing, taken one for the team, or thought, “Okay, maybe I deserved that,” my whole freakin’ life. At one point or another I have been a welcome mat for every douche bag within a 50 mile radius.

I have also spent an inordinate amount of time sticking up for the underdogs of this world, never truly recognizing that I was one of them and that I should put as much energy into sticking up for myself as I do for others.

Maybe all of this is coming to the surface for me now because I have been catching it from all directions recently. Maybe it’s because I feel like we, as a nation, are being bullied by our politicians. Maybe it’s just that at age 48, the scales have finally fallen from my eyes.

Whatever it is, I think people may start seeing a side of me that they have never seen before. I’m done with expecting respect and being sadly mistaken. Now it’s time to demand it, require it, and accept nothing less.

I am done with curling up in a ball. Now is the time to realize that not only do I deserve respect, but also that those who do not give me respect do not deserve to be a part of my life.

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Chaos: The New Normal?

A coworker of mine was describing a situation in which he and his brother were watching TV and they got into an argument which then escalated into a fist fight, and the police had to be called. Just a regular Tuesday night at Chez Coworker, apparently. I remember thinking, “Huh. My whole life, the police have never been called to my house. Am I normal, or is he?”

Someone else I know regularly shouts and makes intimidating gestures, causing tension, fear and anxiety in his household. He says that he’s of Mediterranean descent, so he can’t help it. That made me wonder about all the Italians and Greeks and Turks that I’ve passed on the street who have managed to behave themselves and act with courtesy and respect. Who’s the stereotype?

And then there’s the girl whose husband tried to choke her. But she’s still with him, because she loves him. I tried to imagine sleeping under the same roof with someone, even for one night, who had tried to kill me. I’m not getting any pictures.

Another story: this guy left his car keys on the counter and went to sleep. One of his relatives took the car without permission and got into an accident. The guy wakes up, sees the damage to the car, asks who was responsible, and no one admits to it. And they all (every one of them is an adult) still live with him. Oh no. Not me. Not even for a second. I’d have gathered them all in one room and said, “Either someone confesses and makes arrangements to pay for damages, or every single one of you is out on the street.”

Another woman racked up thousands of dollars in phone bills by calling her boyfriend who was in the military overseas. She was the only one in the house who even knew someone overseas, so there was no doubt who was responsible. Not only did she not pay the bills, but since the phone was in her parent’s name, their service got cut off, and they haven’t been able to have a house phone for years because of it. Not to mention the fact that their credit is ruined. It’s the great unspoken thing in the family, but apparently she has no remorse whatsoever. That same girl’s sister stole her own 10 year old child’s birthday money.

All of these things have me wondering, who is living a life outside the norm? Me, for being shocked by all of the above, or them? Are most of the people on the planet just animals with no moral compass whatsoever? Should the Jerry Springer Show be considered a documentary? And to think there are people out there who still refuse to believe we’re related to primates. Sheesh.

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