Thursday, May 29, 2008

He Had a Story

Victor was annoying. Every time I thought I was free of him the phone would ring and he would return. He was the monkey on my back that I just couldn’t shake.

The kindly, soft spoken voice on the other end of the phone line announced that she was from the local senior center. “We’re just checking to see if Victor would be joining us for our senior citizens’ Wednesday Lunch Bunch today. We can send the van to pick him up. We’d so love to see him. Josephine is looking forward to hearing more of his stories.” In the past 4 years I’d received a couple dozen of these calls. I told the lady the same thing I did every time.

“You have the wrong number. Victor doesn’t live here.”

She always apologized for bothering me and assured me it wouldn’t happen again.

But it did. A lot. When we finally got caller ID for our home phone, I was able to see on the display ahead of time when it was the senior center calling. Shaking my head, I let the phone ring. Later on I would check my messages.

“We’re just checking to see if Victor would be joining us for our senior citizens’ Wednesday Lunch Bunch today. We can send the van to pick him up. Please let us know if he would like to come. We’d so love to see him."

I never called her back. In fact, more than a few annoying Victor messages went by unreturned.

One night at dinner I told the family my frustrating story. I didn’t receive the calls every week so I ventured a guess that someone was an occasional misdialer. Or perhaps Victor’s number was correct on one list but not another.

“It is so annoying to me that they keep calling and can’t get his number right!” I complained to the family.

Between bites, the husband piped up, “You think you’re annoyed? Imagine how annoyed poor Victor is to not be picked up for the Wednesday Lunch Bunch. That Lunch Bunch could be the highlight of his week. The senior center lady thinks she’s left a message at the right home. When you don’t answer or call her back she just assumes Victor isn’t coming. Meanwhile, poor, lonely, and most likely hungry Victor is sitting at home wondering why nobody called him for Wednesday Lunch Bunch this week.”

I felt a bit guilty. I had never thought of Victor as a real person. To me, Victor was an annoying phone call.

The next time the senior center called, I answered. As firmly as I possibly could, I told them that this was not Victor’s phone number and they needed to find the right number because poor Victor probably DID want to come to Wednesday Lunch Bunch. But while I was pleading Victor’s case my main motivation was still to rid myself of my annoying Victor phone calls.

And then miraculously…the phone calls stopped. I was finally free of Victor…

…until a few weeks ago when I opened the local newspaper and my stomach turned. I saw that name. Victor. I just knew it was him. I was holding his obituary in my hands.

This time Victor wasn’t an annoying phone call. Victor was a real person. He had a story.

Victor was 92 when he died after a “series of medical conditions”. Victor had been married to the same woman for 56 years. He served in the Army in World War II. He went to college. He was a member of the Boy Scouts of America for 55 years serving for many decades as a Scoutmaster. Victor had 5 children, 16 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren. He outlived his wife and two of his sons. Victor loved crossword puzzles, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. In 1995 Victor was even named Citizen of the Year for my city.

Hmmm. I felt myself having to take a deep breath.

Victor had a family. He had a full life. He probably had an old Army uniform in the back of his closet. He had people who loved him. He probably had a 5 generation photo taken of him and his offspring. He had interests. He probably had a stack of crossword puzzle books next to his chair. He helped people. For goodness sake, Victor was Citizen of the Year. He probably still had the plaque on the wall.

Victor wasn’t annoying. Victor was a real person. He had a story.

The final part of the obituary stated that “Victor particularly loved the activities at the local senior center and always enjoyed all of his friends from the Wednesday Lunch Bunch. In lieu of flowers, Victor would be pleased if all donations were made to the local senior center.”

I sat there in silence staring at his photo accompanying the obituary. Then I began to read Victor’s obituary for a second time. This time though, I didn’t make it past the first line before I started to cry. I had missed it the first time.

“Victor passed away quietly on Wednesday, April 30th………”

It was a Wednesday. He died on a Wednesday. It really bothered me that he died on a Wednesday. I wondered how many Wednesday Lunch Bunches he missed because I ignored the senior center’s phone calls.

It was very easy for me to write Victor off. He was annoying. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t my problem.

I will always feel guilty, however, for not returning those senior center messages. Victor deserved to be treated better. Most people do.

It never dawned on me that Victor was a real person.

He had a story.

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The Slightly Exaggerated staff has recently been seen dancing like a fool and singing to the mirror the new Madonna/Justin Timberlake song, 4 Minutes. We've also devoured every book that author Augusten Burroughs has written. While not for the easily offended, his sometimes rated R(or worse) books and collections of stories will make you realize that your childhood and your life isn't that bad after all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dear Mr. President

To: Mr. President (George Bush)

CC: Mr. Gore, Ms. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain

Dear Mr. President, I, your average American citizen, have done my part. At least I’ve tried. And I know you’ll be proud of me. I’ve contributed a much needed boost to this sagging economy. You see, I’ve spent my special tax refund. I have purchased a treadmill that was made in America. I am hoping that by buying this treadmill I will not only help pull America out of this recession but also transform my body as well. In addition to helping the economy and becoming supremely fit, I am counting on this treadmill to help me reduce my stress level. You see Mr. President, it’s not only the economy that has me worried. Have you watched the news lately? It seems that we have an awful lot of things to be worried about and I’ve been finding myself just a bit overwhelmed. I’m trying to be a good global citizen but I’m finding it quite challenging. Mr. President, I have a few areas of concern that I’d like to bring to your attention.

First of all, these high gas prices are a huge pain in my behind. I’m having to plan ahead and be way more organized than, frankly, I’m capable of. I have to make a grocery list for the entire week so that I only drive there once. I now have to consolidate my errands and only shop at the stores that are the closest to me. Frankly, Mr. President, the nearest Taco Del Mar is 8 miles away and the nearest Trader Joe’s is 15 miles away and I don’t think I can afford to drive there anymore. Life without an occasional Mondo Burrito and some Trader Joe’s carne asada will most definitely be a hardship! In fact, gas prices are so high that the gearhead husband is even talking about making our next car a dorky looking hybrid. I am approaching the age of 40, Mr. President, and I was really hoping to give the appearance of being a bit shallower and a whole lot cooler with my next vehicle. I’m not sure the hybrid will help me do that in my upscale suburban community.

And speaking of grocery shopping, can you possibly explain why my cage free eggs from the happy “free to wander” chickens and my imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are costing so much these days? If prices continue to go up Mr. President, I will be forced to buy eggs from those poor cramped chickens and parmesan that comes from, of all places, Wisconsin. And on top of that, I am feeling quite bombarded with all of this “eat locally and eat organic” propaganda. I’m not sure that’s going to work out too well for me. It would be most difficult to give up “fresh” pineapple from Hawaii. Organic ginger root is much more expensive than the regular kind. And I’m pretty sure that Fruity Cheerios don’t qualify as eating locally. I have planted a garden out back but the odds on anything growing well enough that my family could actually eat it are somewhat slim. Oh, also, I have proposed to the neighborhood homeowner’s association that we could help ease this global rice shortage by turning our retention pond into a rice paddy, but they seemed to think I was kidding and have yet to vote on my proposition. I’ll keep you posted.

I have always tried my best to do the right things, Mr. President, even before our recent increase in things to worry about. I make the husband hand weed every weed out of our lawn instead of using poisonous weed killer. I occasionally walk to the store instead of driving if I’m only getting a few items. I did not have more than two children knowing it would make a real difference in controlling global population growth. I recycle or reuse most everything I can except sandwich baggies, which take far too much time to rinse out. I adopted my animals from shelters instead of breeders, I wash my fruits and veggies before I eat them, and I vote in every single election that doesn’t require me to declare a party affiliation. (Sorry.) I try and get enough sleep, I volunteer at the schools and I even voted yes on the last school levy. I exercise semi regularly, always keep the volume low when I have my MP3 earplugs in and almost always avoid standing downwind when the neighbor smokes. I only put full loads of laundry in my washing machine and dishwasher, I always use my bath towels over many times before I wash them and I gave a can of garbanzo beans to the boy scouts food drive last Saturday. I even watched Mr. Gore’s global warming video. Granted, it was snowing in April when I watched it, but he definitely convinced me that the end is quite near…especially for those poor polar bears.

I must tell you however, Mr. President, that with so many things to keep track of these days in order to be a good global citizen I admit that I’ve started falling behind in a few areas. Just the other day I got sick of my extra plastic grocery bags falling out of my pantry and I just threw them away. I didn’t take them back to the store or try and store them. I just hucked them. I also bought wasteful plastic water bottles and didn’t even check to see that they were the right recycle number that won’t poison my body with leached chemicals. At least twice a week I take a shower longer than 5 minutes and I never conserve water by turning it off while I’m soaping up. I’m not adequately prepared for the impending earthquake or flood or terrorist attack that I just know is right around the corner. None of my appliances have received the most recent “energy star” certification nor are they a pretty blue color like the ones I saw in Sears the other day. Sometimes I turn the heat up when I’m too lazy to put on a sweater, I usually let the water run down the drain until it’s warm when I wash my face, and much to the husband’s chagrin, I frequently leave the refrigerator door wide open if I know I will be coming back to it within the next couple of minutes. I've left the TV on when I wasn't watching it, I've left the lights on when I wasn't in the room and I leave the computer on when I'm not even home. I’m ashamed to admit it but I have willingly purchased clothing made by 3rd world 5 year old girls, copied a CD on to my computer that I checked out from the library and have given up on composting my food scraps.

So you see, Mr. President, I am in sad shape. I implore you to help me and help our country. It has just become too overwhelming to try and do everything the way it’s supposed to be done. After all, this is America, the land of opportunity and the land of excess. I am finding it hard to believe that I live in the richest country in the world and yet am constantly feeling bad about myself for not measuring up to the ideal global citizen. I am tired of always having to change my ways and cut back on something. I am tired of having to think about others and the environment and those stinkin’ polar bears. Mr. President, could you please find a way to take us back to the good ol’ days when I could live my life without so much thought, without feeling guilty and without calculating how much the gas costs to do it?

Respectfully yours,
An average American citizen

Check This Out!

If you are interested in being a better global citizen and eating a bit more locally, check out Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver and her family lived for one year eating only locally grown food. You may not want to do the same but she just might inspire you to plant a tomato plant or two.

I was introduced to this book by a high school friend of mine who has her own fabulous and well written blog reviewing books. Check out Escape to Books at