Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fair’s Fair

Mark Dorroh

There’s a lot of chatter about the coarsening of modern America culture, most of it justified. I, happily, have stumbled upon an anti-coarsening protocol you may find useful. Give it a 90-day trial in your own home.

It works like this: when you are given proper, respectful and professional service, take a moment and report your experience to the service person’s supervisor.

Try it. You simply won't believe the rewards which accrue to you and your fellow human beings.

The patent on this idea was taken out years ago by, among others, Jesus Christ and the great Confucian philosopher Mencius, so I'm not claiming royalties. I just want to see it spread like kudzu, that's all.

Like many great discoveries, this one came about as the result of random circumstances. Monday, our telephone line worked fine until about midday, then the dial tone disappeared and attempts to call in were met with a busy signal.

Tuesday morning, I called our service provider’s 800 number and, following my interaction with the voicemail system, explained our plight to a live agent, one “Maria.”

Yes, we had tried the outside service box test with a plug-in phone, and no, that had not yielded a dial tone. Maria then asked if the test had been conducted at least 30 minutes after all computers, faxes and phones in our home had been disconnected. When I told her it had not, her joy was unbounded.

“Try that, and if it doesn’t get your dial tone back, we’ll send a service representative at no cost to you,” she said. “Get back to me, okay?”

In days gone by, I would simply have said, “Thank you, Ma’am,” and hung up. But in days gone by, good professional service was far more prevalent in the American workplace. That’s because in the old days, most Americans earned their livings making things or growing things or catching things or mining things. But the mammoth workforce shift from production to service has thrown a lot of us into a sector for which some are temperamentally unsuited.

A lot of workers who would be perfectly competent at growing corn or striking out widgets on a factory press now have jobs in which they deal with the general public eight hours a day. A production worker has to get along with his foreman, shop steward and coworkers.

A service person has to get along with any geek who calls on the phone or shows up at his work station.

And geeks they are, on a distressingly regular a basis. A friend of mine who joyously served the public for decades put it this way; “I’ll tell ya, these people ask some hellacious stupid questions.”

Having served the public in one capacity or other for most of my adult life, I can confirm the truth of his assessment. But, like him, I also get enough of a kick out of people (and enjoy my jobs enough) to be tolerant.

Anybody, especially when trying to get something fixed, is liable to panic and make an ignorant inquiry or two. So we who understand the dynamics of relationships get in the habit, early on, of treating everyone like a friendly stranger who speaks a different language.

That’s what Maria did for me. In spite of my abysmal ignorance of her area of expertise, she was patient and pleasant.

So instead of saying “thank you” and hanging up, I asked for her name, then said I’d like to tell her supervisor how well she’d done at her job. She was surprised and grateful; I was blasé.

“Hey, if you’d screwed up, you can bet I’d be telling your boss about that ... and fair’s fair,” I said.

It took about one minute out of my life to wait for her boss to come on the line, deliver my message and go on my way.

Since most of his referrals from downstairs are complaints, he was delighted to hear from me. He promised to put a complimentary note in Maria’s file, and I thanked him for that too.

In the space of a few minutes I made all three of us feel good, rewarded a worker with a heartfelt “attagirl” and made the world a marginally more genteel place in which to work and live.

Imagine a society in which everyone did likewise.

Take your time.

Savor it.

For the record, Maria’s solution worked like a charm. This fact bolsters my core belief that “all good things come to him who is considerate.”

So here’s the deal: You’ve got your marching orders and a 90-day free trial. Now, let’s go out and save the world, one harried service person at a time.

Come on, don't make me beg. Because I will.

Mom, Dad, North, South and the folk poetry of archaic slang


Living south of the Mason-Dixon Line is a sweet if unsettling experience for this Midwestern boy on his own.

One would have to conjecture at least part of the reason is rooted in Your Humble Correspondent's DNA. Daddy was a Mississippi Baptist farm boy gone north to make his fortune. Mom was a nice Pennsylvania Methodist girl gently reared in South Florida.

Although they were always happy to drive me to and from Sunday school, neither parent spent a lot of time congregating with coreligionists. It's fair to say my folks were freethinkers in a time when that mindset was publicly frowned upon by the putative elite. Their honorable social compromise was to keep their libertarian souls intact while observing most standard rituals of social decorum.

And decorum, my friends, is observed with some degree of variance depending upon latitude and attitude. My parents' dating history illustrates the point nicely.

When Ralph Dorroh met Gay Schell, he was properly smitten. By way of inviting her out to dine and dance with him, he asked if she would like to go "whoop and holler" some night.

Upon (brief) reflection, she thought not.

Ms. Schell was endlessly tickled with Daddy's down-home Southernisms such as, "I carried her to town."

"Did you wear a saddle," she would pertly inquire, "or did she ride you bareback?"

Fortunately, for me at least, the next time Mom saw Dad, he was wearing a crisp new suit, his curly black hair was shiny (as were his shoes), his tie was perfectly knotted and he'd sanded off many of the rough edges which had identified him as a man no nice young woman would allow courting privileges.

Eight weeks later, they wed.

Oh yeah, I forgot to say: My family's a little precipitous, a fact to which many of you had, no doubt, already twigged.

Anyway, with this mixed batch of genetic material, plus growing up in Northern Kentucky across the river from Cincinnati, I can sort of "pass" as a native in a lot of places. And getting back to Daddy's Dixie wasn't quite the culture shock I had anticipated, Nonwhite-Loving Yankee Meddler that I truly am.

Many Southern customs appeal to me greatly. For one thing, there's all this cool social hugging.

Folks down South will hug you on the merest pretext. All kinds of folks; big ones, little ones, black ones, white ones, female ones, male ones … it's like living in a giant commune of socially conservative hippies. That is to say, they don't necessarily want to have sex with you, but a hearty clinch and air kisses - between women and women or between women and men* - are accepted practice.

I used to really get off on it when the late Hopewell Mayor Teeny Ledbetter Wendell would see me at a city council meeting and accept a big hug. For whatever reason, I find it endlessly gratifying to greet elected officials with expostulations such as, "C'mere, Sweet Thang, and gimme some love!"

Which brings us to the theme of today's offering: I really want to bring back some of the best, most poetic examples of archaic slang.

Many of the really evocative ones never grow old: "Sweet Thang," for instance, has enjoyed a lifespan of at least a hundred years and it's still going strong. By comparison, "Cat's Pajamas," "Bee's Knees" and "23 Skidoo" have disappeared into the mists of time.

Which is a shame. So many of the vulgar expressions we employ could and should be replaced with the folk poetry of achaic slang. For instance:

The next time your supervisor drops a bale of work on you at 4:43 on a Friday with the demand that it be finished and on his/her desktop no later than noon, Monday, don't, upon his/her departure from your workspace, say, "Bleeeeeeeeep!" or give voice to your suspicions concerning the inappropriate and unhealthy diversity of species in his/her immediate family.

Try instead the terse, elegant, punchy "Rats!" If it's good enough for a lifetime loser like Charlie Brown, it's gotta have legs.

Alternatively, to express delighted surprise, instead of saying, "Whall, Gaw' D___!" try "My stars and garters!" or "Now don't that just about take the rag off'en the bush!"

Your friends will be charmed, as will that stud muffin at next table with the curly hair and spit-shined shoes. Also, you will have avoided breaking yet another Commandment.

Colorful, metaphorical hyperbole is another lost art these days. Mom, for instance, used to say prices were getting to be "higher than a cat's back." Say that today and you'll get a nasty letter from PETA.

One of Daddy's all-time great throwaways was his assertion that in June, the mosquitoes in Canada were "big enough to stand flat-footed and rape turkeys."

PETA wouldn't even bother sending the letter to Dad. Were he alive today, they'd be either hauling his butt into court every five minutes or mining his toothbrush with small, pressure-sensitive explosive devices.

Some people just don't appreciate folk poetry when they hear it.

* In most neighborhoods hereabouts.