Once a Reporter, Always a Reporter

Three old things I know: Reporters should be as a fly on the wall. Once a reporter, always a reporter. Flies on walls are more attended than political spouses. Thus I blog.

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Name: Viki Volk
Location: St. George Island, Maryland

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Swimming In Poison

Check this out. A nonprofit devoted to business expansion in the Washington D.C. region includes in its guidelines this advice, “need to refrain from disparaging other localities,” as quoted by V. Dion Haynes in a recent Washington Post Business story.

The business leaders in the greater Washington D.C. region need to be told to be polite?

Oh, my, my, my, my, my. Used to be courtesy paid off, it ranked right up there with Cleanliness and Godliness as the upward mobility route.

Not that the loss of courtesy is news, but to such an extent that grownups have to remind grownups that rudeness is acting in their own worst interests? They need to be reminded to be courteous when representing their company? Be polite when portraying themselves?

The Be Polite message always seemed to be: Act right to get your way. Act obnoxiously and you will not. Or, as my mother was fond of saying, “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”

Clearly that message has gone astray. Courtesy used to be an expense-neutral commodity whereas discourtesy cost opportunities and advancement. So maybe it is the results that have changed. Maybe disrespect and rudeness don’t backfire anymore. Maybe courtesy no longer reflects back upon itself.

And maybe that’s why I so often feel I’m swimming in poison.

I have wanted to write about swimming in poison for some time now but am usually so immersed, dispassionate commentary eludes me. When I’m in the pool drowning in it, it’s all I spit back out.

We make this poison out of pure meanness, I think. And I can manufacture meanness as fast as anyone. It’s rampant in the world, perhaps sparked by nothing more (or less) than unvoiced insecurities and fears. Maybe by scars left in 7th grade.

We feel like such little things in the overall scheme; cornered in our various pools of meanness and fears and misunderstandings, rarely if ever receiving recognition deserved.

It is tough to be a grownup. As Marshall McLuhan described it, “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

Making that even more frightening, according to Buckminster Fuller’s seminal “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, “… there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it..

“Lack of instruction,” Fuller continued, “has forced us to find that there are two kinds of berries-red berries that will kill us and red berries that will nourish us.”

I’m thinking we’ve been chewing on a lot of bad berries lately.

For a variety of reasons I’ve not been picking any berries lately – to extend the metaphor – although the respite will end soon and I will be back swimming in both the Pool of the Political Spouses and the Pool of the Nonprofit Beggaries– and there is plenty of poison flowing in both those places.

I write now because the brief respite lets me ponder ways to swim across without swallowing and make resolves to add no more poison of my own. As I mourn the lack of an instruction manual to tell me how, exactly, to do those things, it strikes me that that Greater Business Leader’s Guide is exactly what we do need. Maybe that is where Spaceship Earth is right now, at a place where the best instructions we can offer is to be polite.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

No More Kissing

What a relief! Finally a reason to turn away this kissy-kissy habit that has become the bane of many a political spouse and one would have to presume thousands of others, who, let's be honest, were much happier with a handshake instead of a kiss.

I'm not talking about those air kisses or even the cheek-to-cheek stuff. I'm talking about how in the past half-decade this kissing business has become extreme.

I don't think it was the matter of my demotion from reporter to political spouse that accentuated my personal awareness of this. I am willing to concede that I might have been more immune to the practice as a reporter but even so, I think this increased kissing was happening in the wider world and merely coincided with my demotion.

It seemed to be an established practice when I was a mere candidate's wife. Standing next to an already installed political spouse I watched with dread a reknowned lip-to-lip politico making his way down a spousal greeting line. (You may ask, "Why were only the spouses stuck in this line?" Even now as a bona fide elected official's spouse I can still only respond that I don't know. But after a mere four years I must add that their timing is a constant wonder to all us spouses.)

So, standing next to this tenured spouse, watching the lip-locker drooling his way toward us I asked, "Once you're elected, can you just say no? Turn your cheek? Avoid this lip-lock?"

"No," she said just before the lip-to-lipper drooled her silent.

As he turned to drool one on me she took a deep slug of her deeply amber shaded drink and as he laid one on me she lowered her drink and confessed quietly in my ear, "It's why I drink. It kills the germs."

The H1N1 flu warnings do not suggest alcohol as an antidote, but the warnings do make clear that the casual lip-lock is a bad plan in a world frightened of a pandemic. So while the warnings don't pointblank admonish casual kissing those masks appearing on everyone's faces imply it. And the constant handwashing advice goes further, suggesting that the handshake might rightfully be banished as well.

This has given me pause, I had never equated the handshake to a kiss, which is quite surprising as I look back. My decades of public bathroom behavior inspired stand-up comedy from both my daughters. Who would have thought washing with soap through at least two choruses of Happy Birthday, using elbows for turning off faucets and toilet paper for opening doors in restrooms equipped only with blow driers could be so inspirational?

But for all of that bathroom paranoia, I was a consummate handshaker. And for decades of such behavior I had never even heard of hand sanitizers. What was I thinking? Extending my hand all these years of reportage to politicians, criminals, lawyers, teachers, the afflicted, the winners and the losers, all in the search of a good story, a better angle, a closer bond. I used those same hands to first diaper, then brush hair and ultimately guide those little girls in and out of those bathroom incubators for, well, ever it seemed at the time.

And I missed the grip after my fall from reporter to political spouse. As a reporter the handshake felt like a great equalizer. As a spouse I learned that my old hand clasp became merely a handle pulling me into often awkward and occasionally really yucky encounters. Perhaps this is merely redirected bathroom paranoia, but once no one was interested in printing what I had to say about those objects of my hand clasps it began to feel that some of those former claspers relished lipping me up in my new role. And it didn't feel as though they meant it in the good way.

So these pandemic fears of damp germ distribution seem a healthy step toward a better life for many -- certainly for me -- but what's the alternative with handshaking suddenly considered risky behavior as well?

A friend suggests the oriental bow. Palms clasped together -- not offered -- and a slight inclination of the head toward your own fingertips. Of course, she counsels, the lesser personage must bow slightly deeper to the higher ranked, which will certainly pose some difficulties -- although not for spouses who are pretty clear where they stand in most greeting situations. But the lower bow can carry its own gender issues, not the least of which will be who gets the best view down someone's blouse.

Still, I like the idea. Frankly, looking strikes me as a lot healthier than all this touching. And I can think of a certain sloppy kisser who might be well pleased with the trade-off.

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