Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Today is Helen Keller’s birthday.  

I’ve been a long-time admirer of Helen Keller. To say she was a remarkable woman doesn’t even begin to extol her achievements. 

Yes, we all remember the iconic scene at the water pump when she was seven years old and made the connection that the finger-spelling meant “water”. (Interestingly enough, Helen never had any memory of that event.) Impressive, yes, but by the time she was ten, she was tackling advanced German, French, Latin and Greek.

I wonder what she would think of kids nowadays who text “wer u at”.

She graduated cum laude from Radcliffe with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Geometry was a very challenging subject for her. Challenging? Can you imagine creating proofs about spacial concepts when you have no visualization of such? 

Early photographs of Helen always display her in profile in an attempt to hide her deformed eyes. As a young woman, her withered eyes were replaced with prosthetic ones (glass) that we later see. 

The folks at Fox News would absolutely loathe Helen Keller. 

She was an avid member of the Socialist Party of America, (gasp!) championed the causes of labor unions, campaigned for equal rights of women and African-Americans, and was outspoken about reproductive rights and the prevention of venereal diseases. 

I just finished reading the book, Helen Keller in Love. Yes, at the age of 37, Helen became engaged to a man nine years her junior. Upon learning of the engagement, Helen’s mother and brother-in-law thwarted the marriage, practically holding her hostage at the family home in Alabama. 

Her fiancé, Peter Fagan, never spoke to Helen again (or wasn’t allowed to). He later married, fathered five children, but kept a photo of Helen on his desk for the remainder of his life. Years later, one of his daughters contacted Helen and relayed this news to her. 

Yes, a big Happy Birthday to you, dear Helen. Though you could not see or hear, you opened the eyes and hearts of many who had been blinded by ignorance and fear. Through your eyes, we are able to see how truly radiant this world of ours can be.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012


Here in the Chicago area, there’s a large Baha’i temple in the northern suburb of Wilmette. There’s even an exit on I-94 that says “Baha’i Temple”, so I’ve been curious to see it.

Yesterday after work, I took a little excursion out to the suburb of Wilmette to see this place. I have fond memories of the Baha’i faith, actually. During my first semester in college, the local Baha’i community had a recruitment gathering on campus that I attended. It was my first  encounter with a non-Christian faith and that was pretty exciting to me at the time. Also, the people seemed really nice. 

Baha’i for Dummies: They believe that God continually manifests Himself through successive messengers and religions. Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammed were all messengers. The most recent one was Baha’u’llah in the mid-1800s who founded the Baha’i faith in Iran. All religions are manifestations of God; unity of humanity. It’s actually quite appealing. 

Also, they seem to like apostrophes a lot. 

I took the EL north to the end of the line. Five blocks away, the temple emerged. 

Oh my gosh, it’s huge! I can see why it has its own freeway exit. 

All Baha’i temples are nine-sided. 9 is the highest “single” number so it signifies the unity of religion and humanity; or something like that. 

It’s surrounded by really pretty grounds with lots of fountains. The place is practically a bird sanctuary. I even saw a very large deer ambling about.

And here’s a Baha’i bunny. 

I took the tour in the visitor’s center, learned a lot about them, and then sat in the temple for quite a while. I watched the sun slowly inching its way up one of the nine sides as it set.

Photo from Wikipedia (Photography is not allowed inside)

Thoughts of how I was on this tiny, revolving planet in a solar system, in a galaxy in the cosmos, and probably in an infinite number of universes came to mind.  It’s quite a tranquil place. 

I didn’t want to leave. 

Knowing myself, I’ll probably end up converting . . .

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Saturday, June 16, 2012


I have a long history with doing laundry; longer than most anybody, I’d suspect.

I began my professional career doing laundry at the age of eleven, working after school in my grandparents’ dry cleaning establishment in my little-bitty home town in Texas. Two days a week, I’d trot down after school and help my grandmother run the place. 

My first job was to place the cardboard guards on the wire coat-hangers. This involved hugely boring and repetitive work for which I was paid fifty cents. I later graduated to steam-pressing the clothes and then, to actually running the dry cleaning equipment on ancient, giant, dangerous machinery. 

I was twelve. It’s a wonder I didn’t kill myself. 

My grandmother, "Budgie", also taught me how to politely wait on customers, how to make change, how to do the accounting at the end of the day, and how to correctly make a commercial bank deposit at the end of the day – all by the time I was fourteen years old. 

It was incredibly valuable experience for which I was paid five dollars a week. She also supplied me with a very substantial snack every afternoon – usually a hamburger and a Coke; quite adequate sustenance for a growing boy.

To this day, I can still recall the exact taste of those hamburgers and the frosty Cokes. Mixed with the scent of dry-cleaning fluid in the steamy, un-airconditioned back room, the appeal of those burgers and Cokes to a ravenous 13 year old would be impossible to beat.

Before I went off to college, my mom thought it best that I be able to do my own laundry. Toward that end, she assigned the whole family’s laundry to me during my senior year of high school. I learned how to separate clothes according to color, how to wash at different temperatures, how to starch and iron shirts, and there was even one ill-fated attempt at ironing a pleated skirt. 

It was good experience. It was great parenting. 

During my 20s and 30s, my laundry was impeccable, thanks to mom and my grandmother. 

Now that I’m firmly implanted into middle age, I’ve gone backward. 

It costs a buck-fifty each to have my shirts laundered. I drop them off and pick them up from the nice Korean woman in my building. The pants cost more; how much I don’t know and don’t care. It’s worth it. 

I wash my own laundry about once a month. Aside from a few white pair of socks to work out in, I only wear black socks and keep a couple dozen pair on hand. When they get worn, I toss them all and buy new ones. That way, I never have to sit and pair up socks. 

So, my laundry only consists of towels, dish cloths, bedding, socks, gym clothes, and underpants. I just chuck it all on “high” with cheap detergent. No sorting, very little thought, no expensive fabric softener – please. 

Why should my socks, gym clothes, and underpants be scented when they’re going to smell like dirty socks and sweaty gym clothes right after I wear them? And why should anyone’s underpants ever call to mind an alpine fresh meadow? 

I don’t own an iron or ironing board anymore. I’m sure I could still wield an iron if I had to. 

But I don’t have to. 

Instead, I’d like to think that there might be an eleven year-old grandson sweating over my laundry with an adoring grandmother imparting good work ethics. 

Such a kid would, indeed, be very fortunate.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Customer Service

The other day, I called the customer service line at the Chicago Transit Authority. I needed to change my electronic fare card to a monthly pass and I couldn't figure out how to do it online. Expecting to wait a long time “for the next available representative,” I was really surprised when a friendly voice answered right away. 

While I was explaining my needs, I heard an alarm in the background go off. The friendly representative quickly said they were having a fire drill and she had to hang up. That’s perfectly understandable. I’m a fire marshal-person at work and we’re under a lot of pressure to perform well during fire drills. 

About thirty minutes later, my phone rang at work and it was the CTA representative, apologizing for the inconvenience. I couldn’t believe it. She had looked up my account, found my work number and called me back!

I profoundly expressed my gratitude (and amazement) to her for going the extra mile like that. She cheerfully thanked me and upgraded my CTA card. 


Now that I used my CTA card twice a day, I wanted to drill a hole in it so that I could attach it to my key ring rather than digging it out of my wallet every time. I thought I should check with the CTA to see if this was advisable. 

Again, someone answered right away. The moment I began explaining that I wanted to poke a hole in my card, the guy interrupted, laughed and said, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t do it!”

Obviously, he knew his stuff and got the point across in a very friendly manner. 

Isn’t it sad that we’re amazed when we receive good customer service these days? Yes, I like the efficiency of doing a lot of customer servicey tasks online myself. But when we do have to talk to an actual person, it’s become such a challenge to do so. 

Try clicking on the “contact us” on any website. There’s seldom a number to call. One has to negotiate through a labyrinth of website layers to find an actual telephone number these days. 

Then, when we do call, there’s the ubiquitous recording: “Your call is very important to us. . .”

Um, no. It isn’t. 

If my call was actually very important to them, they’d pick up the damn phone. That’s what one does with important telephone calls. 

I know one thing. If I ever get laid off from my job, I’d like to apply for one at the Chicago Transit Authority.