Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The “Clem Nouri Rule of Polite Society”

Some three decades ago I had a professor in college named Clement Nouri. I remember thinking what a great name that was. It was kind of like the Old West meets the Old World or some such thing. Anyway, the course he taught was rather excitingly called “Business Policy,” and a considerable portion of our grade was based on class participation. Still, the very same people—class after class after class—did the lion’s share of the participating. Really, this was the case, I found, in primary, secondary, and higher education alike. Many of the eager participators in these class discussions did so because they were intellectually curious and desired learning from their more scholarly teachers and professors. But there was also a fair share of said participators who, I fear, liked the sound of their voices above all else, especially in college.

Anyway, in this “Business Policy” course, Dr. Nouri insisted that one and all participate in the class discussions. An oft-repeated catch phrase of his, which has stuck in my brain all these years later, was: “How ‘bout others?” In other words, Dr. Nouri was importuning the “Silent Majority” in the classroom to be heard—come on: anybody other than the usual suspects. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now: My old professor’s three-word question has real legs and can be applied in all kinds of venues and situations outside of the classroom. In fact, I silently ask, “How ‘bout others?” time and again as I go about my daily business. Just yesterday, what I have dubbed the “Clem Nouri Rule of Polite Society” danced like sugarplums in my head.

It came to the fore while I was in a neighborhood drug store—Rite Aid, formerly Genovese, and I hear soon-to-be Walgreen’s—and waiting on a long line, the handiwork of an oblivious woman with out-of-date coupons for starters, questions about the current chain’s flier, and—in general—treating the cashier like she was in a private audience with the Pope. “How ‘bout others?” I internally intoned as the line grew longer and longer and longer. And, at long last, when she actually purchased something and received her change, it took another seeming eternity for her to gather herself together, which, of course, she did at the checkout.

Later in the day, I was in a Chinese take-out establishment with a very small counter to put it mildly in which to place an order. When I entered the eatery, a woman was in the process of placing her order. Straightaway, I could tell she was a pain in the butt but nonetheless patiently waited my turn as I always do. But, alas, after placing her official order—with every “I” dotted and “T” crossed—she didn’t budge. Apparently, she was intent on watching her food being prepared—and asking further questions and making assorted demands—throughout the process. How ‘bout others? I had to at long last shout out my order over this inconsiderate boob, whose elbows were resting on the countertop and spread out a la Charlie Brown ruing his lot in life on the backyard brick wall.

Finally, have you ever been at a party or social event where some blowhard holds court the whole time? Of course you have. And no matter what the topic of conversation, he or she invariably hijacks it. On these occasions, it is high time that all of us vocally and unapologetically enunciate the simple but oh-so-just “Clem Nouri Rule of Polite Society”: “How ‘bout others?” No more suffering in silence.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Even a Clock Dies

R.I.P. my copper-colored kitchen clock shaped like a tea kettle. I’m sad to report that it shuffled off this mortal coil several days ago. Well, the truth be told, it was still keeping the proper time when I pulled the plug on it—quite literally—for the last time. I hated to do it. I didn’t like the idea of so unceremoniously consigning it to my recycling bag—with its plastic milk containers, tin tomato sauce cans, and pieces of aluminum foil with so much less history—but felt it best to do the deed as quickly and as painlessly as possible. It was Tuesday when this happened and Wednesday, you know, was recycle pick-up day.

Here’s how it all went down: Very early Tuesday morning, I was awoken by an extremely loud and grinding sound. I didn’t have a clue what it was but—suffice it to say—such noises in dawn’s early light are never appreciated. I feared something untoward was going on in the water pipes. After all, a running toilet a couple of flights above me had been for months running. I wondered, perhaps, if it had it taken a turn for the worse and would soon be pouring down on me. Typically, while in my bathroom, I would hear this never-ending water-on, water-off whoosh. So, as a test, I shut my bathroom door and that persistent grinding sound was louder than ever.

I followed my ear GPS this time into the kitchen and came upon the clock—yes, the copper-colored GE one shaped like a tea kettle. Born in the 1960s sometime, this plug-in clock—those were the only kinds back then—was a family clock for almost three decades. It wasn’t my family’s kitchen clock but a friend’s. But since time waits for no man and no woman, the clock ended up in my friend’s brother’s kitchen until the latter passed away. The family matriarch by that time—an older sister—was poised to give the clock—with its storied life—the old heave-ho. My friend, though, intervened on my behalf. “Nicholas” was, after all, a collector of too many things to count and a nostalgia buff to boot. So, I inherited a spanking new vintage kitchen clock, which was approximately forty years old when it became mine, and it rather inconspicuously ran for another fifteen years, reliably and silently telling me the time of the day when called upon,

Honestly, I thought my kitchen clock would outlive me, just as it had so many others. Come on, it was a GE with an electrical plug no less, and every battery-operated clock that I’ve ever owned has ceased keeping the right time in a lot less time than sixty-five years. Sure, a Mr. Fix-It Guy probably could have repaired the thing and calmed it down for a spell, but I believe it merited going gently into the night and not having its long life prolonged. I made the right decision and recycled it. When the time comes when I’m making such awful grinding sounds, I would want the plug pulled on me just like I did with my copper-colored tea kettle kitchen clock.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Inexcusables

While in the midst of a lengthy walk on a beautiful autumn morning yesterday, I spied an individual just ahead of me with two dogs. The canines were on separate leashes. Not the ubiquitous flexi-leads that so many people employ nowadays, but the old-fashioned nylon kind—both six feet in length. On both sides of the concrete walkway that all of us traversed were crab grass and dusty dirt patches—doggie heavens for sure—and I immediately sensed a potential problem.

In the hilly terrain of the Bronx’s Riverdale neighborhood, leashed dogs ambling to and fro at will on a public sidewalk give me pause. You see, the "pet parent" of the two very contented pooches was lost in conversation on his cell phone, completely oblivious as to what his four-legged friends were up to. As I neared the threesome, the two canines were sniffing away with unrestrained glee. They were, however, on one side of the walkway, giving me at least some room—albeit with no margin of error—to get by.

Bad karma, I believe, just wouldn’t permit me a smooth passage to other side. One of the great conversationalist’s dogs opted to bolt to the opposite side when I was a mere couple of steps away from them all, leaving—in effect—a public sidewalk cordoned off. Yellow crime scene tape blocking my way would have been a better alternative. At least it wouldn't have moved on a whim. Fortunately, I didn't trip and fall on my face. I tend to be on high alert for these situations. I have to be because they happen all the time in contemporary society, particularly in a big city like New York. Walking on the sidewalk can be hazardous to your health around here, just as crossing at the green can be.

An important footnote to this tale of one city is that the Man of the Hour—with the two dogs—profusely apologized, telling me in fact that his behavior was “inexcusable.” I didn’t ask for an apology or even lodge a complaint. Now that kind of absolute ownership of one’s inappropriate actions is quite rare in this me-me society of ours. I guess there really are happy endings every now and then.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Monday to Remember

On this very day—a Monday—forty-two years ago, I know where I was and what I did. For a good part of the day, I attended school—the sixth grade at St. John’s in Kingsbridge. And during the afternoon hours, I sat in a Language Arts class taught by an agreeable nun named Sister Joanne. Most of the school’s nuns had by 1973 kicked the habit altogether. They were no longer festooned in scary black from head to toe like their more authoritarian predecessors. They no longer put the fear of God in their students because of their costumes. I was very fortunate that there was—by and large—a new breed of nuns on the scene by then, with most of the paleo-throwbacks to a darker age retired or no longer among the living—or some combination of the two. As I recall, Sister Joanne was an extremely nice woman and very good teacher, too. A friend of mine thought she was a dead ringer for JFK.

Anyway, on October 1, 1973, Sister Joanne wheeled in a ubiquitous school TV set, which rested on a very tall stand. She promptly plugged it into a VHF outlet, which was the exception to the rule, and not the UHF hole alongside it. Typically, television viewing in the confines of St. John’s school meant “educational” TV on a UHF station. In other words, we were compelled to watch some amateurish production with poor picture quality that was of little interest to any of us.

On this day, Sister Joanne recognized that many of us were very interested in the Mets’ games that afternoon—a doubleheader and the final two of the season. I believe she was a fan as well. I doubt very much that any of the scary nuns from the past would have been as thoughtful. Some things, after all, trumped learning the ABCs. Besides, two hours a day for 180 days a year was more than enough Language Arts to last a lifetime—one afternoon could certainly be spared.

Heavy rain in Chicago the previous day—and a game cancellation—necessitated the doubleheader. And it was still raining twenty-four hours later. But the game against the Cubs had to be played because the Mets’ "magic number" was one. They had to win one of the games to clinch their division. And so we watched the early innings—which was delayed a half hour because of the inclement weather—on an old black-and-white TV, which was okay by me, because we had an old black-and-white TV at home.

The Mets took an early lead with their ace, Tom Seaver, on the mound. And things appeared quite bright even in the murky gloom that was Chicago. But Tom Terrific tired that afternoon and the game got a little too close for comfort by the time the school day ended—dismissal with the game a far cry from over. I recall racing the few blocks home and, happily, witnessed the clinching of the Eastern Division of the National League in the comforts of home, sweet, home and not in a Language Arts class in St. John’s school on Godwin Terrace. It’s where I wanted to be. School had this uncanny knack of interfering with baseball. But Sister Joanne deserves her due for going above and beyond the call of duty. And thanks, too, for reading aloud to us The Big Wave by Pearl S. Buck.

Postscript: the Mets won the clinching game 6-4 with Tug McGraw pitching the final three innings to record a save. Relief pitchers did that sort of thing back then. The second game of the doubleheader was mercifully called off because of the weather and the fact that it didn’t mean anything in the standings and, too, that the Mets were flying high on champagne. The New York Mets’ division-winning record was 82-79. Sister Joanne, by the way, subsequently left her religious order—as did most of the non-habited nuns from my day—and became a wife and mother, the genuine article. You see, several years before Sister Joanne became a sister, the nuns at St. John’s were all mothers.