Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Post No. 190c: Virtually All of Us Find Some Other Folks "Peculiar"

This is a post I generated during our very first year in the operation of this blog. However, in light of the responses of the public to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, I thought that we all, particularly my target audience, college students, might benefit from the wisdom of Andy Griffith during the 1960s.

© 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014 the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Several years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by a professional association at a high end resort in Florida. An incredible buffet dinner was scheduled for one evening, to which everyone was looking forward.

I arrived just as the food was being taken away.

Upon my arrival, everyone inquired as to why I was so late. When I informed them that I felt compelled to watch two episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, they all howled with laughter.

Their laughter grew even louder when I mentioned that, in my opinion, one could learn more about life from that show than perhaps any other show on television. (Interestingly, my Father tells me that it was also the favorite show of my Mother, who passed away at a relatively early age.)

I saw an episode of the show yesterday, which reminded me of the manner in which this simple show, about life in small town America, has provoked many a thought throughout my lifetime.

It was the story of Ed Sawyer, a clean-cut, well-groomed stranger who arrives in Mayberry. Throughout the episode, Ed is always dressed in a conservative business suit, articulate, respectful, polite, and there is nothing visually alarming about him. In fact, he could be the poster boy for virtually any All-American organization or movement.

The first scene in the episode unfolds as Ed enters Floyd’s barbershop, where Barney Fife is in the chair getting a shave. Several other citizens, including Andy, are also present.

Ed engages them all in a pleasant, upbeat conversation, calls them each by name, and exhibits a degree of familiarity which causes the shop’s occupants to become uncomfortable. As he leaves the shop, all heads turn to follow him down the street, and they all exit to watch his next move. Almost immediately, there is a suggestion by Barney that Andy commence an investigation of this suspicious and “peculiar” stranger.

As Ed proceeds down the sidewalk, he encounters a double baby stroller parked in front of a store, where the mother is looking through the shop window. Ed greets the two twins, their mother, and then poses questions which suggest that he can distinguish between the two boys at this early stage in their development. The suspicions grow.

Ed next proceeds to the local rooming house, and when offered one room, he declines because of an incident which had occurred in the room, arguably about which few would have known. Although he has never stayed at the rooming house, he then proceeds to request a specific room, by number, which although green in color, has a cheerier d├ęcor.

At this point, Barney is beside himself, and inquires whether Ed speaks German. Fortunately, Andy, the voice of reason, intervenes and initiates a conversation more normally associated with welcoming a visitor to one’s town. At the same time, Andy poses a number of questions in an effort to get to know this fellow better, since he is also experiencing some degree of discomfort, although unarticulated.

Later that afternoon, Ed approaches Andy and seeks his advice and assistance. It appears that the local gas station is up for sale, and Ed is considering buying it. Andy suggests that perhaps Ed might be moving a tad too quickly, and that he should take the time to get to know the townspeople a little better.

He further suggests that the town’s citizens might regard Ed’s sudden emergence on the scene as “peculiar,” without some “warming up.” (By the way, I learned the word “peculiar” from this show, which was used with some frequency on episodes airing in the 1960’s.)

Ed then segues into how much in love he is with Lucy Matthews, who he has never seen. However, he is familiar with all of her physical attributes, and he inquires of Andy as to why she does not answer his calls and knocks on her door. Lucy soon walks in to lodge a complaint, to which Ed responds that she is just as pretty as he suspected. It is at this point that Andy feels, as the town’s sheriff, he must get to the bottom of this behavior, since it threatens to disturb the town’s peace.

Ed admits that his behavior might strike some as odd, but provides a very plausible, if not immediately obvious, explanation. Ed explains that Joe Larson, a long-time resident of Mayberry, was an Army buddy. While serving together, Joe received the local Mayberry newspaper, and Ed found himself reading the paper on a daily basis.

As time moved on, he began to feel that he “knew” the citizens about whom the articles were written. He further explains that over time, he began to envy Joe, because Joe was from Mayberry, a place that Ed admired, and Ed was from, well, “Nowhere.”

Ed further explains that over time, he began to wish that Mayberry was his hometown, and he eventually convinced himself that it was. When he saw the ad in the paper that the service station was up for sale, he regarded it as an opportunity to fulfill a dream.

After Ed leaves the courthouse / jail, Barney rushes in and proclaims that Ed has finally “overplayed his hand.” When Andy inquires as to what Barney is referring, Barney states that Ed has been hanging around Lucy Matthews’ house and actually crossed the line by ringing her bell.

Andy suggests that insufficient grounds exist to justify an arrest, to which Barney replies that he pulled in three 12 year olds the preceding Halloween for ringing doorbells unnecessarily.

He further exclaims that Ed doesn’t even have the excuse of being out for trick or treat. Deputy Fife then inquires as to whether Ed speaks Spanish.

Of course, Ed’s efforts to integrate himself into the community go terribly wrong. That’s even after Andy makes everyone feel pretty small and provincial after facetiously suggesting that they all were justified in their prejudicial attitudes toward this stranger, just because he was an unknown, peculiar, and somewhat different.

Ed realizes that this really isn’t the place for him, and leaves. And the town lost a potentially energizing and illuminating individual.

This 40 plus year old episode of the Andy Griffith Show made me think of several things this weekend. First, the power of the visual media came to mind, along with its potential to expand the minds of its viewers, particularly young viewers, as well as its power to narrow.

Second, it reminded me of the 30 year period when I lived in Southern California, and I interacted with all sorts of people of different races from different parts of the world. Virtually everyone was a stranger. Upon returning to North Carolina, despite the fact that North Carolina is the number one state in terms of percentage increase of Hispanics, I noticed the lack of interaction between whites and blacks on the one hand, and Hispanics on the other. Asians operate many mom and pop businesses in the black parts of town, but the social interaction ends there.

At several public meetings in my hometown, I have mentioned that despite what one may think of our immigration policies, many immigrants are here, and we need to engage them and integrate them into our society, with the goal of deriving the best that we can from their involvement. Each time I have broached the subject, many citizens in the room have lowered their heads and looked at the floor without responding.

In recent months, I have tried something different. Every time I have encountered Hispanics, I have taken the initiative to walk up to them and start a conversation. Each time, without fail, they have been pleasant folks and almost ecstatic that someone outside of their group took the risk to engage them. It has always been a rewarding experience, although guarded it may have started.

Third, this episode also struck a chord when I learned of Senator’s Obama’s reference earlier this week to the efforts of his opponents to label him as different, and thus necessarily something that we should fear.

Our fear of the unknown, caution, and prejudice, even that racially based, appear to be hard wired to ensure survival and ease of negotiation in a complex world. But we also have a bigger brain which should enable us to think and reason beyond our biggest primal fears.

Some criticism has been leveled against the Andy Griffith Show over the years because of its conspicuous absence of blacks in a show based in a southern city. However, Andy Griffith himself sure made up for that during the airing of his Matlock series.

Be that as it may, my hat is off to the Andy Griffith Show, and particularly its writers, particularly considering the era in which the show was first viewed. Perhaps more of you will have the opportunity to view the Ed Sawyer episode before the upcoming presidential election.

© 2008, 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Post 190b: Another Talented Performer Lost



Robin Williams is with us no more, except through the joy and laughter which still linger in the hearts and minds of his fans. During the time that the Fellows here at the Institute have been on this earth, we've lost some exceptionally talented individuals because of the complicated lives they led, including Hendrix, Joplin, Elvis, Belushi, Marvin, and Michael. When we read of his death, our hearts were instantly heavy, and our thoughts shot to Michael, with whose music we Fellows grew up. This post was first generated shortly after Michael's departure; however, the issues discussed are equally relevant to Robin Williams, and ones which our target audience, college students, might consider as they navigate this complicated road called life.

© 2009, 2011, and 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

In Post No. 126, we mentioned a number of the Laughingman’s sayings, including “Common Sense should be a way of life.” The Logistician, still on sabbatical in Brazil, has a few too, albeit somewhat strange.

He claims he only needs a woman in his life 12 days each year. Why? For the highs and the lows.

He’s always viewed intimate relationships with women like prescription drugs – beneficial, on occasion, when administered by a licensed physician, and in moderation. However, he considers them, let’s say, problematic, when administered intravenously on a regular basis.

Our mission is to engage college students in a discussion about personal responsibility, the options / choices they have, and decisions they make.

We’ve been watching this freak show since MJ’s death, trying to figure out whether there are some not so obvious lessons to be learned, which we can discuss with students.

We did observe an incredible, international outpouring of love, sadness, and admiration. We also noted an intense dissection (primarily on the home front) of his career, values, and character, supporting the conclusion that he was a bad, evil human being.

What we found most fascinating was the phalanx of critics, who had little appreciation of his work, but who clearly had views about his lifestyle and eccentricities.

We watch Turner Classic Movies religiously. Last week, Judy Garland was a featured artist.

We were reminded how much we were dazzled by her talent. We viewed a bio-documentary, which outlined her life-long relationship with prescription drugs, which ultimately led to her demise at age 47.

She started performing at 2-1/2, and thus performed for 45 of her 47 years. For decades, she fought addiction with prescription drugs. Movie industry officials used them to control her weight, and regulate her productivity. Coupled with her perception she was not “pretty” enough, and you had a recipe for ….

One of our heroes has always been Howard Hughes, the great aviator, inventor, industrialist, film director and producer, and philanthropist. We loved his passion for life, and his intensity. There was also a down side. What some called his fearlessness, others termed recklessness.

As a result of various plane crashes, he spent a significant part of his life in pain, eventually becoming addicted to prescription drugs in many forms. When they finally wheeled him out of the “Acapulco Princess Hotel” on the way to the morgue, he weighed 90 lbs.

The more intriguing sub-plot to MJ’s story was the fact that his wife, Lisa Marie Presley, walked away because of, and in spite of, her love for MJ. He confided in her that he would probably go the way of her Father, Elvis, “The King.”

A siren, who in her own way was like a drug, and caused the Logistician to stutter many a starry night at the Hollywood Bowl while listening to classical music, said it best.

“Everything in moderation.”

And that applies to drugs, plastic surgery, driving at high speeds, skydiving, sex, food, wine, dancing, paragliding, and perhaps most things in life. (Even physical exercise.)

Some years ago, the History Channel aired a program on the literary creation of heaven and hell. Although various religions have different versions, in every instance, mortals here on Earth, through their conduct, walk a very thin line. Stepping on either side could determine their descent or ascent.

Lest you be confused about this drug thing, there is little difference between illegal/recreational drugs, and prescription drugs, with the exceptions being the legitimacy of the “entity” which produces them, who gets to prescribe them, and whether politicians benefit. Drugs be drugs.

Take it from some guys who matured (arguably) during the drugs, sex, and rock and roll years. We know lots of successful doctors, business people, family people, accountants, judges, and pillars of society who once used drugs in many a form and fashion. Fortunately for most of them and for society, they appreciated that drugs might be an interesting pastime, but not a life long journey.

Two final thoughts, one of which is a line from a TCM movie:

“A man ought to be appreciated for more than the worst thing that he has ever done.”

By doing so, we can keep an eye open for the good in people, not just the bad.

The other is the Logistician’s:

“If you’re willing to walk into a courtroom looking like a freak, you’ll be judged a freak.”

Just ask Phil Spector. At least O.J. had the Common Sense to put on a suit the first time around.

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

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