celebrities, dogs, funny stories, Germany

“Won’t you be our neighbor?”… My inner Mister Rogers

At about four o’clock yesterday afternoon, the doorbell rang. Since it was Martin Luther King Day and Bill was home, he answered the door. He was soon faced with a grim faced German man he’d never seen before, who started speaking to him. Bill said the man was a bit odd and even seemed slightly out of it.

Our older dog, Arran the beagle mix, started barking, as he always does when strangers come to the door. Bill couldn’t hear our unexpected visitor over the barking, nor could he really understand what the guy was saying, as Bill’s German skills are somewhat basic, but less basic than mine are. One word he did hear and understand was “Tierschutz” (animal protection), which immediately caused us some concern.

Bill told the guy that he speaks only a little bit of German. The guy got pissed and went to our landlord’s house next door. Bill then came up to our bedroom to tell me what happened. As he was explaining the bizarre scenario, the doorbell rang again. Thinking maybe it was the landlord coming over to tell us what was wrong, Bill answered it, and it was the same grumpy guy. This time, he seemed somewhat apologetic, although he didn’t actually apologize. He said something along the lines of “Your dogs are always inside.” Then he gave Bill a dismissive wave and stalked off.

I always get agitated when someone presumes to yell at me, or at Bill, for that matter. Especially if I’m in my own home, minding my own damned business. I told Bill that he should have borrowed my Mister Rogers cap, which is a bizarre Chinese creation that was offered for sale on Amazon.de last summer. I see that it’s now no longer available. Small wonder.

I bought the cap on a whim. I’m wearing it in the featured photo, which was taken right after I got out of the shower yesterday, hence my slight resemblance to Nick Nolte coming down from a GHB bender, circa 2002. One of my friends said I am better looking than Nick Nolte is. I was flattered by that, since Nick Nolte was People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” in 1992. When she reminded me that 1992 was thirty years ago, I replied that, just like Nick, I was also sexier thirty years ago.

That photo of Mister Rogers has circulated quite a lot around the Internet. I once even made a meme of it, which I posted below. Mister Rogers was almost surely unaware of what his two middle fingers were indicating when that photo was taken. I see from a video on Dailymotion that it comes from a song he did with little kids, back in the day…

Hee hee hee!
Actually, I think this image is even funnier than the one with both middle fingers. I wish the enterprising Amazon.de seller in China had offered this, instead.
I made this meme years ago… The quote is by George Carlin. I think Mister Rogers and George Carlin would have made a hell of a team!

Bill and I handle these types of intrusions very differently. Bill is much more polite than I am, and he always attempts to speak German. When someone uninvited rings my doorbell and starts speaking rapid fire German to me, I usually interrupt them in English and tell them I don’t understand them, even if I do. Nine times out of ten, the people who do that stuff are either trying to sell me something or looking for odd jobs… or in a couple of unfortunate situations, they were people up to no good, casing the house to see who lives there and if they’re home.

Upon considering what the guy said, his strange demeanor, and the sort of half-assed non-apology the guy later gave Bill, we eventually determined that maybe the fellow is someone who lives in the neighborhood, but isn’t someone with whom we’ve ever interacted. We think he was upset that our German next door neighbor, who lives in the house on the other side of us, was leaving her adorable, but loud, Labrador dog, Tommi, outside. Tommi barks a lot when he’s outside. It is definitely noticeable, but it doesn’t bother me much. It’s not like he’s out there all day or anything. I think she or her mother puts him out there for a short time once or twice a day. While he’s out there, he lets everyone know he’s bored, lonely, or whatever.

It’s actually against the law in Germany to leave dogs home alone for long periods of time, and if they make excessive noise, some folks will call the police. We have been pretty lucky, as our neighbors have all been relatively dog friendly, even though we have usually had beagles, and beagles can be very loud. Now that we have Noyzi, it’s really only Arran who raises hell on a regular basis. Noyzi usually stays pretty quiet, unless he’s watching pet grooming or fox hunting videos. But I’m usually home with the dogs, and they aren’t allowed to be outside unsupervised.

Bill dresses down Arran for counter surfing. See? We do discipline our dogs!

Bill said he was sitting on the toilet and heard the man speaking to someone before he rang our doorbell. Perhaps it was the people who live across the cul-de-sac from us. Maybe he asked them who has dogs and they pointed to us. I don’t know if he knew we’re Americans and maybe figured we don’t know the rules here, or he just wanted to yell at dog owners who might be the culprit of his annoyance. But it was still a weird situation, as Bill didn’t understand him for three reasons– Arran was barking, the guy was rambling, and he was speaking German. And the cranky guy didn’t give Bill a chance to step outside to talk to him without Arran’s input.

Then, after he got frustrated trying to talk to Bill, the guy spoke to our other neighbors, who also happen to be our landlords. My guess is that our landlord, or someone in his house, told the guy that we never leave our dogs outside alone. So when he rang the bell the second time, he said “Bei Ihnen (unintelligible) immer”, which confused Bill, until he later translated it to “Bei innen (unintelligible) immer” (something like, “your dogs are always inside”). Then the guy gave him a resigned wave, and left.

It’s true that our current landlords are pretty laid back, and they get paid well to let us be their neighbors, but they’ve actually told us that they rarely hear our dogs. When we still had Zane, they were louder. Zane would go out in the middle of the night to pee and get on scents, which caused him to bay on occasion. But Noyzi doesn’t bark a lot, and Arran really only barks when someone rings the doorbell. He doesn’t even bay a lot when we walk him anymore. Tommi, on the other hand, is only around a year old. He’s young, energetic, and adorable, and yes, he barks like a big guy. I’m not surprised the sound carried.

Tommi was adopted after our neighbors lost their very sweet elderly Labrador, Levi, whom they adopted from an American who couldn’t take him with him when he moved. Levi was a WONDERFUL dog… very friendly, well-behaved, and a perfect citizen. I think our neighbors fell in love with Labradors, which aren’t necessarily popular over here. Unfortunately, Levi got very sick with cancer and died while he was having surgery to remove some tumors in his stomach. I’m sure Tommi will eventually become as sweet, obedient, and adorable as Levi was, but he’s still very young and rambunctious. Even our wonderful beagle Zane, whom I think had some Lab in him, was a holy terror when we first got him. After about six months, he morphed into the most wonderful family dog. It was like magic. I have every reason to assume that will happen for Tommi, too.

I suppose I should, in part, thank the pandemic for yesterday’s chance meeting with an apparently angry neighbor. COVID-19 has really altered our lives. Most of the years we’ve been in Germany, we’ve taken every opportunity to travel over long American holiday weekends. Nowadays, we’re more inclined to stay home, mainly because travel has become so complicated and annoying, even though Bill and I are both thrice COVID vaccinated. This year, we also need to get Noyzi updated on his vaccines, which will happen today.

I shared this story on Facebook and people loved my Mister Rogers hat. But only one person wanted to know where I got it, and NO ONE seemed interested in why I have it! One friend, who happens to be German, said it was because she’s no longer surprised by the crazy shit I say and do… and wear. For the record, I was inspired to buy the hat because of my dad. I’ve already shared the story about my dad and his middle finger woes.

The short version, for those who don’t want to click the link, is that my parents took me to visit the Waterside Marketplace in Norfolk, Virginia, back in 1984 or so, when it was still new. The Waterside had a really cool hat shop that had all of these funny baseball caps. I wanted one that had a little felt dog on the brim and a plastic fire hydrant. You could pull a string and the dog would lift its leg on the hydrant. Sadly, I didn’t have any money and my parents didn’t want to indulge my proclivities for being obnoxious.

Dad did make a purchase, though. It was a black baseball cap that had a bright yellow stuffed felt hand with the middle finger raised, big as life. My dad, who was never one to swear and was unaware of what the middle finger meant, bought the cap. He said he was going to wear it to his next Rotary meeting and say, “I don’t agree with ANY of you.”

My mom said, “You are not going to wear that, are you?”

“Sure! Why not?” Dad said with a laugh.

“You are NOT going to wear that in public!” my mom said, her voice edged with resolute firmness.

“Yes I am.” Dad argued.

“Do you KNOW what that MEANS?” Mom demanded.

“Doesn’t it mean ‘go to Hell’?” Dad asked, somewhat chastened.

“Uh uh.” Mom said, leaning over to whisper in his ear.

Dad kind of blanched sheepishly, and that was the end of his big idea to shock his conservative business friends and pillars of the community in Gloucester, Virginia.

Meanwhile, I thought it was funny that my mom didn’t want to define it out loud, since even at age eleven or twelve, I knew what a middle finger stood for, even if I didn’t know what “getting laid” meant. So I said, “Hey guys, I know what it means.”

The profane middle finger hat was kept under the driver’s seat of my dad’s car for many years, never to see the light of day. I wish I had stolen it from him. I thought it was hilarious, and I haven’t seen one like it being sold anywhere since the 80s. When I saw Mister Rogers’ middle finger on a hat, though, I figured that was close enough. And since it’s no longer available, I guess that hat was just meant to be mine…

Incidentally, my dad also suffered from PTSD, which was brought on by his time in Vietnam. Sadly, he almost lost his middle finger to injury when he had a nightmare and jumped out of bed one night, punching the wall. He didn’t take care of the injury properly, and came very close to needing an amputation. Yikes!

For an update on this post, click here.

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book reviews, silliness

A pop up book about phobias and other bizarre things…

I love to find new and bizarre stuff. I’m lucky enough to have a number of friends who like to read and listen to music. I also have a very indulgent spouse who doesn’t mind when I occasionally make purchases of odd things. Like, for instance, at Christmas, I bought Bill a juice strainer with a replica of Angela Merkel’s head on it. I also bought him an egg separator that had a nose on it that allows egg white to pass through the nostrils like snot and a Margaret Thatcher nutcracker. I have a Donald Trump toilet brush in my bathroom. Hell, just a few weeks ago, I bought a baseball cap with an old picture of Mister Rogers on it, flipping the bird with both fingers.

I might decide to wear this in public at some point.

A few weeks ago, my former shrink was posting about something on Facebook and one of his friends– a psychologist colleague, I suppose– recommended that he read The Pop-up Book of Phobias by Gary Greenburg and Matthew Reinhart . Or maybe he suggested it as a gift. I was very intrigued by the concept. I was also kind of repulsed by it. I have a phobia of mushrooms, so the idea of a book that had one popping up at me was a bit horrifying. Fortunately, mycophobia is not a particularly common phobia, so it didn’t rate an entry in this book, which isn’t very long and takes a minute or two to “read”. I looked for a link to mycophobia, having actually written an article about it myself some years ago. Unfortunately, all of the articles I found had pictures of mushrooms on them, and frankly just the sight of mushrooms gives me the willies. But at least nowadays, I don’t freeze up and scream the way I used to when I was a child and found them growing in the yard.

I see The Pop-up Book of Phobias is out of print now, and I probably spent a lot more for it than I should have. I was still pretty delighted by it when it arrived last night. The art is well done, and I loved the way the artist managed to convey the concepts in “3-d”. Check out these photos. I didn’t get a photo of all of the entries, but this is basically the gist of the book. My copy was very well used and appeared to be much beloved by the previous owner.

I really appreciate the ingenuity and creativity it took to come up with these concepts and put them in a pop-up format. Just the engineering of the paper alone is impressive. How long did it take to come up with a method to arrange the paper in such a way that the snakes and spider pop up like this? The clown page is especially intriguing, as the main one has creepy eyes that open as the pages spread.

Looking on Amazon, I see that Matthew Reinhart has done a few pop up books, including one called The Pop-up Book of Nightmares. That one appears to be widely available, even though it’s been out since 2001. Since Bill has been studying Carl Jung and analyzing his dreams, maybe that would make a good present for him on the next gift giving occasion. It definitely makes for a fun gag gift, if not a pricey one. The one drawback is that it’s not much of a book in terms of reading material as it only consists of 22 pages. But it might be fun to glance at as you drop your morning deuce. Or it might be fun for the coffee table, although I would recommend not taking it to the bathroom if you’re going to put it on your coffee table. Accidents happen.

I was glad to get the book yesterday. It was a nice distraction from the news of the day. It seems like there’s very good to report, and the overall mood is ugly as COVID continues to wreak havoc worldwide and people continue to fight over public health measures. I’ve seen a lot of rude, callous, mean-spirited comments and behavior on both sides of the issue. It makes me wonder if people really are as horrible as their behavior online indicates.

Add in “healthcare professionals” who take it upon themselves to post disinformation about vaccines and/or inject people with saline instead of a vaccine, and you have a truly ugly situation brewing. I might be able to get onboard with people who simply wish to avoid the vaccine. I don’t agree with their opinions, but I can kind of understand the concept of “my body, my choice.” But it really is criminal when a nurse decides for her patients to trick them by injecting them with saline instead of giving them a vaccination that they requested.

Also… I am quite baffled by “healthcare professionals” who keep insisting that COVID-19 is not as bad as it’s being portrayed in the media. I know the journalistic mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads”, but how is it that some doctors and nurses are so exhausted and upset about the virus and some are claiming it’s not so bad? Seriously, a self-proclaimed master’s level nurse at a level one trauma center posted on the Facebook page for the University of South Carolina, claiming that this is all a big hoax. My guess is that he’s lying, either about his “credentials” or where he works. I wouldn’t want an unvaccinated nurse taking care of me, to be honest.

My public health and social work master’s degrees were both earned at the University of South Carolina. Former President Harris Pastides, who was teaching in the Arnold School of Public Health when I was attending, is back to being the interim president, because Bob Caslen, who was Pastides’ successor, was forced to resign. Dr. Pastides is well-informed about the COVID situation and is promoting vaccination on campus. He was a tremendously popular president. It’s nice to see him back, doing the right thing. Too bad so many people are making the vaccines political.

Anyway… I’m glad it’s Friday, at least. I am expecting to get new guitar strings today… and I have a feeling I will be trying to put them on my guitar instead of practicing. I hate this chore, but I think it’s time to do it. Maybe I’ll be back later… maybe not.

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