After 20 years in Los Angeles this has taken some getting used to—the humility, the big toe in the dirt “aw shucks, who me-edness” of the Midwesterner’s response to a compliment. In L.A., for example, when someone says, “You look nice today,” the reply varies from “Juvederm” to “I just did a six-month kale/kefir cleanse. My knees look thin, right?”
In Wisconsin, when someone tells you, “You look good today,” the response is almost always, “Really? I had like three sixers, a dozen brats and an entire Racine almond Kringle last night. I don’t look a little bloated?”
The other day a friend thanked me for doing her a favor, and rather than simply saying, “You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help out,” I said, “It was nothing. No trouble at all. Hardly worth mentioning.” I had devoted six hours to helping her because she inadvertently mistook a powerful opioid pain killer for her daily multivitamin, which rendered her incapable of driving herself to the eye doctor (which clearly was an overdue necessity), which in turn, due to the dilating eye drops, rendered her legally blind in addition to being high as a kite.
After the eye doctor we went to the pharmacy and then grocery shopping for the weirdest combo of food items ever, highlighted by a conversation that was repeated several times; Me: “Get out of the cart.” She: “Weeeeeee! I’m a banana!”
Why do Midwesterners eschew praise like it’s fat free ice cream when in other parts of the country people just say a big hairy “thanks?” For one thing, we suffer from an affliction known as “the Midwest Humble.”
Some historians believe the Midwest Humble traces back to 19th century England, the writer Charles Dickens to be precise, and his obsequious, humility-dripping character, Uriah Heep, whose “umbleness” was a means to make other people feel important. Heep’s sycophancy was a way to gain people’s confidence, making him the original “yes man.” In David Copperfield he explains his smarminess thusly, ‘People like to be above you,’ says father, ‘keep yourself down.’
Wisconsinites know no one is ‘above us’ when it comes to football, cheese and liquor consumption, and yet we Uriah Heep ourselves into a sinkhole of “umbleness” every time someone says we have good teeth. Why can’t we just say, “you betcha” when a Coloradan accuses us of being cheeseheads? “Damn straight” when some dude from Oregon points out we have the highest cholesterol in the world? And “I’ve been thrown out of better places than this” as a Kewaskum bouncer forcibly removes our personage from a local watering hole?
Following are a few tips on how Midwesterners can graciously accept a compliment in an authentic and convincing way.
The thank you add-on.
Suppose someone says, “Yours is the best tater tot hot dish I’ve ever tasted.” The person eating Midwest Humble pie would pooh-pooh such high praise, electing instead to say, “Aw hell, everyone knows Junie Zimma is the queen of the casserole in these parts.” That would be so wrong. Instead try, “Thank you. I know fifty ways to kill a man with a Yukon gold.”
The “add-on” is disarming, charming and just a teensy bit off-putting—like calling a drinking fountain a bubbler, and over-the-shoe rain boots, “rubbers.”
Embrace flattery then walk away quickly.
Next time a friendly person stops to admire your Christmas sweater, resist the urge to declare, ”It was on clearance at Kohl’s, plus I had two dollars in instore credit, there was a coupon in the Sunday paper, and I found a quarter on the sidewalk. This thing cost ten cents.” Rather, try, “On anyone else it would look absurd, but I’ve got the temperament and the height to pull it off.” Then pull it off, toss it to the floor and sashay away. They will remember you. Not your clothes.
Show gratitude using non-verbal communication skills.
When your friend says you look good in a new pair of jeans, don’t point out how big your butt is, how you can’t eat while you’re wearing them, or that you paid, like, two bucks for them at Kohl’s. Instead, lunge forward, throw your arms around her in a suffocating full nelson, and say, “I lost four ounces this week!” Then kiss her husband on the mouth.
I once attended a director friend’s movie premier where I was seated toward the front of the theater. The film was in the top two all time worst films ever made in the history of cinema. And it was long, too. A would-be thriller, this flick had fewer thrills than a four-part porridge documentary.
The director and his wife perched in the back row. There was no hope of escape without being seen. Every so often I glanced over my shoulder to see whether they had perhaps stepped out, but they stared straight ahead at the horror (unfortunately not the scary kind) on the screen. Once or twice, they looked like they were about to leave, and I tensed my thigh muscles in preparation for leaping up and dashing out. But they were just shifting their weight. The movie had put their butts to sleep.
When finally, mercifully, the thing ended and I raced for the exit, my director friend stepped in front of me, blocking my escape. “You are talented, smart, beautiful and kind,” he told me.
“Uh, thanks,” I said, trying my best to beat the Midwest Humble rap. Then he came in for the kill. “I want your opinion of my film.”
I had been all big girl pants, and said, “thank you,” and not a word more when he paid me a compliment. I was nearly home free, wearing self confidence and bravado like a twenty dollar sweater. Now I was faced with the most virulent Midwestern affliction of all; the absolute need to be truthful at all times. Sweet baby Jesus, when he said all the nice stuff, why hadn’t I muttered, “My ass is huge, I will never master Mailchimp and one time I did not stop to help a half-dead pigeon off the freeway during rush hour. I still feel that,” then run like a mofo for the exit? No, I stood there like someone from California and said, “Thank you.”
Now tf what? I thought about the 90 minutes I sat in that theater (three hours of my life that I will never get back), and how devoutly I prayed for an opportunity to present itself where someone would create a diversion during which I could zip out the door. And then it hit me. I am self confident, smart and kind.
“I was on the edge of my seat the entire time,” I told him.
“Thank you!” he shrieked. Being from L.A., he had no qualms about accepting a compliment.
Thank you for reading this. XO
Check out Pam’s entertaining interview with Douglas Coleman here.
Listen to Douglas’s awesome interview with author/blogger Pam Ferderbar. They laughed. They cried. They laughed some more! Listen to author Pam Ferderbar on the Douglas Coleman Show.
Radio host Robert Sharpe talks with Pam Ferderbar about the meaning of happiness, optimism…and what’s really funny.
With my nephew Elliot and millions of other young people graduating university this weekend, my cousin Melanie asked me what advice I would give my younger self if I were graduating today. Looking back with 20/20 laser vision, here’s my advice:
#1 Run don’t walk.
If you are driving along a country road and see a big hill and think to yourself, ‘Gee, that would be really fun to run down,’ pull over, get out of the car and barrel down that hill. Unless you are en route to the emergency room there is very little that should stand in the way of a joyful moment. One afternoon you will be in your 50s and you will see a big hill and think to yourself ‘Gee, that would be really fun to run down, but if I fall I will break a hip,’ and you will continue on to your 4:30 dinner reservation without even slowing down.
#2 Choose your friends wisely.
Several years ago I realized that I was spending time with a few people who were petty, mean-spirited, selfish and small. They infused my life with drama, anxiety, self-doubt, ugliness and the intense desire to publish my own obituary and join a witness protection program in Antarctica.
Instead, I put on my big girl pants and let Judgmental Jurgen, Bitter Briana, Angry Arianna and Whiny Wyett know that they were bringing me down, when I needed to be up. Culling is difficult, painful, awkward and unsettling, and it can be avoided if you choose your friends wisely.
Here’s a handy list of qualities to look for in a friend: kindness, compassion, empathy, generosity, a sense of humor, ethics and honesty. You can forgive a lack of tact, but someone who cheats, is mean, or thinks they’re better than other people will never be a true friend.
I don’t completely understand why, but I know it’s excellent advice.
#4 Seriously, don’t take yourself too seriously.
When I was in my 20s, every misstep and blunder took on significance disproportionate to its actual importance. Of course, I also worried that my feet looked big and I wore shoes a size too small. By the time I hit 40 I realized my feet were proportionate to my height, and the mistakes I made in my 20s helped me develop into a confident, able and humble person.
Your 20s are the very best years for trial and error because your recovery time is short, your bones are still relatively soft, and you’ve got the energy to pick yourself up and keep going. You are genetically engineered for maximum bouncebackability. Don’t underestimate this super power.
#5 Be charitable.
If I have learned anything it is that I am not better than anyone, especially not the homeless woman, the battered woman, the addict or the mom who buys groceries with WIC vouchers. Many of the people we might be inclined to pity or pass judgment on have endured unimaginable suffering, abuse, deprivation and loss. Some are sick, others beaten down and too tired to get back up.
If you can spare a dollar or two, do it. The argument that the person might be scamming you is obscene. Begging is not easier than “working.” Standing on the street asking strangers for money does not bring a sense of worth, contentment, fulfillment or security. No one in his or her right mind would choose to be sneered at, disdained, reviled or pitied.
You do not have to give the less fortunate money. It costs nothing to treat people charitably.
#6 Pay attention.
When you were in the fifth grade it seemed like summer would last forever, right? All of a sudden you’re 35 and running down a big hill sounds like fun and chances are you could still do it without breaking anything, but who has the time, and the next thing you know you’re playing Yahtzee with Amy Fliegelman down at the senior center and you can’t remember your bra size.
Savor a kiss. Memorize the feeling of warm sand under your feet, the sensation of snowflakes landing on your nose, the way your grandma looks at you, and how it feels to hold her hand. Some day, I promise you, those will be the things you want to remember most of all.
#7 Put the phone down.
There are experiences and there are recordings of experiences. The latter, historically, have been used as a tool for people who were not able to enjoy the event first hand, such as a concert, where people play music on a stage, live and in front of you, and it goes straight into your eyes.
I went to tons of concerts back in the (prehistoric/pre cell) day. I’ve also been to a lot of shows with my cell phone. I think about the early times, and whether I would like to have had video and selfies from those events. While it would be cool to see what I was wearing and who I was with, the truth is that I was able to dance, clap, throw double horn hands and party without the anxiety of feeling like I had to cover it all for posterity. It is quite liberating to pocket the phone, and simply be in the moment. \,,/(*_*)\,,/
#8 Be on time.
I skated on a number of infractions because I showed up on time. Many older people, like, over the age of 30, regard it as a personal insult to be kept waiting. If you think about it, making someone wait for you is the equivalent of saying “my time is more valuable than your time.”
You may have overslept, forgot you needed to shower, or simply became distracted by your Yik Yak feed. Whatever the reason, you have been doing something during the period you were expected to be somewhere else. The person who is kept waiting is doing nothing but waiting. Even if you call to say you will be late, there isn’t ample time to schedule another meeting, take on a meaningful task or get a pedicure while they wait for you. There is ample time to fume, seethe and plot ways to disembowel you without getting blood all over the furniture. This is not the optimal outcome in most cases.
#9 Work hard.
I’m going to use my dad’s favorite, oft repeated personal anecdote. (There isn’t a busboy in southeastern Wisconsin who hasn’t heard this at least half a dozen times.) When my pops was in high school he got a job as a busboy at a fancy steak house in Milwaukee where he was paid a dollar an hour—$13.28 in today’s money, nearly double our minimum wage. While my dad busted his butt, the other busboys slacked off, went out the back door for a smoke, content to let the new kid do the heavy lifting.
At the end of the night the restaurant’s owner, Joe Deutsch, called my dad into his office.
“I saw how hard you worked tonight,” he told my pops. “And I saw the other guys goofing off. I’m going to give you a buck fifty an hour.” My dad, a hardworking young man, on his first night on the job, was given a 50% raise, which today would come to $19.93 an hour. Why? My pops learned the value of hard work from his father, and whether you get a raise on your first night on the job or not, people do recognize hard work, and it will take you a lot further than the alternative.
#10 Choose happiness.
You’re young. You have superpowers. The road ahead is a great adventure. It is true that we become set in our ways, so make sure your way is the path of happiness. When you see a really lovely elderly person you can rest assured he was a lovable young person. Similarly, the old cuss who yells at kids to stay off his lawn was once a 25-year-old tool who’d yell at an old lady for moving too slowly in the crosswalk.
We become more of whom we are the older we get, so give yourself a leg up. Be happy now, and the rest is gravy.
Congratulations on this milestone! May the road rise up to meet you.
Winston Churchill, Lyndon B. Johnson, Napoleon Bonaparte, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, Stonewall Jackson, Ronald Reagan and Salvador Dali were napping enthusiasts, proving that the nap is a powerful tool for…powerful men. When I searched Google for ”influential women nappers” I got Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim. Apparently hypnogogic siestas are responsible for some dope rhythmic and rhyming chanted speech. The only other slammin’ female napper I could find was Eleanor Roosevelt, who enjoyed a lovely catnap before speaking engagements. (They didn’t call her the First Lady of firsts for nothing. I believe it was she who introduced the mic drop.)
Are we to believe that women shouldn’t nap—that we would not benefit from a mental breather in the middle of a hectic day? Aw, hell, who wouldn’t gain from lying down, closing one’s eyes, clearing one’s mind and drifting off to a restorative island of content and thoughtlessness—a floaty, calm and gentle slumber. But you know what would happen? Someone would poke you and ask if the milk was still good. Never mind he could remove the cap and do a quick sniff test himself. It is preferable, apparently, to ask someone, a female, if a dairy product has turned, because everyone knows we keep a mental list of expiration dates for all the food groups in our heads.
In my zeal to unearth all that I could about the power nap, I dug a little deeper, and discovered that every single article, blog, scholarly work and piece of anecdotal research having to do with napping has been written by men. Coincidence? Yeah, no.
JFK took a 1-2 hour nap every afternoon. Jackie would always join him, no matter what she had going on, often leaving an assistant to entertain her guests until after naptime. There’s no historical evidence to back it up, but I am betting that the Prez liked to drift off midday with wifey at his side, and the minute he started to saw logs she was up, cleaning out a closet, sorting socks or answering mail. The leader of the free world could knock off for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. The FLOTUS had work to do. Socks don’t sort themselves.
Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart, Madam Curie—not a napper in the group, and we know Sacagawea must have been dead on her feet. She walked from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean with a couple of guys who definitely never asked for directions, and probably couldn’t tell whether the milk had spoilt.
All women would benefit from a little afternoon shuteye, but dare we flout history and take to our beds in the shank of the day? Yes, we should flout in the shank, and here’s why:
1. You’re going to be up late. You’ll want to take advantage of a planned, or preemptive nap. When you know you’re going to be up later than say, the 9P rerun of Law and Order, you grab a few Zs after lunch and you’re still awake like a grown-up at 10P. At that hour you’d just be sitting down to dinner in Europe, where naps are a necessary part of a civilized culture.
2. You were awake like a Yugoslavian all night long. By 10A you can’t keep your eyes open. You crawl under your desk and utilize the emergency nap. Or if you’re a photographer whose name rhymes with Hermit, you crawl into a cubby in the production department and sleep until your agent hunts you down like a dog.
3. You are completely useless every day at the same time. Après lunch your eyelids grow heavy and you just know that report is not getting written until you’ve “run down to the car for that thing” and squeezed in a solid 20-30 minutes of snoozola. Elderly folks take 40 winks at pretty much the same time every day, energized, awake and ready thereafter for dinner at 4:30PM. For centuries, babies and politicians have utilized the “habitual nap” to stave off hissy fits and give their mommies a break. Consistent nappage is responsible for the Potsdam Agreement, the Civil Rights Bill of 1963 and Justin Bieber’s only Grammy.
4. You’re a big dreamer. Approximately 70 minutes after falling asleep we enter the REM period of slumber, characterized by rapid eye movements, and most importantly, super vivid dreams which spark an intense period of creativity immediately upon awakening. Thomas Edison allegedly sat bolt upright after a nap and said, “Hey, a light bulb just went on in my head!” Then he invented the light bulb.
5. You want to lose weight. This one is so obvious it’s ridick. According to Weightwatchers, naps can help you stay on your weight-loss program, because napping may help get you though late-afternoon munchies. By applying math, I figure three naps a day, during mealtimes, would guarantee weight loss in the double digits within three days. With all that beauty rest you’ll be gorgeous, thin and well-rested. What woman wouldn’t love that?
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The quintessential symbol of motherhood is a mama duck being followed dutifully by her chicks, waddling across perilous terrain, facing imminent danger, until reaching the safety of a pond or lake.
It is the stuff of lore. Brave calendar-worthy firemen with yellow hats and axes, slipping into sewer drains to rescue wee birdlets that have fallen through the grates. Burly truckers and ornery cabbies, halting traffic so that a mama mallard and her brood may safely cross a busy street. In the face of mayhem, murder, war, pestilence, famine, sand tar conflagration and political meltdown, there is always time for a “mother duck and her chicks story” to remind viewers there’s more to life than mayhem, murder, war and all the other stuff that boosts ratings. In network parlance, duck stories are the goose that lays the golden egg.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share a duck story of my own.
I think I was about five years old when my mother decided it was important to teach me evasive tactical maneuvers while she was driving and I was a passenger in the front seat of our Rambler. I don’t know what model it was, or what year, but the Rambler was old, white and had a tan interior, like my Uncle Ray and certain American politicians.
There was a lot going on the world – the war in Vietnam was limping toward its conclusion, clothing designers were mass producing tie dyed couture, Diana Ross was fixin’ to leave the Supremes, and in West Allis, Wisconsin, my mother was going to be sure I was prepared for any foreign or homegrown danger.
The first time it happened we were driving along Greenfield Avenue, en route to South 78th Street where we lived in a little duplex with my maternal grandma. It was a summer day. The car windows were down. We were young and happy when my mother suddenly yelled, “DUCK!”
Naturally, I sat forward on high alert, scanning the road for a domestic waterfowl in our path. My mother slammed on the brakes, looked at me incredulously, and told me that when she said “duck” I had better duck.
“What is happening?” I asked.
“Anything could happen,” she responded.
Huh. Guys had already walked on the moon, the Stones had killed on Ed Sullivan and The Brady Bunch brought us our first taste of the blended family. What was left? We turned onto Becher Street just up the block from our house.
“DUCK!” my mom screeched.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Me, turning in slo-mo toward my ma, the word just forming…”Wh…” when smack! She thwacked the back of my head and said, “When I tell you to duck, duck!”
I blinked. “Why?” I asked, completing my original thought while checking to see if any teeth had come loose.
Exasperated, my mother reminded me that “anything could happen,” and it was for my own good. I rubbed the back of my head and was hoping Beverly Grossman was out when we got home. It was amusing to watch her pick caterpillars off the maple trees and eat them.
That night over a dinner of fried ring bologna and burnt lima beans, my mom expressed her frustration that I was a poor ducker to my dad.
“Duck?” he asked. “Why?”
My thoughts exactly.
“Anything can happen these days,” my mom told him, adding, “by the time I explain it to her, it could be too late.”
My dad looked away for a moment. He looked sad. So did my mom. Even though it had been years since it happened, people still talked about the young president that had been killed, and how the world would never be the same.
This ducking business went on for a long time, always with the same result. I was obstinate, plus I liked danger. I once ran headlong into our kitchen door believing the incantation “romper stomper bomper boo” would enable me to teleport onto the set of Romper Room where I would replace Miss Nancy as the host. That did not work, either. Grandma Teuber found me sprawled on the linoleum, out cold.
In spite of multiple head traumas that should have served as a warning to me, I never caught on to the actual reason for the whole ducking affair until I was in my 30s. (For those of you who don’t know me well, this was just recently.)
Anything could happen. A young, vibrant husband and father could be riding along in a convertible one day, his lovely wife at his side, with what seemed an entire nation looking on in genuine affection, when in one split second it ended. He ended. They ended. And the idea that anyone just riding along, no matter how dearly beloved, could be ended.
All my mom had hoped to do was deliver me safely to the water’s edge. On this Mother’s Day (and every day) I want to thank my mom for everything she has done for me my entire life, but most especially of all, for her ducking love.