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One of our favorite restaurants has a number of outdoor tables—some in the sun and others under a canopy. If the plastic windows of the canopy are rolled up so air circulates, we eat there. If they are closed, we choose to sit outside.
This isn’t just about today’s headlines. I’ve always had a strong affinity for the outdoors. I crave natural light and fresh air. Crowds and closed spaces agitate me.
Last week, we noticed the walls of the canopy were unzipped and rolled up to create wide open space. We settled into our seats at a table under the canopy, enjoying the evening air and the sights of people strolling by.
After our drinks arrived but before the food, a group of four men entered the restaurant. One of the guys, older and in khakis and a dress shirt, seemed to be in charge. Having worked in Corporate America for too long, I guessed he was the out-of-town boss who wanted to take the local team out for dinner.
They asked for an outdoor table and were led to a spot not far from us. They were louder as a pack than everyone else on the porch combined, but seemed oblivious of how they changed the peaceful nature of the area.
Before they were even seated, the older man, the boss, commented on the cool mountain breeze. The team sprang into action, rolling down the plastic sides and zipping them closed, turning the great outdoors into the indoors. At no point did they ask the other patrons if it was acceptable to change the environment. They just did it.
We had a choice. Sit quietly and say nothing. Say something to them or the management. Or, as we chose, option 3. We grabbed our drinks and moved to a true outdoor table. We changed our own environment, but did it without changing others. Well, except our waiter, who needed to remember we had moved when the food came, but we believe in tipping well anyway.
I tell this story, not for sympathy, empathy, or anything else, but simply to explain how my mind works. I was mad at their action for about three minutes, but then it struck me as funny. Why? It reminded me of the silly games my dogs play.
My very first Siberian Husky, Nikita, was a classic, confident alpha. When she walked through a room, she took a straight line. If other dogs had to move, they did. I don’t really know what would have happened if they hadn’t because they all just got out of her way. Apparently they didn’t want to find out the consequence either.
My second true alpha wasn’t quite as confident, but she enforced her rules with an iron paw. She earned her nickname of Queen Natasha the Evil because she would sometimes do something which seemed mean to we mere humans, but the dogs accepted her tactics without complaint.
As my favorite example, she walked through the den one day while I sat on the couch watching TV, a more docile dog curled up asleep beside me. Without breaking stride, Natasha clamped her jaws on Rusty’s neck and yanked him off the couch. He woke up in mid-air with a decidedly Wile E. Coyote look realizing he was going to crash to the ground. I expected him to hold up a little sign.
What happened next?
Natasha kept walking and left the room. Rusty shook himself off, climbed back on the couch, and went to sleep. QNTE didn’t want the couch. She just wanted to announce her leadership. Rusty had no debate. I was the only one wondering what had just happened.
The day after the incident of the men at the restaurant, we were taking our morning walk with the dogs down the greenway. The first person we passed was an older gentlemen we had seen on the trail many times. The first time we say him several weeks ago, we called out, “Good morning.” He barely looked up and didn’t acknowledge us. I took that as a challenge.
Each morning we passed, we greeted him cheerfully. He began looking up at us. Then a few days later, we received a nod. Things escalated over the next few greetings until we received a grunt, an actual sound as response. This morning, the day after our restaurant experience, he smiled as soon as he saw us and said, “Good morning.” We’ve exchanged friendly greetings every morning since.
He’s been the toughest case, but he’s not the only one. We now regularly receive good mornings in return (sometimes a buenos días or other alternatives). Many stop and chat for a few minutes.
So, yes, we do have an impact on others. We can change the environment. We chose to do it with a simple greeting and acknowledgement. I’d rather turn someone’s frown into a smile with a simple gesture.
Go affect your environment. Make it positive.
Books I’m Reading
In 1961, a tornado tore through tiny Mercer, Illinois, killing dozens of teenagers. The losses affected nearly every family in the community and the scars run deep. When another tornado hits the same spot in the present day, the memories resurface. Three modern-day teenagers, different from each other in many ways, come together to find peace and move forward.
Can you end a sentence with a preposition? Can you split an infinitive? The short answer is yes on both counts. The Chicago Manual of Style says the “rule” against terminal prepositions is an “unnecessary and pedantic restriction” (5.180). Likewise, “adverbs sometimes justifiably separate the to from the principal verb” (5.108).
So why are these “rules” so widely taught? I specifically remember losing a point in a freshman lit class because I failed to mark “to boldly go” as incorrect.
If you are interested in such quirks in the English language, a terrific podcast is Word Matters from Merriam-Webster. This week’s episode explains why so many people believe a terminal preposition is wrong.
So next time someone calls you out for violating this grammar edict, you can respond, “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.”
Before someone corrects me, that is arrant (without moderation) as opposed to errant (behaving wrongly). Also, the quote is incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill, a entirely different issue in our language history and also mentioned in the podcast.
Isn’t the English language fun?
Gratuitous Dog Picture
The other day, we showed an image of a sleepy Frankie ready for bed. Today, we decided to share a happy Frankie Suave photo. Can you tell the difference? Hey, when you’re suave, you keep the emotions cool.
Background title image courtesy Robert Lukeman.