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My posts of late have been somewhat reflective and introspective, so you may be expecting this post to be about the signs the universe is sending me to direct me to my purpose…blah blah blah. No, I wanted to write about plain ordinary signs – the boards with words and pictures that tell you where to go – or not.

I stick up for New Jersey all of the time. Armpit of the United States? How dare you! Have you been to Baltimore? Or Central Florida? That place may not have state income tax, but it also has no soul. New Jersey is a cool place. We let people across the country think bad things about New Jersey. We invite visitors to come to New Jersey and be greeted by the industrial sludge surrounding Newark Airport. We do this because New Jersey is already too damned crowded –we don’t need people up and moving here from out of state and making it worse. In actuality, New Jersey is a great place to live: we have beautiful beaches, amazing state parks where you can hike in seclusion for hours, local farms with fresh-picked produce, and all of this only a short distance from the best city in the world (I am referring to New York City, not Philly, lest there be any confusion). So what if virtually every municipal government in our state is corrupt? That just adds to the local flavor. There are a lot of things to love about New Jersey (pork roll, the Giants, Bruce) and the majority of people I know who grew up here want to stay.

So as a big fan of New Jersey, I feel that I have a right to point this out: What in the hell is up with the signage in this state?! If you don’t know where you are going, then you are shit out of luck because there are no signs that will help you. Most road signs in New Jersey are too small, too sparse, unclear (such as an arrow that points to the wrong place), or just plain confusing. 

For example, last week I had a business meeting in West Orange on Prospect Ave, just off Route 280. As I was leaving the meeting and heading south on Prospect, I was trying to remember if the entrance for 280 East was on the left or the right. Unlike some states, there is no standard for the location of highway entrances – sometimes they are on the left and sometimes they are on the right. I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume that a lot of the on-ramps were built after the houses and businesses, thus leading to a certain degree of randomness. Nonetheless, if there is no consistency to how the entrances to highways are designed, at least we should make sure they are clearly marked, right? Wrong. This is how it went:

About 200 feet before the highway, there was a small sign (about the size of a stop sign) for 280 East with an arrow pointing up to indicate that the highway was straight ahead. There was no indication as to whether the entrance for 280 East would be on the right or the left. This is problematic because Prospect has two lanes going each way and everyone in this area drives at least 50 miles per hour on these types of roads, so there isn’t a lot of time to change lanes once you realize you are in the wrong one for the highway entrance. Perhaps a bit of suspense and excitement is a good thing. The photo below from Google Maps shows the sign for Route 280 with a Garden State Parkway sign directly below it. It is a bit hard to see in the sun (a lot like when you are driving at certain times of the day), but it is directly to the right of the car. Please note how small the sign is, keeping in mind that this is a pretty major highway.

Signage 1 

Now, the entrance for 280 East ended up being on the left, which fortunately I remembered from when I lived in the area. Directly above the left entrance was a large sign indicating that 280 East was “this way”  as you can see in the photo below. That would typically be a good thing, even though it would still require a quick lane-change if you were on the right. However, the other day when I was on that road the entire sign for 280 East was covered by tree branches. Sigh.

 Signage 2

Overgrown foliage covering signs on or to major highways is not an isolated incident – I see it all of the time. Who is in charge here? How can no one notice that a sign is completely covered by trees?! How could someone notice and not feel compelled to trim them back?! I have seen signs completely covered by trees and tall grasses on highways like Route 287 where the average speed is 80 miles per hour in the right lane. The message: If you want to drive on our highways, you better already know where you need to go, dammit. It’s every man, woman and child for themselves.

Then there are the Garden State Parkway signs. The Parkway is pretty much the major thoroughfare for intra-state travel. Yet, on several occasions I have been in a New Jersey town that I know is near a Parkway entrance, like Springfield, but I can’t find the Parkway because the signs point you in the direction but never actually lead you there. You see a small Parkway sign on the side of the road that points to the right. You make the next available right even though there isn’t another sign confirming that this is the right turn that the other sign referred to. Then you drive for two miles without seeing another sign. Are you supposed to take it on faith as you tour some suburb in Northern New Jersey that if you continue going in the approximate direction suggested by the last Parkway sign you will eventually hit the highway? From my experience, a safer bet to play the 22 to 1 long-shot at Monmouth Park Racetrack.

This all became obvious to me for the first time a few years ago following a move out of state. Being new to Texas, I depended on the clear and prominent signs on the roads to find my way around. Upon my move back to New Jersey, the lack of signage became very apparent. No wonder people hate New Jersey: not only are the signs useless, but when out-of-state drivers slow down to try to figure out where they’re going, the typical New Jersey driver reacts by riding their tail and flashing the high-beams. Welcome to the Garden State.

On second thought, maybe the poor signage isn’t due to a lack of attention to detail or someone dropping the ball. Maybe it’s a conspiracy to prevent more people from moving to our already-crowded state. It’s just a thought. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop defending New Jersey.

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I feel the need to clear this up, for the benefit of humanity:  Please don’t use air-quotes unless you are being ironic

Air-quotes can be funny or sarcastic when used well, but their misuse is making them really annoying.  I feel it is important for me to set the record straight so air-quotes can stick around for a while and then die a natural death when the time is right. 

The directions for air-quotes are really quite simple:

  • It is fine to use air-quotes when you are saying one thing but mean something else; air-quotes convey sarcasm. 
  • It is not fine to use air-quotes when what you are saying is, literally, what you are saying.

To illustrate my point, let me share a couple of examples of the proper use of air-quotes:

Example 1.A.  When your friend is on his way to hand out fliers in a hot dog costume, you say to him:  Hurry up, you don’t want to be late for your “job.”  In this case, you have employed air-quotes as an efficient way to let your friend know that you don’t consider walking the street dressed as barbecue food to be an actual career choice; the air-quotes are how he knows what you really intended to say.  They probably made him feel bad about himself in the process, but that’s between you and him.

Example 1.B.  When a guy who is a complete Mama’s boy is going to visit his mother, you tell him:  Say hi to your “girlfriend.”  Here you are conveying that this guy’s relationship with his mother is too close to be considered in the normal range of mother-son relationships, but you are using air-quotes to signal that you know he isn’t actually dating his mom.

On the flip side, following are some examples of the improper use of air-quotes:

Example 2.A.  You say, OK, it’s time to get back to “work,” but you are, in fact, getting back to work.  Hopefully the mistake here is obvious.  If  you are saying what you mean, which is that you took a break but now have to finish doing what you are being paid to do, then you are prohibited from using air-quotes.  Now, if you are wearing a hot dog costume when you say this, then you are fine (at least as far as air-quotes go) as explained in Example 1.A.

Example 2.B.  You say, Nice “face”, to someone when you are really talking about his or her face.  Nice face is an awesome insult in that it typically takes the recipient a second or two to recognize that he or she has been insulted.  In this case, the use of air-quotes actually lessens the impact of the insult, as well as puts the user in violation of the air-quote guidance as stated above.

You can help me in this effort.  The next time someone inappropriately invokes air-quoting, you need to call that person out.  Try this with the second example above…

Nice “face”?!  Are you talking about this?  (Point to your face.)  Because if you are, I think you meant to just say: Nice face, sans air-quotes, dumb ass.

You don’t have to say it as as angry as I did above, but it helps.

I fear I may be too late, because even as I am writing this I am realizing that I have pretty much given up on air-quotes already.  I am not sure that air-quotes can be saved.  Air-quotes have gone the way of the slang term “D.L.,” which at one point was only used by those in the know, but is now often spoken by people in their 60s (no offense, Mom and Dad) and on commercials.  Since air-quotes are almost over, I guess I will have to resort to using inflection to communicate the same sarcasm that I could have much more easily conveyed with air quotes, as in “Say hi to your mom.”  It’s disappointing, but I guess what’s done is done.

P.S.  Just out of curiosity, I went to Wikipedia to see what it says there about air-quotes, lest I am inadvertently being unoriginal by writing this post.  I confirmed that I am fine, at least in regard to having an original thought, and in addition I got a wonderful gift in the form of the photo accompanying the air-quotes entry.  Priceless.

UPDATE:  My friend Joannie shared this awesome website with real-life examples of people using printed quotes improperly:  www.unnecessaryquotes.com/.  It’s hilarious.

Hi All…following is a guest post from my childhood friend, Jenn White Doremus.  We grew up together at the Jersey Shore  – actually, Monmouth County, which is the northern part of the shore and very different from the southern part.  Enjoy her rant about being from New Jersey.

Happy Fourth of July!

“Welcome to New Joisey” by Jenn White Doremus

I’m a huge Sopranos and Real Housewives of New Jersey fan.  My mom, aunt, and uncle think those shows put New Jersey in a horrible light, and perpetuate the “Joisey” stereotype.  Those of us who are native to NJ know these people are from NORTH Jersey, and most likely not originally from NJ at all.  Look at the Housewives – they live in Franklin Lakes, and Jacqueline is from Vegas, Danielle is from Brooklyn, Caroline and Dina are from NY.  Theresa is the only one originally from NJ – and she’s the one who tossed over the table in the finale.  I can’t say I blame her – I probably would have also.  But I digress …

When the Sopranos was at its height, I worked at Monmouth Park Racetrack. I was the Controller for the food-service department (Aramark was the company).  Our workers were union, members of the local and international HERE. Being a union house, we would get audited by the unions yearly to make sure union payments were being deducted and paid properly.  We would receive no notice, they would just show up.  I remember one year when we were being audited I called our corporate office in Philly just to let them know.  They became very concerned, asking me if I was safe and if they needed to call anyone to back me up.  I laughed so hard, totally disbelieving that any time NJ and union were in the same sentence visions of the Sopranos came into people’s minds.  Really, we’re not all mobbed up!  

I’m from the Jersey Shore, and we are (sometimes) snobs who consider “The Shore” to be an entirely different entity from the rest of the state.  But we are.  We are neither North Jersey (Bennies!) nor South Jersey (Shoobies!). Did you know if NJ seceded from the union we would be the 2nd richest country in the world?  So there.  You’ve seen our beach, now go home.

I probably should have called this post  Lullaby Part Two

Why is “Rock-a-Bye-Baby” the most widely-known and easily recognizable lullaby?  I went to sing this lullaby to my son one time and then stopped suddenly.  Have you ever paid attention to the words?  It goes like this:

Rock-a-bye-baby in the tree top

When the wind blows the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

WHAT?!  Who is the sadistic person who wrote that song?  Why do we continue to sing it to our children?

Is it a veiled threat:  go to sleep or I will put your crib in a tree and wait for a strong wind?  Even the title is sketchy – “Rock-a-BYE-Baby.”  Put the baby in the tree and then…see ya.

Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t seem right.

Last night, I was desperately trying to get my son to go to bed at an appropriate time and he was not having it, so he was crying.  Of course, no one likes the sound of a crying baby; I have to assume that is a genetic thing wired into all of us so that we attend to the little ones.  Well, my guy was screaming as if someone were torturing him, to the point where he was hyperventilating, so I was stressed and pulling out all of the stops to soothe him.  I even resorted to singing lullabies – Lord knows why this kid actually stops crying when I sing, because most people start crying when I sing.  I have to assume that is also genetic.

But last night even my singing would only work for a second or two before the crying resumed and I would have to try again.  I have a limited lullaby repertoire, and I had to do quite a few repeat performances because this whole mess was going on for at least 45 minutes.  First, I tried “Mama’s Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird” (which I think is the name) because I just learned all of the words on a baby-related website – it’s shocking how much my life has changed.  Next, I tried “Amazing Grace” because my friend told me that she sings it to her son at bedtime and I thought that was really sweet.   Not only is my rendition nowhere near the quality of her beautiful take on the song (yes, Carey, I mean you), but I couldn’t remember the second verse so I just made it up.  On some level, it feels like a sin to make up the lyrics to a hymn.  I’m not talking about the same degree of sin as murder or mouthing off to your parents, but a sin nonetheless.

So after a couple of performances of those two songs I was almost tapped out – I told you my repertoire was limited.  Then I remembered the classic:  “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”  It’s soft, it’s pretty, and it’s about the night.  Excellent!  I sang my best possible version and…still no luck, the kid was screaming bloody murder.

After a couple more repeats of the aforementioned songs, I remembered “The Alphabet Song.”  OK, I don’t normally think of that as a lullaby but I was grasping for straws and it couldn’t hurt to throw in a bit of learning, right?  So I started singing it:  A, B, C, D, E …oh forget it, you know how it goes and if you don’t you have issues.  Anyway, sing it in your head right now, I’ll wait.

Now sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Notice anything?

That’s right – it’s the same tune!  The music for “The Alphabet Song” is the same as the music for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star!”

I felt totally and completely gypped.  All of these years I never noticed that those two songs used the same exact tune.  Now some of you are thinking, “Duh.”  And others are thinking, “I had the same experience when I sang those songs to my (child, niece, nephew, friend’s baby) – welcome to the club!”  Still others are thinking, “WHAT?!  I feel gypped too!”  I know.  I am not sure why it irritates me so much, it just does.  Neither of those songs are that long, so how hard is it to come up with a new tune?  For real.

Oh, it gets better.  So now I am annoyed and distracted and I still have a screaming baby.  I finally decided that I needed to take him downstairs after an hour of this because even though I am trying to set up a bedtime routine, Rome wasn’t built in a day and, besides, I need to know which song came first so I can determine who ripped off whom.  I know, I need to step up my parenting game but again, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

So I hand the child over to my husband so I can look up the origins of the songs and, assuming the Wikipedia entry for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is correct (always a good thing to consider), it gets worse:

  • Not only does “The Alphabet Song” share the tune with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, it is also used for “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”  I mean, come on.
  • The original melody was taken from a French song – so we’re back to the French, are we?
  • This is the best:  the French version of the song is about a girl recounting to her mother how she was seduced by man who beat her afterwards.  Now I am speechless.  And if you believe that I’m speechless, I have a bridge to sell you.

I was a little disturbed that a few lullabies could send me off on a rant, so I tried to accept what I cannot change:  that these three songs share one tune.  I suppose this is just another more step on my path to peace and serenity.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I have decided that I really don’t like salad.  Actually, I can’t stand salad.  To be honest, the only good salads are the ones with a lot of stuff in them in addition to the vegetables:  nuts, cheese, meats, dried or fresh fruit, and so on.  In fact, I am sure that once you throw all of that into the salad it isn’t all that healthy to eat, it just seems healthy because it’s a salad.  Do you remember the series of Bud Light ads called “Real Men of Genius”?  “Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor” was one of the best and it explains how you can actually turn a salad into a 12,000 calorie meal by adding ground beef, re-fried beans, guacamole and cheese to it.  

But I digress.  The actual reason I hate salad is that it involves too much poking.  Way too much poking.  If I want to get a good combination of stuff in one bite, it is a lot of work to poke each individual thing with my fork and get everything to stay on. 

Perhaps an example is necessary to illustrate the issue.  Let’s start by agreeing that there is no point to salad unless you put a lot of the aforementioned good stuff in it.  So say I order a salad with almonds (healthy), goat cheese (yummy), grilled chicken (healthier than breaded chicken), dried cranberries (deceitful, seemingly healthy but loaded with sugar), and a couple of vegetables.  This actually sounds pretty delicious and something you might be able to get excited about.  Well, to truly enjoy this salad I would have to get all or most of the good stuff in one bite, but here’s what happens when I try:

  • I take a fork-full of lettuce and maybe some of a vegetable, because the point of salad is to eat greens and vegetables.
  • I find an almond and stab it with my fork.  If I am successful it gets lodged on the fork; if I am not successful it shoots across the table at my dining partner, hopefully not taking out an eye in the process.
  • Let’s say I am successful and now I have lettuce, a vegetable, and an almond on my fork.  Nice.  But, how will I be able to fit the other stuff on my already crowded fork?  I go for the chicken next.  Got it, because it is a little soft and I am able to squeeze it on after the almond.  This isn’t so bad after all…
  • What about the goat cheese?  I try to poke it onto the fork but guess what happens?  The goat cheese spreads out and flattens, making it impossible to spear.  But I want cheese in this bite, dammit!  So I take my knife in the hand opposite the one that has the fork and use the knife to scrape up some goat cheese.  Then I spread the goat cheese onto the stuff already on the fork.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  Wrong!  It would be a good plan, except that the almond is barely hanging on to the fork and when I apply pressure with my knife it falls off, and now I am really irritated because the crunch of the almond was critical to my enjoying the bite of salad.   And I haven’t even attempted to include the dried cranberries.

I don’ t need to continue because you can see how this plays out.  Maybe you have experienced this yourself and can feel your blood pressure rise as you recall the frustration of how you were just trying to eat healthy, for God’s sake, but there was too much poking involved!  I haven’t even addressed the other salad-related issue of running out of one salad topper too soon, like when the cheese and/or meat is gone and you still have lettuce.  If you are truly honest with yourself, you know you stop eating at that point and throw the rest of the lettuce away.

Take my advice and just have a cheeseburger.  You’ll thank me later.

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.