Rainy Day Dominoes

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It was raining yesterday morning when my wife  and I left the house for our round of Saturday errands.  We decided to stop at a doughnut shop.  After being served we took our sugary treats and coffee to a table where we settled into reading the newspaper.  In the background were the sounds of the bustling enterprise, and the conversations of families with children.  

Putting down a section of the paper I looked up to see a couple at the next table engaged in a game of dominoes.  As I watched, their interactions took me back seventy or so years to domino games with my Grandpa Harris.  He had a Double Nine set and always seemed ready to challenge me to a few matches whenever I visited.    

At the time, we lived in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati.  Grandpa and Grandma Harris lived fifty miles east at Mowrystown.  He had a 16-acre farm where he rented out land to neighbors for grazing or raising crops.  He also kept some chickens and a milk cow, and had a pond where he taught me to fish.  A field behind the barn was perfect for flying kites on windy days.  

Several summers my folks dropped me off for a two-week “vacation” there.  I spent hours of free-range imagination time on a swing grandpa put on the branch of a large tree outside the kitchen.  We fished with a bamboo pole he made for me.  Sometimes we went shopping or took a picnic lunch and visited the Native American burial mounds.  But the thing I always enjoyed most were the domino games.

We’d start out vying for who had the highest number of dots on a single tile in order to go first.  We built roadways of linking numbers across the table, always looking for the double nine and a chance to play it.  We laughed at each other when we had no usable tiles and had to raid the “bone pile.”  It was fun.  I never tired of it, and it seemed, neither did he.

All of this came back to me in the doughnut shop Saturday.  It was obvious from their conversation that the man was playing dominoes with his grandmother.  In our hurried world, it seems rare to find someone unhurriedly and gently nurturing a caring relationship with a simple game at a table.  The rain poured outside, but the sun shone inside.

I spoke to the couple, “Would you mind if I take your picture?”

“No, go ahead.”

I did, and then asked if they would mind me sharing it on Facebook.

He said “No.”

Soon after that we gathered our papers and got up to leave.  I thanked them for sharing a little of their world with us.  He looked up and smiled…Grandma matched her six to the six on one of his tiles.  We waved goodbye.

Maybe we could all use a few more rainy day domino moments in our busy lives.

    

 

Clouds of Confusion

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Sometimes I feel bombarded by clouds of confusion that masquerade as communication.  It happens on those morning talk shows where co-hosts engage each other or guests in trivialities with increasing volume.  One speaks, the other interrupts to shift the focus, two or more people talking past each other.  Sound bullets fly randomly through the airwaves, striking unknown listener targets. 

I recall a live fire exercise during my army basic training.   Walking through a field with loaded M-1 rifles (I know, I’m an old guy!)  we were to fire at pop up targets when they appeared.  On one occasion a  guy behind me fired without a clear view of the target.  I actually heard the bullet whiz past my helmet.  The training sergeant chewed him out and a moment of confusion became an occasion for clarification.

Sometimes our words are like that bullet, flying right past someone’s ear.  Words aimed for effect, not connection.  Sound bytes rather than discourse.  One-up-manship.  Nobody listening.  Nobody framing fresh insights from cognitive clarity.  Perhaps this is the new normal for conversation.  We talk past each other.  We listen only to ourselves and our own thoughts.  We trade words and miss relationships.

For several years my wife and I have enjoyed Saturday breakfast at a local fast food restaurant.  We take our newspaper and read it while we eat.  Recent renovations resulted in digital kiosks where the staff prefers customers place their orders.  I tried it once, but found I still had to get in line at the counter to pay with cash.  So, I still go to the counter to place my order.

One Saturday when I stepped up it felt like the clerk dismissed my words.  She pointed to the kiosk.  “You can order over there.”

I replied, “Actually, I’d rather…”

“I can show you how to use it.”

I began to explain why I preferred ordering at the counter.  Mid-sentence she broke in, “It will take your card.”

“I understand that, but….”

Impatiently she interrupted again.  “It’ll take your debit card.”

Now I was the one getting impatient.  “Look, I just want to place my order here.”

With an exasperated expression she said,  “So, what do you want?” 

She entered my order in the computer.  I handed her the cash, and she gave me my receipt and a placard with a number on it.  “Put this on the table.  We’ll bring it to you.”

I went to the table and began reading the newspaper.  In the background I heard various numbers called as they brought orders out.   Suddenly I realized we should have been served by now, so I went back to the counter.

“Excuse me, can you check on my order?”

With a blank expression and flat tone she said, “You’ll have to get in line, Sir.”

I dutifully worked my way back up to the counter and handed her my receipt.  She took it, disappeared for several minutes, then returned.  “Your order was served.”

“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t.”

With a sigh, “They brought it out and called your number, but you didn’t respond.  They thought you’d left.”

“Perhaps I didn’t hear it then, but the placard was on the table in plain…”

“Your order was served,” she said, looking past me to the next customer.’

“May I speak to your manager?”

She abruptly left the register and returned saying, “What did you order?  We’ll do it over.”

I told her and she replaced the order, got it filled and handed it to me on a tray.  When I got to the table my wife noticed one of her items was missing.  Reluctantly I returned to the clerk who was methodically directing customers to the kiosks.  She gave me a bored look, then went and got the item.  As I took it back to the table another server approached, handing me a tray with the same thing.”

I smiled and pointed to my tray.  “Thanks, but we have everything now.”

Looking past me she said, “This is yours.”

“But I already have my order.”

“We owe you this because you didn’t get your order.”

And so it went.

Sometimes I find a lot of conversations going this way.  It’s like we’ve become a computer-programmed population of people who no longer connect brain with tongue.  We rattle off our word bullets randomly, primed by programmed responses, never connecting.  Then I wonder, is anybody really listening?  Do we ever really hear each other?

Perhaps the problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be programmed into the stratosphere of digital responses.  Desensitized, we’ve become lost in clouds of confusion.   I wish sarge was here…maybe he could restore some clarity.