Tales From “The Annoying Bar & Grill”: Have More Fun At Work!

havemorefunatwork


Until I was recently and pleasantly reminded of it, I had forgotten that it is possible to enjoy myself while at work. One of the reasons that I do what I do, why I all those years ago made the decision to continue to wait tables and/or tend bar, rather than opting for a “real job”, was not solely because doing so allowed me the opportunity to schedule my work life around my personal life. Certainly that, combined with the fact that I get to go home with cash on a daily basis, was its biggest selling point. While the hours and the money may have been the primary reason that I continued in this line of work, they were not the only reasons.

Less quantifiable, perhaps, but certainly significant, another reason that I remained slinging hash and mixing up daiquiris is because of the people with whom I get to work. Restaurant workers tend to be a friendly, funny bunch. Some of us, myself included, may even be slightly north of crazy. I would argue however that our individual brands of crazy— and our ability to recognize and to tolerate them in each other — may well be, in addition to our shared experiences, what bonds us to each other. After all, it’s a scientific fact that “like” attracts “like”. By and large, I like the sort of people that are drawn to restaurant work.

I was not working down at “The Annoying Bar & Grill” when I had my “V-8 moment” about enjoying myself in the workplace. I have another job now — one where the camaraderie feels far more organic. It is less about survival, more about creating a comfortable atmosphere — for ourselves and for the customers. I love it.

More often than not, my interactions with my coworkers down at “The Annoying Bar & Grill” have a desperate, edgy quality to them. If you look closely enough, you’ll note a lean, hungry look in our eyes. This is a look that would put one in mind of POWs, prisoners, or folks who are making vain attempts to muddle through severe cases of PTSD — people who are just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Luckily, being in possession of the personality traits that drew us to this business in the first place, we are able to do just that. Still, down there it feels at times as if we are all just trying to stay off the prison guard’s radar, to do our time, to survive until the meds kick in.

Over at the new place the owners and the managers actually seem to want you to be happy. Imagine that? If they see you laughing, their first instinct isn’t to find you something to scrub with a toothbrush, sweep with a broom, or polish with a cloth. Instead, they want “in” on the joke. It really is like a whole other world.

Sadly, I was only able to get a few shifts a week at the new place. It is not possible for me to fully resign my position at “The Annoying Bar & Grill” quite yet. I have been able to cut back on some of my hours there, though. While I am hopeful that reducing my shifts will make working there more palatable, I fear that the opposite will be true.

What I’ve realized, though, is that I don’t have to play into that fear. I have had an epiphany of sorts — one which has led me to believe that I may, in fact, be able to steer the ship — or at least my ship —in another direction. To that end, I have decided that I am going to do my best to take some of the lessons that I have learned from the other place and apply them to “The Annoying Bar & Grill”. Having been recently reminded that laughter truly is the best medicine, I am going to give enjoying myself — everywhere that I work — the old college try.

You’re welcome, co-workers! You’re welcome, customers! You’re welcome, America!


This piece is dedicated to my friend, John, who never fails to make me smile. His gift to me — and to the world — is his ability not only to recognize, but to put into perspective the folly that exists in our daily lives. He has the uncanny ability to point out, in the funniest ways possible, that there are only a few things that truly matter. Friendship, love, and laughter top his list. His renewed  presence in my life has reminded me that I, too, once had this same ability. He has inspired me to find it again. For this I am truly grateful. I love you, dude!

 


© Jacqueline Tierney DeMuro and Ambling & Rambling (javaj240.wordpress.com), 2015. 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 Jacqueline Tierney DeMuro and Ambling & Rambling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Let Me Grab My Robe!

letmegrabmyrobeIf anyone is looking for me around suppertime on any given Friday evening, I’ll be at the local Friendly’s. The reason for this has less (but certainly not nothing) to do with the fact that I can officially begin my weekend by ingesting some kind of crazy fabulous chocolate-peanut butter dessert concoction; more to do with the fact that, as I discovered on a recent excursion to this joint, the place seems to be “shoes-optional”.

One cannot enjoy a buffalo chicken salad (and, yes, a giant dessert) barefooted — that’s against the law here in New Jersey. There is, however, no law (written or, apparently, unwritten) against donning one’s bedroom slippers and heading out to enjoy a meal (and dessert!) at Friendly’s. Finally, a place where I can be comfortable.

Normally, frequenting a restaurant where pants are “button-optional” would be enough for me — especially one where ordering dessert is more of a given than it is a choice. Knowing that I don’t even have to change into shoes? Yeah. I’m all in, folks. All in!

When I first noticed a woman leaving the premises in her fuzzy mules, I will admit that I was somewhat taken aback. She had a gaggle of kids in tow, though, and I figured that she may have simply been overwhelmed by the mere act of wrangling them to concern herself with something as esoteric as proper footwear.

It was when I got inside and spied several other slipper-wearers that it occurred to me that this might be some sort of tradition or, at the very least, a trend down at the Friendly’s. Who knew?

Not me, that’s for sure. At some point I began to wonder if I had missed the memo that Fridays were “Pajama Days” at Friendly’s because, I swear, there was a woman who appeared to be wearing, in addition to her house shoes, a bathrobe. It may have been a sweater, but it surely could have passed for a robe.

I have, in my lifetime, witnessed the relaxation of the dress code here in America. It is no longer de rigeur to wear black to a funeral, for example. Shockingly — at least to me — one may also wear booty shorts and a midriff-baring shirt to a Broadway play without garnering any undue “tsking”. Feel the need to wear white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day? Go right ahead. No one will notice.

I see young people sporting pajama pants in all sorts of places. School, for example. I have long chalked this practice up to the rebellious nature of your average adolescent. Good for them. Whatever.

I know how I feel about “hooker casual” at a show. I’m against it. But sleepwear at the Friendly’s? This is a practice that I may be able to work into my routine. Those desserts, after all, can make a person mighty sleepy.

Let’s Bring Back the Hat!

Greta Garbo... need I say more?

Greta Garbo… need I say more?


I am not much of a trendsetter in any area of my life — unless, of course, you count “cooking with soup”. Some would argue — and rightly so — that opening a can of cream of mushroom soup to whip up a delicious gravy has more to do with sheer laziness and an inability to turn drippings and corn starch into something edible, than it is some sort of a trailblazing effort to change the way America cooks.

Not only am I not a trendsetter, I am also not a fashion maven. I am still on “orange is the new pink”, for crying out loud! (I can just see my teenage daughter rolling her eyes and mumbling, “Mom, that was sooooo ten years ago!”)

Having established that I am no fashion expert, I will go out on a very small limb here and admit that I am well aware that a woman who is still substituting orange for pink should not, in all likelihood, be making suggestions for starting a movement like the one I am about to make. Having little expertise in a subject matter never stopped me from forming (or expressing) an opinion before, though.

Let’s bring back the hat!

I am not talking about baseball hats. I would guess that most women own at least one of those. The problem with caps of this variety is that they are not generally worn to make a fashion statement. Generally, they are thrown on NOT to enhance one’s appearance, but to hide the fact that one has chosen not to shower or to attend to one’s hair on a given day

I, myself, have engaged in baseball hat subterfuge now and again. I understand. Still, I say, let’s save the logo caps for the ballpark, Ladies! (You’re not fooling anyone at the grocery store anyway.)

Being a bit of a hat-wearer myself, I have learned that the minute I put one on my attitude is instantly transformed. Depending on the style of hat that I have chosen to don, I often feel more fun-loving or more sophisticated. I feel more stylish — even at the supermarket — when I top off my look with a tweed cap. I always feel more confident, jauntier, while sporting a beret. (Who wouldn’t?)

Hats do not have to be something we throw on to shovel snow, hide our unkempt tresses, or put the finishing touch on our Halloween costumes.  In other words, hats do not have to be an afterthought.  Rather, they should make a statement about who we are. They should complete our ensembles; complement our personalities.

My dream is to see a resurgence of hat boxes filled with fedoras, bowlers, berets, cloches, and, yes, even pillboxes, in the closets of all American women. If you require more inspiration than just little old me, you need only to look to women like Lucille Ball, Greta Garbo, and Mary Pickford. Those gals could rock a hat!

As if looking sexy like Faye Dunaway in “Bonnie and Clyde” or quirky like Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” were not good enough reasons to embrace hat-wearing, how about the fact that, combined with a good sunscreen, hats protect our faces from sun damage. Say “Hello!” to hats, “Good Riddance” to premature wrinkling, age spots, and skin cancer!

Let’s do it. Let’s start a movement. Let’s find a good milliner. Let’s bring back the hat!

Pick Up The Pace?

I am all for picking up the pace — only in certain areas, though, and, even then, within reason. Some things cannot or should not be rushed. For example, I think it is reasonable to expect my husband to finish a cup of coffee within thirty minutes, not as reasonable to put time limits on baseball games. Baseball should not be rushed.pickupthe pace

There are big changes afoot this season designed to quicken the pace of the game. (Alas, no such changes are afoot here at the hovel as regards spousal coffee drinking.)These changes, so far, do not include “time limits”, per se, but who knows what the future may hold? If these changes were a result of the players being desirous of getting home in time to kick back with a Schlitz after a long hard day, I would be all for it. I can sympathize with anyone who wants a shorter work day.

What is going on with professional baseball is not designed to improve the lives of the players, though. No. The rule changes designed to shave off what will amount to a few seconds here and there (and which are, at least for the moment, unfairly aimed only at the offense) are being implemented by Major League Baseball for another reason — one that has nothing to do with the game, more to do with the fact that baseball has begun to lose its younger audience. MLB has realized that kids today do not have the attention span to sit through a three-hour ball game. The “Nintendo Generation” wants action. And they want it constantly. Baseball is losing fans — mostly to football, basketball, hockey — and, yes — even to NASCAR.

NASCAR is the fastest growing sport in America. How anyone could be entertained by watching cars being driven in circles for hours on end is beyond me. Talk about boring! I live in a heavily congested area of New Jersey. We drive around in circles all day. If people really want to see that, why don’t they just come here and set up a lawn chair on the side of one of our many highways? They could bring the kids and a cooler — make a day of it!

If they’re lucky they might even see a three-car pile-up or, at the very least, a fender-bender. There are quite a few roadways and problem areas where these things occur almost daily. The New Jersey Turnpike can be relied upon to supply a few jackknifed tractor-trailers a week. That might be something worthy of an outing.

Certainly there are some things that would quicken the pace of the game without changing the game itself. For example, I could do without David Wright refastening his batting gloves after each and every pitch. I find this both annoying and unnecessary. On the other hand, it does allow me a chance to grab a Diet Coke or to think — to mull over whether the pitcher he is facing will bring the heat or the change-up when David does (finally!) step back into the batter’s box.

It is also during these breaks when viewers get the chance to listen to the color commentators and the play-by-play guys. I would argue that The New York Mets broadcast team is the best! Outside of Vin Scully I cannot think of anyone I would rather listen to call a ball game than Gary, Keith, and Ron.

In terms of baseball being “slow”, let me just say this: Have you ever noticed how long the last five minutes of a football game (or a basketball game) can take? It feels like forever.

It seems like an eternity because this is when managing the clock becomes an important part of the game. Baseball, too, has strategy; its strategy just does not involve time. Often, what it involves is nuance. I find that nuance is what is lacking in most other professional sports. Does NASCAR have nuance? I don’t know. Football and basketball certainly have moments of grace and beauty, but nuance? I don’t think so.

Nuance cannot be rushed. It is an integral part of the game of baseball. Making changes so that the Nintendo generation will be interested is ridiculous. I have to wonder if, as this group ages, they will not come to realize and to appreciate — all on their own, without any help from the “powers that be” up at MLB HQ — that the little things, the nuanced things — things so integral to their beloved video games — are also an important part of baseball.

I think they will. And, when they do, they will come to embrace the pace of our National Past Time. We don’t need to change the game for them. We just have to be patient. We simply have to behave like the baseball fans that we are. We will just have to adjust our batting gloves, step out of the box, and wait for them to grow up.

I Wrote a Rap Song

I wrote a rap songOf the most unlikely sentences that I could utter (or write), “I wrote a rap song” would surely make the Top Ten List — mine and everyone else’s. It’s true, though. I did.

We were joking around at work yesterday. How we managed to do that in the midst of the mayhem, I’ll never know. What can I say? Servers are a resourceful bunch.

In response to the anxiety that I felt as I was faced with a dozen tables scattered all over the restaurant, I started to formulate some song lyrics (or, as it’s known in the rap community — of which I now consider myself a member, albeit a fledgling member, but a member just the same — “laying down some bars”). Oddly enough, I found it therapeutic and more than just a little amusing. So did my coworkers.

I am unsure as to whether the humor they found in my running around trying to find words that rhymed with “hammer” had more to do with the juxtaposition of a middle-aged field hockey mom whose taste in music runs more along the lines of Jackson Browne than it does to Chris Brown or whether it was because they were stunned by my ability to punch out those words with the ferocity of an angry female hip-hopper. Either way, they seemed entertained.

Like any class clown worth her salt, I continued with my act. I have to admit that I was more than mildly distracted throughout the rest of my shift. I could not, no matter that I was faced with a severe wine glass shortage and a bar full of Merlot aficionados, to shrug off the idea that I should be writing this stuff down.

When I returned home, physically exhausted and mentally weary after my second twelve-hour shift in a row, I thought about doing just that. I opted, instead, as middle-aged women like me are wont to do, to don my flannel pajamas and allow my head to hit the pillow, rather than moving my fingers on a keyboard.

I slept fitfully. Words — many of them rhyming with “hammer” — kept awakening me.

The minute I rolled out of bed I poured myself a cup of coffee and headed for the computer. I really HAD to get these words down before they became confused and possibly jumbled up with other words like “dish detergent” or “greeting cards”. It was very likely that my synapses would misfire causing a mix-up to occur; I was gripped with the fear that failing to memorialize the lyrics would result in my finding myself in the home improvement store wondering what, exactly, I was doing in the tool aisle. It would not be the first time that I have been nagged by the vague notion that I was in need of a hammer.

Of places where and states of mind in which I can be found, “confoundedly wandering around the home improvement store” comes in just behind “standing in my kitchen wondering where my damn phone is” and “searching my pockets for where I put that twenty-dollar bill that I had in my hand five seconds ago.” Yeah. That is normally who I am, not someone in search of esoteric (and catchy) ways to say “prison”.

I did it, though. I thought it out and worked it up. I committed real words to virtual paper.

While I hesitate to share it here, not so much because I think it might actually be good enough for someone to want to record it (might any of you know the name of an up-and-coming female rapper?), but more because it may convince those of you who are on the fence about me that I am indeed just as batshit crazy as you suspected all along. I have decided to do it, anyway — share it with you.

I will also admit that there is a small part of me that worries that my husband might read this, might find me out. I find myself feeling a little guilty that I spent my day this way. I should be more productive on my day off. I should be cooking, cleaning, or doing laundry instead of wasting my time tapping into the nascent and heretofore unacknowledged lyricist persona (this is how I think of myself now). In other words, I should have something far more concrete to show for the energy that I expended working up a rap song that no one will ever hear. By “more concrete”, of course I mean figuring out dinner or making the bed. I could not seem to help myself, though.

Like all great artists who must divide their time between menial household chores and moments of clarity, most of them, one would imagine, artists of the female variety, I will wrestle with my guilt later. For now, and for what it’s worth, this is the result of my sleepless night and a morning spent not mopping the kitchen floor. I kind of like it. I think it was worth it. There will always be something to clean, but how often do fits of genius that require bursts of creativity occur? Not very often.

Tell me what you think! Should I be working on my rap name? Ordering oversized jewelry? Picking out my grillz? Working phrases like, “Word Up!” into conversations?


NOBODY’S BITCH

No disrespect to Mr. Seeger

Promotin’ tools for higher causes

Me? I’m just a bit beleaguered

Trying hard just to please the bosses

(Everybody’s bitch)
If I had a hammer

I’d like destroy

In the slammer

That’s where I’d toil

(Everybody’s bitch)
Spittin’ down different bars than these

Burnin’ my time

(Ain’t no hitch)

Gettin’ round off that gov’ment cheese

Burnin’ my time

(Still somebody’s bitch)
Playin’ for cigs and swapping tales

Course there’s always a glitch

My luck I’d draw laundry detail

Different venue, same travail

(Still everybody’s bitch)

(Everybody’s bitch)

Think your life is yours

Not unless you’re Oprah, hon

Otherwise, it’s smoke and mirrors

No money in the bank when it’s said and done

(Everybody’s bitch)

Someday I may be

Spittin’ down different bars than these

Burnin’ my time

(Less I strike it rich)

Gettin’ round off that gov’ment cheese

Burnin’ my time

(Still somebody’s bitch)

Free will is overrated

An illusion designed to keep us humble

Abbreviated

We’re all one step away from the tumble

(Everybody’s bitch)
I’ll leave you this

Go ahead and throw your pitch

The best laid plans

Of mice and women

Thwarted by unseen hands

And what might have been

If I weren’t

Just

Everybody’s bitch

(Everybody’s bitch)

Break out the mold

Spit down different bars than these

Let your rounds be hoops of gold

Burn your time scratchin’ your own itch

Don’t get old

Being everybody’s bitch

(Everybody’s bitch)
Pin it on your heart

As your feet hit the floor

Today’s the start

Don’t take no more

(Nobody’s bitch)

Get schooled by me

So you don’t have to be

Anybody’s bitch

(Nobody’s bitch)

(Nobody’s bitch)

Written by Jacqueline Tierney-DeMuro

2/25/15

(Take that, bitches!)

Flat Jackie

flatjackieAt some point last night, as I tried valiantly to meet the demands of my customers — an act which feels, more and more, like a Sisyphean endeavor — I took a few precious seconds to observe my co-workers. Thankfully, they appeared to be as frantic as I was. It is always nice to know, in the throes of madness, that one is not alone.  If even one of them had been, say, leaning up against the coffee station enjoying a snack, it is quite possible that I would have lay down and let that big rock that I was, metaphorically, pushing just roll right over me. Flat Jackie.

I will admit to taking a few precious seconds and flirting with the idea, as I rounded the service bar to replace the third dropped steak knife for one of my clumsier guests, that instead of heading toward where we keep the cutlery, I could take a hard right and walk straight out the front door. It is a lucky thing that my belongings were in the back storeroom and that the temperature outside was a balmy -2°F — a temperature no doubt colder than the proverbial witch’s tit. (Those poor little witchlets!)

Having no desire to become a human popsicle, I remained indoors. Life is full of tough choices. Better, I thought, to be ornery and warm than light-hearted and frozen.

In the midst of attempting to access, from the dark recesses of my brain, recipes for the Bahama Mama, Planter’s Punch, and something called a Jack Honey Tea, I noticed that other thoughts were hovering around the edges of my consciousness. I pushed the most obvious ones away. (Who orders this shit in February? What kind of an idiot drinks this nonsense at any time of the year? What in God’s holy name is a Jack Honey Tea? Who ever heard of such a thing?) Using what felt like the last shred of mental acuity that I had left, I did what any decent bartender in my position does, I made them up. I have a theory, borne of experience, that if it’s the right color, they’ll drink it. They almost always do.

Having, at least to my satisfaction, successfully navigated the drink recipe dilemma, I remained troubled by a much larger question, “What”, I found myself asking (possibly aloud) “the fuck am I doing here?”

Fortunately, my job being what it is, there is very little time to engage in deep, philosophical conversations with oneself (or anyone else). If things were different, if time was not of the essence in my line of work, I fear that I would spend most of my shifts pondering such questions and, as a result, that I would find myself, on an all too frequent basis, awash in a puddle of my own tears.

It is probably a good thing that bartenders cannot expend energy on things as esoteric as philosophy; that we must, instead, use our time to concoct dumb drinks, recite the beers on tap to the latest in a long line of literacy-challenged cretins (the flavors are on the handles, you beer connoisseur, you!), or to muddle mojitos for the groups who want to fool themselves into believing that the mere act of consuming this silliness will magically transport them to South Beach. It will not. Get on a plane.

Such is the life of the lowly restaurant worker. Such is my life.

I fear that one day soon I will be flattened by my own rock. Flat Jackie.

Worth a Shot

worthashotblogpost

There are times when I can be strident, possibly too strident. For example, in a recent post (“The Scarlet Letter”) I suggested (okay, I outright recommended) that parents who chose not to protect their children, through immunization, against disease should be forced to wear a “Scarlet Letter”. Actually, “suggested” and “recommended” don’t exactly convey the proper tone of the piece; its tone was more along the lines of a call to arms.

This is how I get — my family describes it as “worked up”, I would characterize it as “passionate” — when I smack up against the nonsensical. When I come face-to-face (or, more often than not these days, Facebook-to-Facebook) with arguments that are based on fear or, worse, ignorance my answer is to make attempts to quell the fear and to dispel the ignorance with as many facts (from reliable sources) as I can get my hands on.

I always think this approach will work. It almost never does.

Sadly, though, softer approaches, like the 1986 letter penned by Roald Dahl, whose own daughter succumbed to measles in 1962, in which he practically begged parents to have their children immunized do not seem to have an effect on the anti-vaxxers, either.

For a couple of weeks I watched as this letter made the social media rounds. Some of the responses left me shaking my head in despair. Once or twice I got drawn in by some insane comment and even responded myself — with facts (from reliable sources). When I began to wonder if banging my head against the nearest hard object might be a better use of my time, I stopped reading these wacky responses. I ceased responding myself. I made a conscious decision not to get any more worked up about the issue than I already was.

And then I saw the Nationwide Super Bowl commercial — not because I had watched The Super Bowl, but because it was all over social media the following day. People were mighty worked up about having their Super Bowl interrupted by the message that preventable accidents are the number one cause of death for children under the age of 5. Based on the amount of social media kvetching associated with this commercial, I sought it out and watched it.

I wondered if this very powerful advertisement didn’t have parents lined up on Super Bowl Monday, waiting for the doors to open at their local Target stores so that they could purchase the equipment necessary to insure that their children were safer in their homes, their automobiles, or while engaging in sporting activities.  How many people, I wondered, went home, dug out their screwdrivers, and set about child-proofing their cabinetry?

I began to think that perhaps an ad campaign such as this one, but aimed at educating people about the danger that not immunizing children presents, might go a long way to convincing parents to line up at the doctor’s office or the local clinic — or any place else where they could get their children vaccinated. As the legions of people who have done this very thing can attest, such a thing does not even require a screwdriver, just a modicum of common sense.

Ultimately, the combination of seeing this advertisement and reading some of the responses to the Roald Dahl letter served to ratchet my mood up a few notches. I went from merely worked up to over the edge.

It was in this frame of mind that I furiously hammered out “The Scarlet Letter” post.

Surely if my child was still young enough for things like locked cabinets and covered outlets to be a concern, the Nationwide commercial would have had its desired effect upon me.  Having had my awareness raised, I would like to think that I, too, would have been shopping on Super Bowl Monday for items that would make my home safer for its youngest inhabitant.

Very shortly after I had written and published my post, several people posted a cartoon, which appeared in The New Yorker, in which a doctor, treating a measles-afflicted child says, as the parents look on, “If you connect the measles it spells out ‘My parents are idiots’”. (As I am not licensed to share it here, click here to view the original cartoon.)

Some people got pretty worked up about it. I had a light bulb moment.

Both the ad and the cartoon send the same message: Do these things (or this thing) or your children might die.

The Nationwide advertisement, entitled “Make Safe Happen” pulled at our heartstrings. It made us think about whether or not we, as parents, were doing all that we could to insure the safety of our children.  Unlike the cartoon, it didn’t call people “idiots”. It may have suggested idiocy and stupidity, but it fell short of outright saying it.

The “things” or “thing” in question are different, but the result of not doing them may be the same.

I did not get the sense that people were angry about The Nationwide ad so much as they were uncomfortable with it. Being force-fed a dose of reality on a day when bumping up against the worst case scenario is often limited to running short of wings and beer or, for some, watching helplessly as the coach orders a passing play instead of a running play which adversely affects the outcome of the game; learning that preventable accidents are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 in America is not what people have come to expect from their Super Bowl Sunday commercials.

The Nationwide ad was not the only downer of the day. In what can best be described as a bold and unselfish move, the NFL, rather than selling the most expensive commercial time known to man chose, instead, to set it aside for its own use; they aired their own public service announcement about another harsh reality — domestic violence.

I got the definite sense that people were annoyed. Why aren’t we watching burping frogs hawking beer? Why must we have our fun interrupted by these messages? Where is the beautiful supermodel selling us soft drinks? Why must we be subjected to the truth?  Why must we be made to feel?

The reaction to the cartoon, which, unlike the Nationwide ad and the NFL PSA, contained absolutely no nuance, was altogether a different story.  It ticked more than a few people off — some of them got mighty worked up about it.

It made me wonder if the vehemence with which many of those who identify themselves as “anti-vaxxers” reacted to this cartoon isn’t really what is at the heart of this issue. I, too, would react vehemently to being characterized as stupid.

The Christian Science Monitor in a February, 2015 article entitled “What You Need To Know About Measles Outbreak and Vaccine”, authored by Amanda Paulson, reported that the immunization rate for measles in this country is, in fact, 95 % nationwide. This figure*, according to The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which sets a target vaccination rate at 90%, should be more than enough to protect most Americans from a measles outbreak. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are pockets of the country where this number is significantly reduced.

According to Paulson, while much has been made of the “vaccine skepticism” which abounds in some of the more liberal, affluent, and highly educated communities of Marin and Orange Counties in Southern California, she argues that “vaccine skepticism” “cuts across ideological, religious, and class lines” — citing that, for example, Colorado has only an 82% compliance rate.

In an attempt to further define who, exactly, these people are — those who “opt out” of vaccinating their children — this same article defines them as “parents who are committed to a more natural lifestyle, arm themselves with their own research, and tend to be skeptical of pharmaceutical companies”.  Hmmm. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe this is who these people are. Further, the idea that they choose to “arm themselves with their own research” does not exactly inspire confidence. Frankly, I am not even sure what that means.

What, then, do I think this whole debate is about? I think that it could be as simple as some people thinking that they are smarter than other people.  Whether they believe this because they consider themselves educated, because they have more money, because they are committed to a more “natural” lifestyle, because they mistrust either the government or the pharmaceutical companies — or some combination of all of these things — does not really matter at the end of the day, does it? What does matter is that they are making decisions that may adversely affect the public health of this country because they are laboring under this delusion. I think this is precisely why there was such an uproar over that cartoon.

I have reached the conclusion that I will not be the person to convince them otherwise, to force them to wear scarlet letters, to disabuse them of the pretense that they are smarter than the rest of us. I don’t know if any single person can accomplish that. Still, I have to wonder if the folks who created that Nationwide ad couldn’t come up with an equally powerful campaign aimed at challenging the notion that choosing not to vaccinate your children is no indication that you are, in fact, smarter than the rest of us; that, for example, opting out of vaccinating your children is akin to not using a car seat or to not securing a bottle of aspirin — actions that many people would attribute to those who lack basic intelligence.

While I am fairly certain that such an ad campaign could be designed, what I am less certain of is whether or not it would influence — or even reach — the very people who need it most. It couldn’t hurt, though, could it? It may be worth a shot.


* http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6341a1.htm

** The federal government targets 90% childhood vaccination rates. Nationwide, Americans are hitting or exceeding that goal for measles, mumps and rubella; for polio; for hepatitis B; and for varicella (the virus that causes chicken pox). Americans missed targets for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, and for Hib and PCV vaccines.  (The L.A. Times, 9/12/13, “CDC reports on U.S. vaccination rates, recent measles outbreaks.”)  http://articles.latimes.com/2013/sep/12/science/la-sci-sn-cdc-measles-vaccines-20130912