The right answer is "You're Welcome"

I was upset for a while by the remodeling hysteria that I believe was created by the home decorating cable TV channel. Two many ladies looking at properties they were considering buying, turning up nose after nose scoffing "This bathroom needs updating" this, and "That kitchen needs remodeling" that, I believe this is the real cause behind the collapse of the prime mortgage housing economy—people pouring money into properties they couldn't afford to live a luxurious life they think will be theirs by getting marble countertops and new faucets and lighting fixtures. Well, I say formica countertops were good enough for my parents, and if it's still hygienic and functional let's lower our expectations a little and live within our means, maybe even save a few dollars for our children's education and our retirement.

Just when I was starting to accept the inevitable I was hit with a new social ill that I think has the potential to take our civic civility down several notches. This is my new pet peeve: people who are serving you who say "No problem" in response to your saying "Thank you." Does this annoy you, too? When you're paying the bill at the restaurant and are trying to be polite, and proud of your own manners and as you prepare to depart say "Thank you" (when perhaps it should be them that is thanking you for your business), and then they reply "No problem."


Making this observation has become my new litmus test for checking out someone as a possible friend. It used to be I'd casually work into the conversation that I have an extensive rubber stamp collection. That hobby began when my older brother gave me a rubber stamp of a hi top tennis shoeI as a send off for college. During my freshman year it became an obsession and I developed a habit of buying stamps out of the Hero Arts catalog, like their classic "Godzilla Eating a VW Bug", back in their early days, before they got all mushy and turned all Hallmarkish. Sensitivity to rubber stamps became a way to categorize people into two groups—the 80% who would look blankly at me and ask "Huh?", and the 20% whose eyes lit up and asked if they could come over and play with them.


The confidence level increased in the 20% who passed the first test passed a second trial as well. For this I casually put on João Gilberto's João record on the hi fi, the one with added instrumental layers arranged by Clare Fischer for João Gilberto's album João. 80% of people in the second phase of testing would continue to talk over it as if it were just one more piece of music to be  ignored rather than giving the respect it deserves. The other 20% of those in phase two testing were unable to continue the conversation. Their mouths hung open and eyes bugged out when we got to the parts with Clare's amazing clarinet choirs and the other backgrounds that he added to the basic tracks João sent him.

The increasing frequency of "You're welcome" in conversation today is part of the the slippery slope down into a loss of manners, which I suspect has to do with the majority of civilians drifting into texting instead of having voice and non-verbal communication. Please, supervisors, train your staff respond with "You're welcome" when someone says "Thank you." Sure, there may be rare situations in which your staff has gone out of their way to be of service and the customer is falling over themselves apologizing and emphasizing how grateful they are for the extra help and mileage the employee went to way above and beyond what could reasonably be expected. Yes, then it could be appropriate to politely let them know that they can stop their worrying that too much has been done and that you were in no way put out with a gentle "Oh, please don't worry any more about it, it was no problem.".

If you're going to be serving the public hopefully you enjoy the opportunity to help others and serve them, if necessary taking comfort in the idea that what goes around comes around, and that you will be served by others in turn. Of course you can't be expected to be delighted about serving every customer in every situation, but at least once in a while hopefully you will feel some satisfaction, if not a tingle of joy, in helping, and in those cases I suggest that you do like they do in Brazil and answer "It was my pleasure." I'm going to try saying that more often, and to also be more sincere and generous with my gratitude.

I considered a performance art piece where I could start saying "No problem" in even more inappropriate situations, like someone calls on the phone and leads off with "How are you doing today, Sir?" and I come back with "No problem." This could hopefully start a chain reaction of people wondering why someone would say that in that situation, and eventually connect the dots and realize it's not the right response to "Thank you." My younger brother pointed out that it could have the opposite effect though and start encouraging people to say it even more often, and what would happen if my teenagers started using it in the sarcastic tone that only the young can achieve, like I say "Would you please scoot over on the couch so I can sit down?" and they say "Sure, Dad, no problem" in a tone of voice as if I've asked for too much again. I thought this growing annoyance was another sign of advancing age, but then my brother said his wife is annoyed by the same thing.

I think what needs to be done is to activate the idea that's been percolating about launching the Lovely Thinking T-shirt line. The first design is going to be "Thank you" on line one, "No problem" underneath it with a line through it on line two, and "You're welcome" on line three. Get yours before supplies run out!

Live Long and Prosper

Leonard Nimoy's last tweet was nice:

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP

Some of his perfect moments were preserved, in his appearances on Star Trek and his performances in his lesser-known musical recordings. What really hit me this week was the thought that there will be less and less resonance when I play my favorite for my students.

Not everyone knows that Spock sang "Proud Mary" at a karaoke party on Deep Space Nine.

Okay, "I Walk The Line" might have been a better choice:

It's ironic that William Shatner's performance of "Rocket Man" relied so much on smoking to sell it. Evidently smoking was the main cause of Nimoy's death.

What Dorothy learned

The Wizard of Oz is a perennial favorite, sentimental, inspiring, and cherished for its simple truths. Going a little deeper, others have uncovered themes in the story revealing a political allegory. What interests me is what happened after the movie ended, following the clues that the story was not going to end happily ever after.Dorothy and Toto later in life

Getting veducated

Just watched "Veducated" on Amazon Prime streaming video, which gently makes the case that a meat/dairy diet is unsustainable in light of the world's growing population, and cruel to animals. "Part sociological experiment and part adventure comedy, Vegucated follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. Lured by tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover the hidden sides of animal agriculture that make them wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. This entertaining documentary showcases the rapid and at times comedic evolution of three people who discover they can change the world one bite at a time."

Dead bodies attacking the living

Authorities are investigating an apparent hacking of the Emergency Broadcast System. Those watching Public TV 13 Monday afternoon or the Bachelor on ABC Monday night may have seen a message come across the screen saying "Local authorities in your area have reported the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living," the message warned. "Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous."

Young at Heart

A lovely documentary about a choir of senior citizens who delight and warm the hearts of their audiences with covers of tasty pop songs. I get teary at 10% of the movies I see, but Forever Young even got to some of the inmates they entertained at a prison. I normally don't like to post spoilers, but you're gonna love the opening—one of the ladies scream to kick off the punk classic Should I Stay Or Should I Go. "What ultimately emerges is a funny and unexpectedly moving testament to friendship, creative inspiration and reaching beyond expectations." Rotten Tomatoes

Slow and steady gets the job done.

I'm on the mend from the brink of a frozen shoulder and can't stretch out my arm, and my friend has a bad knee and can't bend over. He kindly came over and helped me with installing some shoe molding. We made quite a team, compensating for the other's limitations. I told him we should start a lite home improvement company called "No Sudden Moves LLC". Our selling point would be that we would show up on time on the day we scheduled. I think if we did that we'd have more business than we could handle.

11 Things You Won't Learn in School

OK, this isn't exactly lovely, but there some of the points have the ring of truth that truely lovely ideas share, even if it's not true that Bill Gates actually ever gave such a speech.

Bill Gates is reported to have given a speech at a high school about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault; so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you "FIND YOURSELF". Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television and video games are NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Conlon Nancarrow, player piano composer

Conlon NancarrowEvery time Conlon punched a hole, the world got more interesting. If you like something different, and I mean really different, check out Conlon Nancarrow's player piano music. He spent his lifetime composing radical player piano music in Mexico City. I'm organizing a Symposium for September, 2012, in time to enrich concerts expected to take place the following month in honor of the centennial of his birth (October 27, 2012). The website is under construction, but you can find links to interviews and videos.

Perfumes: the Guide, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

It's nice to see people who know a lot about something, and have a flair for telling you about it. Latest example to cross my path: nearly fifteen hundred fragrances reviewed in the definitive book by husband and wife team Luca Turin (scholar in olfactory science) and Tania Sanchez (perfume collector / expert). The reviews are fun to read, even if you don't know about perfumes—a nice balance between being informative, poetic, and critical without being overly coy, precious, or snarky. Here are four excerpts from one randomly selected page to wet your atomizer:

"Silly name, silly price. Armani Privé does a cologne, probably the biggest waste of money this side of Le Labo's Fleur d'Oranger."

"If you love Eau de Guerlain but want to pay more while getting a harsher, lower-quality fragrance, this one is for you."

"Wan leafy green. For the fun of putting on perfume without the fun of smelling it."

"Eau de Noho had a chance to be good with its interesting violet mimosa, like the ghost of Après l'Ondée looking for a witness in a green wilderness. Then a stonking violet leaf arrives to turn everything watery and harsh. Much too close to dishwashing detergent. This needed work."

Reading a few pages made me feel unsophisticated but cheerful. Next time I'm at the mall I'm going to check out some samples, maybe even visit a specialty store.

Throw Down Your Heart

Just watched Bela Fleck's DVD, "Throw Down Your Heart". Lots of good music. Q: How do you I know when it's good music? A: When it gets my mind bubbling and wanting to create something lovely. Some concerts, especially with loads of subwoofers and repetitive thumping bass are depressing for me, they make my brain slow down. On the other hand, music (especially live performances) from Bela, Bobby McFerrin, Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Conlon Nancarrow, and others makes me want to make something, or give my wife a hug. Good news: Bela, Zakir Hussain, and Edgar Meyer are coming to my neighborhood next week to give a masterclass. What a lovely treat!