Category Archives: pub-crawl

Random Thoughts

On truthfulness

Does it bother you when someone lies to you?  It bothers me.  And I just learned astonishing new information about people who repeatedly tell lies.

According to British neuroscientists, brain scans of the amygdala—the area in the brain that responds to unpleasant emotional experiences—show that the brain becomes desensitized with each successive lie.

In other words, the more someone lies, the less that person’s brain reacts to it.  And the easier it is for him or her to lie the next time.

These researchers concluded that “little white lies,” usually considered harmless, really aren’t harmless at all because they can lead to big fat falsehoods.  “What begins as small acts of dishonesty can escalate into larger transgressions.”

This study seems terribly relevant right now.  Our political leaders (one in particular, along with some of his cohorts) have often been caught telling lies.   When these leaders set out on a course of telling lies, watch out.  They’re likely to keep doing it.  And it doesn’t bother them a bit.

Let’s hope our free press remains truly free, ferrets out the lies that impact our lives, and points them out to the rest of us whenever they can.

[This study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience and noted in the January-February 2017 issue of the AARP Bulletin.]

 

On language

When did “waiting for” become “waiting on”?

Am I the only English-speaking person who still says “waiting for”?

I’ve been speaking English my entire life, and the phrase “waiting on” has always meant what waiters or waitresses did.  Likewise, salesclerks in a store.  They “waited on” you.

“Waiting for” was an entirely different act.   In a restaurant, you—the patron—decide to order something from the menu.  Then you begin “waiting for” it to arrive.

Similarly:  Even though you’re ready to go somewhere, don’t you sometimes have to “wait for” someone before you can leave?

Here are three titles you may have come across.  First, did you ever hear of the 1935 Clifford Odets play “Waiting for Lefty”?  (Although it isn’t performed a lot these days, it recently appeared on stage in the Bay Area.)  In Odets’s play, a group of cabdrivers “wait for” someone named Lefty to arrive.  While they wait for him, they debate whether they should go on strike.

Even better known, Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot,” is still alive and well and being performed almost everywhere.  [You can read a little bit about this play—and the two pronunciations of “Godot”—in my blog post, “Crawling through Literature in the Pubs of Dublin, Ireland,” published in April 2016.]  The lead characters in the play are forever waiting for “Godot,” usually acknowledged as a substitute for “God,” who never shows up.

A more recent example is the 1997 film, “Waiting for Guffman.”  The cast of a small-town theater group anxiously waits for a Broadway producer named Guffman to appear, hoping that he’ll like their show.  Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, who co-wrote and starred in the film, were pretty clearly referring to “Waiting for Godot” when they wrote it.

Can anyone imagine replacing Waiting for” in these titles with “Waiting on”?

C’mon!

Yet everywhere I go, I constantly hear people say that they’re “waiting on” a friend to show up or “waiting on” something to happen.

This usage has even pervaded Harvard Magazine.  In a recent issue, an article penned by an undergraduate included this language:  “[T]hey aren’t waiting on the dean…to make the changes they want to see.”

Hey, undergrad, I’m not breathlessly waiting for your next piece of writing!  Why?  Because you should have said “waiting for”!

Like many of the changes in English usage I’ve witnessed in recent years, this one sounds very wrong to me.

 

Have you heard this one?

Thanks to scholars at the U. of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard Business School, I’ve just learned that workers who tell jokes—even bad ones—can boost their chances of being viewed by their co-workers as more confident and more competent.

Joking is a form of humor, and humor is often seen as a sign of intelligence and a good way to get ideas across to others.  But delivering a joke well also demands sensitivity and some regard for the listeners’ emotions.

The researchers, who ran experiments involving 2,300 participants, were trying to gauge responses to joke-tellers. They specifically wanted to assess the impact of joking on an individual’s status at work.

In one example, participants had to rate individuals who explained a service that removed pet waste from customers’ yards.  This example seems ripe for joke-telling, and sure enough, someone made a joke about it.

Result?  The person who told the joke was rated as more competent and higher in status than those who didn’t.

In another example, job-seekers were asked to suggest a creative use for an old tire.  One of them joked, “Someone doing CrossFit could use it for 30 minutes, then tell you about it forever.”  This participant was rated higher in status than two others, who either made an inappropriate joke about a condom or made a serious suggestion (“Make a tire swing out of it.”).

So jokes work—but only if they’re appropriate.

Even jokes that fell flat led participants to rate a joke-teller as highly confident.  But inappropriate or insensitive jokes don’t do a joke-teller any favors because they can have a negative impact.

Common sense tells me that the results of this study also apply in a social setting.  Telling jokes to your friends is almost always a good way to enhance your relationship—as long as you avoid offensive and insensitive jokes.

The take-away:  If you can tell an appropriate joke to your colleagues and friends, they’re likely to see you as confident and competent.

So next time you need to explain something to others, in your workplace or in any another setting, try getting out one of those dusty old joke books and start searching for just the right joke.

[This study, reported in The Wall Street Journal on January 18, 2017, and revisited in the same publication a week later, appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.]

Crawling Through Literature in the Pubs of Dublin, Ireland

We gathered on a chilly October evening in the venerable Duke pub at 9 Duke Street in the heart of Dublin, not quite certain what to expect.  We’d come across praise for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl in at least two of our guidebooks, Lonely Planet’s (which called it “excellent and highly recommended…great fun and…a fine introduction to Dublin pubs and Irish literary history”), as well as the Ireland guide by the always-dependable travel writer Rick Steves.

The night before, we’d relished the wonderful Dublin Musical Pub Crawl that began at Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Pub on Temple Bar.

How could we pass up this one?   As fans of literary fiction, including that of the great Irish writers, we simply couldn’t.

To ensure that we wouldn’t be turned away, we walked from Grafton Street to Duke Street early enough to have a pleasant dinner at The Duke pub before positioning ourselves at the front of the ticket line.  We had no regrets about arriving early:  a large group assembled, eager to begin the crawl at 7:30 pm, and latecomers may indeed have been turned away.

To begin, two actors (both probably fifty-plus) stood in front of the group and launched into a scene from “Waiting for Godot.” They very clearly pronounced the name as “God-oh,” with emphasis on “God.”

Ever since my first encounter with the Samuel Beckett play when I was 22, I’d heard it pronounced “Gah-doh,” with emphasis on “doh.”  But here we were in Ireland, where Beckett began his writing career.  Which pronunciation was right?  According to one source, the name is pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable in Britain and Ireland, while the norm in North America is to emphasize the second syllable.  But what about Beckett himself?  He settled in Paris in 1938 and wrote the play there in 1948-49.  And apparently both he and his French literary agent always pronounced it in “the French manner,” with equal emphasis on both syllables.

Pronunciations aside, the scene the actors chose from “Waiting for Godot” was brilliant and performed with the precise amount of irony and absurdist humor it demanded.

The actors then led us to three other notable pubs, where they spoke/performed either inside the pub or outside on a street near the pub.  I later learned the actors’ names:  Colm Quilligan (could it be more Irish?) and his colleague Derek (whose last name I failed to catch).

The first of the three pubs was O’Neill’s, on a corner at 2 Suffolk Street, with a remarkably pretty exterior featuring four tall windows that rise above its name.  Near the campus of Trinity College, it’s famous for a diverse set of patrons, including many writers.

At one of the pubs, maybe O’Neill’s, we entered a good-sized “snug,” a quiet area in the pub set apart from the usual pub revelry.  On the snug’s walls were framed photographs of the four Irish writers who’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature.  (Do you remember who those four prizewinners were?)  The photos were helpful reminders of Ireland’s literary history as we continued our crawl, listening to excerpts from a variety of Irish poets and playwrights.

At one stop, Colm and Derek read a hilarious passage from Oscar Wilde’s reminiscence of his lecture tour in America, in particular his encounter with the miners of Leadville, Colorado.  Here’s a bit of it:  “I read them passages from…that great Florentine genius…Cellini, and he proved so popular that they asked…’why the hell I hadn’t brought him with me’. I explained that [he] had been dead for some years, which elicited the immediate demand: ’who shot him?’”

We moved on to The Old Stand, located at the corner of Exchequer Street and St. Andrew Street.  Its most famous patron was Michael Collins, whose efforts led to the creation of the Irish Free State.  He reportedly visited this pub to gather information about members of the British Secret Service.

The crawl ended in front of Davy Byrne’s, a pub back on Duke Street, near where the crawl began.  The actors pointed out a significant literary reference–a scene in James Joyce’s Ulysses is set there–and read an excerpt from it.  The pub is just one site that honors Joyce’s book during the Bloomsday celebration held in Dublin every year.  We learned that both Dubliners and literary tourists don “boaters” and read from the novel at Davy Byrne’s each Bloomsday.

As we stood in front of Davy Byrne’s (where the name reminded me of the beleaguered first—and so far only—woman mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne), Colm and Derek asked our group a batch of questions based on things we’d heard and seen during the crawl.  One key question:  the names of the four Irish Nobel Prize winners.

When my daughter Leslie got all of them right, and also answered more of the other literary questions than anyone else in our group, she was awarded with a t-shirt!  The dark green shirt, emblazoned with “Dublin Literary Pub Crawl,” along with an image of stained glass at The Duke pub, will forever be a tangible reminder of our delightful evening crawling through Irish literature in Dublin’s pubs.

PS  The Nobel laureates (in case you don’t remember):  George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and poet Seamus Heaney.  Heaney, probably the least known of the four, is the most recent winner (in 1985).  For a long while he was a poet-in-residence at Harvard, and during her college years there, my daughter Meredith was fortunate to hear him recite his stunning poetry—from memory—several times.  She also helped entice him to give a memorable speech to students, like her, who wrote for its literary journal, The Advocate.