Musings

People Behaving Badly: A day in the life of Ling Ling.

Ling Ling
Ling Ling’s clothing safari

My mother’s full-time hobby is selling clothes, toys and shoes on Ebay. Technically, she’s retired but in reality, Ebay is a round-the-clock passion for her. To feed the beast within, she’s constantly at thrift stores and garage sales looking for items that she can flip. Sometimes being a regular fixture in places that attract all walks of life, she witnesses some pretty crazy things and yesterday was no different. This is the three-part adventure of Ling Ling’s yesterday.

Part One: Ling Ling is in the Salvation Army right next to where she lives. She’s waiting in line to pay for her textile version of crack when the lady in front of her gets up to the counter and asks how much the painting in her hand costs because it wasn’t priced. The clerk didn’t know and said that she couldn’t purchase the painting right now and to please come back. Well the lady completely blew a fuse and demanded that the clerk call someone to ask. So the clerk calls someone who also doesn’t know and says to have the lady return tomorrow when the store’s pricer will be in. The lady proceeds to tell the clerk what she wants to pay for it: $6.00 and to just put a $6.00 sticker on the painting and be done with it. The clerk politely declines the idea and explains that he would get into trouble and the pricer has a better idea of what things are worth than he does, etc… At this point the entire store has stopped to look and there is a collective holding of breath for that magic moment when the woman goes completely bat-shit. The audience doesn’t have to wait long. Seconds later, the lady throws the painting on the floor and proceeds to stomp it into tiny bits and then leaves. Wow!

Part Two: My mother ventures over to another nearby thrift shop, post Salvation Army blow-up. All is well, she’s blissfully shopping along, until she hears someone gagging in one of the aisles. She moves towards the sound of gagging and makes it just in time to see a man with Down Syndrome vomit all over the floor. My mom asks him if he needs help and he begins dry heaving. She asks around the store to see where his caregiver is and the lady finally shows up and starts screaming at the poor, heaving guy. The caregiver and the guy proceed to get into enormous fight over how he needs to go into the bathroom and vomit instead of doing so in the aisle. He just wanted to stay where he was, probably because he felt like if he moved he may hurl again. And the more she screamed at him to get moving, the more he dug in his heels and shouted “no!” It was quite a scene and my poor mother, once again, left feeling extremely bummed.

Part Three: My mom gives up on thrift shopping for the day, obviously for good reason. Her last stop was to Wal-Mart to get a fishing license. She’d been dreading this stop because she loathes Wal-Mart but the woman needs to fish! In front of her in line are three foreign fellas (two of which barely spoke English and one who spoke decent English and helped translate) who are inquiring about guns. They proceed to tell my mother and the clerk that they’re actually from New Jersey but they’re here to buy guns because the laws are not as strict in New York. Okay…shady. The clerk makes sure to tell them that you can’t just buy a gun in New York and willy-nilly transport it to New Jersey. There are rules and regulations about such things. Then they ask the clerk if Wal-Mart sells pistols and handguns….nope. They were upset about that so they inquired where the nearest place was that they could purchase a handgun. The clerk mentions that there are legit gun shops in Syracuse and such. Then they spy some hunting rifles in a nearby case and ask the clerk to open the case (my mom is peeing her pants at this point). The clerk tells them that since my mother is waiting in line too, and it’s just him, that he doesn’t have time to open the case. My mom gets up to the counter and asks to apply for a fishing license and one of the guys decides that he’ll do the same while the other two scope out the gun case. My mom asks the guy where he plans to fish and he says something about Syracuse (if you know the area, you know that Syracuse is home to one of the most polluted lakes and waterways in the country–not optimal fishing) and asks my mom and the clerk for directions. Then he couldn’t fill out the information for the license because he didn’t know where he lived in New Jersey. He asked his friends what county he lived in and they had no idea either. Then the two gun-peepers proceeded to get into a little spat with the clerk because he could only legally sell them a certain number of rounds of ammunition. Well…needless to say, my mother got her license and got the heck out of dodge. When she left, the guys were still rifle shopping. I think it’s particularly interesting that none of them applied for a hunting license…just the one guy’s attempt at getting a fishing license. What were these folks planning to do with hunting rifles without a hunting license? Humm….

My mother came home a complete mess. She was a mix of terrified, let down by humanity and defeated. She witnessed a grown woman resort to violence in the middle of a store because she didn’t get her way, another woman verbally abuse a sick disabled person and three men attempt to purchase guns with, more than likely, the intent to harm others. Ahh…that was one heck of a day in the life of Ling Ling and it says a lot about the world we live in.

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The Dark Side of Human Nature

PHOTO: Nathan Weaver holding plastic turtle
Jeffrey Collins/AP Photo

Having been a turtle lover all my life and a turtle biologist for a portion of it, I’ve been waiting for someone to do this study. Thank you Nathan Weaver! I will never forget getting the phone call from my heart-broken brother telling me how he risked life and limb to rescue a snapping turtle on the highway just to have someone swerve to purposefully hit it before he could get to it. Humanity never ceases to amaze, impress, and also disappoint me all at the same time.

It’s been a very difficult holiday season for the world and close to home. Several of my friends have lost loved ones. Many, including myself, have caught some unbelievably suped-up cold virus which has left us akin to vegetables. Even on Christmas morning people were killed and homes were destroyed by tornadoes in the south. Perhaps the worst tragedy of them all is witnessing the pain we inflict on others. The dark side of human nature, which lives inside us all, has finally been fully revealed. It was only a matter of time. Horrible things aren’t just happening in a far off countries anymore. We can’t justify these things by passing it off as the cultural, religious or political beliefs, views, or practices of other nations. This chaos is at our doorstep now. We can no longer say such things are a fluke like we did with Columbine. Columbine was not a one-time occurrence. People are absolutely losing their minds: shooting strangers at malls; mass murdering children and teachers; creating elaborate schemes to trap and kill firefighters; and today a woman pushed a person onto the subway tracks. This was just one month in one country. Considering what happens worldwide would be too painful and overwhelming and we would all be rallying to nuke the human race.

We are so good at blaming all of these awful occurrences on anything other than our inner nature. We say that guns are to blame. Media sensationalism. Mental illness. Television violence. Bullying. Bad parenting. Well I believe it’s all of the above but those are just the easy patsies. I encourage you to read the story about the turtle project. If you can’t, the main point is that people purposefully go out of their way to kill helpless animals on the road. Why? Because it’s what we do to make ourselves feel good. Maybe it makes us feel in control. Maybe it makes us feel like Gods. Humans have an uncomfortably dark side. We deny this. We ignore this. We are ashamed of this. But we are this. It’s human nature–one that can be witnessed easily in children. Kids are our most basic, animal form before we learn of God, morality and social mores. They are terribly compassionate and at the same time ruthless. This isn’t all a bad thing, there’s a innate utility to having a dark side. We would not have been able to hunt and kill other animals to ensure the survival of our own species without it. Compassion and altruism can only get us so far. We are both the yin and the yang.

The innate nature of humanity’s dark side is the one thing that can’t be addressed through government regulation. It’s an intractable conflict that we would rather ignore than deal with. As time moves forward, our world and ourselves continue to become increasingly out of balance. If we continue with this trajectory things will only get worse. Some will pour themselves into charity work and volunteerism–and for many more the scales will tip the other way. But there are ways to address it. Giving in to darkness at the expense of other beings is the mark of the unenlightened. Once we get over our God complex of trying to control everything and inflicting our will on anything, the darkness dims. It’s still there–it’s who we are–but it’s a part of a balanced whole. To change the path we’re on, I don’t think denial is the answer. Targeted blame is not the answer either–it’s not just one issue, like gun control, that makes tragedies happen (however, stricter regulations may help). Accepting our inner nature and seeking balance in ourselves, others, and the world around us is the answer.