Too Quick to Judge?

KittyYou can be sure that every judgment you make, every conclusion you reach, is absolutely, positively the correct one. 

A few years ago, Ameriquest Mortgage ran a television campaign that was very well received. Thanks to a very indirect tagline and just a simple logo ID at the end, the spots have been appropriated for general fun-and-games YouTube use ever since.

They are remarkable both for their excellent use of humor and for the seemingly obvious common sense of their messages.

As usual, America laughs at, and blithely shares, the vehicle used to deliver the message … then studiously ignores the message itself.

I was reminded of this by two recent related Facebook posts – one a share from a FB friend*, the other a more widely-circulated account of event at a fast-food restaurant. Perhaps you’ve seen it. Guy is waiting in line at a Burger King. Here’s how he describes it:

I hadn’t had the greatest of days and I had a headache coming on. It was a very long line and I was at the end of it waiting patiently. When behind me comes this woman yapping on her cellphone with a little monster of a child. This kid was out of control, screaming, punching his mother throwing around a gameboy whenever something didn’t go right in the game. The mother didn’t seem to pay any attention to him and his continued yelling of ‘I want a F—ing PIE’.

He asks the mother to calm the child down, and first gets ignored, then scolded. So when he gets to the counter to order, he decides to get even.

I order every pie they have left in addition to my burgers. Turned out to be 23 pies in total, I take my order and walk towards the exit. Moments later I hear the woman yelling, what do you mean you don’t have any pies left, who bought them all? I turn around and see the cashier pointing me out with the woman shooting me a death glare. I stand there and pull out a pie and slowly start eating eat as I stare back at her. 

I first saw this story in a friend’s link to Right Wing News (which, in retrospect, should have tipped me off that I shouldn’t follow it). And then I got to the comments. Which are pretty much the same kinds of comments that have followed this story wherever it’s gone:

This woman is just another clueless low life Mental Ameoba that should not be having or raising any children.

I thought his act was brilliant! And, the mother of this child is the dregs of this earth.
Someone needs to teach this mother as well as her child that you don’t get everything you want … nor, do you raise a child to become a selfish, obnoxious sociopath.

Go get ‘em! Way to fight back! That’ll teach that bottom-feeding bitch and her brat how to behave!

I don’t know about you, but I find this horrifying. Unlike the BK Pie Avenger and the raving asshats engraving his pedestal, and like many other people I know, I have walked a mile in a different pair of shoes. As the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I’m open to the possibility, if not probability, of another side of this story.

Mom, too, has had a rough day it work. It got rougher when she went to pick Junior up at school. Junior has autism, but he’s high-functioning enough that he’s in a mainstream school. But other kids pick on “the weirdo,” and on some days the anxiety sends him into a total meltdown. This is one of those days, and he’s still amped up to about 250% when Mom comes to get him.

Like most kids with autism, he has things that can calm him down … to a point. With Junior, it’s his Game Boy. It creates a whole little world in which he can withdraw until his cortisol levels come down and his serotonin levels come back up. And because he’s had such a rough day, Mom decides she’ll get him a treat to help him calm down: his favorite, a Burger King pie.

But the line is long, the store is loud and crowded, and everyone is way taller than Junior – things that overstimulate him, launch a closed feedback loop in his neurological system and increase has anxiety. To the point that even the Game Boy can’t handle the overload, and he goes into full meltdown mode again … just because he wants an effin’ pie.

At this point, the guy in front of them turns and tells the mother something she’s heard at least a thousand times: “control your kid.” Something she’s spent the last three hours trying to do. Something that she’s standing in this very line in desperation effort to do. Something she’s dreamed of doing since she cried herself to sleep for weeks at the realization that her newly-diagnosed, two-year-old baby boy was never going to be just like other kids.

Mom’s got her emotional limits, too. So she snaps at him.

And that’s when the judgmental douchebag in front of them decides to behave as deplorably as the 11-year-old classmates who taunt Junior as a “weirdo.” He buys all the effin’ pies, just to spite an 11-year-old with autism.

A child with autism who is in meltdown is not a brat. It’s not the result of parents who don’t – or won’t – properly raise their child. It’s not a sign of stupidity or moral weakness. It’s a parent trying to contain and defuse a situation caused by a serious, poorly understood and – for the parent – a heartbreaking developmental disability that often operates largely out of her and her child’s control.

If the boy had epilepsy and went into a grand mal seizure in the queue, do you think Mr. Smug would have reacted the same way? Of course not.

But we are so quick to judge. We are so quick to jump to a conclusion and be absolutely positive that, because it is OUR conclusion – and because that conclusion generally renders us morally, intellectually, ideologically, even genetically, superior– it simply must be the correct one.

Here’s a piece of advice from someone who’s learned (as I have most everything) the hard way: You can be sure that every judgment you make, every conclusion you reach, is absolutely, positively the correct one. And it takes only one simple, painfully, stupidly obvious step.

Learn the whole story.

Until you do, your judgment is worthless, and you are not morally superior. Like our Burger King hero, you’re just another dick with a half-baked opinion.

* The link a friend posted, also about judging a mom, is here. What I find amazing about the Burger King story is that it took place in Montreal. The guy doesn’t sound polite enough to be Canadian. Follow-up stories suggest the tale may not be true; either way, though, the comments are. 



Father’s Day: Reflections and Connections


Jim Branch Schemm

Where’s the place for me to start thinking about father’s day? Somebody else’s family.

Our house was built by Dr. George C. Schemm, who had, about the time he had it built, taken over the family’s brewery. The brewery was at the corner of Hamilton and Brewster (now W. Holland). The building took up the whole block now occupied by Habitat for Humanity and Saginaw Machine Systems; the safe is still in the Habitat office. In 1897, he purchased this property, just a few blocks away, built the house, settled in with his wife Maude Ripley Schemm, and had three boys. George died in 1904, at the age of 42, leaving Maude with sons aged 5, 4 and 2 years.

She stayed in the house until all three boys had graduated from high school, then moved to Ann Arbor.  She had remained active in the business of the brewery until she moved, and the J.G. Schemm Brewing Company survived at least into the 1930s — Detroit’s Purple Gang tried to buy it at one point.

Somewhere along the line, my paternal grandfather, James Samuel Branch, had a job driving for them. That’s him, second from left in the top photo, which I’m guessing is from the early ’30s, probably right around the time my father was born. Jim was drafted — at the age of 37! — in 1944. He died in Germany on Flag Day, June 14, 1945 while serving with the 789th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. It was about five weeks after V-E Day; land mines don’t know when the war is over.

He left two children, my dad and my Aunt Jean.

Ferdinand, the oldest of the Schemm boys, only had his father for five years. My dad only had his father for 12 years. I had mine for 54. So, this is a good reminder of how lucky I am to have had that privilege; not everyone gets it. I have 54 years’ worth of memories to draw from to make me smile (or, if I really want to, curse) at Bob. But on Father’s Day, it’s 54 years’ worth of missing him.

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and grandfathers I know, to the ones I didn’t get to know, and to the father I knew and loved.

My dad, me and my mom on the day I was baptized.

My dad, me and my mom on the day I was baptized.


As North goes south, Part 2

NorthSchool1As a follow-up, I received this note today from Kristin Knoll at Covenant, offering an opportunity for people to get a brick from the building. Demolition will begin Monday, March 17.

I’ll check with her on the chances of salvaging some of the decorative stonework.

North School Mementos and Exhibit Available to the Community

Covenant HealthCare and the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History recognize the former North School building is a part of many Saginaw citizens’ past and want to offer the community a way to remember their experiences after the building is gone.

Beginning Tuesday, March 18 at the Castle Museum a mini exhibit of North School will be displayed for the community to experience. While at the exhibit, visitors can also pick up a brick from the former North School building as a memento. Limit one brick per person.

“We know a number of former students, teachers, neighbors, and community members are interested in paying tribute to their former school,” says Jeff Berger, Director of Facilities Services at Covenant. “Covenant and the Castle Museum wanted to provide a place for them to do so.”

Visitors will be able to see several salvaged artifacts including a plaster statue of Abraham Lincoln that North School students purchased in 1926 as a tribute to the late president. Also on display will be some major sports items that will eventually have a prominent place in the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame exhibit at the Castle. In addition, visitors will be able to write down memories of the former school in a book kept at the Castle.

Jack B. Tany, president of the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame, stated “We retrieved both glass basketball backboards and rims as well as the scoreboard. Additionally, we had several people who worked about three hours to cut out a 12’ x 12’ section of the basketball court which included North’s burgundy “N” at center court. The boards were removed one by one and numbered so they can be assembled at a later date. Items like this are worthwhile since they just can’t be duplicated.”

The Castle Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4:30pm, and Sunday 1pm to 4:30pm.

North School, located just west of the Covenant campus, was opened in 1922 and was the academic home to tens of thousands of Saginaw students. However, by 2004 the aged facility became too costly for the Saginaw school district to maintain and operate. When the building was shuttered, school district officials removed usable furnishings and equipment, and permitted the Castle staff to preserve a few historical items.

In 2013, Covenant purchased the building from the district for $325,000 to raze it and assist in the elimination of vacant structures in the neighborhood.

Exterior demolition of the former North School building is planned to begin March 17, weather permitting. In May, the site will be converted to green space. Covenant plans to evaluate the land for future use.

As North goes south

A lesson learned from what’s about to be history


North Intermediate School. Photo by WSGW

Within a few weeks, crews will begin demolishing Saginaw’s North Intermediate School. It was opened, along with its sister school, South Intermediate, in 1922.

I’ll not rant (here, much) about the almost criminal tragedy this demolition represents. The school was closed in 2008 after serving several years as the site of the Handley PCAT program after the original Handley building was razed to build the new $23-million Thompson Middle School, part of $70 million in facilities upgrades (much of that on facilities now closed).  This was largely because, of course, “Oversaw $70 million in facilities upgrades, including the construction of a new $23-million facility” looked a lot better on the former superintendent’s resume than “Oversaw major improvements in students’ AYP.” Or it was at least more achievable.

Either way, that plane has started its takeoff roll. People in Saginaw lose one more of the touchstones that make the city “home” to them. In this case, I’m one of them. The loss of the school has really made me think about what the memories of North represent to me.

For the most part, my memories of the place are not particularly pleasant ones. I spent a lot of time there afraid – largely because as a smallish, glasses-wearing nerd of the late ’60s, I was a ripe target for bullies. That’s another post.

What North School did most for me, though, was one of the most important, life-altering lessons I learned – in Don Schiesswohl’s seventh-grade civics class.

This was in the fall of 1968, and our class had its own presidential campaign to mirror the ’68 race. In preparation for this campaign, Mr. Schiesswohl had us read up on the candidate’s positions. Then he chose the students to represent each of the candidates. I believe he picked Jim Foulds to be Richard Nixon and Bob Morrison to be Hubert Humphrey.

And he picked me to be George Wallace.

Even in seventh grade, I knew I didn’t – couldn’t – like what the man stood for. And I said to Mr. Schiesswohl: “I don’t agree with anything he believes. I hate him.”

Of course, he already knew this. And he said: “You don’t understand an issue until you can argue both sides of it equally well. You’re going to argue Wallace’s side.”

As I remember, Humphrey actually won in our classroom, and I finished a distant last. But I’ve learned – and had it reinforced countless times – that you don’t belong in the debate if you don’t fully understand the opponent’s position.

I am extremely sad and angry that Saginaw will be losing this beautiful landmark neoclassical brick and stone building. But whether it should or it should not come down, I can argue both sides. And that’s the part of that building I’ll carry with me forever.