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08/06/99 Time to Listen

Uncommon Courtesy

I am writing with a cockatiel on my shoulder. I have to. It's the only thing that will stop the bird from chirping. What ever possessed me to get a bird? Chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp. I may have its vocal chords removed.

Have you eve noticed that we are surrounded by adults with zero social skills. They travel amongst us, eating the same food and breathing the same air, but they interact with us as little as possible. They coexist only begrudgingly. Most have the personality of a wet mop; some aren't that lucky. These people do not have a sense of humor and will suck the life right out of a room if you let 'em. They are black holes to our goodwill.

A stiff at my gym will serve as Exhibit A. You say hello to this chap and he becomes visibly disturbed by the intrusion. He looks away, partly because he is startled and partly because he has ZERO SOCIAL SKILLS.

I make it a point to say hello to my unfriendly friend because I enjoy watching him squirm. Sometimes it is the best part of my day. So far, he has disregarded my hello 26 times and muttered something like "hi" 14. One I even detected a smile on his face when I used my Mickey Mouse voice.

You wouldn't believe how well my lady treats this bird. You'd think it lays golden eggs. Sometimes she stews beans in the crock pot to give it proper nourishment. The bird eats better than I do.

Exhibit B. A young lady was leaving my building behind another wet mop. He walked three steps in front of her and, knowing that a fellow Homo sapien was behind him, did not pause to hold the door. He turned his shoulders inwardly and scurried through the portal like a child who hides his face to feel invisible.

I'm not asking that he be Shane or anything; I just want him to hold the bloody door! If a person is to live and work in society, if we are to manage his sewage and give him social security when he grows old, he should be required to function with a vestige of common courtesy. How much could it hurt to hold the door for someone? Perhaps he did not want to run the risk of her saying hello.

How about these people who walk by without ever making eye contact at all? They struggle to stare ahead at some far-off beacon, like they are being guided by forces beyond our comprehension. They have everything they need in life, and we only stand to screw up their equilibrium.

Would you look at that? The bird just took a dump on my shoulder. It looks nothing like a golden egg, either. Funny how it always comes out in two swirling colors. Like Aquafresh toothpaste.

I've decided to put out an APB for all the people who need lessons in civility. Calling all holes, calling all black holes. . . Sign up today for Social Skills 101. The class will consist of lessons that you should have learned along with Don't play tag on the freeway and Please refrain from setting the curtains on fire.

The class will begin with the word "hello." No one will be forced to initiate the greeting but only to return it when it is directed at them first. Think of it as picking up a telephone. You have to say something. Why not "hello"? You can also remember it by the cue word, which is also "hello." When you hear the cue word, simply repeat it. You don't have to mean it, either. Make-believe is good enough for now. If you aren't quite comfortable with "hello," you might warm up with "hi." The nice thing about "hi" is that you don't really have to open your lips to say it.

I suppose cockatiels are like men - no matter how well you treat them, eventually they sh$*t on you.

Speaking of lips, we will also learn how to smile. In this beginner's course, students won't have to expose their teeth or make any laughter-like sounds. Those are covered in the advanced course. Our goal is to master the basic, closed-mouth smile, which you can practice in the mirror at home. Remember: A frown is just a confused smile.

Social Skills 101 does not intend to make anyone happy. It isn't that ambitious. We only want you to make an effort in the direction of brotherhood, which can be as easy as parroting the word "hello," smiling now and again, or maybe recognizing the presence of human beings when you pass them. Even if you learn to pretend-smile, it will be a giant step for mankind.

And someday, maybe everyone will function with the semblance of harmony at home, in the workplace. . . even with a cockatiel using their arm for a toilet.


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