Tuesday, December 30, 2008

That sound you're hearing is my knuckles on your cranium

Since it is almost the New Year, it's appropos to point out new laws that will take effect on January 1, 2009. There are always a lot of handy new laws each year. The one that is getting the most attention now is the new rule against texting while driving. What's next? I suppose they will ban me from other things I currently enjoy while driving, like making waffles and quilting.Fascists. 

But there's one new law that's getting overlooked so far - as of 1/1/09 it will be legal to inflict physical mayhem on people who walk slow in front of you - people known as "slow walkers."

"It's about time!" you say, and indeed, you are correct. It's time to put an end to this scourge of humanity - these pokey butts who are wasting our precious time with their dawdling, wandering, and general cluelessness. 

Let's make it clear this new law does not allow the corporal punishment on the clearly infirm. However, it is acceptable to say to a person with one leg, "Hey, can you hop a little faster?" 

I made a recent visit to Ikea, confirming the need for the "go ahead and dope slap that slow walker" ruling. If muttering obscenities burned a lot of calories, I would have left that store a thin man. 

The profound need for broad societal change in this vital area is made clear by the existence of a Facebook group called "I Secretly Want To Punch Slow Walking People In The Back Of The Head" - a group that as of today boasts 1,112,143 members. What we have here, ladies and gentleman, is a problem of global scope and it's time for change you can believe in. 

For more on this outrage and the need for solutions, here's some recommended reading. 

In summary, if you suspect you may be one of these slow walkers, just keep in mind that any one of the 1,112,13 members of "I Secretly Want To Punch Slow Walking People In The Back Of The Head" may be right behind you at any time. And keep a move on. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A favorite Christmas memory

I have been recently accused - fairly - of writing something "dark" during the holidays. So today, I hope to redeem myself with a true story that always comes to me this time of year. It's a "true meaning of Christmas" story.

Like so many of my Christmas memories, it features my dad. Avid readers of this blog with fastidious memory banks will recall last year's item that detailed Daddy's lack of enthusiasm for the whole Christmas issue. I think the biggest part of his disdain for Christmas was the excess of it - and this was in a household that did not have anything like a fancy Christmas. We were a working-class family with a working-class Christmas. Although I never wanted for anything necessary, I was just like other kids in lusting after the unnecessary, expensive toys in the Sears "Wishbook" catalog - elaborate slot car tracks and electric hockey games and full-blown cowboy outfits. Things that were out of reach for people of our means.

No doubt Daddy wanted to teach me something on this particular Christmas. I was 9 or 10 I think. It was a day or two before the holiday. After he got home from work and the firewood had been replenished in the house, he told me he wanted me to go somewhere with him. This was out of the ordinary. I knew it had to be something of significance to compel him to make a point of asking me to go with him. Sometime just before dark we got into his Rambler and drove just a short way, maybe a mile or less from our house, up a dirt road. Back there in the woods (44th Street when it was still in the woods and unpaved, for those who have Joplin knowledge) there was a tumble-down house that I had passed a few times. It looked like it hadn't seen paint in fifty years, and there was junk strewn in the front and a broken down car or two. Not all the windows had glass in them. No electric light. Daddy turned the car into the dirt driveway and stopped. A child peeked out from the door. I don't think any words were said as Daddy got out and reached for a grocery bag in the back seat. I could see that inside the bag were oranges, maybe nuts, eggs perhaps. Some sustenance.

I watched from the car, and from this unlivable-looking house a man came out. He was in his 30s, needed a shave, and his face had that beaten look - beaten by hard work in the sun, beaten by wind, beaten by life. There were two or three children, a wife inside. He took the grocery bag. Not much was said. Daddy came back to the car, sat in the driver's seat, and looked over at me. He didn't say a word. We drove back to our home, a warm, comfortable home, that now seemed so opulent by comparison.

Later I came to understand that this was a family of migrant farm workers of the "Okie" variety. Dirt poor people who moved from place to place and subsisted. Today they would probably be housed in some kind of shelter. In that day the just lived on, the hard-scrabble life.

Daddy's life was shaped by being poor - Depression poor. Will-there-be-enough-to-eat poor. There was something about the way Christmas was shaping up - as the festival of conspicuous consumption that we have today - that urged him to give me a little perspective. I guess it worked. Not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about that day.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Come be alone with me

Having recently become a person who spends a lot of time alone, and this being something that is new to me, I thought I would pass on some tips on the topic. 

1. Some so-called experts will say you should not drink alone. Hogwash. A much more realistic and useful bit of advice is this: always have one glass of water to match each drink. This guarantees two things: lots of trips to the bathroom, which may result in some type of human interaction (Not IN the bathroom, ok? I don't swing that way) and you will remain semi-sober so you can drive yourself home - important when you are alone. No good to be slobbering all over some cab driver. You may want him to be your friend now, but you won't tomorrow.

2. Consider investing in a cushion. Carry it with your laptop. The chairs at Starbuck's are hard and if you really want to be the creepy guy who's always sitting there, you may find your butt goes numb.

3. Go ahead and wear the sweat pants. After all, you are alone. Who cares? And going around in sweat pants guarantees you will continue to be alone. That's the way you like it, right Bunky?

4. Ditto shaving, bathing, deodorant, doing laundry, and annoying social restrictions on loudly passing gas in public. These are rules for people who want to be with other people. Who needs all this structure? Fight the power! Alone is as alone does. Consider dispensing with clothing altogether. Not only liberating but a cost-saver, too.

5. If you see a beautiful woman sitting alone in a bar, and she's wearing boots, by all means go up to her and ask "Are those boots made for walking?" This will demonstrate that you are witty and spunky and you have knowledge of 60s pop music. It will also get you talked about in the bar, as the beautiful woman will tell her friends what a stunning dork you are. Better to be known for something than to be anonymous. 

6. There's a lot said about being alone on holidays. The truth is, there's no difference between being alone on a regular day and being alone on a holiday, except for the outbursts of uncontrollable sobbing. 

7. Have a blog. Gives you something to do when you're sitting on those hard chairs at Starbuck's. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The melancholy holiday

There comes a time every Christmas season when I just want to hit fast forward to January 2 and put it all behind me. 

Some years that moment comes early - say, November 1 or so when that first stale Christmas song comes leaking out of the speakers at the mall. Other years, like this year for example, I've made it all the way to the 10-day line before getting the "let's just get it over with" feeling. 

Is it the relentless pressure of fulfilling gift lists, writing cards, baking cookies, and trimming trees that wears me down? No, I decline to partake in most of those behaviors, and I play fast and loose with the rest. I am too selfish a creature to inconvenience myself too much. 

I think my impatience with Christmas grows out of myriad disappointments, let downs, and downright tragedies that have become part of my personal Christmas history - number one among these being losing my dad to a Christmas Day heart attack. Hey! Have a holly jolly Christmas with that in your memory stocking! It's been 26 years and yet if I write one more sentence about it I will be crying in my grande Christmas blend. (Note to Starbuck's: Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is not really a Christmas song at all, ok?) 

So how can a guy like me who has so much to be grateful for, so much to rejoice in, deck the halls with so much sadness this time of year? Is it too simple to say I'm jaded by unfulfilled expectations? My own expectations, mostly expectations about my own sad self, pulled out of the closet with the ornaments once a year, inspected, found to be unfulfilled once again, and packed away for another year? I am better at remembering philosophies than remembering the philosophers to whom they should be attributed, but I know someone wise said that our miseries are created by our desires. It's the wanting that causes pain - get rid of the wanting, needing, longing, hoping, and just live today, and you might find joy. And yet while I want to believe that, it seems almost non-human to live without desire. What's the point in getting out of bed if not to strive for something? If all I do is live in the moment, how am I any more enlightened than a dog, or a goldfish or a plankton? 

Somewhere there's inner peace and holiness and certitude. And in the stillness of the cold winter night there's a promise of redemption. I'll keep seeking it, and rooting for January 2. 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Tale of Two Fortunes

I come to you today with a saddening report on the decline of a once robust industry. American automobile manufacturing? The steel industry? Textiles? No, all this is old news. The failure I have discovered this week is in an industry that is not American, as far as I know. This crisis is in what I assume must be an industry of the great and powerful Chinese - the fortune cookie fortune business.

The problem came to light for me after lunch (Combination Plate, $6.99) at Wah Sing Restaurant in Napa. Ritual demands that I drink a least half of the green tea, save the won ton for last, and open the fortune cookie but not eat it. So I pull the little white slip of paper out and read:

"You could prosper in the field of medicine."

WTF? What kind of fortune is that?? "Could?" Does this mean if I went to medical school I might become a doctor?? Again I ask, WTF? Whatever happened to "You will soon come into money" or "He who laughs last laughs best" or something with either some certitude or some wisdom.

A friend told me that you can conjure more out of any fortune by adding the words "in the bedroom" to whatever you're given. This lame fortune cannot be improved even by that time-honored treatment. It only becomes:

"You could prosper in the field of medicine - in the bedroom."

Double secret WTF on that!

Perhaps to test just how useless the fortune cookie fortune makers have become, I lunched at a different place a couple of days later. At Peking Palace (Chicken with black bean sauce, $6.99) I am pleased to report that I received a much higher quality fortune reading:

"Your present plans are going to succeed."

Now that's more like it! No qualifying verbaige, just a nice, straightforward "are going to." And omens of success! I like success. (Now if I just knew what my present plans are, I would have something to look forward to...)

Oh, and let's not forget to test this fortune by making the add-on:

"Your present plans are going to succeed - in the bedroom."

Well, ok then.