Archive for January, 2012

Topanga Canyon = Communist Russia

I’ll say this up front: I think of a lot of strange things, and not all of them work.  This might be one of those times, but that’s never stopped me before.

Last week, I was taking the long and winding road (cue music) to work named Topanga Canyon.  For those of you unfamiliar with this road, it’s about 10.5 miles of one-lane twists and turns that take you up and down a mountain in order to avoid the 405.  On this particular trip, the events that unfolded left me likening them to the machinations of a totalitarian state.  I don’t know if Communist Russia is actually the best example, but since I just read a three-book series set in that environment, it’s the one that first came to mind.  (Incidentally, those books also made me dream about denouncing my family as Western spies, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I was driving along at a decent speed, a happy worker bee in the system.  Before long, I saw the cars up ahead were moving a little more slowly.  The reason was clear: a pickup truck wasn’t going as fast as others would like.  The pickup truck was our leader, though we had no say in the matter and never collectively chose him to be our #1.  Because of his position of power, he set the pace for the rest of the cars, and there were now five of us behind him (with me in the #4 spot).  After just a minute or so in this situation, it was clear that the proletariat – oops, I mean the cars behind him – were getting unhappy.  The car directly behind the truck got a little closer to it, expressing his displeasure and encouraging the truck to use one of the turnouts.  The rest of us followed suit, each inching closer to the car in front of us to send the clear signal to the truck that we were in solidarity.  The truck wasn’t having any of it.  Though likely fully aware of the unrest in the masses, he stuck to his guns and refused to cede control of the road.  Meanwhile, the rest of us were bonding and growing more hostile by the minute.  A turnout would go by unused, and we’d all throw up a hand as if to say, “Come on, man!”   Minutes went by, and our collective frustration grew.  We felt oppressed by the absolute nature of his rule, but we were no longer going to resign ourselves to the tyranny.  After another couple of turns, some polite-ish honks and “move over” gestures started (none by me, but I appreciated my comrades – er, fellow commuters – taking further action).  Still nothing happened.  The truck ruled with an iron… whatever the car equivalent to a fist is.  The message was clear: “I’m in charge.  This is how slowly I want to drive.  You can’t do shit about it.  So suck it.”  Just like Stalin, am I right?

Another minute later, and the truck’s left turn signal went on.  Not the right one, which would’ve indicated the use of a turnout, but the left, meaning he was turning.  This was no abdication of the throne, and he stuck to the pillars of his regime until the very end.  He then made his turn, and you could practically hear the cars rejoicing.  What a coup!  The will of the people had prevailed!  The euphoria was palpable as our collective speed shot up another 10mph or so.

As the new #1 moved along, something changed.  You see, at first we only had the pickup truck as a point of comparison.  In that regard, the new #1 was doing a great job.  Slowly though, that car (a silver Mercedes) became judged on his own merit rather than just being celebrated for his “anyone but that pickup truck” status.  He now had to deal with being the leader and the pressures that come along with that position of power.  Only a minute or two into his reign, the car behind him moved in closer.  New #2 (a tan sedan) had a taste of revolution, and he wasn’t prepared to give that up yet.  He had ambition, and #1 was his only obstacle on his road to glory.  Closer and closer he got, the Lieutenant who dreamed to be the General.  I could sense #1’s fear by the way he drove: he sped up on the straight-aways to try to prove his worthiness, but he wasn’t comfortable taking the turns fast enough to keep the overzealous sedan off his ass.  He wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the pickup truck.  Instead, his rule was anything but absolute, always keeping a careful eye on the underlings he once led and wondering when he’d have to use the white flag equivalent of the turn signal.

But not today, my friends.  Though I felt like the driver’s hand was probably already moving toward the signal lever, the traffic gods intervened.  We were literally reaching the end of the road, and there would be no more revolting on this day.  We made it to Pacific Coast Highway, and everyone went on their respective ways to their respective destinations.  Whether it was to work, home, or to run an errand, it didn’t matter.  What mattered was that after 10.5 miles comprised of tyrannical oppression, the unification and rise of the masses, a bloodless revolution, the dawn of a new era, an internal threat from an old ally, and a thwarted coup d’etat, we were all free.  The ocean had never looked so beautiful.

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That’s bullshit: Rhyming edition, Part 2

As I typed in the title of this post, I went back into the archives and saw that rhyming had already earned its own “That’s Bullshit” post.  So I named this “Part 2,” but it’s not really a sequel.  It’s not even a gritty reboot of a franchise, though I do appreciate those.  Disirregardless, I shall press on.

Let’s talk about the word “again.”  It rhymes with “ten” and many other common words in this glorious yet frustrating language we call English, right?.  Do you know what it doesn’t rhyme with?  “Main,” “train,” or “Bahrain.”  Yet that rhyme pops up in song lyrics and poems all the time.  I get it, it looks like it should rhyme with those words, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t.  For too long, I’ve heard lyrics like, “I’m standing in the rain/And I miss her once again” and just thought to myself, “Oh yeah, we pretend that those words rhyme.”  Why do we let that slide?  It’s not like the real way we pronounce “again” wouldn’t have any words with which to rhyme and so we give it a free pass and let it feast in the -ain/-ane category.  There are plenty of great words there, but we still just hear that non-rhyme and accept it because we’ve been conditioned to think it’s been granted some kind of rhyming bigamy.  Why?  Just because they look like they should rhyme with each other?  That’s not a good enough reason.  We don’t pretend that “laughter” and “slaughter” rhyme, “rough” and “through,” or “show” and “how,” so what’s so special about “again”?  Nothing, and fuck that.  When the singer/writer pronounces the word as “uh-GEN,” then it has to rhyme with the right words.  Anything else, and that’s bullshit.

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Special delivery

I’m starting a new job in a little over a week, but until then, I have some time during the weekdays.  This means that I can go places when not everyone else is there.  Markets and stores are much less crowded at 10am on a Tuesday than pretty much any other time I used to be able to go.  Two days ago was a perfect example; mid-day, I took a trip out to the bank, the post office, and then the drycleaners before coming home, and none of them were crowded.  It was great, but that’s not why I’m writing.  Nay, friends, I’m writing because my middle stop was a little out of the ordinary.

As I pulled into the parking lot for the post office, I smiled at the number of empty spaces.  I settled on one just a few spaces away from the entrance, which was good since I was going to be carrying a box into the establishment.  I walked in and got in line, which was mercifully short – only three parties ahead of me and one was already being helped.  Directly in front of me was a woman who had a baby in a carseat with her.  The baby was small, and when the woman saw me smiling at the kid, she implored him to say hi to me (which he refused).  I asked how old he was, and she said, “Almost three months.”  I was thinking about when my kids were that small when I heard a pretty loud crash behind me.  If you had frozen time and asked me to predict what caused that sound without looking, my best guess would have been that one of the “Line starts here” stanchions had fallen over.  I would have been wrong.  I turned around and saw the front of a car partially inside the post office.  I shook my head a little and looked more closely.  Indeed, a car had run into the building and broken the lower panes of the window through which it entered.  Next to it was an uprooted parking sign that had a Q-tip-esque mound of dirt attached to where it had once been firmly in the ground.  Part of the car (a piece of fender maybe) was inside the post office, a good five feet from the window.  My first coherent thought was something like, “Well that’s interesting.”

Other people were not as calm.  Some ran outside immediately to see if the driver was hurt (which is a better reaction to have, I’d say).  A group magically appeared around the car, assessing the situation.  The woman at the front of the line kept asking, “Do we need to dial 911?  Do we need to dial 911?”  A woman near the door finally told her that it had been done already and that the lady who was driving the car was shaken up but fine.  “She hit the gas instead of the brake,” she explained.  “That’s an important distinction not to fuck up,” I said inside my head.

The lady with the baby and I made eye contact.  We both made “big eyes” to intimate “wow” to each other, but she immediately turned more distracted.  She took a step away from the carseat on the ground, walked back to it, left again, and returned again.  “You ok?” I asked.  “I just remembered that I’m parked next to that spot,” she said.  “Oh yeah,” I thought, “I guess it’s good that I parked a few more down.”  “Will you watch him for a second?” she asked me while pointing to the carseat.   “Of course,” I said, and she left me – a complete and total stranger – with her almost three-month old baby.  She came back less than a minute later and said that her car was somehow spared.  “The police and ambulance are on their way,” she said, but she still looked really nervous.  “I’m sure she’ll be ok,” I said reassuringly.  “Oh, no, it’s just that I hope their cars don’t block me in.  Maybe I should leave now so that doesn’t happen.”  We collectively decided that since she was now next in line, she’d take her chances and stay where she was.  Only one of the three postal workers was helping customers at that moment, since the other two were getting information from the driver, telling people what happened, etc.

Just a few minutes later, a male postal worker resumed his post and waved me over.  “You don’t see that every day,” I said, figuring that that was the most appropriate quip.  I was wrong again.  “Well, four or five times actually,” he said.  “Really?  All here?”  He nodded.  “Why?” I asked, not really expecting him to have an answer.  “The parking lot comes right up to the side of the building, and people push the wrong pedal,” he said matter-of-factly. I let it go, but I couldn’t imagine that enough people make that exact error in that exact location to have him witness four or five cars drive into his place of work.  Shows what I know.

I walked past the crowd to my car, backed out of the spot very slowly (by pushing the correct pedals, might I add), and headed over to pick up my drycleaning.  Thinking about what had just happened, I wondered if it was some kind of cosmic balance thing: oh sure, you can go run errands when it’s less crowded, but be careful – that’s when the highest incidence of pedal confusion happens.

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That’s bullshit: sequence edition

Some of my kids’ books are great, and some are less than stellar.  I know my standards are probably too high, yet I’m still pleasantly surprised by some of the books strewn about their play area.  Susan Boynton’s books, for example, are almost all awesome, and if you’re a parent of a kid anywhere close to the age range of mine, you’re probably nodding in agreement.  They’re illustrated well, the meter of the verse is usually pretty solid, and there are sometimes little twists that make me smile (or even laugh out loud once – I know, that’s some serious shit right there).

But I don’t expect too much from the less ambitious ones.  If it’s something like “Baby’s First Words,” they should be able to correctly put a picture of a shoe under the word “shoe,” and that’s not normally a problem.  Actually, now that I think about it a little more, there is one small book of colors that has a mostly green apple on the page that’s supposed to illustrate “Red.”  I think that’s some minor bullshit right there, but I have a new one that gets my goat a wee bit more.

“Numbers” is a small board book with a whopping six pages.  Hard to mess that up, right?  Page one shows a picture of a teddy bear, the number 1, and the words, “One teddy bear.”  Pretty easy formula to follow, you might expect.  Two shoes are on the page that faces that one, also with the appropriate text.  Turn the page, and you’ll find three cupcakes and four cars waiting for you.  So far so good, eh?  But here’s where things go awry.  The first time I turned the page, I was reading the book aloud to my kids.  As I was saying, “Five fingers” and pointing to the splayed hand on the page, I couldn’t help but notice a foot waiting for me on the subsequent page.  I actually had time to think to myself, “Nah, that can’t be right.”  Sure enough, I moved over to the final page of the book and read aloud, “FIVE toes.”  Yep, you read that right.  The six-page book of numbers goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5.  Why the hell would they do that?  It’s not like they needed to find something inextricably tied to the number six (like fingers are to five), because that’s not the case with three cupcakes, four cars, or…any of the others, actually.  So it could’ve been six of anything – flowers, blueberries, rattles, babies, or virtually anything not R-rated.  It’s like someone said, “Ya know, we had such a good feeling about 5 being fingers that maybe we should just try to replicate that success instead of pushing ourselves to find a good pairing for number 6.”  Ok, sure, that could make a tiny bit of sense…if it weren’t a fucking counting book with only six pages.  My kids are going to think that the number 5 follows the number 5 unless I step in and stop the nonsense myself.  I really have no idea how it got published with what I consider to be a giant flaw, but I know one thing: that’s bullshit.

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