Hot Dogs

Humor is how we deal with the horrific.

We went to see the traveling Pompeii exhibit which made its way to the Cincinnati Union Terminal museum. I had seen many of the statues before in magazines and documentaries, but it was certainly more powerful to experience firsthand. Some of the victims had definitely died under varying degrees of agony. Baked and suffocated. Doesn’t sound pleasant. I didn’t find it appropriate to take photos.

But I did still take one of the dog.

And then I thought: this looks an awful lot like a whippet. And whippets are perpetually cold. My own whippet in fact recently cooked herself in front of the fireplace until patches of fur fell out. That’s some desperation.

So if there’s one shred of happiness from this tragic event, it’s that a whippet finally managed to get warm enough. It’s how Poppy would have chosen to go.

–Simon

Pedestrianism

I live in the suburbs, yes. I admit this. I prefer the concept of a townhouse. Well, actually I fantasize about a square house containing a courtyard, like a small castle, with limited exterior windows and minimal property line setback. Within, I could maintain a garden devoid of deer and neighbor pets’ defecations.

But Americans’ infatuation with the lawn prohibits such designs. And let us be clear: the lawn has nothing to do with public aesthetics. The American lawn is a public display of affluence. Feast thine eyes on my biological wasteland – flawlessly maintained with unsustainable irrigation and carcinogenic compounds. And don’t you dare walk on it! I will cut your bitch-ass! Look at it and feel sad at your pathetic existence, devoid of the opportunity to take pressurized public water that’s been sanitized for human consumption and spray it haphazardly upon a carpet of plants that offers nothing in return aside from smugness and some erosion control.

Alas but I cannot humble myself to your financial superiority, for if I’m required to traverse your neighborhood, I must also abide by the American infatuation with cars, for you have denied me the option needed to worship you: the ability to safely walk past your stupid fucking lawn – sidewalks.

Why did we go so far as to worship private greenspace but stop short of letting the proletariat masses see it? I’m guessing for the same reasons that we have gated communities, and that reason is: “Fuck you!” I’ll unzip my pants to allow you the privilege of pleasuring me, but first you have to beg me for the opportunity.

Vulgarities aside, I think this is pretty close to the American public ethos. We’d rather risk the lives of loved ones than allow an undesirable to conveniently walk through our neighborhoods.

And in this country, public transportation doesn’t count. If you’re riding the bus, you’re of the same social class.

So I ask: Why do we hate pedestrians so much?

Obviously, it’s because we love a hierarchical system when we’re on the top of that hierarchy. Punching down is universally human – not solely an American concept. But as Americans, this is one way we love to do so.

Think I’m exaggerating?

As an involuntary pedestrian myself for 22 years, I’ll cite some examples to prove my point. And as a bonus, rate their perceived level of asocial behavior:

  • Lack of sidewalks. Doing some internet sleuthing, I was surprised to discover that this wasn’t simply a cost-saving measure. The government, despite the general contempt for it, is actually looking out for the public’s safety in most cases. In this instance, I discovered that housing developers actually pay exemption fees to avoid installing sidewalks in their communities. I’m sure this varies by locality and various ordinances, but that it happens at all is very telling. And I think we’re all aware that in the American goods economy, costs are just passed to the consumer, so either way, the developer would either charge for the sidewalk or for the fee. But they choose the fee because it’s easier and no one moving into the community apparently sees the lack of sidewalks as a dealbreaker. The government is trying to help us and instead we collectively say no. And as a result, there’s almost nowhere safe to walk. Verdict: passive-aggressive indifference.
  • Hellstrip use. You know that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, assuming your neighborhood actually has sidewalks? I always wondered where the term came from, and it may be an archaic word, but some internet searching seems to agree that a plant nerd coined the phrase sometime in the 90s to denote a piece of land on which it’s difficult to grow things. I call bullshit on the definition, because I’ve never not seen one fully planted up, except by intent. In fact, I’ve often seen them planted with rather unfriendly botanical barriers – anywhere from yucca and cacti to blackberries. I should also note that the hellstrip isn’t actually owned by the adjacent house. The city owns it, but there’s a social contract that the homeowner maintain it. The homeowner seems to resent this arrangement, having to maintain public property that in their mind is technically their own property, all so that losers without cars can comfortably walk through. And god forbid the city decide to put a bus stop there. Could the homeowner be courteous enough to plant a shade tree? The bus stop by where I lived in highschool employed a slash-and-burn approach. And this was Ohio, so it’s not like plants couldn’t grow there. But no – the hellstrip by the sign was stripped of anything that could offer shade, and the ground was ripped up and replaced with gravel, interspersed with black volcanic rock to better absorb the heat and make walking hazardous. Even better, the homeowner would come out of his house if he saw me, and awkwardly tend to the “landscaping” next to me until the bus came. Jackass. Verdict: low intimidation, low aggression
  • But at least presumed property ownership is understandable, if not excusable. Sidewalk availability notwithstanding, I’ve been on the receiving end of more direct pedestrian-hating actions. At the more benign end of the spectrum, there’s the practice of honking horns while passing pedestrians. There’s also yelling, I guess to mix things up, after regular pedestrians learned to generally ignore car horns. Eventually, all forms of auditory aggressions fell into obsolescence with the ubiquitous adoption of iPods. Then I could just crank the volume until all I could hear was the soothing sounds of Metallica. Following this trend, hand-wringing evening news soundbites emerged claiming that iPods were a hazard and distraction, ignoring the fact that cars have radios with chronically-blasting music, not to mention that pedestrians are “surprisingly” very aware of their surroundings because the human animal has an innate survival instinct. But I doubt Peter Jennings ever had to walk anywhere. Verdict: low intimidation, medium aggression
  • Higher on the aggression scale is stalking. This is when a motorist follows you at the pace you’re walking. It’s an obvious intimidation tactic, because anyone actually trying to follow someone home would be more discreet. It does depend on context though. Walking home alone at night evokes a different level of caution as a simple afternoon stroll. Casually altering course to where a car can’t follow is the easiest fix, because that takes away their advantage: the car itself. Or just making an abrupt 180 and walking back, because then they have to awkwardly turn around. Or you can do what I did a couple times and confront the person directly, politely asking if they’re lost and need directions. That might not be the best idea now that everyone has a gun, but it worked for me in the past. Verdict: high intimidation, low aggression
  • Next up – feinting. If a motorist feels your presence in or next to a road is an offense, they may feint a collision. Being disadvantaged in the physical barrier department, the pedestrian is compelled to leap to safety, followed by much jeering on the motorist’s part. Sort of like a cowboy movie where the outlaw yells “Dance boy!” and begins shooting at their target’s feet. I find this to be one of the most common forms of motorist aggression, maybe because it’s easy and carries with it plausible deniability (“I was tired and drifted to the curb, officer. I swear.”) The pedestrian, meanwhile, had an adrenal dump and twisted an ankle. Verdict: high intimidation, medium aggression
  • And lastly, there’s the also common throwing things from a moving vehicle person. Paper wads, beer cans, gum, and spit are the more common projectiles, but there’s endless potential. In my sister’s case once, it was a bucket of water. The potential is endless, and with it carries a gauntlet of outcomes: discomfort to death. This is the only pedestrian-hating act that the news every reports on, because it has dramatic and measurably violent results. Verdict: low intimidation (since it’s a surprise attack), high aggression

Americans hate pedestrians and actively seek to marginalize, intimidate, and physically harm them, (and deny them options for safe non-vehicle transportation).

So for those who never had to walk further than your car, I’d ask for some more mindfulness. I know waiting an extra 20 seconds when someone trips the crosswalk signal is the worst experience imaginable, but maybe asocial aggression isn’t the best remedy for your temper.

Plus, you’re not the only one carrying a gun now. Something else to consider.

–Simon

Pander to Me

While I consider myself to be inter-generational, my year of birth does place me into the Millennial bracket, technically. Consequently, I’m no stranger to the accusations of snowflake-dom by the older crowd. It gets a little irksome, considering the now well-studied economic disparity between the age ranges. To be labeled as sensitive and possessing an intangible need to be acknowledged for my individuality as compensation for a presumed overly-comfortable upbringing and fragile ego shows a very limited viewpoint. Also perpetuated is the false notion that Millennials are poor because we lack motivation, which is of course the result of these stereotypes. If I worked harder and didn’t whine so much then I would have money I guess.

And yet – call a Boomer out on any argumentative fallacies and all too often the backlash is exactly what would be expected of one with such a fragile ego themselves. Even my father, who’s in comparison not overly Boomer-y and seemingly rather self-reflective, throws down awfully quick if poked too hard in generational jesting. As a whole, they do love to cast the gauntlet, but respond in outrage if someone picks it up, as if they never expected anyone younger to defend their own honor. I would hazard to guess this is because they’re used to being customers to a Millennial-staffed service world who weren’t allowed to defend themselves on threat of losing their already meager financial situation.

But just as Boomers couldn’t fathom a world in which Millennials could stand up for themselves, I, who for his adult lifetime has been part of this marginalized age-based demographic, couldn’t fathom what the counterattack represented: the power dynamic had shifted – where significant financial assets were now in the possession of a younger generation – a world that began to pander to me. When did that happen?

I think it began a long time ago, but with subtle change: with Apple’s iTunes store and Netflix’s video streaming service. With music albums and bundled cable packages being cost-prohibitive to the financially disadvantaged, Apple saw an opportunity for an a la carte option, and Netflix for what was essentially an on-demand bulk movie rental service. There was a market opening for cheaper ad-free curated media devoid of time slots, built for a customer base that couldn’t commit to penalty-laden contracts, daily prime time TV-watching availability, and with an unwillingness to buy more than what was wanted. The industry in its raw Capitalism indirectly gave power to those it sought to exploit – by giving them what they wanted. Intentional or not, they acknowledged Millennials.

And then things got even better once Millennials acquired money and property – another change that Boomers couldn’t mentally digest. I’ve noticed a trending alignment between what I want and what the world around me wants, and I can only assume that this means that the people in control have an increasing motivation to give me and my generation what we want (again, because we have money now). Some things are more observational than measurable, so this is far from scientific. But the general feeling is there. Here’s some recent local developments:

  • Increasing closure rate of local big box chain stores.
  • Increased pressure to improve city aesthetics.
  • Influx of independent restaurants and bars.
  • City veto to approve a new gas station builds.
  • Failed passing of state amendment increasing majority vote to 60%.
  • Successful passing of state amendment protecting right to abortion.
  • Passing of municipal park levy.
  • Marijuana regulation and decriminalization.
  • …And a sidewalk was installed in my neighborhood.

These items correspond exactly to my last cast ballot, but they also demonstrate a significant shift away from the world I knew just 20 years ago. Back then, the ethos was more big business, more cars, bigger roads, and being tough on crime. Not to mention the constant excuses to budget cut anything in the public sector. Boomers love budget cuts.

Now it would appear that we’re moving away from a philosophy of authoritarianism, uncontrolled growth, and monetary pursuit; and into a world that’s more aligned with improving the general quality of life for everyone, rather than fetishizing Reagan-ism and Gekko-ism.

The shift itself has increased Boomer hostility, and it’s not that younger generations are being sensitive. It represents what they can’t accept – impending Boomer obsolescence, and Millennials finally getting a say in shaping the future. It’s a power dynamic that Boomers are losing, and few have ever been eager to relinquish that power willingly, least of all the Boomers.

But at long last, I can sit silently and smugly watch the inevitable.

“You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

–Simon

Dramatic Emphasis in News

Basic news stories are pretty bad at pumping up the drama. And the ones that really irritate me for some reason are the stories involving violence, because these are the stories that don’t need any emphasis in order to invoke an empathetic response in a normal person. I’ll add a warning now that this is a just a cranky old man post.

Here are the two that annoy me the most:

  • Razor sharp
  • Point blank

“Man attacks wife with knife” vs “Man attacks wife with razor sharp knife”. While my first instinct as a blade connoisseur would judge this to be a courtesy (it’d be more efficient and quicker to kill someone with a sharp knife), it’s an unnecessary, and probably inaccurate claim, unless the man were actually trying to murder his wife with a straight razor. Why? Because no blades except razors are sharpened to razor thinness, because most knives would suffer blade longevity for their designated tasks if sharpened that fine. So either 1) the weapon was a shaving razor (some questions arise in my mind were that actually the case, 2) the man actually sharpened a k-bar to a razor (maybe, if the steel could actually hold that edge, or 3) the man used a sushi knife (maybe there were some dinner plan arguments taking place). In all likelihood, the knife wasn’t razor sharp and this was just an attempt to make the story sound scarier.

“Man shoots wife in bedroom” vs “Man shoots wife point blank in bedroom”. (I’m not advocating for wife-killing here-just keeping the story the same for consistency.) First of all, unless the bedroom was the size of a stadium, it’s point blank distance. And even if the bedroom was the size of a stadium, it could still be point blank. A 150 grain 30-06 rifle round has a point blank range of ~300 yards. It should be noted here that point blank means the distance at which the shooter doesn’t have to correct for gravity drop. Now, a contact shot on the other hand means the muzzle was pressed against the victim at the time of shooting, to which I’d agree that if that were true, it might imply more of an emotionally-charged motive. So either the news was wrong or they used the wrong terminology.

Violence is scary enough. I don’t need the emphasis. And if you’re an editor and simply can’t resist, use the right terminology.

If I die by violence, please be accurate.

–Simon

Twisted Metal Black

I reached into my pants and pulled it out. Gripping it firmly, I held it out to the her. She wanted it.

Then she motioned to the contactless tap to pay terminal in front of her. I obliged, bringing my Amazon Prime credit card into RFID range, completing my transaction at Whole Foods and earning 5% back.

It was the first new credit card I had applied to in years, solely on the grounds of the Amazon and Whole Foods rewards rate. It was enough, I had decided, to offset my harsh judgment of private labels, as was the Lowe’s credit card. Unlike the Lowe’s card, however, the Amazon card is a cool steel-grey black and laminated metal. It seemed odd, considering the modern switch to pay methods that induce less physical stress on the material, or no need at all for the physical card itself, for a bank to choose a more durable construction.

The industry shift of course was a direct result of the first metal card, the Amex Centurian card–that invite-only heavy black metal card with no spending limit; mentioned in rap songs and business executive stories involving consort services and cocaine. I admit that I haven’t tried to buy either with my Amazon card, but I’m just not feeling like a badass when I drop down my own heavy metal card.

I was outdone from the start anyway. At a family gathering, my sister-in-law produced her expired Venture card, equally as amused at its metallic nature. But it seems there’s no standard, as her card was significantly heavier. She lamented on how she was to dispose of it – a conundrum I hadn’t yet considered, as my own card was still valid. Up for the challenge, and confident in my beefy commercial-grade shredder at home, I offered to dispose of it for her.

The machine kicked to life and gave it a solid effort, then jammed. I had to employ vice grips and a prybar to, thankfully, save my shredder.

Banks now say to not use shredders. Don’t ignore this advice.

My next attempt what somewhat less graceful: a propane torch.

Cough cough.

That worked, but couldn’t have been very good for me to inhale burning plastic fumes. I suppose I could have used my metal shears, but that strikes me as a little too much effort to forever scatter the printed numbers. So I checked some bank websites for official instructions, and they say to mail the card back to them. That’s even sillier than making a metal card in the first place.

I’m open to other suggestions, but all the disposal methods I can think of involve more work than a shredder. I guess that’s the price we have to pay for trying to feel like millionaires.

–Simon