A Matter of Time

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I know, I skipped my usual blog post.  I was making a point.  I wanted to talk about procrastination.  You know old saying:  “Put off for tomorrow what you can do today.”  This means if you live by this rule religiously, you’ll never get anything done.  Shakespeare, my favorite writer (except for maybe a dozen others) once said in a play: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / Lights the way to dusty death.” That means you’re going to die someday.  I didn’t need him to tell me that, but the saying is still cool.  Now I’m going to share a stunning and moon-shattering fact with you.  Are you sitting down?  You can stand up for this one.  There is no such thing as tomorrow.

A long while ago, before time was invented, a couple of philosophers were deep in philosophical mode.  To protect the innocent, let’s call them Pocrates and Slato.  By the way, I snatched those names out of the sticky, slimy ether we call inspiration.  Now, Pocrates and Slato were hanging out once, and the subject came around to time, even though they hadn’t called it that yet.

Pocrates said, “Hey, have you noticed how everything seems to happen all at once?”

Slato replied, “Yes I did, but I’ve been waiting for you to mention it because it never seemed to be the right moment to bring the subject up.”

“We’ve got to do something about this.  It’s getting pretty hectic, what with everyone being born, growing up, getting old and dying this instant.”  Pocrates scratched his beard.

Slato thought for a moment and then said, “We could come up with something that could put everything in its place.  Once something happens, like, for instance, you scratching your beard, we could put that to the side and say it’s over with.  People could then move past an event and leave it behind.”

Pocrates stopped scratching his beard even though it still itched and mused, “What in the world would we call it?  I liked that one word you said just then.  I think it would be the perfect word for it.”

“Oh, what word would that be?”

“Leave.  Doesn’t that have such a green sound to it?”  Pocrates seemed proud of himself.

Slato frowned.  “Nooo, I think folks might confuse things that have already happened with those things that grow on trees.  Why don’t we call it the . . .past?  Once a thing is ready to be let go of, we could move ‘past’ it.”

This time Pocrates frowned, but not for the same reason.  “If we must.  Let’s leave it at that.”

“While we’re on the subject,” Slato continued, “we might as well give a name for things that haven’t happened yet, just to keep it from happening right now.  My grandson has been making me laugh as he tries to mimic the words his elders use.  He has come up with some fun and exotic names.  He calls coffee “boffee”, horsey “whorehe” and furniture “future”.  I picked the past word, you choose the ‘going to happen’ word.”

Pocrates grinned impishly.  “The first two sound a little risqué.  Let’s go with that last one, future.”  He sighed triumphantly.  “My friend, I think we just solved one of the greatest conundrums in history.”

Slato shook hands with his philosopher buddy. “You are absolutely right!  Now we can start writing down everything that happened in the past, making sure we give the information just enough drama to make it interesting, and we can call it history!”

Pocrates countered, “And all the things that haven’t happened yet, the future, we can make predictions and forecasts, and call it SWAG – Scientific Wild-Ass Guessing!”

Thus was born not only the separation of the past and future, they invented the first acronym.  Most adherents even now put one foot in yesterday, one foot in tomorrow, and piss all over today.  Those philosophers would go on to invent “The check’s in the mail”, “I’ll respect you in the morning” and “I can’t mow the yard now – there’s a football game on!”

So now you know why I’m late with my blog.  I was doing research on time, and finally ran out of it.

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The Art of People Watching

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(originally published August 14, 2009 in the Free Ads Weekly, Florence, AL)

There are not many pleasures greater than watching people.  To some, people watching is a leisure pastime; to stalkers it’s their job.  It is absolutely fascinating viewing the endless variations of human beings, especially in a public setting.  If you haven’t tried this, or if your life is such that you just don’t have time to ogle folks, it would be well worth the effort to set aside some time, park yourself in a chair or bench where people congregate, and enjoy.  My favorite people watching place is the mall.  To add excitement and flair to this activity, I like to guess what people do for a living, or if in the company of others, what the group dynamic is.  I recently amused myself at a local shopping center (wait, that sounded wrong) while waiting for my family to buy the store out.  Here’s a sample of how it went:

Ok, here comes a young man, probably still in high school, although at my age if they don’t have wrinkles, they’re kids.  He’s wearing black pants, a brown shirt and a McDonald’s cap on his head.  Must work there, or he’s a real Big Mac fanatic.  Judging by the condition of his uniform, he must have just gotten off work.  Yeah, I can smell french fries from here.  Wonder if he knows how much a grande skinny caramel latte is?  There was a time when they only sold burgers and fries.  Nah, his shirt’s pulled out and his cap is perched sideways on his head.  He’s definitely a backline kinda guy.  He’s in a hurry, too.  I probably would have gone home and changed into more comfortable clothes, but then people watchers would be confused, like how this guy smells like french fries and – whoa, he’s passing by and I got a whiff of pickles.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Quarter Pounder fall out of his pants leg.

See how easy that was?  It’s all a matter of paying attention to details.  I use all my senses – well, except touching – to profile the passerby.  Sort of like Sherlock Holmes, except he was a lot smarter and did it for a living.  Now that’s an idea.  I’d have to get used to smoking a pipe.  Of course, since we can’t always judge a book by its cover, this means having to get Holmesey to look for details, like uniforms, accessories (are they listening to an i-pod or talking on an i-phone, or is that a glop of gum on their ear?), protest signs held above their head, t-shirt messages (like ‘I do what the voices in my wife’s head tell me to do’ or ‘I like starting fires’) and posture.  My mother always told me not to slouch.  What can I say?  Anyway, the joy of watching people first comes with really looking at them.

Here comes the perfect example, a cute couple.  He’s about four and a half feet tall and so skinny a doughnut hole would fill him up, wearing a buttoned shirt with tiki or totem poles pictured on it and black shorts revealing legs so white they glow.  He’s holding hands with an Amazon sumo wrestler of a woman wearing a circus tent for a dress.  Yep, there’s the wedding bands, that means they’re married – which raises the question as to whether they’re married to each other or not.  (‘Who was that lady I saw you with last night?’  ‘That was no lady, that was my brother!’)  They aren’t in a hurry, and only seem interested in each other.  They stroll by, laughing at some noise he made that had just lifted him off the ground.  I’m guessing he’s a full time stunt double for speed bumps, and she’s a billboard fashion model.  It’s obvious these two are newlyweds – most marriages longer than six months pay each other to keep at arm’s distance.  Sometimes figuring people out is a piece of cake.

Coming the other way is a young lady pushing a double-stroller and surrounded on all sides by various sized children, none of which look over seven.  She’s dressed in gaily colored child-resistant clothing, right down to the galoshes, and seems in need of a break.  Every child, and I mean every, seems to be either trying to outdecimal each other or shatter surrounding shop windows, creating a cacophony of ear-splitting noise.  Directly behind this this rapidly moving conclave, like the wake behind a powerboat, people turn to stare and clasp hands over their horrified mouths, and it isn’t until they pass that I notice a little one about two years old bringing up the rear, taking off the last bit of his clothing and letting it fall behind.

There are so many benefits to people watching, as it offers a never-ending supply of insight into the human condition, as well as providing excellent mental exercise and practice in the art of intuition.  My intuition is telling me now to sit back, relax, and see if the little guy makes it to their car before mom notices.

A No-Brainer

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I absolutely love reading about the new studies scientists and researchers come up with.  It tells me that insanity can strike anyone, regardless of their education.  I mean, I’ve known a lot of crazy poor people – been one myself for many years and loved it – and even though I already know that mental illness is a prerequisite to holding public office, I always assumed that academia was immune to such things.  I’m glad to know I was wrong.  Now I have a completely new segment of society to poke fun of.

Listen to this: Researchers at Yale University (you know, the place where they teach people how to build a better lock) have come out with a study that says stress can cause the brain to shrink.  Really.  I have a number of questions to ask these eggheads because I find their findings a little hard to digest.  I never did like the taste of brain.  Too salty.  But seriously, I want to know how much money these guys spent on measuring brains, because I could have done it for a fraction of the cost.  I just need a cloth measuring tape and a hacksaw.  Ok, well, I suppose I would need a permit to conduct experiments with a hacksaw.  Can’t let just anybody go around slicing into brains.  You have to be a parent or teacher to do that.  How do you think folks get brainwashed?  It’s not like you can stick a hose in one ear and hope to get your noggin clean.  Anyway, that’s another subject for another day.  I recommend Dawn dish soap, though.  Just sayin’.

The article (here it is: http://connecticut.cbslocal.com/2012/11/30/study-stress-causes-brain-to-shrink/) says the scientists measured the brain size of over 100 subjects after interviewing them to find out if they had ever gone through a stressful experience.  Ok, here are the problems I find with that.  First of all, why bother to ask if someone’s gone through a stressful experience or not?  Isn’t being born enough? And then there are all those vegetables you’re forced to eat when you’re growing up.  I’m getting an ulcer just thinking about that vinegar-soaked spinach I had to eat before I could go out to play.  I carried that spinach in my pocket for days until I finally gave in.  Haven’t we all had enough stress to sink a battleship?  Asking someone if they’ve ever been stressed is like asking a bear if he craps in the woods.  Talking to a bear, now that’s stressful.

I want to know how these researchers know that their subjects’ brains had actually gotten smaller.  It’s not like they measured their brains before being stressed and then afterwards.  Now, that’s given me an idea.  I can measure the brain of a person then make them bungee jump off a flying jetliner, then measure their brains again.  I’d be willing to bet their bowels shrunk, too.  If my subject is afraid of flying, though, I can put lipstick on their shirt and then tell them to explain to their significant other how it got there.  I can’t think of anything more stressful than that.  Unless an angry bear shows up wearing lipstick.

Here’s the weird part, though.  Scientists have been telling us all along that stress is good for us, and now they say it makes our brains shrink.  I don’t believe either premise.  If stress is good for us, why not hide broken glass in instant mashed potatoes?  Why not make us drive cars held together by spaghetti?  C’mon now.  If stress makes our brains shrink, the average adult would have the brain of a squirrel.  Then we’d all be in politics.  Yale, stick with making locks, because no one’s buying your shrunken brain theory, and if they do they should see a shrink.

Southern Shakedown

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A  few months ago I felt what I thought was a super heavy truck rumbling by.  It was a slow mover, too.  Took all of half a minute worth of shaking the foundation before it passed.  Then I found out it was an earthquake.  Cool!  Well, I don’t mean cool as in yippee, but cool as in I live in Florence, Alabama, for screaming out loud.  There’s not supposed to be earthquakes here.  I live in tornado alley on the first floor and am used to dodging those critters, but haven’t been trained in evading earthquakes.  I’m even used to the remnants of hurricanes drenching the Tennessee Valley (funny that the powers that be call it the Tennessee Valley even though it’s in Alabama – must be an old property rights thing) in the summertime.  I have no idea what to do for an earthquake, though.  Guess I’m going to have to get a seatbelt for my computer chair.  Knowing my luck it’ll get stuck and I’ll have to spend the rest of my life rolling around looking for bubble wrap to pop.

If earthquakes are going to become the norm here, I think I’ll move to California where it’s really safe.  I’m serious.  They have buildings made of Slinkies and highways made of Jell-O just so they don’t have to worry about cleaning up rubble all the time.  I saw a video once of a street wobbling up and down like it was a roller coaster and the telephone poles beside it looked like chop sticks in soup.  What in the heck are you suppose to do when that happens?  Stay inside your house and you’ll probably end up a sheetrock sandwich.  Go outside and get beaned by flying debris or plucked by huge chop sticks.  If I wanted that kind of action I’d go to Six Flags.

It’s pretty rough when an earthquake picks on coastal cities.  Look what it did to Japan.  Now when you buy a radio or sushi you’ll be able to see it in the dark because of the radiation.  That’s not all that happens to folks near the water.  When an earthquake rumbles off shore it’s like a fat man doing a belly flop in a bathtub.  They call it a tsunami.  I call it one hell of a big wave.  Do you believe professional surfers actually go around the world looking for stuff like that?  What I want to know is who pays them to ride the waves?  Do they get a free pass to an all-you-can-eat shark buffet?  I know there are some sharks that would love to be at an all-you-can-eat people buffet.  Now that I think about it, I don’t want to live in California.  I can barely swim as it is.  Maybe I could get some land in Nevada, and when the Big One hits I’ll have ocean front property.  Wait.  Then I’ll still be on the coast.  Maybe I can get a couple of acres on top of one of the Rocky Mountains.

We all know there’s going to be the Big One someday, and by that I mean a huge earthquake that will turn California into the next Atlantis.  At least that’s what they keep telling us.  Who in their right mind would want to live in a place that’s going to eventually slide into the ocean?  Never mind.  I answered my own question.  I thought the Big One was going to happen when Hollywood made a Scooby-Doo movie, but I was wrong.  The fault line runs from Mexico all the way up to British Columbia.  Let me tell you there’s not enough Superglue on the planet to fix that crack.  I think the words ‘fault line’ are appropriate, since something has to take responsibility for it.  There’s a big earthquake.  Someone crawls out of the remnants of their home and says “Who did this?”  I can honestly point to the fissure in the ground and respond, “It’s the line’s fault!”

But back to my original dilemma.  Earthquakes aren’t supposed to happen in the Deep South.  Because we’re deep in the South, far away from mischievous lines in the earth.  Just a couple weeks before our rumble there was a fairly big earthquake centered in Virginia.  Probably from someone having eaten too much BBQ pork and pickled eggs.  Nevertheless, it happened, and people could feel it all the way from Atlanta to Toronto to Detroit to Boston.  We do not need Mother Earth to develop a case of Tourettes.  Ok, cursing is fine, but these global twitches have got to go.  We’re running out of places to, well, run.  Kansas is looking better and better all the time.

Those Heathens

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At the local supermarket, the mall and other public settings, you’ll notice when strangers pass by, if their eyes meet, usually their lips stretch into a half smile and they crinkle their eyes just a bit as they pass.  This is called a ‘social smile’ and is pretty much a worldwide thing.  Make that face to anyone anywhere and you’re liable to get it back.  That is unless you’re a member of the Anti-Social Heathen Club.  They meet every Tuesday and Friday night in secret and discuss their agenda, which is to promote social anarchy.

My first encounter with a Heathen was in 1988, when I drove a taxi in Washington DC.  He was dressed like a classic hobo with unwashed, faded clothes and a slouchy hat atop an unbrushed mop of hair.  Had I gotten a better look at him I probably would have pulled off, but he jumped into my cab at the airport and yelled scruffily, “Shut up and drive me to the Hilton on Ambassadors Row” before I could give a proper how-do-you-do.  A little miffed, I headed to the hotel and turned the volume up on my radio, which prompted the man in the back to holler, “Turn that racket off!”  The rest of the trip was spent in silence, except for various sounds coming out his body.  I would glance at him in the rearview mirror from time to time and saw, among other unspeakable things, him chewing on his beard as if it were a salad, looking for lost treasures in his nose and spitting out the window.  When he got out he tossed me the fare in change and a pamphlet and slammed the door.  Thinking it was a religious tract, I stuck it in my shirt pocket to read later, wondering which church would have him as a member.  That later happened when my shift ended and I got home, and it opened my eyes to a growing movement happening right under our noses.

The Heathens (as they lovingly call themselves) began as a group of rejected and retired sociologists who decided somebody had to shake things up a bit, and practiced what would become the art of rudeness.  They and their followers claim this is all done in the name of science, to awaken the masses to their mindless mechanical behaviors, but if you ask me, I think they genuinely like it.  If someone at the supermarket accidently bumps into a Heathen and apologizes, instead of brushing it off by saying, “That’s ok,” he or she reacts by bellowing, “You stupid jerk!  You hurt me!  Get the cobwebs out of your eyes and watch where you’re going!”  Instead of a social smile, a Heathen will grimace and say something like “Phew you stink” or “What are you lookin’ at?  You think I’m cute or something?”  The Heathen thrives especially in crowds.  They love passing gas at the checkout counter right before leaving, leaving dentures at the buffet table and all kinds of other things designed to elicit revulsion.  The denture thing actually happened, by the way.  Ask a Heathen and you’ll be informed that they are merely being completely honest in everything they do, and do not live a contrived life.  While I can sympathize with their cause, I just couldn’t take up the mantle of smelling armpits in an elevator.

I’ve kept close tabs of the Heathens, even subscribing to their monthly magazine.  It’s pretty interesting, and beats anything you find in a doctor’s office waiting room.  This month’s edition has an article entitled “Eleven ways to get served immediately, no matter how busy they are”.  One involves bringing a bag of chicken blood to the emergency room and smashing it on your head just before entering.  Another is to get into a fast food restaurant’s drive-thru during rush hour, complain about food you didn’t get and demand a replacement meal before you move your car any further.  Out of a sense of decency and public responsibility I won’t mention the others.

But here’s the bottom line:  Ignore them.  This drives Heathens nuts.  Consider yourself warned, because there are new Heathens being born every day.  If you’re in the growing service industry, practice your best social smile, because you’re going to need it.  It’s not easy mollycoddling an unpracticed Heathen, but in this economy it’s harder to find another job.  Good luck.