Category Archives: Thoughts @ Large

§  We subscribe to both Netflix and Prime (and, this month, Apple as well), but it still takes forever for us to find a movie.  Apparently, Quentin Tarentino and the Coen Brothers can’t make films fast enough to keep up with the pace of our watching them.  C’mon guys.

§  Speaking of Films, Part I.  Wouldn’t you think that any gang of killers sent to murder the martial-arts hero would have watched enough movies to know YOU CAN’T ATTACK THE HERO ONE-PERSON-AT-A-TIME!  But as my sister-in-law says, if these guys were smart, they wouldn’t need to be criminals.  Same goes for script-writers.

§  Speaking of Films, Part II.  When the vengeful psychotic gunman corners his target and his gun is poised against the victim’s sweaty head, the gunman always begins a monologue that blames the victim and helps him “understand” why he deserves to be killed.  Then the gunman kills him (with exceptions, see below).  Which makes no sense.  Would it not be more cruel (if that were the gunman’s intent) to let the victim live an extended time with the guilt and shame of knowing how he turned the gunman into a psychopath?  I mean, the victim usually only gets a few seconds to appreciate the gunman’s inner turmoil, and then blam.  Well, like my sister-in-law said…

§  Speaking of Films, Part III.  The psychotic gunman, before he kills his victim, is either: (a) shot by the cop who also happens to be his childhood friend and who just now arrived on the scene, and is conflicted about saving or shooting him; (b) shot by the “sensitive” guy in the gang who has a wife and kids and decided this was the best way to save his family; (c) shot by his rival in the gang, who is also simultaneously shot, and both die; or (d) shot by his girlfriend who just can’t even; or (e) trampled by a herd of elephants.  OK, I sort of made that up.  I haven’t seen the bad guy trampled by elephants since, oh, Bomba and the Elephant Stampede (1951).  Tarentino never used elephants.

§  I don’t know what it’s like these days, but when I was in grade school, I remember how it was a big deal when one of our classmates was out sick, leaving an empty desk in the room. It just felt really odd and a little ominous.  “Where’s Janet today?”

§  If I were the 21st-century Marquis de Sade, I would want a job working for the airlines.  I would engineer a pressure-sensitive airplane seat that tallies the minutes your butt is in the seat and charges you extra for every seat-contact-minute.  Passengers who are able to crouch so that their tushie doesn’t touch the seat can save a buck!  If you have to sit, well, that privilege will cost you.  Tell me this isn’t in our future.

§  I find it uplifting if there is even one economic transaction a week in which I am treated like a human instead of a credit card swipe.  And it works the other way too: at the grocery, I generally try to read the cashier’s ID badge and either greet them by name or bid them well as I leave.  I get a smile in return about half the time and walk out happier in any case.

§  It’s not the same when I dare use the self-check line.  I’m still trying to figure out where on the scanning station I can strangle that dictatorial voice-bot, but it will be so satisfying the day I do.  “Please Place Your Item in the BA-A-GGH GAKH UKKH… “

§  When I was growing up, my mother always cut bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches on the diagonal.  No other item ever was, not that there were a lot of opportunities for creative slicing.  Today, eating any diagonally-cut sandwich still feels like a treat to me.

§  The past tense of bear is bore.  But how does it make sense to say, “A baby bore climbed our kousa dogwood tree looking for berries yesterday.”  It makes no sense at all, because plenty of berries had already fallen on the driveway.

§  My spouse often encourages me to look out our living room window as the evening light is fading and appreciate the beauty of the subtle blues and grays spreading across our sky.  I thought of this when I recently read the following passage from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s 2009 autobiographical novel, My Struggle: Book 1:

I set off with a sigh.  Above me the entire sky had opened.  What a few hours earlier had been plain, dense cloud cover now took on landscapelike formations, a chasm with long flat stretches, steep walls, and sudden pinnacles, in some places white and substantial like snow, in others gray and as hard as rock, while the huge surfaces illuminated by the sunset did not shine or gleam or have a reddish glow, as they could, rather they seemed as if they had been dipped in some liquid. …

Sights like this were not exceptional, on the contrary, hardly a day passed without the sky being filled with fantastic cloud formations, each and every one illuminated in unique, never-to-be-repeated ways, and since what you see every day is what you never see, we lived our lives under the constantly changing sky without sparing it a glance or a thought.

And with that we close for now.

☰  Read 8 comments and add yours | Other posts in Thoughts @ Large

§  This travel rule originated with my spouse, but I concur:  Any on-the-road restroom where you have to ask for the key will make you regret having asked for the key.

§  I was slicing radishes for our dinner salads when I made a tiny but generously-bleeding cut on the end of my thumb.  Acknowledging my inherent lack of skill with knives, I said to my spouse, “If I had lived in the 1850s, I’d be dead by now.”  (Hmm, ya think?)

§  How the shame of shame has changed.  On August 9, 1974, President Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment for conspiring to cover up a criminal act.  Not half a century later, President Trump led a conspiracy to overturn the result of a legitimate election and then has the temerity to insist that his First Amendment rights demanded this of him.  Yes, the First Amendment protects your right to be an asshole, Mr. Trump, so you be you.

Interestingly, temerity comes from the Latin tenebrio, “person who operates in darkness.”  This must also be the Latin root word for trump.

§  If I may share this once-upon-a-time excerpt from Bill Moyer’s May 1976 PBS interview with then-presidential-hopeful Jimmy Carter:

Q: Governor, when you say, “I will never lie, I will never mislead you,” people have more doubts about your perception of reality than they do about your integrity.

Governor Carter: I understand.

Q: Other people are now saying, “Jimmy Carter is trying to put one over on us. But Jimmy Carter just doesn’t understand the way Washington … works.”

Governor Carter: I understand that. And I have thought about that a lot, because I’ve been in debate a lot, and one of the great surprises to me in the campaign was that when I made that simple statement 18 months ago — not in a fervent way, not even in a way to surprise anybody — that I, as a candidate and as a President, I’m not going to lie to you, that it became so controversial.

Q: Why were you surprised?

Governor Carter: I was surprised … it was a controversy. The first time I ever voted was in 1948.  I voted for Truman.  He’s still my favorite President.  I don’t believe that Truman ever told me a lie or told the American people a lie. He may have, but I don’t believe he did.  I think other Presidents since then have.  I don’t see any reason for it.

We have traveled light-years beyond Jimmy Carter’s spacetime.  Spin is now the currency of the realm.  Liars are embraced if they tell us what we want to hear.  Truth?  How quaint!

Use the dots or arrow keys to advance the frame.

  • This Little Pence

§  There aren’t many six-letter English words with 3 syllables.  I was able to come up with these without external help:  ALBEIT, BONOBO, CALICO, DIADEM, ELATED, FINALE, GIGOLO, HERNIA, ICONIC, JICAMA, KAOLIN, LIABLE, MUSEUM, NOVENA, OCELOT, POTATO, QUALIA, RESUMÉ, SUGARY, TAMALE, UNABLE, VIABLE, WIRING, YTTRIA, ZINNIA.  I could not think of a six-letter X-word.  Your submissions welcome.

§  Shopping in Sam’s Club the other day, I was walking down an aisle near the tire center and thought to myself, I sort of like new-tire smell.  McGill University says I am not alone:  “[T]here are people who love the scent of new tires, some even describing an addiction to the fragrance.”  Reddit user gersty asked, “Do they make a new tire smell air freshener?”  Travis, on a Yamaha motorcycle forum, exclaimed, “DAMN I love the smell of a new tire!” and posted a photo of a tire he keeps next to his computer desk for its aroma.

Then there are people who like the smell of skunk.  (Not me, but certain people I know.)   Quora user David Lincoln Brooks rhapsodized thus about roadkill skunk:  “Yet on a cold November night, when the assailed skunk is a mile away, then the smell tints the cold still air with a curious mournful longing… the olfactory poignance of a distant train whistle at midnight.”  OK, Walt Whitman, but what about tires?

§  A while back, I read maybe half of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data (and so on) by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz; his topic was how our internet searches reveal ‘the real truth’ about ourselves.  The author’s examples and anecdotes might have made for a good essay in The Atlantic, but not a whole book.

I increasingly don’t care whether I finish non-fiction books — I find there is rarely much substance after the first 100 pages.  I know a book has been padded when I start skimming the first sentences of paragraphs and don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  Just because an author satisfies his publisher’s word count doesn’t mean I have to follow suit.

§  Why is it easier to give up on a bad movie than a bad book?  I venture it’s because we take (somewhat) more care selecting books and thus are more invested in our choices, which makes us less willing to abandon books.  Do Kindle users agree?

§  Old people are too old to be funny.  Consider: Jane Curtin is 75 (I think she has always been 75).  Goldie Hawn is 78.  Dave Letterman is 78, as is Steve Martin.  Michael Palin and Eric Idle are 80.  Lily Tomlin is 83.  Tom Smothers is 86.  Bob Newhart is 93.  I am 70, and this wasn’t funny at all, so that clinches it.  Old comics: they’re either weird, or dead.

§  I have three questions that need answers:

•  How do pacemakers know to speed up during exercise, when we need more oxygen?

•  Has any contestant on The Price is Right intentionally interfered with the wheel while it was spinning?  You know, to slow it down and try to make it land on $1.00.  After 50 years, wouldn’t you be surprised if it hasn’t been tried at least once?

•  What does eel taste like? (I bet it tastes like anything with two ee’s would taste like.)

§  Last but not least: Our pit of past despair (i.e., the water feature) is now a corner of zen.  All because I broke my toe and couldn’t reasonably work on it, and so we hired someone to finish it off.  It’s a big relief.  This lesson will last me a long time.

☰  Read 10 comments and add yours | Other posts in Thoughts @ Large

• What should one do when the housefly one has been chasing for hours is found resting on the business end of the fly-swatter?

• Let’s all finally admit that when we decide to make scrambled eggs, we really don’t have high expectations how they turn out.  Sorta fluffy is okay.  So is sorta moist, where you press down on them and some liquid oozes out.  The happy place for scrambled eggs is in the middle, but with an wide margin of error.  The key is having them go straight from the pan to the plate and then into your mouth.

• Speaking of scrambled eggs, I am always amazed by the number of hotel reviewers who down-rate a hotel based on the perceived quality (or absence) of the free breakfast.  As if make-your-own pancakes, toast-your-own tasteless bagels, and steamed turkey sausages count as amenities.  Do y’all lift your pinky as you dispense the OJ into your Dixie cup?

• Here’s a challenge for you.  When was the last time anyone told you a joke?  I don’t mean a crack by a late-night comedian but the kind of joke that used to pass from one person to another, before the internet made that kind of thing passé.  My spouse and I still recall the one her mother liked to tell about the grocery shopper looking for broccoli, which gave her an excuse to use the f-word — because hey, it’s a joke!  Naughty jokes were social currency back then.

• The correct number of black olives to add to a tossed salad is (a) 2, (b) 3, (c) 4.

• The correct number of baked croutons to add to a tossed salad is (a) 3, (b) 5, (c) 7.

•  I bet most of us amateur chefs think we know the “right” answers to the above questions. I say definitely (b) and (c) unless the croutons are those “Texas-style” ice-cube-sized ones, in which case don’t bother to add them at all.

• Most video games and role-playing games award a player multiple “lives” in case you do something wrong (or haven’t gained enough knowledge) and you need a do-over to survive the current encounter.  Life, or more precisely the prospect of losing it, is the best teacher.  So it’s a shame, how in real life, we only get one of them.

• But wait — aren’t most religions designed to award extra lives, to keep us in the game?

• Something inspired me this evening to check in on the archives of my college newspaper, the Carnegie-Mellon Tartan, for which I was a columnist, cartoonist and features editor.  Re-reading just a couple of my articles from those days, I was struck by how unbelievably bad they were, smug and cynical and full of authority I didn’t merit, albeit dressed up in clever phrasings.  It made me wonder how this blog will look to me when I am 120.

• Speaking of prunes, Henry Kissinger, NSA chief and Secretary of State for Richard Nixon from 1969-1974, celebrated his 100th birthday a few weeks ago.  Sadly, 58,22o U.S. troops who served in Vietnam will not match Henry’s milestone.

Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his purported efforts to keep more young people from dying in that ill-fated war.  Many recall those efforts differently, but the truth of the matter has been obscured by time.

I did not serve in the military — as I find myself saying every time I buy something at Lowes.  The only reason I am writing this piece and you are reading it is because how a basket of numbered capsules happened to tumble on February 2, 1972.  That was the day my 1973 lottery number, #244, was drawn and I was off the hook from serving and dying in Vietnam.

Lottery Number #001 went to those born on March 6, 1953.  I could easily have been born one week earlier on March 6.  But I wasn’t and that is half the reason I’m here today.

The highest lottery number called up in 1973 was #010, or those born on August 23, 1953.  The last U.S. military draftee, Dwight Eliot Stone of Sacramento, California, was inducted into the Army 50 years ago on June 30, 1973.  He was not called to serve in Vietnam.

Immediately after my lottery number was announced, my not-even-19-year-old self wrote and recorded in my dorm room a multi-track song of celebration called No Army for Me.  It was probably my most highly-produced recording, replete with jet-engine sound effects inspired by the 1968 song Sky Pilot.  The essence of the song was that my life would go on, unscathed by mortar rounds, my limbs intact.

“Hell no, I won’t go!  /  I don’t have to, you know!” was one of the lyrics, referencing the anti-draft protests of that era and how they had become moot.  I was nineteen.  And now here I am apologizing for having been inappropriately happy that I wasn’t cannon-fodder.

The survival guilt of solders who see their peers killed in battle is well-documented.  But I haven’t read anything about lottery guilt — how some people were forced to fight for their lives while others born a week later could watch the war on TV.  Or write songs about it.

☰  Read 4 comments and add yours | Other posts in Thoughts @ Large