Posts Tagged ‘stories’

What’s Entertainment

26 September 2011

Dear J-

While Caltrans is working on the freeway (they’re widening I-5 where it passes over I-805) they have K-rails put up as a barrier in the center divider, squeezing the shoulder down from the typical eight feet to eight inches or less. I love it. People who used to blow by you in the left (number one) lane are now nervous about their own control and no longer hover with impunity on the left edge of that lane, running nervously somewhere in the middle and trying to make sure they don’t scrape off their rear-view mirror. I suppose they feel squeezed between the people traveling in the number two lane and the K-rails: the gap looks impossibly narrow even though the lanes are twelve feet wide and the typical car is six feet wide or so: plenty of wiggle room on either side.

You take someone and squeeze them, they get uncomfortable and rightly so. Accusatory questions will garner hostile, defensive answers. There are a lot of competititve, antagonistic relationships and interactions we could engage in. If I ride on the left edge of the number two lane I’m daring the guy in number one to pass: maybe you can, maybe you can’t, but the best you can hope is to feel really awkward and uncomfortable. That’s a big burden to put on someone you probably don’t know and whose only sin is wanting to go faster than you. Yesterday morning I engaged in a stoplight derby with an anonymous silver Honda Civic: you know how you’ll pull up to a red light. And there’s someone in the next lane you know is going to jackrabbit off just so they can cut you off? I followed him onto the freeway and at one point nearly kissed bumpers on the on-ramp. Just because I could, why do you ask?

I reasoned that hey, it’s either him or me, and why should I make his life easier? If you arrive at the conclusion that you’re there to make someone else’s life miserable — rephrase that, if what you do increases someone’s misery quotient, maybe you need to rethink your choices. I’m all for entertainment and adventure but seriously, at the expense of others? There are a lot of different ways to get cheap thrills without resorting to the kind of anonymous trolling that would earn you a bulletin board ban online or even arrested should someone see what you’re doing. Keep yourself honest out there and make up an amusing story for yourself: look, he’s rushing off to the rutabaga festival; you know how quickly fresh rutabagas go bad. And his pet wildebeest has been craving rutabagas all summer, so you know that he needs them. Now that’s entertainment.




28 August 2010

Dear J-

When we were living in Davis, we used to pick up stray dogs on a semi-regular basis. One of the ones we picked up was a Shepherd mix like Bean, only slightly more contrasty (white and black instead of tan and black) and with more of the classic Shepherd features, with the pointy ears. We actually knew this one, Jack, as his owner used to hang out with us at the same dog park we would take Bean. We got Jack home and our cat, Bailey, who’d grown up with Bean and considered him like a father, had no problems at all with Jack until she spotted Bean right behind him; then of course she couldn’t get away fast enough, hissing displeasure the whole way.

It’s that way with myths and fairytales for me; I get so wrapped up in the idea that there must be a canonical version that I can’t believe that there might be room for another interpretation. It wasn’t until recently, for instance, that I realized that our modem view of Hercules is a composite of both Greek (who contributed most of the plot — ancestry, madness, and labors) and Roman (wholesale adoption through geographical locations) traditions. It’s not easy to swallow a Disney version of Hercules as some kind of cross between Superman and folk hero.

Yet if you allow for interpretation and literary license, the story isn’t so bad on its own. Had I kept my unreasoning distaste for anything but the most original forms of myths I’d never have enjoyed TH White’s view of King Arthur, say, nor Roger Green’s Robin Hood. We bring our own set of assumptions and cultural views when we tell stories, and it should be the talent of the storyteller, not the slavish adherence to source, that should make the difference.


Live Without

5 August 2010

Dear J-

Sorry; lately it’s been all about work, whether the job or the secondary effort to achieve a professional engineer’s license. I’m only going to mention this — if I had to drive every day there would be no chance that I would get any studying done, as the last three days I’ve driven the vanpool and, not so coincidentally, I haven’t cracked the books once in that time frame either. I say I’ve got better things to do but what it’s really telling me is that I have better things than TV: we watch a little with figgy in the evenings and then it stands around like a mute glass monolith.

Living in Berkeley and then Cambridge you have no idea the number of “Kill your TV” bumper stickers I used to see, and their smug sanctimony always drove me nuts, much like the exercise snobs and granola preachers. “Adopt our lifestyle, or else you’re a terrible person.” Once it’s over I’m sure that I’ll be back in front watching pixels dance, but I’m just always surprised what I can live with and without, given the need. There are literal piles all over the house, of books, of magazines, of electronics, all of which I haven’t touched in years and yet I keep them around just in case.

I recognize all the classic signs of hoarding. I’ve mentioned it before, but that just in case is a pretty insidious one, and it dates back to some of my earliest memories. I would pick up little bits of metal off the ground not because I needed them but because I might need them later; a couple of weeks ago we were walking by the Zoo and there were complete sets of bolts, nuts, and washers strewn about (I’m still thinking about going back, that’s how deep this goes) on the ground. I stooped to pick them up and then I saw figgy doing the same, so I stopped. Habits can be broken; traits need not be encouraged.


Fast Times

1 May 2010

Dear J-

At times I veer wildly into excess; after watching The King & I, for instance, I went and got a giant box set of the Rodgers and Hammerstein oevure, none of which I’ve watched since (Oklahoma! is waiting for me, as is Flower Drum Song). And as figgy sings little snatches of songs from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (“Toot Sweets” always gets an echo), I’m eyeing the Sherman Brothers next. As it turns out, they’re also responsible for Mary Poppins and, more significantly for me, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

B&B is one of those movies I used to watch all the time as a kid, but somehow none of it sank in; because we used to tune into the Disney presentation Sunday nights on ABC, which they saved for their B-list (Earth Star Voyager, anyone?), We tended to watch the same films over and over. I remember the climax with empty suits of armor marching through the fields, but how or why they got there, I’m not sure. And yet that’s the way that most movies were for me those days: scenes like hurried phrases, like chorus lines without context.

It’s hard to know what’s going to sink in over the next few years; I am amazed by what she parrots back at times (we picked up a book in the store — Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? — because she recited the whole story to us; I suspect that she had been exposed to it at school). We’re privileged enough to watch it happen, though, and it’s been a blast so far.


Time Shift

17 April 2010

Dear J-

Saturdays move in slow motion some weeks and today was no exception: nothing accomplished, no great memories, right? Truth is that life drains away as we sit in front of the TV (at the moment, CBS is showing something called Saturday Night Strikeforce, which appears to be brought to you by the same people who kept pumping out Jean-Claude Van Damne movies well after their sell-past date expired — the audience looks more ripped-off than interested), and we had a long stint today.

What else are you supposed to do when resting and getting over a cold? The more movies we show to her, the less likely she seems to pay attention to any one in particular, although she was fascinated by the dragon in Sleeping Beauty; I remember being quite intimidated when I was little, although not to the same degree of trauma that I felt when Augustus Gloop got sucked up the pipe.

If you’re just marking off time in order to get through the day, perhaps it’s time for a change instead.


Wedding Vignettes

13 September 2009

Dear J-

Big Wedding

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The bride’s brother (both my cousins) confided their family represented perhaps the alpha and omega of wedding sizes; his wedding last year had sixteen guests, and the wedding today had three hundred and forty. You could almost call it the perfect confluence of My Big Fat Armenian Wedding (groom’s side, inviting family, friends, and distant acquaintances) and my giant family (where just inviting all the cousins means adding fifty hungry mouths to the guest list). At least this time none of the prospective spouses were daunted by the overwhelming family size.

Big Babies

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Seriously, what’s up with the wacky size distribution? All the other kids we know besides figgy are either zeroth percentile teeny tots or (as we found out today) ninety-fifth percentile monsters. After doing some clothes shopping based on ages for the other kids, we were warned that it was good we got a gift receipt; several of figgy’s cousins, despite trailing her by twelve months, were just as big. Maybe we’re not feeding her enough, or maybe we need to discontinue the whole notion of a baseline.

Food Service

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Dinner was good — we’re big fans of Mediterranean food — but I’ve never been to a reception where a seemingly endless array of appetizers stretches out on your table. We all sat around for a good half hour before digging in, as no one wanted to be the first to start eating, especially on the absence of the bride and groom.

Restroom Pervert

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Towards the end of the night we had to change figgy; after scouting it out, theVet beckoned me in to the ladies’ room to help. But immediately after I walked in, she went into a stall for some toilet paper, leaving me alone, wiping a half-naked figgy on the counter as some other guests arrived to give me the stink-eye before they also disappeared into their own stalls. Great, just what I needed right after being that guy who ruined the first dance by letting figgy nearly escape onto the dance floor (in restraining her, she let out a tremendous yell).


Hour of Life

9 March 2009

Dear J-

Under the sky, tree branches spread their fingers towards the sun; I note with limited approval that the wildflowers are back from last year — pleasant on the eyes, murder on the sinuses.  My attention is once again arrested as I blink the pollen back:  “I don’t want to leave, you know.”

It feels like we’re heading into the clouds and fog again; the trees audibly droop in sympathy as the sun vanishes behind more fragments of our watery planet.  For someone who runs around like mad, finding projects to be involved in, issues to iron out, it must be maddening to be stuck in transition, winding down here and preparing to jump there.  I have to remind myself that when we’ve got careers, we’ve also got work lives that fail to intersect with our personal lives.  The separation of church and state has nothing on work and life;  either we erect impenetrable walls or we commingle those waters in endless swirls.

How far must we travel to understand where we are?  Where does ambition fit into our lives?  How much more do we give to work when we could be saving that energy for home?  The real benefit of Daylight Savings Time is the hour of life you reclaim after work; when does running away become embracing those cold company arms?  And if going is untenable, but staying is stagnating, how do you make that call?  Brave souls make bold choices; we define our world with the people we choose to share our lives with.


Reasonable Good

21 July 2008

Dear J-

I should get to the pickup spot earlier so that all the good thoughts percolating around my head while bicycling in the dark aren’t lost in the hours of work yet to come.  Meanwhile, I keep repeating the same stories over and over again and hope that some of what I say sinks in, even though repetition does nothing but put folks to sleep, myself included.  No matter; the sun is out and the weather nicely mild, if a bit muggy.

They’ve given us extensive customization capabilities — not only can we add our favorite or most-used transactions to a personal menu, a lot of the search fields can be prepopulated, and the results can be modified to add or remove columns s you see fit.  All this under the guise of making the software more powerful leads me to believe that the software developer doesn’t bother to listen to customers during development.

Yes, undeniably, it gives you tremendous freedom of choice.  On the other hand, so does, say, picking out the oil you want to use when changing the oil in your car yourself.  Choice means more work on the part of the consumer, and call me lazy, but isn’t it more difficult to learn using someone else’s personal defaults?  And besides which, as computers are supposed to make our work easier, why do I have to do more to get what I need exactly?  It just feels like there’s a lot of programmers coding unneeded features onto a program for the sake of evolving it (see also Microsoft Word, which I stopped using circa 1994 or so).  There’s gotta be an easier way to justify existence without inflicting great harm on the userbase.


Cold Water on Your Back

5 November 2006

I must have really been homesick those two years in Boston. That’s all I can excuse myself for.


All the same, I really enjoyed grade school. You got crayons, glue, pencils, and a notebook in September. You listened to stories after lunch. You wondered what was on top of the roof, over the fire escape, past the fences, behind the bushes, under the slides, inside the teacher’s lounge. I personally had a huge fear of being in the sunlight with the bloodstones present. As my friend described it, it would suck the blood right out of your body, much as lab reports and midterms were to do in a few years.


Library Memories

5 November 2006

More of the same … story # 3.


I read a lot, as a result. I knew the librarians better than I knew my classmates. I was bowled over, in fact, to learn that books were free in the library, where you could sit and learn as much as you’d like, never mind that the teachers were being paid to teach you.