It's only mine because it holds my suitcase.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Your Regularly Scheduled Program

I accidentally watched the ABC local news a few days ago. Okay, I watched in on purpose, mostly because I haven’t seen a local news program from a national network in several years. Now I remember why. The ‘local’ part of the local news was a cop who shot a crook at a local Burger King. That never happens. Must be news. Then there was the teen who was not allowed to graduate because he’s allegedly hacked a teacher’s password and changed his grades*. On to California news: Michael Jackson may or may not be a perv. National news. A very white woman is missing in Aruba, and another in Alabama. After the break: the common household item that can kill your child.


If I were to ask you whether you preferred ignorance over enlightenment, what would you say? Does anybody really want to be ignorant? Do we desire to be uninformed mushrooms? I’m guessing the answer is ‘no’. Yet for all intents and purposes, network news is just another mindless reality show. Even the dedicated cable news networks hardly go beyond the drivel we see on nightly news. If we’re lucky we get to watch the premeditated propaganda of our administration delivered through that puppet guy they taught to talk four years ago, and maybe, if it’s a good day, we get five minutes of foreign news.

Pop quiz:
What’s going on in Bolivia right now?

If you answered ‘Who cares?’, then congratulations, you’re an American. Before true democracy, those who led were generally educated. They may not always have had what’s best for their people at heart, but what’s changed there? Now, we have a true democracy where half of the eligible population doesn’t bother to vote and the other half treat the entire procedure as a ‘Who gets kicked off the island?’ show. Dial 1-800-UR2-DUMB to vote. Even those who attempt to form an educated opinion before casting their vote do not have any useful resources at their disposal. Choosing between democrats and republicans is like choosing between Bud and Miller. Pithy TV commercial bounce back and forth, accusing and distracting, while the candidates themselves base their platforms on what they believe will draw the most voters, and their policy on what they believe will put themselves and their cronies, powerbrokers, corporate supporters, and demagogues ahead in life. Born again christians battle Vietnam heroes for the privilege of screwing the population for the next four years. Can somebody explain to me why we let this happen? Are we so comfortable in our mortgaged houses, our 48-hour a week jobs, and our the bank’s cars that we are willing to simply let our democracy be run as if it were a taste test between Pepsi and brand X? I guess so.

Demagoguery and jingoism have historically been prime tools a government used to keep its populace in step, and I guess that may never change. But when I think about the great Democratic experiment that the founders of our country envisioned when they composed the constitution, and I compare it with the sorry mess we’ve become mired in, I can’t help wondering whether ‘We, the People’ will ever actually mean we, the people.

*Hacking: verb. The act of copping a look at a piece of paper kept in a drawer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Post in Anger

A pittoresque cu-de-sac in southern San Francisco. A tree lined street with a small but verdant park at the end, lined with jaunty, brightly colored houses; the end of a voyage of nigh epic proportions. The reward; a new car which I covet, a convertible Tracker; in my admittedly somewhat nonstandard mindset the closest thing to sex that four wheels and half a ton of metal can hope to represent. Bryan (name not changed to protect anybody), after coming up with excuse after excuse for the better part of a week, has finally graced me with an audience. The problem is that he’s not there, nor is the object of my affection. Three hours my trip has lasted, and then some, through dangers both vivid and imaginary, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is nowhere in sight. Time to grab the phone.

Bryan, it turns out, is a singer. And not just any singer, he is a singer in the illustrious San Francisco Opera, and has recently embarked on a new series of performances which consume entirely all of the time he could otherwise have utilized quite productively selling the car he was only last week so eager to offload. It is revealed to me that the poor unfortunate’s great uncle, twice removed no doubt, has also passed away last night, although it is unclear to me how this information pertains to my attempts to acquire a vehicle from the wayward opera singer. Finally, the cat comes out of the bag. Bryan has sold the car, the object of my desire, to a dealer, just last night. It bears noting at this point that there was only recently no possible way Bryan could be available to facilitate such a transaction on that day, bearing in mind his busy schedule of perfecting his tremolo and burying his sadly departed distant relatives. Apologies are profuse, but they are the gourmet of the car buying process. Perforated crackers of communication, the starch and salt of commerce; they have no meaning. Mere punctuation in the sentence of my misery.

A dilapidated dead end road in San Francisco’s armpit. An overgrown alley that terminates in a weed infested field of rocks and rusty playground equipment encroached by garishly colored wooden houses, hardly more than shanties. My dream of motorized mobility shattered, I wander aimlessly for a while, hoping that around the next corner I shall find a vehicle that meets my needs, adorned with that magical ‘for sale’ sign. I feel like a hideously disfigured Johnnie in Amsterdam’s red light district, looking for the whore who not only enchants, but will also stoop so low as to accept my business. Eventually, my needs unfulfilled, I sulk off to the train, a broken and unsatisfied man. My only hope of redemption is the slim chance that one day I shall encounter, perhaps wandering the streets, perhaps in a house of arts, an opera singer named Bryan, sadly bereft of distant family and distinctly not driving a convertible Geo Tracker, and that I may have occasion to kick him firmly in the nuts.

Sunday, May 1, 2005

And the Nomination Goes to

I would like, if I may, to coin the phrase ‘grammatical inflation’. And since I’m coining the phrase, I suppose I’ll also define it. Grammatical inflation is the devaluation of individual words due to inappropriate overuse. For example, I am holding in my hands as we speak a box of ‘Sunny Select Original Gourmet Crackers’, which I purchased because they seemed the most basic crackers in the entire cracker aisle.

The word ‘gourmet’, according to, my new favourite dictionary, is a noun that describes a person who enjoys fine food. A more appropriate term would be ‘gourmand’. Gourmet as an adjective is not defined in any dictionary I have at hand, but since I’m pretty sure that these crackers are not made from, nor contain any part of, a person who enjoys fine food, I’ll assume that, in this context, the word is used as an adjective meant to describe fine food.

Let me now describe these crackers. They are packed in cardboard and plastic, the only natural ingredients listed on the box are flour, oil, sugar, and salt, and they are perforated so that each wafer breaks into four separate crackers. This may be an egregious example of an incredibly bland product, but the concept that the word gourmet no longer has any discernible meaning is well illustrated. I’d like to go out on a limb and postulate that any foodstuff that has perforations would not be considered by anybody in his right mind to be a gourmet product.

Hence, my nomination for most inflated word in the English language goes to the word gourmet. I considered nominating the word only, but ‘only’ is the Polish Zloty of the English language. Several million only’s will buy you a single peanut if you’re lucky. Pete mentioned recently that he worked in retail, and his shame is mine as well, for I too once worked in retail. The large chain we worked at offered a piece of software that was used to create price tags. The entire thing was configurable; you could enter a product description, subtitle, and price. The only thing that was immutable was the presence of the word only
in front of every single price. That video cable? Only twenty dollars. A camera battery? Only fourteen. Only’s hardly a word any more. It’s a form of punctuation. Sadly I feel that allowing only to compete in my little election would be unfair to words that are actually words.