(I bedo, you bedo, we all bedo for albedo!
Okay, probably we don’t. But if you want to see what all(-bedo) the fuss is about, hop over to Secondhand SCIENCE for this week’s lowdown. It’ll brighten your day. You can (al-)bet on it.)
I don’t believe in absolutes.
Unless saying I don’t believe in any absolutes is an absolute. Because then I couldn’t say that, because I wouldn’t believe it. How’s this:
I don’t believe in any absolutes I’ve heard of, but if some new absolute wandered by tomorrow, would I be flexible about it? Absolutely.
That seems better. Will not fit on a T-shirt. But better.
I know a lot of people feel differently. They believe in Right-with-a-capital-R, Truth-with-a-capital-T and assorted other Big-Important-Tremendously-Cosmic-Hypotheses-with-a-capital-B-I-T-C-H.
Me? I don’t see it.
But two plus two, a mathematician might protest, looking smug. Two plus two is Always — that’s capital-Always — four. You can’t argue math. It’s always true. Absolutely.
Except really, it isn’t. Math is an abstraction, a model that perfectly explains a perfect existence in a perfect vacuum. Not our existence, which is a messy tumble through a goopy universe full of weirdness and fraught with Kardashians. Math starts breaking down when circles aren’t absolutely perfect; you really think it can handle this shitshow we’re soaking in? No.
“To say, absolutely, that two plus two is immutably four, you have to ignore certain factors of everyday life. Like, all of them. Time. Temperature. Tony Danza fans.”
The problem with math is what it leaves out. To say, absolutely, that two plus two is immutably four, you have to ignore certain factors of everyday life. Like, all of them. Time. Temperature. Tony Danza fans. So while “2 + 2″ is, on paper, always equal to “4”, that doesn’t always translate into the real world. For instance:
Two ice cubes plus two ice cubes in a word problem equals four ice cubes. Two ice cubes plus two ice cubes in a volcano equals no ice cubes, and probably a severe need for aloe vera.
Two bunnies plus two bunnies on paper gives you four bunnies. With a bit of time, two bunnies plus two bunnies in the real world gives you enough furballs to reenact the Tribbles episode from the original Star Trek.
(Note: This apparently also works with Tony Danza fans. Please don’t try this at home.)
What I’m saying is, context is important. The whole point of math is to strip away context completely and think about numbers; but in everyday life, we can’t do that. Context is like taxes, or death, or 2016 presidential candidates. You can’t escape it forever.
Other people appeal to some higher authority for their capital-A Absolutes. But really, are the “absolutes” in things like religion really that absolute to begin with?
Take the old “thou shalt not kill” rule. It makes sense. Nobody’s arguing it as a general guideline. But even in the book it comes from, there seem to be exceptions. Thou shalt not kill, except you can stone somebody who doesn’t follow the rules. Or thou shalt not kill, unless Goliath gets his chocolate in your peanut butter, or your peanut butter winds up on his fun-sized chocolate.
(Full disclosure: I haven’t really read the Bible since I was a kid, so it’s possible I’m getting the details mixed up with commercials that ran between Saturday morning cartoons. If Hershey’s chocolate company doesn’t actually sponsor the Old Testament, then sorry about that. But you get the gist.
Also, if it isn’t, then that’s totally an opportunity missed. If Ahab who begat Moab who begat Jeremiah had begat Almond Joy, the Nazareth nut-lover’s treat, it would’ve broken up the monotony a little. I’m just saying.)
Some might counter that all those funky rules and nearly-mostly-all-the-time “rules” changed, back when Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed or possibly Tony Danza showed up to set things straight. And that’s cool, sure. But there’s still the time factor. You’re basically saying:
We have rules that are capital-A-Absolute and immutable, starting… now.
Oh, no, wait. I forgot. There’s this other delicious animal nobody should eat, for some reason. Okay, starting… NOW. Absolutes!
Yeah. Seems legit.
Maybe there are Absolutes out there somewhere. Truthy Truths that no one can question, someone who’s so reliably Right you can set your atomic clock and your moral compass by them, and Beauty that would make every man, woman, child, dog, petunia, tree moss and nine-legged aquasaurus from Tau Ceti weep in awe. I’d like to think I’d know one of those when I saw it. But I haven’t yet.
And before you ask, fan clubbers: yes, that includes Tony Danza. Jesus. You people need a new hobby.Permalink | No Comments
(Hey, science fans. All Pluto’d out yet?
Some people believe in omens.
I’m not one of those people. Sure, I believe in The Omen, insofar as I’m pretty sure a movie with that name exists. Maybe even a sequel — which I would assume is named The Omen II: Electric Omenloo. But as for actual omens, portending doom or luck or plagues of Elvis impersonators — nah. I don’t see it.
Which is a good thing. Because sometimes things happen that I could interpret as omens, were I so inclined. And they’re never good. Like the one last week.
I do a fair bit of collaborative writing with my friend Jenn.
(That’s not the “omen” part. That’s just the “background” bit. Keep going.)
Most of this collaboration comes in the form of an activity we call “drinkstorming”, a key and integral part of the process of getting a script together. Any process that comes in a pint glass, I can get behind.
Anyway, we finished a script a few days ago, which happened to be for a one-act play contest. This particular contest doesn’t accept online submissions — because it’s located in 1994, apparently — so I licked a copy of the script (the “GOLD, JERRY, GOLD! script) into an envelope and hoofed it down the block to my local post office.
Or Pony Express outpost, or Morse code relay station or carrier turtle holding pen. Whatever archaic technology the Luddites are using to snail information around the world these days. Maybe the place just puts lanterns in the window; one if by Amazon, two if the new Restoration Hardware catalog is in. I don’t know.
“After a short wait in line, I reached the counter and the Deskjobmaster General, or whatever it is he’s called.”
After a short wait in line, I reached the counter and the Deskjobmaster General, or whatever it is he’s called. He was a friendly older guy in absolutely no hurry — which was great, because if he was, his USPS-issued Apple Lisa-era personal computumotronic device would have sucked the “hurry” right out of him.
He didn’t seem to mind. And I was just happy not to get the “postal” flavor of postal worker. So we were cool.
When his computer’s hamsters finally ran through the numbers, he told me the price for the package — a little over three bucks — and I pulled out a tenner and paid him. He opened his drawer to make change — no, not his drawers, you pervert, jesus — and then he turned pale. Very pale. Like, as pale as I’d have turned if he’d pulled my change out of his drawers. Then he turned to me, all ashen-faced and crinkly-browed and said:
“Your change… is six sixty-six.”
This number concerns me not at all. I know what it’s associated with, yes. The horns and the forked tail and the violin-playing robot guy — all the stuff from the pamphlets the crazy “END IS NIGH” guys pass out on the sidewalk. I know. I don’t care.
Also, I know if it were an omen, it would just be the universe razzing me about my writing talent, or lack thereof.
(And considering the script in that envelope centered around a frustrated doofus romantically involved with his fitness tracker, I’m not sure I could adequately refute the universe’s mockery.
Well. Not in writing, apparently, anyway.)
So I smiled at mortified mailman guy, held out my hand and said, “Great, thanks!”
He wasn’t quite done looking horrified, but he dug out the money and handed over the Spare Change of the Beast, regardless. And he looked at my package with a new sense of “just what the hell is in that thing, anyway, mister?”
I thought about joking with my new Beelzebuddy over the situation. Maybe a “hey, keep that away from any flammable letters” or “don’t take any wooden brimstones, pal“. But I didn’t. He didn’t really seem in the mood.
And also, “postal” worker. There’s always the chance, right?
So I took my cursed cash, and wandered down the street for lunch where I combined it with a couple of presumably less-unholy dollars to buy a burrito that was only mostly damned. Mostly damned tasty.
And I have no doubt that our script — unholy as it definitely is — made its way uneventfully to its destination, without causing any gnashing of teeth or self-flagellation or plagues of carrier turtles poxing anyone’s doorstep.
Which is not to say that script will necessarily get into the contest. Oh my word, no. But that’s solely at the feet of our ability to tell an entertaining dick joke involving a wristband computer in five pages or less. As opposed to some sort of demonic literary critiquing force bedeviling the manuscript.
I can do that all by myself.
Just ask the universe.Permalink | No Comments
This week, Major League baseball pauses their season for a thing they call the “All-Star break”. This is where all the teams stop playing for three days, save for a handful of high-performing individuals, who get together to schmooze and strut and play an exhibition.
This is because baseball is a game, and the reward for playing a game well is playing an extra game in front of an awful lot of rich, drunk people. And good for them, I guess.
The players, not the rich people.
Well, okay. Not the rich people in the stands. The other rich people.
Anyway. This All-Star break got me thinking: why don’t we do something like it for regular jobs? Why not have an All-Star break at the office? Except, make it almost entirely the complete opposite.
My humble proposal for a corporate All-Star extravaganza:
Step One: Decide who the All-Stars are.
In baseball, this is accomplished by asking regular fans — generally less rich, but at least as drunk as All-Star fans — who they think is best. In baseball, that’s a terrible idea; most fans think only their team’s players are good, and the rest only know who they saw on the cover of Madden.
“The rest aren’t very bright, frankly.”
That’s right, the rest don’t know the difference between baseball and football. The rest aren’t very bright, frankly.
For business All-Stars, though, it’s a great idea. Don’t ask the bosses. A lot of bosses think the people doing the best work are a lot of bosses. You need to dig down to find the real scoop. Ask the mailroom clerks. The cubicle jockeys. The elevator button polishers.
Yes, a lot of them will vote for themselves, too. But some won’t, so you take whoever else they pick. Does it matter, really? Are we reinventing democracy here, or what? No. Move on.
Step Two: Schedule an All-Star break.
Baseball has this bit all wrong — the middle of July is an awful time to throw a celebration. If you do it inside, everybody will see the sun shining and want to be outside. If it’s outside, everyone’s sunburned foreheads and pools of ass sweat will make them remember why humans invented inside in the first place. You can’t win.
Also, you don’t want to schedule over winter holidays, because people seem pretty attached to those, and anyway there might be three feet of snow on the ground in December, and that’s no good.
Fall’s okay, but it’s back to school season, so the office workers with kids will be celebrating getting the squirts out of the house for eight hours a day, and your precious little “All-Star” nonsense will pale in comparison.
Ergo, the perfect time for an office All-Star break is mid-March, specifically the three weekdays immediately following St. Patrick’s Day. Why does that matter? Because of:
Step Three: Reward your All-Stars.
Work is no game. So you don’t make your All-Stars do more of it, while everyone else sits on their asses to watch. Instead, you do the opposite.
Meaning, those three days in March are regular work days for everyone besides the All-Star crew. The schlubs who don’t make the grade have to schlep themselves in like usual, clock in, cry under their desk for eight hours and clock out. Same as always.
So what do the All-Stars do?
Whatever the hell they want. Could they come to the office, get drunk and watch everybody else doing their work? Sure, if they’re deranged. But they’re All-Stars, so they’re probably not. Instead, they’ll probably sleep late. Drag St. Paddy’s Day into a full week of fun. Write a book. Cook paella. I’m probably a schlub; how the hell would I know what these people want to do?
The point is, they can spend their All-Star break however they like. Maybe, if everyone adopts this totally reasonable, practical and handsome plan, they can even hang out together. All the world’s corporate All-Stars, partying in the streets, while the rest of the world drudges through half a week of work. It’s beautiful.
Is it better than baseball’s? Absolutely. Is it a good incentive? You betcha. Would most people be motivated to work harder for fifty-one weeks during the year for a shot at partying the hell down in the fifty-second? Yes.
No, I know. The math doesn’t make sense. But some of these are still the people who think Odell Beckham Jr. plays third base for the Orioles. Don’t overthink this. They sure as hell won’t.
Personally, I’m a big fan. My only beef with this outstanding plan — other than no one adopting it, discussing it or even reading this far along to learn about it — is that March is still eight months away right now.
And also, I probably wouldn’t be an All-Star. And now I really want to play the new Madden.
Anyway, enjoy the baseball hiatus thingy next week. It’s not the All-Star break we deserve. But it appears to be the only All-Star break anyone particularly wants.
Maybe I can work a home run derby into the office thing. Would that help? Anyone?Permalink | No Comments
(Hey, it’s scientificatious time.
That’s a real science term. In an alternate universe, probably. You don’t know.
I think we need a rule. When a pizza joint is thinking of going out of business, it should have do a check first. I’m not sure what that would be. Maybe a poll on the menu, or flyers on local windshields. A Craigslist about-to-be-missed connection, perhaps.
We can sort out the details. The important thing is, a pizza joint considering shuttering their ovens should first check with its customers to ask:
“Are we your go-to pizza?”
Because if they are, for anybody out there, then I say the place can’t close. It’s just too traumatic finding another pizza you like. No one should have to endure that.
As you may have guessed, I’m going through that particular loss right now. And it’s heartbreaking. Or stomachbreaking. Organs of some kind are definitely breaking over here.
For years, I’ve been ordering the same pizza. We had a long-term, stable relationship. And while we weren’t completely exclusive — I dated outside the pizzeria occasionally, and she was right there on the menu for anyone to see — we knew we’d be there for each other. Week after week, year after year.
Until she wasn’t.
Six months ago, my one, my true, my cheesemate, went away — along with her whole menu. I went looking for dinner one Sunday and it was all gone, without so much as a “ya want breadsticks with that?”
I learned later that the restaurant had shut down — but there was no warning. No last-minute vigil I could’ve joined. No desperate fundraiser, or grassroots petition to sign. Not even a pepperoni auction, so we could keep some small part of our favorite pies close to our heart.
Or, again, some other nearby organ.
“Gradually, I went through the five phases of favorite pizza loss.”
None of that happened. One week the place was there, delivering piping hot and delicious, and the next week it wasn’t. Just a hole in the internet where the menu used to be, and the nagging guilty questions. What could I have done to save them? Could I have eaten more? Should I have moved closer, to save them some gas? Were their margins on black olives too tight?
I could have lived without the olives! Why didn’t you tell me? Come back, pizzeria people!
Gradually, I went through the five phases of favorite pizza loss. Anger. Bargaining. Cheese withdrawal. Disastrous attempt to recreate pizza at home. And finally, acceptance. That pie was dead, may it rest in cheese. Ashes to ashes, and crust to crust.
Which means, I need a new favorite pizza. And that’s a whole other pain in the pepperonis.
Not that we lack for options around here. There must be thirty or more pizza pushers in the neighborhood, willing to deliver their versions of “pizza perfection” to my door. Thin crust to Chicago style, traditional to California, red-sauced, white-sauced, wood-grilled and hand-tossed. You name it, I can probably order it.
But none of them are quite the right fit.
I’ve searched high and low for another pizza match, with no luck. Oh, sure, early on I had a “rebound pizza” a couple of times. I told myself it was just as good, equally saucy and spicy in just the way I liked. But deep-dish down, I knew it was a lie. I just needed something to get me back on the pizza horse. We went our separate ways after a couple of weeks, no hard feelings. Or soggy crusts.
Since then, it’s been a parade of one-night pies. And I don’t want to bad-mouth anyone — I’m sure they’re all very nice pizzas. They’ll make some hungry couch potato very happy someday. But none of them were right for me. Whether too thin, or overly sweet, burnt or late or piled high with onions — lord, what is it with the onions; I’d like a few, not the entire Vidalia output from the past three months — nothing’s quite been a “keeper”.
I keep hoping. But I’m running out of places to try. If “the one” is out there, I fear its pimply delivery teens might not stretch to my neighborhood. I don’t know what I’ll do then. Drive to pizza? Nah. Move to a new pizza neighborhood? Probably not; I’ve been hurt before. Convert to bruschetta? Whoa, let’s not get crazy here.
I still don’t know why my beloved pizza had to leave me. Hence the rule that would make anyone’s “go-to” pizzeria stay in business. But I know that won’t really fix anything. That’s not how love works.
I guess if you truly love a pizza, you have to set it free. And if it never comes back to you… well, there’s always that Chinese place down the street that serves a mean kung pao chicken. Don’t judge me. A man’s gotta eat.Permalink | No Comments
(Set your radar for science, peeps. Secondhand SCIENCE, as usual.
This week’s wonderment involves the Doppler effect. It’s not just a tool for meteorologists or a shirt for Sheldon any more! Check it out.)
It’s weird what modern technology does to nostalgia. As in, tech kind of short-circuits it. At least, the kind I usually have.
I’m not the nostalgic sort, mostly. I don’t yearn for the “good old days”. I’ve never eagerly anticipated — nor attended, nor sorely missed — any reunions that I can remember. And if I can remember when candy cost a nickel and gas was a dollar and the kids kept their pants hiked over their whippersnapping knees, then I keep my damned mouth shut about it. Nobody cares. Least of all me.
“And if I can remember when candy cost a nickel and gas was a dollar and the kids kept their pants hiked over their whippersnapping knees, then I keep my damned mouth shut about it.”
It’s a little different with music. But not exactly the way it is with most boring old geezers who use words like “whippersnapping”. (I hope.)
See, I’m not some cane-waving caterpillar-eyebrowed relic who thinks “all this new music is crap”. Sure, some of it is crap. Okay, a lot of it is crap. But a lot of music has always been crap — or at least really, really lazy and mainstreamified and boring.
To me. That’s solely my opinion; your musicage may vary. If you happened to enjoy gyrating pelvises in the ’50s, bowl-cut Brits in the ’60s, boogieing lapels in the ’70s, vamping virgins in the ’80s, pouting plaidgasms in the ’90s and the autotuned rap-rockers reigning since, that’s peachy. Pop music wouldn’t be “pop” if it weren’t popular, so you’ve got a lot of tunes to choose from. Bully for you.
(Also, I went through a plaidgasm phase. I get it.)
My point is, I don’t think music is worse now than it used to be. I’m not sure it’s any better — those One Direction hobbits look a lot like the Backstreet Boys to me, which were basically NSYNC so far as I could tell, and they were a takeoff on New Kids on the Block, and weren’t they just basically Menudo North? Or the Monkees West?
(I’m just saying, if you’re going to put together a boy band, why not try something different? Take t.A.T.u., for instance. There was a boy band with just two members, instead of the usual four or more.
Also, they were Russian. And girls. And pretending to be lesbians.
Anyway, I do get nostalgic about certain music. I listen to “unpop” stuff now — Watcha Clan, Mike Doughty, Masaladosa, Jonathan Coulton, Midival Punditz, Beats Antique, DJ Click. Not exactly legends of mainstream radio, destined for elevator Musaking. Thankfully.
But my preference for fringe acts started back in my early teens, when music was one of the first “fringe” things I could get my hands on. Or ears. Youknowwhatimean.
I wouldn’t say the town where I grew up was culturally diverse, particularly. At least if it was, there weren’t many cultures diversing themselves onto me. I remember musical arguments among friends about whether Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd was better, or if Angus Young could kick Geddy Lee’s ass.
(Which, seriously, of course he could.
I mean, musically, I have no idea. But a Scot-Australian versus some gangly Canadian dude? That fight would look like Rhonda Rousey in the ring with Strawberry Shortcake. No contest.)
These debates didn’t concern me.
(They do now, because they date me old as hell. But that’s different.)
But the talk about music — and TV shows and sports and movies and video games — did make me uncomfortable. It felt like all of us, the handful of kids I knew in our sleepy flyover town, were essentially doing the same thing. We tuned in at the same times, all went to the same theater, picked one of the three radio stations, cheered for the local-ish teams and Kong’ed our Donkeys at the same arcade.
(Which was a place back in forever ago where cavemen and dinosaurs played together in public on oversized coin-operated Wiis. GIT OFFA MY LAWN!)
For whatever reason — personality quirk, social anxiety, bump on the noggin as an infant — all this sameness felt wrong to me. Too scripted, too predetermined, too easy. Why root for these guys when the other team has cooler uniforms? Why go after the Galaga high score, when I don’t much like the game? And why on earth listen to the same six bands they play on the radio station, when I’m not a fan of any of them?
So I didn’t. Gradually, I stopped doing all those things. I picked new favorite teams, based on how exciting they were on television. I started playing Xevious — which was totally more kick-ass than Galaga; I don’t know what people were even thinking. And I started listening to college radio.
That last one was the kicker. The arcade closed at 8 and sports are seasonal, but I could listen to music — glorious, oddball, weirdo music — any time I wanted. And I did. I fell in love with barely-heard bands like Not Shakespeare, the Spoons, Screaming Blue Messiahs, the Del-Lords and the Waxing Poetics. I caught snippets of bands tearing up elsewhere — like Husker Du, Robyn Hitchcock, Throwing Muses and X — that weren’t likely to visit my town, short of a lost bar bet or a wheel falling off their tour bus on our four-exit stretch of interstate.
Those songs let me glimpse a different world — really, dozens of different worlds — and I latched tighter onto the music than maybe, honestly, some of the music had a right to be latched onto.
(That’s the only way I can explain owning a Figures on a Beach album. That, or a lost bar bet. Take your pick.)
I’ve carried that fondness for unusual ’80s bands — very specific unusual ’80s bands; heaven knows I’m not looking for Weird Al bootlegs — with me ever since. And occasionally, the nostalgia will hit and I’ll go off in search of a song or album that I loved at the time, but could never find to buy.
This has happened many times over the years, and in the past it’s been an enormous pain in the ass. Every search for some beloved old favorite ended in a nightmare. Early on, I’d comb through every thumb-grubbed LP and CD in a local record store (when they existed), and usually come up empty. When I did find treasure, it was often on vinyl, because that’s all the band ever put out, which meant I’d have to convert it somehow to hear the damned thing anywhere away from a turntable. Which I didn’t own for most of those years because I’m not a DJ or my grandfather, so I couldn’t hear some of the finds at all.
Usually, I’d spend months tracking something down. I’d comb the backwaters of the internet (once it existed), searching out online catalogs of music stores all over the planet, hoping for a hit. Also, hoping the exchange rate into pounds or pesos or Papua New Guinean kinas wasn’t so high as to nix the deal. I wanted music, not math. But I was desperate.
I scored a few successes, but always with considerable time and effort. There were plenty of long hours to savor the search, the hunt, the nostalgia of the enterprise. It felt meaningful, if only to me, to track down a Frontier Theory EP, say, and finally hear a song that was first revealed via an old boom box in my bedroom thirty-odd years ago.
And also to hear it at roughly the same quality as through that shitty old boom box speaker, because my vinyl-to-digital transfer skills are terrible. A lot of the stuff I found and cherished and lovingly converted over sounded like it was being played through the mouth of a dead cat, with the band shoved up its butt. Not ideal for a music fan.
Or for that matter, a cat.
It’s been a few years since the “music search mood” has struck, but this week I went looking again. I made a list of a few albums I wish I had, or wish were in digital form that was actually listenable, and not ninety percent whalesong and white noise. I brought my list to the computer, and set off on an odyssey I knew would require patience, perseverance and probably a pallet of Pepsi. The journey began…
And within an hour, I had four albums.
Three were on Amazon, of all places. And the fourth on some music blogger’s out-of-print download site. These were songs I’d scoured the virtual globe for, just a few years ago. Nobody had them. Nearly nobody had heard of them, and then only ever on vinyl. Stores were out of stock. Ebay’d had e-bupkis. The shit was scarce, I’m telling you.
But other people are nostalgic, too, it seems. Old albums — and old, obscure albums, too — got reissued. Also remastered, digitally recombobulated, and sold as MP3s. Available on Spotify, too, and probably Pandora. But I wanted to see them on my hard drive, so I downloaded. It was a long time coming.
But not a long time searching. Or transferring. To be honest, the whole thing felt a little… easy.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled to hear this music again. Or to hear it better, and not as though I’m six miles from a speaker planted at the bottom of the ocean. But the nostalgia barely had time to kick in. Just as I was thinking how sweet it would be to find one of these… I found one. And another. And another. And another. I might as well have been shopping for tube socks:
“Thanks for your purchase! Would you like a limited edition Japanese-issue Beat Farmers bootleg with that?”
So it’s weird. It’s nice that I don’t have to “fight” to find this music any more, apparently. But I didn’t mind fighting a little. The struggle made it feel special, and gave me that thrill I remembered from hearing these oddball songs the first time around. Having them suddenly at my fingertips (or earlobes) seems somehow… wrong.
But I think I’ll get over it. Especially since I’m sitting on three hours or so of teen-hood soundtrack that I haven’t heard in decades. Turn up the volume and get the whippersnappers out of here; things are about to get a little weird and very old in here.Permalink | No Comments