Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Noises Off!

When did noise become an accepted component of dining out? Or attending a wedding? Or enjoying a couple of Marzan Lagers at the local brew pub? 

Why has the murmur of conversation morphed into the agitated shout-speak of college kids at a frat party?

One reason is the prevailing fashions in architecture and interior design. The acres of glass, cement and corrugated metal we encounter everywhere doesn't absorb sound—they bounce it back to us like a letter with insufficient postage.

Add blaring juke boxes, oversized Jenga games and public address systems set on 'stun' and we are writing a blank check for the next generation of audiologists.

But the rest of it? Not so simple.

Okay—I'll admit it. I'm old. But tell me why going out to dinner—even where the house band isn't named the Who or Deep Purple—requires ear plugs.

You know noise and digestion go together like beets and milk, right?

Eating dinner at a wedding reception demands that we withstand a barrage of DJ announcements—at least when he or she isn't overwhelming the room with music played twice as loud as it needs to be.

Even attending a low-key event like an outdoor car show requires protecting oneself from a public address system capable not only of overcoming the rustle of leaves in a soft breeze but of delivering inane announcements into the next zip code.

Even libraries have fallen prey to this pitiable trend.

I get it that to a younger generation requiring constant external stimuli to feel alive or even awake, noise is life. And this has been duly reinforced by our media. (One more variation of 'live out loud' and I'm going to scream.)

But ultimately, noise is a distraction. And I don't want to be distracted.

Not when I'm engaging in conversation over dinner with a friend. Not when I'm celebrating the union of a young couple. And not when I'm drinking in the splendor of a cream-colored 1952 Jaguar X-120.

Silence is resonant. Silence is reflection. Silence is a space pregnant with possibilities.

iPhones weren't invented at a wedding reception in between blasts of Kanye West and Taylor Swift. The Magna Carta wasn't conceived at Texas Roadhouse, with its shrieking toddlers and way-too-loud doses of Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum.

And I surely didn't write this shielding my ears from the over-caffeinated moron yelping over a PA powerful-enough to make Metallica smile.

Technology is a distraction, one which isolates us from the very world it purports to connect us with.

In our embrace of it, I only wonder what it is we are so desperately trying to distract ourselves from.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Falling Through the Cracks

There's just something about September.

The last month you didn't post was September of 2012. Excepting the month of your father's death, the last one prior to that which found you equally torpid was—surprise—September of 2011. 

You have struggled this September to post even three pieces, and one of those was a quote. Creativity and the approach of winter do not go hand in hand. 

Autumn is a pretty word for dying of the light, which itself is a pretty metaphor for the looming calendric cancer that neither William Shakespeare nor James M. Cain could improve upon.

There are, of course, other contributors to this Super PAC of sloth.

After three months of pestering HFS (the state agency that administers medicaid) to learn the status of your re-determination, they are finally able to inform you that you are above their income limit and are no longer eligible.

You didn't know you were capable of making too much money.

You review your lifestyle and smile ruefully at the tank of gas you paid cash for just last weekend. At the groceries you purchased yesterday. At the needless extravagance of your subscription to Car & Driver.

You wonder when Forbes begins compiling their annual list of the five-hundred wealthiest people in the world.

The cold, unblinking reality is that this is the result of a raise you received at work; a raise which will barely cover the cost of the insurance you are now required by the state to purchase.

Before the indignity of it hits you, you laugh.

It is, in a twenty-first century America kind of way, quite funny. It is the answer to the seemingly improbable question when is a raise not a raise?

Being possessed of a blinding genius, you inquire of your employer whether you fulfill their hazy and nebulous definition of full-time, since you have picked-up hours and now regularly work over thirty owing to their perpetual shortage of employees.

You do, on an hours-worked basis. But it isn't that simple.

In our business-friendly culture, your employer has been allowed to declare that since your route has not been designated a full-time one, you don't.

In other words, you could work forty hours a week until the Florida state legislature acknowledges climate change and you still wouldn't be considered a full-time employee. 

This is a manifestation of your worst fears; that your life is seemingly incapable of moving forward. 

You have maintained for years that employment is an alternate universe.

You, for better or worse, are the starship Enterprise.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sober Advice from a Brewmaster

“Getting rich is life’s big booby prize. If you have to choose between do you want to be happy or do you want to be rich and you pick rich, you’re a sociopath.”

Jim Koch, Samuel Adams Beer founder

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Choosing Targets

I'm no fan of hunting. Especially by guys with fat wallets and full stomachs. And yet, the case of Walter Palmer, the lion-killing dentist, bothers me.

Walter Palmer isn't a poacher. He's not Kim Davis. He paid lots of money and went through all the proper channels to arrange his safari. He did everything he could to ensure his trip fell within the boundaries of Zimbabwean law.

Not being a local, he couldn't have known his guides were something less than conscientious, and would stoop to luring the lion known as Cecil from a nature reserve with food, setting it (and Palmer) up for assassination.

Palmer isn't the first person to go to an exotic land and shoot an animal. He isn't the first to look at a magnificent creature and see only a trophy for the wall of his den, confirming to all the unquestionable masculinity of the inhabitant.

Which is why I feel the avalanche of protest generated by this event is all out of proportion to the event itself. It's like ostracizing someone because they received a speeding ticket.

However you—or I—feel about hunting, it's legal. The worst thing Palmer did was hire guides with a very casual relationship with the law. Singling him out and making him the poster boy for centuries of reckless and destructive big game hunting is wrong.

As our mothers told us, two wrongs don't make a right. Morality is not algebra.

Yes, I am disturbed by the wholesale habitat destruction and plunder wrought by China's newly wealthy population, a population which is roughly four times that of our own habitat-destroying and plundering one.

I can't look at a tiger, knowing its singular majesty is consigning it to extinction in the wild. I can't forget Tatiana, a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo who died a death as grotesque and unfair as Cecil's.

I am not unsympathetic to animals or the people who love them.

But in the wake of Palmer's prolonged vilification, I am tempted to say he is as big a victim as Cecil.

If it is the laws we hate, then we should change the laws. If it is the attitudes we hate, then we should change the attitudes. Let's redirect this avalanche of energy towards making hunting—if not illegal—a little less-attractive.

Let's spearhead a you're-not-what-you-kill movement. Make sure the only shooting we do of wildlife is with cameras.

If we want fair, we must first exhibit fairness.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Keeping a Lid on It

If you're a bona fide Cub fan, look before you leap was tattooed on your chest at birth. Scarred by years of championshiplessness and near-misses, buoyant emotions like joy escape from you with the frequency that inmates do from a Federal supermax prison.

You aren't given to throwing caution to the wind and cavalierly expressing elation merely because it's May and your team is in first place. No, you have learned to conserve your feelings the way a miser does their money.

Between opening day and the All-Star break, you raise taciturn to a level that is the envy of every Scandinavian nation on earth. You have a stiff upper lip that makes Viagra jealous. If you were any more reserved you'd be a table in a popular restaurant.

You—of all people—know the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, and that premature displays of emotion only worsen the fall when the inevitable occurs in the latter stages of it.

No sir.

Talk to me in September.

Fast-forward to September. The Chicago Cubs are playing at a 92-win clip and are steaming towards a post-season appearance. And after months of silence, you're ready to blog about it from the rooftops.

There's no chance of overtaking the mighty St. Louis Cardinals for the division title, but the Pittsburgh Pirates' hold on the lead wild-card slot appears vulnerable. And after the arid, desert-like desolation of the past several seasons, any cup of water is a good cup of water.

Even if it's only to play the role of speed bump for the eventual National League pennant winner.

The pitching is still a little thin, but the hitting is stellar and more importantly, timely. The defense is improving, and if they could just get a decent pitcher in exchange for the habitually inattentive Starlin Castro, they could really be something.

Of course, as evidenced by your predictions for last season's Bulls (who died a coward's death against the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semis), prognosticating isn't really your ken.

With the numeric certainty promised by the calender that 2015 is not 2003, anything could happen. And with the Chicago Cubs, anything usually does. The horrors of 1969 and 1984 and 2003 are not as far away as our calculators would have us believe.

October is a portal to failure. A razor-lined pothole set to deflate whatever sort of roll the earnest and wide-eyed Cubs happen to be on. October is a film noir-inspired femme fatale, luring the feckless Cubs to their doom.

But if a half-century of Cub fandom has taught you anything, it's to enjoy the moment. Free of expectation.

The Cubs won yesterday. Life is beautiful.

You hope.