Archive for December 2009

The role of the penis on public transportation

December 31, 2009

So, this morning I was taking the bus.  I often take the bus, because I don’t have a car.  In point of fact, I don’t even drive, but that’s a discussion for another day.  Even if I did have both a car and a license, though, I would have been using neither this morning, suffering as I was from the worst hangover I’ve had in years.  I’m actually not especially prone to hangovers in general, and as such this particular one might not have really been so terrible when judged by an objective standard.  But, to me, unfamiliar with hangovers, it felt pretty damned miserable.  And, yes, to anyone reading this who has noticed the date, I’m waking up with a hangover on December 31.  That seems like remarkably poor planning on my part, and is doubtless going to make me a wee bit subdued for the celebrations  tonight.

But, that’s all a tangent.  The important part is that I’m on a bus, and I’m in a foul mood.

Anyone who takes public transit regularly knows that the quality of your experience correlates directly with how good a day you’re having.  On a wonderful day, transit flies efficiently about and you get everywhere quickly and smelling like elegant French parfûm.  If you’re having a bad day, though, transit steps up to kick you while you’re down.

I was having a bad day.  From the title of this post, those familiar with public transit probably see where this is going.

At any rate, it’s late morning and I’m taking the bus to a university district that is basically closed for the holidays, so there are only a handful of people riding with me.  At some point, a shambly, somewhat ragged homeless fellow gets on.  I don’t really notice that he’s there (I’m not really feeling up to noticing much of anything), until I realise that the bus doesn’t smell quite as good as it used to, and this gentleman appears to be the cause.  But, you know, whatever.  Buses aren’t exactly private limousines, after all, and this guy wasn’t bothering anyone.  He was just maybe a bit over-ripe.

And then he starts talking to himself.  Again, whatever.  I’m not keen on it, but he seems to be having a relatively normal conversation.  If I couldn’t see otherwise, I’d just assume he was talking on the phone or into a headset or something.

Then he takes out his junk.

Yay.

“Oh, great,” I’m thinking.  “What day would be complete without both a pounding headache and vagrant cock?”  Of course, I don’t look directly at the exposed transient wang (you can be blinded that way), and in fact I pretty much don’t look anywhere near that section of the bus.  I notice the other passengers also diligently looking not-over-there, so I assume I’m not alone in being less than keen.

But, you know, if a man wants to hang loose a little while he goes about his business, then I suppose it’s not hurting me.  I can just look away, like I do when ugly people get on the bus.  No harm, no foul.

Then he stands up.

Sigh.

For a terrifying moment, I think he’s about to relieve himself; however, it seems he’s only looking for a slightly different perspective.  But now, thanks to the seating levels on the bus, there’s loose junk at everyone’s eye height in the middle of the bus.  It just doesn’t seem fair.

Awkward.

And then a few rather long minutes later, he gets off the bus, still dangling for the world to see as he walks down the street and into someone’s else’s karmic punishment.  The awkward level on the bus drops back to normal, and everyone returns to staring out the window (but now doing it voluntarily).  Ten minutes after that, I’m at home using Gatorade to wash down a double dose of Tylenol, and things are feeling better.

Now, usually my blog entries are about some big-picture observation, and I use examples from my life only as an avenue through which to introduce the larger topic of discussion.  So, today I could be aiming for a discussion of the woefully underfunded resources available to combat mental illness.  Or, I could point out how sometimes things aren’t as bad as they seem, and that the worst is over quickly.  Or, I could note that ultimately, some guy’s dick ten feet away does me no harm at all, and probably only latent homophobia (or more-latent homoeroticism) makes me uncomfortable around the unexpected penis.  Or, this could just be another post about how public transit can be frustrating sometimes.

Nope.  Today, I’m just venting.  Sometimes a bad day just doesn’t seem so bad once you tell people about it.

To my 27.5 projected regular readers (just who the hell are you people, anyway?), thanks for listening.  Happy New Year!

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The things we want

December 28, 2009

One of the more interesting things about the Christmas season is that we get to ask for what we want, and if we’re lucky, we actually end up with it.  Of course, the cynical reader immediately responds with, “Christmas is about asking for material possessions, which isn’t nearly the same as what we really want.”  And, to an extent, that’s true: Christmas certainly involves an awful lot of physical things — possessions — changing hands.  But, I really do think that such a perspective is too cynical (if that’s possible).  The saying, “It’s the thought that counts,” is very apt — there are few things nicer than getting a gift that shows understanding and thought; it’s not that the gift itself isn’t necessarily nice (because it’s usually great), but more that it feels wonderful to have proof that someone out there cares enough about you, and knows you well enough to hit the bulls-eye with a gift.  Sentimental value isn’t a material possession.  And, beyond that, some gifts really aren’t material items to begin with.  I have a friend who just spent days traveling to return from living halfway around the world, as a Christmas surprise for her mother.  I’m pretty confident it was the best gift her mother got this year.

What all this asking, and giving, and receiving does, though, is put focus on what we really do want, hope for, and aspire to.   We all have things that, if we had them, we think we would be happy.  What I’m wondering is how often we’re actually right about it.

Nothing sucks more than opening a Christmas present, seeing exactly the thing you asked for, and then taking the toy out of the box and discovering that it isn’t so great after all.  This year’s hot toy for kids?  Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters.   They had one hell of an advertising push, and pretty much became this year’s Tickle-Me Elmo in terms of supply and demand. However, they’re basically just furry little bricks with wheels on the bottom, that can scoot around through special playsets and make cute lil’ hamster noises when you push a button.

Yeah.

Today is the 28th; I suspect a lot of kids are already bored with the little plastic rodents that their desperate parents eBay-ed  at such enormous expense.  And, I don’t really blame the kids for that.  Nothing could be as fun as the advertising and media hype around these toys made them out to be.  As a result, disappointment was pretty much inevitable.  People are like that — we build up our hopes and expectations, because we really, really want our goals and dreams to bring us the happiness we’re looking for.

(Mind you, it’s not like everything is a disappointment.  Anyone who got a Playstation 3 for Christmas is probably doing pretty well right about now.)

Maybe it’s not very Christmas-y (although, neither are falling children), but this year in particular I’m thinking about what it means to want something, and I notice that a lot of the time people don’t seem to get it quite right.  This last year I’ve seen a bunch of people in my life get something that they thought they wanted, but it hasn’t made them happy the way they hoped or expected.  I’ve also seen people pine for something so much, put so much dependence upon something to make them happy, that they end up unhappy because they reach for it so hard that they don’t enjoy the rest of their lives.

Life pretty much by definition isn’t perfect, and people aren’t always perfectly happy.  So, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what needs to be added or changed to make things better.  When someone is sad, the first thing we ask is, “What’s wrong?” followed by, “What can we do to cheer you up?”; happiness is the natural state, and if you’re not happy then something is wrong, and needs to be fixed.  But, it’s not that simple, and Christmas shows us this.  If some kid really wants a Zhu Zhu hamster and doesn’t get it, he’s disappointed because he didn’t get what he was hoping for.  But, if he gets his furry electronic brick with wheels he’s still going to be disappointed, because even if it’s a fun little toy it just can’t live up to his unrealistic expectations.  Basically, that kid hoped for something a little too hard, and put himself in a place where he wasn’t going to be happy no matter what happened.

People do this all the time.  We should know better.  But, we do it anyway.  It’s just too easy to pin our happiness and dreams on something, even when logically we know that it probably won’t work out the way we hope, or give us the satisfaction that we’re looking for.

But, is that kind of false hope necessarily a bad thing?  It’s good to have hope, right?  Especially when the alternative is giving up on happiness because it’s unattainable, misplaced hope seems decent enough.  Is it heartening to pine for something, or stupid to misplace desires?  The idealistic reader, of course, says that false hope is bad, and that we should all strive for a realistic and honest perspective on our own needs and desires.  But, is it just a lack of self-honesty, or are misplaced desires more like a typo in your school essay, where you just can’t see it because to you it makes sense no matter what it really says?

My friend who surprised her mother by returning from living abroad in time for Christmas, she came back much sooner than anyone expected.  That’s wonderful for her mother and the rest of us, but I can’t help but think she wouldn’t be back so soon if things there had been as fulfilling as she’d hoped.  She planned and saved for a long time to go away, and now she’s back.  It seems that maybe she didn’t find what she was looking for.  And, we all know people who pine after a person even though the person they want isn’t really the person they pursue; they want who that person used to be, or who that person could be, or who they imagine that person to be.  It’s very easy to fall for the person in your head, and not the person who’s actually in front of you.  Or, they get the person, and then realise that the lack of a relationship wasn’t what made them unhappy after all.  I get that way about possessions sometimes (although, I am pretty happy with the Playstation 3), and I’ve definitely been in that place with women.  I suspect that most behavioral compulsions — gambling, shopping, serial-dating, sex, crawling into your neighbour’s apartment when he’s not around and hiding his TV remote — come from that desperate desire to validate our hopes and expectations: “It didn’t work last time, but this time will be different.  This time it will work out right.”

Obviously, the response to everything I’ve written so far is that real hope is good, and that lots of people get what they wish for, and are happy.  But, how many of those people really knew that their aspirations would lead to happiness?  Or, put another, how many of those people basically formed their aspirations around a lucky guess?  If the man you wanted desperately to be with ended up being co-incidentally enough like the vision in your head to make you happy, isn’t that just luck?  A broken clock twice a day, a million monkeys and a million typewriters, a pocket full of turnips, and so on.  When we get what we want and it makes us happy, is that good planning or dumb luck?

And, if you accept, or even suspect, such a depressing premise, then the notion of false or misguided hope doesn’t seem so terrible after all.  It’s almost certainly better than nothing, which might be all that an honest and objective analysis would give you.  People are complicated, and the things that make us unhappy usually aren’t simple.  If misguided hope has a chance of making you happy anyway, does that maybe outweigh how often you’ll end up disappointed?

My personal stake in this is the point at which a friend should be telling someone to let go of a unhealthy or unrealistic hope.  How do you say to someone, “I think that what you hope for is misguided, and you are hurting yourself for feeling this way”?  I mean, obviously, when you finally say it, you say it just like that.  But, getting the words out is another story entirely, and I’m not sure it’s always right to say anything at all.  If I want someone to be happy, are misguided hopes better than nothing?  And, who’s to say that those  misguided hopes might not still work out well anyway?  Misguided hopes can sometimes at least bring you dumb luck.

So, are hopes a good thing, or a bad thing, or just a thing?  I don’t like the idea that my hopes may be naïve or poorly-considered, but when I’m at my most cynical (and most depressing), I really do suspect that a lot of the things I want are based so little on reality and reasonable expectations that it might be a smart idea to let some of them go.  People are who they are, not who I want them to be, and possessions don’t come packaged with happiness.

That was all very gloomy.  I’m not trying to suggest that people can’t be happy, and I’m certainly not proposing that good things don’t happen.  But, it’s also true that there is often a pretty big disconnect between what people think will make them happy, and what actually will make them happy; we often place our hopes and dreams on things that probably aren’t going to work out the way we want.  And, a lot of the time we suspect that our hopes are flawed, but we ignore that and willfully keep hoping, because we want so much for things to work out.  It’s not healthy, but it is very human, and I’m pretty sure just about everyone does it.

The question is, what do we do  about it?

The sound of falling children

December 24, 2009

Today was Christmas Eve.

(several things about the use of tense and deixis in that sentence don’t seem quite right, but whatever)

Since I don’t have much of a family with whom to spend Christmas, I passed Christmas Eve at a major shopping area, soaking up the Christmas spirit and enjoying all the busy people, decorations, and music.  And, I’m not being facetious when I say that; I love this stuff.  I’m not part of a large family, and we never really had much in the way of Christmas tradition, beyond the requisite small tree and presents.  So, for me, Christmas has always been about shopping malls.  And, I mean that in a good way.

Of all the things that are great about Christmas in a shopping district, though, the best by far is the skating rink.  There is a tiny one in the middle of the shopping square at the heart of the city, and… it’s absolutely hilarious.

It’s basically decorative.  It’s there beside the giant tree, and the Santas and elves, and the coffee shop, in between Macy’s and Tiffany.  The ice is lit by pretty green and red lights, and the whole thing is just very fun and Christmas-y.  That’s not what makes it hilarious, though.  What makes it hilarious is its size, and as a result its clientèle.  It’s a very small rink, more a “patch,” and so anyone who can actually skate really can’t use it because there’s nowhere to go.  Therefore, it’s only good for people who “skate” by walking slowly.  So, basically, it’s all old people and little kids.

Now, I won’t talk about old people falling.  That’s not funny.  Well, yes it is, but it’s still not cool to talk about it, because it can be serious and they can break hips and whatnot and if they lie there for too long and don’t have an “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” button then sad things can happen.

But, children falling — that’s funny.

Of course, when you’re three feet tall, the skating rink seems plenty large.  And, maybe there’s less fear of falling when you start only half as far from the ground in the first place?  I don’t know.  But, there’s no denying that it was practically raining children on that patch of ice today.

It is a wonderful quality of little kids that they don’t always know when they should be afraid or careful.  This leads them to leap joyfully into situations that make an adult tremble.  When you mix this innocence and fearlessness with slippery surfaces, you end up with children flying about and crashing into one another like petanque balls.  Some love it.  Some are more confused than the time that dog came to sniff their stroller.  Either way, it is pure unadulterated joy to watch for any adult who isn’t personally concerned about the children involved.

As an aside, I think it might be evidence for the existence of God that two dozen children can successfully, without injury, and yet also without any skill, grace, or control, participate in an activity that involves navigating a very slippery surface with swords attached to their feet.  Really, some of those kids should have come out of there missing limbs.  And, yet, no one was hurt, and everyone had a good time (at least for the few minutes that I was watching).

That ice rink was a metaphor for the entire day: too many people, who don’t know quite what they’re doing or where they’re going, in a very small space, careening into each other, and in the end you just hope that everyone has a good time.  And, somehow, they do.  Presents are bought, food is eaten, Santas are sat on.  A good time is had by all.

And no one loses any limbs.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thank you, crazy bus lady

December 20, 2009

Thank you, crazy bus lady, for making my bus ride special.

A bus can be such a quiet place. everyone going to their own place, doing their own thing, in their own world.  But, you, crazy bus lady, you bring us together.  Through you, we all share a wonderful experience.  You’re like the spirit of Christmas, but with more of a urine smell.

“I told the CIA!  I told them about you.  You can’t tell me what to do any more.  I own the radio station now, and the CIA knows about you.  I own the radio station!”

Of course, we all pretend we can’t hear you, because that’s the polite thing to do on a bus.  But, we can.  You’re so loud and insistent, we couldn’t ignore you if we tried, no matter how much we go lá lá lá lá in our heads, or stare intently out the window, or concentrate on our mobile phones.  And, although we all pretend, we all know that everyone else knows.  It’s a bonding moment.  It brings us together.

“Even with your lasers, you can’t violate my body.  No one can violate my body.  Your airplane is too far away.  Your lasers can’t reach me.  You can reach Nigeria, but you can’t reach me!  Not from space!”

Thanks to you, crazy bus lady, I am able to experience a togetherness with the people on this bus.  We are all strangers, but for this one shining moment, we are all one, thinking exactly the same thing, feeling exactly the same emotion.

“Cold as ice.  Cold as ice, the kids are.  They cut you as soon as look at you.  They don’t know a good pussy when they see one.  Cold as ice.  They want what’s in my pussy.  They just don’t know it.  They too cold.”

All of us, not looking at each other, pretending not to see, not to hear, pretending that our text messages are truly fascinating, or that the ugly dog near the bus stop is just amazing, or that our iPod really is loud enough to drown out the rambling, all of us are united, in exactly the same thought:

For the love of all that’s holy, I do NOT want to hear about what’s in that woman’s pussy.

Thank you, crazy bus lady, for bringing me closer to my fellow man.

Yum

December 19, 2009

You know what’s just awesome about the holiday season?

Other people feeding you.

Awesome.

The end-of-the-semester blues

December 18, 2009

I am no longer a university student.

(cue confusing mixture of cheers and boos here)

But, because I live and work right near a university campus, I’m still affected by the habits and conditions of student life.  I’ve written recently about the big crunch that comes during the December exam period, when what seems like the entire city is wrapped up in the stress of desperate work, and the even greater stress of desperately not working.  And, while I got to avoid some of that because I’m not a student, I still felt the effects of it because a good chunk of my social circle suddenly became antisocial unabomber-esque recluses, toiling quietly when unseen, and unpleasant to be around when visible.  Just a year ago that was me, though, so I can hardly be critical.

But, now the wonderful personal challenge that is December exams is over, and the university scene moves on to the next December tradition: exodus.  Everyone is leaving.  Everyone.  In a week this place will be a ghost town, lightless, cheerless, empty except for dark figures shuffling in the shadows.  It’s like the zombie apocalypse, but with more Santa hats.

Universities are very interesting, from a social perspective.  What other community completely disappears for a month, then returns just as suddenly to take up exactly where everything left off?  It’s a little eerie and surreal, the way almost an entire city is put on hold for weeks, frozen in time like a scene out of some science-fiction show.

Of course, I’ll be around myself for at least one of those weeks.  On the plus side, there wont be lines at the grocery store.

What sucks even more, though, is that some of the people who leave won’t be coming back at all.  And, that’s just a kick in the junk at a time of year that is supposed to be about being with the people you care about.  Universities are probably the only place where Christmas is about not seeing the people you care about for the holidays.  And, when the end of the semester coincides with the holidays, all the people who graduated, or are spending a semester abroad, or are off to an internship, just… don’t come back.

That makes me a sad panda.

Of course, this is exactly what happens in much greater numbers at the end of the spring semester, when a giant chunk of the campus community graduates and leaves forever, off to pursue real lives in a real world.  It’s a little easier, then, though, because everyone is doing it.  At Christmas, the understanding is that the campus is on “pause,” and in a month everything will resume exactly as it was.  People who don’t come back are fundamentally misunderstanding the rules of the game.

A side effect of all of this is that it’s a real bitch to get Christmas shopping done in time, because you have to get the presents to people before they take off to whatever silly place they come from.  That cuts off, like, a week of shopping; more, when shopping for the keeners who somehow didn’t have any exams, and handed in all their papers on the last day of class.  Of course, no one wants to buy presents for people like that anyway, but the point still stands.

What all this means is that a time of year that should be (and, generally, is) a time of happiness, over the success of completing the semester, and the excitement of seeing the family and friends you left behind to come to university, is also tinged with a little sadness.  Going away to university is amazing partly because it creates a new world for you.  But, at times like Christmas, you’re forced to choose one world over the other, and that means always leaving something behind.

I’m not making any clever insights here.  Goodbyes are sad, even when they’re only temporary.  But, it’s a part of life that the bigger your world is, the more things you have to choose between, and the more things you have to leave behind as a result.  There are, I suppose, reasons why some people stay in the same place they grew up for their entire lives — a small world is something you can hold close all the time.

Going to university is about making your world bigger, though, so it should be no surprise that it sometimes means leaving things behind.  But, it’s still sad to say goodbye.

I’m your biggest fan. I’ll follow you until you love me.

December 14, 2009

So, last night I went to a concert.  It was a pretty good show overall, and well worth the relatively cheap but still very good tickets that I got through a handy union connection.

(Big shout out to AFTRA.  This, right here, is why I keep paying those union fees.)

So, the crowd was an interesting mix.  Lots of young, over-sexualised adults (many in costume, many costumes being sexy; some involving strategically-placed gaps), and lots of twelve-year-old girls, many with a parent or two in tow.

Now, right there, that sounds like an odd mix, doesn’t it?  If I were the parent of a twelve-year-old girl (and fingers crossed that I’m not), I would maybe wonder, just from looking at the crowd, if this were really an age-appropriate show for my child.  Sexuality?  Check.  Common and obvious drug use?  Check.  Nudity?  Check.  Small children?  One of these things is not like the others.

I saw more than a few parents looking some combination of shocked, aghast, confused, and titillated.  And, perhaps some parents did turn around and take their child home.  Most didn’t, though.

Now, I’ve been to some over-sexualised concerts.  I’ve got a weak spot for 80’s hair metal, and those dudes really, really like to talk about sex when they’re on stage, especially at more recent shows when the musicians are 50 and trying desperately to act young.  But, I’ll still admit that last night was very sexualised, even by the standards of my rather sordid concert history.  Lots of sex talk.  And dances.  And surprisingly accurate and detailed hand and arm gestures.  A young enough child (and there were plenty) could have actually learned how sex works just from watching the gestures.

And, if the parents knew what they were going into, and decided that their kids were mature enough to deal with it, then that’s cool.  I really don’t think the content would be especially surprising or shocking to most of the kids in the audience; the sexuality was frequent, but not especially severe.  And, assless chaps on audience members?  We’ve all got a butt — nothing to see there.

But some parents were clearly distressed.  Not distressed enough to leave with their children, mind, just distressed enough to look panicky and… well, distressed.  And, for those parents, I have to ask, “What the hell did you think your child was going to see here?”  Thirty seconds on Google would have produced everything there is to know about the relative age-appropriateness of that show.

And, seriously, it was a concert.  Have these parents never been to a concert?  I bet even Jonas Brothers shows have audience members dropping E and fooling around in the restrooms.

I hope those kids had a good time.  If they were reasonably mature, then they shouldn’t have been seeing anything new or unexpected at that show.  But, if it wasn’t right for some of those kids, then those parents were pretty damned negligent.  I’m not going to worry about it, since what other people do with their kids isn’t my business, for the most part.  But, I shouldn’t even be noticing this.  There shouldn’t be enough distressed parents at a concert that I’m noticing a trend.  It’s just not that hard to know what you’re getting into when you buy a concert ticket.  And, these tickets were a little hard to get; you couldn’t just accidentally stumble across them and then decide to take your kid.

Won’t someone please think of the children?  ‘Cause, it’s definitely not my job.