Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Choose Your Own Superhero or Saint

"I find it is a great strain for me to believe what I see, and I am becoming afraid occasionally to look at some things in case they would have to be believed."
 - Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

Dubious Superpowers 
  • Bulletproof underpants
  • Unerring ability to correctly use “literally” and “figuratively”
  • Lasso of shame
  • Always finding what one is looking for
  • Motivational skills workshop leadership expertise
  • Ability to shoot dental floss from fingertips, or silly string, depending on circumstances
  • Invisibility socks
  • Nonfatal curiosity
  • Selective hearing loss
  • Human kindness
  • Infallibility in matters involving faith, morals, and tech support
  • Poop that smells like peppermint
  • Never applying the front brake first
  • A superhero suit made out of memory foam that guarantees comfortable naps in otherwise uncomfortable spots, and which incidentally doesn’t make the wearer look fat
  • Ability to apply inexorable logic to accept what cannot be changed without bursting into tears
  • Secret power to initiate onset of hot flashes in others regardless of their age or gender
  • Ability to open new CDs using only fingernails and patience (and not teeth)

 Elements of Mysterious Heroic Backstory
  • Being tragically orphaned at a young age and left with a tremendously positive cash flow generated by Papa’s extensive interests in South American strawberry jam plantations.
  • Event causing parents heartbreaking deaths never conclusively determined to be an unfortunate Act of God, a malicious act of Caltrans, or a particularly creative form of murder/suicide; all three theories coincidentally agreeing however that beyond any doubt, substance abuse was involved.
  • Credible rumors that unexplained three-year hiatus from crime-fighting and damsel rescuing were connected with an almost fatal addiction to cat dander; which by the way, was only licked by chamomile shampoo and positive affirmations
  • Founder and First Customer of the Witless Protection Program to avoid conspiracy theorists, despicable in-laws, and door-to-door preachers/storm window salespersons.
  • Empathy for the downtrodden inexorably combined with unlimited power to hold downtrodders responsible.  
  • Scientific discovery that the degree of a person’s verbal genius in mixing metaphors in hilarious ways is inversely proportional to their bodily hirsuteness; for which a single-use Nobel Price Category was invented to award the Nobel Prize in Mind-Bending Uselessness That Just Might Lift Homo Sapiens Up Next Rung of the Evolutionary Ladder, if Only We Could Answer the Question: “What?”
  • Inventing a wearable monitor that measures how many rocks have been taken in one’s rocking chair and how fast each rock is. The device is programmable to establish a goal of rocks/day and speed/rocks, and to provide motivational reminders throughout the day, and can be uploaded via Bluetooth to one’s social media of choice.
  • Being born without double-jointed thumbs but at the age of 11 learning through self-guided meditation how to make thumbs double-jointed.
  • Posthumous speculations about whether or not you really existed or were a postmodern take on the myth of Sisyphus’ ultimate happiness written by Pat Nixon using the pseudonym Idiot Nonsavant.

 Miracles I Might Perform If Nominated for Canonization 
  • I will create a polar vortex limited in time and space to people in the green room waiting to speak at a climate change denier convention. They will however be suddenly, mercifully painlessly, and permanently frozen into embarrassing positions.
  • The next time my kitty has an allergic reaction to the food she can’t digest and loses her hair in patches, I will shape one hairless patch like the face of the BVM with bleeding scabs for eyes.
  • I will assure that the doctors who cure a photogenic poverty-stricken young brother and sister of a fatal disease will be credited with miraculously saving the childrens’ lives, instead of giving credit to that old hypocrite Mother Theresa who caused untold suffering and premature deaths of poor women who she forced to have too many children to feed, and who generally died in childbirth before they were 30.
  • I will give everybody who drives a car the power to find a perfect parking place three times in his or her life.
  • I will create lasting peace on earth by genetically modifying human DNA to eliminate chromosome combinations that cause people to be mean. (Kidding. God created Man in his Image, so god only knows how to fix that mess.)
  • I will give everybody who regrets having a tattoo the power to wish the tattoo away, but only once in their life; so wise up people contemplating that heart-shaped dolphin tattoo.
  • Publicly eliminating an infestation of scary bugs and spiders from the vicinity some people who are deathly afraid of bugs and spiders.

  What I’d want to be Patron Saint of
  • Cats with food allergies causing their fur to fall out in patches
  • Finding movie parking spaces
  • Persons with cat dander addiction
  • Strawberry Jam Plantations
  • Impatient people whose impatience is mostly justified
  • People who begin three sentences in the middle of each sentence they attempt -  that they may resolve each sentence chronologically and intelligibly to the amazement of friends and relatives who had begun to despair at their increasing incoherence.
  • Skate boarders who defy convention and don’t cut their hair like skateboarders and/or who refuse to wear baseball hats backwards.
  • People who just want to make a perfect light flaky piecrust

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Age of The Ten-Year Plan is Over

“What you think is the point is not the point at all but only the beginning of the sharpness.” ― Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman  (Picture Credit)

And I just found out. I’ve always had an empty beer can to throw hard at people who ask six year old children what they want to be when they grow up. I’m six! I’m busy being a kid. Stop rushing me or I’ll give you some crap about being an astronaut or a crime-fighting cyber-warrior or a princess.

So, I don’t know how old I was when the first vague plans began to coalesce around my future. I don’t remember ever saying I wanted to be a middle-management career bureaucrat at Research-O-Rama University. But at some point I knew I wanted to get married, and have kids and have a house – although by then the white picket fence was out. Definitely wanted a hedge instead. These days I’m still planning. For when I can’t drive a car anymore and have to walk out for groceries. For downsizing so if I drop dead without warning my heirs won’t find a hidden porn stash or that puzzling collection of beer bottle caps. I’m planning where to put my DNR and my weed where they will be respectively easy and hard to find.

But this morning I spoke to some Gen-X people who said when an interviewer asked them what their ten year plan was they pretty much said: why bother? Wouldn’t that make them think you were a flake? I asked.  No: pragmatic, they replied. First, there are no opportunities for buying houses with or without picket fences unless your parents are friends with Mitt Romney on Facebook. Second, stuff happens. They said that at every point of their lives, if asked to guess where they would be even five years hence they never would have predicted themselves to be where they found themselves five years later. Why should tomorrow be different?

This is the age of uncertainty, at least for the generation of Baby Boomers’ children who took our advice and went to college only to find themselves with six-figure debts and no job opportunities. Instead of getting mad - or maybe after passing through the stages of denial and anger etc, - they have reached acceptance. And while they may not exactly embrace the uncertainty, they find no cause for anxiety. Like the anxiety I have, for example, about whether I’ll ditch the porn before I’m suddenly stabbed by a door-to-door bible salesman.

Maybe in ten years, I’ll be an astronaut, I said. You never know, they said.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Impatience or Pride?

"Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools."
Alexander Pope

My Dad would have been 95 this month. He died when he was 76. The quote above is the epigram at the beginning of his one unpublished novel and I think it was modestly chosen to remind him of what he considered his greatest fault.

Those who knew and loved him all agree that his greatest fault was his impatience. Dad’s impatience was to ordinary impatience as global climate change is to a balmy spring day. A short while before his sudden and mercifully quick death he told one of my siblings that he’d been working on the impatience thing his whole life and thought he might be getting somewhere better. I cling to that with desperate white-knuckled hope: most mornings, I yell at the toaster to hurry up. But some mornings I don’t.  So there might be hope for me too.

I think Dad may have realized there’s a reason why pride is given pride of place as one of the seven top deadly sins while impatience doesn’t even make the top ten. I realize this too when I watch the news or read the internet or listen to people talk about religion or politics. We don’t even listen to each other any more. (I also yell at the TV) Only part of the reason is that we’re impatient for the other person to stop talking so we can reply/rebut. We may like to think we have open minds but we mostly don’t want anybody to put anything into them. We have all made up our minds that our beliefs, opinions and certainties are right and those who disagree are wrong. That, my friends, is pride – even if it happens to be true. And it’s a sin in the non-religious as well as religious sense to be so far along the sliding scale of self-confidence as to surpass arrogance.  I am humble enough to accept that even I can’t be right all the time.

We have two ears and one mouth, and yet we all want to talk more than listen, myself included.  So, I am resolving in Dad’s name to not only stop yelling at the toaster and the TV. I’m also going to try to listen better and talk less. Not sayin’ I’ll agree with every fool who speaks, or that I won’t snort in derision at their foolish biases. Just that I’ll listen and try hear what they are really trying to saying.

Happy birthday, Dad.

Friday, February 28, 2014

When Less Becomes More

Of the blessings set before you make your choice, and be content.

I collect dopey things.  Since I was a kid and my friend Patsy gave me a 3x5 framed picture of Disney's Dopey, I’ve loved to collect Dopeys. I once hand-painted a 3 foot tall Dopey on my bedroom door. I have mostly small statues, including special designer collectibles like china ones made by Lenox and crystal ones made by Swarovski and plastic ones made by Pez and a few antique ones. They don’t collect as much dust as the stuffed toys and they take up less space. The non-plush Dopeys are crowded into the china cabinet that most old ladies use to display their Hummel figurines. I started because I liked Dopey and continued because I had disposable income. Now I have a cabinet full that will probably, sadly, constitute the entire inheritance for my schizophrenic heir to fight over.

Somewhere along the line, I somehow also began to gather some plush Dopeys. I don’t know why because I consider stuffed toys less as “collectibles” and more as evidence that I acquired  stupid stuff I don’t need and shouldn’t leave hanging around for my heir to build into a bonfire that would be dangerous because we’ve had such a long drought the entire state could go up like a pile of stuffed toys doused with gasoline. 

Also because I’m sure somebody on eBay who has more room and more disposable income would be delighted to pay me $20 plush (sic) shipping to leave for their own disgusted heirs to dispose of.

Once I am united with that dopey buyer through the magic of the internets I will have fewer blessings to dust, and I will be perfectly content with that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What a Long Time Ago that IQ Tests Seemed Funny

“The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.

“On the other hand, I’ve not yet forgotten Keats or Dick Cheney or what’s waiting for me at the dry cleaner’s today. As of right now, I’m not Christopher Hitchens or Tony Judt or Nora Ephron; I’m not dead and not yet mindless in a reliable upstate facility. Decline and disaster impend, but my thoughts don’t linger there. It shouldn’t surprise me if at this time next week I’m surrounded by family, gathered on short notice—they’re sad and shocked but also a little pissed off to be here—to help decide, after what’s happened, what’s to be done with me now. It must be this hovering knowledge, that two-ton safe swaying on a frayed rope just over my head, that makes everyone so glad to see me again. “How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!” they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, ‘Holy shit—he’s still vertical!’.” 
            -    Roger Angell,  “This Old Man – Life in the nineties” 
Today, I don’t think much of my chances for being classified as fit for employment as office paperclip sorter guy, or that angry tattooed young woman at the coffee shop who passively aggressively whispers names when she calls out orders at the place where all the old deaf people stop on their way home from spin class at the Y. I might be barely fit for minding mice at crossroads as Flann O’Brien would say. I think it might be a good idea to fly my kite in a thunderstorm today, I’m feeling so dumb.
Why, you ask? Or would, if your mother had taught you any manners.

Had houseguests for three nights. They are a young man and young woman of some obscenely young adult age that amazes me. They have energy; they’re engaged, they’re always moving. They don’t seem to need naps for days on end.  They expect the meal schedule and content to bear some resemblance to a traditional routine and balanced nutritional intake. (My sister/their mother who cooks dinner is to blame for this, not me). They don’t recognize popcorn and bourbon as a balanced meal. They don’t make old people noises when standing up and sitting down. (Not sure if I count that as a plus, frankly.)

Their mother taught them good manners. They’re funny. I’d say they were cool but I’m not sure if the kids consider that an insult these days. They’re nice to be related to, and I don't get to see family often enough. They have the genetic propensity for a wicked senses of humor easily mistaken by outlaws for mild disrespect for one another.  Again, that last is possibly not a plus. But it made for an enjoyable weekend.

Then, it also turns out they’re the kind of people you would like to know even if you weren’t related. They are intelligent and informed. They converse on wide-ranging topics and with the kind of coherence I don’t otherwise hear much these days -  from people of any age.

But they left Monday. I was sorry to see them go. Really, guys.  But when they pulled out of the driveway, I didn’t even stop to update my status on FB or to roll up the sleeping bags. I tossed some stuff into the washing machine to assuage my conscience enough to let me take a nice long nap next to my kitty. So, like I said, it’s hard for me to say how sorry I was to see guys you go. But I seriously need some horizontal time.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

WAIS or Racist Party Game? You Decide PICTURE ARRANGEMENT

"When assessing the effectiveness of intellectual ability in an adult, one is primarily interested in two kinds of comparisons: how the individual compares with his age peers, and how he compares with those who are at the peak of mental development".  David Wechsler, WAIS Manual, The IQ Concept (1955)

Cleaning out closets I found something I’ll eventually e-bay: The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale published by The Psychological Corporation in 1955.

But taking pics for a possible listing, I came across a booklet called WAIS Picture Arrangement. It’s graphic art gold. Or, it could be a cultural anthropologic archive of the hegemony of the male discourse. Or a mysoginist racist madman’s daydream, or the waking nightmare of women whose husbands came back to Levittown with undiagnosed PTSD almost 10 years before Betty Friedan explained the mystique. Or, it could be a sobering wake up from the delusional good old days. Or maybe it is an indication that we have actually moved in the right direction.

How the hell should I know? I may play a gardener on this blog but I have a doctorate in some obsolete legal code no longer practiced where I live. A wise woman once said “No matter how cynical I become, it’s not enough”. I don’t know if she punctuated it correctly because this is oral history. Which this test also is because it must be administered to an individual subject by a professional who scores their oral stories.

But it’s no joke because those were the tests that measured your IQ – the whole enchilada when given to children. By the time you were an adult, and your cog was slotted into your particular slot on the wheel, we might still want to know how smart you were. Here is how we measured it in the 1955 edition of the test.

First, here’s a little context to the story. In 1955:
   ·      Rosa Parks didn’t like her seat on the bus and MLK led a bus boycott for more than a year
·      President Eisenhower upheld the use of atomic weapons in case of war
·      Elvis Presley made his first TV appearance
·      Richard Nixon was Vice President
·      Nabakov published Lolita
·      A First Class stamp was 3 cents
·      James Baldwin published Notes of a Native Son
·      The US homicide rate was 4.5 per 100,000
·      Einstein and Charlie Parker died
·      Flannery O’Connor published A Good Man is Hard to Find
·      The US performed nuclear test at Nevada Test Site (May 15)
·      "Millionaire" TV program premiered on CBS
·      The ACLU announced it would defend Allen Ginsberg's book Howl against obscenity charges
·      Kevin Costner was Born
·      Israel attacked Gaza
·      Brown vs Board of Education (1954) was one year old

Children were getting our IQ tested by the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (more later) to see if we were correctly pigeonholed anywhere from vocational school or veterinary school. If little girls were good enough at science they were nurses by 1955, mostly working for doctors who were good in science when they took the WISC. And now, adults were ready to be indoctrinated by the WAIS in the secret arcana of their place and their time. Spoiler alert: mostly white men called the shots in the US.

Picture Arrangements is a spiral bound booklet about the size of an iPhone with 8 sets of cards (each set from 3 to 6 cards in separate pocket pages) to presumably to arrange in chronological order; or perhaps to arrange in order to relay surrealist images to illustrate the subject’s acid-trip re-telling of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Who is to say really? Oh, Wechsler, right. The story card pockets have labels like  Flirt, Louis, Enter, Taxi.

WAIS instructions say to tell the subject about the three test pictures here in the first pocket called “Nest”:

“These pictures tell us story about a bird building a nest, but they are in the wrong order. Put them in the right order so they will tell a story.”

Nobody said chronological order because nobody had to. Regrettably, there was no other order in 1955. There was no postmodern narrative, deconstructionist blathering, Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, existential, surreal, or culturally anomalous, or other ways of telling stories. This was America. Chronological.

When I took the cards out of the pocket “Hold Up” I didn’t shuffle, but laid them out like a cartoon. I imagine this is the kind of order the 1955 adult would have seen them dealt. But I didn’t put them in another order. I just told a story - because one of the biggest differences between 1955 and 2014 is that we have lowed the expectations of test takers as well as test givers. And we don’t have as much time. So let’s get moving here. 

 “Hold Up 2014: Justice Prevails: Again"

1. Top Left:  (Flashback) The all white male jury just acquitted Affluent White Male Defendant (AWMD) of murder. As he releases the defendant, the judge explains that white privilege will someday be recognized in the DSM as Affluenza - a legitimate mental disability, causing diminished responsibility for hate crimes (which won’t even be invented until his lynching days are over anyway).  Meanwhile, winks the Judge, we’ll just have to muddle through defying that Brown vs. Education thing.

2. Top Right: (Clip from vintage pre-PBS Ken Burnsoid produced Biopic of AWMD narrated by the guy who narrates Frontline) Courtroom evidence poster later credited in local media as winning the AWMD’s freedom. Pictured is the artist's rendering of the man AWMD shot. The victim is dead because he was Homeless Terrorist Person of Indeterminate Race (HTPIR) in the 1955 equivalent of a hoodie. AWMD is a hero for standing his ground in the face of such a scary man, says AWMD’s Mom straight into the camera as un-shed tears glisten in her eyes. (Could have used a few more cards here.)

3. Lower Left: (Interlude: Existentialist Metaphor on the importance of repentance) This card is Albert Camus’ rough sketch of The Stranger in prison after the priest has refused him absolution because he’s not sorry he killed that dude on the beach. Meursault was a bad man. He probably thought the earth was older than six thousand years and he hated God and America. Believe me, the distinction in our story today is that AWMD is unbelievably sorry this ever happened. Let’s not quibble about his feelings wrt/ the outcome.

4. Lower Right: (Glimpse into the future of our characters - except Arthur Meursault because he’s dead and went to hell because he was unrepentant - from the post-apocalyptic year of 2014) What would have happened/has happened had not the white gods intervened create such a wonderful system of justice. That’s where HTPIR on the left and AWMD on Right. I mean, the right.

Fade to white. “FIN”