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”

Tuesday, February 04, 2014


Désolé, la page que vous demandes est introuvable.
The Internet, in French

Doesn’t that sound better in French? Or more sincere anyway; like the page you were trying to  find in French is lost in some bleak wilderness and they’re beyond being sorry, they’re positively desolated they can’t find it for you. 

While I always admire sincere apologies, I’m kind of an expert in fake apologies. I have always been fond of apologizing by saying “I can’t tell you how sorry I am”.  Or “I couldn’t be sorrier”. But I recently heard that somebody topped that a while back. It turns out Rob Blagojevich said, when he was caught and/or convicted that he was “unbelievably sorry”.  Which I imagine he was about being caught. He was probably desolated about being convicted.

So, not to make a handbrake turn to segue, but I’m beginning to feel desolated about my car disrespecting me. It’s been nagging me for a while with this “MAINT REQD” light that is annoying for several reasons. First, it’s in caps, so it’s shouting at me. Second, it can’t be bothered to spell out the entire message so it’s lazy. For some reason being shouted about by something lazy is particularly annoying. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’m unbelievably desolated by the rudeness involved here. Besides you wanker, I made the damn appointment with the dealer for service, so you can stop shouting at me. It’s tomorrow.

Then, in the past few days, I’ve developed another theory about this enigmatic message. Perhaps I’ve been too quick to judge my Prius. Perhaps the dashboard light is trying to send me another message entirely. Maybe it’s trying to hint in it’s deferential way that it’s ME that requires maintenance. 

But this surely is not news to me, my old Toyota friend.

It’s not like I don’t already know I’m kind of high maintenance. It has also not escaped my attention that I’ve got a backlog of what we used to genteelly call “deferred maintenance” when we didn’t have a budget to get that slow leaky faucet fixed or the termite inspection done. I need a haircut. I need to exfoliate the heels of my feet. I need, well, let’s not get too far down this road because I might want to stop being a hermit and make friends again someday and I don’t want it out there on the internets about how long it’s been since I had my cholesterol checked. The Toyota may be right to say this in CAPS after all. I have been wearing those ratty t-shirts when I take the dog to the dog park and I’m sure the dashboard can see the holes, the stains and the places where the shoulder seams are coming undone. O dear. I do require maintenance.

So tomorrow, after I leave the dealership and the dashboard is no longer shouting at me, maybe I’ll make an appointment with the hairdresser. Then, I’ll apologize to the dashboard. Je suis désolé, unbelievably désolé.  I doubt if the stupid car can speak French anyway.