Hipness

There are two keys to hipness, inextricably woven together: image and timing.  Image has a lot to do with the proper air of disdain, not so much that you just look sour, but not so little that it’s invisible.  This is often accomplished linguistically, and that’s where timing comes in.

There are seven stages to the rise and decline of a hip word or turn of phrase:

  1. Someone comes up with a clever neologism.
  2. Her immediate cohort, seeing this, starts using it among themselves.
  3. Eventually, they use it in social media, and it catches on.
  4. It appears in Urban Dictionary.
  5. There are articles in Time or some similar rag on its proper use.
  6. Suddenly, it’s everywhere.
  7. Suddenly, it’s nowhere.

Consider the word ‘mansplain.’  If you used it during the first three phases, you were hip; if it was during the first two you were very hip, but only retroactively.  In phases 4 and 5, you were probably an older person ‘in tune’ with the younger generation.  After that, you’re dead to the younger generation, and in phase 7, you’re either completely out of it, or just being a smart ass.

Unless you use it in a blog, in an eye-rolling sort of way.  Then you’re extremely cool.  You might call that ‘blog-rolling.’

Feel free to use use that.

Hard times for Mr. Softee

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an obituary for Les Waas, who, among other things, wrote the Mr. Softee jingle (it has lyrics; who knew?).

Of course, that sent me spinning ass over elbows into nostalgia. The Mr. Softee truck, with its Pavlovian jingle, was a staple of summer where I lived. I doubt that truck could make more than five miles a day at the rate it had to stop and minister to neighborhood kids, some of them well over the age of majority. I can just smell it. I can feel again the greasy sweat evaporating as I sit in a shady spot somewhere to eat my cone. It was a snack and air conditioning rolled into one. Actual AC was a thing reserved for theaters, and just the fancy downtown ones at that, where movies could cost as much as seventy-five cents for a single feature. We didn’t often get the benefit of that. Cooling off mostly involved sitting very still and hoping for a breeze.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, all kinds of merchants and craftspeople peddled their wares on neighborhood streets, mostly during the warmer months. Come June, there was the slow-rolling truck of the strawberry man, and his chant “strawBERRY, STRAWberry,” and if it weren’t for the siren song of Mr. Softee, that might well have been the most welcome sound of summer. Not far behind him was the vegetable man, as slow or slower, truck packed with stuff pulled from the ground that morning, scales dangling noisily from a home-made rack. And milk trucks, two or three competing varieties; we “took” Roberts, and thought Borden’s was inferior, and of course the opposite was true of the Borden’s loyalists. You kept a sort-of-insulated box on your porch, and every day you filled out a form telling the milkman what to leave. And he did. Years later, when my mother’s health deteriorated, the Roberts man would actually bring in her order and put it into the fridge for her.

It wasn’t just food, either. The knife sharpener rolled down the street once a week or so, and he would also sharpen your lawn mower blades. I’m talking about reel mowers, powered by whomever was pushing them. Sporadically, some gypsies would come along selling whatever, and kids, myself among them, joined the parade, mowing lawns for a buck a pop; in winter we switched to snow shoveling, same rate. A buck could buy you a coke, a burger, and a new baseball, on the rare occasions we ran completely out of baseballs found in the park, their leather covers half off. Duct tape fixed nearly everything.

People flogging brushes, cosmetics, encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners, and god knows what all would regularly come to your door.  The mail came twice a day, six days a week. I still remember the air of shocked disbelief, almost betrayal, when the Post Office announced that Saturday mail would be cut to just one delivery. It is ironic that today, under pressure from Amazon, stuff gets delivered seven days a week, as many times as it takes to get it done, usually by the Post Office.

Well, it’s about this point in this kind of essay where you probably expect me to go on about how much more simple those times were. They weren’t. We were.

The truth is, much of that time was awful. Racism was not only the rule, but was unquestioned; black people were still getting lynched periodically. Police did exactly as they pleased, and politicians routinely stole elections, and everybody knew it, and nobody did anything about it. Anti-Semitism was considered only sensible. Nativism and religious prejudice were everywhere. My family was Catholic, and we were immigrants to boot. I will always remember the morning when I was eight or nine, when a canvasser for the Republican party came to the door, and before my mother could say anything, started on a spiel about how superior the party was, because it had no Jews, Catholics, or foreigners in it. My mother explained, in her thick accent, that we were two out of three. All of that sank in slowly, over a period of years.

My mother asked me one day, when I was in high school, why I was so surly all the time, when I used to be so cheerful. Why, indeed.

The Golden Age of anything, they say, is when you were young. Ignorance didn’t hurt, either.

Saving daylight

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a conspiracy nut, but there’s something fishy in this DST business. We do it, presumably, in order to save an hour of daylight during, well, most of the year, it turns out.

So how did it all begin? Not really with old Ben Franklin, as some people will tell you. Some people will tell you he invented the weekend, or the iPhone, too, but you don’t believe that, do you?

In the US, it started with the Standard Time Act of 1918, which established the time zones across the country, and threw in DST as a kind of bonus (Act now, and get Daylight Savings! Limited time only!). It was the standard summer DST, although why we call it that, since it lasted seven months, is beyond me. At any rate, it was wildly unpopular, and was repealed a year later. Congress used to have good sense, once upon a time.

We thought we were done with it, then. But no. Roosevelt snuck it back in in 1942, called it War Time, and made it last all year, to boot.

Actually, year round sounds fine, kind of like an invisible dog fence, doing its job, unnoticed but eternally vigilant. Whatever its job is, anyway. Something to do with petroleum, apparently. Most evil things are linked to petroleum one way or another.

After the war, it was dropped, and summer DST was optional until the Uniform Time Act of 1966, when congress got fed up with never being able to figure out what time it was where they were going for a big rally, and made it apply to the whole country. States could opt out if the whole state did it. Indiana, where I mostly grew up, would have no part of it, for instance, although wicked conservatives recently forced it on the citizenry there. GW tacked on another five weeks in 2007, and here we are.

I tell you all this history, gleaned from painstaking research (a couple of minutes on Wikipedia), so that you’ll believe me when I tell you that when you add up all the hours saved since 1918, not even counting the 20 years after WWII when it was optional, it comes to 13,170. That’s roughly 550 days, or 78 weeks, which comes to 19 months.

That’s right, just over a year and a half of constant daylight, 24/7, night and day!

So, where did all that daylight go? Is it in some kind of federal light bank somewhere?

Why can’t we draw it out, a couple of hours at a time in the middle of winter, when we need it?

A letter to the peeps

Dear people,

You despise the idea of always having to choose between the lesser of two evils, so you don’t vote.  You either lash out at anyone who criticizes anything you say or do, or you stick your fingers in your ears and go about your business.  Your go-to response to disagreement is insult.  You cut off “negative” people and cultivate “positive” ones.   You get mad and get even.

Maybe your parents told you you could be anything you wanted, you could have anything you were willing to work for, that there were no limits. That if you were true to your ideals, things would always work out the way you wanted, and so you should never compromise, for that was weakness. That if you wanted something badly enough, you would get it. The Law of Attraction.

They lied.

Not only that, but you should have seen through it instantly, even as young as you were. All it takes is the realization that there will always be someone else whose parents also lied to them, who wants the opposite of what you want. You should confront your parents with this; they need to be held responsible for raising children to be the adults we now have to deal with in politics.

As always,
Your Uncle Mike

PS: If you’re old and still feel this way, shame on you. You should have learned something by now.

Oh, Mr. Einstein, you’re such a kidder!

So, here’s the deal:  my cousin Bert, who lives on the planet Schnipplefarq, and I have devised an experiment.  We have carefully synchronized our watches to Cosmic Mean Time.  I will leave Earth at a prearranged time in my spaceship, which travels at exactly one half the speed of light, making a bee-line for Bert’s house, where he will wait with his notebook to write down the results.  In my spaceship, I will have two items: a red laser pointer, and a high tech bean shooter capable of shooting a bean, also at exactly one half the speed of light.  At a pre-determined time, I will simultaneously point the laser at Bert’s house and press the button, and launch a bean, also at his house.

Since the speed of light is constant, according to Mr. Einstein, and the speed of the bean is relative to the speed of my spaceship, they should arrive at the same time.  Bert will have long since given up, of course, forgetting that our carefully synchronized watches will be way off, since time for me and my watch will pass more slowly than for him and his.

What should happen is that my red pointer light will arrive on time, but magically blue.  Bert, by that time, having decided that I’m hopelessly forgetful, will have put away his notebook and gone back into the house for a quick shot and a nap.  So he won’t notice when the bean also arrives at the same time, having increased to infinite mass due to travelling at the speed of light.  Which is just as well, since Bert, his shot glass, his comfy chair, and his planet will be annihilated by the collision.

Now, you might think what I find bothersome about all this is that time slows down for me, or that a bean could acquire infinite mass just by going real, real fast, but no.  Oh, it’s true that while I’m zipping along relative to Bert, he’s also zipping along relative to me, and why wouldn’t our time distortions cancel out, or that infinite mass would by definition have to include everything else out there, but that’s not it. It’s the concept of speed.

See, we happen to live on a planet that is way, way larger than we are, which gives us the illusion that it’s stationary, so when we think of speed, it’s relative to the great blob of  stuff under our feet.  If we go six mph, we mean six miles of earth has passed beneath us during an hour.  But the earth itself is not standing still.  It’s rotating at about 1,036 mph, and orbiting the sun at about 67,000 mph.  As if that’s not enough, the sun is moving through the galaxy at about 447,400 mph, and the galaxy is moving … well, you get the point.  You are really moving many, many thousands of miles per hour.  Plus six.

All of this speed, of course is relative to something else, us to the earth, the earth to the sun, and so on.  This means that it could be said that when we are moving six mph, the earth is moving that same speed relative to us.  Put another way, two cars, each going 30 mph relative to the earth, might be going anywhere from 0-60 relative to each other.

So what is the speed of light relative to?  According to Mr. E, nothing!  Or rather, itself.

Okay, let’s see.  If I wanted to measure the speed of light, I could count the number of some units of it that pass by during some time interval, like counting power poles from a train to figure out how fast it’s going.  That might be waves, but that’s dependent on frequency, and you get tautological pretty quick doing that.  Or it could be particles, but counting photons is worse than trying to figure the number of water molecules passing in a stream.  You’re left with bursts of light.  So you do that and get a good number.  Then Cousin Bert (still alive for the nonce) does the same thing, with the same bursts, while zooming past you at cosmic speeds.  And gets the same number.

What?  I don’t even know what speed means in that context.

Don’t even ask what would happen if I got the velocity upgrade for the pea shooter.

Family values and me

For many people, family means refuge, a warm, inviting place where they will always be welcome, where there will always be unconditional support. Throw in a strong religious conviction, and they just add God to the list of familiars they can always count on.

For me, family was always about suffocation. Religion was there, a very strong presence, and stifling. The two together seemed absolutely crushing.

This had nothing to do with lack of love and support. That was always there, too, in abundance. It’s just that the totality was overwhelming, with no room left for the kind of soul-stretching I yearned for. I spent hours looking out doors and windows, dreaming of escape.

How to account for the difference? Hard to say, but I suspect it is rooted in the style of upbringing. Mine was very rigid and inflexible, and the same can be said for my religious upbringing: twelve years of Catholic school, ironically much more flexible than my father’s idea of what was appropriate for children. Still, the razor-wire was there all the same, just a bit further out.

These days, only three of us remain from the family, siblings. We live thousands of miles apart. We get along very well. Words like love and support are bandied about so often nowadays that I don’t trust them; basically, we live our own lives, and are interested in each other’s lives, and would undoubtedly rally to each other in case of a crisis. Let’s leave it at that.

As for religion, I’ve left it far behind. The still faithful erroneously think that’s because of a grudge against God. True, anger and rebellion initially caused me to examine the tenets of Catholicism, but once the cat was out of the bag there was no going back. Occasionally, protestants of various flavors tell me the problem is Catholicism, that their particular variant is more loving, more forgiving, etc. They miss the point. Nowadays, I’m no more angry at God than I am at Santa for not bringing me Christmas presents.

God, in the form of an omnipotent creator who nevertheless tinkers with his creation at the request of believers, is an insupportable idea. Once you start questioning dogma, and persist at it, this is inescapable. God was created wholly in the image of man: spiteful, loving, patronizing, generous, egomaniacal, vengeful, forgiving, take your pick; it’s all there to reinforce your decisions wherever your personal inclinations lead you.

Do I miss any of that? Rarely. The more I think about things like eternity and immortality, the more I realize we’re already there.

A little private note

Here we are on the internet, where we have freely given up almost any semblance of privacy, and not for some grand principle, but mere convenience. We chat blithely away on Facebook, buy whatever catches our fancy, and generally carry on without a care in the world. Our entire lives down to the length of our toenails can easily be stitched together, and private corporations own all this data, and freely pass it around to each other. We know this because when we spend 10 minutes looking at, say, nose warmers on Amazon, we’re inundated with advertising for them everywhere else we look online. We even start getting catalogs in the snail mail specializing in nose warmers. But, hey, it helps us get the best possible nose warmer, in a color we’re sure to like, so it’s worth it. Don’t protest, you know it’s true.

Of course, it makes us feel like idiots, so we complain bitterly on, you guessed it, the same forums that collect all this information and sell it in the first place. Just one more little useful piece of data to round out your online portrait. Why did you think it was free?

In a nutshell, there is enough of your data floating around in the ether to completely reconstruct another you, should the occasion arise. Oh, well, we’ve always pined for immortality.

Understandably, the government would like to have access to this information, too; who could resist? But that’s where we draw the line, by God! Let every entity on Earth have access to the minutest, most intimate detail of our blessed existence, but not the government, no sir.

Of course, we’re also outraged when they fail to detect a terrorist plot in time to do something about it.

Or when we eat our cake, and discover there’s none left.