Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It Isn't Easy Being Green

Kermit really nailed it when he said it isn’t easy being green.  But then again he was addressing the race question.  Lately I’ve been thinking about a whole different kind of being green.

            Today, “being green” means being environmentally conscious - a technical term meaning don’t waste stuff.  Our grandmothers used to call this being “frugal” but how tedious is that?   Back then it wasn’t a choice.  It was a lifestyle dictated by a lack of funds.  It was essential to be careful with your stuff - you didn’t go overboard using stuff, buying stuff, or throwing stuff away.  Now we have so much stuff we find it hard to appreciate any of it.  And stuff is soooo easy to come by.  Wal-Mart and the internet are chock full of stuff that is guaranteed to make us happy.

            Yet, at every turn we are encouraged to be “green”. We now have Greenpeace and The Green Party where once upon a time we only had The Jolly Green Giant. You can see how much more solemn things have become.  And why was The Giant green anyway?  Was he the product of the first misguided genetics experiment that crossed radioactive broccoli with humans?  Or did he climb down a beanstalk and decide he liked farming and advertising?  Or possibly, his excessive height just made him seasick from bobbing around in high altitude winds as he ho-ho-ho’d over various agricultural operations.  I don’t think he had any personal policies on “greenness” at all.  I suspect he might have even used pesticides.  But there must have been some reason he was so Jolly.  Maybe he grew things other than vegetables. 

            Greenpeace and The Green Party are not at all Jolly.  They are pretty serious, and have members who go around with the perpetually furrowed brows of the disapproving.  Maybe if they spent more time on farms and in gardens they too would be Jolly.  It would certainly be healthier than perpetrating endless acts of fruitless persuasion.

            At one time, back before anyone even thought up the idea of being green, it was all just taken for granted.  Recycling hadn’t been invented, at least not technically.  My dad, who didn’t live long enough to witness the birth of recycling as a political act, was nevertheless a dedicated recycler.  Every time he took a load to the dump, he helped them out by bringing more back with him than he had dropped off.  Today he would be arrested.  It would be illegal for him to make boat seats out of chairs with missing legs, wrong to bring home a millstone and turn it into the world’s biggest grindstone, and immoral to pick up that discarded wooden barrel that later housed such lovely flowers.  I’m almost glad he didn’t live into the era where he would have become an offender.  The mere thought of it makes me shudder – my own dear dad arrested for beauifying things that other people threw away. 

            Now, going to the dump involves a lot of rule following.  You and your vehicle must be weighed before you rid yourself of that bag of stinking meat that was fouling up your fridge.  The dump is so regulated that after you hurl your bag of meat into the appointed spot and drive away holding your nose, you and your vehicle must be weighed again.  It’s the municipal version of Weight Watchers.  The dump uses different scales for vehicles entering and exiting.  If your vehicle should ever weigh more on the outbound leg of your trip, a frightening situation could unfold.  They might tear apart your vehicle seeking the contraband garbage that you had squirreled away under the back seat.  Theft from a store is called “shrinkage”.  It will get you arrested.  You’re not allowed to shrink a landfill site either. 

            Fortunately, there are many ways to improve your greenness on the home front.  Our most recent endeavor was an energy saving showerhead.  I must admit that it did indeed save energy.  During a seven-minute shower, it grudgingly squeezed out about a cup of water.  My feet didn’t even get damp.  A day with one hundred percent humidity would have yielded a more suitable environment in which to work up a lather.  I smelled like a shampoo sample until mid afternoon.  And all the water I didn’t use lapped around in the hot water tank all day, doing no one any good.

            The downside of being green is that it can spawn conflict.  Suppose I read by candlelight in order to save energy.  Am I perhaps doing more damage by releasing carbon into the atmosphere with the candle flame?  Can I expect someone to ring the doorbell and slap me with a carbon tax?  And once I’ve saved that electricity just exactly where is it?  Does it get put aside as my own personal kilowatt hour, or does some other less conscientious person get to run his plasma screen TV with it? 

            So maybe, in some cases, we should take our example of how to be “green” from Kermit and The Jolly Green Giant.  They are the experts on greenness, and you can bet they are never, ever going to be as cranky as Greenpeace!  Butting other people’s ships and engineering high seas confrontations are not on their list of Green Things To Do.  And I’m pretty sure that despite how helpful it is to the environment, neither of them is ever going to endorse showering in a mere cup of water!

A Brief History of Swimming

            When I was five years old my parents had the good sense to build a cottage.  Now, to me, the actual cottage itself didn’t matter, nor did the view, its size, or its charming lack of plumbing. I didn’t care if the neighbors were clones from Deliverance.  All that mattered was that it was on a lake, an actual body of water.

I am completely, utterly, hopelessly heat intolerant.  When the weather gets hot I take it personally.  I mope, I fret.  Some say I get cranky. I’ve been known to hallucinate.  This is because in all the years of my childhood, I never once had to cope with being too warm.  After all, a blue body of water waited in my front yard, beckoning me to jump into it. 

A typical cottage day consisted of a swim after breakfast, interrupted by a brief break for lunch and supper.  At bed time I would be required to get out of the lake. 

My mother had two rules.  Rule number one: no swimming for one hour after eating.  Rule number two: no avoid eating so as to duck rule number one.  This left me with a one-hour void three times a day, which could be squeezed down intervals of fifty-minutes each if I adjusted the clock.

In order to avoid being parted from the water for too long, I would place my miniature aluminum lawn chair in the lake and sit in it while I waited for the hour to pass.  This satisfied the technical requirement that I not swim, while allowing me to stay wet.  However, sneaking the lawn chair into water higher than my waist was strictly forbidden.  This action invariably netted me fifteen minutes of banishment to the shoreline.  I never really understood any of this, and I still don’t.  I’ve never encountered any cases where gut-wrenching post-lunch cramps caused the demise of a person sitting in a chair.  I suspect my mother hadn’t heard of any cases either, but maybe she needed at least a few waking hours where she didn’t have to watch the back of my head bobbing in the lake.  I was probably more at risk of being struck by lightning attracted to my metal framed chair than I was of being seized by a cramp.  People don’t seem to worry about the swimming/eating thing as much today, but in the sixties it was one of the top ten worries, along with radioactive fallout, Russian spies, and whether or not someone might slip LSD into your Kool-Aid.

            Back at home in town, I still sought water everywhere.  Swimming pools were uncommon during my childhood, but you could cool off under the lawn sprinkler.  We were lucky enough to have rich neighbors who had a pool.  At least I thought they were rich – how else could they afford the extravagance of a plastic wading pool? 

Pools and plastic were both rarities in the early sixties.  The circular wading pool had two inflatable plastic rings for sides, one orange and one yellow, and a thin plastic bottom. It was a whopping four feet in diameter and could be filled to an impressive depth of 4-5 inches. Any deeper than that and you were “wasting water”. The water nicely covered your feet all the way up to the tops of your ankles if you were standing, or to the tops of your thighs if you were sitting.  Maximum capacity: two kids.  Actual capacity: five kids with an additional six standing nearby yelling that it was their turn.  From a parental point of view, it was the best possible swimming experience, as there was zero chance that anyone would drown. A kid was more likely to die of infection brought on by multiple toenail slashings.

Later on, as I went farther afield in the world I made friends with someone who had a real swimming pool – a large rectangular hole in the ground, with concrete squared off nicely around the edges. It had a snappy blue liner and a diving board at one end.  You could even swim in that thing on weekdays – no waiting to get to the cottage!  It didn’t matter that the population density in the pool rivaled that of Singapore, it was water, and it was deep enough to swim in.  And best of all, it wasn’t a public pool! 

My mother disapproved of public pools, and was ultimately proven to be correct in her analysis.  The one and only time I was allowed to go to a public pool I returned home with only one shoe.  To be more accurate, I returned home with no shoes, as the one shoe that was not stolen seemed just too heavy to carry back home after I discovered I’d been the victim of a one-legged thief.  Wearing a single shoe for the long walk home was more painful than scorching my bare soles on the hot pavement. Midway between the pool and home I pitched the useless unpaired sneaker into a shrub. 

Not long ago I walked past that same shrub, which is now a massive clump with stems thicker than a sailor’s arm.  I bent down and looked beneath the leaves but the shoe was not there.  Too bad – it might have made my mother re-think her position on how “irresponsible” I am.

On hot days I still like to take a dip, proving that swimming can be a lifelong pursuit.  You are only briefly too young to swim, and almost never too old.  But you do need to remember a few rules:  no swimming for one hour after eating, trim your toenails when swimming in close quarters, and keep your eyes on your shoes!

Phones: Then and Now

             When you think about it, phones have changed a lot in the last fifty or more years. They are now not only portable, but small enough to get lost in a tooth cavity or show up in unexpected places, like in the fishing tackle box you hid under the bed.  Last week I retrieved two cell phones from the laundry hamper and one from the dog’s dish.  I got there just in time.

            Back when I was a child we were like every other family.  We had one phone and only one phone.  And like all phones of that era, it was a black phone with a rotary dial.  It was at least twenty years before it occurred to anyone that a phone could be manufactured in a colour other than black.  

            Despite the lack of colour choice, you did have two options.  You could have a wall mounted phone or one that sat on the counter.  However, the location of the phone was non-negotiable.  Phones were always located in or near kitchens back then, the logic being that the homemaker spent most of her time there.  Placing the phone nearby meant that she wouldn’t have to run all over the house when it rang.  Etiquette dictated that she must answer the phone within two rings - it was impolite to keep the caller waiting.   She would have to deal with the leg she broke tripping over the dog in her phone-inspired dash after the call had ended.

My dad insisted we needed a wall mounted phone. He was sure that we would knock the table model on the floor and break it - an event as calamitous as an A-bomb plunking down in our back yard.  It was common knowledge that you were allowed one phone per household per lifetime.  That black phone was going to have to last you until the end of eternity, maybe even longer, no one could say for sure. Phones were so special you couldn’t even own one.  They were the property of the phone company, and damaging corporate property was more than likely punishable by execution of the entire family.  In the event of a fire, the phone was to be saved before your purse, your best hat, the radio you hadn’t finished paying for yet, and your Granny.

            The phone didn’t ring much back then.  It was only to be used for serious matters, and only for adult matters.  If you wanted to play kick-the-can with your best buddy you walked over to his house and knocked on the door.  This let his mother decide if you were a worthy playmate, depending on how clean/polite you were, and whether or not their family dog was inclined to seize you in his jaws and toss you around the yard.  The latter was a true test of your character and was an option that simply could not be exercised over the phone.  A clean hankie in your pocket and recently trimmed fingernails also went a long way toward impressing another kid’s mother.

When the phone did ring the phone calls were usually for Mom. These involved the church potluck suppers or bridge club meetings or baby showers that were the meat and potatoes of social life in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.  Rarely, oh so rarely, the phone calls would be for Dad.  This was so uncommon that it would leave the family awestruck for the better part of a week.   A meteorite slicing through the roof and striking you dead in your bed was a more likely event.  Invariably these infrequent calls came during dinnertime.  Forks dropped into plates during the shocked silence that fell over the dinner table.  Billy would swallow his pork chop whole and the dog would forget all about table scraps and start whimpering in the corner.  I would spill my full glass of milk and it would actually go unnoticed.  We would not even breathe.  Something of major importance was about to happen.

Phones were limited use items back then.  For example, the school did not phone home when you misbehaved.   If your transgressions required parental intervention, a hand-written note from your teacher was sent home, summoning Mom to the school.  Both the presentation of the note and the trip to the school by your mother instantly made even small infractions balloon into events of Biblical proportions.  

Schools have now come to rely very heavily on the use of the phone.  They even have phones that can dial themselves.  Teachers no longer need to waste time and paper writing notes to parents – they have an “automated dialer” to deliver the bad news.  The dialer doesn’t have a lot of information at its disposal so it just gives you a tease, kind of like a movie trailer.  It only has a few vague facts:  some student who lives at your address missed something, sometime.  You aren’t given the name of the student, just his grade.  You are given the date, but the time period is just hinted at, for example, “period two.” 

The auto-dialer leaves a cryptic message such as, “A student in grade nine in your household was absent from period three on November 3rd.”  What the message is hinting at is often difficult to interpret and might point the finger of suspicion at more than one of your offspring.  It doesn’t much matter.  If your kids have figured out how to answer the phone, you’re never going to hear that message.  It’s a wonderful example of advanced phone technology, but I don’t think it’s much of an improvement over the teacher’s note.  Sure the note could be tossed in the gutter on the way home, but the note was personal and ditching it would have led to a feeling of guilt.  Foiling the auto-dialer?  Who cares if the autodialer’s feelings get hurt?  That would just be silly.

Now, thanks to cell phones, calls follow us everywhere.  The dentist has to fill your tooth between phone calls and the doctor has to take a break from repairing your aorta to let the telemarketers know that you’re currently unavailable.  The phone rings while your boyfriend is on bended knee with diamond ring in hand, and he has to pause while you tell the Nigerians that they’ll have to wait until later to put all that money in your bank account. Your cell phone rings while you’re pumping gas, and you wonder if you are going to go down in urban legend history by blowing up an entire city block.

 Phones have changed just about everything.  It’s kind of tricky to figure out if their constant companionship is a plus.  A mere fifty years ago your phone would have been at home, safety attached to the wall.  Blowing up a gas pump was way less likely.  Aorta repair and marriage proposals could go undisturbed.  No one drove into a ditch/wall/movie theatre or backyard pool while typing on their phone. Disasters at the office somehow managed to wait until Monday.  And you could plan a whole vacation without ever once having to plot a route that stayed within the range of cell phone towers!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Frog Who Jumped to the Stars

At first it pissed Franz off – those little scattered cuts, those twinkles pocking up the night sky.  It was hard to think about.  It totally ruined the nice black vista. 

Toby didn’t agree. He fantasized that the twinkles were collections of, of...something.  He couldn’t think of a word for it. He started putting them into groups, and calling the groups constellations, and pointing them out to anyone who wasn’t croaking too loudly to hear.   “There, that one – just to the right over Centre Stump - I call that the Lily Pad Constellation, and, ooh, ooh, omygod, look at that one over there!  It looks just like a dragonfly, a nice beefy dragonfly.” He stuck his tongue out but it came up empty.

Franz didn’t know whether to be sickened or impressed.  He was a little of both.  He dove deep, scraped himself through the mud, and emerged with a respectable burp. 

What were those damn, maddening, eye-tweaking dots up there? 

Toby was now pointing out another constellation he called “Fish Face” and how there was a hook trailing behind it.  Croaks of “fish” and “face” and “hook” were reverently bounced off the rubber lips of the onlookers.  Tongues flicked upward enthusiastically, and Morgo poked himself in the eye for the fourth time since supper. They went on naming, and pointing, and flicking, until Franz wished they’d just shut the croak up.

Toby sure had a grip on their attention, but Franz figured there was probably a way to steal back the fickle admiration of the boys.  He hopped a little farther away from the Stump so he could get a better bead on the twinkles.  He sorted methodically through his repertoire.  He could swim.  Nah.  He could croak.  Overrated.  And over used.  He could eat.  Hard to see how that would help.  Hard to see how it would hurt, either, but he had to stay focused.  He could jump.  Jump!  What if...what if he could just jump right up there to those twinkles and show everybody that they were just stupid holes in the overhead black? 

He moved back farther, farther away from The Stump than he’d ever been.  The Stump was dwarfed by the endless black that was totally twinked out, like flies on a fox poop.  But the farther back he went the more twinkles he could see.   He paused and worked his eyelids to redistribute the mucous in his eyes.  He needed to make sure it was all real. 

It was.

Franz hunkered down and spring loaded his thighs.  Then he went into a super lower-than-low crouch and let go with a perfect jump. It was even more gargantuan than he had planned!  He sailed past his blathering comrades, two of which now had their waggling tongues tangled in a pink knot.  He sailed past Centre Stump, past the shoreline’s Eastern Mass O’ Moss, and kept on going until he smacked head first into the side of a tree.   More of the twinkles poured right into his eyes as made contact with the trunk. 

Cries of “Holy thit!” came from below as the twinkle-struck frogs strained to get their tongue unhitched.  “Did you sthee that!?”  “Franz is right up there with the sthars!”

Stars?  Franz tried to sort out the ones in his head from the ones above.  They were...stars?  Hadn’t he read about them only last week in the newspaper?  Stars were just were suns that looked falsely itty-bitty.  He tried to remember the reason for that but it eluded him.

Franz jumped again, the stars in his eyes competing with the stars in the sky.  His trajectory went up and up and then it started to thin out a little at the apex.  The arc continued but now it went down in a blistering plunge.  Franz accelerated faster and faster as the lake rose up to meet the sky in a grand gesture of cooperation. There were as many stars in the lake as there were in the sky, and Franz knew he was quite likely the only star-gazing-flying frog in the neighbourhood, maybe even in the world.  He flew on and on until he heard the giant “kerrrrspllatttt”.  The pain came later.

He stayed underwater for a very long time.  When he broke the surface the boys were arguing over who had eaten the most fire flies and whether or not fire flies yielded visible farts.  Toby was categorizing fly clusters and naming them. Morgo was licking his swollen eye. 

The twinkles were gone and a light rain was falling.  Piper looked over and said, “Hey Franz!  Where ya been?  Did ya reach the stars?”  He coughed up a half lit fly. 

Franz turned around and cuffed Morgo in the other eye with his tongue.  It felt good to be part of the crowd once again.  And he was pretty sure of one thing.  Frogs reaching for the stars had better be prepared for a hunk of pain.  A really big hunk of pain.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Pamphlet Overdose

            You can tell when you’ve had a good road trip.  The car is waist deep in pamphlets, brochures, and multi-page booklets.  Most of them have bright blue and green covers, and they’re slick with eye-popping glossiness and sugary fingerprints.  You need a shovel to get them off the car seat before you can get back into the vehicle after each pit stop. They plaster the windows.  They stand in for blankets when the air-conditioning gets overzealous.  If it’s been a particularly long trip, chances are it’s safe for you to disable the airbags.  You will have plenty of printed materials to cushion you in an accident, and they won’t inflate aggressively and break your nose.  Plus, you’ll have something to read while waiting for the ambulance.

            Up until yesterday I always took all these brochures for granted.  They’re a pleasant part of the travel experience.  Every stop has a giant rack of them and they’re all free!  On each trip we do the same thing.  We collect mountains of pamphlets.  We scoop them up by the pound and stash them in plastic shopping bags all over the car.  After a few days they choke the map pockets, clog the centre console, and obstruct the air conditioning.  We once threw away the car manual to make room for them in the glove compartment.  On our last trip the spare tire required a crowbar to rescue it from a pamphlet wedgie. 

On a trip several years ago we descended into mad hysteria - no room left in the car!  Drastically, we decided to leave an entire bag of pamphlets in a recycling bin in Michigan.  Six hundred miles later we discovered that five Barbies and their entire wardrobe were nowehre to be found. The rejected bag of pamphlets was still with us.  Not everyone saw that as a silver lining. 

             Regardless of where we go, we grab booklets on all manner of tourist sites, from Disney World to Dollywood to the Japanese garden located in a goat farmer’s abandoned outhouse.  Even though we now travel without children, we nab pamphlets on backyard zoos and flakey reptile houses.  Our collection includes pamphlets on how to apply Jiffy Tattoos and still others that invite you to a session on The Private Life of the Button Mushroom at a one-room science centre.  I really didn’t need a set of instructions for that last one, but I was worried I might be missing something. 

            Most nights during a trip we hoist bags of brochures into the hotel room and spread them out on the bed.  Then we ignore them.  They’re kind of like unsuccessful models – pretty to look at, but ultimately tedious to engage.

            You can even get gobs of brochures for places you’ve never visited.  Just check any tourist site on the internet.  You can print out pamphlets such as Transporting Your Didgeridoo, Panhandling on the Alaskan Panhandle, and Where to Eat on Everest.  

            Recently I wanted to get a brochure printed out for an upcoming event.  It seemed to me that a colored, double-sided, one page fold-over would be quite inexpensive.  I would request plain paper, nothing too fancy - just a splash of color here and there.  How much could it possibly cost?  A few pennies per copy?  I would get a hundred of them, maybe even five hundred! 

            I called around.  Cost per double-sided sheet:  approximately one dollar!  My brochure would be spit out of a colored photocopier one page at a time, and every time the machine muttered “kachunk” it was going to cost me a buck. 

It made me think about the boxes and filing cabinets of pamphlets and their kin that lurk in the back of our garage.  I’m harboring a gold mine!  Had I realized their value, I would have taken way fewer of them.  Or maybe way more.  I definitely would have been more conscientious, less of a pamphlet junkie.  I would have balanced things out better by placing one used pamphlet into the display rack each time I took out a new one.  How else are people browsing for tourist attractions at the Arizona Tourist Bureau going to know what time the ferry leaves for PEI, or who’s up next at Branson?  Isn't recycling our civic duty?  

I’ve already packed a suitcase full to take with me this summer.  I’m also trying to figure out how to get rid of all the weird ones I sent for but no longer want.  So...just how do I send something back to the internet?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Childhood Heroes - Then and Now

Maniacal cracked-out sponges tend to scare me – especially when they’re wearing square pants. But this very characteristic has made Spongebob famous. Mr. Squarepants is a cartoon sponge who currently enjoys huge popularity on daytime cartoons. He has wildly dilated pupils and looks like he’s on the up side of a three-day drug orgy. The only sensible thing about Spongebob is his square pants, a wise choice considering his anatomy. I think if I had encountered a raving marine sponge wearing quadrilateral pants when I was a kid I would have needed counseling way sooner.

When I was a kid we had simple heroes - like the innocuous Porky Pig. He wore a regular looking jacket, a semi-formal red bow tie, and required no pants at all. What made Porky funny? He stuttered. Porky would never be on TV today, not even in adult cartoons. Those popular characters wallow in smut, violence, and suggestive oddball sexuality. They are okay for network TV, but a character who stutters? The hammer of political correctness would come smashing down. Porky would never fly today - even if he could be persuaded to put his pants back on.

Thanks to the movies, Spiderman is more popular now that he ever was in his comic book heyday. That’s kind of strange since he’s based on an arachnid, one of those black too-many-legged beasts that escape by zigzagging all over your walls. On one hand we’re deploying flyswatters, rolled-up newspapers, and Raid to control the beasts, and on the other, we’re idolizing them in films where they put the rest of us to shame by heroically avenging personal tragedy and kissing people upside down. What’s next? Mosquito Man? A crime fighting bomb-spitting cockroach? Super ants that hold a congress and figure out how to stop climate change, then wipe us out for being too stupid to solve the problem ourselves?

Right now the X-Men are pretty popular. They’re from a brotherhood of mutants. Remember how we used to be afraid of mutants? We figured that they would hurt us, since that’s the preferred strategy people use if they’re different from each other. Each of these mutants has a special power. For example, Cyclops has the ability to give an optic blast. Unless he’s a qualified ophthalmologist, that doesn’t sound very safe to me. Magneto is even scarier. He can manipulate electromagnetic fields, allowing him to generate force fields, levitate submarines, and reprogram your coffee pot. In the right mood, he can wipe your iPod cleaner than a Swiffered floor, and strip your computer naked. And your chromosomes.

Sadly, many of our childhood heroes have been dethroned. They’re too feeble, too ordinary or even too politically incorrect. Remember The Near-Sighted Mr. Magoo? He couldn’t see too well, but gosh, he knew how to have fun. No optic blasts from him! Mr. Magoo’s poor eyesight had him falling in to, or out of, every imaginable object. Today he would not be considered not funny, just disabled. We would give him a Seeing Eye dog, a cane, a pension, and a talking computer. But a shot at cartoon fame? Never! Instead of hilariously mistaking cushions for cats, he would be parking in the handicapped spot and spending most of his time seeking solace at the optometrist’s.

Richie Rich is another character who could never be a comic book hero today. Remember him? He was blond and cute and had a swimming pool and his own outrageously expensive car. He lived in a really really big house. He had two of everything that it was possible to own. Today he would hold zero interest for the reader. Why? He's no longer different than the rest of us sailing along on middle-class credit. He would be banned along with Little Dot, the girl whose every story depended on her obsession with dots. She would be referred to the school psychologist. Little Lotta, the obese victim of an eating disorder that gave her super human strength would be banned. The best she could hope for today would be a spot on The Biggest Loser.

Some of our heroes have fallen to changes in political climate. Speedy Gonzales, despite his legendary speed and wit, ceased to be aired on cartoon networks because he was fingered as a racial stereotype. He went from being cute and sassy to embarrassing. Oddly, he is still popular in Mexico. They don’t mind that his lazy buddies portray Mexicans in an unflattering way. They think it’s funny. It’s an old story - it’s okay to make jokes about your own racial group, but don't point your snickering finger at other groups. You can’t make cartoons about them either. So outside of Mexico, Speedy is banned. If you see Mexico on TV today it’s not about Speedy Gonzales, it’s usually about the drug lords, crime, and violence. So much for stereotypes.

Friendliness was highly valued when I was a kid. An abundance of this characteristic alone could make you a fantasy hero, like Casper the Friendly Ghost. He seemed to be a good idea at the time. He kept kids from being afraid of ghosts, since we could see how syrupy nice they actually were. There was nothing to fear there, so maybe those monsters hiding under the bed were friendly too. All in all, he was a terrific role model, nice in spite of his malevolent guardians, coping graciously with an abusive home situation. But Casper would be too simple today. He has no super powers, no weapons, just his friendliness. We’re more sophisticated now, so we know that anything too friendly is suspicious.

There was also The Friendly Giant, if you were lucky enough to have a mother that would let you turn on the TV at ten o’clock on a week day morning. He was an actual human being, except that he was a giant. He hung out with Rusty, a hard-headed, soft-brained chicken, and a talking somewhat cross-eyed giraffe named Jerome. Rusty was some sort of chicken and lived in a cloth bag hung way up high on a castle wall. Clearly a situation of abuse. Jerome, who consisted only of a neck and a head, didn’t seem to live anywhere at all. I suspect they were both just hand puppets, but I can’t prove it. Imagine producing a TV show today where kids would be entertained by mere hand puppets? Impossible. Even the Friendly Giant’s miniature “two chairs to curl up in” would bore kids silly, since they lacked lights, sound, movement, and schlock.  But I still want those chairs.

So we can’t deny that childhood heroes have changed. We’ve exchanged hand puppets for mentally unbalanced sponges, friendly ghosts and myopic seniors for characters who emulate spiders or can kill with their eyes. The rich kids, fat kids, dot-loving kids, and superfast mice are out. But a few things are the still in. Tweety is still eluding Sylvester on a daily basis. Bugs Bunny is still a charming smart ass. And I’m still waiting for the borrower of my cardboard box full of comic books to bring my heroes back!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Life in the Car

Do you ever wonder what your epitaph will say? Inevitably, something will be chiseled in granite. Unless you think about it ahead of time, you won’t be consulted on the last say you will ever have. Ideally, mine should chronicle my life in the car. It’s when I’m at my best.

As a solo act, being alone in the car trumps them all. The universe between the windshield and the back window is yours alone to govern. You can play any song you like on your CD player, and you can play it as many times in a row as you like. I always I end up listening to one or two favorite songs on a CD, over and over. I do this in case life is shorter than I expect it to be. I don’t want to wake up on the other side and find out that I invested too much time on tracks that I didn’t really like. Listening to music is not about being polite. At present, Dust in the Wind and Carry on My Wayward Son have the exclusive rights to the airwaves in my car. They bring about a cosmic atmosphere. Dust in the Wind laments on how ephemeral life really is, and Carry on My Wayward Son excuses all my transgressions on my way to laying my weary head to rest.

There’s a lot of stuff to do in the car, other than the obvious activity of driving it around. First of all, even though I don’t have an especially fancy car, there are a lot of controls to be adjusted. If I’m on a long trip I like to adjust the air conditioning about every one to two minutes. It keeps me sharp. In the winter, I adjust the heat even more frequently, switching it from blowing on my face, to my feet, to the back seat. I can never seem to achieve an ideal temperature for more than 30 seconds. It’s the main reason I insist passengers sit only in the back seat. That way they can’t touch the temperature controls.

Eating in the car is also a pleasant pastime, especially since drive-thrus are so plentiful. Coffee never tastes better than when you are driving around, the sun in your eyes, the tunes blasting, and the coffee stains outnumbering the buttons on your coat. If you are kind of clumsy like me, you might end up wearing as much of your coffee as you drink, but the battle scars on your coat don’t matter. You know the cup holder is in even worse shape than you are.

Often, when I’m driving around and my mind is roaming free, I will have a great idea about something I want to write. I keep a note pad in the map pocket of the door to jot down these jewels. I like to be safe, though, so I wait until I come to a traffic light that’s red. Then I begin writing furiously. Sometimes I can tell that I’m making the drivers around me paranoid. They think I’m recording their license plate numbers to report their driving errors. Occasionally, I try to reassure them by rolling down the window and yelling “Don’t worry – I’m just having ideas!” Usually they pretend they haven’t heard me and drive away quickly. They don’t even wait for the light to go green.

There are even more exotic things you can do while driving your car than eating and drinking coffee and deafening yourself with 35 year old rock music. Some people apply makeup, read books or maps, brush their teeth without the benefit of water, or catch up on their cross-stitch. These are all fun car activities, but I try to indulge in them only if the traffic light is long enough to allow me to fill in my income tax forms. At other times, when the red light lasts interminably long, I toy with the idea of changing my oil, but I never do, because I would actually have to get out of the car to do this.

Last summer Highway 11 kept interfering with my perfect life in the car. I spent more time stopped by construction than I did driving. Each waiting period stretched out longer than the previous one. I can tell when drivers’ tolerance for waiting has reached the limit. They start getting out of their vehicles and visiting up and down the long chain of cars to see if the other drivers know why the delay is so long. Of course, they cannot possibly have any additional information, but any kind of waiting is a good excuse for socializing. Pretty soon people start opening their coolers and slapping on sun tan oil as they pump other drivers for the details on what life is like in Cobalt, or Albuquerque, or Moonbeam. Eventually, just as Joe from Greenville, Alabama gets his BBQ lit, the line begins to snake ahead.

On my last trip up Highway 11, I finally tired of socializing with the same drivers at every delay. I decided to indulge in some light housekeeping in my car. I cleaned the dashboard and the windshield, and mucked out the cup holders. I re-folded about twenty crumpled maps. I alphabetized the travel pamphlets, restrung my tennis racket, and I had enough time left over to haul water from a nearby creek and swab down the passenger seat. It was suffering from some sort of encounter with spilled Chinese food. I considered re-warming the leftover food on the engine, but I was worried that I would run out of time.

I don’t like to be parted from my car. So perhaps my epitaph will reflect this. Maybe it will even be shaped like a car. And with all the advances in solar power and audio devices, I’m pretty sure that I can look forward to having the haunting strains of Dust in the Wind follow me and my car into eternity.