25 July, 2009

About Waiting

Waiting. You’d think that in today’s super fast business environment that there would be a lot less waiting. Today we enjoy cell phones and email and faxes and twitters and expressways and high occupancy vehicle lanes and mass transit and instant credit approval and cable news and satellite TV and none of these conveniences can eliminate or help us accept lines at the check out counter. Boo hiss anyone who’s writing a check!

The truth is that society takes great liberties with our time. Rush hour traffic… forget about it! It’s certainly the bane of life in a big city. In Miami it can take 70 minutes to drive eight miles during the morning rush hour. Lines are so long that fledgling industries now avail themselves of the time we are stuck in traffic. Solicitors wander driver to driver, vehicle to vehicle trying to sell whatever you’ll buy. OR… perhaps it’s only someone collecting money.

Ever try to call your local phone company? “For instructions in English press one (this is America, why do we need to press 1 for English?). To route your call correctly press two on your touch tone phone. Choose from the following five options. Choose from the following three options. Choose from the following six options. Visit us on line or call our automated service. Please wait while we connect you with a representative. We estimate your hold time to be 6 minutes.” And that’s presuming you have called the correct department.

They know we’re stuck on the phone and so they ply us with ads. Looped audio of how terrific is their new service with an occasional ‘Your call is very important to us. Stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received’. It’s worse if you call your bank or your credit card people. They want to have the whole 16 digit account number right up front... and more than once!

So one day while standing in line at the post office I did some math. If you wait only 30 minutes a week (a conservative estimate considering the supermarket, the bank, the gas station, the traffic lights and of course ‘hold please’) by months end you will have been in line for two hours. By the end of the year your cumulative total has reached 24 hours. One entire day spent waiting. After 20 years you’ll likely have enough time invested to take a three week vacation!

And we love our vacations. We can hardly wait to get into line at the airport or the cruise terminal or the cinema or the zoo. How satisfying it is waiting to be seated at a table in our favorite restaurant. We wait for luggage, our food and our drinks, and a taxi.

The bigger our civilization gets the more it seems to crush the smallest facets of the day. The arduous commute, the frustrated caller, the tormented traveler… and don’t forget jury duty! It seems the more time saving devices we invent, the more time we spend waiting around for them. And here’s a good example: my room mate is standing in front of the microwave yelling “come on, come on!”

23 May, 2009

About Height

Humans have had a love affair with height throughout history. The highest mountain, the tallest building, a tall ship or a high-flying plane... even trips to the moon! Perhaps it is only about achieving 'a view from the top'. But I think there's more! 'Reaching for the stars' is a well-known mantra to generations of dreamers. We love the top…

The top of the hill, the top of the stairs, the penthouse views; the tallest tree can be seen from furthest away. As a culture we revere height, especially tall people. Abe Lincoln was tall. Anthony Robbins… tall. A tall person has power unavailable to the smaller of us. Chances of getting your own way are directly related to your height. Political candidates, basketball players, cruise directors and even State Troopers are selected partly because they have a 'look' that includes height.

Classic literature portrays women 'gazing up into the eyes' of their lover. Tall women can be imposing and intimidating. Men rather prefer to be the tallest person in a relationship. A really tall woman seems to defuse the male gender role. Knowing this, I think women choose to dress in heels!

Short people have their own syndrome… 'Short man's syndrome'. There is no such parallel for being tall. Short people have a reputation for being 'scrappy'. Tall people have a more languorous presence.

Tall people can reach to the highest shelf. They have less trouble washing the middle of the roof and observing the tops of our heads! They also have trouble getting their entire body under the covers at one time and avoid sporty cars with low ceilings. Being tall is likely safer, after all Giraffes are lookouts for the animal kingdom. Besides, it's tough to be short. You're the first one to smell a fart and the last one to know it's raining!

03 May, 2009

About Cell Phones

It’s likely we don’t think much about cell phones these days. That is until one rings and it sounds like our own. Everyone has a cell phone. A few days ago I saw an 11 year old girl ranting on her cell while marching out of the supermarket.

Like many of us I managed to get along for years without a cell phone. I already had a home phone and an answering machine and a fax number. Now if I leave home without my cell I feel naked! Adrift. Not connected. Inaccessible.

Cell phones have completely changed parenting. They’ve changed businesses everywhere and access in general. Where would Mulder and Scully be without their cells! Many plot elements of the Hitchcock masterpieces were dependant upon the ringing phone that goes unanswered or the desperate need to find a phone or the ubiquitous plot element “The line’s been cut!” I guess now they'd say: "There's no signal."

Cell phones have tossed into our daily lives a number of difficult issues. For one thing people weren’t that great at driving before this invention. Now 40% of everyone you see on the road is talking on their cell. As soon as they start the car… the phone goes to their ear. Many times they are so busy talking they might sit through a green light leaving the rest of us to wait. See that woman trying to navigate the parking lot who tries to steer her over large SUV with one hand?

Standing in line at the cash register and a woman is busy saying nothing into her cell but is so engrossed she‘s wasting the time of everyone behind her. Not to mention that we just don’t want to hear about your personal, private business! It’s excessive… TMI (too much information). Just because the phone is portable doesn’t mean you should manage your affairs while everyone else is listening. What could possibly be so important that you can’t call back when other business has finished?

A guy on a date goes to dinner. Her cell phone rings and she spends much of their time together chatting on the phone with someone else while her date pretends to be occupied. Can’t she say she’s busy and will call back? Riding in a car… same story.

Two people seated at a table chat on the phone with two other people and pay little attention to one another. No wonder Americans feel more isolated.

Next time you use your cell and sit alone in your home or walk quietly along the street, think of all those conversations buzzing along over your head or perhaps passing through your body. All the drivers stranded at turn signals, all the dates gone awry or all the conversations you weren’t trying to over hear… that’s weird.

20 April, 2009

About Celebrity

What would your world be like if everyone knew you by a single name? Cher, Elton, Sting, Madonna, Elvis, Beyonce, Prince (or the artist formerly known as... now a symbol) … pretty cool huh? What if you had your own phrase, after all Billy Joel is the ‘Piano Man’, Julia Roberts is the ‘Pretty Woman’. Madonna is also the ‘Material Girl’ but now we hear that she is changing her name to ‘Esther’. These are the celebrities of our time. They are the darlings of media. Just like Cary Grant or Jean Harlow; Monroe, Garland, Gable… they certainly have talent. The later having great dentifrice as well being rather uncommon in those days. It made them far more photogenic than other artists of the day. Dentistry is cheaper now.

Celebrity has been defined for us in so many ways. One movie has stated that celebrity has become an 'apotheosis' (that being the elevation of a person to the rank of deity). We reject flaws in our heroes (look at Michael Jackson’s support). People once became famous because they were special. However, today many are considered to be special because they are famous. Andy Warhol was right; everyone does get his or her 15 minutes of fame and in some cases very much more. Kato Kaylin, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie... none appears to possess a discernible talent.

It is a truly curious development of modern media. Americans in particular are enamored with the wealthy and the powerful. Magazines, entire shows and even entire cable networks are devoted to tracking the exploits of celebrity. Media exposure is so powerful that the public becomes aware in a virtual moment when someone has gained notoriety (Susan Boyle springs to mind); or infamy (as the case may be). Jeff Peterson has actually received numerous marriage proposals while the murder investigation of his wife Lacie continues.

Fame is much more about ones physical appearance than ever before. An attractive person is automatically credited with enviable traits and skills simply because they have ‘eye appeal’. Thanks to MTV and television in general we have become a visual culture! We presume that an appealing, attractive or glamorous person must also be compassionate, sensitive and philanthropic as well. We automatically attribute to them wisdom and resourcefulness and intelligence! This may even help to explain the current crisis in pop music, that being one of ‘form over content’.

It is an astonishing assumption given the actualities. Less attractive people generally have more complete personalities. They have to shine from within. Attractive people are generally accepted for their looks and do not have to work so hard on their personalities. Reality check: the most attractive people in your high school classes were likely the hardest to get along with!

Wealth and fame do seem to coincide, but there are many wealthy people who are not famous. However, only a few famous people are not wealthy. One thing is certain; there are no famous poor people!

09 April, 2009

About Smells

Dogs are reputed to have something like 200 times more olfactory receptors in their capacious snouts than do we humans. This makes them excellent if unpredictable allies in the search for contraband. The turkey buzzard can locate rotten meat from miles away using their sensitive olfactory setup. Scent marking is an important method of communicating territory as well as declaring gender (and receptivity) in all four legged creatures. Moose and Rhinoceros even create hollows or ‘middens’ on the ground as a kind of 'scent station'. Can an animal really smell fear?

Miami is one of the few places in the world where a car can pass you on the street at 40 miles per hour (with the windows up) and cologne of the operator will linger! Ships at Sea are some of the few places in the world where your waiter can pass you at dinner only to send a wave of body odor wafting across your meal. It’s really off-putting but most people are way too polite to mention it.

Some cultures have little access to water and so showering daily is a new concept. Still it is an odd experience to smell the janitor’s body odor three floors away!

It's likely humans no longer respond to pheromones. Those little indicators of identity popular with the animal kingdom have been disguised beneath layers of scented drier sheets, detergent, spray starch, deodorant, scented soaps, shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, body lotion, hair spray, styling gel and of course perfume to name a few.

Some people prefer natural smells. We line closets with cedar because it’s wholesome and neutral. Napoleon would dispatch a rider to Josephine a few days before returning home asking that she not bathe… apparently he liked her scent. Not surprisingly it was the French who would excel in combining fragrant oils to make perfumes and colognes both pleasing and costly!

Smells can transport us back to a moment in time. Our mothers cooking, the perfume of an ex-lover, a copy machine, a Christmas tree, a pencil, a magazine, garlic bread, leather or that new car smell… you know what I mean. Heaven forbid someone should sniff beer on your breath!

Humans handle scents in very different ways. Sometimes I think men began to enjoy cigars after dinner because smoke would mask a myriad of other post dinner odors! Women are universally awed at the many ways air can exit the male body! My Dad was pretty open-minded about these things. Sometimes he’d let out a huge fart and challenge his kids to ‘catch that, paint it green and put in a bottle’!

30 March, 2009

About Team Sports

Maybe it is a direct result of our collective rights to vote? I suppose everyone wants to root for the winning team.

Maybe it is a passionate response to an issue of personal consequence? Maybe we define ourselves in some way by declaring our affiliations? Maybe we merely leap onto the winning bandwagon. Maybe we are desperate to display a sense of identity.

Whatever the reason, perhaps you have noticed recently that America is increasingly polarized. No, not the wearing of sunglasses that reduce glare… I’m talking about the way individuals have allied themselves AND how casual terms in the media have posited groups into rashly generalized formats. Hot or cold? Plus or minus? Left or right? Are you with us or against us? Apparently the gray areas have disappeared entirely or become irrelevant. It’s 100% or nothing!

I believe it was Winston Churchill who delivered the famous quote: “If you are young and not a liberal you have no heart. If you are old and not a conservative you have no brain.” But these days Americans are much more likely to be lumped into one group or another regardless of the truth.

Liberal or conservative has become another team sport like Lakers or Heat, Red Sox or Yankees, Democrat or Republican? Catholic or Protestant... Notre Dame, Chicago Cubs, Pro-Choice… get the picture? It certainly doesn’t help to have arrogant, self possessed ‘ratings seekers’ ply their craft on the air waves every day. So far as I can tell the world of Rush Limbaugh is comprised of Liberals, Conservatives and Appeasers. How very convenient!

It doesn’t end there. Recent television shows divide viewers into camps by giving them the chance to vote on the best singer. Rueben Stoddard or Clay Aikens... which were you? The best dancer, the best employee, the best bride or groom or actor or Hilton! Who will be voted off the island next? We feel exonerated if we have chosen correctly. There have been other contests since.

So what are you? Coke or Pepsi? Import or Domestic? Cotton or Polyester? East coast, west coast… it is a continual game of ‘one-ups-man-ship’. Can you bake a cherry pie… well I can!