porcelainandporcupines

A few months ago, I wrote about two songs that are not particularly good. And while that piece is undoubtedly the best press either of those songs has gotten at this late date in 2014, and is also undoubtedly considered long enough by anyone who actually read it, it does not include a few major points that I’d intended to make but unfortunately left out due to scheduling issues and poor time management on my part.

Point the first is that having a hit song, be it on the radio, the local music video station, or wherever it is music gets played these days (Youtube, I guess? I honestly have no idea where music happens anymore), takes a tremendous amount of effort. Even a truly terrible song represents sometimes years of hard work, of commitment to practice, of prioritizing the band, of just showing up, day after day after day, to play music or sing or perfect a chord progression (those are things, yes? chord progressions?) in front of a small audience of people you know and a handful of strangers who aren’t paying attention but are raising their voices so they can talk over you and all of your hard work. While we, the end-user, might be under the impression that the song we just heard for the first time ever is from a brand-new band, the truth is that the band existed long before we the public ever heard of them, and the fact that we’re hearing from them at all is an exceptional achievement on their part.

I admire the hell out of that. Even when I don’t like the end product at all, I have to recognize that these people have achieved something that I probably never will be able to do. I mean, I fully intended to write this follow-up post months ago, but didn’t get around to it because I’m so lazy. And even today, I’ve already taken about 5  breaks since I started 2 hours ago. Which, for those of you who did not flee to Kentucky to study math, means it’s taken 2 hours to write 2.5 paragraphs. That there are people – many of them! – who can sit still and focus on writing, every day, over and over and over again, is just amazing to me. That what they’ve written is terrible is utterly besides the point, because their terrible actual writing surpasses my brilliant imaginary writing, simply because it exists. Which is not to say that actual things can not be measured on their quality; it is only to say that there are real-world applications to getting an A for effort, just as there are to not living up to your potential.

Point the second is that while I will go to my grave insisting that those songs are no good (in a scenario where I am murdered by a crazed Deep Blue Something fan who, distraught that they can’t secure funding for a shot-by-shot remake of the video starring Avatar-style animated versions of the cast of the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho, holds me responsible for the failure of their Kickstarter but then, in turn, meets their own tragic end when my death at their hands is avenged by Oola, as is foretold), I never actually said that I don’t like them. In fact, the reason Breakfast at Tiffany’s was declared the winner of that particular scuffle is because I happen to like the song quite a bit : it’s catchy, the singer’s voice is pleasant, and I like thinking about breakfast. That might seem like faint praise, and it is; however, the point is, the song being objectively bad has no bearing on whether or not I like it.

In many circles, this would make Breakfast at Tiffany’s my guilty pleasure. Guilty pleasures have become increasingly popular over the past few years, for reasons I can’t begin to suppose although I do imagine some enterprising young cultural studies major will be writing a thesis on it. Guilty pleasures have become a niche market, especially on television, or at least it seems so to me because I read a lot about television, where, every season, some new show is being touted as “your new guilty pleasure”. And while I appreciate the level of effort that goes in to making these shows a success, I must admit it’s to finding it extremely interesting when they fail, as that usually generates at least one “Your new guilty pleasure – why did it fail?” article, as though the answer can not at least in part be found in a marketing campaign that considered the show being so terrible that liking it would be embarrassing a selling point.

To me, though, the concept of a guilty pleasure is a little weird. I’m not embarrassed by liking a particular song, or television show, or movie, or book, or whatever. Enjoying something that is definitely terrible is not the sum total of my taste, and even if that something is completely without merit, if I like it then I like it; it doesn’t make sense to feel bad about it, in the same way I don’t at all regret not liking something overflowing with merit. Which, considering how I don’t like just about anything (like Death Cab for Cutie; talk about your dumb band names), is really for the best.

As I mentioned once before, I don’t generally like to talk about Facebook. To me, Facebook is a fine way to waste time at work and regretfully sigh over the boys I was in love with when I was 15; while there are some things on Facebook that I of course find irritating , with the ephemerality of memes and ever-reducing attention spans I know that I won’t be annoyed for very long. At least, not by that particular thing, and certainly not long enough that I’ll have to voice any objection.

Until today, when this started making the rounds.

And while that has been posted by several people who I actually like, it makes me angry. It does. Because, it’s like the religious equivalent of man-splaining; although it purports to show how everyone of all religions are the same, I haven’t actually seen it reposted by any of my Jewish friends. Thus, I feel as though it’s my duty, as the Jew in your life, to discuss why you wishing me a merry Christmas is big deal :

It’s a big deal because I don’t celebrate Christmas.

It’s a big deal because the number of people who are going to unthinkingly wish me a merry Christmas without caring at all that I don’t celebrate Christmas is going to far, far exceed the number of people who are going to erroneously wish you a happy Chanuka.

It’s a big deal because, in fact, no one is going to erroneously wish you a happy Hanukkah. Because all of the Jews in your life know who in their life celebrates Channukah, in the same way that all Canadians in the US can identify their fellow Canadians. So, unless you’re going to go into a store specializing in Judaica to buy gelt and dreidels for your Jewish friends so you don’t gauchely give us candy canes – which, if history is a guide, you are probably not going to do – no one is going to assume you’re celebrating Hannukah in the same way you assume we’re all celebrating Christmas.

It’s a big deal because spell-check doesn’t recognize Judaica, gelt, or dreidels as actual words, even though dreidels are the one thing that literally everyone knows about Channukah.

It’s a big deal because “Happy Hannukkah” is not Hebrew for “Merry Christmas”. It is a Completely. Separate. Holiday. As is Kwanzaa. At least, I think it is; I don’t actually know anything about Kwanzaa.

It’s a big deal because, to some people, these are profound celebrations of their community and faith, and not meaninglessly interchangeable words to be said when it’s cold out.

Mostly, it’s a big deal because it’s not even Thanksgiving yet and not only are you already telling me that I have to be okay with the majority of people congratulating themselves for being completely ignorant of the fact that some people are different than them, you’re telling me that this year, I have to put up with it for two months, instead of just one.

However, I post not just to scold. Are there things that you, as a gentile, can do to better navigate the newly and unfortunately expanded holiday season than posting entitled nonsense on Facebook? Happily, there are! And helpfully, I have a couple of ideas:

Step 1. Take a moment and get over yourself;

Step 2. Make an effort to find out what holidays the people in your life actually celebrate;

Step 3. Find out when those holidays actually fall (hint : they do not necessarily coincide with Christmas; second hint : this information is readily found online, as well as on every single physical calendar printed in the United States);

Step 4. Find out why this holiday is celebrated (optional);

Step 5. On the day that the appropriate holiday falls (see Step 3), express your sincere wishes that the people in your life enjoy their holiday, using the terminology specific to that holiday;

Step 6. On any days that are not the days on which the appropriate holiday falls (see Step 3), or on any day that you are interacting with someone with whom you are not well-enough acquainted to know what holiday that person celebrates, simply tell that person you hope they have a nice day, a good evening, a pleasant tomorrow, or any other non-denominational well-wishes that fit the occasion;

Step 7. Congratulate yourself for being a good and thoughtful human being;

Step 8. Repeat Step 1.

Sometimes I feel bad for people who have cats other than Oola. For instance, as I was leaving work the other day my office mate said I should have a good night at home playing with my cat. I wasn’t feeling particularly well that day; I said all I really wanted was to lie down on the couch and have the cat sit on me. This, my office-mate clarified, is what she’d meant.

I have no objection to laying on the couching being considered a game; if it could be considered a sport, I would be a world-class athlete. And there are certain challenges to having Oola sit on me for an extended period of time; for example, I have to stay very still so that she won’t be unsettled and decide to sit somewhere that is not on me. So, unlike regular sitting on the couch, where I might fidget or lean over or decide to get up and walk into the kitchen for more water or something, Oola sitting on me sitting on the couch means that I might not move at all for literally hours.

Even while staying perfectly still, there is a very definite presence to be felt when Oola is sitting on me. Unlike some of your fluffier cats, Oola is solid. Last we checked, she weighed in at 13 pounds, although you’d never guess it to look at her, in part because black is slimming, even in cats; and in larger part because it’s almost entirely muscle.

How does a tiny little kitten build up 13 pounds of muscle? In Oola’s case, it’s from play. Because, while sitting on the couch completely still is a perfectly enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours, it’s actually quite a different experience than playing with Oola. For Oola, there’s an element of destruction in play that cannot be achieved through stillness. In play, there’s activity : the chasing of an object, which occasionally explodes into running from room to room to room seemingly at random. Oola is not content merely to bat at things being dangled in front of her; Oola puts all of her energy into chasing these things, and she chases them because she wants to catch them. Oola chases things because she wants to catch them, and she wants to catch them because she wants to kill them.

What are the things Oola wants to kill? Anything, really. Feathers. Pencils. Plastic pull tabs from soy milk or orange juice cartons. Ribbons. Bed sheets, but only when they’re being changed. Hands and wrists. The red dot. Books and magazines. The corners of cardboard boxes. Occasionally, an official cat toy. Regardless of what it is, Oola brings the same level of intensity to finding it, catching it, and destroying it.

These tendencies toward destruction seem to invite frequent comment from others, and that comment is most often that Oola is very lucky to have landed in my home. From this, I have concluded that most people would not be happy with a cat like Oola. Which in part makes me sad for them, but mostly makes me realize how lucky I am that Oola ended up here. Otherwise, I might now be sitting here right now with some light-weight feline resting on my leg, and barely be able to tell there’s a cat in the house.

In one corner: She’s So High, by Tal Bachman

In the other: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Deep Blue Something

Each of these songs is more than 15 years old. Each of these songs is terrible. There is no reason in the world why anyone should be talking about either of these songs in this, the latter half of 2014. But both of them got stuck in my head over the weekend, so why not see if we can determine which of these one-hit wonders is less likely to clear the dance floor on ’90s night?

Artist name: Tal Bachman vs. Deep Blue Something

If an infinite amount of monkeys were given an infinite number of typewriters, they would write Hamlet. It would take significantly fewer monkeys, working on maybe 3 typewriters, to come up with Deep Blue Something. And even then, rather than being impressed that any number of monkeys managed to type out a series of actual words, random though it might be, you’d probably think “Wow, those monkeys are not as clever as they think they are.”

Tal Bachman, on the other hand, is just the name of some guy.

Verdict: While the simplicity of a given name should, in most circumstances, win out over the creative output of, like, 5 really smug monkeys, the unfortunate fact remains that that I had to look up the singer of She’s So High, while Deep Blue Something I just knew. Instant recognition means there’s no intermediate step before I can move on to forgetting about them again, so the point goes to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Subject Matter

The somewhat confusingly-titled She’s So High is not expressing concern about the stoner girl in your high school and/or college class, but instead is about a very pretty girl that Taj thinks is out of his league. Spoiler alert : she talks to him anyway.

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the singer makes a last-ditch effort to save his troubled romantic relationship by reminding his significant other that they both “kind of liked” the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Could also be titled “Grasping at Straws”.

Verdict: Neither song is breaking new ground in terms of subject matter, nor where they back in their pre-millenial heyday. There is no upending of convention in the miracle of a pretty woman speaking to a less-attractive man without being tricked into it, nor in trying to stall the end of a failing relationship. However, that the effort to stall the end is an impassioned plea that rests entirely on a film that they remember as “kind of” liking makes it clear that the relationship in BaT is absolutely doomed.

The relationship in SSH hasn’t happened yet, so it does still have the potential to do something out of the ordinary, even though it will probably be just as predictable as every other iteration. Thus, the point goes to She’s So High.

Baffling Choruses (Chori?)

She’s So High makes this case for itself:

‘Cause she’s so high,

high above me, she’s so lovely

She’s so high,

Like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, or Aphrodite

She’s so high, high above me.

This does very little to clarify that the song is not about some tripping and probably filthy hippie, and in fact adds greater confusion, with the “high above me” conjuring images of a girl who is literally hovering above the ground.

But the most truly confusing aspect of the chorus is the inclusion of Joan of Arc in the list of historical beauties. I understand the limitations of a rhyme scheme, and that a song is not a history lesson, but really? Not to say that Joan of Arc was not attractive, and I’m sure that in the crowd surrounding the stake upon which she was burned to death, there was at least one mopey loser realizing that maybe her divine visions would have shown her that he was a good guy and he only didn’t follow her into the successful battle that she lead because he was so nervous and tongue-tied around her, and now, now that the wind-swept ashes that had been her lovely hair were catching on his eyelashes, he sees that she, like him, was human after all and he should have spoken to her and he’ll always carry that regret with him, but really?

Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes out swinging with this:

And I said what about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?

She said I think I remember the film,

and, as I recall, we both kind of liked it.

And I said, well, that’s the one thing we’ve got.

Should the fact that two people are lukewarm on Audrey Hepburn be enough to save a relationship? Does the fact that you’re not totally sure you’ve forgotten one particular activity the two of you engaged in mean that there’s something worth fighting for? Remember how discomfited we were by the SUPER racist Japanese character played by Mickey Rooney? Don’t throw that away.

Verdict: The couple at the center of BaT is clearly filled with apathy, whereas SSH is reducing not just one woman but women throughout history to helium-filled Real Girls, floating above the city like a perpetual pornographic Thanksgiving Day parade. And weren’t the ’90s apathy’s last stand, before the Millenials came along and ruined everything? Point, and, because I have to go to a meeting, match to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

So far, the most interesting thing to happen this week is that a guy fell down on the bus this morning. Actually, there were two guys who fell over; they’d been talking to each other across the aisle and, in unison, rose from their seats as the bus approached the next stop. Neither anticipated that the driver would stop for the traffic lights that came before the bus stop, but he did; and as he deployed the brakes in a completely ordinary and non-dramatic fashion, the two guys in the process of gracelessly rising from their seats found themselves pitching forward in a suddenly dramatic yet equally graceless effort to stop from falling all the way down. Only one of them succeeded.

The one who did not succeed, the one who fell, took an awfully long time to fall completely. He went in curious slow-motion through the stages of falling, first attempting to lurch upright, then falling on one knee, then lurching forward again to crash his face into the legs of the people who’d managed to successfully make their ways toward the door of the bus, and then, finally, landing fully on the floor. It was an effort just to watch. Had I been in a similar position, I’m sure I too would have struggled every step of the way down, but as an observer, it was clear that submitting to the inevitable and just falling already would have been the most elegant path, since only after completing the fall was he able to begin to get back up successfully.

Falling spectacularly in public like that, there are really only two possible ways to react : if you’re embarrassed but overall unharmed, you can dorkily call attention to your situation and subsequent recovery; if you are, at all, in any sort of pain, you immediately start casting blame. Which I say without judgement; after I fell on the ice this winter, I immediately looked for the house number of whoever the fuck would be so fucking lazy as to leave 3 fucking inches of ice on the fucking sidewalk in front of their fucking house, because without that fucking ice, I wouldn’t have bonked my fucking head on their fucking sidewalk. Not that I am holding a grudge.

The guy this morning could only blame the driver, although there were plenty of people who did not fall over or down when the braking happened, so I suppose there was the option to blame himself. Alas, that is not the option he chose, which is really too bad. Because, if he’s anything like me – and one thing I’ve noticed over the past 40 years is that most people are – that fall on the bus was his entire morning : every time someone arrives at work and says “Hey, guy, how’s it going?” he’s going to have to mention that he fell on the bus – again, because that’s what I would do – and I’d much rather spend the morning telling the story of how I looked like an idiot but wound up okay than the story of how I’m limping because of that dumb fucking bus driver.

But ultimately, I’m actually telling you the story of how somebody else fell on the bus because, I’m pretty sure, this has been the single most uneventful 2-week span in my entire life. The only other possible thing I could talk about was some positive feedback I got on a PowerPoint presentation, but you wouldn’t be able to see the presentation, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to read a description of a PowerPoint presentation. So instead, I went with the guy falling down on the bus. And I’m sure that, our positions reversed, he would have done the same.

Shaun of the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes and the Bandit

Any Which Way but the Planet of the Apes

Dunstin Checks In to the Planet of the Apes

Bob and Carol and The Planet of the Apes and Alice

Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes Goes Shopping

The Planet of the Apes Must Diet!

TPotA Punk!

Sex, Lies, and the Planet of the Apes

How the Planet of the Apes Got its Groove Back

The Planet of the Apes’ Day Off

Pretty in the Planet of the Apes

Bad News Planet of the Apes

Star Trek II : Wrath of the Planet of the Apes

Madea’s Planet of the Apes Reunion

The Best Little Whorehouse in the Planet of the Apes

Planet of the Apes / Victoria

When the Planet of the Apes Met Sally

Harry and the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes Bogus Journey

Night on Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no polite way to ask someone if they’re about to eat an unreasonable amount of hot dogs. That’s not specific to hot dogs, actually; no matter what a person is eating, a comment on the quantity is going to be a judgement. Many is the time I heard “Wow, you sure do eat a lot of salad,” as though having eaten an entire bowl of lettuce that was not topped which chicken was remarkable in comparison to the half a bowl of lettuce left over by those who had also eaten several chickens worth of tenders. That the relative insubstantiality of lettuce plays no factor at all in deeming the quantity of consumed lettuce excessive underscores how very impolite a similar judgement regarding hot dogs – whose substantiality is well-established even as the actual substance of which they are composed remain a mystery – would be. To question someone on the number of hot dogs they’re eating is to question their judgement, and questioning their judgement is akin to questioning their worth as a human being.

This question of what constitutes a reasonable serving of hot dogs came to mind around lunch time, when I was struck by an aroma as I entered the break room and, upon further investigation, discovered 6 hot dogs quietly baking in the toaster oven. There was only one other person in the break room, but her office is also in the break room, so there was an outside chance that the hot dogs were not hers at all, much less entirely hers. I could not, however, ignore the possibility that all 6 hot dogs were intended for just that one person. Which, frankly*, seemed like a lot.

But, as previously stated, there was really no way to determine this. “Wow, that’s a lot of hot dogs,” is maybe appropriate talk if you work in a carnival hosting a hot-dog-eating contest, but a carnie I am not. I did note a lack of buns in the break room, and so considered that the seemingly excessive number of hot dogs was a purposeful counterbalance to the lack of buns. I almost considered that the excessive number of hot dogs compensating for the lack of buns might be indicative that someone was on the Atkins diet, but then I remembered that it’s not 2003 anymore and everyone loves carbs now, just so long as they’re whole grain, local, and gluten-free. Unless they’re following the Paleo diet, but I don’t want to think of what the world might be like if I knew people who followed the Paleo diet, even if just casually through work, so I abandoned that line of thought pretty quickly and returned to a slightly modified version of the original line, that, even without buns, 6 hot dogs is a lot of hot dogs.

Even determining ownership of the hot dogs was tricky. “Are these your hot dogs?” could go a lot of ways, depending on inflection, and I wouldn’t trust myself to sound non-judgmental on an inherently judgmental issue. Without ever considering that I was putting far too much thought into an ultimately trivial matter, I finally settled on “Hot dogs for lunch?”, believing that the statement-in-the-form-of-a-question was my best hope for neutrality, even if it left the greater issue, that of the Ideal Number of Hot Dogs and How it is Most Likely Less Than 6, unanswered.

The answer, it turns out, was yes. And this is how I discovered that there are some people who consider 6 hot dogs to be a perfectly reasonable lunch. However, instead of focusing  how myself and this person differ dramatically in our approaches to diet, I focused rather on the tremendously inane question I had just asked, how little it contributed to a genuine exchange of knowledge, and how very happy I was about it.

Because, as I’m sure you can imagine if you’ve ever found yourself in a situation that involves coworkers, the Hot Dog Situation was not my first interaction with this person, nor was it my first awkward interaction with this person. On one previous occasion, she had gone in to quite a bit of detail on the excellent rapport between herself and her chiropractor, ending with “My chiropractor thinks I’m hilarious; she said I should be a stand-up comedian;” and while I did intrinsically understand that “Oh, are you funny?” would not be the right thing to say, how to respond to a person extolling qualities that I’ve never seen manifest has always eluded me. In this situation, I responded with a couple of my favorite sounds that can pass for language, the tried-and-true “Ah. Huh.” Another time, I remarked on the temperature in the room, which caused her to launch into a lengthy discussion of an attempt to get tickets to an event that required costumes but was not Halloween, and although she was generous enough to pause occasionally to allow me to speak, I was thoroughly confused about how this talk of costumed adventure was going to swing back around to be about the temperature, which was noticeably colder than it should have been, and so could only fill the silence with quizzical looks and more silence.

From her perspective, I’m sure that looked like a failure to hold up my end of the conversation. But for me, in between not understanding that there was no connection between temperature and costumes, and that none would be forthcoming, I was looking across a generational divide, steep and glorious as the Grand Canyon.

For her, these are the years to spend swearing your life will be free of workplace banalities like “Hot dogs for lunch?” Your life will be meaningful, it will involve costumes and hard to get tickets, and you’ll stupidly fall in love with guys who refuse to wear watches because they refuse to live their lives by someone else’s schedule, and not because they’re an inconsiderate asshole who’s always late. You will be someone who has something to say.

For me, though, what I understand is that sometimes, I’d rather politely end a conversation than engage in one that doesn’t interest me. That having something to say is quite a bit different than wanting to hear myself talk. And that, while the meaningless inanities could certainly indicate that the person talking is not interesting, there’s a greater chance it means they’re not interested in talking to me. Just as it took me an unfortunately long time to cotton to the dude without the watch, I did eventually come to realize that the true and lovely meaning of utterly mindless chit-chat is that we find ourselves together at this place and time, so why don’t we just leave it at that.

(*Pun intentional and without apology.)

The Cambridge Room

Historic tidbits, facts, and notes of interest on Cambridge, Massachusetts brought to you by the Cambridge Public Library's Archivist.

PST...

My Life in Pacific Standard Time

Just another WordPress.com site

TPN meets FOG

Swirling about in the fog of the SF Bay Area and my head

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.