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.
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!
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.)
There was a time not too long ago in memory but perhaps a bit further back as the crow flies when, instead of taking to the internet to share half-formed thoughts however deeply felt, I would walk on down to the Pamplona cafe and write. Not, as many of my friends did, in a journal; I have never managed to quite wrap my head around the thought of writing for no audience – particularly when the alternative is to pass hours upon hours with the same thoughts whirling around my head in a most productive fashion. Instead, I would put pencil to paper to write letters to my friend Naopi, who was living in Greece at the time.
An interesting thing about these letters, or so I think, is that, although I did almost nothing at all in my free time except write to her (then, as now, it took me an exceptionally long time to complete a single letter), I always had lots to talk about. While the overall topics are probably pretty similar to the categories on ye olde blogge here – people being strange, shopping, animals – the specifics of most of those letters have been lost to the hoary mists of time, and possibly the recycling can. Except for one topic, which I remember quite well : what makes a person boring.
There are two main reasons why I remember this topic : one is that, as soon as I mailed it off to Naopi, I received from her a letter dissecting what is was that made a person charismatic; she couldn’t possibly have received my letter before writing her own – the Greek mail system being notoriously slow in the mid-’90s – and I thought it an interesting and symbolically meaningful statement on our friendship that we would both approach the same topic at the same time, but from such very different directions. The second is that there was a cute boy involved.
Said cute boy was Luke, who had been a classmate of mine at the college Naopi attended as well. Luke and I had a few classes together, and he played in a band with a guy who lived downstairs from me freshman year (whose roommate that freshman year, a propos of absolutely nothing, took dreadful notes), so I had ample opportunity to appreciate his classic, Aryan dreaminess. Luke’s most important quality, it turned out, was that, in one chance encounter behind a Walgreens in Somerville, he utterly obliterated the very boring theory I had spent so many weeks working out.
Then, my theory had been that whether or not a speaker was interesting was determined by energy. It was a simpler time then, I was young, and so it made sense to the optimism of my youth not that any topic would be inherently uninteresting, but that a lack of energy and enthusiasm displayed by the speaker would translate to a corresponding lack of interest in the audience for anything they had to say.
That day on the bike path, though, Luke was interested in whatever it was he was talking about. He was smiling, eyes crinkling, hands gesticulating an amount appropriate to the topic. Also : still very handsome. If we were in a silent movie or being watched from afar through high-powered binoculars, it would not have been unreasonable to conclude that our conversation was of great interest and perhaps some little import. When, in fact, the conversation was stunningly dull.
So boring. It was so boring! I don’t remember at all what we were talking about, but I do remember a peculiar sense of loss as I realized that there would be attractive people in my life that I would have no interest in talking to, and a more profound sense of disbelief as my theory of energy crumpled in front of a handsome face, clearly so jazzed about the topic, and yet, somehow, so, so boring.
I have, of course, been bored many times since then, and even, on a few occasions, by a handsome gentleman. Though I have not had reason to return to my formal studies, I have, through repeated exposure to things and people that are not at all interesting, realized that “boring” can not be reduced to either the presence or absence of one single element, but instead is the complex result of the interplay of several factors:
- The most sure sign that you are at the advent of a boring conversation is an assumption by the speaker that the audience has knowledge it could not possibly have. This gambit is often employed by the advertising industry, which will develop products to help you sync to the The Cloud, perfect its BB Cream, or list the 10 most tell-tale signs of Imposter Syndrome, without ever having established that the cloud, cream or syndrome actually exist and, further, serve some purpose. They do not.
- In conversation, this will typically present as an especially difficult part of a task that has not been previously discussed, and, as in advertising, is an attempt to hook the audience’s interest by exploiting the audience’s unwillingness to admit they don’t know something and risk looking foolish. Unfortunately, my typical response to context-free information that sounds like nonsense is not worry that I don’t know what’s going on, but rather to conclude that the speaker is kind of a dick.
- An addition signifier of a boring conversation is the inclusion of numerous but completely unnecessary details. This one is difficult for me to point out, as there are few things I love more than unnecessary details – it’s kind of my signature. And, indeed, a well-deployed detail can add flavor and depth to a story. However, few are the people in the world who would enjoy an in-depth discussion of each individual vegetable that could potentially top a Subway Sandwich, even if the shredding of the lettuce could indeed be the key to replicating that sandwich at home.
- A corollary to unnecessary detail is the allusion to other unspecified details. The speaker may reference a previous event as though it had been aforementioned , e.g. “So then there’s that whole thing,” the emphasis on that indicating the potential of interesting, or perhaps even scandalous, information. As with the assumption of knowledge, this is often an attempt to get the audience to ask after that whole thing, thus prolonging the conversation and the speaker’s role as the center of attention. Don’t fall for it.
- While the speaker might happily digress in a direction of their choosing – revisiting that whole thing, for example – they will not allow for the natural flow and development of a conversation that can occur between two (or more) equal participants. Even if another participant does manage to introduce a new topic, a boring speaker will always revert back to the original topic.
- Similarly, while it may feel like a boring conversation just will not end, the fact is that is that a boring conversation is actually far, far longer than an interesting conversation. As with the previous point, it is impossible to bring to this conversation a natural end; even if you were to tell the speaker that you knew exactly what they were going to say, and then prove that by going ahead and saying it, the speaker would still continue on the predetermined path of what they want to say. That may sound far-fetched, but I’ve done it.