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Archive for the ‘things overheard’ Category

A new trend that I’m not a particular fan of, or potentially a well-established trend that I’ve only just begun to encounter and am not a particular fan of, is for the cost of a ticket to a book-reading by a celebrity to include a copy of the book. I’m not opposed to the selling of books per se, nor even to the inflated cost of a ticket to these particular readings; however, just because I’m interested in hearing what a particular actor I enjoy has to say about things doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to own a copy of their book. Especially if they’ve written a children’s book. While I do want to hear what successful people can share about their creative process, so that I can know specifically what I should be doing when I’m not doing it, I don’t want my bookshelf to look like I read nothing but celebrity memoirs. Which is why, in addition to generally avoiding celebrity book events, I also never invite anyone over to my house.

Last week, though, I bit the bullet and bought a ticket to see Nick Offerman read from his new book at the Wilbur mostly, I think, because I just found out on Wednesday that he was reading on Friday and the pressure of last-minute decision-making overrode my natural aversions. The event was interesting; Mr. Offerman is an engaging speaker with an interesting perspective and a laugh as ridiculous as it is divine.

After the reading, Mr. Offerman opened the floor to questions, and was met immediately not with questions but with a single word, shouted again and again by the audience: mustache. It wasn’t entirely a surprise; when he first took the stage, his face seemed empty without the iconic Ron Swanson mustache. I was taken aback to see his face so naked, and though initially I mourned the loss of Ron Swanson from the world, I was quickly won over by the similarly staunch and intelligent, though infinitely more ribald, Mr. Offerman.

In response to the audience, Mr. Offerman explained that he, a character actor, would be unable to play a new character if people only ever saw him as Ron Swanson. Thus, as beloved as the mustache may have been, it must now belong to the ages. As much as much sense as that makes, though, that we should learn to draw a distinction between the man and the character he portrayed, it does call into question the photo used for the cover of the book, which, now that I can tell the difference, is much more Ron Swanson than Nick Offerman.

As I said, I’m not opposed to the selling of books, and at this particular point, Ron Swanson will probably move more product than Nick Offerman. And probably, too, the cover was shot while the final season of Parks & Recreation was filming. But still; while I would never have cause to question Nick Offerman’s integrity (seriously: you should hear him talk about how much he loves his wife), I just wish he had used a picture of himself.

After the Q&A, there was to be a book signing. And though I enjoyed the idea of telling the erstwhile Ron Swanson that I am a librarian, the theater was so ill-prepared to organize the audience into a formation that would allow any single person to get his or her book signed while also not being an unbelievable fire hazard, that I decided my best course of action would be to head home.

And because last Friday felt like summer, unlike the deep autumn in which we find ourselves lo these several days later, I decided to walk. I know; I’m a damn hero over here. A hero who sees no reason to spend $2.10 to go two stops on the Red Line. Thrift is a virtue, I understand, and virtue is its own reward. Which makes it all the more amazing that on this walk I received the greatest possible gift when I found myself slightly alongside a couple engaging in perhaps the most awkward romantic banter in history. The topic, obviously, was mailboxes.

It may seem, especially when inebriated, which I desperately hope this couple was, that the mailbox presents no end of possibilities for romantic conversation. I mean, when you have key players like “box,” “slot,” “sign for delivery,” and “insufficient postage” doing the heavy lifting for you, the wit practically writes itself. And yet, despite this cornucopia of material, this fair woman, who hopefully was drunk, lost her grip on the topic in a terrible way but tried desperately to keep up with it by announcing that isn’t it so weird that no one ever steals from mailboxes?

As a practical person not generally given to romance, I would probably not have been swept up in her desperate whimsy and instead replied that it’s not, because they do. In fact, it’s a federal offense to mess with someone’s mail, and it probably wouldn’t carry a five-year penalty if no one ever did it. Which would have been unfortunate, as I believe pointing out that the drunken person trying so hard to impress you that they’ll say something unbelievably stupid just said something unbelievably stupid is what the kids call a mood killer.

On the other hand, though, sometimes a topic is so egregious that such a killing would be a mercy. Because even though her young man tried valiantly to engage, or at least not to dash the conversation altogether, it did not get better. On the contrary, it got so much worse that it was thrilling. Desperate to course correct, the woman announced that they just don’t HAVE mailboxes where she’s from.

I didn’t fully hear the rest of what said for two reasons. The first was that, when presented with an intellectual puzzle, I need to make an attempt to solve it, however feeble. Where could a person be from that doesn’t have mailboxes? The most obvious answer is another planet, and this young woman was some sort of intergalactic spy. Which is encouraging to think of, that at least this particular alien race is so poor at fitting in amongst us that any possible invasion would have to be several years away.

However, their conversation continued and turned to the delivery of packages – because they were talking on their DATE about PACKAGES; and not in the sexy way. I assume, while I was marveling, it was put forth that, though the mailbox itself is impervious to theft, not every delivery will fit within said box and must then be left completely unguarded on a person’s porch, tempting any thief who might pass by with its vulnerability,causing her to reveal that on her home planet, packages are simply left with neighbors. Which means she lives in a place without mailboxes, but people are always home during the day. So, alien home world, or, just as likely, trailer park.

The main distraction, though, was that I am, like, 1 billion percent sure that I know guy who was on this amazingly awkward date. A former co-worker, I believe, with whom I was not particularly friends with but knew a number of people who thought well of him. By which I of course mean thought he was cute.

I have to say, here in the honesty of the internet, that I did not see it. Which, as with other things that are particularly beloved that I don’t get, I chose not to comment on. Not out of preservation in this case, but simply because I am very much in favor of finding people attractive, in general; that I may not agree in a specific case is irrelevant to the larger cause, which is one that I think should be celebrated in all its forms.

So my relationship with this gentleman is tenuous; we know each other well enough to recognize and say hello, but not well enough for us ever to laughingly reminisce about that time I saw him on a date with an alien female who wouldn’t stop talking about mailboxes, and he was gamely trying to go along with it. It’s not a memory he and I will share, which is sad, because it is one I will treasure forever.

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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.

An apparently annual fall tradition that precedes the beginning of a new school year is the publication of the Mindset List by Beloit College. It may seem at first that the purpose of said list is to provide people with the opportunity to have heard of Beloit College, but the actual purpose of the list, according to the introductory paragraph you probably skipped, is to help keep professors from making dated references to the kids today. Because, despite having the internet constantly at their fingertips, they can’t be bothered to look up something they’ve not heard of before. Because that is totally not the point of higher education.

While I found the most shocking entry on the list to be that, while I was not paying attention, the light brown M&M was phased out in favor of blue (which: listen, M&Ms – no one chooses you because they want to taste the rainbow; have a little dignity and stop tarting yourself up in ridiculous colors), an item of probably greater cultural concern is that 25% of students entering college this year have already suffered significant hearing loss. The list does not go so far as to associate a cause with this loss, which I think might be contrary to the spirit of the list, as it could cause some poor addled professor to chastise their hard-of-hearing students for listening to the rock-n-roll music too loud on their HiFi’s, rather than rightly pinning the blame on the pernicious prevalence of headphone use.

My college graduation predates the creation of the Mindset List,  so it should come as no surprise that I don’t really make that much use of headphones. In fact, it makes me extremely uncomfortable not to be able to hear what’s going on around me. Not just for safety’s sake (although, imagine how many more cars would have hit me by now if I hadn’t been able to hear them coming? I’d be dead. That would be terrible. Especially for you, because you’d be starting at nothing right now, which would be weird and maybe not the best use of your time), but also for entertainment value. Being able to overhear other people’s conversation can be one of the greatest enjoyments in life. For example, on a recent trip to the grocery store I happened to pass two women waiting for the bus. Or, at least, they were standing at a bus stop. As I walked past them, I happened to catch this tantalizing bit of conversation:

“Now, if you’re gonna eat a chicken wing. . .”

Unfortunately, I am not sufficiently brassy to stop abruptly on the sidewalk so that I can listen in on a conversation that may not be, in part or in all, considered my business. And I say “unfortunately” because, as a person who has never eaten a chicken wing, I have no idea how that sentence ends. Is it like what happens if you give a moose a muffin? Because that rapidly becomes chaotic – that moose can not handle baked goods at all and completely flips its lid. Which I hope is a problem plaguing only that one particular moose and not representative of moosedom at large.

Additionally, I had no idea that there were alternate methods of eating chicken wings. Does the company in which you’re eating make a difference? If you’re gonna eat a chicken wing, should you always make sure to keep your pinky extended so that, if you’re invited to dine with Wills & Kate, you won’t embarrass America?

Mostly, though, I’m amazed at the presentation of eating a chicken wing as a hypothetical possibility; I’ve always looked at the world as a place where a person does or does not eat chicken wings, not as a place were the eating of chicken wings is a matter of some contemplation. Certainly not as a place where there is no fixed sequence of events that follows the eating, no possibility that it won’t end, as it began, in fiery discomfort.

Like Fight Club, I believe that the first rule of Facebook should be that you don’t talk about Facebook. And not just because the movie adaptations of each were directed by the same dude (who apparently also directed Sting’s Englishman in New York video (and, OMG, if you want to feel old, check out how young Sting was in that video)), but because, on the whole, when someone starts talking about Facebook, it’s because they’re complaining about Facebook. And although I myself am about to partake in that very same habit, I’m going to ignore the hypocrisy of telling you exactly why everyone needs to stop complaining about Facebook already.

The complaints about Facebook tend to fall into two camps : there are the complaints made by Facebook users, usually about some change that Facebook has made, how much they hate it, and how Facebook should revert to the previous version that they similarly hated when it was first released. While I can’t claim to be on board with every Facebook update – I have no idea what this “timeline” business is about, and all that grumbling in the past week or so about Facebook email was the first I’d heard that there was Facebook email, and even with that being said, I’m still not quite sure what the controversy is there (and please don’t take that to mean that I’m curious) – I tend not to get quite so up in arms about them. For me, Facebook is currently the best way to let everyone I’ve ever met know in real time that a bug has just flown up my nose, or to make me aware of all of the life choices I’ve made that led me so far astray from the boy I was in love with when I was 14, but other than that I don’t have much investment in it; the technology behind it doesn’t interest me, so as long as it remains easier than sending out a yearly newsletter (which, considering the frequency with which I update this blog, I clearly would never get around to), if the minds behind Facebook want to add frapdoodles to their lippity-barms, or other technical jargon, I am okay with it.

The second category of Facebook complaints tend to take the form of lists compiled for the benefit of Facebook users, letting them know which of their status updates no one cares about. While these tend to be humour-based lists, uninteresting Facebook posts are apparently so rampant that Time Magazine itself had to take up the cause. Topics to avoid will vary depending on the list, but the important takeaway from all of them is that, whether you’re sharing a picture of dinner, or that you’ve completed errands, or that your child has reached some milestone in toilet-training, nobody gives a shit.

This conclusion, however, is totally untrue, and it’s untrue because the only way to arrive at this conclusion is for a person to believe that everything posted on Facebook is directed entirely at them, which, astoundingly self-centered a thing to think as that is, is an easy enough mistake to make : if most of your time spent on Facebook is spent talking about yourself – and it is- it would be natural to conclude that everyone else is talking, if not about, then at least to you. But they’re not; once one takes enough of a step back from their position to realize that they are not, in fact, the center of the universe, one can see that even though they themselves may not care about something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that no one in the world does. I, for example, love just about every picture of food I’ve seen posted, with the notable exceptions of fast food, food intended to look disgusting, and  anything involving bacon; and, although on the whole I tend not to be super enamored of the parental comments I see, some of my friends have such joyously happy children that being involved even peripherally in the occasional poop in the bathtub or some particularly sassy comment is actually quite special.

Of course there are comments that I don’t like : I’m probably never going to update my status to show my support for awareness of a cause, and if you’re being intentionally vague in the hopes that someone will draw the rest of the story out of you, I am not your girl. However, while I believe that Facebook is no place to be coy, I don’t believe that the solution is to insist that everyone put an end to online enigmas; a better solution, I think, would be for everyone to take a deep breath and consider the possibility that, if you don’t care about someone’s status, maybe they’re not talking to you anyway.

In real life, it’s pretty easy to understand this : if you happened to find yourself in the same restaurant as someone you worked with 8 years ago, you might take a minute or twelve to catch up with them, but, after an appropriate amount of time had passed you’d return to your own table and your own dinner. Or lunch. Or maybe even afternoon tea. The meal itself is not important; what is important is that you would not, most likely, continue to pop back over to that person’s table intermittently to insist that they talk only about things that interest you, or order food that you find aesthetically pleasing. Instead, you would show this acquaintance of yours the same respect you would a stranger, and allow them to eat their meal in peace.

Even though I very firmly believe this is the correct thing to do, I have, recently, found it difficult to show that respect to a stranger. (Yes, all of that was just introduction; can you believe it?) What happened was this: on a very lovely evening not too long ago, I found myself strolling down the sidewalk of Cambridge, as one does when one is headed out for the evening. Walking too close behind me were two or possibly three girls, one of whom was holding forth on a gentleman of their mutual acquaintance who, the last time she’d run into him, greeted her with the wrong name and then, when she corrected him, responded in a vague sort of voice “Oh, that’s just a formality.”

The conversation went on from there, but, concentrating as I was on not turning around, grabbing her by the shoulders, looking her straight in the eye, and telling her “Oh honeypants. No,” I couldn’t really pay attention to it. Restrained as I was, I couldn’t  explain to her that her name is not just a formality, nor just a way of ensuring that the underpants you get back from the camp laundry are actually yours; it’s a way of identifying who you are in the world, what sets you apart, what makes you special. It is, at its core, the very simplest way you have of defining yourself, and even though it was given to you by someone else, you can make it mean whatever you want.

I also could not tell her that dismissing her name as “just a formality” does not, as she went on to claim, make a gentleman “so weird.” There is a lot of misunderstanding about weirdness in the world right now, but since that, sadly, was not the time nor the place to set down some basic ground rules regarding the weird, I couldn’t just say that if a gentleman genuinely is weird, instead of just acting weird, that does not excuse him from learning your name. Particularly not once you’ve made the effort to tell him what your name actually is. Weird is a definite thing that some people are, but it does not give them free reign to be inconsiderate – or worse – of your stated preferences.

I couldn’t tell her any of these things; instead, I could only hope that somewhere out there on the internet is someone not sufficiently aware that she’s not talking to them and so can tell her, over and over again if necessary “Oh, girl; No.” Because, seriously – “your name is just a formality”? NO.

Earlier this evening, I was walking slightly ahead of two gentlemen when I overheard one ask the other “So is your wife doing a good job…”

I’m going to hold off on revealing the end of that question for just a moment to point out that this? Is a terrible way to ask anyone anything about their spouse. Certainly, it’s a perfectly valid construction when talking about a beloved family pet –  “So, is Oola doing a good job finding the litter box?” – or for anxious parents discussing with a teacher or principal some previous difficulty their child was having -“So, is Johnny doing a good job sharing with the other kindergartners?”

In short, it’s a fine way to phrase a question about someone who is subordinate, or perhaps junior would be a better word, to the person to whom the question is being posed. However, if the relationship between the subject and responder is one of equals, as one would assume a marriage to be, you might want to consider phrasing the question in such a way that it does not require one party to pass judgment on the other, and especially when the judgment is, as it is in this case, only a pass/fail option.

What I find most interesting about a question like this is how much you learn, regardless of the answer, about the person asking it. While you know that I hate to judge strangers, I’m going to have to say that the guy who asked this question sucks as a person. Their previous conversation – a fascinating discussion of the building temperatures at Yale and Harvard; it seems Yale recently completed renovations of ALL of their buildings, while Harvard has only begun – had ended sufficiently for there to be silence. There was no conversational rush that this guy was trying to keep up with; he had adequate time to form the question in a neutral fashion – “How’s your wife doing with,” for example – and the fact that he failed to do so, that even with time to think about it, he still poses a question where one of only two possible outcomes is for a man to say “No, my wife, who I love and with whom I chose to share the rest of my life, totally sucks at . . .”; that his natural instinct is not to avoid boxing in his friend like that? That’s a personality failure on a pretty basic level.

The full question was “So is your wife doing a good job raising the kids together?” That I was not privy to the response is one of the great regrets of my day; the blended-family situation that the husband sounds to have is just the sort of detail that makes a stranger’s conversation worth overhearing. Plus, the poorly phrased things the friend might have said about the children? Those would have have been priceless.

 

(And, for those of you who are curious – Oola has always done a splendid job of finding the litter box, although she could do better keeping all of the litter inside the box. On the other hand, this morning she woke me up by batting me in the face without using her claws, which is far more valuable progress as far as I’m concerned.)


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