No Man Is an Island, But Sometimes He Should Be

The restaurant is nice, too nice, really. The table cloth is starched and the portions are tiny. The staff is well spoken and the service exceptional. I'm very familiar with such surroundings yet never quite comfortable. It's the kind of place I've spent too much time in as an employee and very little as a customer.

After a nice dinner I found myself in for quite a shock, my own fault really, for having failed to anticipate. Working so long in this industry, I always used the staff toilet, the sterile cubicle by the back door and never the palatial, sharply decorated customer facilities. And what did I find there that raised my ire? I found a man standing the the restroom waiting to attend me. Don't misunderstand, he was a fine fellow, polite, well spoken, amicable, competent. He ran the water for me, offered me a towel and cologne. I'm sure he's exactly the kind of person one would want doing these sorts of things. Except, I don't want anyone doing these sorts of things at all.

I don't trust bathroom valets.

I don't mean the individual people that valet in bathrooms and I don't mean the profession, itself.

I mean I don't trust the cultural impetus that says we should have valets in our bathrooms. It is to each person to be an autonomous being and to make there own way in the world. Ergo, there are some things that each and every person who is able should have to do for themselves. Making one's toilet is at the very top of the list. Moreover, these are activities in which I do not feel comfortable being offered assistance.

I don't trust the people that want to be waited upon in the bathroom. It's fine to have someone else cook and bring you your food, make your coffee, wash your clothes, mow your lawn, pump your gas and the like. It is perfectly reasonable if one is too busy, lacks the relevant skills or simply chooses to pay someone else to perform these tasks. In the bathroom, though, we should draw a line. What person feels that they are so important or so entitled to luxury that they cannot be troubled to turn on a faucet or to dry their own hands after taking a piss?

I don't like that presumption. More than that, I don't like going somewhere and having it presumed that I might make that presumption. I like it even less when I do go to such a place and want to wash my own hands I'm somehow considered out of line for wanting to perform my bodily functions and the requisite cleaning in private.

I admit that I'm not all that classy a guy but that I can fake it for a few hours at a time. If this is what upper-crust is supposed to be, I'll just have pizza.


The Long WInter's Nap

I have some trepidation about winter and spring holidays. Too much of this part of the year has been rent and wrought with heartache and loss for these months to be anything but sorrowful and bittersweet.

We buried my grandfather on Christmas eve.

I am reminded of my first lover and first betrayer on her birthday: Christmas day.

I faced my first bullet on new years' eve.

I nearly lost my leg the first week of February.

My best friend from my college years passed away this Valentines' gone.

There is something deep an ominous in the coming and going of winter. There is something eternal kept in the souls of those that passed in the dark season. The cold makes the difficult memories all that harder to salve. The nights are long and the things that try our souls seem so much more immediate.

That said, it is still the time of gifts, trees, feasts and family. It is the one moment in all the year when everyone agrees on what is important and that thing is not profit, not career, not sports, not politics, not any half-designed victory but rather the immediacy of kin, kinfolk, the giddy joy of children, the touch of a lover in cold nights, the roll of a full-feasted belly and the rememberence of times past.

This time of year will never be easy for me, but that does not at all diminish it's meaning.

To the boys of the NYPD choir, still singin' 'Galway Bay.'

Happy Xmas. Brightest Blessings.


Shelter'd Under Paper

I was four and I had stumbled into my father's workshop. My father was a puppeteer, a master of wood and silk and string. I had seen all of his shows, the dance of shapes and styles, the characters of mâché and feathers come to life. Now, I was in the room where the dancing had stopped.

My mother was mortified. She had heard anecdotes about children who had been scarred by encountering such a sight, friends and animate educators dangling, motionless, lifeless, powerless from hooks upon the wall. She had heard of children damaged for life, concepts of life and death, of reality and fiction trounced, compromised by a casual stroll into a puppeteer's work space.

In fear for my future sanity, she made my father take each one down and show it to me. The Dogon-inspired puppets he turned inside out so that I could see the control rod and the slot for the operator's arm. The rod puppets he would hold low and manipulate so that I could clearly see him animating the head and arms. The more complex characters with machinery of his own design he carefully dis-assembled and demonstrated. Over the next week he had me sit with him as he carved, stitched, painted and practiced with an entirely new creation.

I'm told that, when some people meet me for the first time, they experience a sort of disconnect, a feeling that I am not of the same culture as they are, as if I were born in some far-flung and alien land but had no accent. I understand this feeling; I simply do not share the concerns of most mundane people. I'm not interested in the same things. I don't approach the world the same way. Perhaps this is part of why.

When I was very young I rarely had a crib. I slept in road crates as my parents' company performed. My mother never worried about bumps and bruises as I played pop-warner sports nor that I would be bullied on the playground. Rather, she worried that our livelihood would become a toddler's house of horrors. Others had fathers that would play catch with them when their friends weren't around. I had a father that could conjure them from scraps of wood and cloth.

So, yes, I imagine I do seem a bit different, but at least I'm not emotionally scarred.


Ain't the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids

Imagine that you were asked to go to Mars. Suppose NASA came to you and said that you are uniquely qualified to join the first colonization mission to the red planet. You will be compensated financially. You will receive all the training required. The work expected of you is rewarding; it interests you and is compatible with your current skill set. Simply, it's an all around good gig.

There's just one catch; it's a one way trip. The mission is for colonization, not exploration. You are creating a permanent toe hold in space. You will grow old and die there. You will be buried in rust-colored soil.

Would you still go?

Lately I've been meditating on the spirit of adventure. What makes someone break an aviation record, ski across the arctic, plumb the depths of the oceans, summit the word's highest mountains or crawl to the depths of the planet's interior? More mundanely, what makes people hike the Appalachian Trail, cross the continent by motorcycle or train as a pilot? For that matter, what makes me do What I Do?

There is something momentous in these people, the trail blazers, the consummate adventurers. There's a sliver of it in us more prosaic picaroons. But, I don't know what it is. It might be an insatiable curiosity, a burning need to explore, a perpetual boredom, an addiction to experience or a pathological disdain for all things average. It's probably these things and many others combined in differing measure in each person.

Whatever it is, most people don't have it. When asked the above question most people say no. A large fraction say a vociferous no, frightened, unsettled by the very idea. When offered the opportunity to do what no one has done, to go where no one has gone, to do do anything outside their narrow band of experience, to do something incredible, the overriding bulk of humanity would rather just stay home.

Where is the spirit that pushed us out of Mesopotamia, across continents and oceans, to the furthest reaches of the Earth, the highest mountains, the driest deserts, the densest forests? What happened to climbing the mountain just because it's there? Where is the drive that put us on the moon? I used to think that it lived deep in the heart of each person, waiting to be awoken, but I don't believe that anymore.

Maybe I've been watching too much Discovery Channel and spending too much time on TED.com. Perhaps I'm a little too enamored with Richard Branson and Bear Grylls. Maybe I've just reached the stage in life where I have to watch all of my old friends surrender their dreams and abandon their ambitions to the harsh expectations of middle-class upbringing.

What's so seductive about security?

People need more adventure. The soul craves peril and the spirit needs experience. For the sake of the world's psychic wellbeing, everyone needs to get out and do something that excites them, amazes them, scares them. And I mean real exploits, not manufactured stunts. Weekend rafting, manicured campsites and tandem skydives don't cut it. We should live in a world full of Shackletons, Hillarys and Yeagers. We should live in a world of people that, when asked the above question, would all say yes.

So, what would you say?


My (Old) Problem with the Coming (Last) Election

I was trawling my old drafts the other day when I came across this. I never posted it because, sometime in October of '08 I started getting a little optimistic.

If any of my fellow progressives are of the opinion that this November's electoral contest and presumed Democratic victory are going to change anything, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. Neither Clinton nor Obama, once in office, will do anything to curb the the unchecked power of the executive branch that has been established over the last seven years. The constitution will remain in torn bits upon the floor no matter who is elected and no one is going to reach for the tape.

There will be pretenses, surely, but nothing with the weight and permanence that the situation demands. We might see a much-touted executive order vowing a certain mode of presidential behavior, one that does not carry the force of legislation and that could be rescinded quietly if it were ever to get in the way of a party's agenda. There's sure to be some words about temporarily retaining such privileges to more easily undo the damage of the previous administration and thus, no change. All we can really hope for is that the new guy or gal won't be as terrible as the last one.

This is the legacy of the W years. Neither major party is going to give up this expanded executive power when it's their guy in the round room. The nonchalance with which the Republican party abused it's power only becomes an excuse for the Democrats to do the same. The public is going to have to be much more vocal about making its will known if we still want to have a country in another generation.

I should have trusted myself and posted this when it was relevant.


'Tis Better to Reign in Hell

"First, I want to say that the food was excellent," he said, slurring a bit. That's a good thing for a restaurant manager to hear. The fact that it was preceded by a "first" is bothering me a bit, though. I keep listening. "But at our table we've got three corporate attorneys, two brokers and a vice president for a fortune five hundred and I've got to say that the service was piss poor."

Now, this bothers me. I manage a restaurant* so it behooves me to make people happy. Poor service makes customers unhappy. What the professions of six of the eleven people at the table matter, I don't know, but displeased customers are displeased customers.

The complainer, who I should reiterate was a bit tipsy went on for a bit, alternated between compliments on the decor, and the food and laments on the service. Most of his complaints seemed to revolve around my server not being impressed enough by this customer's station in life. He used the worlds "Two million dollars in annual income," at least four times in five minutes.

I comped him a beer, carefully apologized without ever using the word "sorry" and then let him stagger off to contemplate his wealth. Again, leaving a customer unhappy is a bad business move but what on earth makes this man think that bragging about his party's income is going lend more urgency to his complaint?

I understand mentioning the possibility that, if pleased, he might spend a good sum of money here; that makes sense, But, to allude to your financial standing as often as you blink makes me think that you might not be the caliber of person that I want in my restaurant.

*I wrote this several years ago whilst in the midst of my old career.


A Recent Conversation on Facebook

White Lightning: When did "compromise" become such a dirty word? I was under the impression that that was the idea of our system of government. There are politicians on both sides of the aisle who are engaging in a war to advance their own agendas, and the only casualties will be the American people. I hope their constituents remember that. Also, I think puppies are cute. That's right, I said it!

Tall Knife Guy:The only thing better than puppies are American puppies who are willing to put aside their differences and work together for the benefit of our nation.

White Lightning: I think my voting record will show that I've always been pro-puppy. Even when it wasn't popular in mainstream politics.

Tall Knife Guy: I seem to remember a time when you were leaning towards a more pro-kitten agenda, but I like that you have been able look past the partisan politics on both sides.

Thomas: It's also important to remember that we are not just a nation of Puppies and Kittens but also a nation of Fish, Reptiles, Exotic Birds and Pot-Bellied Pigs and that they are Americans just as much as any other non-biped.

Tall Knife Guy: Cripes, can't we have have one political discussion without dragging all the minorities into it?

White Lightning: There may have been a couple of occasions, during college, where I was in the vicinity of a kitten and I may have stated that the kitten did not smell overly offensive, but I did not inhale! As for non-bipeds, I welcome them to our culture, as well as they follow the legal immigration process. Or if they complete two years of college or serve in our military.

Thomas: Then, Sir, do you support a repeal on the NLNL (No Lizards with No Legs) policy that has been the rule of law in the Armed Services for more than twenty years? Is it not time that Serpentine Americans be allowed to serve openly, with pride and dignity?

White Lightning: A good question, an important question. I believe NLNL is an outdated policy and should be repealed. However, in a time of war, when so many reptiles will have to serve so closely together, I feel it is not the time. I feel many Lizards will be weary of having their legs ogled by Serpentine Americans, whether those fears are valid or not, and that could have a negative effect on morale.

Tall Knife Guy: This is getting a little too left wing up in here.

Thomas: Which brings us to the very important topic of the Avians with Asymmetrical Disabilities Act.

Such was my day.


Your Real Daddy Was Dyin'... But I'm Glad We Talked

Is it not enough to love the world?

Is it not enough to be content with one's self?

Can we not subsist on our own dreams and the manifestations, for better or otherwise, thereof?

We have been given, told, sold and shouldered with a lifetime of middle-class, white-bread, generation-old expectations that tell us that we should want the things that our parents and grandparents had.

The truth is that our grandparents were simply glad to have survived the first half of the last century and our parents were so entitled as a generation to never know to want something else.

Mine is the first generation never to be told that we will do better than the generation before, that we cannot expect to make more money or live in a better world than that left by our fathers. We have inherited responsibility, expectation and guilt without being given promise or purpose and we've not bothered to speak up.

We need not struggle for salary and success. We should not have to prove ourselves to a power structure that keeps aging but not dying. Our desires, our ambitions, our plans should not have to be passed over and approved, but we keep finding that this is the case, nonetheless.

By virtue of this moment in history, the time when the largest, vainest and most entitled generation ever born, the generation that birthed us, grows old in step with constantly extending possibilities of human life expectancy, we will be left with nothing but scraps and vinegar from a table that should long have been abandoned, cleared and reset.

Why do we not get the chance to remake the world in our own image? Why do we not get to define the terms of our own adulthood? Why does the moment when we assume never seem to come to pass, not in terms of authority, not in terms of creativity, not in terms of generational significance? Why do we always seem to answer to those older or younger than we but never to ourselves?

We are the generation that will never inherit and we should be much more pissed about it than we are.