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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Monthly Archives: July 2011

In the summer of 1997, for reasons that were not immediately clear to me at the time, I found myself at a John Denver concert.  I was not completely aware of nor enthused by the musical stylings of Mr. Denver — he was certainly no James Taylor! — but cannot deny that by the end of the night, I was sporting a commemorative John Denver Live In Concert! t-shirt.  To this day, I’m still not completely sure whether I was wearing the shirt with irony or pride (prirony?), but in either case, there is photographic proof.  Unfortunately, the show turned out to be one of John Denver’s final performances — he died in a freakish experimental plane crash only a few months later.

During his life, Denver leveraged his fame to raise awareness for important issues like environmental conservation and world hunger, but most of us remember him for one particularly catchy tune, Take Me Home, Country Roads

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, Mountain Mama
Take me home, country roads

These are beautiful lyrics, of course, but they are written from the perspective of a person who is not me.

A person who is not me at all.

I went to West Virginia this past weekend, and just as I did some time ago after a trip to New York City (see: part 1, part 2), I would like to present some lessons that I learned while out on those country roads that lead to a place that, I think you’d all agree, I do not necessarily belong.

Lesson #1: Bear Conditioning

Technically, since I slept in a cabin deep in the woods with limited cell phone reception, I am able to convince folks that I was “camping” this weekend.  Technically.  What I tend to fail to mention, however, is that this “cabin” has three floors, three bathrooms, a hot tub, and a bigger, softer bed than I have in my apartment.  And while the six pillows on my bed were less than perfect and the cabin toaster’s ability to, well, toast left a lot to be desired, I wasn’t exactly roughing it.

Around 2 o’clock in the morning, I meandered outside to check in on this “fresh air” I’ve heard so much about.  The scenery was beautiful.  The stars were twinkling like the eyes of unrequited lovers in first poems everywhere.  Suddenly, an air conditioning unit — that I mistook for a large powerful animal capable of turning the food chain on its head — sputtered in the distance.

When you’re surrounded by stainless steel, travertine, and granite countertops, it’s easy to be distracted from the fact that there are bears.  Outside.  Like, right there.

I had forgotten, too.

Lesson #2: Townies vs. Technologies

When the waitress from Tari’s explained in a perfectly straight-forward manner how to get to the nearest grocery store from the cafe (“You take this main road about a mile south, you’ll see a McDonalds, make a right, and it’s right in that plaza.”), we all nodded along in agreement.  But when we got in our car, the first thing we did was turn on the GPS, which promptly pointed us in the opposite direction.  What did we do?  Obey our computer overlord, of course.

The result, you will not be surprised to learn, is that we ended up driving to a wide open industrial lot.   Not a grocery store — not even a single grocery — in sight.

Townies know what they’re talking about.

Lesson #3: Not-See Germination

There are a number of reasons to enter a second-hand store.  One is that you are traveling with an unapologetic kitty fiend friend and you — or rather, she — spots inside a row of teeny tiny kittens in consecutive cages purring at innocent passersby.

We went inside.

While the kitty-cats lured us in, it was the vintage (and “vintage”) West Virginia paraphernalia that kept us from leaving.  Although sadly, we were a day too late to participate in the Thursday Anything On This Rack For $1 Sale, we were exactly on time if we wanted to buy a Creepy, Smelly Leather Visor for $2.50.  And one of us, to the horrified chagrin of the others, did exactly that.

Of course, like most reasonable people who are in the process of buying sweat-stained visors from decades ago, my friend politely asked the cashier what could be done about any possible disgustingness still contained within the leather fibers (to the extent that leather is composed of “fibers”).

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  Whatever germs were in there probably expired by now.”

So there you have it: germs expire.

Lesson learned.

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We’re all a little bit crazy, but some of us are just a little bit more “little bit crazy” than others.  Each of us has our ever-expanding list of idiosyncrasies that, when aggregated and viewed objectively, generate a vague sense of uneasiness and ultimately suggest that we may be better off spending our daylight hours in solitary confinement.

It will not shock you to learn that my personal list is quite long (and quite frightening).  Near the top of this list o’ crazy is something that only recently struck me as odd because I only recently realized that these actions — inactions, really — were even worthy of note.

I don’t know whether “going public” with my disorder will result in an alteration to my behavior, but as with any serious affliction, the only way I will be able to find a remedy is to first admit that I have a problem.

Hello, my name is Zach.

This is my first meeting.

I’m a little embarrassed, but here goes nothing.

I never turn my heater or air conditioning all the way to the max setting.  The only way I would crank the heat or A/C up to “10” is if the unit went to “11”.

Now, before you accuse me of being cheap (guilty!), consider this: I don’t pay for heat, my air conditioning is decidedly inexpensive, and this character flaw existed long before I ventured into that place where people stop being polite and start getting real.  I’ve been averse to the maximum setting for the longest — or should I say, a-little-bit-less-than longest — time.

Unlike most of Faux Outrage, where I am defending inane behaviors from ridicule, I recognize that this behavior is objectively stupid.   It serves no purpose other than to make my life slightly worse in situations where improvement is but a half wrist-twist away.

On the Stupid Scale, it rates a 9 out of 10.

But for your entertainment/horror, here is my crazy-person logic:

Since the “maximum” setting is for the moment of greatest need, only that particular moment is worthy of maximum setting usage.  The result is that each time I operate an air conditioning unit (BONUS PARENTHETICAL RANT: heaters are also “air conditioners” in that they, too, condition the air — with heat), since I can imagine a world colder/hotter than the one I am currently existing in, I feel that now (no matter when “now” is) is not the time for the maximum setting.

Maybe next time, as I watch the sun literally burn a hole through my ceiling, I’ll make the leap and finally learn what “Max A/C” feels like.

Cold, I bet.

Maybe then.

I have a bunch of friends.  A satisfactory number, really.  Without getting specific, it’s fair to say that there are a comforting number of people that I could count on in a time of arbitrary or magnified need.

As a general rule, friends support one another, as is our custom, for reasons that we don’t much care about.  We tend not to question the motivation of our peers do-gooding because doing so either…

  1. awkwardly implies that our friends are friendly for non-altruistic, selfish reasons; or
  2. philosophizes our important relationships in such a horrifying, pedantic way that the analysis ends up undermining the goodness we started from

In any event, we all generally conclude that no matter what the reason — whether it be biological, environmental, social, or otherwise — the important thing is that we go out of our way to do kindness upon those who we’ve invested in socially.

We enjoy the acts of kindness that are bestowed upon us.

All hail kindness!

This is all pretty uncontroversial stuff.

Things get interesting, though, when our ability to accept kindness crumbles for reasons that I am not able to sufficiently explain.

Say, for example, that I have walked into a bar.

(I should have ducked!)

Next, let’s postulate that my plan is to meet some friends at this bar. Upon noting my arrival, any number of (reasonably kind) people would ask right away, “What do you want to drink?”

Why do my friends do this?  It’s not because they are drunk (or even tipsy). It’s not even because they would like to see me drunk (or even tipsy).  No.  Presumably, they do this because that’s what friends do: We buy drinks for one another.

If I had no money and showed up at a bar to meet people, I would not be allowed to stand empty-handed, because of my friends, and I would do the same thing for them.  But — and this is important — even if I had some dollars to spare, it is still socially acceptable for my friends to buy me a drink because — hey! — friendship!

All of this is still pretty uncontroversial, and that’s a good thing.

But here’s where it gets tricky:  Let’s alter the situation. Let’s say that it’s noon-thirty on a Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in an apartment with one or two of those same friends from the bar on Saturday night.

“I’m hungry.”
“Great!  Me, too.”
“What do you want for lunch?”
“Huh?”
“What do you want for lunch?”
“Huh? Why?”
“I’ll buy you a sandwich.  Come on.”
“Why are you buying me lunch?”
“We’re friends, I don’t know. Let me buy you lunch.”
“Dude, weird. What’s going on?”
“Fine, I’ll buy you a beer.”
“Thanks, man!”

Keep in mind that these are the same people who, one night previous, were willing — unprovoked! — to spend much more than the cost of a sandwich to secure the other’s happiness.  And yet here we have a case where a friend is trying to buy food — crucial for the maintenance of life and homeostasis — and the offer is being met with curiosity and skepticism.

Of course, the answer might be a simple “this is how we are socialized so just deal with it” or possibly “your friends obviously think you are trying to poison them,” but I think we ought to strongly consider being the people we when we are in bars all the time.

Without the drunk part.

(Most of the time.)

On July 4th, we are encouraged to consider the stunning, improbable history of the United States.  We take time to recognize that our great country was not formed by accident, or by lottery, or at the arbitrary whim of conquerors.

As it turns out, this is a pretty special place, this “America.”

Strangely, though we often find ourselves speaking vaguely about “our freedoms,” we rarely if ever discuss with specificity what those freedoms actually are, why they are special, and how they should be utilized in order to create a more perfect union.

It is possible, of course, to use your “freedom” in a way that negatively impacts those also-free persons around you.  I’ve maintained for a long time that a person is truly free if they are able to run directly into traffic.  Yet, as we drive in our cars (or in our buses or in our hovercrafts eventually), we hope those pedestrians walking alongside the road don’t feel the sudden urge to bolt across the speeding steel curtain.

In that way, we should also recognize today, on Independence Day, that our ability to enjoy ourselves comes not only from our founding documents and also the laws and technologies implemented since then, but also from each other.  By virtue of being free, we have the ability to negatively impact those around us.  Luckily, being free also gives us the opportunity to improve the lives of strangers and passersby.

We are all in this together.

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Use your freedoms wisely.  Do not play in traffic.

(You might not be as lucky as this squirrel.)

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