This is not a political blog. I have no desire to rant and rattle on about my political views and why you should or should not vote for this one, that one, or the third one who really shouldn't even be running because he's just mucking up the chances of the second one. There are plenty of blogs exactly like that, though, so if that's the horse you want to ride, well, do a search and saddle up, cowboy.

This is not a blog about the short-comings of the American education system or the stupidity of the next ( or any) generation. If you think the school system failed you and you can still read this, then congratulations,Kilroy! You managed to rise above it. Kudos to you.

This is absolutely not an anti-American blog. I may have named it "Stupid America", but as corny as it sounds, I really do love this country. I will, however, admit I am often embarrassed by it. I just don't understand how a country that once gave us Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman could now be serving up Real Housewives, teen vampires, info-mercials, Humvee limousines and all things Kardashian. Where, exactly, did we go off-script? This blog is my journal of musings on American culture and mores as I try to find some answers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Random Red Light Encounter

     The cab had cut me off two blocks before. He'd sped up, signaled left and then swerved to the right, directly in front of me. I was far enough behind him to avoid having to search for my cell phone and insurance card, but it was not a good move. It was not a yellow cab, but a livery cab. A beaten up town car with slightly tinted windows and a moustachioed man with a brooding brow in the driver's seat. Just another New York cabbie, doing his best to live up to the hype. After he'd attained his goal of getting in front of me, he rode on lackadaisically, driving a good ten miles below the speed limit. In New York, the speed limit is thought of as the minimum speed, so I was naturally upset with his decision. I couldn't pass him, or, rather, I didn't feel the need to pass him. I was only going a few more blocks before I had to make a right turn so I just grinned and bore it as he meandered along his merry way in front of me. He would slow to a crawl, then speed up a bit before stopping almost short, and repeat the cycle.  Then, as suddenly as he had come, he was gone, cutting off the car to my left to get into that lane. I sped up slightly, passed him and went on my way, not giving the cab a second thought.
      A few blocks up was the busy intersection where I was turning right. I stopped for the red light on the corner. In New York City, there is no right on red. You sit, you wait your turn. And so I did.  All the curbs and corners were teeming with piles of dirty packed snow, some of them four feet high. Snow melt seeped onto the sidewalks and street, making puddles that would surely freeze over in a few more hours. Pedestrians struggled over heaping snow mounds while wearing inappropriate shoes. And there I was, almost home, glad to be in my car instead of navigating the icy sidewalks and miserably wet streets. The car was warm and a good song was playing on the radio.
       A short burst of honking horn stirred me from my peaceful reverie. Then another, longer blast. I reluctantly looked to my left. There he was, the cabbie who had cut me off  several blocks down, then slowed to a crawl for no apparent reason, and swerved into the other lane, causing another near accident. He was making some sort of gestures at me. I pretended not to know what he wanted. I had a few gestures of my own I was itching to try out. He gestured again, and I shrugged my shoulders and made a face that suggested, "I can't understand what you are trying to convey! Please desist immediately and leave me alone".  He pressed a button on his door and the passenger side window rolled down half way. Ah, well. I had two choices. Either roll down my window and let him speak or ignore him completely, which would have been preferable, but in this situation, it would have been a really jerky thing to do. If it were a random case of road rage or good old fashioned driver malice, where you shout insults at someone who has mortally offended you by cutting you off or hogging your lane, well, ignoring it would have been the thing to do. But I knew what cabbie guy wanted, so I pressed the power button and my window rolled half way down to match his.
      "You will make me to go ahead!?" he said, in that indeterminate accent that is the hallmark of cab drivers in the city, "I need to go right turn". This statement ( inquiry? order?) was accompanied by a snaky hand gesture that I took to be the international sign for "dick-ish driver needing to get in your lane because they did not get to cut in front of you in adequate time, even though they knew damn well they had to make a turn and there was plenty of time to get in back of you".  "Ah, you need to go right turn!", I said, not making fun of his speech, just repeating what he'd said. I thought about it. Sure you need to go right turn. You KNEW you needed to go right turn blocks ago when you cut me off but you got out of the lane in hopes of cutting off some other victims, and now here we are. Me, you and the red light. You need to go right turn, you little shit? Hah! Good luck with that. I will NOT let you in front of me! Learn to drive your vehicle, and maybe then you'll be able to figure out which lane you have to be in to turn right!! All this in the blink of an eye. I hesitated just a moment, and looked at the cabbie to my left, who was smiling hopefully and making his odd hand gesture as the cold air flooded into his town car.  "Yeah, well, why not?",  I said, "You've been such a great, polite driver so far. Sure, you can get in front of me, go ahead". He nodded his head in compliance and closed the window, as I closed mine. The light changed and I let him in front of me so he could make his turn, which he did, clipping a snow pile and almost taking out a lady walking her dog as he rounded the corner. I made my turn and headed home.  I'm not sure, but I think my sarcasm was lost on him.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is WRONG with people?

Today I quickly checked in to my blog, to see what was happening ( nothing much) and maybe check the "stats", which show me how many people are reading my blog at any given time ( not many, I would say) and where ( country, not street address-be calmed, conspiracy theorists) they are reading it.  Ah, so sad. Two page views today, both from Sweden, and both from Their search? "anti american blog". Hmm. Of course, this is not what they were looking for. My blog is not an anti-American blog.  But it saddens me every time. Anti-American sentiments are so high, and very often they are ridiculously unfounded. The people who are so adamantly anti-American are often completely unfamiliar with American culture, and have absolutely no personal contact with anyone from America.  I am puzzled as to why there were two views. Perhaps the person searching was so stupid themselves that they checked the same link twice, hoping the second time was a charm.
      I suppose the search was a result of my statement at the heading of the blog, that it is NOT an anti-American blog. But I will be removing that shortly. I don't want to be associated with any sort of search of  "anti american blogs". Perhaps I will have to either try to change the title or even discontinue this blog and start a new one. Which makes me sad. And angry. And very, very upset. My blog is not political. My blog is not anti-American. Don't tread on my blog. Stuff it, Sweden.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy New Arbitrarily Agreed Upon Length Of Time!

       So. Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the first week of 2011. A new year, and by some counts the start of a new decade as well. There are those who say the decade starts on the "zero" year, and those who say it starts on the "one". As for me, I don't really care. Time is time. It passes, it flies, it marches on. It takes forever, there's never enough of it. It's running out, of the essence, on my side.  Let's do the Time Warp again.  What was it Einstein said, aside from all that relativity jazz? "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once". Makes sense.  Everything happening at once would leave us absolutely nothing to look forward to. On the other hand, if everything happened at once we wouldn't have to worry about going to work in the morning because we would simultaneously already be there, and also be retired. And dead. And not yet born. Yikes. Better set that alarm clock.
        Happy New Year. We say it to everyone we haven't seen since December, weeks into January. Happy New Year! How are you? How were the holidays?  The holidays. Christmas and New Year. Christmas, sure. We get and give gifts, we decorate a tree and light candles, sing carols, eat too much rich food.  Or, we may be celebrating Chanukah, and also getting and giving gifts, lighting candles and eating too much rich food. But then,  a week after Christmas, there we are, celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. We mark it with noise and booze and kisses at midnight. Or we simply acknowledge that when we wake in the morning, it will be the next year, and turn off the bedside lamp. We dress up to meet it and gather in large groups, or we may decide that this year it would be best to greet it in pajamas with the TV host of our choice. But everyone marks it. New calendars go up on January 1st, resolutions are broken with that third cup of coffee or fourth pancake or  first cigarette of New Year's Day.  It's just another day, really. But it isn't. It's more. It is the first day of the brand new year.
       People all over the world gather in groups to mark the end of the old and the start of the new year. Yes, there is Rosh Hashanah, and Chinese New Year, and myriad other new year celebrations ( remember Nyepi?). Every culture marks the turn of the calendar and the tick of the clock. But December 31st is globally acknowledged as the last day of the year, and has been since around 700 BC. The Gregorian calendar, which is still followed today, and the Roman calendar before that, both consider January to be the first month and December the last. But even before this, at least 4000 years ago, the exit of the old year and the entry of the new was being celebrated by the ancient Babylonians, who even made resolutions. They celebrated the New year in the Spring, at some point after the Vernal Equinox, and their resolutions were more along the line of not taking neighbors' farm tools and paying back their debts than quitting smoking and losing ten pounds. But I would bet some libations were poured. The Babylonians loved their beer. It was something like their national drink, and they were widely known for it. The Babylonians knew how to party.
      I suppose I can understand why people chose to mark the passing of a year, as opposed to a month, or a week, or two years or seventeen months or what have you. Most ancient New Year festivals were celebrated in the Spring, so the New Year was equated with new crops and new life. That's probably why the Greeks decided to use a baby to symbolize the new year around 600 BC. We still see the baby New Year today, dressed in diaper and top hat, as he shakes hands with the Old Year, who is by that point so exhausted he can barely stand up straight without the aid of a cane. Interestingly, we never see any female new or old years. Another example of the glass ceiling, I guess. The whole shebang is run by FATHER Time, after all.  I wonder if he hangs out with Mother Nature on a Friday night.
      It's odd, how we mark time. We celebrate the New Year, sure. But we never think of celebrating the start of a new month, unless you think rent or mortgage payments are a form of celebration. The new week is usually greeted with groans, and declarations of "I hate Mondays!"  Then again, does the new week start on Sunday or Monday? Depends on whether you are going by the calendar or the kids on their way to school. We would never celebrate each new week, month, hour, minute. It would be silly. There would be no sufficient amount of time passed.  But we do celebrate a new year, a new decade, a new century and of course, a new millenium.  Remember the Y2K scare? Now, that was a celebration! Living on the edge, not knowing whether or  not the world would cave in upon its technology-laden self, listening to all sorts of crackpots go on about their crackpot doomsday predictions! Best party ever, til 2012, that is.
       People are eager to celebrate a Centennial, too. Or a Bicentennial. But try and drum up some interest in a Sesquicentennial ( 150 years), Dodransbicentennial ( 175 years), Sesquarcentennial ( 350 years), or my favorite, a Quinquageny ( 50 years). Where is the love?  If it takes that much effort to even say it, the safe bet is that most folks will stay home and watch reality TV.  Sorry, Quinquageny, you've been voted off the island. You are NOT going through to Hollywood.  Sometimes people might find room in their hearts for a vigintennial, but only if it is a wedding anniversary or a high school reunion. Otherwise, 20 years is not a big deal. But when someone in America turns 21, that is considered a big birthday. Now they can drink and smoke with ease, so they will have something to make resolutions about on some future New Year's Eve. Likewise, 18 is considered an important birthday, but not 19. And 30 is a turning point, but 31 is just another birthday. 40 seems to be less important than 30, but 50 is  big. And so is 65, but not 56. Of course, when a person passes a certain age, and I am not talking about 30, every birthday is a big one. If someone has reached 85 or 86, each year is a big birthday, but not as big as 90, or the ultimate big one, 100.
      Babies are a different story, though. When you ask a mother, "how old is your baby?" she will often tell you the age in months, even when the baby is a year, or two years old. Even baby clothes sizes go by months.  I suppose this is because babies have a short shelf life. They grow into toddlers and then little kids, and their age starts being measured in years. So, as we age, we go from measuring time by the month to the year, and then the decade. Some butterflies live only a day or so, and most species live less than two weeks.  I wonder if they would mark the passing of an hour as a great and momentous event. If our life spans were much longer,  perhaps a new year would be less of a celebration, and the big party would happen every ten or twenty years instead, since it would be silly to mark the passing of just one year, not a sufficient amount of time would have passed. But we are here for such a short while, in the scheme of things. Very few of us ever see that Centennial birthday. We mark the passing of time with every breath, with every blink, with every new morning. But we don't realize it or acknowledge it. At least, not often. It would make things too difficult, to constantly remind ourselves that we are only here for a matter of days, really, that are then grouped into weeks and months and years and decades, if we are lucky. Still, even when we do acknowledge it, we never seem to make the most of it, no matter how hard we try. There is never time enough. Tempus fugit. In Latin, that really translates as, "time flees", not "flies". Fugit. As in, fugitive. Time flees from us. Tempus fugit.  It really does, too. Just try and catch it.
       So go, make the most of this new year, and every new year you greet. Read that book you keep meaning to tackle, or write that book you keep wanting to write. Call your old college roommate or your best friend from high school. Email your uncle in Florida or your co-worker from that job you had when you were 23 or the person you used to love but never told.  Take a stroll on the boardwalk in winter with your loved one. Plan that trip to Paris or Australia or Tahiti.  Drink a good bottle of wine and enjoy a nice, indulgent meal. Run an extra mile, you can do it! Put down that cigarette and think again, maybe you DO have the will power. Listen to that album you used to love so much, I bet it makes you smile. Sing out loud in the car on the way to work. Don't take things for granted. Happy New Year! May we all have time for it. May we all make time for it. Tempus fugit. Get to chasing.