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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

3 Inexplicable Phenomena

For the most part, I consider myself difficult to truly baffle. It's not that I'm particularly more intelligent than anyone else, but my particular cognitive specialties and academic training (in math, logic, law, etc.) make it hard to get much by me. The downside of this is that I regularly ruin surprise endings (like shouting out "it's twins" in the middle of The Prestige), trash the dreams of well-meaning friends getting involved in multi-level marketing, and generally don't like having anything peddled to me. The upside is that when I do get truthfully taken, it's almost always a visceral experience (thank you Coen brothers, Steve Valentine, and the writers of LOST). Almost.

There are also a precious few phenomena that are disappointingly inexplicable; signs of social and intellectual decay so poignant that they defy the alarmingly small amount of faith in humanity that I have remaining. So here they are, 3 things I can't explain away, but really wish I could:

1. The Tipping Point. For the record, I'm a good tipper. I almost always default to giving 20% on any food or beverage service, leave money for the maid at hotels, and tip every valet, no matter how closely he parked my car. But, I have a limit. There are some people I simply cannot justify tipping, and I truly resent being presented with a receipt where I have the "option" of leaving a gratuity in a situation where it is obviously not deserved. I know this is an option that is easily disabled in the software employed by the cash register system, so don't tell me it's a default setting. The thing is, I don't like feeling like a cheap bastard, even if I've got no good reason to. Leaving a "tip line" blank makes me feel this way, and it sucks. The most egregious example of this is the people who ring up my snacks at the airport. Because I can't bring a drink with me to the airport, and I like my Diet Coke in a bottle, I have to go pay three bucks for one when I fly at the airport terminal. I also have to pay a buck fifty for a banana. So after being raped for nearly five dollars on my meager breakfast, I'm presented with a receipt with a tip line on it for the person who, I'm not making this up, rang up my purchase. And then, deal with their disdainful glance after I leave it blank. I have no idea why this is the way it is, or why these folks expect a gratuity, but it really needs to stop.

2. Luke SlowWalkers. One might reasonably argue that the world is moving faster now than it ever has. Our time has become more and more precious, as the amount of things that can both steal and save our time has risen exponentially. As a result, the majority of us are usually in some sort of hurry. And by the majority of us, I mean, the urban/suburban set, so if you're on a farm in Mississippi and have a different opinion, you can save yourself an e-mail here, this doesn't apply to you. What's more, we have an ever increasing selection of services and service centers to assist in this maximization of time. Unfortunately, those civic systems in place to move us from place to place haven't enjoyed the same level of innovation. Sidewalks and side roads and highways persist, and we've still got to get around one another to get where we're going. What is not so obvious, in this high speed world, is why some people insist on meandering through high traffic environments as though they're on a nature walk in the middle of the forest. Sure, I'm all for stopping to smell the roses, but maybe not as much in airport terminals, shopping mall walkways, and urban sidewalks - where as it turns out, there aren't any roses! If you suddenly get the sense that everyone is walking past you shaking their head as they they've just witnessed something unbelievably stupid, either speed up, or get the hell out of the way.

3. The Politics of Hate. I have always understood American politics to be contentious. As a two-party system, there has always been a palpable tension between Republicans and Democrats, even as age and maturity begin to moderate our ideologies. There would be thinly veiled, though still intellectual, jabs thrown between candidates, incumbents & challengers, across the aisles and between the branches. Throughout it all, however, there was an air of civility, especially at the national level, which was emulated (albeit less successfully) at each level, from state to county to local governments. But seemingly overnight, this arena of intellectual dispute became a battlefield of raw vitriol; full of hate, contempt and disrespect. Decorum has been abandoned and replaced by hyperbole so grandiose that even the most mundane disputes draw comparisons to world wars, historical genocides, and unspeakable crimes. Ubiquitous access to the world's information has also become ubiquitous access to a world of misinformation, and most consumers are unable, or simply unwilling, to tell the difference. Mired in fear and mistrust, we are reduced to our most primitive instincts - deifying those who think like us, and vilifying those whose opinions differ in the slightest. I don't know when it happened, I don't know how it happened, and I surely don't know why it's happened. But I'm doing my part to put a stop to it, and saving all my own hate for a group that really deserves it. Can ya hear me Notre Dame?

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In the end, a little mystery is good for the soul. I don't imagine I'll ever tire of the enigmatic nature of women (though some simply call it insanity), the beauty of the twist ending, or an age-old question, that even through centuries of debate and study, still can't be answered. After all, what fun would the world be if we really could ever understand it all? But that being said, we ought to seek out and eliminate the ludicrous, the under-informed, and the downright stupid, and fix it. If the only plausible explanation for someone or something is that they don't know it's wrong - perhaps we ought to work on simple telling them - in a way that sounds less like argument and more like, well, sense. After all, the inexplicable is only really fun if doesn't make you want to slap someone.


Anonymous said...

One of these days a slow walker is going to catch me on a bad day and Im going to give them a swift kick in the ass. The worst is a family of slow walkers that blocks the entire sidewalk or mall walkway. Whenever you think you've found an opening one of them meanders into your space, completely oblivious to the rest of the world.


Anonymous said...

similarly, is the scenario of two trucks on an interstate, one giong 65 (10 under the posted speed limit) and the other one, doing 66, that decides he needs to pass this "slowpoke" doing 65. If you ever get caught behind these two, .. i guess, just look for some roses growing along side the road...

Jen and Tonic said...

Slow walkers are the worst!! They are a pedestrian form of the Prius. It also seems that they can sense when you're late, and they get right in front of you, or block you just enough so that you can't pass them.

Oh, and the tipping thing is ridiculous. I love to tip, and believe you should definitely tip well if the service was great. However, I will NOT tip if the service sucked donkey balls. In place of money I will write a note on the receipt. "Instead of a monetary tip, I will give you a written one. Next time, don't have such a bad attitude about everything, and try to smile once in awhile." Seriously.

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