Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

3 Open Notes

I've often been a fan of the open letter. From famous open letters published in major newspapers, to my own great open letter story (Dear Mr. TB - An Open Letter to Andrew Speaker), from King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail to Google's Letter to the Net on Net Neutrality, the open letter has become the seminal method of bringing a personal message to the public. Far from just personal, however, they often concern matters of great social importance, and do so with an intimacy that is hard to locate in editorials, essays or other avenues of opinionated address. They also, however, are able deliver messages that are difficult or impossible to otherwise get across - due to either the inaccessibility of the addressee, or their unwillingness to pay attention to anything save public correspondence (or both). It is this second utility which I intend to employ, though not regarding matters of material public importance. And so in the interests of distinguishing these new messages from their more substantive, lengthy and weighty counterparts, I shall simply refer to them as "open notes". And rather then describe them at greater length, I'll just introduce them by way of example, my first three important open notes:

1. Dear Naked Asian Gym Guy, I understand that the men's locker room at a private gym is a place where one might reasonable expect some degree of nudity from time to time. After all, the business of getting from one's dirtied fitness get-up into ready-for-the-day professional attire, can be a messy and difficult one, and spending time ensuring that your naked ass isn't falling out can reasonably be considered wasteful. However, this same locker room is not an excuse to prance around naked amongst your peers, simply for whatever perverse and prurient enjoyment that you derive from it. The reason that there is a large stack of cleaned towels, is so that you can use one to wrap around you, yet another for drying off, and (if you're so inclined) even another for ancillary wiping, hand-drying, excess shaving cream removal, etc. Trying to accomplish all of this with a single towel is needlessly over-efficient (and also exposes me to far too much of your aforementioned naked ass). What's more, the reason that the showers each have curtains is so that no one is forced to watch you wash yourself while they innocently make their way in and out of the room. It's not a Turkish bath - it's a locker room shower. If you need help in operating the shower curtain, I'm certain one of the attendants can help you. Finally, when choosing a sink at which to accomplish your post-shower routine (including a visually harrowing whole-body lotion rub down), you should always observe the urinal-based principals of maximum separation, especially when you intend to conduct this routine without any covering on yourself whatsoever. Or in simpler terms, do not perform this sequence of nude horrors at the sink directly next to mine when there is no one else in the sink area! The bottom line is that, even in the locker room, the golden rule regarding intra-personal nudity applies: get nude unto others only as they get nude unto you*.

(* - Please note the ever-present nature of my 2-3 towels of coverage when considering how to apply this)

2. Dear Indifferent Parents, This may come as some surprise to you, but there is a reason that you don't see me trundling my own oversized and ill-considered brood around in public places, and it is not because I left them at home (though, don't let that deter you from doing the same). You see, consistent exposure to your children serves as a constant reminder for why I don't currently want any of my own - and as such, I have no such joyful progeny to parade about town. Additionally, it would appear that as a side-effect of the endless joy and bliss that I'm obviously missing out on as a function of not yet parenting, you have lost some key element of your sense of hearing. I only mention this because you seem almost impossibly oblivious to the ear-shattering noises, screams and mindless shouting that your children are emitting in otherwise quiet places. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about county fairs, amusement parks or children's activity centers (i.e. places I'd never be). No, no. I mean places like restaurants, travel centers, sidewalks, or anyplace else you might reasonably expect to find adults unaccompanied by minors. Additionally, you may be surprised to find out that, despite the look that you give me when it occurs, if your child runs into me, it is usually because they are running around untethered and unmonitored, and not because I'm walking about in some sort of barren fury, trying to beat up on anything small enough to require booster seating. I would only ask, that amidst the euphoric haze you're no doubt experiencing from parenthood, that you recall what it was like before you were so blessed - you know, when you had places to be and things to do, and appreciated a little polite consideration and relative peace and quiet in public. Or if that doesn't work, perhaps remember what corporal horrors your parents might have visited upon you had you behaved similarly. Because, as luck would have it, while the joy of parenthood is quite personal, the noise of it is quite universal.

3. Dear Teenagers, you are not important. Oh, you might be important someday. But you are not now. The reason I know this is because, believe it or not, I was once a teenager - and surrounded by other teenagers at that same time - and we were not important. We were important to one another, but on a grander scale (i.e. anything larger than our school district) we were pretty much useless. Somewhere along the way, whether due to overexposure to MTV, MySpace or the failed national movement towards universal self-importance as a function of building self-esteem, you appear to have lost sight of this relative lack of significance. Now, when I was a teenager, I was quite certain that adults didn't know much about what I was personally going through - but I was equally deferential about their world-at-large. Or in other words, I was just as stupid, I just knew it. For example, no one whom you don't already know, especially those adults in that fortunate circumstance, needs to know that you're (a) walking or driving by, (b) present in a building, or (c) what you think about, well, anything. Which means you can dispense with the reckless and noisy driving, the shouting and poorly-advised fashion choices and the public opining in general. I can say, without exception, that I've never met anyone under the age of 20 who has ever had anything to offer me in the way of intellectual insight, meaningful conversation, or thought leadership of any kind (this includes the time when I was under the age of 20). I know and understand you're in a big hurry to grow up, I'd just rather you do it a little more quietly. Trust me, just like we did, in fifteen years you'll look back at the photos, writings and other evidences of yourselves during this time and think to yourself: what the hell was I thinking? And then you'll understand exactly how I feel when I'm unable to ignore you.

* * *

I've often felt like the majority of people who bother to write letters to the editor, or similar such public complaints, were the same sort of angry old coots who were chasing us of their front yards with shotguns full of salt-rock when we were kids. And to that end, I'm not really sure when I unwittingly became Old Man Truitt, and how it came to pass that the word "whipper-snapper" actually passed through my mind. I'd like to think that my rapidly waning faith in humanity is not simply a function of early onset senility, but rather a rational and intellectual response to the egregious examples thereof which I am exposed to on an almost daily basis. What's more, I find a little hope in the idea that most people are simply unaware of the stupidity they're engaging in - and that by exposing the same to the harsh light of a little sensible criticism, I'll be able to do my part to slow this slow social decline into chaos and anarchy. Well, that and it's fun to laugh at idiots... even if only to save from crying. In the end, in this era of rapid communication, much like birthday cards and love letters, it's those who take the time to write who you know really care. And in that, the shotgun on my porch notwithstanding, no one cares about idiots, morons and assholes more than me.



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

3 Things About Vegas

Vegas. A city whose reputation precedes it and probably always will. As to how I ended up here, well, that's a longer story than we have time for here. It suffices to say, there are more than three reasons that I'm suddenly calling Sin City home - so we'll save that for another day, another blog, etc. But nevertheless, here I am in the desert. Not the L.A. desert (a/k/a "the Valley"), but the real desert. Where three digit temperatures are a three-month-long affair and you have to put a significant deposit down to start your utilities (regardless of your credit) here because air conditioning is more ubiquitous than running water. The good news is that my weekly commute from L.A. to Vegas and back is a thing of the past, and I can finally stop taking my suitcase to work. But this city is a whole different animal than the one I left. It's much, much smaller, though it seems stocked with just as large a variety of people - and it's going to take some getting used to. But, after only one week here, I do know a few things about Vegas... actually, three.

1. Two Sides To The Story. Vegas has two parts: The Strip, and not The Strip. The Strip is pretty much Hollywood, but with even more glitter and glam (and no creepy buskers poorly imitating celebrities/characters and charging for photos). It has the same sorts of people as Hollywood (the rich and famous, the wanna-be rich and famous, and the hapless "general public" on hand to feed each of the other two groups' compulsive need for attention) and is similarly overpriced, morally bereft and mostly underwhelming. The not The Strip part of town is actually delightfully suburban, nicely sprawled out and much like I imagine Bakersfield and Fresno to be. What's particularly interesting about this civic dichotomy is how the really bad parts of town are also pretty much a part of The Strip. Sure, they hide most of them behind the big, sparkly casinos or even a couple of blocks away. But if it's human blight you're looking for, you won't want to stray too far from the world's most famous boulevard. Turns out the defining characteristic of the rest of the city is the predominance of shopping centers and strip malls.

2. For The Love of Money. It's cheaper to live in Vegas (at least in the not The Strip part of town), and by cheaper I mean, a lot cheaper. To put it in terms my Los Angeleno readers can understand: I'm renting a four bedroom home, built in 2007, for literally half of what I was paying to rent my two-bedroom apartment in Burbank. Burbank! If you think that's a "choice" part of L.A. to live in, I've got some rims and bad facial hair ideas to sell you. Why did I rent a four bedroom home to live in alone? I guess I just felt a little too old to be paying less than $1,000 in rent. Besides, you all are planning to visit now, right? But it doesn't stop at real estate (though that is the best example); gas is cheaper, food is cheaper, and well, fun is cheaper. Once you've got a local ID, it's like having a Disney employee ID in Anaheim - there's a whole different price list for you. I would say that I'm expecting a 30-40% reduction in my monthly spending, just as a function of living here. That's the kind of money that can make 120 degrees in July not such a bad thing.

3. Pretty Different. There weren't many things I took for granted while living in the City of Angels. I knew precisely how good I had it with the weather, the local pro sports, and the abundance of nightlife. But what I did not truly appreciate is how attractive the people of Los Angeles are as a group. I'm not just talking about the Megan Fox set - I mean, on average, the inhabitants of southern California are a good-looking crowd. Which is to say that the proletariat here in L.V. is (much like it probably is elsewhere) a little rough around the edges. Don't get me wrong, there are some insanely attractive people here, too. It's just that "regular folk" are much more, er, "regular" than I'm used to. Let's just say there an abundance of people who seem to have an affinity for ill-advised and large tattoos and who appear to not have enjoyed the benefits of regular dental office visits for the majority of their lives. Similarly, there are a whole lot more trucks driving around these streets than you'll find on the L.A. freeways. It's just as well, really. It's refreshing to see a city that's built its livelihood on peddling the pretty to the pretty not get too caught up in it themselves (and a good reminder to find a local dentist ASAP).

* * *

I'm sure there will be a lot more than just three things to find out about this crazy new city. There will be new places, new people and, from what I've heard, even more maddening, outrageous and inexplicable behaviors that will demand a sharp tongued cynic, with an eye for just such absurdity, to shine the light of reason all over them. Fortunately for Vegas, I'm finally here. Fortunately for me, I've got a place where I can reflect on the social decay I continue to bear helpless witness to, to the bemusement of friends and family. And in as much as I've got a whole new city full of undiscovered material, and a place where I can rant about it to my heart's content, I suppose I'm the one thing that really does have some cache in this town: lucky.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

3 Driving Me Crazies

Just to be clear, this is not an adjunct to the previously published "3 Things Not To Drive" - because after a little reflection and rereading, I realized that it's not just what people were driving that was maddening me, but rather how. As the home of the most regular drivers per capita in the United States, Los Angeles has, not suprisingly, provided me with some of the most profoundly foolish, inconsiderate and utterly inexplicable driving methods that I have ever seen, or even imagined. This is one of those times when I have to whittle my list down to get to three, rather than struggle to find a third, and I expect that my faithful readers will be able to provide many, many more examples. But for my piece, there are the 3 driving behaviors that make me wish slapping people was legal:

1. The Sound of Music. I'm the first person to say "if it's too loud, you're too old." I love my music loud - especially when I'm driving. It is the seminal American driving experience to be tooling down the road with your rock and roll up loud and singing along, with the wind blowing through your hair. That being said, it's also an intensely personal experience (or perhaps a group experience for the passengers in your vehicle). All of the speakers in a car are pointed inward so there is no rational explanation for why I should be able to hear the music being played in your car as clearly as though it's playing in mine. From a physics point of view, this means that even after the sound has been absorbed by all of the absorbent surfaces in your car (e.g. leather, cushions, carpet, people, etc.) it's still loud enough to be heard through my closed car windows - which means that if it hasn't caused permanent hearing damage yet - it's on its way to. This is aural equivalent of running an non-muffled chainsaw on an aircraft carrier deck during flight ops with a Metallica concert going on directly behind you. The chances that I want to hear what you're listening to (especially if you're an Armenian teenager) are incredibly slim. The chances I will think you are cool because of what you're listening to (even if it's something I like) are even slimmer. Hearing Bhangra House music blasted out of a white 6 series BMW with rims that cost more than my whole car being driven by a 120-lb teenager with ill-advised facial hair, an undershirt and a chain I can actually see from the sidewalk makes me want to point, laugh, and weep for the future. Do yourself (and the rest of us) a favor and turn it the hell down. If we want to know what you're listening to - we'll ask.

2. Get Slow, Get Slow, Get Slow. It's hard for me to imagine a life without hurrying. I can't even recall a time in my life when I wasn't hurrying. Whether it was being raised by a military father, spending ten years in the military myself, or simply my own personal and professional drive - getting where I need to go as fast as I can has always been a matter of the utmost importance to me. What's more, it seems as though the world in general is built to accommodate this pacing. Our cars are faster, our highways wider, and our everything is built to save us time between places. Unfortunately, there seems to be a substantial minority of people for whom every road is a scenic route and every lane is their own private driveway. This wouldn't necessarily be so maddening if traffic wasn't such a linear thing - and the rest of us wouldn't be completely at the mercy of these morons. Okay, so maybe you're not in a hurry - why not walk to where you're going then? Or even better, drive between 10 and 2 (when people with jobs aren't trying to get somewhere). And what's with the laser-like focus when you're driving at the posted speed limit in the left lane on the highway? It's obvious you're concentrating - because you obviously can't see the long line of cars behind you, or the constant stream of cars, trucks, and construction equipment passing you on the right. Maybe if driving at these speeds require that much attention - you should stick to surface streets.

3. Rev Me Up. I used to drive a motorcycle, and so I understand the need for cyclists to do everything they can to notify otherwise absent-minded motorists of their presence - because the majority of motorcycle accidents don't result from the cyclists error, but rather from a driver not seeing them. So when a motorcycle rider revs their engine, I know they're letting everyone know where they are. Which is strangely similar to the effect when someone in a car revs their engine - letting everyone know how big of a douchebag they are. Seriously, unless you're calibrating a tachometer or shop testing an engine, there simply isn't another explanation for why you'd be doing this. The last time revving your engine at a stoplight was cool, the Fonz was on in prime-time and school dances were actually called "Sock Hops". Here's the deal, if you've got a fast car, anyone who will care already knows because (a) they recognize your car, or (b) you're driving it really fast. I can only imagine two possible purposes for this unmitigated douchebaggery: (1) you are trying to intimidate other race-minded drivers; or (2) you're trying to impress girls. This is a failure out of the gate - anyone who wants to race isn't going to care whether you're revving your engine or not, and I've never met a woman who thinks this is hot, cool, or makes you in any way more attractive. If you truly can't suppress your desire to stomp on your gas pedal while your car is parked - do us all a favor, do it in your garage with the garage door closed and your windows down.

* * *

I have no idea when driving became the easiest way to spot the least cognitively capable amongst us. I remember the good old days when the driving test was actually something that required more than a pulse and working limbs to pass. For as frequently as it was predicted, we've not yet seen the days of flying cars - and left with only two dimensions, the rest of us will remain hostage to the loud, the slow and the stupid until we come up with a better solution. I used to wonder why older people bought cars that were large, fast and almost completely soundproof. Now I know. The worst part of all is that all of the above-listed offenses are actually illegal, but finding a police officer willing to enforce them is like trying to listen to Justin Bieber singing without wanting to plunge an ice pick into each of your ears. For the time being, these special drivers remain a constant test of one's patience and tolerance, a good reason to start saving money (as the youngest generation is unlikely to be able to provide any retirement income), and a reminder of why you're moving to a smaller town.